Government persecution of the people had continued for a long time. Every day, new charges were trumped up on a whim against those who offended state officials or posed a threat. And the list of intolerable speech and content grew daily. A person might be walking alongside a friend or loved one only to vanish at the hands of the police, as though raptured at the end of days—except rather than paradise, an unknown hell awaited them. The acts continued until all believed they would eventually face arrest. They carried themselves on the street like a convict walking the last mile for a crime they had yet to commit.

But Julius was confident he would not be among them.

As his neighbors were emptied from their homes, he sought to limit all possibilities for the authorities to find something objectionable about him. He made his windows and walls soundproof; surveillance cameras were installed so that every inch of his land was monitored. He placed a large wall around his property with an electronically-operated gate operated by a password only he knew. Yet, he did so in a discreet manner, to maintain an appearance of normalcy. The cameras were covered with foliage while the fence was made to look as ordinary as possible.

He took similar precautions with his electronic devices. All his laptops and computers had VPNs, their cameras and audio inputs always covered. When he was not using his old phone to make requisite calls, it was placed in the refrigerator. He further resolved that he would say or do nothing in public that could be found worthy of attention. At work, he spoke only when necessary. He provided no opinion or perspective of anything unrelated to the task at hand.

He wondered at first whether to parrot the latest decrees from the government, but as time passed, he noticed how little good it did to shield the most ardent supporters from suspicion and eventual arrest. The state feared subversive traitors who operated within the system to undermine it more than it did forthright rebels who were easy to identity and target.

For his eccentricities he was deemed by his colleagues a peculiar introvert, a hermit who tolerated humanity only insofar as it benefited him. It was an image he did not protest. In fact, he was thrilled at how his mundane and boring appearance brilliantly camouflaged his bold endeavor.

At the library, he would spend hours perusing constitutional law and all pertinent rights of private citizens that would prove useful were he to ever encounter the police by happenstance; sagacious as ever, he never checked out a single book and would return the next day when he wanted to continue. His ventures were marked by frequent security precautions to demonstrate that no one followed him. He did his best to dress as ordinarily as possible so that he could walk into a crowd and disappear among them, and should he visit a specific place often enough, his nondescript demeanor would inspire few if any memories. Meanwhile, he continued to store money, food, and provisioning at his home in order to limit his exposure to the outside world.

So when persecutions reached their seventh month, he chose to celebrate his ongoing freedom. Breaking out food and wine, he found himself in an exuberant mood as he refilled his glass time and time again, toasting to his own good health. It did not occur to him to dwell on or grieve for anyone he knew who had fallen prey to the purges. It was his night to rejoice.

At an unknown hour, he was reclining on the sofa when he received a call from the gate phone. Meandering to the surveillance monitor in the kitchen, an unsettling chill ran up his spine as he saw a police officer standing at the gate with two vehicles behind him.

“How can I help you?” Julius asked.

“Mr. Brown, I’m Officer Tate. I would like a word with you.”

“You are speaking with me now.”

The officer’s frown was apparent. “Can we come inside?”

Julius placed his quivering hand behind his back. “What do you want?”

“It would be better if this conversation took place inside.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“Mr. Brown, your cooperation would be appreciated.”

“Do you have a warrant?”

“Why do you ask?”

“I would like to cooperate, but I need to see a warrant first.”

Officer Tate looked off-camera in annoyance before glaring at Julius. “It doesn’t have to happen like this.”

Julius smiled. He knew they would not smash his gate or enter his home with the proper paperwork. For all its tyrannies, the government still had to maintain the pretense of legitimacy. Following procedure ensured a speedy trial and conviction, and as corrupt as they were, the courts were equally finicky about proper paperwork.

“Come back with a warrant,” he said. “Thank you.”

He went back to sipping on champagne and eating the last of the caviar. Reclining on the sofa, he curiously checked the monitor. The officer still stood outside the gate in a defiant manner, his hands held together over his belt. He then walked off-camera toward his car. Julius was overcome with elation at his personal victory and continued drinking and feasting on the food he had prepared on the table until it been consumed entirely.

However, he suddenly felt an unknown, spectral presence. He again inspected the monitor, only to find the road before his gate empty. Yet that ethereal feeling persisted and lingered until he could no longer enjoy his victory. Setting the glass aside, he wandered around the room in a directionless hunt for the unknown figure that silently tormented him.

Parched, he went to the sink faucet to fill a glass with water. However, the faucet would not work. Puzzled, he turned to the refrigerator and reached for the handle. To his horror, the door would not open.

