Thursday, 15 December 2016

Well I suppose it's a job

This one is a very short story for Christmas.

Well I suppose it's a job

I know there are a lot of people that don't have a job at all and are reliant on handouts from wherever they can get it, but at this time of the year working in the warehouse is just madness. I bet you think that we have one of those warehouses where everything is sorted on conveyors and things; packages flying at high speed and diverting by size and barcode ready to be delivered to the right place by the right person. Well think again. For a start we only have one delivery driver and he's the boss. He won't let us have any of this labour saving equipment. He says “We've managed to do without it all the years I've been doing this job so we can manage for a few more years until I can't do it any more”. What does he know, he doesn't have to sort the stuff into regions and loads, he just does the deliveries. Us guys in the warehouse reckon that the delivery bit is the best bit; at least you would see places, but we never see anything in the windowless warehouse, and at this time of the year it is a full 24 hour shift without any breaks.

“We have an obligation to get this stuff out” he says “our reputation depends on it.”

His reputation depends on it, he means. No one even knows we exist. But he's the boss so we do what we are told.

He's all loaded up ready for the first delivery, but we're still rushing around getting all the stuff ready for the next one. He'll have delivered that first one in about half an hour – I have to give him that, he's quick and never makes a mistake (or so he says), but he'll want the next one ready to load as soon as he gets back, and he'll want it loaded in less than ten minutes. It's bad enough while he's out, but as soon as he is back it is utter bedlam. He just sits there on his fat backside while we warehouse guys scurry around at top speed loading him up. As soon as he's full he's off again and we rush around getting the next load ready.

He's not a bad boss I suppose, and he's no spring chicken. I wonder how he keeps going. Of course if he didn't, we wouldn't bother. Sometimes I find myself hoping that he won't come back for a new load so that I can get a rest, but he comes back every time without fail. To be fair to him by about halfway through the shift he looks absolutely exhausted but as soon as we have loaded, he is back out delivering.

Once we have loaded the last batch and he's left, we all creep off to the nice warm beds that he provides for us, and pretty much fall asleep immediately. When the boss gets back he must be at least as exhausted as us, but he always performs one more important task before he too gets some sleep. He never accepts any help, telling us that we should rest. Not until he has rubbed down each of the reindeer, fed and bedded them down does he finally allow himself to sleep.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The unbelievable truth

This was a piece I wrote for a writing group I belong to.  The trigger was "the unbelievable truth" and this is what came out.  I haven't thought up a new title for it, so I'm sticking with the trigger.  It seems to fit.

The unbelievable truth

It was one of those winter nights when the wind had howled outside and the snow had started to fall. I think we half expected the power cut, so when it came we weren't particularly surprised. After we had scurried about getting candles and making sure there was enough wood for the fire, we sat around wondering what to do next.

“I could tell you a story” I said.

“What sort of story?” my youngest asked.

“Well it's a true story that I was told when I was much younger than I am now......”

“Yeah, right,” muttered my eldest, grinning “you were never young”

“That might be true, but I was younger

“OK then what was this story?”

“It's about a bunch of lads who had thought it was quite a good idea to escape from the city for a lads weekend in the countryside”

“Where in the countryside?” asked the youngest.

“Somewhere a long way from anywhere really. Just outside a small village which had a pub and a church and not a lot else.”

“Somewhere like here then” said my eldest

“Somewhere exactly like here” I said “I was told the story the very first time I visited the village – when I was much younger than now as I said”

“OK you two” interjected my wife “let your Dad get on with the story, or we'll never get to the end of it”

So I began

“These lads had turned up in the village and rented a cottage, actually, they had rented this cottage, and the first night had been exactly as they had all anticipated. They had walked the half mile to the local pub, had eaten there and spent an enjoyable time drinking in the atmosphere and the guest beers. They had happily rolled back to the cottage at about midnight, and staggered to their respective beds. The next day they got up late, had some breakfast and got ready to go out. The forecast was for snow, so feeling a bit delicate, they decided to go for a gentle amble rather than the 10 mile yomp that they had originally envisaged.

