Thursday, 15 November 2012

Itch

While waiting for the bus, I scratched my upper arm through the sleeve of my winter jacket - round about the spot where my ID implant is supposed to be. The implants aren’t supposed to itch of course, but mine has always itched in cold weather, ever since I was a child.

‘My arm itches,’ I’d say on the way to school.

‘Well don’t scratch it then,’ Mum always replied, ‘that only makes it worse.’ So that was that, but at least it only itches now in cold weather.

‘Chilly old morning isn’t it?’ That was Eric from over the road, a neighbour of mine although I don’t know him beyond a few words of greeting in the bus queue. He always makes some remark about the weather and like me he works in the city. I’m not sure what he does though, because I don’t recognise his uniform. Something to do with opinion polls I think. Telling people about the opinions they should hold on all kinds of issues – that kind of thing.

The bus was on time for once, so I climbed on board, found a seat and slipped my feet into the pedals as usual. I like this part of my daily commute because a good hard spell of pedalling warms me up in winter and even in summer I get to work feeling that bit better for the exercise. Which is the whole idea behind pedal buses of course. Everyone knows that.

The bus was unusually slow that morning though, pulling away from the bus stop as if it would never get going. Some of the passengers were really struggling with their pedals. I could see there weren’t quite enough fit people pedalling sufficiently hard to get us off to a good start and up to our official 10 mph running speed.

This is the speed we’re supposed to reach as quickly as possible or the bus motivator starts nagging us, asking if we’ve eaten a good breakfast and so on. One or two High Officials whizzed past in their private cars, sounding their horns in understandable frustration.

There were also more oldies than usual sitting at the back in the seats with no pedals. That never helps because of course oldies don’t have to pedal. I turned round in my seat and gave them a bit of a glare, but still managed to carry on pedalling.

I’m like that sometimes, rather bold and defiant. I can’t seem to help it in spite of the temperament capsule I take every day. My Health Supervisor can’t get to the bottom of it. Maybe she’ll put me on something different if that glare gets reported by one of those oldies. These minor acts of aggression don’t always get reported though – oldies don’t usually bother unless it’s actually verbal.

Mind you, we aren’t talking Rehab here – only a capsule mod at most. Not that I’d ever know about a capsule mod of course, but everyone is pretty sure it goes on.

I always have one of the Health-Approved breakfasts to start my day – fresh fruit with a glass of water or something like that. If I don’t, the fridge complains to the Health Authority, although it’s not really supposed to report something as minor as skipping some fruit.

Maybe it’s faulty, although I’m not sure I should report a faulty fridge in case it is really functioning normally and the whole thing reflects back on me. Decisions, decisions – all part of the rich tapestry of life.

Anyhow, my bus arrived in the city centre eventually, only about ten minutes late, so not too bad and at least I didn’t get the blame. I should think not too! I’d been pedalling really hard all the way – much harder than Eric for example. Eric always hums little tunes while he’s pedalling, probably covering up his lack of real effort in my view. I think the oldies may have been Logged though – there were too many of them on one bus as I suspected.

‘Who is paid to sort these things out? I want to see the manager.’ I heard one of them say to the Drive Unit. I don’t know why – there’s no point saying things like that to a Drive Unit. In fact there’s no point saying anything to a Drive Unit.

I have a funny story about oldies which I’ve told on a number of occasions, but it bears repeating because it always gets a laugh. Once an oldie who was standing next to me at the bus stop said she wasn’t surprised that people don’t have children any longer.

‘Wait until the new conception regs come out,’ I said, ‘then you’ll see some real action.’

I laughed like a drain at the time, but the oldie just stood there looking puzzled. I didn’t bother to tell her about the new conception regs because they are pretty complex, but I’m sure they will be really effective in boosting the birth rate.

I’ve heard oldies talk this way before – criticising things they don’t really understand. They often talk about money and paying for things and prices and suchlike. I know what prices are, because it’s all to do with whether or not you can afford something, but hardly anyone seems to know what they mean by money and paying for something. The bank handles all that, so why do they bother to make an issue of it?

If I look at something in a shop such as a pair of new shoes, then of course the display unit tells me if I can afford them and if they are my size. It also gives me a load of sales spiel about the current fashions for my age group and social profile, but I don’t usually listen to that even though I’m supposed to.

