Notes on notes.
Notes from a fallen island is an unfinished project. That is important to remember as you venture forwards. It has been lightly edited, and is largely ‘first draft’ stuff. I am posting it to demonstrate how an idea can just run out of steam, and at 35k words, it’s a large idea to lose!
Some things work, and some don’t. I may go back to a few of the themes in the future, but the story itself will never be finished. There will be a few paragraphs at the end to explain the direction I was heading in, and the ideas that I had. I could never quite get the timeline right. I wanted to start at Brexit being a catalyst, but that wouldn’t work well with the other themes in the tale.
It was originally going to be released month-by-month on my website, so parts do work ‘standalone’ at times, and I enjoyed reading it back as I prepared to post this.
So enjoy what Brexitopia brings, and don’t fell too bad about Dave the dog, he was going to come back!
We walked all day, and by the time we reached the threshold of ‘Sector 43’, I was exhausted. “We needed to make up the time,” Reg said as he jogged through the trees. Firing his arrow and then collecting it. Time had never been on my mind; when I had considered this journey, I thought I’d make it at my own pace. One day at a time and enjoying the freedom. That line was a perfect demonstration of how unprepared I was! “Jobbit will be waiting for you,” Reg explained. Jobbit this, 43 that. Reg had spent the morning explaining things to me. Much of what he told me seemed unimportant; maybe he just liked talking and enjoyed my company.
“Happy. They’re all happy,” he repeated the message from before. Was there anything wrong with being happy? Reg spoke of happiness like a curse, but I’d seen the miserable and downtrodden; happiness was a choice many didn’t have. I’d have chosen to be happy. Dave followed us and sniffed out every strange and unfamiliar scent. He seemed uninterested in our talking but, like Reg, glad to have the company. Pissing against almost every tree, how he had the bladder capacity I’d no idea. Occasionally, there’d be something, and he would wander off. We’d hear him come yapping back to let us know he was still there. “Aye, you think you want to be happy,” Reg said, reading my mind, “but I’d rather just be what I am. Imperfect though it may be.”
Talking as we made our way helped to pass the time. Feet and muscles seem to ache less when you don’t think about them. You forget about them. I’d miss the chitter-chatter had I been alone and would never have kept the same pace. I knew I’d sleep well that evening, and, being in a sector, I hoped to find a comfortable bed. Sleeping on rough ground was not good for me! “You should head to the Bards Inn when you get there,” Reg said. “They serve a good pint and can ask about Jobbit.” A good pint sounded just as appealing as the comfortable bed, more so in many ways. I could drink away the horror of my journey so far. Sup away the misery with an excellent quaffing ale. Things were starting to look up. Reg fumbled in his pockets and pulled an envelope from one; he handed it to me. “Welshy told me to give you this,” he said as I took hold. I started peeling the envelope’s side, but Reg stopped me; “Not now. Do it when you’re alone,” he said.
“You’re not coming?” I asked.
“Me? Jesus, fuck no! I’ve been there before; I’ve seen it before, and I hate the place,” he replied.
“You’d rather have what’s out here?” I laughed. What could be that bad that he’d pick Strakers and other creatures over human company? “Aye, every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” he answered.
“What’s so bad? Seriously, how are happy people such a bad thing?” I asked. The comfort of a bed and a good beer was quickly replaced by the idea that 43 was worse than the Outlands. “How can it be worse than here? Is it safe?” I followed up.
“Oh, it’s safe,” Reg replied, “but this is my home. I find that place strange. I find all the sectors weird, to be honest. All those people willing to be drugged up just to forget about life? Yeah, fuck that, it ain’t me.” Reg undid the rope tied around the neck of his trousers and tied one end in a loop, then threaded it through the other. He passed it to me. “You’ll want that for Dave.” I hadn’t thought about keeping Dave on a lead, and I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about it. Back home, and out here, he’d been roaming free; had he ever been on a lead before? This was going to be a fresh experience for us both.
When we arrived at the outskirts of sector 43, Reg bid us farewell. “It’s not that it’s dangerous,” he said. “Well, no more than anywhere else. It’s just fucking creepy.” I’d asked, but he would not budge on the details. “It’s something you have to see for yourself,” was all he’d say, stressing once again that it was perfectly safe. Maybe it is just how I overthink, but when someone tells me something is safe, I wonder… I liked Reg and would miss him. I told him this as he left. We shook hands and did the pleasantries of old, said we’d have to meet up again, knowing it was unlikely we ever would. How next time we’d have to share a pint; I think beer was on my mind by this point! With that, Reg ran off and into the woodlands. I hoped to see him again, but I knew, as I am sure he did, that the chances of that were incredibly slim.
