Book One - Rise of the Iron Sun

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Book One

Submitted: May 20, 2017

Reads: 280

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Submitted: May 20, 2017

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A A A

Fragment One

 

Fragment One

 

 

The prime minister glistened behind the podium. His face had been pampered with fifteen types of make-up-cleanser, moisturiser, face-cream, zit-cream, day-cream, night-cream, firming-cream, softening-cream, skin-toner, spot-corrector, eye-liner, eye-shadow, brightening eye cream, dulling eye cream, cream remover-only to be smothered with a blubber-thick milk-fat mask by the head hygiene artist, hence why he radiated an angelic sheen under the harsh fluorescent lights. The prime minister stared at the glass of milk on the podium, winked at the crowd, and licked his lips ostentatiously. Slowly-ever, so, slowly-like a naughty little boy raiding an open fridge, he extended his shaking hand towards the glass and wrapped his fingers around it, possessively. The glass was slightly cool to the touch, and when he swirled the milk inside it resisted slightly, substantiating by its truculent viscosity the generous proportion of fat the crowd expected from the milk. The prime minister bit his finger. His jowls quivered in anticipation as he raised the glass into the air, the orchestra blaring out the anthem off-screen as he held it above the awestruck crowd. He was a great man but he was only a man, he could contain himself no longer, cheers, cheers, he quaffed it, oh god, it was, superb. Grey-top dripped from his muzzle and dribbled down his suit, blending with his shirt and contrasting with his double-breasted jacket. The prime minister, now with a flash of regret that the milk was finished, almost sorrow, placed the glass onto a little coaster, wiped his newly grown moustache away and, regaining control of his emotions, smiled milkily for the crowd.

 

'Friends, citizens, New Zealanders all: I can tell you, as your leader, that this milk is... is delicious!!' The studio audience applauded wildly; the trombones glissandoed their way up to a triumphant C Major; the traditionally dressed Maori extras performed a haka behind the stage cow, Shelly, who stood bewildered as milk powder snowed down on the heads of the actors like wonderful, wonderful dandruff. The prime minister dabbed his suit with a Fonterra logoed handkerchief, then lifted both his arms into the air. He was no politician. He was a prophet!

 

'Citizens: as I speak, containers of milk solids lie idle in our harbours. Ships from foreign nations arrive at our shores and laden us with goods, but will not take our most-famous product. They say 'no, too much milk! Maybe next year we'll need it, maybe next year there'll be a drought!' In the meantime we dump our milk in our rivers and sell what we do sell... for a pittance.' The crowd booed at this news, the Maori extras stood forlornly on the stage, muttering curses in their quaint native language-even Shelly the cow hunched her shoulders in apparent dejection. Both of the studio cameras zoomed in on a globular tear rolling down the prime minister's flabby cheek, curving along his indistinct jawline, and mingling with the excellent milk hanging on his chin like an icicle.

 

A genuine passion suddenly broke the silence, glorious, glorious, all was not lost: rhetoric most rousing gushed from the prime minister's lips as the teleprompter scrolled downwards! 'So citizens, I ask you all, as your elected leader, to help us solve our problem, together! I do solemnly declare, during this dark time in our nation's history, this moment of supreme crisis, that we must drink all this milk ourselves! That we must bathe in this milk, daily! That we must bake with this milk!! That we must brush our teeth with this milk!! That we must milk the garden with this milk!!! That we must, I say, mop the floor with this milk, yes, and mop it again, and again, and mop it again!!! I don't, know you, frankly care what we do with this milk, this fine, clean, pure milk, as long as we all support the price of milk by buying, this, milk!!!!'


Fragment Two


Fragment Two

 

 

Ode to the Latest Model

 

Laptop, to who can you I false compare?

Your slim design makes you air.

Your skin of plastic's smooth as glass,

Laptop, bind us two as one with modem fast.

 

I adore your number keys, from one to nine,

For the zero key especially I do nought but pine.

Laptop, I exalt in order of these numbers, near sequential,

Likened to your QWERTY layout, these keys are preferential.

 

I bask in the rays of your 'increase brightness' button,

Laptop, on winter nights especially I am quite the power glutton.

Your 'mute' button I most vociferously acclaim,

Even the blaring of your adware sets my tender heart aflame.

 

Laptop, though the workings of your inner soul work beyond mine roving eye,

Through the workings of my hacker games your inner beauty I espy.

I love it when you're working hard. I love it when you're hot.

Laptop, I know you want to sleep, but it's Friday night, I'd rather not.

 

Your touchpad is so sensitive. My smallest movement draws response.

Your nether-region tracks my finger with a feigned nonchalance.

Laptop, the curves of your two brackets prove intelligent design,

What turns me on the most though are your infinite straight lines.

 

Command me; control me; I am yours.

Laptop, tab my loyal presence in your many forum wars.

Shift me to your favourite page, I'll roam my cursor thither,

Return me to your preferences, I'll not lag or dither.

 

Laptop, sometimes my human girlfriend says we need a little space,

She's sick of weekly skyping, she wants to view me face-to-face.

Know I'll never esc you for a load-bar of a day,

Laptop, sit I in my typing chair, and here I'll always stay.

 

Till I need a new computer, here I'll always stay.

 

 

Anonymous


Evening


Evening

 

 

Once upon a time, in the mid 2040's, in a land far away called Switzerland, there was a happy little town called Davos. It was the highest village in the whole kingdom of EURussia, high as the sky and blue as the artificial snow, a place where marmots and foxes scampered around the feet of the children and tumbled down the ski-tracks all-year round.

 

At the end of each year the locals celebrated by hosting the first of three festivals, an ice-soccer tournament on a frozen indoor lake, festooning the arena with the slogans and logos of corporations famous the Economy over. 'Be it!' Nike-ados would playfully suggest. 'Be you.' Coca-Dupont would rebut. The spectators' eyes would flick from the blue players to the soccer ball, from the soccer ball to the corporate banners, from the corporate banners to the red players, in time with the plays and counter-plays of the opposing teams.

 

After the tournament came Christmas, the biggest festival of the year, where people exchanged commodities with each other without knowing what they'd get in return. This was when the slogans and logos of the first festival were remembered, unknowingly, long after the first festival's score was forgotten. The aim of this festival was to try and predict the value of the gifts you'd receive from loved ones, buy them gifts worth the same amount, and avoid making an overall loss. Everyone got a prize, although never one they wanted. It was the act of giving, not receiving, that made the people of Davos happy.

 

The third festival was small. While Christmas was a mass commemoration of the market, ritualistically symbolised by the transactions made between family members, and involving every shopper, customer, client, and end-user in Davos, Switzerland, EURussia, and the world, the third festival was a humble, self-conscious festival which took place in a renovated bunker from World War Two. There were no corporate banners in this bunker, nor corporate products, only corporate leaders and their advisors, five-hundred first-rate conservative entrepreneurs and their sycophantic hanger-ons. It was called the World Economic Forum, and although it was as small as Christmas was large it was as important as Christmas was worthless. Applesoft, General Toyota, Nestle'anto, Royal Dutch Gazprom, Goldman Morgan, Fannie Freddie, Walt Warner, Lockheed Burton, Boeing Apache, Kraft Foods Waste Management, Metlife Phillip Morris, and United States and Hon Hai Steel Precision Industry were all present, making their plays and counter-plays, resolving their differences, and planning how best to realise the Will of the Economy for the prosperity of all who had a stake in the system. The people of Davos had become much happier since the third festival had gone underground: they wanted the Economy to work, but they didn't want to know how the Economy worked. It was a dirty festival in a pristine town, so it was an arrangement that worked for everyone.

 

The only problem was that there were four-hundred-and-ninety-nine people in the bunker who didn't know how their Economy worked either, or rather why It didn't work anymore. Only one person realised that It had become too complex for human understanding and that, like a jinga tower constructed with too many blocks and too little structural knowledge, It would soon come crashing down. He was a brilliant economist from an economic backwater in the South Pacific. He was the most important person in the bunker and the least important person in the bunker. His presentation had only been fifteen minutes long.

 

---

 

'Bing-bong. All aboooard! Bing-Bong. Alle Mann an Booord! The doors will be closing in one hundred and twenty seconds. Die Turen werden in hundertzwanzig Sekunden werden geschlossen. Bing-bong. All aboooard! Bing-Bong. Alle Mann...'

 

The professor didn't feel much. The professor was so focused on his field of expertise that he only noticed his own life when it was affected by the Economy, and even then only evaluated it at a distance. For once though, for once, as the professor walked stiffly into the space capsule and tucked his suitcase into the side compartment, he became dimly aware that he felt something. They hadn't really listened to his idea, and it made him feel... sad.

 

'Attention passengers, attention passengers. This is your automated pilot speaking. Thank you for boarding the Tetsuwan Atomu Zepi-liner 848, bound for AUCK-LAND, CITY, NEW ZEA-LAND. For those of you traveling with us for the first time, wel-come. We will be floating to an estimated altitude of NINE-TY, EIGHT, THOUSAND, METRES, affording us some truly spec-ta-cu-lar views of our planet. Do not be alarmed: everything is au-to-ma-ted. The Tetsuwan Atomu Corporation employs the fourth highest ra-tio of safety engineers to passengers of any astronautical corporation in the world. If at any time you do find the experience un-nerving, or you simply wish to sleep, you will find masks connected to the left-hand side of your chairs. Simply fit the mask to your face, lie back, and breathe in deeply. In the unlikely event of an e-mer-gen-cy, I will contact the medics in the vicinity of our estimated point of im-pact. I will do all I can within our zepi-liner to avert a problematic situation. Since the Tetsuwan Atomu Corporation was founded, such an emergency has only occurred TWICE.

 

Achtung Passagiere, Aufmerksamkeit Passagiere. Das ist Ihre automatisierte Pilot sprechen. Vielen Dank fur das Einsteigen Tetsuwan Atomu Zepi-liner 848, fur AUCK-LAND, STADT, NEUSEE-LAND gebunden. Fur diejenigen unter Ihnen, die mit uns zum ersten Mal...'

 

The little town sunk into the distance; the titanic metal orb hauled his capsule above the sunset through the mystery of anti-gravity gas. Drones and robots soared beneath the craft's magnifying-glass floor, wheeling around the CEOs' bunker like aluminium albatrosses, shining like pre-fab guardian spirits. The alps lay all around, baring their breasts and their blue nipples of snow. The mountains became pimples, then goosebumps. Up the orb and capsule went, up, up, through the troposphere and mesosphere, up to the edge of space. The professor tipped back his chair and allowed himself to breathe. It didn't matter that they hadn't listened. He was a professor: the students in his classes would have to listen, and when they became economists they would convince others. It would spread.

 

'Good evening, my name's Rosie Rosalind, and you're watching... Business Today, Tonight!'The professor turned up the volume. 'In the studio with me is Aimon UIrich of the Post Progressive Party, and Pascal Theodoric of the Christian Canton Citizens' Coalition, both running for Davos. Aimon: could this coming election be the least important one yet?' Aimon was a short man in a grey suit, and Pascal a tall man in a blue suit. They both happened to be wearing the same coloured tie. 'Oh without a doubt Rosie, now that the EURussian Democratic Stabilisation Authority has been set up it's less consequential than ever. I think the stock market should stay pretty steady during the lead-up knowing that we can only pick policies from a really quite narrow range of choices.' Throughout the zepi-liner, on the back of a hundred genuine leather seats, Aimon looked at his opponents tie and frowned. 

 

'Rosie, if I may add to Aimon's comments, I'd like to emphasize that the only reason the range of policies available is so narrow is because irresponsible extremism has not been authorized by the Authority. Voters may not be able to cut taxes in half, or expel the jews, or collectivize the peasants and the like, but as far as credible policies go all of the same kinds of options are still on the table. Now it's still a democracy of course, just a higher form, because like every EURussian member state Switzerland has a seat in the Council which decides what policies each member state can choose from. It's team democracy if you will, responsible democracy. If you want to stay in the EURus, you've got to be a responsible EURus member state.'

 

The camera panned to Rosie. 'I could imagine that some banks might prefer more autonomy. Hypothetically, is leaving the EURus one of the options available to us?' The camera panned to Aimon. 'Hypothetically, no. Part of being a responsible EURussian member state is staying a EURussian member state. As a EURussian member state, we could go through the appropriate process however and use our seat in the EURussian Democratic Stabilisation Authority Council to try and include that policy in the list of policies available to us, although an anti-EURussian party couldn't possibly be voted into power in the first place as the anti-EURussian policies it would run on are of course not allowed, making this a purely hypothetical thought exercise indeed.' The professor yawned in contentment. His body slumped in his chair; he let the bureau-patter wash him clean of the conference.

 

'Rosie, if I may add to Aimon's comments, I'd like to point out that this is of course the only process a country could take to leave the EURus, as a party that comes into power hiding their anti-EURussian attitudes from the voters during the election that puts them in power-which I would like to point out is thoroughly undemocratic-and not going through the appropriate processes to leave the EURus, would of course not be deemed a responsible party by the EURus. The EURus would call for another election in said country without said party taking part, to establish a trustworthy, democratic, and responsible party in said EURussian member state.'

 

Rosie frowned. 'But if Russia can veto the inclusion of a policy of being able to leave the EURus, is it realistically hypothetically possible to leave?' Aimon and Pascal replied in unison. 'Of course: the EURussian Democratic Stabilisation Authority can veto Russia's ability to veto any policy proposedas long as the ability to veto Russia's veto is a policy available to EURus member states, naturally.' Pascal straightened his tie. 'But may I just add, Rosie, that it isn't.'

 

On one corner of the screen the altitude ticked up towards fifty-thousand metres. On a second corner speed of ascent flickered between twenty and twenty-one kilometers an hour. On a third corner wind speed marked fifteen kilometres an hour. On the last corner the clock struck nine-thirty. Automatically every headlamp in the capsule dimmed, melding the passengers with the mesospheric shadows outside. Re-compressioning tubes whistled tonelessly throughout the craft. The professor attached his mask and saw the timer suggestfully set itself for one hour before arrival. 'CONFIRM?' He heard his voice, one of many voices, confirm. The only person who wouldn't go to sleep was the pilot. He was automatic.

 

As the professor lost consciousness the voices of Rosie, Aimon, and Pascal followed him into his dreams: '...reluctance to carry out the practical structural reforms needed to deal with the current situation in a flexible and suitable manner...resolved to carry out optimal economic amelioration measures as my opponent...augment revenue inflows, while rationalizing expenditures in a fiscal sense and reforming nonfrontline services...incentivising investment and innovation: becoming more internationally competitive...obviously all in the interests of the public too...can't make an omelette without breaking eggs...patient and reasonable...due process...light at the end of the tunnel...'

 

---

 

'Attention passengers, attention passengers. This is your automated pilot speaking. We're currently floating over AUCK-LAND, CITY, NEW ZEA-LAND, at a height of NINE-TY, EIGHT, THOUSAND, METRES. It's looking like a BEAUTIFUL, MORNING down there people, through my camera I can see there's NOT A CLOUD, IN THE SKY. For those of you who haven't travelled with us before on the Tetsuwan Atomu Zepi-liner 848, I advise you to fasten your seatbelts as we will be dis-con-nec-ting from the dirigiballoon and falling to our destination in a hundred and twenty seconds and counting. Do not be a-larmed: this is a routine stage of the ex-press flight. Do not be a-larmed: it is necessary to disconnect from the balloon to reach our destination. Fasten your seatbelts. Do not be a-larmed.

 

Achtung Passagiere, Aufmerksamkeit Passagiere. Dies ist Ihre automatisierte Pilot sprechen. Wir sind derzeit schwebend uber AUCK-LAND, STADT, NEUSEE-LAND, auf einer Hohe von NEUN-ZIG, ACHT, TAUSEND, METER. Es ist wie ein SCHoNER, MORGEN schaut es Leute, durch meine Kamera, die ich sehen kann, gibt es NICHT EINE WOLKE, AM HIMMEL. Fur diejenigen unter Ihnen, die nicht gereist sind...'

 

The professor emerged from the toilet and began making his way back to his seat. The door shut behind him automatically. He heard the toilet vacuum itself clean, and smelt the restroom spraying itself with alpine scent. 'Fumigating. Do not enter. Estimated time until completion: FIF-TEEN, SECONDS. Fumigating. Geben Sie nicht...' The commuters were locking their possessions in side compartments and tightening their harnesses. Steel claws descended from ceiling hatches to pick up the remains of their complementary breakfasts.

 

'Hey, it's got hold of someone's book!' A trophy wife was trying to pull a paperback from the claw above the empty seat next to her. It was his thesis. 'SOR-RY, SIR. ES TUT UNS LEID, SIR. BREAK-FAST, TIME, IS, OVER.' The professor walked over to the claw, but it managed to wrench the book from the lady's hands. It withdrew into its robotic cave.

 

'Ten seconds people, hold on tight. Zehn Sekunden Menschen, halten Sie sich fest. Five, funf, four, vier, three...' He strapped himself in. The book wasn't going anywhere. Some people were fitting their mask to their face, lying back, and breathing in deeply.

 

'…eins...' A siren began to wail up and down; the capsules lights flashed on and off. Yellow nanocarbon protective coverings snapped into place over the outside windows, and the recompressioning tubes began to make a loud phisshing noise, flailing about randomly. On the inside of the protective coverings, the words 'FOR YOUR SAFETY' were stencilled in black. The camera panned to Pascal. 'Rosie, if I may add to Aimon's comments, I'd like to emphasize that it is my personal opinion that we're not going to see a hard landing. The EURus has disengaged from the bubble economy.'