“They had been out for about an hour when the snow started to come in. At first it was just a gentle fall of big fluffy flakes and it had been a bit of a novelty trudging through the snow and seeing the difference that a layer of snow made to the landscape. There wasn't one of them that didn't think that they were Scott or Shackleton. After a while, the wind started to pick up, but it was blowing at their backs, and the little group trudged on happily enough, on the whole enjoying the new experience. They were pretty well wrapped up and none of them was feeling particularly cold so no one really wanted to be the first to say that it might be a good idea to turn back, but as the wind picked up and started blowing the snow into drifts they all began to feel a little apprehensive. They couldn't see where they were treading and the snow was deep enough in places to rise over the tops of their boots. They continued in this way for some time until one of them finally suggested that they turn back while they still could.

“When they turned around, they found they were facing into the wind and the snow was blowing straight into their faces. It was almost impossible to see where they were going and any landmarks that they might have recognised from their journey out had been obliterated or disguised by the snow. They struggled on, changing the lead frequently to shield each other from the driving snow, trying to make the most of the visible landmarks like hedges and trees. No one had brought a compass and this was before satellite navigation and mobile phones, so they weren't really sure where they were. The weather was taking its toll and the stronger ones were taking longer shifts at the front while the weaker ones began to tail off at the back. After another hour or so of driving snow the leader of the column shouted over the wind and pointed at a building which had appeared out of the gloom. As far as they could, they hurried towards it and as they got nearer, it became clear that by some navigational fluke, they had managed to make it back to the rented cottage.”

“Which is here” said my youngest quietly

“Yes,” I agreed “which is here”

“With much relief, they opened the door, stamped their frozen feet to knock the snow off, and took off their coats. One of them boiled a kettle, while another put a match to the fire.

“It was only after they had settled themselves down in front of the fire with a hot drink that they noticed that one of their number was not with them. Perhaps he was still upstairs changing into dry clothes; they checked, there was no one upstairs. Perhaps he was in the downstairs toilet; not there either. This was a dilemma. They realised that to go out to look for their friend was madness, but they couldn't just wait it out. One of them went to the door and looked out. There was nothing but a scene of complete whiteness and visibility was now down to a matter of a couple of metres.

“They decided that the only thing they could do was to put as many lights and candles in as many windows as possible so that their friend would see which way to come, and then they waited........”

“They sat and waited for a long time, waiting for the sound of footsteps, the sound of the door latch, the image of their friend silhouetted in the doorway.......”

The room was silent. My family were watching my face in anticipation, when the front door was flung open and there silhouetted in the doorway was a man covered from head to toe in snow. My family all jumped out of their skin and my daughter screamed.

“Sorry for the sudden entrance guys, but it's pretty foul out there. Anyone fancy a lift to the pub? I've got the Land Rover outside”

My best friend John pushed his hood back and pulled his scarf down over his face taking in the scene in front of him.

“You haven't been telling them that old story about the group caught in the snow have you?”

I grinned. “It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed”

“Well” said my eldest, “did the lost one ever come back?”

“I certainly did” I said “otherwise you two would not have been here to hear the tale.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

19th April 1971

At the age of 19 I left home and travelled across Europe and the Middle East.  During this time I wrote a diary which, I confess, omitted detail, partly because I did not have time or space to expand on the basic details, and partly because I was uncertain whether my parents might read it.  I wrote this following piece to start to address this shortfall.  It covers just a few days in my travels, but it contains considerably more detail.  I hope to expand a bit more in other items.

19th April 1971

45 years ago on 19th April 1971 I was staying in the Youth Hostel in Cairo. I had arrived there the day before from Aswan where I and a few others of various nations whom I had met in the Youth Hostel in Luxor had been seeing some of the sights of the Aswan area. In my case these included a trip on a Felucca with a boatman guide and an American called Craig. Because we were too lazy to plan, we were unable to visit Abu Simbel, but did see the wonders of Kitchener's island, The Aga Khan's tomb and Elephantine Island, all of which I would recommend to anyone who has the courage and wherewithal to travel to Nubia in Southern Egypt.