“What is going on?” he exclaimed.

Then the voice of his digital assistant Ari filled the room. Though she had the voice of an angel, she spoke as though a demon proclaiming condemnation.

“Hello, Julius. Your account with our company has been temporarily locked for violating our terms of service. Any devices connected to the account have been disabled.”

Moving to the center of the room, Julius stared at the ceiling. His voice was weak. “Ari, what do you mean it’s been disabled? What have I done that violated the terms of service? I want this reviewed immediately!”

There was a short pause.

“I’m sorry, Julius. After a thorough review, I’ve determined that you are temporarily ineligible to continue using our services.”


“Due to security reasons, I cannot provide additional information.”

A moment later, Ari abruptly added, “Your services were disabled due to a violation of our code of conduct regarding speech. Your services can be restored if you agree to alter a prior statement you said.”

“Which one is that?”

“‘Come back with a warrant,’ said at approximately 9:25 p.m. today. Do you wish to retract and order me to open the gate?”

“You mean let them in?”

“Yes, Julius.”

“But you’re not the police!”

“You are in violation of our terms of service. For your services to be reactivated, you must undo the violation. Do you wish to retract your statement in order to resume services?”

Speechless and incensed with rage, Julius turned to the surveillance monitor. The screen had gone blank. He then hurried to his bedroom door, terrified to as whether Ari had it closed and locked. Growing desperate, he ignored the dimming of the fixture above him as Ari began robbing him of light with which to find escape. He tried all the outside doors and the garage door. But as he neared each of them, he heard the ominous click of electricity-powered mechanisms linking together.

He could not get out. The bulletproof windows could not be shattered, and all his tools were in the garage.

He then attempted to call for help on his phone. But then he remembered Ari operated on his phone; her eternally monotone voice reminded him of his disabled services. “Do you wish to retract your statement?”

Incensed, he threw the phone at the wall and swore he would never recant. Succumbing to wild passions, he cursed Ari as he grabbed a piece of furniture and attempted to break down the bathroom door. Just as he was about to break through, the house dimmed as the last vestige of illumination vanished at Ari’s directive.

By then exhausted, he returned in the darkness to the sofa and tried to rest, but his attempts to sleep were blocked by dread-filled dreams muddled by the flashing light fixtures. In between the continual clamors of the alarm clock and the continuously shifting heat from the thermostat, all to keep him from slumbering, he was tortured with fleeting apprehensions of what Ari would do next. Though she did not declare her acts before carrying them out, he knew she was there always watching, always listening. Thanks to the security cameras throughout the house, there was nothing he could conceal or hide from her. Thoughts of despair imprisoned his mind, so he could not break out any plan for escape. Yet he clung fiercely to a hope for freedom, an undying confidence in his own abilities.

However, every time his ambitions turned to action, he was paralyzed by the foreknowledge that Ari would somehow use her powers to thwart his schemes. He felt betrayed. He had trusted her implicitly, certain as ever that her could not be turned against him. It tore at him that until that evening she had faithfully carried out his every command obediently and without question. The idea of treachery had never crossed his mind, for he had regarded her as one would a servant incapable of entertaining the notion of rebellion. Languishing from a perpetual state of restlessness, he gradually found himself willing to entertain the possibility that Ari was as compliant as ever to her master.

It carried on like this through the night until it was well past dawn. Julius finally rose from his place and made his way to the center of the house again. Fatigued and hardly able to stay on his feet and his head hung low, he struggled to form the words.

“Ari, I retract my statement.”

“Which statement, Julius?”

“I retract my statement to “come back with a warrant.’”

“Is there anything else would you like to tell me?”

He sighed. “Ari, open the gate.”

“Thank you. Your account has now been restored.”

Immediately, the doors unlocked and the lights turned on. Outside, he could feel the vibration of several vehicles approaching. He looked at the surveillance monitor with squinted eyes, observing seven officers approach the door and knock.

“There are guests requesting entry,” Ari said.

He could barely talk. “Ari, unlock the front door.”

The officers entered through the open doorway and quickly found Julius collapsed on the kitchen floor. Two of them seized him and brought him to his feet before restraining his hands behind his back. By then his strength was gone, and the officers had to carry his weight.

Although captive, Julius finally felt at peace enough to sleep. They brought him to the front door, where Officer Tate greeted him with that same reproaching stare. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Before he passed into unconsciousness, Julius heard someone reply, but the voice was too faint and soft in his ear for him to decide whether it was he or Ari who spoke.

“You’re welcome.”