The 90-minute walk to the sector was something I found strange. I thought I’d become accustomed to being by myself. First, because I lived alone, and then because I’d started this trek with only myself and Dave the dog, I felt a complete sense of loss once Reg left. Like a widower, I found myself beginning to speak to someone who was no longer there and feeling like something was missing. I knew I’d enjoyed the company, but I didn’t know how much being alone all this time had seeped into my mind, like dampness in a wall.
43 made me smile when I first saw it. Anyone could walk in or out of my home sector. There were many entrances and exits, and buildings were further apart as you got further from the middle. Like the universe’s expansion, it all started in the middle and was compact, but the further you got from there, the more open and spacious everything became. 43 was a walled sector. I could only see the one entrance, but I presumed, indeed I hoped, that there were others. Wide, with the wall on either side, scaffolding-like signage above the gap read ‘Welcome to 43’. The metal was clean and shiny, and after the 43, someone had sprayed a smiley face with paint. The wall looked well-maintained, and the grass outside was trimmed and tidy. Everything looked as good as new, and then there was the smiley red face.
“Oh, hello there,” a lady said to me as I made my way into the sector. She had a smile that stretched from ear to ear; when I looked around, I saw everyone wearing the same semi-circular grin. “Smashing day, isn’t it?” another with an overstretched smile asked me. It had been raining, and as much as I enjoy the freshness of rain, ‘smashing’ wouldn’t have been the word I’d have picked. “Lovely,” I replied and smiled back before continuing.
The streets were spotlessly clean, and people mingled with one another, each wearing that same cheesy grin. Where I was from, people didn’t mix like that; you kept to your social groups. Sure, there was nothing to stop you from heading to the upper-class areas, but we didn’t do it. Here, it was a free-for-all. I wouldn’t want to say which system was better, but it was all entirely foreign to me. Shops and stalls were all open, and it was like what I remembered of the olden times. We had pawn shops and pharmacies; 43 had everything I could think of! The butchers, the bakers, greengrocers, and candlestick makers lined up along the street. This was a different world! A strange new land! I could imagine how Lemuel felt when he arrived in Lilliput.
Making my way further into this world of smiles and consumerism, I found a store that sold electronics. I had no reason to doubt him, but I wanted to know if what Reg had told me was the truth. Dave was happy to sit, but I wrapped his lead around a drainpipe; then I opened the door and stepped inside. Straight away, I was greeted by another smiler. “Good morning, sir,” he said, and the smile never faltered. “Welcome to 43’s premier electronics store. Is there anything I can help you with?” The inane grin stuck on his face like magnets to a fridge. It was starting to grate on me.
“No, thank you. I am fine,” I said, and the smirk, like a yawn, spread to my face. It wasn’t the same plastic surgery type fakeness; mine was just one of those friendly pulling up of the lips many of us do when answering someone in a store. Thankfully, he left me alone, and I proceeded to one of the computer setups. All this tech was clean, spotlessly clean, and brand spanking new. We had tech in our sector, but aside from the basement where I first spoke to ‘Welshy’, it was all worn and old. I’d wondered about the tech when I was there; the answer to where it had come from now revealed itself to me. It may not have been from sector 43, but it showed that new stuff existed. I jiggled the mouse, and the cube that was floating on the screen vanished, revealing the desktop that lived behind. I clicked the ‘www’ icon, and the internet browser opened.
The page loaded instantly, and I was greeted with a photo of the sector. Giddy, bright-eyes, and smiling like morons, the sector’s inhabitants were pictured as well. OTIN’s logo scattered the backdrop with mindless slogans accompanying it. They were the same as any I had seen before. I clicked the search box, entered my own sector, and pressed enter. Scrolling past the ads and crap, I finally found the page for the local council and clicked the link. Everything about the internet felt the same as what I was used to using; nothing was different or unusual; only when the page for the council loaded did I see what was wrong, so very wrong. Everyone was smiling and happy. The people looked the same as the ones I had seen pictured in 43. Unfamiliar faces, but the same grinning madness spread from cheek to cheek. The stores were clean and tidy, the streets free from rubbish and the homeless. It was a different picture from where I knew and lived. I felt lightheaded as the years of lies were exposed for what they were. I had been told to expect this, but seeing it with my own eyes was something I wasn’t truly prepared for. Keying in another sector, just to be sure, I found the same thing. Lies stacked upon deception; I had no reason to doubt Reg now, and for what? Control? Maybe, but also, we were just lab rats circling the tubes of our existence. A testing system that we followed without question, bowing to our betters, tugging the forelock, and doing what they wanted. The fictions and cock and bull stories we had been told and fed throughout our lives felt like a suffocation. Those of us who didn’t comply were found in the Outlands. Left to die or be killed by those who had fallen to the effects of the drugs. I couldn’t stop wondering if my children had suffered that fate; I had to leave the store, and I dashed for the exit. There was nothing left in there for me; what Reg had said was the truth. For the first time, maybe in my life, someone had told me the truth, and I wasn’t ready for it. Yet here it was, smashing into my head like an oversized mallet hitting a small tack.