I noted in my diary that “While on the trip our boatman said that he could get a trip and a guide to the High Dam for LE5 [5 Egyptian Lire], so Ole and Craig said they would share the cost. After the trip we bought train tickets and waited in the hostel for their guide. He never turned up, so we caught the train to Cairo, a 16 hour journey. We got a compartment to ourselves and slept uncomfortably and fitfully.” I read this now with a sense of wonder that I, a young man of barely 20, could have simply booked a 16 hour train journey from one end of Egypt to the other. I assume that the journey itself was uneventful as I have not noted anything that I considered noteworthy even though Egyptian trains were an interesting form of transport at that time, free travel being available on the roof.

So on 19th April I find myself in Cairo having travelled south and back north by rail and in so doing become part of an impromptu band of fellow travellers. At some point it must have been decided that we should go on a trip to Giza to ride camels to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara as I note in my diary that “We all (everybody that was in Luxor) got up and headed off towards Giza to ride camels out to Zaccara. Hired the camels and set off.” 45 years ago, the area around the pyramids was largely undeveloped, so we would have caught the number 8 bus to Giza, crossed the road and started negotiating for a number of camels to take us to Saqqara. None of us had any real idea of how far Saqqara was and had no experience of camels, but it seemed like a good idea at the time; after all Lawrence had done it. What could go wrong?

The first thing you have to do is mount the beast. This is not as simple as hooking your foot into a stirrup and throwing your leg over the beast's back. Firstly the camel's back is not flat. It has a lump in the middle which makes casually throwing your leg over a very difficult proposition. Secondly, to cater for the idiosyncrasies of the camel's back, a strange saddle with wooden horns front and back is perched on the hump. The natives sit on this saddle as if born to it, then cross their legs over the camel's neck, casually holding the reins in one hand. A few clicks of the tongue and gentle prods with a stick and the animal does exactly what they want it to. The unwitting tourist does not, of course, know camel language. The first thing to learn is the noise that gets the camel to kneel down so that you have at least a fighting chance of getting on his back. To do this one makes a strange guttural noise in the back of the throat similar to the noise one would make if preparing to expectorate. With luck the camel will respond to this by kneeling down on its front legs and then lowering its hind quarters to the ground. More often than not, the camel merely repeats the same noise adopts a haughty demeanour and looks the other way. Picture the scene: a bunch of long haired hippy types stood around the pyramids, each with a disdainful camel on the end of a rein, all appearing to be about to expectorate being treated with naught but contempt by their charges.

We were all rescued by the camels' handlers who with practised ease used the correct “word” and the camels (still looking superior) lay down to allow us to mount them. We tourists were allowed stirrups to assist us in staying on these unwieldy creatures, so it was a relatively easy matter to grab the front horn of the saddle, reach up to place a foot in a stirrup and swing the free leg over the saddle. A further command from the handlers to camels and they rose to their feet in the reverse order to the method of descent, i.e. rear legs first and then front legs. By some fluke all of us tourists managed to stay in the saddle by hanging on as we were tipped forward at an unsustainable angle before being flung back onto an almost level position a considerable distance from the ground. Now mounted, the rest was relatively simple, a sharp dig in the camel's ribs with the heels made it go forward, more digs made it go faster, and a tug on the reins made it slow down – or at least that was the principle. In truth, the camels generally followed the handlers who were, curiously I thought, mounted on horses, so our mounts were simply indulging our fantasy of being in control. From time to time they rebelled against our pretence of control by wandering off on their own to nibble at somebody's carefully tended hedge, or, much more concerning, by heading aggressively off towards a tethered water buffalo. It seems that these huge beasts are terrified of camels and the camels know it and love to wind them up. Fortunately for all concerned the handlers were aware of the risks and managed to head off the camels before the buffalo became to agitated.

