“The Ghost of What Might Have Been”

No one talks about Anima Mutri anymore.

Have you heard of her? No, I didn’t think so. She used to be an activist for social equality– women’s rights, anti-prejudice, that kind of thing. A friend of mine in the Abstainer movement met her once. Activists generally stick together, whether they’re boycotting d-mat or dumping shit on racists. My friend, he tells some pretty wild stories.

The weirdest concerns something that happened five years ago, when, so slowly that people didn’t notice at first, all the women of the world started getting bigger. Not fatter: bigger, and stronger with it. Some put on weight, but not all of them. Some stretched out first, then put on muscle later. People noticed, but they couldn’t explain it, not immediately. They didn’t know if it was the food or the water, or the air, or something else entirely. When men started regularly beating women in bar fights, that’s when people really began to pay attention.

Because it wasn’t just bar fights. It was women at home. On the street. At work. Thousands of years of biological superiority had been overturned by this wonderful, new reality: women could no longer be hammered down. They could fight back, and they win. Bad for guys who relied on their strength to hold their own; fantastic for everyone else, right?

And that wasn’t all. Racist parents all over the world had started having kids of different skin colour, which of course caused all sorts of stupid conflicts and broke up a bunch of marriages. You can imagine. It took thorough genetic testing to confirm that infidelity wasn’t the cause, not in most of the cases, anyway. A broader investigation also revealed that it wasn’t just racist families who had this issue with their issue: it was everyone. This was much bigger than a bunch of cheating rednecks.

Someone was hacking into the d-mat network.

You don’t remember this?

Well, when people starting changing in impossible ways, it’s always because of the matter transmitters. At first, the authorities weren’t alarmed. I mean, it was obvious that the hack came from someone in the social equality movement, tinkering with our patterns every time we were taken apart and put back together, rebuilding us slightly different in order to force us to be better people. The tactics were about as heavy-handed as you can get, using a hammer to fix an antique watch, but at their heart they were well-meaning. You could only dispute the technique, not the principles. The ends, arguably, justified the means.

But then people started swapping gender. Anyone could walk into a booth a boy and step out a girl, or vice versa, or in between. There was no way to predict it; the selections were entirely random. And they couldn’t legally be reversed. Peacekeepers are bound by the law just like we are. Once you start deliberately changing people, where do you stop? It’s one thing for it to happen by accident or sabotage, but officially sanctioned alteration was something that needed a lot of consideration.

Changing the law takes time, even when you’re suddenly living in a world where women stand eye-to-eye physically with men, anyone can switch sex at a moment’s notice, and your kids look nothing like you . . . and you really don’t remember any of this?

Weird, huh.

My friend the Abstainer had none of these problems, of course, because he doesn’t use d-mat. He says it was hilarious, watching people panic over something they could have stopped at any moment–like an addict unable to quit even though it’s killing him. The world is hooked on d-mat; things would grind to a halt if we ever gave it up.

My friend also likes to say that there are as many activist assholes as there are ordinary assholes. Just because you believe in something better, that doesn’t automatically make you a better person. So when someone’s dicking around with d-mat to Make The World A Happier Place, someone is inevitably going to tinker back.

That’s where Anima Mutri comes in. She’d been pretty vocal about how the changes were good for humanity. A lot of people assumed that she was responsible for it–maybe not the technical stuff, but the mind behind the muscle. She used to say that the long-term fate of the species was more important than individual rights, and that not using this amazing tool was like trying to save someone’s life with crystals and shit when there’s a perfectly good hospital right there. People accused her of being responsible, and what’s more, she didn’t deny it.

Maybe she had other changes in mind. Maybe we were all about to become immortal, or have four arms or something cool like that. We’ll never know now, because someone else got in first. Just because you’re a racist, sexist dickhead doesn’t mean you can’t cleverly hack the system yourself. And what they did was clever. People began to change, again, but this time it was really specific. You might go into a booth a boy and come out a girl, but not just any girl: you stepped out a dead ringer for Anima Mutri. Same with girls: you might normally have red hair and freckles (and bulging new biceps for overturning centuries of male oppression) but now you had black hair and brown eyes and a mole on your chin. Within seconds there were dozens of Ania Mutri clones walking the earth. Within an hour, there were tens of thousands.

Finally, the PKs had no choice but to take drastic action. You couldn’t have an entire world full of the same person. It just wasn’t on. They convened an emergency session to decide how to deal with all the craziness, once and for all.

The decision was simple. They needed to send a message. And the message was: small activists groups weren’t running the world. They were.

So they wound back the Anima Mutri clones, putting everyone who had been changed back through d-mat and restoring them to their usual selves. Then they did the same for people whose gender had been swapped, and all the kids who didn’t look their parents. At first it was voluntary, but in the end it was compulsory and it was everyone. Because the Lawmakers weren’t going to allow any exceptions to this rule. Security was to be tightened. No one was to be spared. This was never, ever going to happen again.

Slowly, gradually, d-mat use returned to normal and everyone changed back. Slowly, gradually, everyone forgot that anything weird had happened at all. They forgot because that was the one universal change the PKs would allow. There could be no copycats when no one would remembered the original crime. The entire sequence of events was erased from people’s minds, by d-mat.

Ah, I see you’re beginning to understand. It took me a while to accept it, too. Everything about the changes is gone because it’s been taken from us. Who knows what we looked like five years ago? We’ll never remember–and that’s a weird thought, isn’t it? The whole world forgetting–unless you are an Abstainer, of course, or you have friends who are Abstainers and you remembered long enough to write it down, before it slipped away again, forever. That time when women were unbowed, and we saw people for who we were, not what they looked like.

D-mat can do good and terrible things in the wrong hands. It’s important to be reminded. Perhaps that’s why the Peacekeepers let people like my friend keep talking about it, so the lesson can still unofficially circulate.

And the other lesson: take on the PKs, and this is what happens.

No one talks about Anima Mutri anymore. She’s vanished. Utterly disappeared. But she’s not dead. My friend the Abstainer still sees her from time to time. He’s one of the few people who can still see her. You might meet her tomorrow, but you’ll forget her the second she walks away. She tried to change the world, and now she barely belongs to it. She’s the ghost of what might have been.

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