Outside, I grabbed Dave’s lead and walked away quickly. The rain started to pitter-patter again as we walked at pace from the shop and deeper into the sector. I wanted to turn back, but like an addict, I also wanted more. I needed truth. What else had been a lie? Was everything just a mistruth injected into us like a drip in a hospital? The whole of our lives fed to us to keep us under control? People kept their smiles as we passed, and every time I saw one, it appeared more sinister. The masks of their fake existence were used to hide the reality underneath. Lips pulled up to the ears, and minds swallowed in the gaping chasm that was formed.
“Hi, friend, how are you doing? Is everything okay?” a concerned bloke asked as I made my way. I didn’t bother to answer; at first, how could I? It would have been a lie anyway, and I had just about had enough of them! I wanted to shout, “Fuck off,” back at him, but instead I muttered, “I’m fine.” Dave was being dragged along with me as I questioned everything I saw. If this sector was so different, what of the next one or the one after that? Did the locals here know that they were being lied to? I had doubts; they seemed to have it pretty good, so would they have cared if they knew? If you are willing to be bought with happiness, then selling the lie is a doddle.
I found a graveyard and looked to seek solitude with the dead, away from these smiling faces. To walk with those who no longer cared about the world of the living. The people here put me on edge with their fake grinning ventriloquist doll smiles. A fake existence and illusion of happiness as they chirped away with one another; coupled with the fact that they were all living a lie. They must have known; they must! The graveyard was like any other I had visited. A home to the dead and the spirits that they left behind. People come and mourn, others, like me, find the peace and quiet of the places refreshing. I’ve always liked to tour a graveyard; to see those monuments to the deceased and to read the older stones; to feel that I know a little of their stories and history. I walked down a path and Dave followed, sniffing at anything and everything. Dave did his thing to understand the place, and I did mine as I read the many stones. They are usually always inscribed with messages about how liked a person was; in this sector, it all felt fake, like watching the perfect family on TV; you know it isn’t real.
Finally, I found a bench and sat myself down. I watched as an elderly lady entered the graveyard; she made her way to a plot and replaced the flowers that were there. She wore her smile as big as any of the others, but I could see a tear dropping along her cheek. I knew it was all fake, but this stabbed at me a little. This was a place of mourning and she had that forced grin; somewhere inside, she knew and felt the loss. I went over and asked, “Would you like me to dispose of those?” and pointed to the withered old flowers. She looked at me and the puffed, tear-filled eyes told such a story as they hovered above the forced smile. “Oh, would you, dear? That would be lovely,” she replied.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said as she handed me the flowers.
“My loss?” she asked and then said, “Oh this? Everything is tickety boo, my dear. This is just…” She paused and stopped for a moment. She looked confused, well her eyes did; the crazy smile still held firm. “This is just what I do,” she finally said. “It’s what I’ve always done.” I got the feeling that she had loved the person whose grave she was visiting but her emotions were being withheld from her. Those feelings and sensations that make us human were being pushed aside in her mind. Her eyes revealed a truth, but it was being hidden from her. “Goodbye,” I said as I turned to leave. I was angry at what was happening here. I could feel, unlike these people, and I wanted to shout and scream at them. “What are you doing? This isn’t living,” I wanted to bellow, but I knew it would do no good. They were like cult members; they had drunk the Kool-Aid, and nothing I could do would flush it from their systems. “Have a fantabulus day,” she said as I walked away. I didn’t bother to turn and look at her with the stupid smile. She’d either be watching me or leaning over the grave with her artificial happiness holding back her true feelings. I patted my leg and Dave followed.
I threw the flowers into a bin; unsure of what was sadder; the faked smiles, or the dead flowers. “Tally Ho, old chap,” a voice said. “I don’t suppose you are on a journey and are looking for someone?” I looked at the man who had spoken. He stood there in a top hat and braces strapped down across his shoulders to the trousers. The cane he held in his right hand was propping him up. “Because,” he said, “I noticed you on the cameras, and thought, now there is a fellow who looks a little lost.” He had the same smile as everyone else, but when he had mentioned cameras, it had faltered. It was just a slight twitch on his left side as the lip drooped a little and was accompanied by a quick wink. “Yes,” I said, “I was looking for someone. I was told I would find him here.”
“Well then, my good fellow, you and your pooch have come to the right place,” he said. He walked to me and lopped his spare arm around mine. “Stephen Jay Williams, at your service,” he said. “Also known as the Jobbit.” He squeezed my arm slightly as he said this. I didn’t need the hint, but I got it. It was a squeeze to stop a reaction, rather than provoke one. He didn’t want me to show any response when he told me who he was. “Thank you,” I replied. “I’d have been quite lost without you.”