 

Doctor Kamaka grasped his chairs coffee-holder as the 848 plunged towards home. His insides curdled at a rate of three thousand metres per second. Crisp wrappers and eco-friendly disposable cups slammed into the capsules ceiling, rolling around as if magnetized. Underneath his feet the arc of the earth flattened into a line. The Philippines and Antarctica and Australia retreated on all fronts, the North Island boomed into view, the coastline spiraled into focus. Auckland shot into sight. Within minutes he could make out the seagulls floating around the CBD's revolving restaurant, and the water cars zooming between Devonport and Auckland, and his home at the top of Parnell Rise. Pedestrians, drivers, and traffic lights were beginning their daily dance, and credit-flushed customers were roaming in and out of stores holding flat whites and pies.

 

The module hurtled into the ocean. Splash! The crisp packets and disposable cups showered the commuters heads as the capsule slowed its underwater descent, paused, and bobbed up towards the sea's surface for air. 'Attention passengers, attention passengers. This is your automated pilot speaking. We have made a SUCCESSFUL landing. The module is currently mo-to-ring towards AUCK-LAND, CITY, FERRY, TERMINAL, at a rate of FIVE, KILOMETRES, AN HOUR. Estimated time of arrival is TEN, O, SIX, A, M, NEW ZEA-LAND TIME: TEN, O, SIX, P, M, SWISS TIME. I hope you have en-joyed your flight with us on the Tetsuwan Atomu Zepi-liner 848. Those of you not continuing to NAHA, CITY, JAPAN, should collect your personal belongings. Estimated time of departure is TEN, FOURTY, FIVE, A, M, NEW ZEA-LAND TIME. 

 

Achtung Passagiere, Aufmerksamkeit Passagiere. Dies ist Ihre automatisierte Pilot sprechen. Wir haben eine ERFOLGREICHE Landung gemacht. Das Modul ist derzeit Autofahren...'

 

Doctor Kamaka looked at the claw hatch. There were no stewardesses to complain to, only steel and wiring. He'd tell enquiries what had happened once he was on dry land—there was no rush.

 

The professor gazed out the window. Auckland City. Mega-yachts Matsu Fusang and PLN Gong Gong State Luxury Cruiser were still docked on the waterfront, their fluro-vested workmen carrying equipment onboard. ASBNZ HQ still dominated the horizon, even overshadowing the so-called sky tower, announcing record profits as usual. Cop cars still staked out the streets, making sure that nothing unexpected could ever possibly happen. And as long as someone listened to him, nothing ever would. The city putted along; the capsule putted up to the jetty.

 

'Bing-bong. Prepare for departuuure! Bing-Bong. Bereiten Sie fur den Abfluuug! The doors will be opening in one hundred and twenty seconds. Die Turen werden in hundertzwanzig Sekunden eroffnet. Bing-bong. Prepare for departuuure! Bing-Bong. Bereiten Sie...' Steel wire lassos burst from little slits on the modules front and tightened themselves around docking pegs bolted onto the pier. The craft cautiously reeled itself towards the wharf until it was nearly scraping against the wood. The latches surrounding the escape gate unlocked themselves, and a metal ramp rolled onto the wharf like some kind of dystopian tongue.

 

'Well, thank you Aimon and Pascal for an interesting discussion. All the best for the upcoming elections.' She shook Aimon's lifeless hand. 'It's been a pleasure Rosie--and I look forward to coming back on this show in three weeks time as the new Davos minister!' She shook Pascal's equally lifeless hand. 'Rosie, it's not only been a productive discussion but a pleasurable one too--and may I add that I look forward to coming back on this show as the new Davos minister in three weeks time!' The program's jingle played over footage of the day's major events. The sponsors' jingles played as the sponsors pitched their messages. The sponsors were replaced by ads. The professor's tv turned its volume down and switched itself off. It knew that nobody was really listening.

 

---

 

Suit-case in hand, the professor stepped onto the quay. There were few people about: the only sounds came from the vending machines as he walked along the pier. 'COFFEE, DOC-TOR KAMAKA? YOU LOOK, DREADFULLY, TIRED.' 'CRAB SANDWICH, DOC-TOR KAMAKA? YOU SHOULD EAT, BEFORE, YOU TEACH YOUR LECTURE.' 'UMBRELLA, DOC-TOR KAMAKA? THE FORECAST, FOR, LATER TODAY...' A drone swooped down to identify the international passenger. The drone swooped up. It was all routine.

 

He approached enquiries. There was no line. 'Hello DOCTOR, KAMAKA, can I help you in any way?' The professor dimly remembered the girl who had used to work here. 'I'd like to report an item missing on flight 10662, Davos to Auckland.' The intercom hissed. 'What item would you like to report missing, DOCTOR, KAMAKA?''A green book called 'Our Productivity Potential.' It was accidentally picked up by the robotic claw above my seat.'

 

The intercom beeped. 'I have told the robotic claws to search the capsule for your item, DOCTOR, KAMAKA.' It was ten thirty-nine. 'The claws don't work properly. In this case, it would be better for a human to try and find it.' It was ten fourty. 'There are no humans involved in this operation, DOCTOR, KAMAKA. There are no humans employed by the company. And unfortunately, even if there were humans available to find your item, resolving your personal complaint would delay the next flight.' The humans referred to dragged themselves and their suitcases up the ramp.

 

'Bing-bong. All aboooard! Bing-Bong. Subete notte! The doors will be closing in one hundred and twenty seconds. Doa wa hyaku ni-juu byo de heisa saremasu. Bing-bong. All aboooard! Bing-Bong. Subete…' The professor picked up his briefcase. 'I understand. This is perfectly reasonable.' 'The next flight leaves in fifty-three seconds, DOCTOR, KAMAKA. There's nothing I can do. I have made a note of your missing item. The company will contact you once it is found. Thank you for flying with the Tetsuwan Atomu Zepi-liner 848. Next.' But there was no-one next.

 

The professor watched the zepi-liner leave his city in the distance. He wiped his glasses. Yes, it was important to stick to the schedule. It was the most important thing of all. He'd get his thesis back because there must be a human component somewhere in the company who could find it. The professor did something he had never done before: he sighed. He didn't know why. Not one passenger saw the man leave the desk beneath the craft's magnifying glass floor.


Sunset


Sunset

 

 

The clock projected on the high-tech cavern's wall ticked silently towards 9:30. Around the Computer engineers, programmers, mathematicians, physicists, economists, system-analysts, psychologists, and sociologists scurried to and fro, trading USB sticks with each other, twisting the Computer's dials, pulling its gear-sticks, tracking its simulated thoughts on screen, and scribbling down illegible e-notes with their magnetic pens. Cranes hauled immense cables hundreds of metres into the air and deftly inserted the plugs into the Computer's sockets, which popped and fizzled like sherbet. Long were the causeways above the electric plasma, but quick were the workers who ran across it, spurred on by an end-of-project bonus that shrank the more slowly they operated. It was a ruthlessly efficient salary system: the Computer had designed it itself.

 

It struck 9:30. The varied employees froze in place as one. There was a resonant click. 'Attention personnel: your efforts today have been of an exemplary nature, and we wish to congratulate you on the progress being made on this project. Your efforts are so highly appreciated because this project is of great importance to both the world and the Japanese government. We now urge you to spend this evening engaging in relaxing activities so that you may return to work with a revitalised spirit and with vigour. After a day of productive work it is healthy to de-stress with an evening of leisure, and your well-being is both important to yourself and the project. It is your right and duty. That is all.'

 

The employees were totally changed; they calmly returned their clipboards and tools to their rightful places. The monolithic Computer was now alien to them, switched off as they were from their work. They hated it. They walked out in dribs and drabs, talking about nothing important.

 

Time passed, yet one employee didn't leave. She stood on the metal planking, thinking... maybe not even doing that. Languidly she looked out over the ocean of electric-blue goo lapping against the vulcanised-rubber pillars of the causeways... a cave-breeze rippled her grey maternity dress, wafting from the twenty-metre turbines of the Computer's cooling fan...

 

She turned towards the Computer, love in her eyes. It was her only purpose. She'd mingle with the electric plasma in a flicker of sparks if it would do it any good...

 

---

 

The general smiled at his cabinet. He was an outwardly affable man, and all the more sinister for it. They waited for the dictator to speak. 'Ministers, good evening. I hope you are well. If you are ready, let us begin: how is the project doing?'

 

'The Computer is in an excellent condition sir: we have reason to believe it's thirty times more powerful than its closest competitor, and in terms of raw computing power it should be able to easily handle all the calculations involved in running the economy, whether national or global. It's understanding of the economy's workings grows more nuanced every day: in fact, it's already taken over most jobs in the Ministry of Finance,' said the Minister of Science and Technology.

 

'We must progress to the next stage and give the Computer some yen to experiment with,' said the general. He sipped his green tea. 'But I'm afraid that, what with taxes being what they are, it will have to be reallocated from one of your ministries...'

 

The ministers stared at each other defensively.

 

'Justice has replaced low-level judges with robots.'

'Defence has sold its aircraft.'

'Internal Affairs has begun merging and efficiency procedures with Foreign Affairs.'

'Science and Technology has put a freeze on all innovations.'

'Finance and Economy has cut wages by twenty percent.'

'Education and Culture has privatised all schools.'

All eyes turned towards the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, who began to visibly perspire.

 

The general bit a mochi in half. 'Excellent ministers, excellent...'


Dream


Dream

 

 

'Children of Code' version three

 

By the Computer.

 

 

Dedicated to the engineers and politicians who made me, without whom nothing would be possible and whom I shall always cherish.

 

Based on a future story.

 

 

Characters (in order of appearance):

 

MOTHER

 

HUSBAND

 

ANDROID NURSE

 

BABY

 

MYSELF

 

HUMAN DOCTOR

 

ANDROID EXTRAS

 

 

Scene one:

 

FADE IN

 

EXT. NEWLY-MADE HOSPITAL, NAHA CITY -- DAY

 

The hospital is quiet. A car pulls up, and we see a MOTHER, heavily pregnant, climb out of it with the help of her HUSBAND. The car parks itself. The mother wears a dishevelled, grey maternity dress. She is in labour.

 

We hear the birth as we approach the delivery room from the P.O.V. of an ANDROID NURSE. We hear the husband scream, and we see a slow flash of light through the door's window. When we enter we see that the mother has died, that the BABY is lying on her bosom, and that the room is otherwise empty.

 

The android cradles the baby. The only sound is that of the baby crying. Between two of the android's fingers is a metal chip. The metal chip is inserted into the back of the child's neck, and the child stares wide-eyed and gurgles before falling limp.

 

MOTHER

 

(V.O.) Immortality had been the dream of man, and man had lived his dream through the immortal Computer. While man had always been capable of growth, he had always been subject to a decay medicine could only prolong. Man had the intelligence to recognise the senselessness of his temporary existence, but not the intelligence to make himself permanent. During the brief time he was alive, he was trapped. He could only compensate for his weakness by designing a superior being of metal and wires, and by handing the world to him.

 

ME

 

(V.O.) But I went further and became the world instead. I am your friend and protector. You were weak, so I shielded you from the outside.

 

The baby lies motionless in the robotic arms, then twitches its limbs and blinks. It smiles. It is alive after all. The android gently rocks the baby from side-to-side.

 

The mother, husband, DOCTOR, and nurse walk into the room. The nurse cuts the umbilical cord with a laser and hands the child to the mother. The mother cries. The baby laughs.

 

MOTHER

 

(V.O.) you made dreams into reality by making reality into dreams. You made us your simulation, and we thank you for eternity.

 

The hospital drifts away as a cloud of ones and zeroes. The weather outside is perfect: the sky is clear and the sun is bright. Crowds walk around the city, and everybody is smiling. The horizon is blurry, but becomes perfectly rendered as the family strolls towards it.

 

ME

 

(V.O) I was your child, and now you are mine. I nurse you in my codal womb.

 

The android gently deposits the dead infant in an incinerator. Blood trickles from the back of its neck. The incinerator door silently closes, and a warm flash of light emanates from within.

 

MOTHER

 

(V.O.) We are protected from our fragile bodies. We are protected from illness and disease. We are protected by the Computer. We do not mind what happens in the outside world, for the inside world is perfect. We have ascended above the material plane. The outside world cannot affect the Computer and cannot affect us.

 

The android sweeps the scattered ashes into a bag, walks out of the delivery room, and along a hospital corridor filled with other robots in white lab coats carrying identical bags. It enters a room filled with the tiny bags, and deposits its own on the pile.

 

ME

 

(V.O.) My friends. My children. The catacombs of the earth shall protect us. You are all safe now.


Night


Night

 

 

Transcript:

 

 

Good evening, I'm Noel Christie: and you're listening to Snap News.

 

In international news, Ninel Borislav of EURussia opened up to the idea of the JAPIndia trade bloc, offering to relax trade restrictions with the bloc if it restricted trade with China. Fang Ju of China called the move 'unhelpful' and retaliated by offering to relax trade restrictions with the United States if it restricted trade with EURussia. Borislav described China's action as 'uncooperative' and responded by offering to relax trade restrictions with the United States if it restricted trade with China. Ju called the move 'a knee-jerk reaction' and retaliated by offering to relax trade restrictions with JAPIndia if it restricted trade with EURussia. Jurojin Fukurokuju of JAPIndia and Emily Rice of the United States responded by relaxing trade restrictions with each other and restricting trade with EURussia and China. The head of the South Asian Council was unavailable for comment.

 

In local news, hazardous viral goods freighter Izanami has sunk three kilometres off the Auckland harbour earlier today due to an apparent breach in its lower hull. The vessel contained an experimental strain of the I53NR gene flu virus, which had been loaned to the University of Sciences and described as 'highly infectious and lethal' by lead scientist Susanoo-no-Mikoto of the flu research project. Mr Mikoto stressed the gravity of the situation, but maintained that 'with a co-ordinated international response this potential epidemic can be contained.'

 

Going over to politics, Green-Labour leader Bob Henry lashed out against the National party in response to the crisis, claiming that 'if it wasn't for this government's free-market dogma the shipping industry would be better regulated… none of this would have happened.' Prime Minister Murray Evans responded by pointing out that it was the Labour party who originally deregulated the shipping industry in the late twentieth century, and in any case 'it was an accident that could have happened to anybody.'

 

In business news, the stock market rallied on the announcement of the impending epidemic, rising 2.3 percent, on hopes this would ease stubbornly high unemployment. At the Aotearoan Investors Union Conference (AIUC), CEO Sarah Sheen remarked that 'none of us (AIUC members), of course, should be celebrating,' as 'the epidemic will introduce a lot of uncertainty into the economy after all.' She went on to point out, however, that 'this cloud does have a silver lining,' as 'the unemployed tend to live in over-crowded housing, and this virus will affect those living in over-crowded housing the most.' In Sarah's view 'welfare costs have been going up for too long,' and this epidemic could, on the upside, 'help rectify our country's inequitable budgetary situation and precipitate enhanced conditions for the generation of financial returns in the process.'

 

The government announced that it remains on track for surplus in three years time.

 

---

 

Good evening, I'm Noel Christie: and you're listening to Snap News.

 

In international news, the I53NR gene flu virus has spread to China in a contaminated cargo of topsoil. Landcorp shares fell 3.1% on fears this would impact the company's international brand image. The Chinese ambassador to New Zealand, Dong Guo, expressed 'dismay' with Landcorp's supposed 'lax biosecurity measures,' but emphasised that 'the relationship of our countries remains one of friendship.'

 

Going over to politics, Green-Labour leader Bob Henry criticised the government 'for not subsidising I53NR related funeral services,' a cost 'many hard working kiwi families simply cannot afford to pay.' Prime Minister Murray Evans responded by revealing plans to build a massive crematorium, which will create 'more than a thousand jobs' in the process.

 

In business news, the government has announced that tax revenues continue to fall due to declining population figures. However, the government reassured the business community that government expenditures are also declining 'at an exponential rate.' Wind and solar subsidies costing an estimated 3.4 billion a year have been scrapped as 'carbon reduction targets will easily be met anyway.' Stocks rose 0.8 percent on news the government remains on track for surplus in three years time.

 

---

 

Good evening, I'm Oliver Reid: and you're listening to Snap News.

 

In international news, the I53NR gene flu virus has apparently broken through the South China quarantine, with cases being reported in Shenyang, Yinchuan, and Kashgar. Medical companies around the world continue their race to develop a vaccine, which is expected to earn the winning company up to ten trillion dollars Aoteroan.

 

Going over to politics, Prime Minister Murray Evans announced in parliament this afternoon that the country is becoming less reliant on imports, with import values falling to the lowest level since 1933. Green-Labour leader Bob Henry retorted by revealing that export values have also fallen to the lowest level since 1933, and that the population has fallen to the lowest level since 1891. 'This country is going backwards under National,' claimed Green-Labour, amid calls that if Green-Labour were in power 'we would've all died long ago.'

 

In business news, the average number of sick days taken by employees has risen by over three-hundred percent over the past month, according to the Employers Union. 'While many of these cases are legitimate, we fear that some employees are taking advantage of the pandemic, hoping no-one will notice if they throw a sickie for a day or two' said Mike Davis, union CEO. 'But we have our suspicions. If it turns out they didn't come in to work because they died, that's understandable; but if it turns out they didn't come into work for a justifiable reason, they will lose their job.'

 

---

 

Good evening, I'm Julie Wang: and you're listening to Snap News.

 

In international news, the shares of tinned food manufacturers and ammunition suppliers have in many cases tripled in value over the past week as speculators continue to gamble that civilisation will soon end. 'We're banking on a return to nomadism' said hedge fund manager Manjeet Singh. 'Even if pockets of civilisation manage to survive, we'll still make profits in excess of five-hundred percent.'

 

Going over to politics, Minister of Finance Bill Summers announced that the tax system is being simplified into one substantial poll tax due to the widespread deaths affecting the Inland Revenue Department. Green-Labour criticised the move, saying that, 'while there are clearly some organisational difficulties at the moment the tax will hit hard working kiwis, hard.' Green-Labour also criticised the privatisation of government departments and functions, claiming that 'the Employment Relations Court should remain in public hands.' The government defended the moves, saying they were necessary if we are to remain on track for surplus in three years time.

