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Cesare by Georgia Weidman

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  • Cesare by Georgia Weidman

    Cesare by Georgia Weidman

    Lawliet had finished imaging all the employee workstations that had been infected by malware due to an overall lack of due care on the part of the employees in question as to viewing foreign websites. Interestingly enough a government facility was the only place in the entire Alliance network that it was possible to surf outside, and rumor had it despite their countries for all intensive purposes having been blown to bits, there was some pretty entertaining stuff floating around out there. Lawliet had pretty solid evidence that a subset of the hacker team had set up a completely illegal and highly prosperous venture selling illegal entertainment in the underground. Higher ups had a way of not listening to Lawliet though, so she instead imaged all the workstations that had mysteriously run afoul of the only weapons the rest of the world had left. Foreign entertainment was worth a lot, but foreign malware was worth nothing to the general populace. She had checked.
    Lawliet was just about to leave for the day when the head of IT help dropped a thick stack of papers on her already rickety desk, threatening to collapse the entire cubicle. “These are all the members of the hacking team that need their passwords reset. Take care of it before the end of the shift.”
    “Trust the hackers to work so hard they can't remember their passwords,” Lawliet said under her breath once he was gone. She had reason to be bitter; her sixth application to join the hacking team had been rejected just last month. She barely managed to get out the door before the sensors started signaling that something major was up with the Magi.

    Lawliet met Demian in the park the same as she did everyday after work. “Any regrets?” he asked as she joined him on their usual bench.
    “That place has made me question my resolve on any number of things, but in this case it only confirms we are doing the right thing.”
    “So what do we do now?”
    “We wait.”
    Cesare was 7 years older than Lawliet and remembered life before the Magi. Lawliet's first concrete memory was the same show being on every channel for days and various friends of the family stopping by like they did for birthdays but bringing food instead of presents. Magi version 1 was rolled into production within six months of that day. Cesare's main complaint was that the advent of the Magi system had all but destroyed the action genre. Man needed a good shoot 'em up thriller every now and then to feel whole. Take the Roman preoccupation with Gladiators as an example. Lawliet would ask what a Roman was, and Cesare would go off on a rant about what the government was doing to the education system. Cesare had a way of getting banned books for cheap; not many people wanted them. These days all the entertainment focused on technology, the preternaturally attractive hero saving the Alliance from foreigners by typing into a computer, typing with gusto but nevertheless typing, and waiting. Cesare had this big idea to singlehandedly revive good old shoot 'em up, man conquers all entertainment after he got out of the army.
    Cesare had fundamental issues with the idea that the populace was controlled by a bunch of computers. Lawliet just didn't get it, he said. She had wanted to be an elite hacker on the Magi team for her entire life. Cesare said she was indoctrinated. Indoctrinated was one of his very favorite words. Everybody was indoctrinated by the horrors of the pre-Magi mass media depictions of religious zealots from everywhere but here indoctrinated into thinking we all need to be killed. When the Magi came along and fixed all that, the fear of terrorists, the fear government weakness, and replaced it with assured safety and system free of innate human flaws, a rudimentary understanding of psychology could explain why it took so well. Cesare had found her a book on psychology too. It helped that anyone who spoke openly against the Magi system had a way of disappearing. Lawliet thought she might have been indoctrinated by listening to Cesare talk this way. She took note of this for her trial, if enemies of the Alliance were afforded a trial.
    “Has the package been delivered?” Tristan came up behind them.
    “Can't you tell?” Lawliet replied meeting his blank expression. It was a normal day, sun not quite breaking through the perpetual cloud of smog overhead, workers on the day shift headed home, televisions on the sides of the tall government buildings scrolling through news of Alliance victories.
    “No missiles,” Demian answered the riddle.
    “How could I not think of that?” Tristan slapped himself across the forehead and sat down between them.
    Cesare would say it was telltale of their plight that they didn't even notice missiles destined to rain havoc upon some nameless foreign soil shaking the ground around the three times a day.
    “Do you think that's altogether wise?” Demian asked.
    “Don't worry the defense systems are still up. If something comes the Magi are ready,” Lawliet replied.
    “I wonder if there's even anyone out there anymore,” Tristan noted. They all fell silent, waiting. It was nothing like one of Cesare's half finished save the world action scripts.

    “Lawliet stop!” Demian called out from behind her as she headed to work for the last time. “You've really thought about the consequences of what we are about to do right?”
    “It's all I think about,” she replied not meeting his gaze.
    “If we fail they will kill us.”
    “You shouldn't talk like this out here. It's not safe.”
    “Your brother wouldn't want to see you die for his dream.”
    “If I die it will be for my dream. I'm lucky that I have the chance to see it realized.”
    “If we fail.”
    “I'm not asking you to follow me.”
    “If you're sure, I'll stand beside you until the end.”