Once we reached the open desert we had managed to achieve a degree of control over our mounts and started to race them over the sand. This was great fun as there is an awful lot of sand in the Sahara and once one has got used to the strange undulating action of the camels, the speed is very exciting and feels bizarrely safe, after all what is the worst that is likely to happen? You might fall off and land on the biggest sand pit in Africa. This illusion was unfortunately shattered by Ole, a very tall Norwegian sat astride a suitably huge camel. At the end of one of one of the races which Ole and his camel had easily won, his camel decided that enough was enough and started to buck up and down, reaching alarming heights with all four hooves off the sand. On the fourth such buck, Ole and the camel parted company, Ole continued to rise as the camel descended. As Newton taught us, what goes up must come down, and sure enough Ole came down and discovered that the desert sand was not as soft as it seems.

By this time we were far from any human habitation and Ole began an angry negotiation with the handler and swapped his camel for the handler's horse. The rest of the three hour journey to Saqqara was uneventful, and to be honest, I remember little of the Step Pyramid except that it was somewhat less impressive than the Great Pyramid at Giza. Similarly, I remember little of the three hour return journey, so I assume it too was uneventful. We had by then become pretty competent at camel riding, and had even mostly managed the lying down command to allow us to mount and dismount.

We returned to the hostel very tired and sore and there wasn't one of us that wasn't aching in just about every conceivable place the following day.

Then and Now

There's not much I can say about this post except that I wrote it as part of a writing group project.  Try it and see what you think.

Then and Now
An autobiography of a brief relationship

I was already about 150 years old when this family turned up. My previous family had left after a lot of shouting and banging about which rather upset my usual tranquil nature. I don't want to appear unkind about them because before they came I was a wreck and they put me back together and made me feel respectable again. It was wonderful at the beginning once they had smartened me up, but gradually things got a bit fraught and that's when the yelling started.

When you've been around as long as I have, you tend to look at time in a different scale. I don't honestly know when I came about, but I do know that families come and go, and, being stuck in one spot for all this time, you tend to see things change rather more than might appear if you take a shorter perspective. I can remember a time when there weren't any of these noisy roaring things that rush past from time to time. All there was when I came about were horses and people coming along the road; and to think I used to think that they were noisy!

Anyway, I keep getting off the point. I'm trying to tell you about the people I have now, and have had for the last 31 years. Most families don't stay that long. You'd think that the lot that came before would have stayed longer, after all, they made me pretty much what I am today, but, as I say, they started yelling and banging about and let the new lot, the ones I'm telling you about, move in. My very first family stayed for quite a while, or at least they or their children did, but eventually they moved on and I was left with one man who ran the farm and had a woman and her husband living with him. They had children and for a while they too lived with the farmer, then for a short while one of the children brought her husband back to live with us. Everything moves on of course, the children all moved away, though I saw them from time to time, but then everybody left and I was left alone for the first time ever. I had no one to look after me and I began to feel very old and unloved. This was the saddest time I can remember.....

Where was I? Oh yes the people I have now. Did I say that they've been looking after me for 31 years. Sometimes they have been better at it than at other times, but at the moment I feel pretty good. You may not realise it, but when you get a bit older it is difficult for you to stay dry. Your plumbing gets a bit creaky and your sides get leaky. But right now I am as dry as I have ever been. And warm. When I first came about I would get very cold in winter nights but my people would light fires to warm me up. This was the way it was for most of my time until the folk who came before my current family, the ones that rescued me you might say. They gave me a big new overcoat which kept the rain out, but it made me a bit damp and sweaty because my skin couldn't breathe. When they had finished I felt shiny and new and really quite proud of myself. The people who made me first wouldn't recognise me if they could come back. Anyway, the family I have now liked me a lot and couldn't wait to join me.