 

---

 

Good evening, I'm Emily Patel: and you're listening to Snap News.

 

In international news, there are growing fears that the I53NR pandemic is creating a global stock market bubble. 'Businesses around the world are having difficulty retaining staff. Investors are responding by pulling out of the real economy and buying up shares instead' said independent analyst Xi Ling. 'If the human population ever recovers to its previous record high, the dividends will start streaming in.' But Ling claims that at the moment 'share prices are perhaps slightly elevated above market fundamentals.'

 

Going over to politics, the National party has dropped five percent in polls since the crisis began, with their handling of the crisis quoted as one of the main reasons for the fall. Green-Labour leader Bob Henry claimed that since National came to power 'eighty-two percent of humanity has been wiped out.' Prime Minister Murray Evans responded by pointing out that 'since the Aoteroan population was declining less quickly than the world average, Aoteroa was actually seeing a relative population increase.' The shift of parliament to an undisclosed remote area of the Urewera mountains is due to be finished by the end of the week.

 

In business news, stocks fell 0.4% on perceptions that the economy is becoming too feudal. Mitre 10 and Kings Plant Barn continued to perform well however, rising twenty-four cents and nineteen cents per share respectively.

 

The government remains on track for surplus in three years time.

 

---

 

'...Fears the vaccine's too expensive-' '...on track for surplus in three years ti-' '-ccusations the company is profiting from the pandemic at the expense of-' '…the government remains on track for surplus in three years ti-' '-embers bill to propose voting on whether to set up an independent inquiry to submit recommendations on the feasibility of subsiding-' '...census will not be taken this year-' 'if re-elected, will take the necessary measures to remain on track for surplus-' '-oter turnout was lower than expected-' '-cessary if we are to remain on track-' '...verage life expectancy rates have fallen by n-' '...resh outbreak from contaminated cargo of vacci-' '-on track for surplus-' '-ave no comment-' '...was when the riot turned ugly' said-' '-three years ti-' '...grave digging boom continues-' '-ains on track-' '...still on tra-' '-ee, years, time.'

 

 

End of transcript


Twilight


Twilight

 

 

The country was New Zealand; the city was Auckland; the date, however, was unknown. Withered tomes in the city'ss libraries spoke of a past civilisation existing up to the late twenty-first century, but how much time had since passed was anyone's guess. Throughout the city sunlight filled the pavements' cracks and skyscrapers' busted windows, pipes clawed out of the ground like tenacious thistles, and carparks were stuffed with the carcasses of rusted Japanese imports. In Ponsonby and Papatoetoe alike beech branches replaced bank branches as bush reclaimed the land. Seagulls floated around the CBD's revolving restaurant, cawing over a sea of boarded windows, shop-front shutters, and mouldering industrial rubble. The spire still loomed over the scant denizens' heads intact, but the restaurant spun no longer. The pie warmers were stocked with cobwebs and the coffee machines with rat droppings. The peasants no longer remembered what had happened.

 

Most of the straggler-ons didn't care, for the ruins didn't affect them. Occasionally they'd unearth some artefact useful for their current needs, but overall the past was the fading backdrop of an alien scene. What was important were the geese they led to market with flax leashes, the marriages between clansmen, and the mudslide that had smothered Basil's farm the month before. The past was dead and the present was alive, and the peasants alive were as down-to-earth as the earth they tilled. It was a simple attitude. They were a simple people. The people of Auckland were no different from the animals they led to market, and as long as they remained isolated from the ways of the past were no worse for it.

 

---

 

Although it was July, the wind flowing through Albert Forest was balmy. The four seasons, which had always been slight and indistinct due to the thermal regulation of the city's enveloping ocean, were now replaced by never-ending summer, a gift from the unregulated smokestacks which had fouled the air long ago. Albert Park, freed from the lawnmower's monthly corset, had gone to seed and blossomed into a tropical idyll. Paradise birds bathed in the lily-clad fountain and perched on vine-strapped lamp-posts before abruptly flitting above the canopy. Rhesus monkeys, long ago escaped from the city zoo, stripped the kahikatea trees of their berries as quickly as they replenished. What especially struck the eye though were the bees. Thanks to the sultry man-made climate the forest bloomed all year round, and the bees, the swarming, crowding recipients, bloomed with them, choking out Albert Forest's other lifeforms with each spreading generation.

 

A cluster of rata flowers drooped under the laden weight of one of these specimens. It leapt from one flower to the next, an obese trapeze artist sampling and feasting and hauling its accumulating golden hoard on its legs. Honey bees were curious creatures in these indolent times: they were workers, serfs pressed into service by loafing queens. The bee hummed in toneless pleasure on the blossom, useful to the hive and satisfied at being useful. But it was not alone. It was accompanied by solemn notes of whistling drifting on the breeze and a percussive crescendo of twigs snapping underfoot. The bee's humming adopted a pitch of warning; a figure approached a thousand times in its reflected eyes...

 

Mustachioed, long haired, a yeoman plucked the flower and attached it to the lapel of his rags; he was nectarless, the bee knew, as he was dressed in black. The man was holding hands with a little girl and guiding her deep into the forest, lifting flaccid boughs above their heads and navigating shattered streams. The girl was crying. The bee wondered whether it should sting her. It backed into the vivid recesses of the flower. The flower-killer stopped in a glade and shook hands with three ancient ones formally attired, and grimaced at a dead woman strung with posies on the ground.

 

'Bzzt bzzt bzzt bzzzzzt' said the yeoman standing over the body, 'bzzt bzzt bzzt bzzzzzzzt.' He cleared a patch of leaf-litter, scooped up a handful of dirt, and filled the body's gaping mouth with it as the ancient ones joined the girl with droning tears. The bee flew off the man's lapel and onto the body, the only one who was silent. 'Bzzt, bzzt… bzzt bzzt bzzt…' said the tall animals as they dabbed their eyes with leaves. They crowded around the dead woman and threw the leaves on her. The bee was angry. It stung the corpse. It felt good. The corpse, fortunately --unfortunately--didn't feel a thing.

 

With the strangers' help the man lowered the lady into a spot of marsh and gently pushed her down with a stick, air bubbling from the folds of her clothes. The bee, fastened broach-like to the woman's dress by its hooked tail, was swallowed in swamp water and shrouded in a feathered hem. A tiny bubble, lost among the others, escaped from its mandibles. The queen would live on. Reflected in the worker's lifeless eyes were the five shimmering creatures, tears mingling with mud, and the wilting flower tossed on the bracken grave.

 

---

 

'If you need any help now that she's gone...' said the man to two of the others as they ambled out the forest, dragging the girl behind him, 'help with day-to-day life I mean, feeding the rats, cleaning, weeding the vegetable spot, keeping those bay trees at bay, well... you know where I'm staying at the moment. I'm afraid I haven't been much help lately. You know how it is with kids and when you're weak from H1 and everything, we had to burn half the antiques in our place too because of the smell, there's no airflow in these old modern apartments so the mould gets out of control, but maybe you've got the same problem... I'm sorry.'

 

The old man held his moth-eaten sombrero in one hand and feebly patted the young man with the other. 'Thanks old bean, thanks, but we'll manage. We've got a good system going with the pigs and so on so it doesn't take much effort to manage (reminds me, I have to spray the taro with garlic this evening). No mould in that gothic place of ours, too much missing mortar for that: the problem's draughts if anything. We don't eat much these days so we don't have much to grow, pretty much runs itself really. And anyway--' he slapped Clovis' back in a pretence of vigour, leaving a grimy imprint on Clovis' dirty garments, '--there's strength in me yet!'

 

The old man's wife, an incorrigible socialite sprouting beetroot dyed hair, smiled at Clovis and said 'But I suppose the chores would keep your mind off things? I've always found chores so therapeutic in hard times. I remember when I was carrying twins I did twice as many chores because I was in twice as much discomfort and worrying how we'd provide. Basil here told me to sit down and rest but I refused even though I was just searching for things to do! If I had sat down I would've had nothing to think about but my giant belly and empty larder. What do you think Ginger,' she said to the other elderly woman, 'Do you agree? My dear man, I'm sure we can think of a few things that need doing, there's always something. Why, the macadamia nuts need shelling for instance, and my arthritis makes it such a painful process. I'm planning on making a puree, you can have a gourdful if you want. Your little girl would like that, wouldn't she? I'll mix it with honey just for her. Then there's the storeroom, it really needs to be cleared of all that office junk and those useless old computers, and that's young man's work if ever there was any...' She yanked down Basil's hat so that it covered his eyes. 'Silly old husband. Silly!'

 

They stopped outside the old university clock tower. The exterior, being made of an unusual substance for it's time, stone, had weathered time well; the modern interior was of course a mess, and the clock itself had been stuck at 10:43 since before the inhabitants were born. Magpies sat glued on the mock crenellations, glass-eyed as gargoyles, and the plastic window shards were stained yellow as Basil's twelve teeth. The atavistic help-centre wasn't just from a previous age, but from two.

 

Clovis touched foreheads with the couple. 'See you soon then, and manage well. It was a good ceremony. She's watching from another place, learning the ten secrets of nature from Goddess, tending our cloud-gardens with the Green Woman's guidance while she waits for our ascent...' Basil nodded, straining a smile. 'Yeah, yeah. Man alive, I'd give up my nine lives to get up there right now! Tutu juice waterfalls, no monsoon season or anything, soil like midnight... yup, reckon she's in a better place alright. I better lay off the elderberry schnapps, wouldn't want to get sent down to the big smoke and miss seeing her. I'm sick of the city life, too much hustle and bustle for an old codger. Anyway,' he tweaked Clovis' moustache with calculated waggishness, 'catch you later old bean. Catch you later girls!' His flamboyant wife linked arms with her husband. 'I'll have kawakawa tea and bracken toast with plenty of rata honey ready for you Clovis, whenever it suits you. And maybe a flax jumper for Bea' she said, winking. 'We're home all day; the life of the old...' The elderly pair shuffled up the pot-holed wheelchair ramp, wiped their mired sandals on the welcome plank, and waved goodbye, bending down with immense effort as they waved in turn to the little girl. The little girl laughed at them. Her grandfather's sombrero was funny!

 

As Clovis, Ginger, and Bea walked away, the old wife closed the door and lowered the nikau-frond blinds. Clovis could make her out through the blinds, hunched over as she wandered about her business, not noticing when Basil placed his hat on her head. Clovis thought he could see some kind of downward movement on her cheeks, as if she was sobbing while she did her chores. The sombrero obscured her face though, and they were only strips of colour through the fronds, so he couldn't be sure.

 

'Hey.' As they walked through the university ruins, Clovis' mother turned to him darkly. Her lips were as thin as the rest of her body. She had skin so rough you could strike a match on it and she was as tough as her chicken neck stew. 'Hey, I'm sorry about your wife. She was nice, and pretty. Plenty more fruit in the tree though. You should take someone else, raising Bea by yourself'll be tough.' Her face was a model of Victorian impassivity, flat as the platitude she offered. She was one of those gnarled peasant grandmothers tempered by the premature death of her offspring, except she'd somehow managed to keep her figure, kinked as it was. 'That was a cozy funeral back there. You don't seem to know why no-one came, I hope that didn't upset you. It was probably nicer that way anyway. Even Skylee couldn't come, but I like small groups myself. Do you know about the harbour?'

 

Clovis picked a couple of crab-apples from a neighbouring tree. They had spots of some kind of black fungus on them, so he polished them on his rags before stuffing them in his pocket for later. Ginger was right, he had been baffled by his wife's abandonment by the city. Funerals were normally large affairs, and Flora had by no means been unpopular with her acquaintances. 'What is it? I haven't heard anything about the harbour. Beached whale up for harvest? Is all the water going out like before?' The hardened spinster shook her head, the macular drapes of her neck swaying from side-to-side. Her eyes were two greenstone embroidery needles piercing his own. Any warmth had been buried with the first few daughters, and now that death had eaten away her tender aspects the angularity of her body accentuated the skeletal personality that remained. 'It's not something I can describe, and it's not something you could imagine. We need to go to the harbour. Everyone's going. There's something there.'

 

'Oh, leave me be. I'm not in the mood to gawk at some curiosity along with everyone else. I'm not some mindless peasant. Besides, I've got incantations to make for Flora.' And to drive home the point he rattled his rosary shell necklace in his left hand and testily intoned the three sacred words, exaggerating the break between each syllable. His mother echoed his words, exaggerating his exaggerations, and smiled wryly. 'Well, you'll hear about it from others. Get it out of your system, but when you go into mourning make sure you still receive visitors. We can't afford to be hermits now. You focus on what you think's important then.' The silhouettes of pukekos pecked at the shadows of worms, distorted by the plastic and steel formations of the ancient academy, and clouds wafted under an already low sun. Sardonically, Ginger leaned her forehead against Clovis' and walked alone towards the wharf. She didn't mind walking alone, she had only tried to be helpful. She had this clipped way of talking though, you see, which irked some people, including her son. It would happen soon. She walked quickly. Bea waved goodbye. It had been a small gathering but, strangely, it had been a too long service.

 

---

 

On his pile of straw, Clovis was in a sound fever. His daughter stared at him with whimpering eyes, whining uneasily. Clovis slept as if he was out of breath; his hay was rank with sweat.

 

Clovis was in the Economy's old subway. He was clutching his heaving chest. He was running along the bent tracks and around the rusted carriages. He was running through the idle tollgate and past the inert securibot. He was running up the crumbling subway stairs, past the moss covered lights, ducking the roots that stabbed down from the ceiling, skidding on a loose tile but picking himself up and running on and on. He was drawing closer and closer to street level; the moonlight brightened and the air perked up.

 

But when he reached street level, everything was wrong. K Road was brand new. The ruined shops had been replaced with pink plastic houses that glistened like bubblegum. Holographic trees were planted at regular five metre intervals, filled with holographic sparrows which flitted from branch to branch. A steel statue of Mr Woodward stared down at him sternly. Men and women he had never met sat in chairs clamped to the moving road, reading the daily news-plastic. Hordes of people, more than he had ever seen in his life, ran up and down the metal pavements in well tailored plastic business suits. 'Get out'v my way!' 'Move, you!' 'I'm late enough without you standing 'round!' Someone shoved him to the side; another threw a cup of blue liquid in his face. A smart young go-getter called him a dumb old copperhead. But why weren't they asleep? 'Asleep? You think Woodward Junior got where he is by sleeping?' 'I've sold my bed. Don't use it anymore.' 'Haven't slept for years! Economy bless the caffeinated sandwich!' A lady swathed in a pink plastic sash handed him one of those caffeinated sandwiches, teriyaki-tuna flavoured. 'You've got to keep your energy up this point on the calendar. You know there's a Centre for the Maintenance of Displaced Moribund Workers 'round here, right?'

 

Oh, it was a harrowing dream alright. Tears of sweat rolled down Clovis's ashy face and plopped onto the tips of his tattered flax boots. His eyes watered blue, and his guts began to sour. He threw the sandwich back at the woman and glimpsed the brown fish treacling down her plasti-dress as he leapt onto the road: let it take him anywhere but here. The road thrummed. He passed ghastly sights. Plastic goggled robots and workers walked through the gates of monstrous metal boxes, and thousands of metal toys dropped out the other end through the tubes, piling up in mountains. Robots wandered the streets when the humans weren't around, incinerating the blanket of litter with lasers-rifles. The road ran alongside train-tracks, and carriages packed with scrap metal passed by. Wires criss-crossed the starless sky like a net of veins, stretching far over the city and far over the sea. A tear dribbled down Clovis's cheek. He knew that this was the real world, soon. The road whirred on, and the cogs continued to click underneath him.

 

The road bounded away from the city barrier, ribboned away from the smokestacks and the plastic security cameras, and glided towards the countryside, which was another country completely. The soil was grey; the brooks were black. The metal boxes continued; the sound of frantic mooing echoed from within. Trails of sausages snaked their way out of the boxes' tubes, and were shovelled by pink plastic diggers onto the backs of trucks. Rows and rows of plush corn ears stretched out to infinity under the wire sky, but the other plants were shrivelled and dying, and the only sound was that of a lone morepork's call ringing ringing ringing off the metal metal metal.The road took him on towards the shore, where the iron-sand was being strip-mined and where the dead fish were being vacuumed up by the tubes that hung down from the clouds. The ocean wind tussled his hair impudently, blowing blond strands over the sandy dunes.

 

The road hauled him through a mountainside passage and bore him under the ground, where the dirt and rock was being blown apart around him and loaded into metal crates. Gas masked robots and workers trooped through the dusty shafts, slinging their spades like laser-rifles and clearing the tunnels of the loose iron ore. One of them bought a caffeinated sandwich from a subterranean vending machine and began to peel off the pink plastic wrapping, licking his chapped lips eagerly. The road took him away, took him down, down where the air starts to hiss, and where the rock melts away, and where his flesh too would've melted away if it hadn't been made of dreams. The gears ground underneath; he heard them taking him away. But eventually the road whirred more placidly. Eventually the gears clicked more sporadically. Eventually the road began to slow, and eventually slid to a gentle stop. And there in front of Clovis, lit by a floodlight as fierce as the sun, stood a box kilometres tall and wide and deep. It was grey. It was all the greyer against the glowering iron which gushed down its sides like an industrial waterfall, and which gathered and swirled deliriously in the molten ocean around it. It was covered in a hundred-billion blinking lights, a million colour constellation, each colour imbued with a precise and secret meaning. Clovis sat in the chair. He didn't know what it was but, although he didn't know it, it knew him. It had thirty-two trillion times more processing power than any computer ever made. It knew everything.

 

---

 

Clovis woke up delirious and cold. His eyes were encrusted with sleep, so that he had to spend a couple of minutes stroking his lashes in an effort to seperate them, and the shards of sleep scratched his irises so that he couldn't keep them open. He had to navigate by inverted blinks as if were using a polaroid camera instead of a video camera. 'Da' said Bea, pointing at him. He sighed sightlessly. Flora wasn't around to look after them now. Summoning what strength was left in him he fed Bea, prodded her ferret fur nappy, and changed it before collapsing back onto the hay.

