Wrote this around 2006. I tried to imagine what the world would be like in the near future if trends continued. It seemed far fetched then. Now some of it seems more possible.
It was a Thursday night in June and almost time to go. Dylan Smith looked at his computer’s clock and pushed his hair back. There was just one thing he needed to finish off first. He clicked on his computer and opened up a file. There was a picture of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He typed.
“Twentieth century Hollywood. Virtual reality. Experience the way it was. The Peak District. August bank holiday”
He clicked to send the file to his manager. Now he could go.
He got up and made his way past the rows of individual work units to the foyer. A man in a light blue casual shirt and jeans nodded to him.
“Evening Jack”, said Dylan.
“That’s it finished”, said the man. “For another week. Any plans for the long weekend?”.
“Nothing planned”, said Dylan, getting into the lift. “I’m out tonight, then I’ll see how it goes. You?”.
“Off to the coast. The wife wouldn’t mind trying an August 1914 tour, you know the one that specialises in the weeks leading up to World War One. But, you know how it is. Virtual reality tours are a bit of a busman’s holiday for us”. He laughed.
“Yeah, know what you mean. How are your projects coming on”.
“Not bad”, said Jack. “I’ve been working on that French revolution tour in Burnley, you know, the one I was telling everyone about that VRT meeting the other day. The one where old Henderson wouldn’t shut up about the World War Two tour in Southampton”.
“Yeah, I know”, said Dylan. “You had to wake me up”.
In a few seconds, the lift reached the ground and they walked onto the street.
“Don’t forget to vote”, yelled Dylan, as Jack disappeared down the street.
“Not going to bother with that”, said Jack. “They do it all for you these days, don’t they”.
Dylan smiled to himself and walked down the street to the stop and waited.
The trambus snaked its way along Parliament Street. Dylan leaned against the wall and his hair fell over his face. The bus arrived and he followed half a dozen fellow passengers on and heard the autopay click for each of them. He grabbed a seat towards the rear of the bus. He pressed the button to switch on the screen in front of him and turned the dial. Nothing much was on the music channel, just a synthesised version of a symphony. He turned to the news channel.
“Turnout for today’s election is expected to be high”, said the girl. “Support for the Unity Coalition, fighting the election on its programme of Reclaimed Housing, is predicted to be strong”.
He clicked off the button as the trambus started off. Two men behind him were deep in conversation.
"I’ve told them”, said one. “We can’t live in a place that size. There’s the two of and four kids”.
“They don’t listen”, said the other. “I’ve said the same”.
“This housing project they keep going on about. It’s not going to work. I mean, what does the government want, buying up all the houses and slums and those old warehouses. Some of them are better off being demolished”.
“I know. It was better when people owned their own homes”,
“Well that went out of the window, didn’t it. No one’s been able to afford anywhere for years. Especially not the kids. Trying to buy somewhere of their own”.
“It just led to dodgy landlords”.
“Tell me about it”.
“Suppose that’s why they decided to buy all the houses”.
“The government. Don’t suppose they had any choice”.
Dylan listened. He wanted to turn and say something. But he stopped himself.
The trambus slowed down.
“We are entering a prohibition one”, said a voice. “Would all passengers please conceal any alcohol”. Dylan sighed.
“Here we go again”, said one of the men. “It’s the same every night”.
“Tell me about it”, said the other.
“How many years have we had to put up with this for? I ask you”.
“It was as a result of those riots”.
“I know that. Talk about a knee jerk reaction. A few kids getting drunk and causing trouble and they stop the rest of us taking booze into these places. They should have put them in the army”.
“At least you can carry booze now”.
“I know. But it’s still a pain”.
“I suppose they could have put them all in the Wasteland”.
“That’s a plan”.
Dylan sat and looked out of the window. Most people knew nothing about the Wasteland. Except that it existed beyond the city boundaries.
Two stops later, the voice came through again. “We are in an unrestricted zone. You may display alcohol”.
A few moments later, the trambus stopped and Dylan got off and made the familiar walk back to his apartment. As he approached the entrance, he looked up at the sign that hung over the door.
“The Williams Building. Formerly a tobacco factory. Luxury apartments for sole occupants – reclaimed on behalf of the people”.
He walked up the stairs to his second floor apartment. The autoregister clicked, recording the chip on his id-phone. He sat down on his bed and pressed the menu order on the wall. Burger and chips. He walked over to the computer and it clicked on.
“Good evening”, said a voice. “Your meal will soon be ready. In the meantime, you may wish to enjoy some music, specially selected for your enjoyment”.