“It’s never a problem, fine sir,” he replied and led me from the graveyard.
The Jobbit led me through the downtown; he pointed out things as we went. “The camera over there,” he said, and his finger directed my eyes, “that is the one that saw you, and through it I saw a man who I thought I could help. They keep an eye out for anything usual; you see,” he stressed. “I figure you’re from out of town. We will have to get you on Hipoxin as soon as possible. That’ll turn that smile upside down.” I hoped he was playing it up for the cameras; there was no way I was going on any drugs. I had thought Smiloxitin was the worst, but now I knew better. “See the pub over there?” he asked and pointed. “Wonderful place.”
“Are we going to visit?” I asked.
“Oh, silly, we have no time,” he replied, “but I do have some fine ales at home, so chippety chop, let’s get a move on.” Sometimes a smile, or good nature, can be infectious, but this false gaiety repulsed me. “How much further is it?” I asked. I wanted out of this place; the Outlands had been disturbing; I found this worse. This was more inhuman than anything I’d experienced in the outside world. “Smile my new friend; we are almost there. Just a hopety skipety and a jumpety and we’ll arrive!” I am not a violent person, but at that moment I wondered if the punishment for murder may be worth it. Is it possible to slap a smile from someone’s face? I looked up at a camera as it scanned the area. People were making their way through the sector; heading to and from work. Each had that forced, crazy smile painted on their face. The Jobbit continued to waffle from one subject to the next; I wasn’t paying his words any attention.
It wasn’t an act, but it was a forced cheerfulness. It was all fake, like screwing a hooker; sure they will look at you and say, “I love you,” but you know it’s all an illusion. It was a forgery of emotion, a forced façade of fakery being pulled to the front by the drug they dosed themselves with. Happy, happy, happy. Great, great, great. I didn’t want to judge them, who was I to do so, but yet I did. How could they do this to themselves? Smiloxitin was bad, and I was familiar with it, but this was disgusting. It was amoral and inhuman. Would they have said the same about Smiloxitin? I suspect they wouldn’t have had an opinion at all, or if they had, it would have been that everything was tickety-boo with a smile for good measure. “Ah ha,” the Jobbit said, “Finally my friend, we are here. Just give me one moment.” I hadn’t realised, but we had walked and were now at the centre of the sector. “You’re the Guardian?” I asked, a little shocked at the thought. I had been sent here to deal with this guy, only to discover that he was the lord of the manor. “So to speak, my cofuddled friend,” he replied and then beckoned for me to come inside.
Stepping inside, I wondered if it was the right thing to do, but what choice did I have? I could turn and leave, but what would that do to help? I’d dash through this happy sector and mentally scorn all the people I saw. Dave decided for me and went first. So, as instructed by the Jobbit, I turned and closed the door when the three of us had entered. “Thank fuck for that,” he said. His smile turning upside down into a much more natural looking frown. “You’ve no idea how exhausting it is keeping up that charade,” he said. This made me smile; it was like our faces had swapped temporarily; it was the most honest thing I’d heard since I had arrived. “You’re not on the drugs?” I asked. A stupid question, I grant you, but it was the first one that came to mind. “That shit?” he replied. “Shit no. You can see what it does to people. Fuck that.” As I said, a stupid question.
“But why the subterfuge?” I asked. Not a stupid question. Jobbit had the power to make the lives of these people so much better; why didn’t he do it? The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Was the Jobbit a good man, or was he one of those who could turn a blind eye to things? “It’s complicated,” he replied.
“Uncomplicate it,” I replied. We always have a choice in life, and I’d have one to make here. Should I could walk away and head back home? I may die. I suspected I wouldn’t be allowed to make it home, but it was a choice. All we can ever do is to make an informed choice, and you can’t do that without knowing as much as possible. “It aches after a while,” the Jobbit said and ran his hand up and along his jawline. He made his way to the far end of the room and sat on the sofa there. “I promised you a beer; let me give you an ale, and a tale,” he said. From beside the sofa he picked up a couple of bottles; glasses were already waiting for us. “It all started when I spoke to the Welshman,” he said and popped the cap from one bottle. “I was born in what you call the Outlands,” he continued. I made my way over and sat opposite him; he offered the beer, and I took it. What can I say? I am a sucker for a good ale. “I thought, at the time, that I wanted a way into the sectors, you know? Anything has to be better, right? But, as they say, the grass isn’t always greener.”
