Cassil Tegvari glanced up as the electronic lock buzzed. The thick metal door ground out of the way and a woman stepped inside her cell. She was tall, unusually so. She was clad in dark teal armbands, a tight black sash around her waist, and grey leather leggings under a deep blue-green robe. She carried a tablet in the crook of her arm. Cassil eyed her carefully.
The woman inclined her head. “I am Seruan. I have been assigned to your case, comrade Cassil.”
“Just Seruan? No fancy title?” Cassil asked coldly. “That seems a little out of character for you people.”
“My official title is Mediator Seruan Fesmadi, if you would like to know.” Seruan seated herself across the cold steel table from Cassil, gently setting the tablet down. All her movements were gentle, Cassil thought, from how she walked to how she moved her hands.
“Not Judicator?” asked Cassil.
“No.” Seruan shook her head. “You are not in militia custody. If you would prefer to be transferred there and accept punishment for sedition, that option is open to you. If you will speak to me, however, it is my responsibility to find a solution to this problem that benefits all parties. It is your choice, however.”
“…you're Shevran, aren't you.”
“An astute inference.”
“In that case…” Cassil shrugged. “Fine. Listening to you probably won't hurt as much as getting flogged again.” She hesitated. “Probably,” she added.
Seruan smiled. “Thank you. If you will, I’ll summarize your case for you, to make sure we’re on the same page?”
Seruan nodded. “Your name is Cassil Mirvasi Roshi Tegvari. You are ward seven-oh-seven-fifteen-four-eight-ten of commune Tegvar, age seventeen cycles, currently in the Tegvari unskilled labor pool. You have no outstanding labor infractions. Early this morning, agents of the Shevran came to your dormitory and took you into custody. As you are likely aware, the reasons for your detention are concerns for community cohesion. In your communications with others, you have expressed and advocated opposition to particular policies — the specifics are irrelevant at this time — and discontent with our system of government in general. Would you consider this fair and accurate?”
“Excellent.” Seruan slid the tablet aside.
“So what now?” Cassil interjected, before Seruan could continue. “Is this where you intimidate me into being a good little girl again and offer to let me go as long as I stop criticizing our ever-so-wonderful leaders?”
“No,” said Seruan. “You’re a mature young woman, Cassil, not some child mouthing off. You have shown an aptitude for critical thought that, if properly used, could benefit many. I would like to remove you from the unskilled labor pool and place you under assessment for apprenticeship within the Tegvari civil service.”
Cassil blinked. “What? That’s - you’re trying to, what, keep me busy so I can’t cause problems? Alienate me from the people who’ve been listening to me? That’s bullshit.”
“You would be free to maintain all prior relationships, Cassil,” said Seruan gently. “In fact, I would encourage you to do so. We are not attempting to silence you or stifle you. You are an intelligent young woman, and I believe - as do my colleagues - that it would benefit both you and the People overall to put you in a position where you have the ability to advocate for and implement the changes you would like to see, as well as giving you the vantage point to understand and properly critique current policies.”
Cassil was silent for a moment. “So, I get all up in the state’s face, and your response is to... kidnap me and offer me a job? I don’t buy it.”
Seruan laughed. “There’s nothing unusual about this, Cassil. The Shevran are not simply enforcers; we are counselors and mediators as well. Dissidence always happens for a reason. Sometimes it’s just a brat raising hell for their own glory, and we have to knock some sense into them. But sometimes it happens because there’s something genuinely wrong, something that needs to be fixed. And sometimes it happens because people have an incomplete understanding of their situation. Which of those cases describes you, I don’t know, although I’m willing to bet it’s not the first.”
“I understand the situation plenty.”
“That’s not my job to judge. We’ve counselors on staff if you’d like to argue policy.” Seruan tented her fingers absently. “Do you have any questions about my proposal? Or would you like time to consider it?”