He got up from the bed and sat in front of the computer. Then there was a buzz and a door in the wall opened, There was a tray with his meal on. He walked over and took it. He went back to the computer. He took a bite of the burger. Excellent. The autodelivery service was getting better. He turned on the stereo. A list of songs came up on the screen. He flicked down to the “late twentieth century” section. The Who. That was what he wanted. There was a list of songs. “My Motivation”. He clicked. “Listen to this classic, re-recorded to sound better than ever. The music started to play. A synthesised beat. A laid back voice.
“I’m gonna work do what I’m told,
I hope I get rich before I get old,
Talking about my motivation”.
He sat and ate his hamburger, tapping his fingers to the synthesiser. In a moment a message came up on the screen.
“Dylan. How you doing? Still on for tonight. Mick”.
“No problem. See you in The Red Bar at 9”.
He finished his burger. “My Motivation” faded away. It was a shame that there were no records of cds anymore. He would have liked to have heard the original
Then there was a buzz.
“Don’t forget to vote”, said the voice.
He clicked the screen on the voting option.
“Thank you for agreeing to vote. You have not applied for an opposition vote. Therefore you may endorse your support for the Unity Coalition”.
Dylan was annoyed with himself, for a moment. Why had he not applied for an opposition vote? He had not had time. That was it. And his bosses would not have approved, if they had found out about it.
He clicked to exit.
“Sorry. You are not allowed to exit. Please confirm your vote”.
He tried to exit again. He got the same message. In the end he gave up and endorsed the Unity Coalition.
That was a job done. He put his plate back in the tray and thought about the risk of getting an opposition vote. Perhaps next time it would be worth a chance.
Dylan fell back onto his bed and took out his id-phone. He wanted to check the balance. It was £5000. His salary had been paid into his account, or rather, onto the chip on his phone. He flicked through the screens, checking his personal details, which the authorities had left unchanged from yesterday, and his sanctions, which were clean. He had a policy of staying out of trouble. He wanted to avoid any criminal convictions, which would result in him losing his rights, such as housing, What would he do then? Live on the streets? Stay with friends? Live in the Wasteland? He thought about a friend at the office who had been found with a copy of “A Clockwork Orange” and hadn’t been seen again. There would be no “unauthorised works of literature” in his flat for the manager of the flats to find and report to the authorities.
Dylan got up off the bed and went into the shower.
Mick was standing in the corner of The Red Bar, his slim frame leaning against a wall, a cold glass of beer in one hand.
“Good evening young sir”, he said as Dylan walked up to him.
“Well hello”, said Dylan. “What are you drinking?”.
“Oh, just a bit of the old stuff. From the last century. It’s a bit gassy. Flavour’s not up to much. But it’ll do”.
Dylan bought a drink. The barman brought it over to him, with an auto-cashregister. Dylan swiped his id-phone to and paid for the beer.
“So what’s going on tonight?”.
“Well tonight, young sir, you won’t believe it till you’ve seen it”.
“I believe you”.
“I am going to take you on a journey the like of which you have never experienced”.
“So where is it?”.
“I’m not going to tell you till we get there. Just follow me in a minute”.
Mick put his beer down and wandered out of the bar. Dylan laughed. He knew of Mick’s antics from experience. But tonight looked like it was going to be something different.
Mick was waiting outside, trying to avoid the cameras, which were everywhere. He started walking and Dylan stayed a few paces behind. They made their way to a trambus stop and waited a couple of minutes until one came along. They got on and sat down.
“My Motivation” was coming out of the speakers. He tapped his fingers.
“You like this?”, asked Mick. “You’ve heard nuffin”.
Dylan laughed again. The trambus made its way, through the prohibition zone, and beyond. People got on and off. Soon there were only a few on. Dylan looked at Mick. Apart from holidays, he had never been so far out of the centre of the city. Mick gestured for Dylan to follow. Mick got up and went into the toilet. Dylan was soon there with him. They stood a few feet apart, until they both went to wash their hands. Mick handed him a small packet. Dylan took it and put it in his pocket.
They sat opposite each other as the trambus carried on. It was getting dark now and there were no streetlights. Dylan was beginning to be a little scared.
Soon the trambus stopped. This was the end. Mick got up and walked through the door. Dylan followed. It was the last stop in the city, with some barbed wire ahead and a scruffy looking bar to the left.
“Come on. Lets get a beer”, said Mick.
The bar was almost empty. Just an elderly couple. The barman came across and nodded at Mick knowingly.
“And your mate?”.
Mick looked at him. The barman headed off and came back with two beers and a tray.
“What’s that for?”, asked Dylan.
“Just do what I do”.
Mick swigged his beer and took his id-phone out of his pocket. He placed it on the tray. He waited.
“Go on then”, he said.
“What?”, asked Dylan.
“Put yours on the tray”.
“I don’t know”.
He took his id-phone out of his pocket and fiddled around with it.
Dylan put his id-phone on the tray. The barman took it away and put it behind the bar.
