Matthew regretted having taken a shortcut through the buildings of the department of health. He usually did, but today there was a crowd of protesters outside, blocking his way, carrying placards and chanting something. A petite girl was standing on the steps shouting into a portable loudspeaker system "... stay inside their air-conditioned offices while WE suffer from their mistakes! We will not abandon our lives because of depletion, and they better remember who pays the taxes!". Wild cheers. Matthew sneaked out of one of the side doors, quietly heading away, but one of the protesters noticed him and pressed a pamphlet into his hand. He hurried across the department campus away from the commotion.

Aha, Scandinavians for Subsidized Sunblocks. He couldn't resist smiling. Despite that all measurements had shown that the ozone layer was thick enough over most of Scandinavia, the public demanded protection. There had already been some impressive projects costing billions of euro in the area, but the inhabitants wanted more - and their politicians made nice careers out of proposing endless bills to save their radiation threatened voters. The money in this case would of course go from the budget of the department of health, not his problem and definitely yet another small pain for those pompous and over-funded bastards.

He arrived at his own department of education, welcomed by the receptionists. He dropped the pamphlet into a dustbin near the elevators and went up to his office.

"Anything new today, Ioannes?" he asked his aide. Ioannes was an efficient administrator, an ideal for all software agents to strive for - always there with the most relevant information, unobtrusive and with just the right amount of independence to be efficient but not threatening.

"Good morning Sir. Two things: you have a meeting at 10 with the quality delegation and Herr doctor Wilmot, and the new proposals from the advisory board have arrived"

"Well, there goes the entire morning."

During the endless meeting with the delegation (Herr doctor Wilmot was as usual analyzing the logistics for checkups of ISO compliance in European schools with Germanic precision) Matthew found it hard to concentrate on the proceedings. Was this what he had striven for? A vice directorship where he spent most of his time checking that the supervisors of European education were doing their job; no hope for advancement unless the old man dies or the politics of the Council changes completely - both equally unlikely given modern medicine and politics.

Once he had actually started as a teaching student, but he had soon realized that there was no future in it; he simply couldn't stand the idea of spending his life feeding uninterested pupils whatever the curriculum told him to for a meager pay and under constant criticism. But he had found a way out through student politics; after a while he got onto his first government committee as a representative of the teaching student association, and then he continued to climb. Or perhaps just ascend; there was not much ambition involved, just the ability to befriend the right people and do the bureaucratic-political grunt work. Before he knew it he was in Brussels.

"Sir, I think you better have a look at this" Ioannes said, bringing in Simon Pedersen from the IT branch. He looked worried and gave Matthew a datapad. Matthew was a bit surprised, the information looked like ordinary teaching materials: short essays, a few quizzes, several simulators and hypertext webs. Highschool biology and social studies. Then he began to notice something. These were rather high quality materials, but they had a different slant than the usual; the discussion of how the media and government interacted in Europe was definitely not something on the curriculum. And the explanation of ecology sounded... wrong, somehow.

"What is this stuff?"

"We found it on the net. It is free teaching materials."

"What do you mean?"

"You can download them for free. There are sections where pupils can train themselves, search for more information and even ask questions semi-interactively. Then there are teaching materials, translated into ten languages. High quality, but it doesn't follow the curriculum exactly."

"You mean it is biased."

"Yes. It doesn't promote the values of the main program, and actually includes links to subversive information. Not to mention some of the discussion sections, which promote neoliberal and non-ec views. And it is positive to nanotechnology." Pedersen sounded almost pained that somebody, somewhere out there, could be so misguided and evil.

"And people download it, I guess?"

"Yes, we have monitored several hundreds of downloads from schools linked to our net. And we have no idea how many pupils have accessed it from home."

"This is bad. Real bad. I thought the school net was a safe place."

"It is not the school net, this is on the real net. And we can't stop the site, since it is on Haiti. We could block it, but there are mirror sites and they can move. And who knows what other information these people have spread which we haven't found yet."

Matthew watched an animation on the datapad depicting how restriction enzymes could be used to hybridize DNA. It was an entire virtual textbook - high quality and for free. An irresistible temptation for schools across Europe suffering from the latest budget cuts. It had to be stopped - they had not fought this long to develop the pan-European curriculum to let some anarchists wreck it by spreading unauthorized education for free. A small idea lit up.

"OK, here is what we will do. Pedersen, send this to the childhood protection department, and, yes, the guys at Eurosec too, they might want to have a look. I'll take it up with the old man, I think we can squash it"

"How? You cannot prevent anybody from downloading it."

"No, but we could make an addition to the new regulations saying only quality validated educational materials are to be allowed in the schools. Actually, it sounds good: 'We will only allow the highest quality materials in European schools'" That would make Herr doctor Wilmot his loyal supporter for the next years. Not to mention the edutainment lobby, they would love him for this.


"And while we're at it, we can bring in Laura de Verdier and compose the right media coverage. We can actually profit from this. Let's parade a few revisionist history websites, maybe some fundamentalist edutainment from Iran and this, and we should be able to make the public cry for protection against the evils of radicalist propaganda aimed at their children. That way we might get parent support to block access to stuff like this from the home. "

After Pedersen and Ioannes left, Matthew relaxed in his chair. It felt good to be able to do something. For once he could make a positive difference: the curriculum would be protected and those subversives would be thrown out again. It was he who decided what people would learn, not them.

Inside the fabric of his sleeve a tiny mite of silicon was quietly listening. It had climbed into the fabric from the pamphlet, driven by a digital instinct to hide. Now its instincts told it to record every sound in the room, storing it in polymer chains. The next time it felt sunlight it would switch behavior again, and quietly fly away to find its master. But now it was just listening and remembering.