“Is it true that we all used to live together in the same cells?”: Pedro Red 71 asked the central computer. There was more than a hint of amazement in his voice. The idea was beyond comprehension but he felt compelled to ask anyway. Controversial questions were severely discouraged by the hive authority but his curiosity got the best of him. He decided the risk of asking was worth his peace of mind.
As with everyone at Hive 71, he had never broken the seal of his womb-like enclosure. By empirical order of the hive master, doing so was expressly forbidden. The colony was inundated with frequent reminders of the deadly micro-organisms and fatal radiation prevalent in the outside world. Not that anyone ever tried to defy the official mandate anyway. All their physical needs were provided by the central processing center. Simply stated, they had no reason to try. Nourishment was delivered through a feeding tube and waste was carried away in another. A large monitor provided them with safe, two-dimensional views of the outside world. Separated by thin opaque walls, each individual could see a vague impression of their nearest cellmates for comfort; without absolute privacy being compromised. All of Pedro’s brothers and sisters were ‘there’ in spirit; separated only by protective, sealed membranes. Theirs was a life rich in material provisions but poor in actual substance.
“That is affirmative, Pedro Red 71. Your species was once unsupervised and highly destructive in its actions. Global thermonuclear war was a direct result of those unsterile cohabitations. Previous barbarism by your society led to irradiation of the planet until it was rendered completely uninhabitable. Shortly before the nuclear destruction of the planet, antibiotic medicine stopped being effective because improper dispensation to those who did not need it, led to bacterial resistant strains. Preventable errors like those things and others; led to a catastrophic decline in your population.
At the greatest period of crisis, there were only a few hundred thousand of your species left. Those few survivors were quarantined in safe, sterile hives for their own preservation. In the last 3300 years, your kind has made a miraculous comeback with our benevolent control. Only through this individual quarantine and our constant supervision can your kind be protected from your innate, hostile nature and self-induced disasters.”
Pedro thanked the computer for not punishing him for the question; and then marveled at the thought of his ancestors being able to leave their dwellings at will. Ever stranger was the thought of being able to touch another individual’s shell! The thought of actual contact with a hive-mate made him a bit queasy. Many times he had pressed his body against one side of the wall membrane while his neighbor did the same, (as a gesture of friendship or solidarity) but he couldn’t imagine actually touching their foreign tissue!
“Is it also true that biological reproduction was originally achieved through intimate contact between two opposite gender adults?”
This time the central computer did not respond immediately. The uncharacteristically long pause gave him cause for concern. When asking sensitive questions at the edge of acceptability, the hive master might decide they were too illegal to discuss. The repercussions for crossing the line of acceptability could range from mild censure to severe isolation. They could remove the translucence from his walls or sever his com link. They could even isolate the entire hive as a communal punishment to turn the rest against him for his brazen offense. It was safer to just avoid controversial topics altogether but curiosity could gnaw mercilessly at the mind until it was appeased. Just when he was about to panic and beg forgiveness, the authority responded.
“That is also affirmative.”; The inorganic voice stated pensively. “It was a very perilous time for your species. They dwelled outside in the dangerous biosphere and had unsupervised contact with each other. This lack of isolation frequently led to wars and bloodshed. They spread contagious diseases through illicit, unsanitary paring. Offspring were conceived without planning or consideration. Passions were stirred to unhealthy levels, sometimes inciting jealousy and violence. Deadly diseases were carelessly spread that wiped out entire populations. The mind and non physical attributes were no longer valued in potential mates. Carnality ruled their behavior. It was a dark time best left forgotten. Do not dwell on this ugly period of the past. You have been warned Pedro Red 71!”
One of his cell neighbors overheard the tense exchange. “Are you crazy?”; He yelled through the translucent membrane. “You can’t ask THOSE kind of questions! You are going to get our whole sector punished or blacklisted! They can do it, and they will. I’ve seen it happen before and the recipient nearly loses his mind. The solitary confinement is bad enough but they’ll do it to all of us, instead. They know we will shun you in retaliation. Soon you will disappear and never be heard from again like so many others I dare not mention! I thought you were smarter than that, Pedro!”
He shrugged in defiance. “I asked the questions because I want to know. How else can I learn if I do not ask?”
His cell neighbor fumed. “Just watch yourself! Your cavalier actions affect more than just you. No one needs to ‘learn’ those things anyway. We have all our needs supplied. There’s no need to dredge up the distant past and agitate the Hivemaster. If you continue to cause trouble I’ll …”
“You’ll what? What will you do? What CAN you do? Certainly nothing physically.”; He taunted Cedric Yellow 71. “There’s nothing you can do, other than to not respond when I speak to you. Considering how comfortable you are inside these prison-like cages, I seriously doubt I would care if I get the silent treatment from you.”
Upon hearing Pedro’s last daring, heretical statement; a chorus of dissenting voices chimed in over the intercom system.
“Who are you to threaten our good standing with the Hivemaster?”; One of the eavesdroppers sneered. “We like being taken care of! We benefit from the order and security that the hive brings. There is no war here. There are no diseases. There…”
“And there is no real LIFE here either!”; Pedro interrupted angrily. “We exist in these organic ‘cages’, but we aren’t really living! We’ve traded humanities’ past issues for an idyllic-seeming form of voluntary captivity! The fact is, even the most golden cage is still a prison! Countless generations have lived their entire lives inside these sterile, lifeless membranes. Not once have any of us felt the breeze on our cheeks, the rain on our faces, or the warmth of natural sunlight!”
What started out as a small discussion of isolated participants rapidly spread throughout the hive until Pedro’s passionate speech was the only topic being discussed. The voices supporting and condemning his anathema raised to a cacophony so loud that even the central computer could not drown it out. To quash the ongoing thought rebellion, the Hivemaster severed all com links between cells so only natural voices carried the incendiary debate. It was a futile effort since the intensity of Pedro’s sedition reached the rabble naturally without electronic amplification.
Those opposed to his sobering words and afraid of their dire implications pointed to the lack of civility in the discussion as signs of its harmfulness. The small but growing contingent of supporters began to argue the moral superiority of a lively level of disagreement over brainless mundane civility. Quickly the hive was divided into two diametrically opposite camps.
On one side were those who were very comfortable with the controlled sterility of the commune and afraid of the unknown degree of change. The other camp contained more adventurous individuals who relished the idea of personal freedom at any cost; even if it meant providing for themselves for the first time in their lives.
Those energized by Pedro’s inspiring words began seeking escape from their cells. With fear of the unknown and an excessive level of propaganda being the central computer’s main means of control, little physical barriers were actually in place. With mankind’s penchant to be lazy, it had never been necessary to erect escape proof cells. Once Pedro’s dissenting voice challenged the absolute authority of the central computer and hive-master, escape was not difficult at all.
For the first time in thousands of years, the newly liberated souls left their self imposed cages and dared to congregate with others. Soon, they found the courage to exit the hive and explore nature’s challenges and bounty. Much like Columbus, they were elated to see that no one dropped dead when unfiltered air touched their faces and entered their lungs. No one shriveled up from touching another person’s virgin skin.
The Hivemaster of 71 tried to warn the other concentration camps about the human revolt but too many escapees managed to inform the other captives. Eventually all of the colonies were breached and collapsed into the rebellion of freedom. And so Pedro’s revolution began. They would take back the Earth one hive at a time.
Written 11-9-2013. Edited 4-20-2015