“You hate it here?” I asked as I took a sip of the beer. It was good; he was right, or maybe because it had been so long; either way, I didn’t care. “Hate,” he hesitated, “is a strong word. No, I don’t hate it. When I arrived here, I got hooked on the drugs, the same as anyone else. You know how easy that is.” I nodded, as I’d had my own experiences with the drugs that they’d pumped into us. To be fair, we had a choice, but many of us never took it; it was easier to follow the crowd and do what made things bearable. “I could have ended up like the poor souls out in the world. Hell, I can’t tell you which is worse, the forced smiling and all that fucking merriment or being one of the ones that the drugs have changed. Shit, at least many of them won’t know the difference.”
“I think some of them do,” I replied.
“Really?” he said. The Jobbit seemed genuinely interested in what I had said. “Most people think they are dumb; nothing more than braindead animals.”
“I met some Strakers,” I explained. “I wouldn’t have said they were dumb. In fact, I got the impression they were more intelligent than they let on.”
“Heh,” Jobbit said and eyed me over once more. Like finding the key to a lock, or the password to a file, I got the feeling that he suddenly trusted me a little more. Without the change, I’d have never known, he seemed accommodating enough; but once that lock had been broken his manner was much friendlier, bubbly, but, unlike the other inhabitants, genuine. “Few see that,” he said. “If the Strakers trust you, then you must be a good guy.” I’m not sure I am a good guy; would I stand by and do nothing if someone was being hurt? Would evil triumph with me? “I was with Reg,” I said, as if that explained everything.
“Reg is a good guy, but if the Strakers wanted you dead; you’d be dead,” Jobbit said. I took a swig of the beer, unsure of how to answer. “You should always be careful when you wish for something. I wanted to be in a sector, and when I was, I wanted to be outside of it,” the Jobbit said, continuing his tale. “I didn’t hate it here, any more than I had wanted to escape out there; it’s just boring. Boring is fine sometimes, but I wanted both!” This I understood; I knew of the need to have something in your life other than the mundane. “You remained here? Do you ever leave?” I asked.
“Not as often as I’d like,” he replied. “I’m trying to make things as good as I can here. I could do better; I know that, but I also can’t just change everything in one hit. It takes time. Change is a slow process.”
“But the drugs… Can’t you at least do something about that?” I asked.
“What would you have me do?”
“Look at the people here; how can you think they are happy living like this? It’s sick.” Once I rolled with it, I found I couldn’t stop. “They don’t get a choice. You have a choice, but they are stuck with the same dirge every day. They get up, pump their bodies full of that shite and smile their way to and from work. Where is the life in that?” I sunk the remains of my beer before continuing. “I get it. It’s easier to close your eyes sometimes, but for fuck’s sake, if everyone opened their eyes then the world could be a better place.” The Jobbit handed me another bottle of beer; he had grabbed it and opened it while I had opined. “It helps to let it all out,” the Jobbit said, and he was right; it helped. Like air escaping a balloon, sometimes it just relieves to blurt out your thoughts and feelings. I felt as if a tension in my upper body had been suddenly released. “Sorry,” I said sheepishly. I had been ranting about how I felt, and if nothing else, I had been rude! “It’s fine, honestly. I get it,” the Jobbit said. “If you think I don’t want to help these people, my people, then you have misjudged me completely. You have to look at the bigger picture.” I’ve always had a disliking of that phrase, as you can’t see what is not revealed to you. You are looking at a painting in a darkened room; it’s not always that you have your own eyes closed. I was about to say this when he did it for me, “Oh,” the Jobbit said, and then added, “you don’t know?” I felt like I was perpetually confused and learning everything anew. When I had left my own sector, I had thought I was well read and knew a lot about the world, but everything seemed to be wrong, or at least what I knew was a bastardisation of the truth. “Come, I’ll show you,” the Jobbit said. He was suddenly giddy with excitement and I was more confused than ever. Just what had I got myself into? The Jobbit necked his beer and stood up; he said, “Come,” and led me to a room at the back.
The room was filled with banks of screens. They were stacked atop of one another and each had a different feed being fed into it. “This is all the cameras in the sector,” the Jobbit said.
“You watch everything?” I asked. The screens showed everything, but worse was that they also revealed what was happening inside the houses. Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms were all displayed on the screens. “I try not to,” the Jobbit said, “but it’s part of the job.”
“This is a nightmare,” I said. Just the thought of being watched, day after day, night after night, gave me the willies. Is this happening in my sector as well? We all knew OTIN was watching us. “For your security,” they had said, but to be observed doing everything, the thought made me feel physically sick. “But look,” the Jobbit said, and mashed some keys on the keyboard. The screens changed, not to anything that looked immediately different, just more rooms and more people. “Don’t you see?” the Jobbit asked. I looked the screens over again and saw nothing. “Every sector,” he said. “This isn’t just 43, this is all of them.”
“All of them?” I repeated. “Do they do this everywhere?” I asked.