“Come on”, said Mick. He left the bar.
“What’s going on?”, asked Dylan.
“Come with me”.
“Look in your packet”.
Dylan took it out of his pocket. Money. Stacks of it in £5 notes.
“What do you think”.
“I didn’t know it existed any more”.
“Come with me”.
Mick walked along the street in front of the barbed wire. There was a small hole at the bottom. He stopped. He crouched down and crawled through the hole. Dylan watched.
“What are you doing?”.
“I’ll tell you”.
Dylan followed him, crawling through the hole. Mick walked off, down some well worn streets and round a corner. He relaxed.
“Now Dylan. I can tell you. There are no cameras here – there are only a few where we just were. This is what is known as the Wasteland. Where it all happens”.
“What? Why the hell are we here?”.
“Look mate. I told you I would give you a good time. You were bored with life. This is it. I’ve got you some money – not too much. You only spend money here. It doesn’t recognise the autopay. All the people here have been kicked out of the city. They know what its like”.
“What about our id-phone?”.
“But what if it’s not there when we go back. That‘s everything gone. No money, no status, no way of proving who we are. Our whole lives, our whole identity would be gone”.
“Its fine. They know all about people coming from the city to see whats going on. They look after the phones and give them back when you go home. That way it doesn’t register that you’ve left the city”.
“I’m not sure”.
There was a warehouse in front of them with the sound of a bass coming from it.
“Remember the warehouse parties your granddad told you about?”.
“Here they are”.
There was a girl standing in front of the door. She looked them up and down and let them through. They paid fifty pounds at the desk.
Dylan followed Mick. There was a large room in front of them. It was dark with a few lights and a man at the far end on a stage. There was a table in front of him with two discs spinning.
“You heard of DJ’s?”, asked Mick.
“Yeah. They used to play in the old days”.
“You think so?”.
Dylan looked more closely. There were two turntables in front. And on them – vinyl records. He had never seen records before. His parents had shown him cds but that was all. Records were from his grandparents’ era.
Mick pushed a beer into his hand.
The music was very loud. It was brilliant. A guitar. Drums. Real ones. The record stopped.
A new one started. A hard guitar. A voice screaming.
“People try to put us down,
Just because we get around.
Things they do look awful cold,
Hope I die before I get old.
Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation”.
Dylan joined the rest who were jumping around. Mick grabbed him.
“That’s the original. The original My Motivation”.
It was manic. He had never heard music like it, the hard guitar, the mad drums. It carried on for a while. But then it came to an end. Some lights came up.
The music stopped. A man came on stage.
“They don’t want you to hear that. Think it might be disruptive. So they change it. Well – too right its disruptive. And I want to disrupt”.
People were paying attention. The man stood there. He was lean, his face was white. He was angry.
Mick passed Dylan something long and white.
“A cigarette. Light it”.
“But they’re banned”.
“In the city they’re banned”.
“Mick leaned over and lit the cigarette. He inhaled. He had never done this before but it felt good. Of freedom”.
The man was shouting.
“Where do you think we got these records from? From our grandparents, from other people. From sales from houses where people have died. If you try hard enough you can get them. We are putting together a load of them. So that people can come and hear them how they’re supposed to be. Not how the Unity Coalition want”.
People were cheering.
“They won’t tell you about us. They won’t tell you about this music. They give you watered down synthesised drivel. They change the songs. They change the meaning. They don’t want you to know. Well we do. Did you vote? Really? The Unity Coalition is a fraud. You didn’t have the chance to vote. You just supported them”.
The crowd cheered.
“Get as many vinyl records as you can. Get here every week. Get your friends here. We are going to oppose the Unity Coalition. We are going to change things in this society to make it like it was – like you want”.
Everyone was wild.
“Now. This one’s called God Save The Queen”.
The trambus snaked its way back towards the city. Dylan and Mick sat in silence. They stared into space. There were few people on the trambus.
“My Motivation”, said Mick. “Just like you wanted it”.
Dylan laughed. He took the id-phone out of his pocket. It had been there at the bar just like Mick said it would. He checked his balance. £5000. Everything was fine.
“Look”, Mick had said. “If we had taken our id-phones with us, they would have registered that we had been in the Wasteland. That would have been a problem. Might even have got us a caution. As it is, all the id-phones will register is that we’ve been in a bar at the end of the city. No problem”.
They were getting nearer to the city. People were getting on and off. Talking about the election and their evening out. It wasn’t long before they were at their stops. The trambus stopped. They got off and Dylan walked back to his apartment. He climbed the stairs and lit a cigarette. He walked back into his apartment and sat down.
Dylan turned on his screen. “Large turnout at the election”, the girl said. “A large majority expected for the Unity Coalition”. Dylan lay on his bed and blew a smoke ring into the air.