My Social Awareness advisor tells me I should be a little more fashion conscious, because she says I don’t always conform to my social profile and that could lead to anxiety and unhappiness. But I’m simply not interested and can’t seem to do anything about it. I just switch off somehow. Nobody seems to take my lack of fashion sense too seriously though - I’ve managed to get away with it up to now.

Anyhow, going back to the business of shopping for new shoes. If I can afford the shoes I just try them on and if they feel comfortable that’s it as far as I’m concerned. Okay – I have to fill out a health and safety check list and wait until the sales pitch is over, but then I take them or I don’t. The shop and the bank handle everything else. It’s certainly not my concern is it? Do I have a degree in banking? It’s the same with any other kind of shopping such as meals – we should all know that by now, even oldies.

One day I’m going to ask an oldie what they mean by paying for things. There’s nothing about it on the Web as far as I can see. With them being oldies, maybe it’s a historical matter, but I don’t have a history qualification so that part of the Web isn’t accessible to me. A good thing too in my book - I can only take in so much. It’s not as if I’m a High Official or anything.

It’s only a ten minute walk to the Careers Office, so I jogged the rest of the way and managed to make up a bit of lost time due to the bus being late. At least I’d have a story to tell at Drinks Break – about the morning bus being late because of too many oldies. That kind of incident always gets a laugh.

I entered the building where I work, ignored the little lecture from the door monitor about being late, because obviously it already knew why I was late via the Web. I’m a Careers Advisor in the Ministry of Career Fulfilment, or MCF as we insiders call it. It’s a job I enjoy very much, which it presumably why I was nudged in that direction from an early age.

I nodded to a few colleagues who were already hard at work, collected my settling-in drink from the dispenser and went off to my cubicle. I missed my settling-in drink once and didn’t half cause a rumpus!

The dispenser is obviously programmed far too strictly anyway - everybody knows it, but you have to be careful about reporting such things in case it’s some kind of new initiative. I just took it on the chin and made a joke of it in the usual manner. Anyway it’s not my job to make fun of the drinks dispenser – I’m not a techie.

I sat down, ticked off the usual safe-seating checks then went straight into my morning scan of the jobs market apps. I remembered to take a sip from my settling-in drink too, but that’s a pretty reliable habit these days. I rarely trip up over that one and haven’t had a lecture on dehydration for ages.

My job is all done via the Government Web of course, but I have my specialist Careers Advice apps to pick up vacancies, career progressions, temporary roles and so on. The apps match these up to people with the right qualifications and experience and once I have a good match I put a number of processes into action. Once I get to this stage, I tend to finish off my settling-in drink before I roll up my metaphorical sleeves and really get cracking.

Sometimes I have the pleasure of informing people about an unexpected promotion even though they aren’t actually scheduled for a promotion. Off-schedule promotions are our way of taking up the slack and filling the gaps when the unexpected happens, which isn’t often, but we are always prepared for it.

That’s the customer relations aspect coming in, giving someone the news about a promotion and why they must accept it. It’s the bit I like best of all. My scheduled promotion decisions are based on the job market, qualifications and experience and such factors. I enjoy all of it and it’s what I’ve been doing since I left college with my brand new Careers Advice degree.

From this point it all gets very hectic until morning Drinks Break, which usually comes as quite a relief as anyone might imagine. The itch on my arm is completely forgotten by then.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dr Bluett