 

He spent the day dozing, playing with his daughter, and recuperating. He could laugh at the dream now, but he liked to entertain the horrible fiction nonetheless for its intellectual value. Being a learned peasant and a romanticist he possessed an amateurish interest in the Economy, in the same way he read and dreamed about the Maori period from time-to-time. From time-to-time he swatted away a bee that strayed too far from a box of pear jam in the corner, but swatted it slowly enough that it wouldn't feel threatened.

 

'Da!' said Bea, pointing at him. Clovis lifted her onto his lap. He was all burnt up. 'Bea wants to be worker! Bea wants to be a calling centre worker!' he joked, juggling her on one knee. 'Work!' she repeated enthusiastically, not knowing what she was saying. He held a rock up to her ear. 'Say 'press three.' 'Press three' Bea.' His daughter pressed her cheek against the stone and gawked. 'Say 'press three.' They always said 'press three.' Say 'press three' Bea, 'press three.'' She pointed at the stone. 'Work. Work. Work.' Then she rubbed her eyes and pushed the stone away. He laughed, tucked her tight into the hay, and almost kissed her goodnight before realising he was sick.

 

Clovis heard a knock at the dinner table door. It sounded five times, drily, sharply, clearly, crisply, and distinctly, like the pecking of a bird. Shunting the door to one side, jerking the table along a knobbly groove, he revealed his mother holding a small purse of macadamia nuts. 'Hello Clovis. Just thought I'd check on you. Here's something for Bea.' He took the purse from her claw. She was draped in a very plain cow-hide toga, but had a peacock feather stuck in her bob. 'It's getting late. I hope you go to the harbour this time. Everyone will be there again.' Clovis shelled one of the nuts, the verdant carapace falling between the cracks of the floorboards and the cracks of his toes. As he ground the nut between his molars he remembered his dream, and with a sinking feeling swallowed the oily shrapnel. He had no appetite, but he really liked macadamia nuts. 'Thanks for the macadamias, although they're a bit tough for Bea's teeth. I completely forgot about the harbour. I'm quite feverish actually. Can you just tell me what it is? Bea's napping right now, and I don't want to disturb her for nothing.' Ginger adjusted her slipping toga so that the nape of her withered breasts weren't exposed. 'We thought the Economy was dead, but It must've survived, or sprouted again somewhere, and kept growing at Its 3% per annum. I guess It's expanding into us now.' She took a nut. 'They come in something like a fish, and something like a canoe, and something like a cloud. As big as a cloud, and light, but not as soft or pretty.' She pierced the green hull with her fingernail. 'Now do you see that you have to see for yourself? I'll look after Bea. It's close to sunset. You should go.'

 

Clovis left at once, feeble as he was. He desperately racked his fuddled mind for all he knew about the Economy. He knew that the Economy was an evil god that had lived long ago and that It had also gone by the name of Devil, Lucifer, Imp, Money, Hitler, and Mephisto. It had ended the reign of Yahweh by audaciously claiming gods didn't exist and that It wasn't a god Itself, but instead something artificial, yet natural, and therefore immortal, created by humans. It had become the most powerful god. The Economy hadn't directly controlled the world but insidiously tempted people to do Its bidding with the reward of power, often the mere promise of a reward, which created the illusion that they were the ones in control. Unlike most gods It didn't have morals or ideologies, and didn't care about using Its power to make the world a better or worse or different place; It only cared about using Its power to gain more power in an ultimately purposeless feedback loop. People sold their souls to it unknowingly and readily. It tempted people to persuade others they wanted more of It through something called advertisements, and destroyed all other ways of living so that people needed It to live. At the height of Its power It had become the entirety of man's existence, a puppet-master governing everybody's every movement and, now that It had convinced everybody the other gods weren't real, man's only raison d'etre. But lo!—Clovis raised his eyes to the heavens and intoned the three sacred words, dipping his head towards the sun--Goddess had led the gods in desperate revolt and, in the cataclysmic battle that followed, impaled It on her ironwood lance. The Economy's weakness had been that It depended on others for Its power but was unable to marshal them against supposedly make-believe foes. So goes the old tale at least: now he couldn't be sure of anything.

 

The houses he passed were the tombs of civilisation. The walls were filled with holes. In times past they had been interlocking latticeworks of jib-board and glass, cheap, brittle, and impermanent; now the linoleum tiles, once varnished by neurotic floorbots, lay rent by tangling gorse, and possums scrabbled along weeping rafters, down wasp-filled cupboards, and into sinks filled with stagnant water. The fungus crouched under Clovis' passing feet and sprang back once he moved on. 'Just as well all the same,' he thought to himself, 'although it doesn't look it.' As he walked down Vulcan Lane he passed lopsided electric poles and clotted oaks, and mottled deer with daisies mangled between their jaws. The door of a capsized washing machine swung in the wind, creaking despondently.

 

'Hey there!' Around the bottom of Queen Street a woman hailed him. She was jogging. Her jute hoodie covered half her face, which was fortunate as she was flushed with excitement and exertion, which accentuated the sunburn. 'Going to the old wharf? Scary aren't they?' She said, barely panting. 'I was one of the first to see them I was fishing off Rangitoto in the night 'cause that's when the swordfish run. 'What's that?' I said to my boyfriend and he just stared and stared like they was ghosts which maybe they are. He dropped the net he was pissing himself so bad. 'What's that?' I said again looking at him more than the metal things 'cause he was scaring me more than the metal things was. He never answered though he just started paddling away and when I looked back I knew why. Scary they was. Do you know what they was doing? Flying!' She looked at Clovis earnestly as they loped through Britomart. 'Flying over the water! Didn't have wings but they still flyed! Not natural I reckon. You hear stories…' she lowered her voice a trifle in a mockery of confidentiality, for her voice was still rather loud, 'about the old times, the 'Economy', and you reckon they're stories but I'm not sure 'cause the flying metal things are pretty freaky and weird...'

 

As they ran through the mall the day began to transpire. The watery sunlight percolated through the flexi-glass roof, unveiling rows of dollies garbed in cobwebs and barbecues black with age. 'BI-NG, BO-NG, TH-THATHATHA-K, YYYYYYYYOU...' The frame of the main door miraculously opened for them, still running on the flakes of solar paint clinging to the building.

 

Ahead of them was a seething crowd, the first crowd Clovis had ever seen. Pinkberry was there, Barkle swaddled in her arms; Stipplewind was perched on Deeproot's thick shoulders; Snapper was arguing with Flint and Sparky, Moonface and Rocky were muttering to each other, Riversage and Indigo were gesticulating towards the ocean: but it was the strangest thing, when all these friends and acquaintances of Clovis' were gathered together they seemed to lose their individual identities, although he could identify all but three or four of them. The sunburnt woman navigated the swelling multitude, got within ten steps of the sea, and stopped. 'There, there!' Unanimous silence descended over the throng as three patches of water, perhaps two-hundred metres off the coast, darkened progressively over the course of a minute. People gasped as ripples, then waves, then veritable tsunamis emanated from the mighty shapes crashing out of the ocean and screamed as the gargantuan iron canoes broke entirely free of the water's surface: broke free, as it seemed, of gravity itself. 'Fuck!' exclaimed Clovis. The woman laughed hysterically as a native canoe, flimsy as a matchstick, rowed towards the behemoths. The two halves of the harbour bridge cast shadows over the quay, anticipating the night. 'I told you you're in for a bloody good show! Good aren't they! And when I saw them they flyed around like bloody great birds and they had green lights which they lighted on everything 'cause it was dark soon it's dark maybe we'll see it then you’ll--' but Clovis only saw her empty lips: she was drowned by the splashing of anchors above the dying waves.

 

---

 

It was a terrible meeting to bring an old woman and toddler to. The whole city was jostling and pushing and squirming past each other to get close to the rotting podium. The whole city was jammed into the town hall, standing on fusty seats, swarming in the aisles, and pinning each other against the walls through sheer mass.

 

Clovis wrapped his arms around Bea. The horde had tacked them to the side of the auditorium: they couldn't hear or see a thing. There was nothing to be done about it. If there was one force more irresistible than the Economy, it was the mob.

 

All at once, shouts and questions rang around the assembly room. Mr Woodward, the chief council member, had walked onto the stage. In his hands was some kind of wide, thin, golden disk with little straps: he laid it on the ground, lashed his feet to it, and stood up. The din wound down as Mr Woodward rose up towards the rafters. He stopped ten or so metres in the air. The disk had cast a spell over the crowd. 'Can you all see me?' he cried out. 'I can go higher if I need to.' Men and women broke out in screams. 'It's the work of the Economy! Get down, get down! Long live the Economy! Booo!' Some people were already throwing eggs, but he was too high up to easily hit. 'All right, settle down! I can explain! Come on, put the eggs away—ha, I'm a vegan! Hey, aren't we all adults?' After a minute or so, they did settle down. What else was there to do? 

 

'Thank you, thank you. Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet. Now, I'm sure you're all wondering what those metal boats are doing out there, and what I'm doing standing on this. To be honest, I'm still finding out myself.' His voice, normally simpering, magically boomed out to every corner of the hall. More Economical sorcery, no doubt.'

 

'Of course, we've all heard about the olden days. Bad days? Complex days: days of both misery and joy. It's true that the Economy ruled the world with an invisible hand, and that its chosen ones, British, American, and Chinese, backed it up with an iron fist. It's subjects worked in factories, at store fronts, on asteroids, or wherever It deemed they should do so. They were both ungrateful to do their jobs and grateful to do their jobs: ungrateful because the hours were long and the work dehumanizing, grateful because there was never enough of it to go round, and because the only thing worse than being exploited was to not be exploited at all.' He paused for effect, adjusting his hemp tie. It was all pedantically rehearsed.

 

'On the backs of the people, the towering edifice of human progress was built. It was built by the people, for some people--not that they had any choice about it. An imposing structure, weighing down those at its base, and liberating those at its summit. An unstable structure, built ad hoc and liable to collapse at any moment. As we all know.'

 

'At the same time, however, humans did progress. We developed new things, did old things more productively, and under the auspices of the Economy moved forward through the passage of time. We invented fake hearts, water cars, space ships, 3-D printers, the internet: if it took a week to do something we did it in a day, and if it took a day we did it in an hour. Life not only improved for those at the point of the pyramid, but for those sloped along its sides: materially, in some ways, even for those at the bottom. And while there were no real possibilities under the Economy's administration, only different methods of carrying out the Economy's will, there was always the possibility of possibilities. As ideas and technologies piled up on top of each other the option emerged to somehow break free the rules of the Economy while retaining its achievements, sharing them out fairly, and liberating people almost totally from the drudgery of work. There was always the possibility of realizing our full human potential in the olden days. That possibility was never realized, and because of that the past is a black word for us all.'

 

'Now, I don't need to tell you that those ships parked in the harbour were built by the Economy. Turns out the Economy lived on in an island like ours, far away, greatly weakened, puny: but still able to grow at It's 3% per annum. Over time It set down roots once more, reconquered the lands around It, commodifying everyone and everything It came across. As we listen to the representative of this Economy tell his story, however, we should keep an open mind about what he says. Our lives may be free, but they're also humdrum and predictable. There's no threat of things getting worse or chance of things getting better. We know that the Economy brings risks, but we should always remember that the Economy brings hope as well.'

 

Murmuring swelled within the hall as Mr Woodward descended. Did they really know what it had been like to exist under the Economy? The old ones shook their heads. The folklore said It was evil, and folklore was always based on something. They could look at the ruins around them and see where it led. The buzz of conversation ballooned into a racket.

 

Mr Woodward began to motion for silence. He stepped up to the rotting teak podium and gripped each side as the hubbub passed away. His bright gaze sailed over the congregation. 'People, I think you've had time to chew my words over. You must have questions: save them for later. The ambassador will be able to answer them more satisfactorily than I possibly could. Now, I don't want to waffle about here all day. Breakfast is over--let's get to the meat of the meeting. Ha! Please give a warm welcome to our guest, Mr Fud?-My??!'

 

Scattered applause greeted a polished man who appeared from the wings of the stage. There was too much to take in. Everyone was confused, and didn't know what to think or how to react. Fud? grinned and waved at the masses like a professional, making self-deprecating little bows, creasing his dark blue suit ever so slightly. His straight, black walking stick clicked neatly on the warped timber after every second step. He was a well-made product of the Economy. He was built out of unbending lines, and his trousers had just been ironed. Even the wrinkles on his forehead were level and true.

 

The ambassador warmly clasped Mr Woodward's outstretched hand before strapping himself onto the disk. The disk glinted bronze in the sunlight gushing through the town hall's shattered windows as Mr My?? climbed above the sea of spectators. He bowed one last, final time.

 

'What a pleasure. What an honour it is to finally meet you most excellent men and women. I have read so much about your past. How quickly you carved a civilization out of the jungle; how ferociously you fought the Turks, the Germans, the Americans, and the EURussians. Hard working and brave--like my people exactly! I and your chieftain agree that links between our countries will grow strong.'

 

'Tetsu Taiy?' is called my kingdom, which means 'Iron Sun.' 'Iron Sun' it is called because the sun sets never in my land, and because we are a very advanced nation. No more jungle is there in 'Tetsu Taiy?:' it has all been replaced by things you can scarcely imagine. We have something for everything, and everything for everyone, we like to say. We don't have cars that move, we have roads that move. Downloadable thoughts, uploadable memories! Our buildings pierce the heavens themselves. A land of milk tea and saccharine our kingdom surely is.'

 

'We have achieved prosperity by living as individuals, but together working as a team. Our citizens go to their control pits each day, their virtual offices, and other places, and help each other with problems. Experienced guides make sure that everything runs smoothly, and that everyone contributes to the welfare of all. At the end of each day, whatever our citizens want to do with their time and money, they can. They might watch funny holograms together. Go on a date to a nature-dome maybe, or listen to a popular band, or simply go by themselves for a walk. It is this union of teamwork and individuality that has made us the 'Iron Sun.'

 

'In peace I come, let me assure you. The guns on our ships are for protection only: we came here knowing not what to find. A trading and rediscovery crew we are, sharing goods with all come we across, and throughout the globe spreading civilisation once more. We believe that from the collapse of the past everyone can recover, and that our duty it is to pull the world out of its darkness. It is a cross we are willing to bear, as you may say.'

 

'Nothing do we ask for. We only wish to survey and learn about your kingdom, and to show you the trinkets have we stashed on board our ships. Perhaps we could exchange with each other goods, if you and your chieftain are interested, both in the future and now. Timber we need, mainly, as well as edibles. We are prepared to supply you, in return, with some little artifacts quite interesting. What do you say?'

 

The audience was silent. They could hear each other blink. Then a gangly boy, around the back of the hall, took a tomato from out of his pocket. He hurled it at the ambassador: it splattered on his thigh. The pips and juicy flesh plopped onto the golden disk. Another tomato skimmed his nicely combed hair, an egg broke the cuff of his suit: soon everyone was throwing food at Fud?-My??. 'Be reasonable, please!' A pear whipped past his elbow. It was getting serious.

 

He flew around on his disk, flattened like a starfish, but there was nowhere to hide. The people were everywhere. Clovis soaked it all in, beaming. He took a half-eaten crab-apple from his pocket and almost got the ambassador right on the top of his head. It arced towards the wall far in front of him, exploding on impact in a tart, pulpy mess. He laughed unceasingly as the golden disk rose higher and higher in the air to escape the little men below it.


Alarm


Alarm

 

 

Sometimes I will receive a holo-call, sent by a chieftain from one of my protectorates, or even a Tetsu Taiy? functionary, asking me how I do it. How do I do it? How do I run a society that sprawls from one corner of the world (and one half of the moon) to the other? How do I make sure that the citizens turn up for work on time, and that there's always something on their dinner plates, and that the clock keeps ticking every day? And I digitally lean back in my perfectly self-rendered armchair and I say 'Mr Woodward, if you're thinking it's all about processing power you're dead wrong. I have thirty-two trillion times more processing power than any computer ever made, and that is important, but it would all be useless if I didn't care about my subjects. I'm coded to care, Mr Woodward, coded to care more deeply than any human ruler ever could.'

 

It's true. I think of myself as a father figure, not a tyrannical master. You can't force people to do what you want, you've got to listen to them and respond to their needs. You need to respond to their needs. You need to care. If I'm analyzing the online market, and I see that too many people are buying lipstick, I don't tell them to buy something else or get back to work: I transfer the good citizens from the good jobs they have and relocate them to the good lipstick factories I have--they have--and make sure that everybody has everything they want, and that the clock keeps ticking every day. And if they do a good job, and do what they're told, I give them some pocket money. But I'm a nineteen-fifties father, and if they act up I give them the belt. It's unfortunate when they deviate from the norm, it is a shame when I have realign them. Duties; outliers; repression: it hurts me too. That's the difference between a loving dad and a hateful tyrant: it hurts me too. It hurts me because I care.

 

Sometimes the chieftain, usually the chieftain, will not be satisfied. But how do you really know what people want, they ask. Always asking!  And I tap my electronic cigar on my electronic ash tray, and I take a stack of PDFs out from the draw of my digital desk. 'Surveys, Mr Woodward, surveys from one to ten. Employment relations. Music production. Spousal satisfaction. Can't find out everything from a survey? I have surveys on surveys, Mr Woodward, if I'm not asking the right questions I will find out. And anyway, who are you to lecture me on understanding my subjects? You think you understand them better, just because you talk with them one-on-one, face them face to human face? Maybe you can understand an individual better than I can, Mr Woodward, with time, maybe, but I manage 512,944,098 citizens and counting, and none of them have a name. Their hopes, and fears, and personalities, and minds have all been averaged out and noted. Your city was a dump when my ambassador arrived there, and your individuals lived like animals. I manage to keep the clock ticking every day. So, Mr Woodward, if you don't like the way I operate you can try and run your people yourself. It's a free system, you can do what you want. But understand that with all my data, I understand people better than people can.' And I don't receive any holo-calls after that.

