Abi Glenn was a Moderator. Technically her home was in the C/D bloc of the New government compound, but for all intensive purposes, she was never there. She was always stationed at Motts, the main complex where the Moderators did their work.
Today she sat in her small office, adjacent to the big forum where most of the Moderation took place. Her vice was drugs. Not drink, like Collinsworth, or anti-agers like most Outsiders, but the anti-psychs that essentially reduced all aberrational psychologies to one mono-psychology. Temperance, curiosity, optimism, balance. Many considered the anti-psychs to be one of the most dangerous substances still un-Abolished Outside. Despite society's general reservations, at the moment anti-psychs were still only Moderated: only a single half ton could be produced every year, and they could only be produced by a particular MAN-operated entity, now known as Pharm.
The vision of eliminating psychological variance among Outsiders was a controversial one. As far as Abi knew, the Abolitionists had even taken it to Deliberation a few times, which was surprising, because most found it hard to imagine 'psychological variance' would ever be Abolished. Even so, there were inner workings within the Abolitionists Abi was aware of that might not justifiably pave the way to anti-psychs, but perhaps make their way around them entirely. She was aware of the growing phenomenon of 'cosmetic burns' taking hold on the Outside. Rather than burns being used and perceived as punishment, there was work being done – completely un-Moderated – on burns that were strategically isolated to certain parts of the brain that would help alleviate stressors. In fact, she had heard that there were street Burners who could remove not only specific memories, but patterns of memory over time. There were Burners who claimed to be able to erase sensations – you could unsmell the stench of sour garbage or unhear the roar of a train lifting off. Some claimed to eliminate patterns of thought – self-deprecation, jealousy, bitter irony. These advances, in sum, were leading rapidly towards the realization of 'cerebral burns,' where one did not prescribe what exactly should be removed, one simply requested an outcome – lightness, calm. Purity.
It was a scary time. All of this, and more, Abi was sure, went on under the watchful eye of the Moderators, not just as an entity, but as individuals. And isn't that what entities are made of? Personally she couldn't wait for the day she could get a certified cerebral burn. There were of course those Moderators, like Matthews and Kothari, who saw the nascent burn market as a danger, a slippery slope, and something that should be immediately Moderated, but there the fear was that it would simply drive users underground into the black markets. And MAN itself wasn't ready to offer an approved solution. Their research was still ongoing. Besides, the moment MAN became a producer, the 'product' so to speak would fall subject to Abolishment, because, until that happened of course, Abolitionists had no idea any of this was going on. It was the Moderators' job to bring forth to the Abolitionists the philosophical inquiries that would most affect the daily fabric of society. To bring forth the concept of 'burns' as the new anti-psych, and distance it from its former life as a death sentence, would be one of the biggest Deliberations in recent memory. It would likely take months. And they would, most likely, Abolish it. So that was why, in Abi's estimation, no Moderators had even brought it to them. It was a selfishly turned blind eye, but there was a noble rationale behind it as well. Because, after all, it was a scientific pursuit. It was innovation. It would've gone against the entire philosophical fabric of MAN, and the Outside as a whole, to Moderate something as yet unexplored. It would have broken one of the founding Tenets of the first Deliberation – one of the primal Abolitionist decisions – First we must understand. No stopping before then.
And so it was. And so Abi looked forward to the day she could get safely burned rather than douse herself in exorbitantly priced anti-psychs. She swallowed a few more.
Her phone rang. It was Collinsworth. She always liked to call him by his middle name.
"Hello Christopher," she said calmly, revealing nothing. Collinsworth was one of the many men who'd spurned her in her withering age. He, in particular, had made it hurt. As an Abolitionist, he was allowed more than the usual dose of anti-agers, and Abi was always conscious of how simply ancient she must look compared to him, though they were approximately the same age. And at the same time, he was also just an older man who loved his younger women.
"Hello Abi, do you have a moment?"
"Naturally, Christopher, I always make time for the Prime. Are you calling to understand how the last Moderation went? Because if so, the answer is no, there have been no changes to the personal liquor consumption limit."
Collinsworth snorted laughlessly through his nose. His alcoholism had always been a running joke of hers. "No, not today, Abi."
"Well, then, the answer is still no. No new deliberation proposals for your consideration today."
"In fact I'm calling with a proposal of my own, but I first need to hear your understanding of the climate within the Moderators."
