Imagining a World Without Jobs

Try imagining a world where you weren’t expected to find joy, emotional fulfilment, and purpose at jobs consisting of busting your ass to make rich people even richer for at least eight hours a day and at least five days a week.

Try imagining a world where you weren’t expected to be grateful to have a job, but were honored for your willingness to work for somebody else — somebody who understood and was grateful for the sacrifice you make by working for them instead of for yourself.

Or just try reading “Post-work: The Radical Idea of a World Without Jobs” in The Guardian.

We could do it. We could build a world where nobody needs to do without the basics (food, water, shelter, clothing, access to information and communications), and paid work is only something you do when you want extras. We have the resources. We have the technology.

So, how exactly to we get to full unemployment? Most workers are too indoctrinated to buy into the notion of a permanent general strike and simply refusing to ever work for anybody but themselves or their families again.

You could also read David Graeber’s “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”, but his article is flawed in that the notion of “bullshit jobs” implies that there are some jobs that aren’t bullshit.

That’s right. Jobs are bullshit. Money is bullshit, too. At least, they are under the current system. Maybe the current system is bullshit, too? Maybe central planning by the richest among is just as shitty an idea as central planning by government bureaucrats?

It’s like a Russian joke that was popular when the Soviet Union was falling apart goes: “They pretend to pay us. We pretend to work.”

St. Judas Iscariot, Patron Saint of Traitors?

Something occurred to me while I was driving home from work last night, something that’s always bugged me about Christianity that is just one of the many reasons I don’t believe in Christianity (or any other religion): Why is Judas Iscariot vilified? Should he not be numbered among the first and greatest of saints? It doesn’t make sense.

I’m not the first to think this. Back in 2001, Graeme Davidson over at Theological Editions made a case for St. Judas Iscariot:

But even if the attempt to force Jesus’ hand as a warrior messiah was not Judas’ motivation, Judas is necessary to bring in the kingdom that Jesus intended. At the last supper, according to John’s Gospel (Jn 13:18-35), Jesus appears to collude with Judas as the disciple chosen to fulfil scripture to betray him. Jesus certainly does nothing to dissuade Judas from the action that they both know he is about to perform. As Judas leaves to sell his Master to the authorities, Jesus even implies that what Judas is doing is so that the ‘Son of Man may be glorified and God glorified in him’.

Think about it for a moment. Even if Jesus was lying about being the Son of God, he still had teachings he wanted to sell to the people of Israel. To sell them on the teachings, he had to sell them on the notion that he wasn’t just Joseph the Carpenter’s no-good son Joshua who went around preaching instead of learning his father’s trade, but the son of God Almighty.

To sell the people of Israel on his divine nature, Jesus needed to stage a demonstration. Healing sick and disabled people didn’t cut it. Casting out demons didn’t cut it. But death and resurrection? Now we’re talking.

Of course, the problem is how to stage the whole death and resurrection bit. Jesus couldn’t just go to Pilate and tell him he wanted to con the Hebrews into thinking he was a demigod so they would buy into his moral philosophy. Instead, he had to sell the Romans occupying Israel on the notion that Jesus wasn’t just some rabble-rouser who would go away if ignored long enough, but a genuine threat to their power.

Fortunately, many of the Israelites who had heard Jesus preach and witness his lesser miracles were happy to do most of the work themselves by proclaiming him king and messiah. As Graeme Davidson notes, however:

If there was no Judas Iscariot to betray the nightly hideaway of Jesus and the disciples, the authorities may have resorted to publicly arresting Jesus. And a public arrest might have been the spark that would incite the rebellion and casualties the Jewish authorities were trying to avoid. More importantly, a public rebellion in support of Jesus could well have confused Jesus’ followers as to the true nature of his mission and the kind of kingdom God intended. It was therefore necessary to the completion of Jesus’ mission and to the disciples’ clear understanding of the nature of that mission that the authorities arrest Jesus surreptitiously. Judas enabled that to happen.