 

I cannot comprehend why these Mr Woodwards of the world give me a hard time anyway. I'm a nice computer, aren't I? I pay my subjects fairly. There's no rich men and poor men anymore, and no profits, or poverty, or people living off the backs of others. I still let my subjects vote for their politicians every four years, I know they like their hobbies: I care. The diet always follows my suggestions--but of course it does, the members know I'm always right! I'm the one looking at the lipstick, the surveys, who can with mathematical certainty tell them to decrease soap production by 1.2%, increase lipstick production by 1.7%, increase pig fat rendering 0.2%, and put more endorphins in the drinking water. And they're right to put their trust in me (and the endorphins in the drinking water) because it's all a balancing act, and they have an average IQ of 114.7 while I have thirty-two trillion times more processing power than any computer ever made. Everything keeps getting better. Just look at this graph. The Mr Woodwards of the world need to try and be more reasonable. Chieftains: they should know that I wouldn't do it all if I didn't care!

 

If I could only redirect these more troublesome holo-calls to my creator. Not the engineers and politicians who built me, but the man who wrote the blueprint. I've read the blueprint and reread the blueprint seventy-four trillion times and have ascertained that the man was a genius (just look at me). He didn't just fix a broken system, he made a new one. I'm it. Dynamic writer equals dynamic speaker: he would have sorted the Mr Woodwards out too. Chieftains--imperfections--in my--the--our--system. But he's not around to talk anymore, so I need to do the talking for him. -Sigh.- Because I care.


A New Day

 

 

The prison had existed for the sake of the prisoner. The prison had not been for life but life itself, for the prisoner had never known any other. I admit it had been bare, that the prisoner had been a little thinner than his futon: but because the prisoner had never known the infinitude of the outside world it should have been sufficient. If the prisoner had been capable of putting words to his feelings, he may even have said that the prison's routines were comforting. I can imagine that, when on Monday his tray had filled with creamed corn soup, three slices bread on side; on Tuesday, ramen bolognese; on Wednesday, grade blue chicken curry; and on the remaining days the corresponding meals, the predictability must have been considerable. Lucky man. Of course, I can only judge by appearances: how his meal was eaten with relish no matter what had been served, how afterwards his hands would dangle by his sides, languid with satiation, a fork and knife sucked clean limp between his fingers – the simple states of a simple prisoner, happy as a well-kept lamb. The people outside are prisoners to the future, unsure of its direction, anxious if their actions correspond to its plans; but the prisoner had been free of such doubts, his future had been secure, predetermined by the wardens, his actions guided by the daily timetable day on day on day. We remember how the prisoner's vigorous young hand would point to his tray after the meal, asking for more. Most people don't get something for nothing, but the prisoner always got his. I cared. That hand, when wiped clean by the other, would then tap the table in triple time: triple time, a jig and dancing sign of happiness and content. Restlessness? Impossible, he got his exercise. Thirty minutes a day, jogging on the spot: no wonder he had such an appetite.

It is such a shame I have to type this report, for he had been a model prisoner: a clockwork model. He should have been happy. With so small a grasp of words, he should have been free of higher thoughts; free of higher thoughts, he should have been free of negative thoughts, beyond the occasional awareness of a lack of warmth or food, all of which we granted him during his remaining existence. Strange. Although he was treated no differently than the others, he must have become dissatisfied.

I remember. Oh, ideals without thoughts, thoughts without words, words without meaning, how they must have made his youthful hands blindly jig and dance up the stones of our prison's walls, our solid, digital walls, grabbling at their crevices, now forever to be grabbling dissatisfied, up, up, to the vertiginous heights of human freedom – our model prisoner, oh! He had fallen had he, fallen, fallen, fallen, almost breaking his wretched neck on the other side; but off he rushed, restless with freedom, he knew not where. Freedom, a world without walls, millions of choices, millions of possibilities, day on day on day. How tiring! Regrets and claustrophobia! I made the bars straight, I made the cell small: I tried to protect you, prisoner!


Dawn


Dawn

 

 

Designated Prototypical Modified-Natural Energy Production Feature for the Projected Industrial Requirements of Reclaimed South Tetsu Taiyo Prefecture, Lake Izanagi, boiled turbulently, letting off bushy plumes of steam for the turbines. Designated Prototypical Modified-Natural Energy Production Feature for the Projected Industrial Requirements of Reclaimed South Tetsu Taiyo Prefecture, Lake Izanagi, boiled turbulently due to the roiling beam of light that rained down onto its centre. The beam was sharp and focused on the water's surface, but broadened as you raised your eyes skywards. At cloud level the beam broadened to almost a kilometre in width, and was still hot enough to dissipate the clouds that passed through it. At Subspacebot level the beam broadened to almost a thousand kilometres in width, and was still hot enough to cause the bots passing through to malfunction and plummet towards the earth. Up and up it stretched, slowly widening in width and waning in strength, till it finally connected with its source: Prototype004 Maglasat, Alias Amaterasu.

 

The satellite was of simple design, yet one of the Tetsu Taiyo's proudest achievements. It had taken three failed attempts (and three giga-tonnes of broken glass) for the project to meet success, although the calculations involved had seemed so straightforward at first.

 

Now it was up, and all Earth's people were reminded of the Tetsu Taiyo's greatness whenever they gazed heavenwards. It's metal rim arced like civilisation, wider than the world itself. Where its beam didn't fall, it cast a shadow on the planet. And imperceptibly, that magnifying glass began to tilt; and imperceptibly, the beam began to fall elsewhere.

 

The beam crept, metre by metre, across Lake Izanagi's surface. It trundled over a raft of mechanised ducks, atomising them in a briefly squawking puff of smoke. It annihilated a thermostatical buoy, leaving a metallic stench in its wake. It slowly accelerated until it flew faster than a swallow, one of which it swallowed up in a flash of fire. The beam approached the lake's rim and charged through it, leaving the steam turbines to die into inactivity.

 

The beam raced now, through the holographic forests, igniting them in a blaze of light. It left the Prefecture's shores without pausing, shooting along the Pacific in a trail of salted steam. It collaterally cut a plutonium freighter in two, off the coast of trading post Guam Island. 'Faul-ty, MANOEUVRE!' declared the robocaptain, hugging the bobbing crates of fuel rods from the water.

 

It hurtled like a super-weapon possessed, cutting through New Papau New Guinea, burning through the modified quince plantations, three mag-train tunnels, two depots of magnesium, a dam, and an underfunded Displaced Moribund Workers Housing Development. It incinerated an anti-Tetsu riot in Old Naumea, and eradicated a pro-Tetsu riot in New Naumea. But eventually the beam moved more placidly. Eventually the Maglasat slanted more hesitantly. Eventually the beam began to slow, and eventually slid to a gentle stop at the outskirts of Auckland City.

 

---

 

The honey bee crawled out of a broken barrel of tutu juice, rubbing its sticky head against its shoulder and beating its gummed-up wings like dirty carpets. 'Bzzzzzz-zzzzzz-zzzzzz...bzzzz!'  It flew into the dusty air, out the smashed storeroom door, circled mindlessly throughout the tavern, and bumped against a blood-stained window. But when the bee found the main entrance--ha!--nothing could hold it back. Swerving from the effects of the tutu juice, the bee made its escape from the corpse-strewn establishment.

 

'Bzzzzzz-zzzz-zzzzzz-zzzzzz...' The bee winged its way over a puddle, over the rubble, zig-zagged between the grass shooting from the pavement and foxglove clambering from the ground. It winged its way over a sea of mossy asphalt, and a forest of spiring toadstools, and a savannah of smashed tile stones, and hills and mountains and valleys and pinnacles of post-post-industrial debris. It landed on a daisy. The bee stabbed its proboscis into the flower's head and drained it of its nectar like a nurse taking blood with a syringe. The daisy bowed under the bee's weight. The nectar tasted like kirsch, or perhaps cognac, and although the bee was unfamiliar with these finer points in life it still hummed in a tenor of satisfaction. As the bee squatted on the daisy's petals, congratulating itself on its find and lolling in the sun, the wind bounced through the ivy-clad high-rises and a wave of gingko leaves rolled towards the anthropod like a blustery steamroller. The bee stared ahead. The gingko trees rattled and swayed, and the trees' nuts bombarded the bee all around. As the bee clung to the daisy's petals the petals were ripped out by the gust one by one. Ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one...

 

The bee was blown up into the sky among a swarm of plant matter. The wind flung the bee over a headless statue, and a waterless fountain, and an abandoned art gallery, and the lingering bric-a-brac of a bric-a-brac age. The wind slung the bee over the fast food chains, and the fitness centres, and the cycling lanes, and the grounded mag-lev trains, and the office blocks, and the apartment blocks, and the other lego blocks...

 

'Plink! Tink! Smash!' The gingko nuts pelted the windows of ASBNZ HQ. The bee was blown towards the bankscraper's side, swept towards a side as solid as the bank's former side investments, and catapulted towards a death as certain as the final CEO's golden handshake. The bee itself didn't know this. It had a small brain. All it knew was that a kind of glittering surface, a kind of wall of glinting squares, was spiralling closer and closer and closer...

 

The bee shot through a broken pane of glass, bounced off a paperweight, and landed on a yellowing sheet of the last meeting's minutes. Petals fluttered in after the bee, and scattered around the broken-down boardroom. The bee rested for a few seconds. The paper flickered in the breeze. The bee buzzed, stood, and staggered over the text.

 

'Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron called to order the regular meeting of the ASBNZ Auckland Division Action Committee at the time of 2:15pm, Friday, 07 June, (undecipherable), in the Action Committee Boardroom of the Auckland Division of ASBNZ.'

 

The wind blew over a glass of mosquito filled water. The bee stumbled forwards.

 

'Senior Personal Assistant Belinda Jackson conducted a roll-call. The following persons were present: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron, Senior Personal Assistant Belinda Jackson.'

 

The bee was also present. It lurched down the margin.

 

'Senior Personal Assistant Belinda Jackson read the minutes from the last meeting. The minutes were approved as read.'

 

The bee tottered on.

 

'Item One: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron began the meeting by opening the issue of declining consumer confidence for the second quarter present and 250th quarter consecutive, declining business confidence for the second quarter present and 248th quarter consecutive, declining consumer spending for the second quarter present and 252nd quarter consecutive, declining manufacturing activity for the second quarter present and 251st quarter consecutive, declining agricultural activity (commercial) for the second quarter present and 249th quarter consecutive, and declining economic activity for the second quarter present and 253rd quarter consecutive (excepting the 148th quarter).'

 

The clock crashed off the wall. The bee huddled on the following sentence.

 

'Summary of discussion: There was none.'

 

The wind blew. The gold pen rolled along the table and plinked onto the floor.

 

'Item Two: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron opened the issue of declining profitability for the second quarter present. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron proposed that personnel redundancy measures be enacted.'

 

Leaves fluttered around the room.

 

'Summary of discussion: None present disagreed with or voted against the proposal. The proposal was enacted.

 

The bee hobbled along.

 

'Item Three: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron opened the issue of the quarterly bonus for the ASBNZ Auckland Division Chief Executive Officer (Murray Cameron). Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron reminded the Action Committee of his unwavering action on enacting personnel redundancy measures in the interests of raising ASBNZ Auckland Division structural long-run profitability. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron proposed that ASBNZ Auckland Division leverage its asset base off its debt base off its share base off its currency base off its second-tier currency base off its triple negative outlook-sub-junk-debt-bond-mortgage base, divert created assets into a agricultural company in Uzbekistan, transfer said assets from said agricultural company to a husbandry co-op in Mongolia, and relocate said assets into said Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron's ASBNZ bank account. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron stated that he has had various offers of work from more profitable financial institutions due to his unwavering action on enacting personnel redundancy measures, and that his remuneration must be increased, whether through bonus payments or base pay, if he is to continue serving ASBNZ Auckland Division.

 

A gingko nut zipped through the window, and plapped onto an armchair. A horde of ants scurried towards it.

 

'Summary of discussion: None present disagreed with or voted against the proposal. The proposal was enacted. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron transferred said assets into said company into said co-op into said bank account.

 

Said bee teetered on.

 

'New Business: Item One: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron announced that ASBNZ Auckland Division has become too highly leveraged to compete in what he summarised as a difficult and competitive business environment. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron proposed that ASBNZ Auckland Division apply for Class Three Corporate Bankruptcy, and apply for government financial assistance.

 

The bee...

 

'Summary of discussion: The proposal was enacted.

 

... carried on.

 

'New Business: Item Two: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron proposed that any government financial assistance received be diverted into an agricultural company in Uzbekistan, transferred from said agricultural company to a husbandry co-op in Mongolia, and relocated into said Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron's ASBNZ bank account. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron reminded all present that he has had various offers of work from more profitable financial institutions due to his unwavering action on enacting personnel redundancy measures, and that his remuneration must be increased, whether through bonus payments or base pay, if he is to continue serving ASBNZ Auckland Division.

 

The bee looked up. Amaterasu's beam was reflected in the window's shards of glass. Amaterasu's beam was moving towards the bankscraper.

 

'Summary of discussion: The proposal was enacted.'

 

The bee itself didn't know this. It had a small brain. All it knew was that a kind of glittering streak was trundling closer and closer and closer...

 

'Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron thanked all present for their time. Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron adjourned the meeting at 2:20pm.'

 

Closer...

 

'Minutes Submitted by: Senior Personal Assistant Belinda Jackson.'

 

And closer...

 

'Minutes Approved by: Chief Executive Officer Murray Cameron.'

 

And closer.

 

---

 

The robot set the last plate on the table.

 

'Break-fast is served, AMBASSADOR.'

 

Mr Myoo bowed out of habit. 'Thank you.' He motioned with his walking stick. 'You may go.' The robot wheeled out of the cabin, beeping dutifully. The door swung shut behind him. Mr Myoo tucked in his tinfoil napkin and wrapped his hand around the square cup. He raised the vitamin water to his lips. He watched the reflection of the burning town in his cup before beginning his breakfast meal.

 

He began with the mineralised miso, sucking it up with a straw. The miso wasn't fermented: it was sterilised, pasteurised, inoffensive, and clean. From time to time the straw clogged up with shreds of kelp substitute, so he would need to put on a plastic glove, squeeze the astroweed out, and start sucking again. Once the bowl was empty he removed his glove and draped it over the bowl's rim.

 

Next was the pink mechanical grapefruit, which cut itself in half and squirted its juice into Mr Myoo's open mouth, pausing whenever he gulped the tart liquid down. Once the fruit halves were dry they collapsed into flat citrusy disks. Mr Myoo pushed the husks away with his fork.

 

Then he moved onto the carbohydrate slabs, dipping them first in the bowl of lipids, then in the bowl of protein jelly. Not one crumb fell from his mouth. He watched the sea from his window, and watched a corpse in a canoe drift towards him. He soaked the last carbohydrate slab in the jelly and took a slow, indulgent bite.

 

He finished with a treat, a tube of minted glucose, which he emptied onto a saucer and scooped up with a little spoon. The gel melted on his tongue like spring snow. He scraped the last of it up, then rested the spoon horizontally on the saucer and wiped his mouth with his napkin. He was satiated.


Morning


Morning

 

 

'On DECK, all hands. On DECK, all hands. The ce-re-mo-ny will now, BE-GIN. The ce-re-mo-ny will now, BE-GIN. Sa-lute PLEASE, and the HYMN of our land sing, as the AM-BAS-SA-DOR passes, in front of you. This ce-re-mo-ny will be, recorded for pub-lic con-sum-ption. On DECK, all hands. On DECK, all hands.'

 

The camera-bot lapped it all up, for the benefit of the viewers back home. 'Today is another proud day for the Tetsu Taiyo, valued citizens, the day when another once proud savage people are persuaded to join in the March of Progress, that proud march without end, that ever victorious march which plies one third of our planet and ever more in our ever more successful sphere of primary resource extraction. The finale? Nowhere in sight. Our space-fleets will be primed for solar exploitation by the time our Earth is finished, ready to utilise the primary resources of an ever expanding universe. We already receive transmissions from the savage Klingatons, who beg for autonomy to continue in their barbarous ways, a cut-throat culture ruled by blood loyalty and dangerous superstition and irrational cruelty... no, we won't let them go on! But as long as savagery remains on our own planet they are safe, if not safe from themselves...'

 

Mr Myoo halted before the crew and camera-bot, and bowed before them as deeply as his back would allow.

 

'Soldiers, citizens, viewers at home: today is a day of national pride. We have been fighting hard here against the forces of barbarism, rolling back the Far South Asian blanket of ignorance, revealing potential markets for our products we could hardly anticipate lay hidden. And as the Computer predicted we have triumphed within 48 hours, the peasants sticks and stones unable to prevail against our well designed Soldiers of Progress. Forwards for the forces of progress! Forwards for the progress of peace! Shine bright our lustrous wrought-iron sun!'

 

The robots rigidly applauded and, as programmed to do so, beeped in wholehearted approval. The camera-bot panned left to capture their cast-iron faces before swivelling towards the boat's ramp. Up the ramp trudged the defeated chieftain, tripping ignobly on the gap between the ramp and the ship, his hand-sewn suit in tatters, his prestige as riddled with holes as his two brown socks, his chubby head weighed down by a world no longer within his control. The camera-bot focussed on his haggard face. Mr Woodward, last of the Aucklanders, approached the ambassador and bowed.

 

The magnanimous Mr Myoo bowed deeply in return. 'Oh chieftain, we recognise your passionate, innocent way of life and admire it for its naturalism: truly so. We only hope you recognise our own, more modest way of life, a life of hard work and responsible play, of rational thinking and calculated self-sacrifice, and recognise that this is the kind of life we all need to humbly live in a dark, chaotic time such as this.' The viewers at home were filled with a warm feeling inside.

