Disidentification: A Digital Death Sentence

Skull image

Image courtesy Dark Dissolution

In chapter two of the current draft of Carbon Run, my novel of global warming, I introduce Martin Scribb, a lay brother of the Penitents of St. Francis, and a man identified only as a “gentleman.” I also mention the Bureau of Environmental Security, which is introduced in chapter 1, and the Environmental Crimes Tribunal. And I discuss “disidentification,” a method of digital execution.

Martin Scribb’s begging bowl yawned empty for three hours before the gentleman dropped in his business card.

The clunk of paper on brass echoed around the dun walls of the town square. The sound was magnified by the waves of April heat rising around Martin into a sky the blue of a gas flame. The scrubby foothills beyond the town reflected the heat back to the square, while adding a new load of dust. The bowl’s rim glowed a poppy red when the card hit the metal. A moment later, it glowed yellow, instead of the usual green.

“Thank you, sir.” Martin bowed to the gentleman as he did to every alms-giver or petitioner. “I apologize, but my bowl isn’t reading your card.”

“I wouldn’t expect it to.” The gentleman was on his haunches in front of Martin. “Give the card to your abbot. It has a message.”

Martin’s stared at the card, which was embossed with the tulip of the Bureau of Environmental Security. Martin reflected on the simple three-point beauty of the stylized flower, and the terror it provoked. The tulip mirrored the brand above his left eye, just below the hairline.

“Thought you were done with me, eh, Brother Martin? Never.”

Martin felt as if something in the air had ignited and engulfed him. He held the folds of his dirt-brown woolen habit against his chest. Passers-by ignored him, except for a girl age three or four, who halted, curious about the beggar. Someone pulled the girl away sharply, and she cried.

The gentleman stood over Martin as he sat cross-legged in his customary place in the center of the square. His vows of penance compelled him to sit as far away from the slivers of midday shade as he could. But the gentleman’s shadow covered Martin, reminding him of his sins. The gentleman would recount those transgressions while interrogating Martin on an obscure detail in a forgotten file. That was years ago.

“How did you find me?” Martin whispered the next words. “I am dead.”

The gentleman spoke into the beggar monk’s ear. “Not easy, even for me, Brother Martin. I supervised your disidentification, after all.” The gentleman resumed his full six-foot plus height. The black faux-leather of his shoes shone so brightly that Martin could see the overhead disk of the sun reflected in the uppers. “We’re pretty good now with erasing an existence, though it was so much simpler in the old days, before the squeamish ruled the world.” Martin raised his tonsured head and torso from his obeisance, and he saw a grin on the gentleman’s face. “You could actually kill a miscreant. A couple of injections, bury the corpse, and call it a day.”

Yes, physical death would’ve been easier, Martin thought. “Our sentence of identity obliteration is too good for the defendant,” the judges on the Environmental Crimes Tribunal announced on the worst day of Martin’s life. He remembered the courtroom as hot enough to bake bread. If I don’t exist in any human record–digital or otherwise–am I actually alive? Or am I a damned soul in a living hell?

* * *

I’m looking for a shorthand way of saying “disidentification.” Any ideas?

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