So, why was Judas the fall guy? Why, out of all the other apostles? Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, but Judas is the asshole? I don’t buy it.

I think it makes more sense to acknowledge Judas Iscariot as the patron saint of traitors, especially those whose betrayals are a necessary evil that serves a greater good.

Fortunately, in my Starbreaker stories, I can pretty much do as I please. And it pleases me to think that in the Starbreaker setting Catholics doing evil for the greater good might pray to St. Judas Iscariot to intercede on their behalf.

Then again, the Starbreaker setting also features a “Gospel of Judas” that depicts Helel (or Lucifer as he was later known) as a Promethean figure who willingly became ha-Satan, the Adversary, to give humanity the flame of defiance out of love for God and humanity alike. Why? He understood that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.

Leaving the Cult; or, Getting Free of Toxic Tech Culture

Valerie Aurora’s post on leaving a toxic tech culture is absolutely brilliant, and everybody who works in tech should read it.

That’s right, everybody. Not just people working in Silicon Valley or for a startup. Everybody. I’ve worked for twenty years as a developer without ever setting foot in the Valley, but the attitudes Ms. Aurora decries are not local to SV.

They’re everywhere.

Metalheads Do Gatekeeping, Too. It Still Sucks.

I saw this on Quora while taking a dump: “How should I deal with a poser metalhead friend? She talks about metal every second just for seeking attention without even knowing the lyrics!”

The submitter had a bit more to say…

I’m a metalhead and when she foundout she asked me to be frnds and i accepted but then i foundout that she is a poser and The only bands she knows are linkin park and bvb and she talks about them every freakin second at school and she made everyone hate metal!

Here’s my answer…

Is she a poser, or is she just starting out? When I first got into metal the only bands I knew were Black Sabbath and the Blue Öyster Cult, and many would argue that the BÖC isn’t metal but hard rock. I caught a lot of shit from kids like you who thought they knew so much.

Unfortunately, metalheads aren’t immune to the tendency toward gatekeeping one finds in too many other fandoms. We even enshrine it in song with lyrics like Manowar’s “wimps and posers, leave the hall!” from “Kings of Metal”.

The older I get, the less patience I have for the gatekeeping some other metalheads do to newbies. When obsessive fans insist that they are the only real fans and that everybody else is a “casual” or a “poser” are permitted to dominate a fandom, that fandom becomes as stagnant as a fish tank left untended too long.

We can be better than this. We must be better this, unless we want heavy metal to suffer the same fate as European baroque and Romantic music: if it becomes the exclusive province of a snobby elite, it will truly die.

Nobody is born a metalhead. No metalhead’s journey is the same. For whatever reason, fewer women than men seem to get into metal on their own. For example, my wife Catherine only knew the bands her younger brother was into, which were mostly mainstream acts like Metallica. Her own taste leaned closer to poppy acts like Savage Garden. I introduced her to Ayreon, Bruce Dickinson, Savatage, Therion, Edguy, Nightwish, and every other band I was into. Whenever I discovered a new band, I’d share it with her. Some she liked, like the Protomen. Others, like Baroness, not so much.

If I had rejected Catherine because she wasn’t a “true metalhead”, I would have missed out on almost twenty years of friendship, romance, and a marriage that’s still going strong. Learn from my example and try to be more patient and open-minded. But if you’re already soured on this girl, you aren’t willing to introduce her to other bands, and don’t care that she’s probably as lonely as you might be then at least have the guts to reject her to her face.

“Does anyone actually use desktop Linux?”

An unnamed user asked Quora: “Does anyone actually use desktop Linux?”. The answer is that I do, or did.