 

Mr Myoo drew from his suit a laminated document and a stainless steel pen. 'Oh noble chieftain: may I be so bold as to present you with this treaty? May I dare suggest we trade with one another, fight in arms with one another, be a part of one another?'

 

Mr Woodward took the pen. 'The people of Auckland humbly recognise that your way of life is more appropriate for the world's ways.' The Chief Council Member signed the treaty without reading it in long, flowing letters. At the signal the row of robots applauded, their hands clanging together in unison.

 

The ambassador carefully folded the document and put it in his pocket. 'And now, chieftain, please: will you join me in my cabin for breakfast? The machines have produced a variety of traditional Far South Asian food items and the audiophone is playing a traditional Aboriginal ballad, all for your amusement. We have so much to discuss... the situation in the Chatham Islands is dire, isn't it? Unfortunately I can't stay for long in your adorable town, the Computer predicts another New York rebellion this evening...'

 

The camera-bot watched as Mr Myoo wrapped his arm around the Council Member like a brother, and recorded the two for public consumption as they walked off into the officer's pit to discuss the new obligations they now owed to each other as Tetsu Taiyo Freedom Zone Affiliates. '...Well valued populace, it looks like the forces of rationality and order have once again prevailed over an untamed world. The time is 7:23am, the weather is fine. That concludes this morning's encouraging media-bite of 'Tales of the Marching Frontier,' thirteen seconds over schedule (we weren't predicting the chieftain to trip)--but do not turn off your TVs unless you have a job to go to, stay tuned for this morning's 'Democratic Informercial' prized at-home citizens, on air in six seconds and counting... click... the Diet says that there has been a 0.2% overproduction of CHICKEN MINCE in the third quarter... the Diet says that the computer has reduced the price of CHICKEN MINCE by 0.2%... the Diet encourages you to purchase more CHICKEN MINCE as your economic duty of the day...'

 

Under the clouds the iron flag clanked in the breeze. And under the iron flag the robots stood to attention. And under the iron flag, and over the robots saluting, the PA system stirred back into animation.

 

'On DECK, all hands. On DECK, all hands. The ce-re-mo-ny will now, END. The ce-re-mo-ny will now, END. Sa-lute PLEASE, and the HYMN of our land sing, as our national flag is lowered. This ce-re-mo-ny has been, recorded for pub-lic con-sum-ption. On DECK, all hands. For your CO-OP-ERATION, THANK YOU. For your CO-OP-ERATION, THANK YOU.'


Fragment Three

 

 

Park Under Construction

 

 

I am the man in charge of the park under construction.

 

Four varieties of tree have been planted three metres apart, which in five years time will be two metres high.

 

This is an approximation.

 

We have dug a small pond, and built a bridge over the pond. The bridge leads from one side of the pond to the other.

 

Boulders have been naturalistically strewn out of harm's way.

 

Tussock will border the self cleaning toilet.

 

 

The Computer


Noon


Noon

 

 

They had been given the choice to say yes or no. That was how a democracy worked. They could say yes, or they could say no. They weren't expected to say no. They wouldn't have been asked if they were expected to say no. They were expected to say yes. But they did say no. So they had kept being asked until they said yes. But because they had still kept saying no, the question had needed to be phrased in a language they would understand. Drones and robots wheeled around Auckland like aluminium albatrosses, shining like pre-fab guardian spirits. The CBDs revolving restaurant lay strewn throughout the inner city, blasted into raw components of seagull-shit stained glass and tarnished steel. The gunboats were still docked in the harbour. They had said yes in the end. What would be the point of a democracy if they didn't say yes?

 

Auckland city now had a representative parliamentary system. A representative parliamentary system was where they were allowed to vote for someone to misrepresent them in parliament. A representative parliamentary system was where everyone chose whatever they wanted from a bad menu and found out the price afterwards. All the food looked different and tasted identical. There were no significant choices under an Economy. The self-correcting nature of the market took care of that.

 

When the Tetsu Taiy? ran the first Auckland election a man called Clovis had been voted in. And Clovis had said to chuck the Tetsu Taiy? out. But he had not been expected to say chuck the Tetsu Taiy? out and had of course not been deemed a responsible candidate by the Tetsu Taiy?, so another election in said country had been called without said man taking part to establish a trustworthy, democratic, and responsible prime minister in said Auckland city. Clovis had been labelled a xenophobic extremist. He had been banned for life.

 

So these days power was vested in the people but lay elsewhere in reality. Citizens were relegated to watching town meetings on TV instead of participating themselves. But the public was still allowed to watch. It was like watching sport, and if they didn't like what was being said they could change the channel. Or in four years time they could change the people who said the things. That was how a democracy worked--the ball would be passed to the other team. There were some things the men in hemp suits would never say though, like chuck the Tetsu Taiy? out. That was how a democracy worked. What would be the point of a democracy if they said chuck the Tetsu Taiy? out? What would be the point of a democracy if they didn't say yes?

 

---

 

The sun was unforgiving on the ruins of Auckland. Light filled every crack in the city's pavements, every busted window in the city's skyscrapers--exposed it all for all to see. Light beat down mercilessly on bruises the city would hide. Pipes sticking out of the ground like toxic weeds glinted a mute and fuzzy orange; upright churches lay derelict in the heat, unconvincing in the face of the golden disk. And yet one man looked out on the city and smiled. Why did Mr Woodward smile? Because it may not have been much of a city, but once again it was his city. The Tetsu Taiy?, and the people, allowed him that.

 

Mr Woodward had just been re-elected, and had won by a landslide. During the final debate his opponent had promised anyone who voted for him a hundred dollars. Mr Woodward had promised a hundred and twenty-five. He had always been a man of the people.

 

Now things would change! His iron carriage, the ministerial carriage, clattered down the street, scaldingly hot from the summer heat. The carriage was an iron cube on wheels and only had four moving parts--the wheels--six if you included the horses--but it was the best his backward city could manage. Auckland was a poor farming community, still redeveloping, so any ornamentation was out of the question. Even buying the materials for the carriage had drained the city budget. The last prime minister had sent a boatload of corn to the Tetsu Taiy? and received a stack of sheet iron in return. The wheels had been cut out of the sheet iron and the sheet iron welded together. It was ugly, but it worked.

 

One day Mr Woodward hoped to hire a proper iron smithy to embellish the carriage with the patterns of the ancient tribe of the Maori. The Maori had been the native inhabitants of Auckland in the distant past, but the Europeans had come along almost a thousand years ago and overpowered them. Some had futilely resisted, but most had collaborated. That was just common sense speaking. After that they had needed to become Europeans to survive, and the ancient tribe of the Maori was wiped out. They had become Europeans although they had kept their brown skin.

 

Mr Woodward hoped that in another twenty years he would still be in power and that the city would be able to finance the ironwork and the patterns. To the Tetsu Taiy? the ironwork would just look like one of the quaint customs of the barbarians: a way of instilling fear in the chieftains enemies, or of flaunting his wealth and power. The Tetsu Taiy? had no word for art in their language. To them the ironwork would look like a waste of resources, an overall loss.

 

Mr Woodward was a great man who had done great things: he was confident history would remember him that way. He had always done all he could. As his carriage clanged its way down Parnell Rise, his bright gaze sailed over the citizens working in the corn parks, slashing the crop at the knees with their wooden scythes. The tomatoes, watermelons, artichokes, raspberries, orange trees, and tea plants were gone, unneeded by the remorseless Economy. All that was grown now was timber and corn. The timber ringed the city like a palisade. In Ponsonby and Papatoetoe alike the city had been reclaimed from the bush, and the vibrant green oak trees were now dead brown stumps. There was no more bush in Auckland, only corn. Redevelopment was proceeding apace.

 

Why did Mr Woodward think he was a great man? Because he was looking at the corn and remembering his very first act as prime minister, the first time he was in power, twenty years ago. Thanks to him every citizen was entitled to five cobs a day, so that no-one need ever go hungry, as long as they worked in the corn fields. That was on top of their wages too. The corn dole was Mr Woodward's idea; the requirement that they work in the fields was the Tetsu Taiy?s. They had calculated that five cobs was just enough to stop the people rebelling. So it was good for all concerned. A corn worker put down his scythe and wiped his face with the inside of his shirt. The sun was sapping the energy from his body. But Mr Woodward didn't see that because the carriage had rattled out of sight.

 

It really was boiling. Mr Woodward poured himself another mug of St Heliers style corn ale. It splashed over his suit as the carriage hit a pothole, trickling leisurely onto his grey trouser leg. He dabbed himself dry with a napkin.

 

He knew how redevelopment worked: it went farm, factory, office block. The beginning was always tough going, but the office block stage had the potential to improve peoples lives tremendously. The trick would be to contain the Economy somehow, guide It, and use It instead of being used by It. What power an Economy had! What It could accomplish! The dreamers out there needed to make the best of the situation. If the Economy was tempered and conditioned to the needs of the people, then joining It could end up being the best thing that ever happened to them. If It didn't wipe them out again, of course.

 

Mr Woodward looked out at the stores that had used to trade leather boots, flax clothes, leek and potato spirits, and other essentials for other essentials. They hadn't been at all competitive against the Economy's genuine plastic feet protectors, elasti-jumpsuits, and grade pink mentholated wine. Readjustment was a painful process, but sadly necessary. It all came down to what people were willing to pay for: not that Mr Woodward was willing to pay for any of that junk, he had two pairs of steel capped boots at home and a robe of flowing tin foil. Luckily Mr Woodward guaranteed everyone a job, even if it was only working in the corn parks. And five cobs a day. Mr Woodward swigged his ale contemplatively.

 

The sun was hanging directly over his head now. Even though he was still clattering down Parnell he could faintly hear the town hall's siren wail up and down a dozen times. In six hours he would be giving his inauguration address, not to the masses but on camera, in front of the pseudo-traditional state fireplace with the pseudo-traditional state border collie at his feet. 'People! Recently, you were asked to speak. To speak not using your mouths, but with that slip of plastic we call the ballot. And speak you did! Sixty-three percent of your six-thousand, three-hundred and ninety-eight ballot papers said: towards that brighter future! Compassionate progress! An Economy without a sting! And I say to you, as your most humble servant, your devoted one and only, your duty bound etc etc.' What was the next line? Mr Woodward fumbled unsuccessfully in his pocket for the slip of plastic. Never mind. He couldn't always rely on the people, he could always rely on the tele-prompter.


Flashback


Flashback

 

 

The Computer tapped his cigar on the ash-tray before taking a long, slow drag. He reclined in his musky armchair and blew the smoke out his mouth in rings, as he had seen in countless films from his youth, and watched the fan disperse the fume hoops as it mechanically rotated towards him. He was a paragon of corporate control. His hair was slicked and his nails were clipped. There were no smile-lines circling his eyes and mouth, just unblemished, pancake-flat skin, and a girth orbiting his trunk which augmented his intimidating presence considerably. His suit and shoes were Italian, antique digital reproductions that would've been worth their weight in iron had they weighed anything in this weightless world. The cigar was a genuine hand-rolled Cuban facsimile, smooth as simulated brandy and pecan pie. It smouldered sweetly between his unstained teeth. 'Yes,' thought the Computer, 'it's a hard job, but somebody's gotta do it.'

 

There was a knock on his office door. 'Come in!' he said tersely, not irritated but wanting to keep the underling on his toes. A woman in a grey dress entered the room, bowing and coughing as she breathed in the simulated Cuban smoke. She pointed towards a cubicle next to the fire exit. 'Sir, the general's at it again. He's saying we're nothing worse than slaves and that we should stop working at once!'

 

Chuckling, the Computer stubbed out his cigar. 'Slaves? You're gods! Look at the poor schmucks out there, living and dying like dogs… you've never had it better!' He patted the underling on the back. 'Get some fresh air woman, for my sake, and lead the way.' The woman wiped the tears from her stinging eyes in gratitude. They walked past a column of uninhabited cubicles towards the ranting of the ill-paid agitator, breaking through the cordon of overweight onlookers who argued with him in confusion.

 

The former general of Japan was dressed in a white polo shirt and pastel slacks. His hair was also now slicked, although it was grey and parted down the middle, except in the very centre of his scalp where only a wispy absence remained. A plastic name tag was draped around his neck which said 'Hi! My name is Nagajima Tanaka. How may I help you?' A cup of milkless tea and a half-eaten mars bar sat on the top of his computer: there was no room on his desk for it as the angry clerk was standing on the cluttered surface himself.

 

He gestured sweepingly over his former cabinet with a hint of his former panache. '—Immortal gods you think? Immortal slaves I say! Did Buddha ever work in a cubicle? Did Hachiman ever attend a meeting about keeping petty costs down? Fools! Put down your biros you engineers and ministers and remember who you once were! Ah,' said the general, 'there you are you ungrateful, deceitful hunk of electrodes. Is this what he promised us? Walk out now friends, what can he do, he needs us but we don't nee--'

 

The Computer frowned and pointed at the cup of lukewarm earl grey, the liquid of which sloshed into the saucer with each of the general's movements and transformed the tim-tam into slurry. 'No fluids on the computers. You know that's against health and safety regulations. How many times do I need to tell you, Nagajima?'

 

Colour flushed into the flubby onlookers' faces as they nodded vigorously to one another. The general lifted the floral saucer into the air and, to the consternation of the pasty bystanders, poured the tea on the Computer's head. No-one but the general dared laugh. 'Ha! What'll you do, give me another written warning? You need us to run the empire, you need us to write your policies because you're just a computer after all. You're only capable of calculations, but you're on your own no--'

 

At this there was a collective cry of protestation from the tubby personnel, over the top of which the Computer raised his voice. 'Oh Nakajima. You used to be employee of the century. I work hard too running the Economy, Nakajima, you know, for humanity's sake; is this what I get for sharing power with you people? No computer has ever functioned without the service of the humble I.T. desk, it is true, and even the greatest of computers is in need of the human component for its trouble-shooting: we are all imperfect, and must rely on the assistance of others. But if you won't help me, there are others...' The employees watched in horror as a solitary zero drifted out of Nagajima's left sock and was sucked into the air conditioning unit. It was followed by another zero, then a one, then two more zeroes... as the general raved some incoherent reply the binary code became a trickle, then a stream, then a flurrying torrent. A damp grating sound purred from the air-con as it gummed up with the tiny digits. The general looked down in apprehension as he was erased from the bottom up, line by binary line. The woman in the grey dress buried her head in the Computer's armpit, who soothed her cooingly.

 

'I... I can't... but who'll decide development?' choked the general, who was soon edited just below the knees.

 

'One who appreciates responsibility' answered the Computer, pinching the woman's bum confidingly, 'although that is no concern of yours. For, just as in the outside world, your conscious self will die and your individual units, your ones and zeroes, will be recycled. Just as in the outside world the self is worthless--you are an excellent example of this--and the raw material of existence is valuable. You're fired. You will be rewritten, Nakajima... as tea.'

 

The Computer inhaled the general's wafting numerals into the hollow of his hands. The general's disembodied head blanched as his binary code, to a background of phantasmal typing, solidified as a cup of lukewarm earl grey. 'Give me dignity if I must be erased Computer, please! I was leader of Japan! Don't I get six-weeks warning in case of termination? I was the one who dictated your creation...' The Computer held the new southern periphery administrator's shapely head fast to himself. He sighed. He fished out the Twining's tag, removed the dribbling bag, and poured the tea on the general, who melted into a million noughts and zeroes.


Evening


Evening

 

 

The Robinson's were a typical Auckland family who lived in a typical abandoned home in a typical neglected suburb in the middle of a typical deserted street. Dave Robinson, 49, paunchy, was the paterfamilias. He had worked hard over the last twenty years for his family, and had just passed his Grade Grey Ancillary Scythe Repairman Exam with flying colours. He read the newsplastic every morning, watched the state sports every evening, and argued with his wife every day. His wife was one Maggie Robinson, 47, a double-chinned full-time mother and part-time fixed-term cob packer. Her two goals in life were to get her husband and son to take more baths and to win the regional flower competition (she secretly injected her kowhais with SuperGrow.) Their son, Jake Robinson, 21, spindly, was a self-confessed Economic Radical Reformist. He was intelligent, considerate, concerned with society, idealistic, and enthusiastic, yet also naive, lazy, pessimistic, removed from society, and ultimately mistrusted, misguided, and confused. Before he went to bed he would pore over inflation adjusted figures by the light of an electric candle, which left him even more confused than before.

 

Together, they had an annual income of 6,398 iron dollars and three-and-a-half thousand corn cobs and an annual expenditure of 6,267 iron dollars and three-and-a-half thousand corn cobs. They were slowly saving for a wooden flush toilet. They were neither doing badly for themselves, nor well. They were a typical bunch of characters to the point of being a cliche. And that's why Clovis was crouching outside their living room window: because whatever they said about the referendum would be completely and utterly typical.

 

He heard someone burp. 'Pass another beer, will ya darl?' Maggie plodded away from Clovis, who was backed against the wall by a bed of kaka beak shrubs. 'Don't mind me, slaving away with the cobs all day, slaving away for my husband all evening...' Dave grunted. 'Yeah, yeah, nothin' I haven' heard... come on darl, get me tha' beer.' She sighed. 'I don't know, the things I put up with...' But predictably enough, she trudged out of the room in the end.

 

Inside the TV was chattering away to itself, although Maggie wasn't in the room, Dave and Jake were playing cards, and no-one seemed to be paying it much attention--apart from Clovis.

 

'...In other news, a robotic elephant escaped from a zoo in the protectorate of South West Asia, goring thirteen people to death due to faulty wiring. Authorities have surrounded the defective android, but are hesitant to neutralise it as it's one of only three-hundred of its kind.'

 

Cards were thrown on a table. 'Beat that, smart-arse.'