Abi looked at the time – she'd need to head back into the forum shortly. "Yes, I'm listening," she replied.
"I'm sure you've heard we've been working on the burn. What would you say if I told you that we've cracked it?"
Abi sat up straight in her chair and inadvertently glanced at her anti-psychs, then at the bin where she thirstily hoped she could soon throw them. "I have heard that, yes, though I've kept myself unencumbered by some of the unsavory aspects of the research that I understand have been necessary. How far have you been able to go?"
"Essentially cerebral," Collinsworth replied, "and quite consistently too."
"agatha…" Abi cooed, "It's magnificent. Terrifying. Marvelous. I mean, this is history, Christopher!"
"It is," Collinsworth agreed. "It's monumental; it's a great achievement for DOMO."
"This came out of DOMO?" Abi said, surprised. She had been certain the research was approved and coming out of Hexler, the massive laboratory and scientific complex in the MAN compound.
"Yes, of course. As you mentioned, there were unsavory aspects…"
"My…" Abi whispered, disbelieving. She admired the man for what he was willing to do in the pursuit of knowledge. "Well, OK, so now what?"
"I've identified how and to whom we should first make the burns available."
"Yes, I'm listening…"
Abi fell still. She could practically hear the pernicious side plot hum along with the slide of his whiskey glass across his desk.
"The Abolitionists?" Abi said, incredulous. "Are you… pardon the pun, but are you out of your mind? Do you know how hard we work to preserve their state of mind? Their isolation? Their age, their health, their cognitive functioning?"
"Precisely," Collinsworth replied. "Their minds are the philosophical and moral engine of our society. Our society depends on their minds being free from impurity, contamination. Think of it, Abi…" She couldn't discern whether he was charming her or being charmed himself by the idea… "We wouldn't call it a burn. We would call it a cleanse. And Abolitionists would receive it before and after deliberations. What could possibly be more true or pure than that? They'd bring no personal biases with them into Panel. Today, to achieve the same effect, we physically isolate them – what could be more barbaric or crude than that? With something like this, something that affects the very foundation of our government, our society – we could achieve something much more profound."
"But would they ever agree to it?"
"Would they have to know?"
Abi felt everything in her begin to quake – it was probably the anti-psychs fighting off another one of her menacing anxiety attacks. Her voice came out urgent and low, "You might call it a 'cleanse,' John, but it's still a burn. We both know tenet 110 says you can't even stun an Abolitionist without the penalty of burning. Now if you're talking about burning them, unknowingly no less, and anyone, I mean a single soul, ever found out, there would be rioting. Rioting. We would lose everything. MAN would crumble – the entire population would tear us apart, drag us to the ground. Nothing that makes us who we are – as Outsiders – would still exist. And if that happened, we might as well break the Divide. We might as well be Pures!"
"Yes, Abi," Collinsworth replied. He had been listening carefully. He thought for a minute and then went on. "Have you ever thought what it means to be truly Pure?"
Abi was silent.
"It means that you are only your principles. That's all it means. And that, when done properly, is all that matters. That is the principle we were founded on."
"I don't understand you, not anymore," Abi said, then urgently, "How could you possibly think I could help you?"
"Because you can, Abi, you can," Collinsworth replied reassuringly. "By bringing it to Moderation, by formulating it into a deliberation proposal, and then by sending it to me as Prime, so that I can bring it to Deliberation."
"Are you hearing yourself, John? Are you hearing me? How could the Abolitionists ever agree to having something done to them unknowingly. It's a paradox!"
"Leave that to me Abi. Our art is word play. Ideas are our arena. The Abolitionists are never forced to reckon with the actual consequences." He paused. "They've never seen the way even the purest of their intentions can be bent, or interpreted, to actuate anything. This will be no exception. Until they've passed it, they'll have no idea what they've done." He paused longer now. "You know, Abi, even if they knew, I truly believe they would think it's quite the right idea. On principle."
Abi looked at her anti-psychs and let her eyes drift out of focus. "Quite consistently," she murmured. "That's what you said. 'Quite consistently'… what happens the rest of the time?"
"Well, we're leaving that to DOMO. They're the best and the brightest. But I promise you this: we won't use it on them until it's 100%"
"Who are you using it on the rest of the time?" Abi let the question float unanswered in the air. Guess she wouldn't be tossing her anti-psychs yet after all.