The continuation of the story from last week. I hope you’re enjoying it.
‘Having registered your previous visit to our group we would like to welcome you back. However, for your own protection, it is now necessary for you to complete a formal log in. The reason for this is so we may confirm you are actually a person, and not a tracking programme. We trust you will understand the reason for this condition being imposed, and share our ideals.’
I took the coward’s route and immediately left the site. There was no way I was going to lose my A status Post R, just because of an innocent research link. A few more weeks passed and I was totally bored, and falling into old age senility. With no structure to my life, and nothing to hold my interest I found my concentration slipping, and even began to believe my usefulness was a thing of the past.
My apathy turned to aggression, and once again I sought out and accessed the hidden link. I received the same warning message but this time I threw caution to the wind and pressed “Accept.” What had I done? All those years of appropriate living and following the rules possibly negated by the press of one button. Too late now. Within a few seconds I received a message.
‘Welcome friend. We know how much it took to press that acceptance. Please be assured we are not mercenaries, or anti-establishment. All our members have been model employees and exceptional citizens up until our R dates. Our common ideal is that life does not finish at forty-five. We still have something to contribute. We do not want to see intelligent brains left to rot when our experience can help the next generation to improve our world, for the benefit of young and old alike. Our purpose is to gain government acceptance, without recriminations.’
Initially I was relieved and pleased to find there were others who felt like me. Then I began to wonder if the group was a sham, installed by the governors to root out subversives. If I could find the site so easily, surely the controllers would have found it by now. I quickly signed out, then spent the next few weeks scared to check my info box in case it revealed the expected reprimand, and downgrading advice. Nothing happened, and eventually I plucked up courage to visit the consortium again.
‘Welcome back friend,’ came the message. ‘Now we have checked out your history, Vid connection will be available. This is a precaution we need to carry out on all new members, until we are satisfied they are genuine. You have also been cleared to access our archives, and retrieve our news sheets, should you so wish. Please feel free to ask any questions, or join our discussion forums. To help preserve identities, you have been allocated number 45R#98742. Please use this reference when contacting us in future. Thank you for your support.’
I accepted the inward Vid link, but withheld the outward one so I could see them, but they could not see me. The sight which met my eyes was astonishing. Around seven or eight people were sitting together. Although obviously there was a comp, they were not Vid linked, but seemed to be physically in each other’s presence. I had never before seen people, of all genders, actually in touching distance. I wondered why they felt it necessary, rather than use a conf vid. That was the first question I put to them.
With a smile, one of the gentlemen introduced himself as 86.
‘That’s a good question, my friend. It must seem very odd to you but in the old days close contact was normal, and conf vid was only used occasionally, such as when travelling was difficult. As you know, physically leaving our pods is almost unheard of today, and at first the mechanics of actually meeting together caused us horrendous problems. It seemed such a stupid thing to do, although it began merely as an exercise to see if it was feasible. When we made it work, it gave us such a sense of achievement we tried again, and now we actually enjoy the physical contact.’
One of the others joined in.
‘It took a lot of courage the first time I left my own pod. My particular interest is space travel, and I can remember comparing the emotion to how ancient space travellers must have felt, facing the complete unknown. It made me realise what a lonely existence we all led, and now I really look forward to our meetings. Perhaps one day you will join us?’
The thought of leaving my pod filled me with horror, but they made it clear only a very small minority of their members took the gigantic step. Almost all of their nearly ten thousand associates used conf vid.
Ten thousand! I was astounded.
They explained that the society had been in existence for many years, and had gradually expanded to cover most of the world states. Unbelievably, there were still some areas where there were no Vid links and people lived together in communities, without individual pods. It was purely by coincidence several of the people I could see had discovered their pods were in the same sector. After that first introduction, I became a regular visitor and found a new interest to replace my previous work ethic. Sometimes I felt trepidation that what I was doing was illegal, and I would have to face the consequences. Most of the time I was fascinated, and wanted to learn everything I could about the old days.
I discovered that long ago, people used various mechanical means to physically travel to separate buildings for their work. Some of these ‘vehicles’ as they were called, were individual but some held hundreds of people, and even went into the air, or floated on the sea. Nearly everyone lived in communities, with not just one pod, but many buildings all huddled together. These “cities” as they were called, had thousands of structures, with tens of thousands of people all living within touching distance.
There was no control of the population, and anyone was allowed to mate with anyone else, whenever they liked. Some of these ‘families’ all lived together, so there might be two or three generations all existing in the same conglomeration of pods. What was even stranger was that babies stayed with their begetters, rather than being allocated to the state distribution depot to be brought up in the correct vector. My mind drifted back to when I had been a begetter. It was odd to think that somewhere there was a person bearing both my carefully selected genes, and those of my pre-selected partner. Although it had been many years before, I remembered the conversation I had with my designated mate.
‘Did you ever think it would be nice to choose the sex of the child, and see them mature?’
‘What a silly idea. If everyone thought that way the balance of males and females would be uneven. Or what if everyone wanted others, what would happen then? It could mean the end of the reproductive factor, and the finish of civilisation. I’m not sure we should be having this discussion, or to be honest, if you are even suitable material to pursue this duty.’