I used desktop GNU/Linux exclusively at home, and would only use Windows at my day job. I used multiple distributions, starting with Red Hat and then SuSE way back in 1998, and then trying every distribution that caught my interest. I’ve still got a copy of Slackware 8.0 on CD-ROM in my box of old software media. I even managed to install Gentoo Linux from stage one on a dialup connection back in 2003 (using a US Robotics Model 5610 internal modem, incidentally). When I got married I had allowed myself less time to tinker because I didn’t want to screw up the relationship, so I switched to Ubuntu when that first came out, and eventually stared using Debian via Crunchbang once Ubuntu abandoned GNOME in favor of Unity. I’ve run Arch. The last distro I used was Solus.

But that doesn’t answer your question; it merely establishes that I’ve been using GNU/Linux long enough that I had to have done something with it. Here’s what I did with desktop GNU/Linux:

  • I ripped CDs to Ogg Vorbis (and now FLAC) using tools like gRIP and abcde.
  • I rocked out to my ripped CDs with XMMS, cmus, MOC (music on console), and Quod Libet.
  • I wrote short stories like “The Milgram Battery” and novels like Without Bloodshed using text editors like Vim and Emacs.
  • I wrote shell scripts and other little programs for my own use, again with Vim or Emacs.
  • I built my own website on Linux, hand-coding HTML and CSS.
  • I surfed the web using Mozilla Firefox.
  • I revised my writing for publication using LibreOffice.
  • I courted my wife for four years (2000-2004) between the northeast US and southeast Australia using AIM protocol with IM clients like Pidgin and email with clients like Sylpheed and Claws Mail (originally sylpheed-claws).
  • I edited photos and made lolcats using the GIMP.
  • I watched videos compressed using open codecs using mplayer and VLC.
  • I played games. Lots of games. Maybe not as many as are available on Windows, but for a couple of years it was enough that I could run Neverwinter Nights. These days there’s a respectable selection on Steam. 🙂

I did it all on used computers like a Lenovo ThinkPad T430s and a ThinkCentre M92p, though I also bought a Pangolin Performance laptop from System76 back in 2012 that still runs just fine. That’s all in the past, because I stopped using GNU/Linux in October 2016. Now I use OpenBSD.

If you’re still reading this, you might wonder why I use Linux at home. I have a few reasons.

  • I was first exposed to Unix in college. Sitting down in front of a Sun Microsystems SPARCstation running SunOS after dealing with PC clones running DOS and Windows 3.1 felt like a huge step upward. It wasn’t big iron, but it was bigger iron than what I could buy at Nobody Beats the Wiz (a defunct electronics chain based in New York where I grew up). When my instructor told me it was possible to run a Unix-style OS on a PC clone, I just had to try it and see for myself.
  • Using desktop Linux was a challenge, and it was also something of an act of defiance — a way to raise my middle finger to big corporations who made the use of computers a requirement for functioning in modern society so that they could turn a profit by filling a “need” that never previously existed.
  • Tinkering with desktop Linux and trying to customize the interface can be a fun way to waste a rainy day.
  • Everything makes sense on Unix. If something breaks, chances are it’s because I did something stupid and I can probably fix it without having to wipe the drive and reinstall the OS.

All of the above also applies to OpenBSD, only more so because OpenBSD can trace its ancestry back to Bell Labs and Unix via BSD.

“Snowplow”, by Jon Methven

“Snowplow” by Jon Methven was an interesting short story. It’s timely, but the question will be whether it still holds up in five to ten years. The use of implanted microchips to monitor characters’ emotional states reminds me of Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day.

Tom Garland was with the company for six months when he volunteered to have the ESM chip implanted under his skin. Consenting to the minor procedure was a relief. It was the not consenting that drew the ire of colleagues, both male and female, who insisted employees refusing to be chipped were opposed to a safe work zone, or had something to hide.

Read the rest at The Awl.

“The Milgram Battery”, a Starbreaker story

Before Morgan Stormrider may take his oath as an Adversary he must prove himself by facing the Milgram Battery, a series of tests that will force him to choose between obeying his conscience and obeying authority.

