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I came away from this short story reeling in horror, a horror compounded by the detached, almost clinical tone of the narrating voice. The premise here is that young offenders are no longer sent to jail or rehabilitation centers, but rather directed toward the Path of Atonement, a way to make amends for their misdeeds.
At first it seems as if the Path simply compels these young people to serve the community in any way that is required of them, and that might sound like an enlightened, civilized way to make amends for youthful mistakes, but as the story progresses and the narrating voice adds details on the workings of the Path, is becomes hideously clear that there is more to it than one could imagine: from the distressingly effacing way in which the people committed to the Path speak of themselves and their journey it looks as if some kind of brain-washing might be involved, as are other even less savory practices.
But what sheds light on the truly horrifying side of this… correctional method is that those committed to it are seen as less than citizens, less than persons, and are treated as such – I can leave to your imagination what the consequences might be. And that kind of mentality, and behavior, might be against the law, but is, in the very words of the narrator, “rarely prosecuted”, while “kindness is not illegal, but is frowned upon”.
I will say no more about this peek into a possible (and how possible? – one can wonder) future, this story must be read without prior spoilers that might lessen its impact on the reader’s mind, since it opens the way to an analysis of the ratio between crime and punishment, and how far it can go.
As hard as this short work hit me, I would not have missed it for the world, indeed…