‘I’m sorry. Please don’t report me. I’ll complete my part of the task, and you won’t hear from me again.’
Looking round my solitary pod I experienced a feeling of loneliness. How could that be? I had everything I needed, contact with companions, food, warmth and security. There was order and regulation in my life, and no cause for complaint. I had progressed naturally through the phases and been prepared for each new milestone. My studies had taught me that previously there had been no established life length. It must have been complete chaos not to know that forty-five was R day, fifty-five was O day, and sixty-five was final day. I learnt that although some people died young, it seemed others lived on until they were ninety, or even a hundred, even though their faculties had expired, and they were of no further use.
Basic requirements were not controlled centrally as an automatic necessity, but had to be paid for by the individual. If you didn’t have enough credits, you went without. It proved how advanced our present system was, and I considered resigning from the group with their old-fashioned ideals. Instead I carried on being involved, reading, researching and learning, until the day 846 told me my pod was in the same vector as the touchers’ group I had originally seen sitting together.
No way! I still had worries about even visiting the site, or having the governors finding out about my membership and reducing my credit rating. It was impossible to think I could take the enormous step of moving outside my pod and facing the unknown journey to find them. I was not even sure that the exit door would open, as I had never tried it in the twenty years after my breeding era, when I had first been allocated this capsule. Looking round my home I saw it with fresh eyes. Where once it had been my haven, now it felt like a prison. The one thing I hadn’t been prepared for was my own change in attitude. Perhaps it was the disintegration of my mind as time passed, and reaching final day would be a welcome relief. I found myself constantly glancing at the door as I moved around my room. At one stage, I plucked up the courage to put my palm against the identity pad but went no further, as I was sure it would trigger an alarm.
I continued to visit the site, almost on a daily basis, and become a recognised member. Eventually I even released the vid cam restriction and let the members see me, as they had already been visible to me for nearly a year now. Time passed and I realised it was already approaching the half way stage between R day and final day. My O day anniversary would mean another reduction in status, and only ten years until extermination. Occasionally I still had qualms about being discovered, but the closer I got to final day the less I had to lose. Over the years I had seen a change from the ideal of the greater good, into a self-centred ideology from the ruling powers. There had even been talk of reducing the time between R and F days by cutting out the O anniversary. If that had happened, I would only have a few days left, but thankfully it had been over-ruled, at least for the time being.
At the same time, I realised minor defects had begun to show in my pod. The cleaning bot left odd corners untouched, the food dispenser made mistakes with my order, or served it lukewarm instead of hot. Perhaps this was normal for people in their final phase to experience, as they became lower priority. I completed the appropriate report form and was surprised to receive the following info message:
“We are experiencing unusually high levels of irregularities which are being investigated. We apologise for this temporary disruption to the expected high standards of service. We will address your particular comments more fully as soon as practicable. Your request has been logged as 847-RKL-2#K/20P9X. Thank you for your patience.”
Even this reply took a day to come through, whereas previously anything submitted received a response in seconds. I wondered if these breakdowns were more widespread than I had first imagined, and if there was a major problem with the system. The group had collated information from its members and showed the true extent of the overall deterioration. Since the acknowledgement of my original report I had received no info updates and further complaints remained unanswered, apart from a standard reply which merely allocated a reference number. The situation worsened until, after a full day without a meal delivery, the food delivered was stone cold, inedible, and smelt mouldy. The malfunction department stopped responding to complaints, or providing information, but I had the group to keep me up to date.
Eventually everything stopped working. There was no food, no cleaner, and the temperature ranged from baking hot to freezing cold and back again every few minutes. In a panic I visited the site to ask for advice. Even that took an hour to connect, and when it did, it kept cutting off so it was hard to hear what they were saying. Behind the grey background and the fuzzy lines, someone seemed to be waving but I couldn’t understand their gestures. Finally the sound came through briefly.
‘Get out. Get out now!’
‘What?’ I asked in amazement, thinking I had misunderstood.
‘Leave the pod! Open the door and get out. The building is going to explode. You haven’t much time. Just do it. We will find you. Go! Now!’
Were they crazy? Leave the pod? I didn’t even know what was out there. How would they find me? I couldn’t do it. Things would work out. The problems would be repaired. Everything would go back to normal. I just needed to give it a little time.
Suddenly the walls shook. I screamed.
For a moment there was total silence, then a resounding boom and the whole pod reverberated with the shock. Rushing to the door I slammed my palm against the identification pad. My hand moved to the open button, which was now covered in dust and grime. Summoning all my courage I pushed it.
In a panic I stabbed at it again and again.
Suddenly the door began to drift open, just as all the lights went out. From behind other closed doors I could hear the despairing shrieks and cries of other citizens, unaware of what was happening or how they should respond. Young and old alike had become so dependent upon the system they had lost the ability to think rationally.
Taking a deep breath to summon up the last ounce of my courage, I stepped across the threshold to face the unknown, and whatever the future might hold.
© Voinks January 2019
Thanks for dropping by. See you next week, unless……………