 ‘I've done it - I've finally built a time machine.’ Dr Nigel Bluett stepped back from his shining creation, finally free to relish a few sweet moments, time to admire the fruit of years of concentrated sweat, toil and supreme mental effort. This was it, his triumphant guarantee of everlasting fame after fifteen years of grinding, lonely work.
Bluett pulled a new yellow duster from the pocket of his overalls, flicked it lovingly over the polished, car-sized bulk of the complex machine filling most of his garage.
Of course time travel would always be a one-way journey into the future, because his theories proved travel into the past to be impossible. Time travel was strictly a one-way trip.
In fact the Bluett Theory of Time would be another secure foundation for his lasting fame. As compensation for never coming back to his own time, there was the glow of knowing he was the first person to travel in time. Plus the fact that he would be leaving behind complete details of his plans and theories for other, lesser mortals to follow. He was sure that history books of the future would be full of his life and works.
Nigel Bluett - Father of time travel.
There was only one thing left to do now, pack his bags, arrange for his plans to be sent by registered post to the world’s top ten universities, then off to the future.
Bluett sent off his parcels of plans and posted the manuscript of his book to six publishers - let them fight over it. His instructions were that profits from the book should go to the Nigel Bluett Foundation. The Foundation didn't exist yet, but someone was bound to set it up sooner rather than later.
Finally he packed a holdall with a change of clothes, a toothbrush and shaving tackle. He locked the door of his house with only the slightest pang of regret that there was nobody in his life to say goodbye to -
‘Morning Doctor Bluett.’
‘Good morning Mrs Davies.’ Damn, Mrs Davies was peering over the hedge, trying to poke her sharp nose into something that certainly didn't concern the likes of her.
‘Are you working in your garage again today, Doctor Bluett?’
‘Not today or any other day Mrs Davies, I’m going away for good.’
‘Going away Dr Bluett? Are you selling your house then?’
‘I leave my house to posterity Mrs Davies because I'm travelling two hundred years into the future. You won't ever see me again.’
‘The future Doctor Bluett? You usually go to Eastbourne.’
Bluett suppressed a surge of anger as Mrs Davies turned away, smiling and tapping her forehead with a bony index finger. Unfortunately Mrs Davies was going to be the last person who ever spoke to the Father of Time Travel in his own time. He would have preferred Mrs Davies to be someone more significant like a major celebrity, but there was no time to do anything about it now.
The time machine worked first time, just as Bluett knew it would. He tapped the co-ordinates for the year 2212 into the Temporal Location Computer and pressed the red button. There was a kind of queasy lurch and a terrific blinding flash.
When Bluett recovered his senses, the garage, his house, everything outside the time machine was gone. Through the windows he could see only gentle hills and grassy fields with a few mature trees under a blue, cloudless sky. He checked the temporal reading - 2212 - spot on.
For a moment or two, Bluett wished he’d brought along a bottle of champagne to celebrate. No matter, surely his reception committee had laid on a few cases. He opened the door, stepped out onto a grassy field and looked around for the crowds of dignitaries who ought to be greeting him. He couldn’t see a soul, just a blackbird perched on a hawthorn bush.
‘HELLO – I’M OVER HERE,’ Bluett shouted into the silence.
No reply.
‘HELLO – IS ANYBODY THERE.’
Still no reply.
‘Oh... Well I thought my house might have been preserved at least,’ he muttered. ‘Perhaps they chose the house where I was born as a hub for Bluett Museum and Educational Centre...’
‘Morning.’
Startled, Bluett turned to see a rather shabby, rustic person strolling towards him along a path by the time machine. ‘Good morning,’ he replied frostily. This man clearly wasn't part of his reception committee.
‘You another of them time-travellers?’ The man stared at Bluett's machine, his hands in his pockets.
‘What?’ Bluett was stunned but after a few startled seconds he realised that time travel must have become quite common by now.
‘Yes... you are one of them right enough. No point denying it.’
‘Deny it? I'm the very first time traveller. I'm Doctor Nigel Bluett – THE Doctor Nigel Bluett.’
‘Oh aye? My name's Drago.’ The man said nothing more for a while, just scratched his chin. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, ‘fancy a beer?’
‘Ah yes... I suppose so.’ Bluett realised he would have to make himself known one way or another. Even so - journeying all the way to the twenty-third century to drink beer with a farm labourer was a bit much.
‘Come on then.’ Drago set off down the path.
‘Down here is it?’ Bluett wavered uncertainly, still hoping for the reception committee. Still, if he went with this Drago person he would meet more people and one thing would lead to another. After all, the whole world should know when he was due to appear because he had said in his book that he would travel exactly two hundred years. Two centuries was a long time though -