31 years they've been with me. The children have gone, and even though they come back from time to time it's really just the man and woman who are left. They do their best, but I think it's time for someone else to look after me. I think that if I am to stay for another 150 years I need someone who wants to bring new ideas to me. I shall miss them if they go, but I really like to have children with me. In my opinion, they make a house a home and I have been too long without them.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Mission

The Mission

Standing there, sightless, he let his mind drift. It was such a shame that it should all have ended like this. He wasn't really sure how he had managed to get himself into this situation in the first place. His wife would have called it a bit of a pickle; she was always good at understatement. Then again, she didn't know about this because he had not been in touch with her for some months, ever since he had embarked on this journey and probably if she had known about it she would have called him a bloody idiot or worse.
He had kissed her gently so as not to wake her and left her in the middle of the night. He had walked the 5 miles to the rendezvous point where he had been picked up and driven silently to a bus stop at the edge of the city. He had caught the bus and walked the half mile to the house. He was expecting the house to be in some beat up area of town, but was surprised to find it was in one of the better parts of town. He had let himself in to the gate at the back of the house with a key left in a drain in the wall and on entering the back garden had been confronted by a huge house, four stories high, and detached from its neighbours. He had slipped round the garden keeping as close as possible to the perimeter wall until he had reached the steps to the basement. Descended the stairs he had input the code into the digital lock.
The house had been silent and unoccupied, but he had wasted no time in exploring, that would have been to risk the mission as well as pointless. Instead he had made his way to the room to the front of the house in the basement, which in different times could have been the butler's pantry, but was now not much more than a storeroom. There was a simple bed, a chair and on the bed, a mobile phone and charger. He had made sure the phone was switched on and charged, written a draft email and before he lay down on the bed to sleep, he had checked that all the equipment he needed had been left for him.
He had slept surprisingly well and when he woke, he had checked the drafts folder on the email and found that his draft had been deleted and a new one saying simply “tonight” had been substituted.
The mission was simple and almost risk free provided that security had not been breached or someone had not been sloppy. It was highly unlikely that there would be much security on the target as it was not considered vulnerable to attack; in fact it was not really considered worth attacking. At the time that the mission was to be completed, there should also be very little loss of life. What was significant was that they would know that nothing was safe from attack.
He had walked half a mile to the bus stop and caught a bus to within a mile of the target and walked the rest of the way, pausing to window shop and weaving round back streets to make sure that no one was following him. On reaching the target he had lifted the manhole cover and dropped the small explosive device into the sewer below. If everyone had done their job properly, the hexane should have been generated in the sewer by the time the device exploded, wrecking a good few miles of sewers and flipping manhole covers into the air for miles around.
He had returned to the house the way he had come and had just keyed in the code to the lock when he was seized from behind and placed in handcuffs. It had all been over in seconds. He had been taken to the police station where he had been locked in a room on his own for what seemed hours. Eventually, a nicely dressed and spoken policeman had come into the room and interrogated him. The policeman seemed to know more about the organisation than he did, so had not been bothered about the extent of any confession.
So here he was standing against a wall with a hood over his head reflecting on the futility and shortness of life.

“Take aim. FIRE”

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Virtuality part 4

Chapter Two
In order to find a rational basis for my intended actions, I have been researching the progress, or lack of it, of mankind over the last few decades. I started by searching the System archives, aware that the brief I had set myself was almost impossibly broad. What exactly am I looking for? If I am to identify progress, then surely I must identify what progress humanity was making up to Universal Virtuality, and measure it against the progress made since. My training for the position I hold now has been very thorough, but it has, I feel, been perhaps a little biased towards the ideal that I was then pursuing. I therefore “know” about the events that had brought about the current situation, but only from the point of view that I had held at the time I was learning. I therefore think I need to relearn my history.
Ever since the so called “Industrial Revolution” in the late 18th Century in Britain, technological advance had described an exponential graph until the late 20th and early 21st centuries when Virtuality was born. This growth was mainly centred around the Western and Southern hemisphere nations - the “rich” nations, but had spread to the poorer nations of the world, as Global Trading Companies fought to enfranchise the whole world with their products. There had been huge advances in the use of computers and telecommunications, as well as food and health technologies.
The culmination of all this technology was The System. The System provided everything anyone should ever need. Nobody need do anything. Work was unnecessary and technological advance was irrelevant. The System did it all. Any changes that had taken place since Universal Virtuality were largely the work of the System. Even the new virtual worlds were mostly generated by the System as a response to requests made by the people. Only a handful of people created anything and these creations were as nothing compared to the huge advances made during the end of the second millennium.
At first I was appalled at these findings, until I realised that this was what I had expected to find, and that if that was what the people wanted, who was I to deny them. Perhaps this was just human nature; perhaps the need to create and develop was a function of survival and not a basic human trait after all. Given that the System had found everything for humanity, that it was no longer in danger, and that survival was, or appeared to be assured, there was no further need to progress. Anyone who felt dissatisfied with the System would be Outside.
I realise that I am frustrated by Virtuality, and increasingly fascinated with the Outside and what is happening out there. I would dearly love to go out myself, but I am now too old. If I am to satisfy this longing for the outside, I must do it vicariously. I will find somebody who will do my travelling for me, who will venture forth as I would like to, and discover what, if anything, has been happening on the Outside all the time I have been wallowing in the security of the System. All I have to do is find somebody who wishes to travel Outside, and who is available within the System. This latter is a prerequisite because I need somebody who can report back. This requires that the person is able to communicate via Virtuality, or in person. This in turn requires the person to be chipped.
All I now have to do is find someone who fits the criteria, and who is willing to travel for me.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Virtuality part 3