“Yeah,” the Jobbit replied. “It’s another means of control. They watch and can see what you are doing.”
“They knew I was leaving? Why didn’t they stop me?” The Jobbit looked at me confused. “Why would they care?” he asked. “You are nothing, a nobody to them; why do you think we recruited you?” It’s a strange thing to be told you are an irrelevance as bluntly as I had been. That you are not even as interesting as the fleeting glimpse someone might give the Smiloxitin addict who has collapsed in a doorway. Many times I’d have probably been disappointed, but in this case I was not; it can be nice to walk through life and be unnoticed. “We hacked the feed,” the Jobbit said. “I was here to find out what they were doing, and after a while we realised that the surveillance was everywhere. We’d always suspected it but it took a while to find proof.” I watched as people went about their daily lives without a clue. They emptied the rubbish; cooked food and undertook other daily chores. Could I ever take a shit again without thinking about being watched? Why do bears shit in the woods? To hide from the OTIN cameras. “Can’t they see you now?” I asked.
“Nah. We’ve set the system up with a feedback loop for times like this,” the Jobbit said. He jabbed a few keys and two screens changed to show the room that we were in; only it was wrong. “It’s not right,” I said.
“Look; it’s only got you there. I am nowhere to be seen.” There was a moment of complete quiet as the Jobbit took this information in. That fraction of a second where it feels that time has slowed but just for us; for everyone else the world is moving at the same speed, but for the observer, it’s ground to a halt. Like falling in love, or tumbling down a hole, perhaps it’s the universe giving you that moment to gather your breath before all hell breaks loose. “Sure, that’s because you have not been here before. The AI we use needs time to fill in the gaps and create the illusion for the feed,” the Jobbit said. I suppose time may have also faltered for the Jobbit as well, as he stood for a moment before reacting. “Oh fucking shit, Jesus,” he said. dropping pretty much every other swear word into the mix as he bashed the keyboard. “What is it?” I asked as a bead of sweat dribbled down his forehead.
“You don’t get it,” he replied. “They saw two of us enter the building, and only one of us is here now.” I scoffed a little. “So what?” I said, unable to grasp the apparent severity of the problem. Big deal, I’d thought. “It’s highly unlikely anyone would have noticed,” I announced with about as much wisdom as a drunk telling their mates to ‘watch me do this’, before the inevitable disaster.
“You don’t understand,” the Jobbit said. He pulled a USB key from the side of one screen and pushed it into my hand before returning to the keyboard. “They monitor everything with AI. OTIN’s security AI will have seen two people enter and then one vanishes.” The Jobbit stopped and looked over the feeds; he pointed to the top right-hand screen, “See, look.” I watched as a man made his way from a front door and towards the centre of the town. He looked ordinary, boring even, as he made his way with his stupid, grinning face. He was joined by a woman, and they both looked up towards the camera with their eyes wide and lips pointing upwards and toward the heavens. “Who are they?” I asked, knowing the answer already.
“OTIN,” the Jobbit replied.
“They are always here. Spies, and grasses who work for them. How do you think they vanish people so quickly? Every sector has them, some more than others, granted, but they all have them embedded and ready to pounce. They watch and wait, live normal lives until needed, and then out they come like…” the Jobbit paused as he thought of a good example to use. I think he gave up and settled for spiders. “…spiders at night. They fucking creep and crawl about. You know they’re there, but out of sight… out of mind.”
“What now?” I had only just got here, and I didn’t know what I was doing. The USB stick was in my hand, and I watched as he tapped away on the computer. “What’s on it?” I asked. He ignored me and continued with the button mashing. I shoved the stick into my pocket; it slipped down and to the bottom. “Don’t lose that,” the Jobbit said without looking. “Are they coming for us?” I asked.
“They ain’t fucking coming for tea,” he replied, and then pulled a bunch of cables from the back of the screens. With force he yanked the leads and the screens all blanked, a few tilted to the side as the wiring was ripped from them. “Fuck!” he screamed as the last few cables gave. “You’ll be fine. I think. Me, oh, it’s fucking me they’ll be after,” the Jobbit said. There was a bitterness in his voice. I didn’t think it was because of me, though I couldn’t be sure. The way the cables had easily slipped from most of the screens, and the scripts that he had ready to run told me he had been expecting this. A good scout maybe, being prepared. “I’ll get you out. You protect that drive.” I felt in my pocket to check the drive was still there. Where else would it be? I slapped my hand down on the desk; “Just what the hell is on the drive?” I asked. Dave the dog had sauntered in to join us. Possibly concerned, probably bored. “Forget the dog,” the Jobbit said, “I’ll get him out.”
