In follow-up to last week's FRAG report, a very short story about the future.Halfway between the self-drive dealership and the virtual adventure mall, I notice something strange. At the far end of the park, past the water memorial, a crowd has gathered. But no patrol shows up to put an end to whatever may have incited the assembly. No drones monitor the event. It’s just some people huddled in the park. But why?
Whatever the reason, the scene brings a smile. Twenty years ago I brought my children to this park to play. It wasn’t such a serious place then. The acres of gentle hills were not so pristine. Back then, swings and monkey bars brought happy squeals. I haven’t seen that kind of park in a long while. When the playground equipment was torn down, the memorials went up. Reminders to preserve what was left. It happened all over the world. Now people don’t gather in parks unless they intend to cause trouble.
For a moment I consider that what would be best—safest—would be to keep walking. But others have stopped alongside me now. Are we all susceptible to the mob effect? Too curious about the outlaw who must at the center of this crowd? But they’re just grouping. Like birds ready to move on to a warmer climate. What could it hurt? Spurred by those around me, I step forward. We all creep closer.
Then the drones are over us. A warning laser effects furious circles into the gathering. It’s harmless. Painless. Nobody’s going to get hurt. The crowd stretches wide like the ripples I once made when I threw rocks into the nearby pond. It’s long since dried up. The people seem to vibrate loose from their focus. They pass on each side of me as they hurry back to the walkway. Those who’d moved in with me have left without me. But five remain in the center of the disturbance where the rock hit the water. And there on a white blanket rests a boy.
He can’t be more than five. In his hands is an open book. A paper book—another oddity. I haven’t seen a paper book in a decade. The child is reading. Judging by the graceful way the words roll from his lips, he must be a high-brain. Probably lab-grown with bio-upgrades.
In spite of his commanding mannerism, he’s small and sweet with his sand-blond hair and big blue eyes. He smiles as he reads. And then chuckles. His face turns upward and he blinks at the sun. Then he goes back to reading. Those who’ve remained—the five—listen. Mesmerized. As if they’re held captive by the child and his book. I understand their captivity. My feet won’t move. I’m not even close enough to hear the words springing from this tender boy’s mouth. But I won’t go closer. And I can’t move away.
A patrol shows up at last and points his laser at the nearest of the five. A faint buzz drops the man to his knees. He cries out, but only for the briefest moment. And then the oddest thing—the other four fall to their knees on the blanket. The patrol shakes his head and mumbles something I don’t understand. Rather than stunning the rest of the listeners, the patrol grabs the little boy’s arm, jerks him off the ground, and hauls him away. No parent runs to claim the child. The patrol marches to his vehicle and drops the boy into the containment pod. Then he climbs in the front and the vehicle hums away.
The five rise and disperse. They don’t speak to each other. The just break apart and walk away.
My feet move then and I walk to the place where the boy had been reading. The open book is still there on the white blanket. The strangest thing of all about that day was the patrol took the child. But not the book. I pick it up. I know what it is—I knew from the moment I saw it in the little boy’s hands. Fear surges through me. But I lift my face and blink at the sun. Then I let my eyes meet the book. And I read the words in the center of the page aloud.
“And He said to them, he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”