‘You coming then?’ Drago asked.
‘Oh all right - I suppose so.’ Bluett fell into step with Drago who strolled off without saying anything further.
‘Where exactly are we going?’ Bluett asked after about half a mile.
‘The inn's somewhere round here,’ Drago said easily.
‘The town that used to be here seems to have shrunk a little, have there been any - disasters?’ Bluett asked. He had a sudden horrifying vision of nuclear war and deadly radioactivity. Good lord, he should have foreseen exactly that possibility and brought a Geiger counter. Nuclear war would have destroyed records, set progress back by centuries. The history of his great achievement -
‘No disasters,’ said Drago. ‘There are fewer people around than in your time - far fewer. Folk have more space now and a bit of time for themselves.’
‘Incredible technical advances have given you more leisure, I suppose.’ To Bluett’s vast relief he realised that there wasn’t the slightest sign of nuclear war, what with the lush grass and the mature trees.
‘We turned aside from your kind of leisure about a century or so ago - went in for common sense instead.’ Drago pointed to a road and a low, thatched building about two hundred yards away. ‘There's the inn.’
‘Surely industrial progress hasn’t gone into reverse though?’ Bluett began to feel a sense of dismay, a crawling suspicion of betrayal. There was worse to come when he spotted what seemed to be a steam train in the distance complete with its plume of smoke.
‘Good lord - tell me that’s a piece of nostalgia. It's a day out for antique steam buffs, isn't it?’
‘What?’
‘That thing - that – that steam train.’
‘Nothing nostalgic about a train,’ said Drago, we use them all the time. Oil ran out for the diesels.’
‘Don't you normally travel by three hundred mile-per-hour monorail or something?’
‘No.’
‘Matter transporter?’
‘Never heard of one.’
‘Sub-orbital rocket plane?’
‘No, nothing like that. That must be the Tuesday express on its way to the south.’
‘The Tuesday express?’
‘I expect so. It runs every Tuesday and it goes south. Only stops at fifteen stations - normally.’
‘You travel by steam train which usually goes south and may or may not stop at fifteen stations but you still call it an express? What on earth are the slow ones like?’
‘Look here Mr Bluetit -’
‘Bluett, Doctor Nigel Bluett, Father of time travel.’
‘Well Mr Bluett, by the twenty second century, folk finally got fed up with trying to zoom around at enormous speed. They only ended up sitting in traffic jams breathing in their own exhaust fumes. We know all about follies of the past.’ Drago shuddered.
‘What about computers and lasers and genetic engineering - all the technical progress from the twenty-first century.’
‘Progress? It wasn’t progress though was it?’ Drago said. ‘What about pollution, flat-pack furniture and TV reality shows.’
‘Flat-pack furniture?’
‘Let's face it,’ said Drago, ‘a lot of what you in the twenty-first century called progress was plain lunacy.’ They had reached the inn and Drago pushed open the solid oak door. ‘Including fucking time travel,’ he muttered under his breath.
This was all too much for Bluett. He turned and ran back along the path as fast as he could. The time machine was just where he left it, but there was another yokel sitting on top drinking from a brown bottle. Bluett dragged the door open and locked it behind him. He set the Temporal Locator for the year 2412 – another two hundred years into the future. Surely human progress had not ended forever.
There was a flash, a queasy lurch and Bluett saw much the same scene outside his machine. He heard a thump and saw the yokel who had been sitting on his machine had been transported with him and fallen off when they stopped. The yokel was sitting on the grass and staring round, the bottle still in his hand. He got up and ambled off, two hundred years into his own future.
Somehow Bluett knew things were going to be much the same in 2412 as in 2212. He wiped his brow, took a deep breath to quell mounting panic and adjusted the Temporal Locator again.
The year 2612 was more promising. Massive shining spires rose out of a distant haze and the road had become a six-lane highway with odd, bubble shaped vehicles without wheels streaming along it.
‘At last, progress returns,’ said Bluett with huge relief. With a bit of luck Drago's dratted inn had been pulled down to make way for the highway and the railway tracks were rusted away. He rubbed his hands and opened the time machine door.
When Bluett emerged from his time machine, a shining orb about two feet in diameter approached him across the grass. It floated three feet in the air, completely silent like an enormous soap bubble.
‘I’m Doctor Nigel Bluett,’ Bluett said clearly and distinctly. He knew the orb was bound to be a machine with highly developed computer intelligence. He glanced anxiously in the direction of the highway. There was still a chance the machine knew who he was and was summoning that blasted reception committee.
The shiny orb floated up to Bluett's time machine and a thin metal rod shot out from its surface. A square plastic film seemed to extrude from the tip of the rod, sticking itself to the time machine window.
‘Illegal parking on a footpath,’ said the machine as it floated off. ‘Standard fine is five trillion euros. Have a nice day.’