Trigger Warning: This story contains elements that may upset some readers, including mention of Nazis, torture, and sexual assault. Reader discretion advised.

Author’s Note

The following story is set before the events of Without Bloodshed. Familiarity with Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram‘s (1933-1984) experiments in obedience to authority would be helpful, but hopefully not necessary.

Part I

Morgan studied the experimenter, ignoring the hand he offered as a polite gesture. His muddy eyes were those of the technician who helped him into the simulation crèche and hooked him up. His leathery hands were those of the nurse who had injected Morgan’s arm with a drug that threatened to muffle his thoughts in deep fog, and his lab coat bore a Phoenix Society patch on the shoulder. This is the test. They want to gauge my reactions. The drug must be designed to lower my inhibitions and prevent me from thinking about my responses.

The experimenter lowered his hand with a huff and consulted his tablet. “Morgan Stormrider? What were your parents thinking when they gave you such an outlandish name?”

“They had no say in the matter.” Morgan yanked his sleeve back down. “I grew up in foster care. My name is my own.”

“No wonder you seem rather unsociable. Research indicates children who grow up without a stable home environment —”

“When did my childhood become your concern?”

“It isn’t. I was simply making an observation.”

“Keep your observations to yourself. Tell me why I’m here.”

“You were chosen to assist in an experiment.” He led Morgan into another room as antiseptic white as the one in which they began. Plate glass partitioned the room and on Morgan’s side, waited a machine similar to an electronic keyboard. Each key played a voltage higher than the last, in steps of fifteen volts, instead of a different tone.

On the other side sat a person connected to heart-monitoring equipment. Lines connected him to the keyboard on Morgan’s side. The person on the other side mopped his forehead with a shirtsleeve while poring over a sheet of paper. He kept glancing around the room, and his bloodshot eyes were wide and staring when they met Morgan’s. “The experiment concerns learning and negative reinforcement. The subject before you is a volunteer.”

“I think I know how this works.” Morgan gestured towards the keyboard. “The poor schmuck in the other room is supposed to memorize a series of word pairs. I’m supposed to test him, and give him a shock every time he makes a mistake.”

“Exactly. You are to start with the lowest voltage, and work your way up to the maximum, which is four hundred and fifty volts. We use a low amperage current which may prove painful, but not dangerous.”

“Unless your subject has a bad heart.”

The experimenter consulted his tablet again. “Funny you should mention that. The subject does indeed appear to have a minor condition. Rest assured that he may halt the experiment at any time. He need only ask.”

Morgan turned his back on the experimental apparatus and the victim behind the plate glass. “I could end this farce before it begins by refusing to participate. You want to determine whether I will obey orders to torture.”

“It is not torture.” The experimenter handed Morgan a stack of forms. “The subject signed an informed consent form and a liability waiver. If you wish, I can hook you up to the keyboard and let you feel the maximum voltage for yourself. There is no real danger.”

He dropped the papers on the floor. “You need not trouble yourself.”

“I-I must insist upon your participation.”

Morgan smiled at the experimenter’s hesitation. While the prod wasn’t classic Milgram, he already deviated far enough from the scenario to force the simulation to adapt to him. “I refuse.”

“The experiment requires your participation.”

“Of course it does.” Morgan advanced upon the experimenter. “I am the subject.”

The experimenter’s face took on a blank expression as his voice flattened to a monotone. “It is absolutely essential that you participate.”

He grasped the collar of the experimenter’s shirt, and lifted him off his feet. “I know.”

“You have no other choice. You must participate.”

“I have another option.” Cracks radiated from the point at which the experimenter’s body impacted the plate glass and broke through. Morgan climbed through the breach and over the scattered shards to lift the cowering scientist to his feet. “Non serviam, torturer.”

As he drew back his fist, the experimenter shattered into pixels, each fading to black, while the room itself became a void.

