Hold-Out by Ian Smith


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"Join us."

"No."

"Why not?"

"I have... thoughts, memories I don't want to share."

"That is of no consequence. All thoughts are communal now. No matter how much shame your thoughts cause you, everyone is equal now. Every absurd, violent, perverse, or shameful thought is owned by all. The mind-matrix will bear you up, strengthen you where you are weak, and your strengths shall bear up those who are weaker."

"... I won't"

"Ark, it's just like getting into a swimming pool. You know, like at your uncle's house when you were a kid? Do you remember those summers? You loved swimming so much. It's cold at first, but by the time you adjust, it'll be so warm to you, you won't ever want to get out."

"Leave me alone."

"Your sense of shame stems from your ego. It stems from fear..."

"I know all that. But let me ask you all something..."

"Go ahead."

"If you found something in me you didn't like, would you reject me from the matrix?"

"We no longer like or dislike. We no longer attach such values to things. And you won't either when you join us."

"Say there was something the matrix just couldn't handle. Some thought that was so disturbing, the matrix had to either reject it or, itself, be destroyed, what would you do?"

"That has never happened. We have accepted schizophrenics, sociopaths, and child molesters. They were all healed when they entered the matrix, made whole."

"But say it did happen, what would you do?"

"...I suppose we would have no choice but to eject that mind from the matrix, assuming we were still able to after... whatever entered it..."

"Exactly. I can't deal with the fear. I can't deal with the overwhelming fear that I will be rejected by a committee of every human being currently alive on this planet."

"But it has never happened..."

"Just because it has never happened doesn't mean it won't. At least, this way I'll never know."

"But we need you to join, Ark. Don't you see that? And you need us. No mind should be alone. No mind should suffer in solitude. The needs of all minds are equal. We want to do this for you."

"No."

The spokesman body sighed, "very well, we will be waiting if you change your mind. You know where to find us."

The spokesman strode away down the lane until Ark, standing rigid at the window, could no longer see him. Then he sat down and finished his breakfast.