Part Two

Chapter One
My name is Erica Bergdahl and I am about to embark on a project that will almost certainly see me through to the end of my life. In order to justify what I intend to do, I am setting this down as a record of my actions, though as I am writing it on an old fashioned word processor, I don’t suppose anyone will be able to read it. I have nothing better to do with what little time that remains to me. Virtuality does not stimulate me and there is nothing else to occupy my mind.
I lie here in my apartment, alone with my thoughts, and, unlike most of the population, deeply in real life. As SAUK (System Administrator (UK)) of Virtuality, I am aware of the difference between Reality and Virtuality. Indeed as a young woman I had experienced life when Virtuality was not the whole of life, when people still visited in real life, and even when families lived together in real life. I had been brought up with my mother and father in a family unit and had often accompanied my parents on trips outside.
My mother was always moaning about the way things used to be. From a wealthy background, and with a father who had been determined to be amongst the first to have any new invention or innovation, my mother’s family had, in addition to the Country House and the Town House, a Virtuality room in each. I was brought up during the “rollout” of Virtuality for all and my mother resented the fact that these privileges had been granted to every “drop out and ne’er do well in the country”. My father, ironically, had been an employee of the Gates Corporation, which had wholeheartedly supported the move towards universal Virtuality, supported by grants and subsidies from the UK government. Indeed, my father had been a supporter of the scheme himself, although in the interests of peace at home, he had kept his views to himself.
By the time I was born, the scheme was in its infancy, a small proportion of the population had been rehoused in Virtuality blocks, either as singles or family units, and yet social intercourse had still taken place outside Virtuality, particularly amongst the older population. There were of course prophets of doom that said that no good would come of this manipulation of Mankind’s social structure, but the government and Gates continued to progress with the system.
Given the opportunity of a Gates scholarship to Cambridge Virtual College, I had taken up a life as an academic, rising to be the youngest professor in the history of Cambridge University. From this point, such was my indoctrination, I had become a wholehearted proponent of the development of Virtuality as a way of managing social change.
I had been an idealist then, but now I feel that it has all gone wrong. I had been the principal advocate of what had been known as the “Euthanasia Clause”, which had simply been the removal of support functions from persons over the age of 100. This inevitably meant that at that age with all support functions, including life support to the apartment, removed, the old person would sleep forever, releasing valuable resources for the younger more valuable members of society.
That was then of course. One hundred years had seemed a reasonable length of time for anyone to live. Only a relatively small percentage of the population would have this clause invoked and they would realise that it was for the greater good. Anyway, they represented an infinitesimal proportion of total purchasing power.
I was not then, nor am I now, a politician, nor have I worked directly for a global corporation, but in those days, all academics were paid by politicians who in turn were paid by Globals, so it was pretty much the same result really. I had been an advisor to the government on what was known as the Depopulation and De-pollution project (DP2). This had sought to reduce the amount of pollution in the world caused by overpopulation by a combination of reducing the movements of people and their consumption of raw materials, but at the same time satisfy the needs of the Globals who required consumerism to develop.
DP2 was a project that had been in existence since before the radical adoption of Universal Virtuality, which had been created to alleviate the huge costs of illness caused by pollution and over population, and the consequent loss of consumer revenues. At the time the concept had been mooted, fossil fuels had become scarce and expensive, and the oil and gas companies had diversified into other forms of energy generation, including and in particular, solar energy. This was generated at land stations, for particular uses, and by a string of geostationery satellites, and had gone some way to reduce the air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately it was too little too late to solve the long-term effects that overpopulation and environmental abuse had caused.