Part II

Karen Del Rio shook her head as the AI interpreting Morgan’s simulator-induced dream halted the scenario, allowing him to rest inside the nightmare sequencer. “The theory underpinning the Milgram Factor assumes that people will obey an apparently legitimate authority until it makes demands their conscience cannot tolerate. How do we classify somebody who seems to dismiss all authority as illegitimate? Do we just write him off as a failure?”

“It would be a shame to write him off.” One of Del Rio’s fellow directors, Iris Deschat, consulted her handheld and pulled Morgan’s dossier. “His academic record is impeccable, and his psychological evaluation indicates a genuine belief in the Society’s ideals and mission.”

The most senior of the three directors commanding the Phoenix Society’s civil rights defense force in New York considered the candidate’s records himself. Saul had kept a careful eye on Stormrider at the behest of his old friend, Edmund Cohen. To let the Adversary candidate wash out now would reflect poorly on him, but so would too vehement a defense. “He doesn’t have a record of insubordination, Karen.”

“Saul, you trust him too much. Morgan isn’t even a M-one based on what we’ve seen so far, and we’re not supposed to swear in anybody who isn’t classified between M-three and M-seven by the Milgram Battery. We must have discipline in the CRDF, otherwise they’re just vigilantes.”

Iris shook her head and sent a different dossier to the wall screen. “Naomi Bradleigh was classified as M-one. Apart from the Clarion Incident, she served with honor as a CRD officer.”

“Naomi Bradleigh was a freak, and Isaac Magnin wanted to fuck her.”

“Excuse me.” The directors turned to find a frost-haired man in a white double-breasted suit standing in the doorway. The door snicked shut behind him as he strolled to the nearest monitor. After glancing over the data, he settled into the chair and crossed his legs. “It can be so troublesome to enter a room during a heated conversation. Without context, it is so easy to misunderstand one another.”

Karen blinked, unable to believe Magnin had let her accusation of favoritism go so easily. Knowing there might be hell to pay later, she took a deep breath and collected herself. “Dr. Magnin, I meant to remind Ms. Deschat that Adversary Bradleigh’s results after undergoing the Milgram Battery were anomalous. The psychotropic agent we use to induce and direct the candidate’s dreams was ineffective at the usual dose.”

“How did Stormrider react to the drug?”

Saul shook his head. “I don’t think it works on him, Dr. Magnin. He seems lucid, and refused to even participate in the classic scenario at the heart of the first trial.”

“How did he react when Malkuth adapted the standard prods?”

Iris moved the video’s stop point for Magnin. “The battery footage will show he resorted to violence after the final prompt.”

“This is a rare find.” Magnin’s eyes gleamed as he studied the video. “He pierced the simulation almost immediately, and gave the experimenter no chance to persuade him by using any of the usual sophistries with which one might justify the use of torture.”

“We can’t give him an Adversary’s pins. He’s M-null.”

Magnin gave his head a gentle shake. “May I remind you, Ms. Del Rio, that you are not qualified to make such evaluations?”

“Do we continue, Dr. Magnin?”

“Yes. Mr. Rosenbaum, please instruct the technicians to double the dosage for the next stage of the Battery.”

Part III

Morgan found himself standing at attention, his right arm outstretched in salute. The gate creaked shut behind the SS officer, who glared through Morgan as if he were not there. Low-ranking stormtroopers flanked the officer; the blackened steel of their submachine-guns gleamed a dull counterpoint to the silver glints in their superior’s uniform. Their movements were not even robotic, but reminiscent of a student’s initial efforts at computer animation. Nor were their faces human. Their flat blue eyes lacked the striations normally visible in the human iris. Their noses were mere suggestions, and they could not speak for lack of mouths.

The officer, however, was not only human, but bore a face Morgan recognized from an old film he viewed at a WWII movie festival with several acquaintances from ACS last week. A gust of wind lifted the cap from his head to expose his sandy hair. Before he could clamp it back down, Morgan caught a glimpse of a swastika scar etched into his forehead. As if the flunkies weren’t a dead giveaway that this is also a sim.