    Dr. Risk, former co-chief scientist in AI, now worked in a entertainment store under an assumed name as far away from the seat of Alliance government as he could get. He was just settling into his chair for a dose of post-curfew feel good television when regular broadcast suddenly stopped. He was in a state of disbelief. Whatever bastardization of his work the Magi system was, it did not fail, ever. A failure in the entertainment could quickly lead to fear and chaos, which would in turn threaten the government's grip over the populace.
    There was no video, only sound. “This is a special announcement from Team Cesare. The Magi are no longer under Alliance government control. There is no reason to be alarmed. The people will not be harmed. We are here to expose the government's lies and to free you all to think for yourselves without fear of persecution.” Then the television went dead.
    “I wish you the best of luck project Cesare.” As far as he knew Dr. Risk was the only Magi scientist who had escaped the government, and thus the only person alive who knew the Magi's true potential.

    “They cut the feed,” Tristan reported.
    “How is that possible, Demian replied. “Did they kill the virus?”
    “No, I'm still in,” Lawliet called from behind her computer screen.
    “I imagine they did it the old fashion way and just cut the cable,” Tristan said. “There's a backup. Should we run it?”
    “We might need it for something more pressing. I'm sure they got the jist of it anyway,” Demian noted. “On a different note, this is actually somewhat creepy, just how much of our everyday lives the government can see.” He was flipping through the never ending supply of feeds from the streets. “You aren't going to like the looks of this.”
    “They are killing people out there.”
    “Your not serious. Why?”
    “Guess they figure if they kill anyone who might have done it eventually they will get lucky.”
    “Seems we have no choice then,” Lawliet said calmly still behind her screen. “We have to go get caught.”

    “You were just blowing smoke about hacking the Magi right. You were just upset. I mean you couldn't really.”
    “I could,” Lawliet replied.
    “I say we do it,” Tristan joined in. “I never had much use for those machines anyway.”
    “I guess it’s like most ideas that look really nice on paper but turn out to destroy us instead of saving us. They are just computers with a lot of processing power. The whole idea was that they could judge right and wrong better than we could because it’s all computation and no innate human weakness. I guess it says something about man that we can create a god and then bring it down to our level,” Lawliet said. Cesare had taught her a good deal about past governments.

    “Come on Lawliet. You just admitted you’re the Magi hacker to every television in the Alliance. I'd say you've got about 30 seconds you know,” Demain called.
    “I am not getting on that.”
    “You hacked the Magi and you’re afraid to ride a motorcycle?”
    “I prefer stationary objects.”
    They could hear the staccato of the army’s approach now. She closed her eyes and jumped on. All she could think about was how much this was like a scene in one of Cesare's scripts. She thought about her brother, his ideals. It was almost like she wasn't hurtling at breakneck speed, until they stopped suddenly.
    “Nowhere to go but down. Why'd they have to make everything in this city so tall huh?”
    Lawliet heard the footsteps hot on their trail. “Guess this is it then,” when a gust of wind nearly knocked them both over the ledge. It was an airship.
    “Somebody call for a lift?”
    “Tristan you know how to fly one of these things?” Lawliet said in disbelief.
    “Yeah, Cesare got me one of those pre-Alliance gaming systems.”
    “How'd you get it?” Demian asked.
    “Well when you shut down the military system all that was standing between me and this baby was an old fashion pin and tumbler.”
    “You know how to pick locks?”
    “And you call yourself a hacker. No time to waste; we've got company.”
    “I hope Cesare is watching us. He'd be so proud,” Demain said as they watched the army guns get smaller and smaller.

    “There’s something really up with this world,” Tristan said banging his fist against the wall of their usual hideout.
    “I just want to go out and destroy everything that had any hand in this,” Demain said with his head in his hands.
    “Why don’t we?” replied an oddly composed Lawliet.
    “You have something in mind?” Tristan asked.
    “I’ve decided its time I start living by Cesare’s example.”

