And despite–or perhaps because–of the glowing sea of neon and steel and fibreoptics and invisible datastreams that the Protectorate had become, it was still rent with discord. Governments rose and fell at a pace that was only regular in its irregularity. Cycles of stifling stability and control alternated with years, months, or even days of howling chaos.

The Programme sought to change that.

It had been put forth by a long-dead lecturer, albeit one who lived in a Protectorate not so very different from that which came after. She posited that the Protectorate, with its interconnecting, competing, and ultimately self-interested systems of government, economy, and information could only be tamed if everything, and everyone, began to work toward a common goal. Even if–or in the original Programme thesis, especially if–neither the individuals within them nor the systems themselves recognized that their actions were on concert.

Dreamers and revolutionaries began the process at once, as did bureaucrats, technocrats, would-be dictators, and petty thugs. Each new unrest, each new wrinkle, seemed to be in the name of the Programme, promising the final and interlocking unity its long-ago progenitor had so vaguely promised. The goal seemed always at hand, always tantalizingly out of reach.

One person, though, had a hypothesis. Maybe they were a dreamer themselves, or a reactionary, or just a little off in the head.

They said that everything that had happened so far, even before and including the Programme’s announcement, had in fact been part of the Programme all along. The chaotic and fractious Protectorate that had seen the Programme as its salvation–that lone voice said that its citizens were already living it.