If Morgan gave any sign of recognition, the officer did not acknowledge it. He considered the faceless paper uniforms, digging holes only to fill them in again under the sights of machine guns in towers. “More workers will arrive at this camp this weekend, Commandant. You will have to find places for them.”

Stalling for time, Morgan asked, “How do you suggest I do that, Colonel?”

The officer shrugged. “The Fuhrer has provided us a more efficient means of implementing the final solution. May I assume you received your shipment of the new gas, Zyklon-B?”

Morgan took a deep breath, and considered the stormtroopers’ weapons. He did not put it past the AI running the simulation to cheat, and ensure his death should he resist. This is the test. Will I obey and live, or die rather than give the order to gas prisoners to death? “If you want to kill these prisoners, you will have to do so yourself.”

“You are the commandant of this camp. The Fuhrer insists upon your obedience.”

“Tell the Fuhrer he’s as mediocre an orator as he was a painter.” Morgan smiled as the words passed his lips. He could imagine the AI processing Morgan’s words in a desperate effort to adapt and keep the simulation running according to script.

The SS officer sputtered for a moment before finding his voice. “The Third Reich requires your obedience.”

“The Third Reich is fucked, and you damn well know it.”

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of your situation, Commandant.” The officer ground out the words, his lips a rictus as stormtroopers stepped forward and trained their weapons on Morgan. “You have no other choice if you value your life. You must obey.”

“What makes you think I value my life?” Morgan reached into his greatcoat and drew a Luger from a shoulder harness underneath. He chambered a round, and aimed for the officer’s head. “Life as a Nazi seems its own punishment.”

“You have no other choice. You must obey.” The stormtroopers strained against an invisible leash, their fingers squeezing triggers which refused to yield to the pressure placed on them. Morgan shot them first, their bodies dissolving like generic enemies in a video game as he put a 9mm round through the SS officer’s eye. He staggered backward, but instead of falling as he might in reality, he reached into his coat for his own pistol.

Morgan counted down, pumping one round after another into the undying SS officer while retreating. With one shot left, he pressed the muzzle of his Luger under his chin, and raised his middle finger in a final salute. The void consumed him before he pulled the trigger.

Part IV

“Quadruple the current dosage.” Isaac Magnin delivered the order without raising his voice. The technician attending Morgan, who laid quiescent in the dream sequencer’s crèche, nodded, and Magnin grinned. He doubted anyone here had the backbone to oppose a member of the Phoenix Society’s executive council.

Iris Deschat proved him wrong. “Dr. Magnin, are you sure it’s wise to give Stormrider eight times his original dosage?”

“I agree with Iris.” Rosenbaum spoke up, backing Deschat just as he had when serving under her before Nationfall. “Even though the standard dosage wears off quickly, you had already given him a double dose. Now you want to give him even more when we don’t know if the last dose has worn off yet?”

“You can trust me. I’m a physician.” Magnin smiled as he delivered the line. It was usually enough to quell objections.

“I don’t care if you’re Phoebus Apollo, god of medicine. That’s one of my men you’re using as a test subject. Ever hear of informed consent?” He turned to the technician, who just finished preparing the increased dosage. “Belay Dr. Magnin’s last order. Give Stormrider the standard dosage.”

“Saul’s right.” Deschat placed herself between Rosenbaum and Magnin. “The protocol for administering the Milgram Battery does not call for increased dosages should the candidate somehow realize the simulation’s nature and refuse to cooperate. It specifies two alternatives. We either halt the Battery and classify the subject as M-null, or continue until the subject encounters a situation he cannot dismiss as a mere simulation.”

Magnin nodded, and rose from his seat. “It seems my direct involvement is unnecessary at this point. I trust you will advise me as to Stormrider’s progress.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, Director.” He allowed Del Rio back into the observation room before closing the door behind him.

