When young Harry Slater drove to work on Monday morning, he had a difficulty he had never had before: he couldn't remember exactly how to get to the same office he had driven to hundreds of times. Finally after an hour of trying various streets in the area, he came upon the correct location. He parked his car, and told himself it was just a fluke that would never happen again.
Greeted by a co-worker, Harry said, “Hello...uh, good morning.” He had tried to recall the co-worker's name, but failed.
Upon reaching his computer, Harry forgot his password. Luckily he had it written on a card in his wallet. Upon logging on to his computer, Harry tried to get started doing his normal work, computer programming. But Harry stared at the computer screen and realized he no longer remembered how to do his job.
Harry told his boss he was sick, and tried to drive home. It took him an extra hour to get home, because he couldn't remember the way to get back to his apartment.
All around the country the same thing was happening to millions of people. It was an infectious disease that attacked the memory. People still remembered the appearance of their homes, and the faces of their friends and family, and almost anything else that had a strong visual aspect. But people forgot almost everything that involved a procedure or a series of tasks. People infected by the disease could still use familiar words they had used a thousand times before, but they forgot the meaning of almost all rarely used words. The disease reduced a person's reading level to a Grade 3 level. Once you got infected by the disease, you forgot almost everything you had learned in college, and almost everything you had learned on the job.
The Center for Disease Control began to investigate the disease. They found that it was being spread through an airborne bacteria that could be passed from one person to another by coughing and sneezing. Other government agencies began to investigate whether the plague could be the result of biological warfare that another nation had initiated.
The FBI got a tip that the disease had been created by a domestic extremist group called the Knights of the Earth. The group had its headquarters in a secluded mountain mansion in Colorado. The mansion was owned by a man named Louis Mercer.
After obtaining a warrant to search the mansion, FBI agents surrounded the huge building. Louis Mercer met them, and offered to let them see everything in the mansion. The agents could find nothing suspicious.
“Sorry to disturb you, Mister Mercer,” said the leader of the agents. But just then one of the agents announced he had found a secret stairway hatch hidden underneath the carpet of the building's basement. “Looks like there's a secret basement underneath the basement we checked,” he said.
The FBI agents went down the hidden stairwell, and found a huge state-of-the-art biology and chemistry laboratory. On one of its walls was a map of the US, with numerous cities circled. The circles were marked: Dispersal Points.
Further investigations proved that this laboratory was where the amnesia plague had originated. Louis Mercer was arrested and put on trial.
At the beginning of the trial, the prosecution summarized its case.
“This man, Louis Mercer, financed and led in his own home the most devastating biological attack that has ever been launched against the United States,” said the prosecutor Richard Hendrickson. “He was the leader of a strange group of extremists who believed that by spreading an amnesia plague, they could stop the growth of modern technology, and thereby benefit mankind. The fact that he may have had some crazy idea that he was doing good should not cloud the facts in this case, which are that Louis Mercer caused a plague which has robbed countless millions of Americans of the memories they needed to do their jobs.”
Mercer chose to defend himself. The prosecution called many witnesses to support their case. They called as witnesses some of the people who had lost much of their memories. They called as witnesses the FBI agents who had found the secret laboratory. They called as witnesses some of the workers who Mercer had led when the plague was designed in the laboratory, as well as some of the people who had helped to originally spread the disease, under Mercer's directions.
Mercer called no witnesses, and did not cross-examine any. He defended himself only in the closing statements to the jury.
“I have been called a monster,” said Mercer in his closing argument, “but the real monster is not me. The real monster is modern technology. Modern technology has given us nuclear weapons, which still pose a grave threat to the very survival of mankind. Modern technology has given us global warming, which threatens to make our planet uninhabitable to humans. Modern technology has given us pollution that makes the skies of some cities so thick with smog that millions every year die prematurely. Modern technology has given us robots that threaten to take over and make humans their slaves.”
“I am the leader of a group called the Knights of the Earth,” said Mercer. “Just as a knight in medieval times would take vigorous action to defend his king, we Knights of the Earth have vowed to take vigorous action to defend our planet. That is why I launched the amnesia disease. By getting millions to lose their ability to work with modern technology, we have helped to slow the growth of technology, which is threatening to lead mankind over the cliff. What will be the effect if the amnesia disease spreads to everyone? People will still remember the important things: their family, their homes, their friends. But the growth of technology will be slowed, because people won't remember how to work with it. That will be a blessing to mankind – rather like someone putting on the brakes when a car is about to drive off a cliff.”
The prosecution rebutted Mercer's remarks, calling his comments “mystical Luddite hogwash.” The jury then met to decide whether Mercer was guilty.
After seven hours the jury came back to the courtroom.
“This is going to be sweet,” said Hendrickson. “I can't wait to see the expression on that crook's face.”
“I'm very embarrassed to say this,” said the jury foreman, “but we seem to have forgot what this case is about. We remember that we were brought here to decide something, and that it has something to do with some kind of sickness, but that's all we can remember.”
“Damn, we're such idiots!” said Hendrickson, realizing that the whole case would have to be retried. “We should have realized that the whole jury should have been quarantined so that it wouldn't catch the amnesia plague!”