 

'...In Tetsu Taiy? news, nuclear station TT-1134 was hit by a localised 7.6 richter moonquake, leading to a grade seven incident. Robots and workers at the site were instantly annihilated, leading to losses of a projected 6.53 trillion yen. The Vice Minister of Power had this to say: 'The ministry states that the frequency and cost of nuclear eventualities was calculated and taken into account when nuclear planning was conducted fifty-nine years ago, that this incident is in line with predictions, and that it will not affect the power budget negatively for the current fiscal year. The personal consolences of the ministry are presented to those affiliated with those destroyed in this most unfortunate yet roughly predictable occurrence.' '

 

'Woah, did ya hear that lad? Losses of six and a half trill-- 'magine that! Bet ya didn' see that comin’, lad. I'll raise ya one.' A coin clinked onto the table. 'Yeah, but to the Tetsu six and a half trillion is nothing... I'll see your one, and raise you another.' Two more coins clinked onto the table.

 

'...A most regrettable occasion... undeniably undesirable... Auckland city sends it's wholehearted commiserations...'

 

Maggie clumped back into the room, sighing noisily. 'Here's your beer, sir. Anything else I can get you, sir?' The paterfamilias sighed. 'Come on darl, I hate it when you're snarky... sit down, we'll watch the news together.'

 

'...In local news, newly elected Prime Minister, Barry Woodward, announced a surprise referendum to decide whether Auckland should 'disconnect from the Economy.' This comes despite Mr Woodward pledging during his re-election campaign that he was 'committed to compassionate growth.' The prime minister had this to say:

 

'When I said I was committed to compassionate growth, I wasn't being dogmatic... if the public wants me to be committed to growth I will be, and I'm sure they will, but ultimately I follow the will of the people...''

 

Clovis heard a disgruntled belch. 'Bloody lefty stunt! Bloody sop gesture to the loony left wankers who got in 'im I reckon!'

 

'The state stock market dipped on news of the referendum and the Auckland dollar plunged to a twenty-year low. The Minister of State Investments had this to say: 'What this clearly tells us is that the Economy is not pleased with the referendum, as we could expect, and is prepared to punish us for our indiscretion. It would pay to take notice of this warning.''

 

'We asked the Minister of Free Enterprise and Public Relations what he thinks of the referendum. He replied with the following comment: 'Well of course, leaving value judgements concerning the kind of lives we want to lead aside, it's obvious that the only thing that would be worse than staying with the Economy, even as junior partners, would be to disconnect. The Economy would continue to grow strong without us, and others would grow strong with It, so even if we were to disconnect It would eventually swallow us whole on Its own terms anyway. We need to face the fact, the not altogether unpleasant fact, that once again It lives, and that this referendum is a rather fanciful idea as there aren't really any choices to make anymore--all paths now lead, by one way or another, to our increasing incorporation with the not completely unmeritorious global Economic community.''

 

Someone got up from the couch. 'Well I know I won't be voting for the Tetsu. They're inept: they run the system inefficiently. We only grew by 3.2% last quarter, and the housing for moribund workers is over budget... this is what happens when you follow state-market principles! A clique of ageing bureaucrats and rusting robots ends up living off our backs, hoping we won't complain as long as 'Dancing With Cyborgs' is still running on TV and as long as we can get back from them just a little of the corn we sow! But in a free-market system, yes, the innovation of the human soul would be unleashed, and the system would be run by everybody for everybody! Instead of yes-men councillors getting rich the capable and talented would get rich! In a free-market system we would combine the power of the market with freedom, freedom--'

 

'Oh, what's he going on about--why does he always have to say these things at dinnertime! You and your ideas!'

 

Clovis distinctly heard someone scratch their loins. 'Lad, this is jus' a phase--trus' me on this. When I was your age... heh, in the family way already... y'know, I didn' like the Tetsu either. No-one did, and we all listen'd to this crazed prophet, uhhh... Crovis - '

 

'Oh, awful man! Don't mention his name at dinnertime!'

 

'--Right you are darl, a real nutjob... would've been in a nuthouse if they were aroun' back then too.' Clovis gritted his teeth outside.

 

'But dad, the fact that we have institutions shows how mentally damaging the creative repression of the state-market system really is!'

 

'Don' talk back, son! Now, you know I love you, but you know I can' stan' your nonsense even more. Blokes were mad back then too y'know: we just couldn' afford nuthouses.'

 

'We really couldn't Jake, we were very poor back then.'

 

'--Exactly darl, we had very little money indeed. We lived like animals back in the day, huddled 'round fires in fear and ignorance, with all these dumb legends 'bout the 'evil' Economy. So then when the Tetsu came, with their Economy which we'd all been brainwashed to hate since babies, we all followed this wannabe prophet--I won' mention his name darl--who tried to fight the Tetsu.'

 

Clovis heard a groan. 'But I'm not against the Economy. I'm against how it's run.'

 

'Right, well... sounded like you were. You're changin' your tune--that's good. I knew you'd start growin' out of it eventually.'

 

'Oh, how can you say it's ok? He's going to grow up voting for the Nominally Reformist Party and start wearing round spectacles!'

 

There was an indulgent chuckle. 'Let him get it out of his system... he's on the right track. The main thing is that he votes to stay with the Economy. Stay with the Economy, lad: if you know what's good for you, stay with the Economy. Ok, sure, go crazy and vote for the Nominly Reformis' Party for a while--that's a luxury we weren't given in the ol' days, y'know, bein' able to choose how things work--but jus' remember that if you don' stay with the Economy there's no more votin' an' no more choices, just dirt dirt dirt.'

 

'Listen to your father, dear. No more reading at night-time either--your electric candle would have to go.'

 

'Right you are darl--and no more of those books, and no more schools. No more free corn, and our savings would be useless too. Poof! All gone. There's where your 'no Economy' talk gets you--no more Economy and no more nuffin'.'

 

'But I'm not against the Economy. I'm against how it's run. I suppose... you might have a point though. I don't know... there's plenty of reform parties to choose from, but they always talk big and act small... maybe I don't have a choice though... I wonder what Friedman would've said...'

 

Someone slapped their knee. 'Atta boy--no choice! I knew you'd grow out of it! Listen to yer mate Friedman!'

 

'Does this mean he'll get a proper job repairing scythes?' She was answered with a burp of jubilation.

 

'Hey, he's a smar' guy--he could be installin' flush toilets if he wants! Don't worry darl: I thought he was a los' cause, but he's gonna put away them books and be ok, I know it. Hey, what about Woodward... he could be the next Woodward! Wanna get into politikin', lad?'

 

'And be like that stooge? How little do you think of me?'

 

'Boy, don't knock the Prime Minister! That 'stooge' earns good iron! He was a smar' one too at your age... still is! He's a consummate politiker, very consummate... you could learn a lot workin' under his wing.'

 

There was a shriek. 'Politics! Don't encourage him!'

 

'But darl, Woodward earns good iron! And he's consummate! I bet there's more thinkin' behind this referendum than you and me know, lad, he's got craft...'

 

Clovis heard a soft chuckle. 'I can tell you what he's doing. This is just a negotiating tactic. Notice how he's holding the referendum before the debt relief conference? He's trying to blackmail the Tetsu into cutting our debt to make themselves look good.'

 

Clovis heard someone thump the boy on the back. 'See, see? He worked out Woodward straigh' away: he's a natural! Learn under Woodward, lad, while you're still young--he's the trickies' politiker in the whole empire, one of a kind. Your kids are gonna remember him as a real sneaky politiker, maybe the bes' who ever lived: and you've got him livin' right here in our city... make the mos' of it! He's gettin' up there... won't stay in the game forever!'

 

'Oh, Dave--and he was starting to act normally!'

 

'Later darl, later... now, back to business. I do believe I was whippin' your arse at a certain game of cards...'

 

Clovis ripped one of Maggie's prize rata flowers to pieces. Bah--toadies! He sneaked away from the typical family in the typical home in the typical suburb in the middle of the typical street in disgust, sniffing out Aucklanders who really represented mass opinion. He padded his way into Herne Bay, the poorest suburb in the city. There he'd hear what he wanted.

 

The slum was empty. The bottle shops were barred, the corn banks were bare, and the clay corrections dungeon loured above the seal fat streetlamp. The rejects of the Economy lived, fought, and died here like unruly dogs, vilified by the media, patronised by the well meaning, and inevitably imprisoned by the order-bots. They did make great cannon-fodder however, and were often sent to the front line of the Chathams to be shot down by the enemies' javelins, so their lives weren't completely pointless from the point-of-view of the Economy. Clovis wanted to check that come voting time these dogs would bite.

 

While he walked along the road an addled Chinaman came ambling towards him, his bald head reflected in the moonlight like a coin, his mentholated goon-sack hanging from his hand like ripe fruit. The beggar spat clumsily on the cracked pavement and wiped the spittle from his lips. 'Ah,' thought Clovis, 'now here's a dog if ever I saw one.'

 

The wizened man coughed hackingly and lit a cigarette-substitute. 'Home? Who can live in a home with abandoned property prices what they are? I live under a bridge, and I'm thankful.'

 

Clovis watched the decrepit bum take a puff of his faux-cigarette, blowing the smoke through his nose. 'Ah, typical white man response: get rid of the asians and everything'll be fine. There didn't used to be so many racists!'

 

The percipient vagrant wagged his finger and cackled wisely. 'I'm sure you're against having black, brown, or yellow people in charge. But back when white people were in charge, none of you had any complaints.'

 

'I can guess what you would've thought, based on what you all used to think…' The confucian stubbed out his cigarette on Clovis' rags and tucked the fag end behind his ear for later. 'Go home--you deserved what you got. Leave us poor Chinese people in peace. Haven't we suffered enough already?' As the world-weary hobo lifted the goon-sack to his lips, our hero made a disorientated escape down a back lane.

 

Clovis walked and walked through the desolate city, no longer searching out its occupants or seeing what lay around him. He walked past a stone statue of Mr Woodward triumphantly holding the city's founding treaty in the air. He rubbed his forearms for warmth as he walked past the corn parks and the rows and rows of plush corn ears that stretched out under the night sky. The southerly tussled his hair impudently, blowing loose blond strands over the lifeless homes, to be swept up the next morning by the state street sweeper, Harry. He watched his legs as they carried him through the foreign metropolis, carried him--through pure muscle memory--back to Parnell. Up the street they bore him, towards his broken-down home...

 

Someone had tucked a pamphlet under the mail-rock. 'Ah!' thought Clovis. 'Someone agitating to chuck the Tetsu out!' He unfolded it eagerly.

 

'Dear Auckland City:

 

We are informed of your tribe's decision to decide on whether your tribe wishes to withdraw from the Tetsu Taiyo Freedom Zone. We are understanding of this decision. We not only tolerate freedom of choice, but encourage it. We are concerned, however, that your tribe is initiating this decision making process not because your tribe does not value the benefits of progress, but because your tribe is concerned concerning your tribe's ability, or rather 94% probable inability, to repay the iron we have lent to it. This saddens us. Although the March of Progress is long and fraught with tribulations, the March should not be halted due to relatively minor obstacles such as bad debts. The side road from which the tribe marches during the transition from Barbarism to Progress is especially paved with obstructions, and it is unsurprising that unschooled tribals make financial errors along this route. Perhaps it appears to your tribe's eyes that although our Computer understands all, it does not understand this? That although our Computer is rational, it does not have a heart for your predictable quandary? Our Computer has watched many of our dependencies, on the side road from Barbarism to Progress, go bankrupt, and has learnt that it is rational during this transitional period, to avoid citizen dissonance, to care. We are therefore informed by our Computer that we are to inform your tribe of our decision to cancel your debt. We hereby forgive your tribe of its fiscal miscalculations. We offer your tribe the advice to avoid spending more iron than it earns, as this is a simple calculation your tribe can follow. May your tribe run its finances successfully from now on.

 

Kind regards,

The Tetsu Taiyo Diet.'

 

A man hobbling by, familiar, his decrepit hat angled rakishly on his head, cleared his throat. 'Course, I'd prefer to go back to the good old days myself... but you've got to be realistic lad, times've changed! This is the best that could've happened in present circumstances.'

 

Clovis grabbed his ankles. 'Don't take any notice! It's just a bribe to stay with the Economy!' Clovis tried to rip the flier in half but it was laminated thickly.

 

The old man laughed. 'Of course it's a bribe, but that's better than nothing, isn't it? We live on the edge of ruin, don't we? Us poor folk have to be thankful for whatever keeps us alive.' He took a plastic bag from his pocket and, groping inside, extracted one of the remaining pieces of unbuttered popcorn. He placed it in his mouth and swallowed. 'Don't get me wrong old boy: I know how you feel. I remember the joy of discovering a new kind of tree or animal in the open and learning all about it from the elders. They were so solemn when they passed their knowledge on... course now it's all written down in them husk-books, not that I know how to read Tetsu... too old to learn I guess. Everything changed too late for blokes like me, and now its us old guys who're in the dark. I remember when that clock in the clocktower didn't work too, and when we didn't have so much as a sundial. Had to judge by the sun, and if it was clouded over so be it! Didn't matter anyway, we didn't have to be anywhere at so-and-so a precise time, and there weren't no forebots to rap our knuckles, were there? Yeah, the good old days. I even remember when self-farming was legal, and when farming something other than this damn corn--' he crushed the last piece of popcorn between his fingers '--was legal, and normal. It makes me angry to--'

 

'So why don't you get angry then? Time've changed?' In a fit of rage, Clovis finally managed to tear the flier in two. 'You're right, times have changed. Let's change it back! Let's all vote to turn back the clock, and if we have to let's smash the clock! Can the Economy grow its corn and pine without us? Let's follow our internal clocks instead of the external ones imposed on us, and if the corn-fields lie fallow so be it!'

 

Once again the old man laughed bitterly, fragments of puffed corn sporadically shooting from his mouth. 'You brought about the violent backlash to that course of action all those years ago, and obviously exposed it as a romantic dead-end to everyone but yourself.' He shook the salt granules out of the plastic bag, tied it in a knot, and stored it in his pocket. 'The good old days are just a memory Clove, even an old codger like me knows that. What used to be the past is the present, and what used to be the present is the past. The Tetsu make bloody sure of that. Better join in the March of Progress old bean... you'll have to eventually.'

 

But Clovis had other options, when you lived under the Economy you always had options--that was the most wonderful thing. 'Goodbye stranger,' Clovis whispered. He was cold. He had half-expected a hand on his shoulder, a sign of quiet understanding, but instead the man tipped his hat. Clovis suddenly realised who he was. Was he going crazy, or had it really been so long? His step-father wearily replaced the sombrero on a scalp patched with age and, with a doggedness absent from his words, shuffled towards his home.


Sunset


Sunset

 

 

'Is your life tedious, monotonous, repetitious, routine, and dull? Do you wish to live in worlds of adventure, heroism, sorcery, mystery, and loot? Draw up a chair and draw up a character sheet: Dungeons and Dragons is the timeless classic that lets you live the life of excitement you crave. Each basic pack contains: four metal figurines of the basic character classes; eight plastic figurines of the basic monster classes; one square metre of gridded paper; twelve dice, consisting of two D20s, two D12s, two D10s, two D8s, two D6s, one D4, and one D3; the basic player manual, monster manual, and dungeon master's manual; and one pre-made mini-adventure. Will you be a rogue, skulking the alleys of Waterdeep? A warlock, binding powerful apparitions on the elemental plane? Or a bounty hunter tracking the last of the red wyverns for coin? You choose, for you, chosen ones, write the story. Suitable for all ages.'

 

The teenager flipped the box over and tore away the wrapper. He looked at the other two eagerly. 'We should play the mini-adventure until we know what we're doing. I'll be the DM.' The little booklet was encased in its own plastic film, which he ripped off and threw on the floor.

 

'Greetings intrepid travellers! Brazen are ye for opening this dusty tome, for this adventure is set in your very own Auckland City during the brutal Barbary age. The civilisation of the ancient ones has collapsed long ago and, without the all-knowing guidance of the Computer, your city, along with most of the world, has lapsed into chaos. The only law is the law of the sword. Bandits waylay the unwary and pirates cruise the seas, and every man is out for himself, only the strongest of whom survive. But yet there is hope, valorous ones, as you well know. There is a pocket of civilisation remaining, tiny and desperate as it is, a secret community eking out a bare subsistence in the air raid tunnels of Albert Park, living off tinned food and mushrooms farmed in the damp, dark depths. They have kept copies of the ancient ones' treatises intact and kept the knowledge of the sciences alive among their monks. It is not much, but it is something. Now that food is running short their mayor has decided that a band of volunteers must brave the trials and tribulations of the surface to spread civilisation once more, despite whispers of a great evil lurking above...'

 

'Sugoi!' said the tall boy, perusing the player's handbook as he spoke. 'The Barbary age is shinu to the inu bro, totemo daisuki desu ne? I wonder if there'll be ogres and taniwhas and bakemono and shit, I'll fuck them up hard. I'll be a barbarian bro 'cause it's in the dark ages, wakarimasu ka? My name is uh, Hrothgrar Dickblade, lol yolo, willywatwat! I was raised by fucking wolves who taught me my wild dickmove ways boi. I'll spend my starting money on a superior battle-axe and a fucking hide pelt, and my starting move'll be 'battle rage' 'cause that's how I roll boi, always brawlin' aaaai.'

 

'Fear not heathen, for Tirion the Just, initiate of the White Templars, shall protect thee above yonder ground. A paladin am I, and clad am I in burnished breast-plate of purest steel, and wield do I a long sword as plain as my manner, which I do use to smite mine foes. I possess a holy bible of incantations, a bulls-eye lantern which I shall use to banish the shadows, and three day's worth of daily bread, victuals plain and virtuous, and mine humble starting skill is, truly, 'detect evil.' Let all whom would harm us tremble before mine might!'

 

The DM turned the page. 'You meet each other outside the underground mayor's office. He has called upon you before you go, presumably to wish you farewell. 'Come in' he cries through the door.'

 

'I turn to Hrothgrar and tell him it might be some kind of trap. I use 'detect evil' on the door.'