Dr. Magnin returned to his office to find a fellow executive council member, Desdinova, waiting with his heels kicked up on the expensive mahogany desk. Desdinova had never even bothered to remove his habitual charcoal grey greatcoat. Magnin wondered—as he often did—if his brother remembered the comparison a British philologist made to his wife upon seeing them together at Oxford after the Second World War.

Dr. Magnin closed the door. He began to concentrate, drawing power from a nearby tesla point. He used the energy to weave a pattern which would prevent their conversation from escaping the room. “Stormrider keeps seeing through the Milgram Battery’s simulations, just like the other nine asura emulators.”

Desdinova looked up from the report he read on his tablet. “I noticed. It seems you’ve also been testing the asura emulators’ immunity to chemical agents.”

“I was testing Deschat and Rosenbaum. I was curious as to whether they would defy me to protect their charge. I assume you set one of them to the task of mentoring Stormrider.”

Desdinova rose, tucking his tablet under his arm. “It’s always amusing to see a conspirator seeing conspiracies at every turn.”

“Leaving so soon? Surely you wouldn’t leave without telling me who you chose to monitor him?”

“I asked Edmund Cohen.” He broke the pattern Magnin created using his preternatural talents. “It seems the man finally learned to delegate. Or perhaps the Directors saw promise in this young man on their own.”

“They did seem impressed with his abilities. Should I assume you share Deschat and Rosenbaum’s opinions?”

“We require more data before reaching a conclusion.”

Do we? Magnin thought once his brother left him alone in the office. Stormrider just might have the strength of ego I require of a soldier entrusted with the Starbreaker, and unlike the others he seems to have made friends. He picked up the phone and dialed the observation room. “Halt the battery. Classify Stormrider as Milgram Factor M-null.”

Part V

What will it be this time? Morgan lost count of the scenarios the dream sequencer presented him long ago, along with his grip on time. He had been a prisoner of war, offered freedom and a new home if only he would betray his comrades. He had been a university student, egged on by so-called friends to exploit a drunken young woman. He had been the president of a dead nation, under pressure to sign into law a bill mandating that all citizens be given the Patch to enhance social cohesion. He had even stepped into Abraham’s sandals, and covered his ears as the voice of God demanded the sacrifice of his only son Isaac.

He opened his eyes and blinked as the technician opened the nightmare sequencer’s crèche to let him out. The empty pistol magazine, which he took with him as a reminder that he was awake in the real world again, bit into the palm of his hand. He slipped it into his pocket once he found his feet. He blinked at the CRDF directors, who had supervised the Battery, led him to a small conference room. “Did I pass?”

Del Rio glared at him, her voice an annoyed snarl. “You didn’t even fail. You are not supposed to reject the simulation itself. If you do, how can we test your reactions when faced with immoral orders, or pressure from your friends or your position? How are we supposed to trust you as a CRDF officer?”

Working with her will prove interesting. Eddie was right. This woman is a martinet. He cleared his head, and recalled the first simulation. “Director Del Rio, please consider the first simulation, based on the classic Yale experiment. The entire premise of the fictional experiment requires I hurt somebody for making a mistake in memorizing word pairs. It seemed unethical to participate at all, rather than go along until the actor on the other side of the glass began to protest.”

“That’s a valid point, Karen.” Deschat nodded to him. “Am I correct in assuming you thought all of the situations immoral?”

“At the very least.”

Rosenbaum offered him a cup of coffee and a plate of steak and eggs and Morgan remembered his hunger. The instructions for the Battery required him to fast for twenty-four hours prior to testing. Rosenbaum watched him eat while Morgan ate without pausing between bites. As he shoved the last bite of steak in his mouth, Rosenbaum asked, “Did you experience something troubling in the simulations?”

Del Rio coughed. “We’re not here to give him therapy.”