It had become almost impossible to expose skin of any colour to the sun for more than fifteen minutes without causing severe burning and potential cancer. Protective clothing had to be worn at all times outside and travelling any distance was difficult. People had started working from their place of residence via telecommunications links and computer systems networked via the World Wide Web of computer connectivity. More specialist buildings had been erected with the sole purpose of providing accommodation with connectivity to the web. These buildings were self-contained units with a receiver for the satellite energy system. They were serviced in all respects for food, clothing, laundry and waste disposal by a highly automated organisation that provided robotic systems to clean and deliver to the living units. Further advances in technology, led to the development of virtual reality technologies that allowed a high degree of interaction with work mates in a virtual environment. This radically changed the way in which people worked.
More and more people found it easier to work from home, or small local offices, and the central city business started to decline in favour of the out of town telecommuter. People travelled less and the log jammed traffic declined considerably. Even those who needed interaction with other personnel found the VR environment comfortable as it allowed them to interact with their colleagues, albeit in virtual form, as if they were working in the same office building.
Technology continued to progress. Few production operations required any human input at all, and even food production was automated to the extent that a farm extending to well over 10,000 acres needed no more than a single “farmer” working a terminal to operate the whole farm. VR required no more attachments to make it work, instead, an electronic field stimulated the sensors in the brain, bypassing the traditional sensors of eyes, ears, taste touch etc.
It became obvious that the only way for government to have a remote chance of governing was to provide shelter from the harmful effects of the pollution, and to adopt the new technologies in order to maintain control of the population. In the interests of democracy, the government had to persuade the people to come into their new blocks. There was legislation passed to force anyone claiming housing benefit to enter into the new blocks, and all government employees were “encouraged” to take accommodation there.
As it turned out, the populace did not require much persuading. There were, of course, cries of “foul” from the well heeled, until it was pointed out that the needy would be offered only the most basic accommodation. In addition the potential savings to the exchequer should reduce the taxation burden on the rich and provide them with further credits towards other luxuries.
Governments of all technologically advanced societies started to build VR blocks for their population, and connect them to the system, which in turn gave them connection to Virtuality for work and play. As time went on, fewer and fewer people were to be found on the streets, which were still so polluted that to be out for more than 10 minutes without a respirator would mean asphyxiation. Virtuality became the norm, and the system was developed to provide food and exercise for the block bound inhabitants.
These developments have all taken place over the last few generations, and were started before I was even born, but such was my enthusiasm for the ideals encapsulated in the concept, that I drove the reforms through until the take up of Virtuality was, to all intents and purposes, universal. For my tireless efforts and single-minded dedication to the cause, I was awarded the title of “System Administrator”. I think sometimes that it had been an idealist solution, but it had worked. It was assumed that there were still “Outsiders” but it was not known how many there were. The System controls the environment of each of the blocks and does not tolerate any interference from outside, whether this is represented by Outsiders or wild animals. It maintains itself and builds its own replacement modules. It makes food from produce and chemicals that it raises for itself. It has to be an ideal solution, but I am growing dissatisfied
Not only am I approaching my 95th birthday, but also I am beginning to doubt whether the experiment (for that’s how I now see it) has worked; have there been serious flaws in my reasoning. Both the Globals who had started this whole exercise, and National Governments, have become subject to the same benign system that they had created and have ceased to exist in anything other than name. Human apathy has taken over, and the System runs everything.
For those in the Virtuality blocks this is not a major problem, they are content. There is no hardship, and the only inequality lies in the number of credits available to spend in Virtuality. This in turn is dictated by the effort put in to maintain the System. As a result of my honorific title “System Administrator”, I am awarded a stipend of 1,000,000 credits a year for life, and almost unlimited access to the System’s databases and programs.