“I do have a question, actually,” Cassil replied, a current of anger suddenly inflecting her voice. “What if I don’t buy into your bullshit? What if I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being spied on and told what to do and flogged when I do things you don’t like? What if I think the Society’s a bullshit scam and I want to set it on fire and tear it all down?”
Seruan just nodded amiably. “I see that a civil service apprenticeship would be… premature, in your case. I have another suggestion I’d like to make. I can attach you to our diplomatic envoy to the Empire of a Thousand Suns. Give you a stipend and free reign to move about Imperial society, at least as much as the locals let you; obviously we can’t do anything about their prejudices. You wouldn’t be able to maintain free communication with your associates here, of course, but I promise the embassy staff aren’t boring.”
Cassil stared at her. “What — why are you offering that?”
“It would give you exposure to a culture that isn’t ours. A culture that isn’t tightly controlled by an evil cabal of civil servants, or whatever you think the Society is. You can decide for yourself whether your beliefs about us are right or wrong.”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean why? Why aren’t you confining me for sedition?”
Seruan shrugged. “You are one of us. Not only would… discarding you be an unforgivable waste of the resources we have expended on your upbringing, it would be a betrayal of everything we are, everything we stand for. If you are judged an intransigent threat to the People, we will subject you to reeducation or confinement, but we’re not going to give up on you so quickly. If sending you off to gallivant about the Empire for a cycle or so gives you the insight and desire to help better the lot of your own people, then it’s a small price to pay.”
“You sound awfully confident you’re going to... to fix me.”
“No.” Seruan shook her head. “It’s entirely possible you’ll come back with the same beliefs you had before, and we’ll be forced to consider other options. It would not be the first time. I’m not going to insult you by making predictions either way.”
“It wouldn’t be — you mean you’ve done this before?”
“Of course. You’re not the first malcontent we’ve ever faced.”
Cassil stared at her with pursed lips. For a few moments the only sound was the distant patter of footsteps, the ambient hum of the air ducts. Finally, she asked, “And what are these ‘other options?’”
“Indefinite confinement is one. Not one we would prefer. The other is to cancel your wardship and deport you to another polity of your choice, after a term of labor spent repaying the time and resources your community has invested in you, and presuming you could enter an Imperial or Thalisan world without being rejected as a Society spy. A League world might be a more comfortable option, but I suspect you would prefer to escape the control of the People altogether. Your term would likely be three or four cycles, based on your current labor records. Further sedition during that period would be cause for confinement.”
Cassil suddenly felt very small. “That’s all? Those are all my options?”
Seruan nodded. “That’s all. I’m sorry. If I refer this case to a judicator, they might simply assign you a corporal punishment and allow you to resume your current life afterwards. But you would be under militia surveillance, and if you were judged to pose a continuing threat to community cohesion, a special committee would be formed and more permanent measures would likely be taken. There is no outcome where you get to go back to the way things were, and no outcome where you get to tear down our civilization.”
Cassil drummed her fingers on the table. “You offered to send me to an Imperial world, not a Thalisan one. Why?”
“To be realistic,” said Seruan. “The Thalisan Union has infrastructure, automation, and biotech capabilities that the Society will never have. Not because we couldn’t develop it, given enough time, but because we are not willing to risk annihilation for a chance at a dubious utopia. Further, you would not be able to function in the Union without extensive bioaugmentation, none of which you would be permitted to keep on your return to Society space. And in light of Thalisan bio-engineering capabilities, you would be considered irrevocably compromised once you’d set foot on their worlds. You understand our reasoning?”
Cassil shrugged. “I’d like some time to think about this.”
Seruan stood. “Of course. You will be permitted as much time as you need. I truly hope you choose to cooperate, but I understand if you do not. You would not be the first not to.” She inclined her head. “Thank you for speaking to me, Cassil. Whatever path you take, I wish you the best of fortune, and I will respect your decision.”
Cassil waited until the door had closed behind the mediator before she buried her head in her arms and finally let the tears stream down cheeks.
Nili. I'm so sorry.
I really fucked up this time.