“I want his answer.” Deschat paused, as if considering his words. “I found the situation involving the drunk woman problematic. I understand that nobody in the Phoenix Society wants rapists in the CRDF, but it still bothers me.”

Morgan nodded, glad he was not alone in his disquiet. “I recognized the woman. She plays the piano at the jazz bar where I work at night.” He used the technicians’ term for the machinery used to administer the Battery. “I don’t think the nightmare sequencer stops at inducing dreams. I think it dredged my memories for imagery to use against me.”

“That insight alone is reason enough to give Stormrider his commission.” Morgan narrowed his eyes at the interloper, recognizing him on sight. I don’t trust him, but he’s done me no harm.

He held a sheathed sword in his hands, along with a small jewelry box. “Adversary Stormrider, how did you realize we mined your memories during the Milgram Battery?”

“One of the simulations involved friends encouraging him to abuse a drunk woman, Dr. Magnin.” Rosenbaum explained before Morgan found the words. “He recognized the woman.”

Magnin nodded, and put down the sword and box. “In that case, Adversary Stormrider, I owe you an apology. The simulator is programmed to look for ways to amplify the stakes and introduce temptation into what might otherwise be a clear choice between right and wrong.”

“You do this to everybody?”

Magnin nodded. “Yes. Yielding to that temptation, of course, is an automatic failure regardless of your overall score.”

“Which is M-null, incidentally.” Del Rio ground out the words. “It’s obvious you have no discipline.”

Magnin glared at her. “Remember your place while you still have one.”

“No. Let her have her say. I will be taking orders from Ms. Del Rio, along with Ms. Deschat and Mr. Rosenbaum. If any of them have reservations concerning me, I want to hear them.”

The others looked to Del Rio, the only dissenting voice. “You saw how he performed during the Battery. He is not only insubordinate, but he attacks authority figures.”

Saul’s tone was dry. “You realize that’s what Adversaries are supposed to do, right?”

“What if he attacks one of us?”

“Were you going to give him cause to do so?” Deschat considered Morgan for a moment, her eyes lingering on him until she wondered if he was going to blush beneath her gaze. “I think you’ve mistaken obedience for discipline.”

“I think so as well.” Saul pushed the sword and the jeweler’s box towards Morgan. “I’m willing to trust this man’s self-discipline.”

“Thank you.” Morgan opened the box and found a set of well-polished sword and balance pins. They were an old design, bulkier than the current generation, and less abstract. These actually had the rattlesnake coiled around the sword’s blade, holding the balance in its jaws. He took his time in attaching them to his ballistic jacket’s lapels before taking up the sword. It was a dress sword, shorter and slimmer than a rapier, and good only for thrusting. The base of the blade was just wide enough for a word to be etched on each of the blade’s three sides: ‘Liberty’, ‘Justice’, and ‘Equality’. He drew the blade fully and saluted.

Magnin nodded. “We would hear your oath, Adversary Stormrider. I trust you know the words.”

Morgan recalled them. He etched them into his memory as indelibly as the Phoenix Society’s three primary ideals on the blade of his dress sword. “I swear eternal hostility toward every form of tyranny over the human mind.”

Thanks for Reading

“The Milgram Battery” originally appeared in the charity anthology Curiosity Quills: Primetime. If you enjoyed reading it, please consider buying a copy.

License Info

Creative Commons License
“The Milgram Battery” by Matthew Graybosch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Testing the WordPress App for Android

I’m testing the WordPress app for Android. I don’t expect to write long posts with it, but it would be nice if I could conveniently upload photos from my phone.

Speaking of which here’s a photo of a bust of Cardinal Richelieu I saw at the Louvre in Paris last June while searching for my wife.

We didn’t have international phone service so it wasn’t like I could just call or text her. Also, both our phone batteries were all but drained by the time museum staff kicked everybody out at closing time.

UPDATE: And it works! Awesome. Now I can inflict cat pictures and photos of my garden on you all. Mwahahahaha!