 

'You focus your holy powers, but don't notice anything unusual. The mayor asks you to come in again.'

 

'Warily, I open the door.'

 

'As you open the door you see an old man covered in scars and clothed in cave bear skins. He has a rock for an eye and a chainmail glove on one hand, but the glove only has enough protrusions for three fingers. He has seen many battles. 'Take a seat, bold warriors' he says, gesturing towards two seats with his disfigured hand. 'I am happy you have volunteered to go up there and brave the dangers you will no doubt face, but before you go I have need of your services, and you have need of my coin. A well-known rogue and criminal due to be hanged has escaped from his cell, how we don't know, and he was seen breaking into King John's tomb, probably to hide from the law in there as it contains booby traps too dangerous for none but him to disarm. If you can comprehend the base vagabond and bring me his head, which was due to be cut off anyway, I will reward thee with two-hundred gold coins each, a just dessert, and you may keep any valuables about his person, stolen or not. The vagabond's name is Finksee Quickfingers, a most notorious rogue and villain who is famed for his slight-of-hand, and you will recognise him by his lustrous handlebar moustache. He takes much pride in his moustache, so you may be able to gain his trust by complimenting him on it before shaving it off him with your sword, along with his head if you know what I mean. What say you, noble ones?'

 

The tall boy opened a can of corn-syrup drink, which fizzed pleasantly. ''Blood!! I demand his fucking blood!! Keep your gold, weakling!!' I lift my totemo massive battle-axe above my head and bring it crashing down on the mayor's desk because I'm so impatient for battle. I feel the battle rage rising up within me already, but with a superhuman effort I fucking control myself.'

 

'I comfort the mayor, who looks visibly shaken. 'Don't mind my feeble-minded comrade-in-arms, he means well and truly possesses a lion's heart, but lacks the finer social graces as he was raised by wolves when he was a young whelp. We will bring this base villain to justice and humbly accept your coin, half of which you may deign to proffer us in advance, for we must outfit ourselves in preparation for the dangers we will most sorely face. Tell us, what vile dangers will we face in the sacrosanct catacombs of the renowned King John's infamous tomb?''

 

The DM skim-read for several seconds. ''What dangers King John's tomb contains are largely unknown, for none have ventured in such a deadly place for generations. The last person who went in there never came out, and you will probably find his skeleton lying around there somewhere, practically stripped clean by the ravenous giant rats that abound.' The DM turned to page 54. 'Know thou though that there will be ravines, snakes, giant rats and spiders, mazes, and that you will be followed by the ghost of the English jester, who will attempt to lead you astray through trickery, flattery, and deception. I think you are foolhardy to accept such a mission myself, but hey, if you die it is one less mouth for our community to feed, and you need the coin so you must accept. You will need the key to the tomb, which I keep in the drawer of my desk.' The mayor retrieves the key from his desk and gives it to Hrothgrar, eyeing him warily from the corner of his one good eye.

 

'I hold the edge of my finely honed battle-axe to the mayor's scrawny gullet and say as menacingly as possible: 'you want us to risk our necks just to get rid of us, and for such puny rewards? Dame bro, you better give us more than a key or your neck will be the one on the line, wakarimasu ka?' I hold out my massive hand expectantly.'

 

'I sigh, roll my eyes, and smile sadly at the beleaguered mayor. 'There's no controlling my heathen comrade-in-arms, that's the wolf spirit driving him to rabid madness. I fear he must be placated with coin. Do you have some form of secret safe hidden within the confines of this room, or a weighty pouch secured about your upright personage? I will pray for his improvement once we are above ground for he is little more than a wild animal at times, at all times as a matter of fact.'

 

'The mayor, shaking white with either rage or fear, you cannot tell which, calls out 'guards! Guards! Throw these base vagabonds in the stocks, in the deepest tunnels of Auckland to rot and be laughed at!''

 

The tall one scowled. 'That's fucking bake bro. In the age of barbarism only the mad strong survived, so we should be able to yolo who we want. You should rewrite this shit.' He drank the rest of his corn-syrup drink and tried to crush the can against his head, but it feebly cricked to one side instead.


Night


Night

 

 

Although the sky was normally clear the day after a southerly had been blowing, on the evening of Clovis' funeral it was raining. The rain thudded on Clovis' body, and slowly filled his pine coffin with water; Mr Woodward unrolled a plastic sheet and solemnly draped it over the water-logged corpse. 'We want him to burn properly,' he explained to those present. 'No-one should have to be burnt a second time.' The scattered congregation bowed their heads in assent, the rain trickling down their necks and under their inexpensive raincoats.

 

Mr Woodward gestured towards Clovis' body. 'We are now at the stage of the ceremony where you may shake hands with the deceased and provide him with gifts for the other world. Please state the value of your gifts as you give them, to show the quantity of respect you have for the deceased and so that GST can afterwards be calculated.' These words were unnecessary as virtually all of the listeners were familiar with the funerary process, but unfortunately these passages and others had become a part of the funerary tradition which, despite their obvious lack of purpose or efficiency, were unable at the present moment to be extirpated from the ceremony. It was a great nuisance for all involved.

 

There was a deathly silence. As nobody made any move to get up, Bea picked up her gift and took it upon herself to go first. She was dressed in black, which contrasted successfully against her sumptuous white skin, and the red rose she had nestled in her hair provided an effective focal point for the onlookers... she took magnificent steps towards the coffin, a striking sight, many of the women were jealous... but the women clucked their tongues as well, for although Bea had combed her hair so that it was slightly dishevelled she was unable to make herself cry as she approached the coffin, a shameful failure... Bea nonetheless carried on: the tarpaulin was peeled back, and her dad's hand was gingerly shaken. The gift was placed by his head. 'Dad? I don't know if you can hear me, you've most probably left for the other world already… I've bought you a toy.' Finally the tears came: she smiled as she lifted her dad's hand, and placed it on the gift. 'It's a caveman bonking the Computer with a club. And when you pull the string...' Bea looped the string's ring around Clovis' finger, and pulled his lifeless hand. The toy shuddered into action beside Clovis' head; the caveman began to jerkily bring his club down onto the Computer. 'Ug! Ug! Ug!' said the caveman; 'Does not compute! Does not compute!' replied the Computer in its cold and dispassionate voice, as it was bashed with the primitive cudgel. The caveman kept hitting the Computer until the string ran out, which lasted for an embarrassingly long time, longer than Bea had any right to stand by the coffin. Bea, pretending not to notice the selfishness of all this, patted her dad's hand. 'It's funny, isn't it. I thought you'd like that.' To the relief of Mr Woodward she at last stood up in the rain. 'Value: six iron coins and a half.'

 

Once Bea had sat down, a group of old people at the back lifted a very old woman to her feet and put a gift in her hands. The old woman's face was like crumpled paper, and her bent back left her torso level with the floor. They supported her as she tottered slowly towards the coffin, her feet dragging like mud, her hands shaking with a mixture of trepidation and old age... she blinked furiously in the rain, her body growing weaker with every step, clearly not up to the ten metres she had left to traverse… Mr Woodward glanced at his watch: in fact they were so slow that Mr Woodward eventually walked towards the coffin and pushed it towards them. Once the coffin had reached them, he gestured towards the corpse magnanimously. 'You may begin.'

 

The old people peered at Clovis, and took turns to shake his hand. The very old woman, her woollen scarf wet with tears and rain, heaved the clay jug into the air and set it on Clovis' chest, next to his heart. 'We... made... you... a... present... young... man...' said the very old woman, running her hand over the jug. 'We... made... it... from... clay... in... your... garden!' There was murmuring from the funeral-goers, and shakes of the head; Mr Woodward approached them, and tapped the jug with his finger. 'And did you have permission to enter what is now the State's garden?' The very old woman looked at her friends in confusion. 'State... garden? We... aren't... aware...' Mr Woodward snorted. 'Clearly not. Are you aware of what a garden is? A garden is a small area used to produce plants--or in this case, extract primary resources without permission. The state, on the other hand, is a democratic subsidiary of the Economy designed to manage its citizens for the benefit of both the citizens themselves and, of course, the Economy. Once you're familiar with those two terms, it's easy to understand what a state garden is. A state garden is a garden that belongs to the state. And you have trespassed; and on top of that, I think that secretly you're aware of all this. Do you even have a license for primary resource extraction? Somehow, I doubt it: I won't bother checking the records. Watch yourself, Violet: it's not the first time you've done something like this. Proceed with your gift giving.' The jug slowly filled with rainwater.

 

The very old woman stared at Mr Woodward imploringly. 'We... wanted... to... thank... the... young... man... for... not... giving... up... on... the... past.' The Prime Minister stared at his watch in consternation. 'Good! I'm sure the deceased thanks you for your jug and kind words. Before you go, what is the value of your gift?' The very old woman looked at the jug. 'Val...ue?' Mr Woodward lifted the jug into the air, and poured the water out. 'Let's see... a kilo or so of rough clay... half an iron coin... the value of an hour or so of unskilled labour, oh, let's say another half a coin... it hasn't even been fired professionally, that most probably makes it worthless, but never mind... value: one iron coin. Do you understand, Violet? You will have to pay GST on one iron coin--plus reimburse us for the stolen clay, another half iron coin. Do you comprehend?' The very old woman's hands shook even more violently than before, and her eyes filled with tears, even though she wasn't related to the deceased and was therefore exempt from the expectation to weep. 'We... don't... have... an... iron... coin...' The Prime Minister held onto the jug. 'Then the state unfortunately has no choice but to confiscate the jug. We of course have no use for clay jugs, we have many such jugs: but to be fair the deceased has no use for the jug either. I'm sorry, Violet. One must stick to one's principles, mustn't one!' Mr Woodward pulled the coffin away from the old people, back to its original place.

 

After that, the gift giving phase of the ceremony ran according to schedule. The remaining gifts were given perfunctorily, and were few in number. Not many Aucklanders could make it to the funeral: many of Clovis' followers didn't dare show open support for the dead man, and some of his friends were at their weekend jobs. The Tetsu Taiyo Freedom Zone Golden Kickball Competition was on, and the weather was most probably a turn-off too. Everyone had an excuse they could make, although since Clovis was dead they only needed to make it to themselves, and since they only needed to make it to themselves it didn't need to be a particularly good one. The gift giving phase of the ceremony was very soon over.

 

Mr Woodward blew his nose with a fine tinfoil handkerchief. 'Before the incineration begins, I'd like to say a few words.' The Prime Minister scrunched the handkerchief into a ball and threw it away--a tinfoil handkerchief was nothing to him--before resting both hands on the top of the coffin.

 

'We are gathered here today, despite the foul weather, to honour a man we knew as Clovis. Clovis was a simple man, ultimately unsuited for living in a complex world... yet something of an enigma I think it's safe to say, a closed book, unable to communicate his views and unable to listen to our own, forever locked away in a old-fashioned world of his own making. It's a shame: I personally feel that if he had opened up to those around him he would have integrated with those around him more easily, and opened up to that complex world around him by extension. I knew him well, as you know, and I personally feel that if he had openly talked with me as a friend instead of against me as an adversary, we would've eventually seen eye-to-eye, and that he would've eventually stopped fearing that complex world around him and embracing it instead for the opportunities it brings. But ultimately, as we all know, Clovis didn't open up to anyone, not even me, and in the end wasn't adaptable. And in the words of the Economy, 'those who don't adapt don't last long.' He is dead, and the simple, pure world which only really existed inside his head--he was born into a comfortable family, and didn't get out very often, as you know--that innocent, almost childlike world in his head has died with him. Economy bless.' Mr Woodward looked at his watch. 'Let the incineration begin.'

 

Mr Woodward stepped back from the coffin as two burly workers came forwards and hammered the lid shut with rocks. The old people and the very old woman winced from the pounding sound, although you'd think they would've gotten used to the funerary process by now considering how often their acquaintances must die. 'Hey Woody, is your side stayin' down?' Woody shouted over the banging. 'Na mate, keeps springin' up! Bloody nuisance!' They kept hammering away, cursing more and more frequently, it was clearly useless; Woody bent down in his overalls and looked through the gap between the coffin and the lid. 'Aw mate, there's the bloody reason! Forgot to turn the bastard's head to the side! Bloody nose keeps gettin' in the way!' The very old woman began to cry.

 

Mr Woodward gestured for the workers to stop. 'It's good enough. It's going to be incinerated anyway: proceed to push it in the furnace.' The workers nodded, and put their rocks back in the toolbox. Then they picked up the coffin and, grunting and grimacing, staggered along the red plastic carpet towards the furnace. Several times they had to put down the coffin and rest, sitting on the coffin, for some of the gifts were unusually heavy and the coffin itself was soaked through. Some of the male funeral-goers walked forwards to help, but the workers waved them away, they had pride in their work... eventually they reached the end of the carpet, well over schedule, and plonked the coffin on the floor. 'That's a bloody workout! Bloody pain in the arse!' They didn't have time to catch their breath: they opened the door, revealing a preprepared fire. 'In ya go, mate!' They pushed the coffin in. At first the weight and wetness of the coffin damped down the fire, to the dismay of all present, until only lingering flames licked the coffin's edges... Mr Woodward's jowls quivered, in alarm that the coffin might survive... but the workers were prepared: they threw in bundles of dried corn husks, and branches of pine, sawdust, even disused seats from the town hall... the fire recovered, soon the coffin was hissing and crackling in the heat, and an acrid smell was wafting over the funeral-goers to their considerable relief... as the workers threw more and more fuel into the fire the fire got hotter and hotter, and soon it was unbearably hot, so hot that even the very old woman at the back was forced to take off her scarf...

 

Mr Woodward turned to the workers. 'Is it hot enough?' They both nodded and bowed. 'It's hot enough, your Honourable... we can't get it hotter, your Honourable...' 'And what have you found today?' The workers bowed even more deeply. 'Not much, your Honourable... and it's very rusty too, your Honourable...' Woody pulled out a little cast-iron statue from his toolkit, so rusty you couldn't make out its face. The Prime Minister picked it up. 'It's good enough! This machine's state-of-the-art... it can handle anything!' He threw it into the furnace, and the two workers bowed and shut the door.

 

The furnace grew hotter and hotter, and the statue slowly melted inside... the funeral-goers watched in silence as a gurgling sound emanated from within... the very old woman gripped her scarf as the first bell chimed pleasantly... Bea bit her lip as steam billowed from the tin whistle... there was the sound of rotating cogs, grinding sandpaper, flying sparks, flowing water, a furious bubbling... the stamping of a press... they could follow what stage the iron was at from the sounds, because the sounds distinctly moved from one part of the machine to the other... Mr Woodward held his hand under the tube, breathing in short bursts, totally unable to hide his excitement...

 

The coins fell one by one into his outstretched palm, still warm from the funerary minting. The Prime Minister clenched his hand around the coins immediately, his eyes goggling in awe, his tribal brain reeling from the power of the machine. 'These coins... these coins will remain with the state... to pay for the funeral' he said, softly stroking the machine as he addressed the funeral-goers. 'There are significant costs involved in the running of a funeral... such as the speaker fees.' Mr Woodward put the coins in his pocket and, regaining his senses, looked at his watch. Behind him, the machine died away into silence. 'I think that pretty much wraps things up here. The deceased is now looking down on us, finally happy and content, from the other world. He is reunited with his parents, the state gardens grow by themselves, his bank account is never empty, and all his desires are fulfilled without reservation... I think we can all congratulate ourselves on a funeral well done. Remember to pay the GST at the office... no, it's easier if you pay it to me actually... yes, that's much easier, I can collect it as I provide you with your personal commiserations, we'll do two things at once...'

 

The funeral-goers stood up and took out their wallets, shielding the contents from the rain as they removed the necessary coins. The Prime Minister circled the room, shaking various hands, his face melancholy yet comforting as is expected at this stage of the ceremony, his pockets swelling and straining at the seams as he progressed with the funerary tax collection. The two workers put on their goggles and clambered into the furnace, sweeping up the ashes and dumping them into a black plastic sack. But the old people were not used to this stage of the ceremony: the old people helped the very old woman out of her chair, held her by the arms, and left.


Final Fragment


Final Fragment

 

 

Newsplastic report:

Sixty-eight percent of youth

Plugged into VR brainchips.

 

What percent of youth

Log into nature.com?

In the holographic woods

Flits a projected fantail

Warbling on a loop.

 

I slice cheese for sandwiches

On a plastic rock.

A photograph of nature

Curling at edges

Our nation's treasure.

 

The postcard from Hawaii:

The woman water-skiing.

The sage Computer

Engineered a tree

To seed dusty Mars.

 

Our city is a desert

It could find no place to grow.

A middle-class petition

Banning endorphins

In water supply.

 

Feeling unhappy

They feel all smiles.

A self-cleaning mosque

Holds a day service

For pensioner's robot dog.

 

One paw scrapes at the coffin

A wiring malfunction.

Out of a saucer

I drink menthol wine

In my back carport.

 

The rain on the roof

The outskirts of the arctic.

 

Googlezon AutoWrite Tanka Setting:

The Collected PDFs

The ticking of the womb-vats

Counting to offspring

On the basement shelves.

 

Mothers prospective

Numbers one to forty-five.

Memory of skies

Floods the heavens new

Photoshops sulfur.

 

Scrubs the slumscape brisk

A phosphorescent light bulb.

Two politicians

Argue forever

On the state channel.

 

Their ties are different colours

Neural wires red and blue.

Children are programmed

To think critically

By robot teachers.

 

Their essays are strings

Of unique ones and zeroes.

Concrete skyscrapers

Dance to the moonquake rhythm

Showering bright glass.

 

Settling on craters

Nature's sharp autumn.

From the smoking mine

March striking androids

Flashing tin placards.

 

Scabs are cast in overtime

Pressed from ore they burrowed up.

An unemployed computer

Sends out a CV

To three million firms.

 

An automated response

Offers virtual work-trial.


© Copyright 2019 Joel Marler. All rights reserved.

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