“You’re going to get both me and Dave out?” I asked. I had forgotten about Dave. Having him here with me now, made things feel better. He had been with me from the start and had saved both Reg and me. How could I have forgotten about him? It wasn’t for long, but he had momentarily totally escaped my mind. “Protect the drive. It’s the future!” the Jobbit said and started kicking one of the computers. The case crumpled as his boot clattered into its side. “The future?” I said, stunned. What could be so important? “You asked why I didn’t help the people in this sector? That drive is why. Why help a handful when your actions can help everyone?” I was beginning to see the plan, I thought. My eyes were being drawn open like curtains. “We have watched for years. I knew this time would come,” the Jobbit said. “We catalogued everything. Every side effect, every case of mutation, and every death are all on that drive. That is the greater good. That is why I never helped my people.”
I finally understood the reasons. Agreeing with them may have been past my abilities, but when one can understand, one can at least see clearly. Like being pulled from the bottom of the ocean, my mind opened with my eyes and I felt clarity. I didn’t know if the plan was a good one, no way of knowing if it would work, but it was something. “We get you to France; you pass on the drive, and then the world is shown what has happened here!”
“But how can they not know?”
“You didn’t know what was going on in other sectors. Imagine how easy it is to hide what is happening in other countries,” the Jobbit then quoted a line I knew well from history. “A far away country between people of whom we know nothing.” The Jobbit continued to rip parts from the computers. “They are wiped, but I want to delay them,” he said.
“You get to the pub; remember I pointed it out? Get there, in the back garden there is a well. You climb down it.”
“Climb down a well?”
“There is a ladder. Get to the bottom and then unhook it. Follow the tunnel and it will lead you outside of the sector. You have to get out!” The pace of his speaking had increased as he’d trashed the systems. “Then what?” I asked.
“Stay away from sectors. That’s my advice. Do what you were going to do anyway! Make your way to Dover.” Easier said than done. I’d been attacked mentally, then had a run in with genetic mistakes, and now this. How would I ever survive? The Jobbit opened a door to my side. “This’ll get you outside and through into the back streets. Go to the pub, find the well, get out.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’m going out the front.”
Arguing seemed pointless as the Jobbit shuffled me out of the door. Before I knew it, I was in the back streets and alone; Dave was not with me. I’d not had time to grab his makeshift lead. The streets were empty. I had expected them to be quiet but not deserted. I looked up at a camera and saw that it was dead. Deactivated by the computer shutdown; the Jobbit knew his stuff. I’d heard the door lock as I left, so had only one way to go. The alley was empty of rubbish and bric-a-brac; almost untouched; long prepared, I suspected, for this escape; only not for me. This would have been for the Jobbit. Was this small USB drive really all worth it? I couldn’t see it, but he and the Welshman believed it would.
Smiles. Stupid, maniacal grins and chirpiness was the first thing I saw as I looked down the alleyway and into the main square. Those fucking drugs, the residents of the sector were all lined up grinning like fucking morons. I pitied them, but also despised that they had allowed themselves to be drawn and taken over. They were lined against a wall with the Jobbit’s OTIN agents questioning them. The Jobbit stood at the end of the line; he was the only one without a stupid grin. His pantomime of the perverse beaming smile was no longer needed. The show must go on? No, it always has to end sometime. Nothing lasts forever.
I stood with my back to the wall and continued to peek around the corner. Was I anticipating what would follow, or was it some kind of morbid fascination? I wasn’t sure; all I can tell you is that I felt I had to watch. “Where is he?” one of the agents asked. She had a gun pointed at the man at the end of the line’s head. The man just looked back at her; his grin never moving. She looked at the man as she had spoken, and she pointed the gun at the man, but I knew she was talking to the Jobbit. “Where is he? I won’t ask again,” she said. The Jobbit stood motionless and without emotion. His lips were as straight as the seam on the finest tailored suit. He said nothing, and then she shot. One single bullet at close range is all it takes to remove half a man’s skull. I’d written violence before, some would say gratuitously, but seeing it in real life was something far worse than I could have imagined. Even now, after the fall, guns are still relatively rare in the country. The woman who’d been standing next to the man who was shot looked down at his body, “Oh, Stephen,” she said while still grinning, “whatever are we going to do with you now that you’re dead? Just look at the mess you’ve made!”
I’d thought things were bad in my own sector. The voodoo curse had taken hold of so many and turned them into the walking-living, but this was far worse. The lack of compassion, empathy, and love was a gut punch straight into my mental wellbeing. Love, one of the most simple, yet complex emotions, and it had seemingly been purged from her. They must have felt something for one another at one point but now it was as empty as any void. The woman who had fired the shot, and her accomplices however, displayed them. Smiling, not a grin like the denizens of the sector; this was more sadistic. They were not influenced by drugs; they were high on the power they wielded; on the damage they had caused.
