Nine-year-old Atlas watched from her window as two people attacked Mr. Alpin, her neighbor.
She wasn’t concerned. The Virtue system would handle this. The people attacking Mr. Alpin would have bad effects on their Virtue, the point system visible to everyone that the entire city was based upon. Once the Virtue system saw what they were doing, the police would be contacted. It would be soon.
Two seconds passed, but no red numbers signaling the loss of Virtue points appeared above the attackers. Then the attackers must be the police! Because only police were allowed to attack people, but the people had to have broken a law.
Then what did Mr. Alpin do wrong?
She decided to go ask. Police officers were nice. She’d met a few of them at school. They wouldn’t mind explaining.
Atlas skipped out of the room to the front door. She didn’t realize that it was nearly midnight—she barely knew what midnight really meant. All she knew was that her parents were gone, so she had to be the one to go ask the nice police officers what Mr. Alpin had done wrong.
“Hello!” she shouted cheerfully out into the night.
The police officers looked up. Mr. Alpin was lying on the floor and the police officers were putting handcuffs on him.
“Hey, miss,” the first one said, “how old are you?”
“Nine!” Atlas said, “What did Mr. Alpin do bad?”
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?” the second one asked.
“Well, my parents are doing something and so they’re not here, so I have to stay up to wait for them!” Atlas said, smiling.
“Go back to bed,” the first police officer said.
Atlas shook her head. “But I can’t! My parents aren’t home! Like I said, I have to wait for them!”
“What happens if you don’t?” the first officer asked.
Atlas ignored the question, squinting at the police officers. “Why are you dressed funny? Where are your police outfits?”
“They’re...dirty,” the first police officer said.
“So, just go back inside, miss,” the second officer said.
Atlas paused. She wanted to ask them something. “But what did Mr. Alpin do?”
“Something bad,” the first officer said.
“I know that, silly!” she said, “But what did he do bad?”
“Something really bad,” the police officer replied, “something so bad, we can’t tell you without losing Virtue.”
“Okay, goodnight!” Atlas said, ducking back inside and slamming the door.
The police officers told about every crime! Once, her friend, Zaria, said that a police officer had told her that someone was getting arrested for murder!
If they couldn’t tell her what Mr. Alpin had done, then it must be really bad.
Atlas frowned. Mr. Alpin seemed very nice. She didn’t talk to him much, but he always brought over cookies and talked with her parents. He had a high Virtue score, too.
The police officers were good, though. They wouldn’t arrest Mr. Alpin unless they had to.
She shrugged to herself, skipping back up to her room.
She didn’t think anything of it then. The police officers were good, so Mr. Alpin was bad. The end.
But when she thought back to it ten years later, when she read an article about Mr. Alpin being found dead after having mysteriously vanished ten years ago, she realized that the two people weren’t police officers. And that there had been no consequences for them attacking Mr. Alpin, even though only police officers were allowed to attack people, no matter how guilty they were.
That night, ten years later, was when she realized that the Virtue system was deeply flawed.
Yet even then, Atlas didn’t realize how deep the flaws ran.