    “I hope Cesare got you the submarine game too,” Demian half joked as they prepared to take to the high seas.
    “Look here's the coordinates for the secret base where the malware is coming from. Go there and give them these drives. It has the source code for the virus and all the information I harvested from the Magi. Join them and keep our dream alive,” Lawliet forced her backpack into Demain's hands.
    “What? You're not coming?” They were both horrified.
    “Someone has to be culpable. I'll hold them off. They'll be too busy dealing with me. Take yourself off the grid. You'll make it.”
    They could see the army coming over the hill. “No!” Demian shouted, “I'm not leaving without you.”
    “Please just go,” Lawliet replied. “Tristan, please.”
    Tristan pulled Demian into the submarine as it disappeared beneath the surface. The last thing she heard before it was gone completely was Demian shouting her name.
    She heard the army approaching behind her but didn't turn around. She just stared out to sea hoping they made it. “So are you going to kill me Nathan?” she said to the captain who had a handgun pointed at her back.
    “Of course not. I couldn't kill Cesare's sister no matter the orders.”
    “You're too soft to be a captain in a totalitarian regime.”
    “I have to arrest you, you know.”

    Lawliet was in chains at the head of the sky tribunal, the seat of the government court. A large crowd of people had gathered just below to watch the trial and execution of the one who had hacked the Magi. The footage was being broadcast live throughout the entire Alliance, every television, because it would serve to show the people what happened to those who went in the face of the system.
    “So tell me, tell us all,” the Emperor said, “why would you, a computer scientist by trade, sworn to assist the Magi system, why would you hate the Magi so much as to try to destroy the system that has brought safety and prosperity to the people of the Alliance?”
    “It's not the Magi I hate. The Magi aren't enslaving humanity. The Magi didn't kill my brother. You did. Tell them Sire, tell the people what the Magi hackers really do.”

    “Cesare really believed in humanity. Funny he should die for something like that.”
    “Your brother was killed in action,” Nathan said.
    “Don't treat me like an idiot. He was sent into enemy territory to die. Cesare's been as good as dead since the day your army sent him away. I just didn't think they'd send the captain to give word of the death of a traitor.”
    “I came here because I had the utmost respect for your brother. I know he was the only family you had left after the attacks.”
    “Are you proud Nathan?” she shouted the tears spilling forth. “Are you proud to work for a system that condemns people to die just because they think people deserve to be free?”
    “Don't do anything stupid Lawliet. The last thing Cesare would want is for something to happen to you.”
    “The last thing he would want is for me to live my life a slave to a corrupt system.”

    “You have been found guilty of treason by this court. The Magi, the ultimate judge on earth will now execute you,” the Emperor announced.
    Lawliet closed her eyes, prepared to die. She knew they would make it. She knew this wasn't really the end, what she had done would not end here. The people had seen it. Nathan knew the truth. Demain and Tristan would continue her work. Cesare's dream of a restored free world would come true. Her dream might come true too.
    Nothing happened. The Emperor gave the signal a second time. A murmur rippled through the crowd. “She's still controlling it. Look it won't kill her. I thought they said she'd released it.”
    “No,” Dr. Risk hidden in the throngs of the crowd said to anyone who would listen. “She's not controlling it, and the government isn't controlling it either. This is the Magi's true form, an autonomous judge, free of the human condition. It doesn't consider her guilty.”
    Just then a airship appeared overhead. The crowd looked up en masse.
    “Shoot it down,” the Emporer ordered Nathan on his left.
    “But Sire, the people. It will fall into the crowd.”
    “I said shoot it down!.”
    The craft landed without incident, two young men bounding out and running towards Lawliet.
    “What are you doing here? I asked you to run,” Lawliet cried.
    “We couldn't leave you,” Demian said falling on his knees in front of her.
    “It seems we lack your conviction,” Tristan smiled.
    “Well I appreciate your support, but you might want to get out of the way. That cannon is about to execute me.”
    “It will have to kill us too,” Demian said grabbing her left hand and standing beside her. I said until the end.
    The Emperor used the distraction as an opportunity to wrestle away Nathan's gun, pointing it at Lawliet. “I will not let you destroy my system,” and then he fired. There was a loud blast as the cannon went off and the three of them gripped hands and prepared to die for the sake of humanity.
    About a minute later among gasps and shrieks from the crowd Tristan opened his eyes. “I think it missed.” The Magi cannon had shot down the Emporer.
    “It saved us,” Demian said. “Why?”
    “I guess it decided who the real villain was,” Lawliet replied.
    Nathan staggered over, mostly unhurt. “Release her!” he called to his men.
    “What do we do now?” Tristan asked.
    “Well I guess since we made this mess, we have a duty to stick around and help them clean it up,” Demain said.
    “This is what you wanted,” Tristan asked, “to free the Magi?”
    “Who better to help us build a better nation?”
    “You freed humanity and technology.” Nathan noted. “Your brother would be proud of you.”
    “Hey look!” Demian pointed to the sky.
    “Would you look at that,” Tristan said, “I haven't seen that since I was a kid.” The sun shined down over the awestruck crowd.
    “This is for you Cesare,” Lawliet said quietly.
    "Haters, gonna hate"