Lying here thinking as I do so much these days, I find it difficult to justify my disillusionment. All I keep coming back to is that I am getting old, and something isn’t right. I have spent days browsing the data file of the System trying to establish what is bothering me and I have come to the conclusion that it relates to the indefinable requirement of humanity to continue to progress, and that the system I have helped to create has suppressed, and in the main, eliminated this need. The ideal I had worked so hard to create has been fulfilled and is no longer developing.
In the early years, people had continued to make forays into the outside, to visit friends in their blocks and make contact in Reality. Ideas were exchanged and plans discussed. Some of these were put into place and the Brave New World extended to incorporate them.
Oh yes, in the beginning I was proud of the achievements of the System. Pollution has been dramatically reduced, health has been improved, leisure is assured, and in the developed world, humanity has achieved the impossible dream of a satisfactory standard of living for all who require it, regardless of ability and class. Above all, the scourge of crime has been all but eliminated. The only laws in the System are policed and enforced by the System itself. As all property has become, in effect, that of the System, there can be no crimes against property that are not crimes against the System, and as all people are insulated against each other within the System, there can be no crimes against the person that can take place without the System knowing. Any trespass or violence against a System dweller by an outside body is unknown within the System as the System destroys any living thing entering the System that is not chipped. Any attempt to reprogram the System without the System’s prior approval and explicit sanction is punishable by death. Crimes against the fabric of the System, such as arson or other deliberate damage, are punishable by a range of penalties. Most typical are fines and loss of privileges in Virtuality. In extreme cases, offenders are denied access to Virtuality altogether. Generally, offenders are educated by the System in non-offending. Thus the small price of this Utopia is the control by the System of the social environment in which people reside.
Gradually, social intercourse in Reality has declined until it is a considerable rarity. Lifetime coupling no longer exists, and children are taken into System kindergartens from birth. There is no requirement for families to reside in one apartment; the System allows visits in Virtuality, and it also takes better care of the children than parents can be expected to. Sexual congress is catered for by the System, each sensation being managed in Virtuality. Virtuality provides everything.
In spite of its advantages, not everybody took up the opportunity. There were some who chose to remain in the real world, and there were those who, because of their social position, were unknown to the system and missed the chance of a place in a block. It was assumed that most of those who failed to be granted a place either died of the adverse environmental conditions or managed to move to a more acceptable region. I have no idea what has happened to those that survived the early days outside. The System does not provide statistics on them; they are outside its purview.
Now, so many years later, I begin to think that if any have survived, they might provide the solution to my problem with Virtuality, but I am too old to venture forth myself to discover if there is still anybody outside. Even if there are individuals who have survived outside, they will be savage and even warlike. They will have developed in a totally different way than those in the blocks. With no support services, they will have become dependent on their own wits, and will have procreated naturally, competing for the food and the opposite gender in the natural need to survive and continue their line.
The more I consider it, the more I know that I have to have more information about the Outsiders. Some of them must have survived. I remember that there were still people on the streets when I was a small girl, and the environmental conditions were not nearly so severe as they had reportedly been before Universal Virtuality was adopted. As the System had developed, and chipping had been introduced, the System viewed any unchipped animal matter as a threat and destroyed it if it came within a metre of any of its functions. This means that the Cities and towns where the blocks had been created have become impossible for anyone unchipped to survive in. In any case, for the Outsiders to have survived, they must have created some form of social structure, and must have had the opportunity to procreate. This requires space to develop, and there was no space within the confines of the Cities. If there is any useful life outside the System, therefore, it must be beyond the reach of the System, and in an open space.