“Why? Why are you hurting my people?” the Jobbit asked. She never turned and looked, and her colleagues didn’t either. They were wrapped up in their own games of power. “Where is he?” she repeated and pointed the gun at the woman who should have been mourning her partner. “My people have done nothing to you,” the Jobbit protested.
“Stephen, you knew, did you not, that your job here was to keep order?” This time it was a man that spoke. I couldn’t see him, he was standing outside of my view, but he spoke with authority. “And, with that remit comes responsibilities.” His voice was calm, but powerful, his next words were bellowed out. “So why has someone from sector 13 come here? Why have you disabled our eyes and ears?” Another pop, and the woman who had seen her partner killed, fell to the floor next to him. Slumped together forever. “He came for a cup of tea and some biscuits,” the Jobbit said with a hint of sarcasm that was surely disguising his fear. “Nothing but a crap writer, and you protect him? Why?” Another shot was fired, and I looked away. I had no desire or interest in being dragged into a story I could have written. The Jobbit was going to protect me, even if it meant his people dying. I’d be lying if I said that I felt sorry for them; this was no life. Death would be a release from their drug addled existence. I hated myself a little for thinking that, but I promised I would be honest in this journal.
With the rear of the pub in sight, I quickened my pace. If there really was a hell on earth, then I’d found it. Human beings turned into mindless drones devoid of the emotions that matter. A capitalist utopia of human test subjects for manufacturing poisons that turned everyone into mindless freaks. Alive, but not living, and if that was the outcome, what was the point? I saw the well and looked down. It was unprotected, and I could see the ladder hooked to the inside rim. A cap was not needed; who cared if someone fell down? They’d sit at the bottom and grin away to themselves, commenting on how, “It’s jolly nice to be in the shade and out of that joyous sunshine.” I’d had enough of this place and, as I made my way down the ladder, I promised I’d never look back.
Anger has a way of fogging the mind. It can take control and become the only thing that you focus on. As I climbed, my temper was still raging. It was just as much anger at myself as at others. They had a reason to be as they were, I didn’t. I had run away. How many were now dead because of me? Good men who did nothing. Idiots and junkies they may have been, but was death a punishment for that? By letting them die, am I any better than the one who pulled the trigger? Now guilt was replacing anger. My rage had succumbed to shame, and I stopped my descent. Anger also makes me rush. As I looked down, I saw I was only ten feet from the base of the well. I peered upwards and saw the way I had come. Like looking through a tube and up into the sky, everything was dark apart from the opening at the top. Choice, so often, is taken from us at the very moment we decide to do something. The rung I was standing on cracked, and then broke. The one I was holding, and had my arm around, held for a moment, but then it gave as well, and I fell.
In some ways I was lucky, in others not so much. My ankle twisted, and the pain shot through me, but before I could scream, I crumpled with the ongoing force of my fall. I landed face down in the muck and mud. It gave me a moment, and that slight ripple was just enough. I jammed my arm into my mouth before I could cry out in pain again. My muffled cries escaped my mouth, but thankfully didn’t travel the tube of the well shaft I’d fallen down. I lay in the cool mud for as long as I felt safe, my arm gripped in my mouth, nose-breathing heavily. I gently rolled myself onto my back, using my good ankle to push myself. Looking up, I could see the ladder and the bottom of its legs were almost within reach. I pulled myself forward, the slimy, wet mud made it easier than it should have been, so that the ladder was reachable. I pushed the leg upward, and the ladder stayed in place. Then I forced my torso up using my right elbow and pushed again with my left hand; thankfully the ladder unhooked and fell. It clattered and separated. I hadn’t noticed the two parts being connected when I’d climbed down, but it made sense. The Jobbit had planned his escape, only I was using it. What he had not planned for was a rotten rung, and that had been my literal downfall. The ladder fell on me, but the pain from that was nothing compared to the agony that flooded my body from my ankle. With the ladder down, I relaxed, and as I did so, I fell into unconscious.
When I came to, night had fallen. The moonlight lit the cavern where I lay; my foot and ankle throbbed but the overbearing pain had passed. I can only presume that the Jobbit didn’t give me up; what other reason could there be? I hoped that not too many people had died. My anger had dissipated as I slept, and now I felt the guilt of not turning myself in. Would it have done any good? I don’t know, but what I know is that I didn’t consider it, and that was unforgivable. I tried to move my ankle and the pain told me to stop. “Fuck,” I muttered to myself. I slumped back into the mud. Looking down at myself, I could see how I had maybe been missed if someone had peered down the shaft. I was covered from head to toe in mud, my face included, and the ladder was still lying on top of my body. I let myself smile as I thanked God that I didn’t snore. Can you imagine? The light-heartedness of the idea of being caught down the bottom of a well because I snored helped with the pulsing pain. My story ended because I snore; that’s all, folks! But it didn’t; my only problem was how I was going to get out.