Thursday, January 03, 2008

The brownout

A wee story for the new year-


We were hanging about in town when the electric went off. One moment you had all those shoppers zooming about, eyes wide and greedy for the product, hearing the I-chip implants whispering in their heads telling them to buy buy and the HD-CCTV Daleks telling us not to spit, not to fight not to do anything but buy buy and the next the world went quiet with nothing but a tired little beep like a battery going flat.

It took a moment for it all to register on everyone’s faces, you get so used to being told how to do everything every day, always those whispers in you head since they got the hardware installed, there for everyone, except us cos we’re too poor to get them embedded and besides we don’t like being told what to do.

“what the ‘ell happened?” I asked Katie

“dunno bruv, everything gone out”

Katie walked up to one of the HD-CCTV drones, the kind that follow you about telling you to be nice to everyone. Its all seeing eye had gone dark and its loudspeaker all quiet. She got out her colour changing magic marker and tentatively tagged it across its ultralight shell.

“power’s off” she said “rock on”

Shoppers were just standing around the high street now, like toys whose batteries had died, no one to tell them what to buy or how to talk to each other. It all get beamed into your head, see, a script everyone gets read to from, telling them to be polite, how to deal with tricky social situations and how to talk to those you wanna nob. They even have them to tell people how to do their jobs, teachers we had at school were like newsreaders reciting off some autocue, not that we ever went much, better things to learn that.

On the street I saw coppers forget what they say when they bust people cos the police servor had gone down, paramilitary charity muggers forget what they were meant to be signing people up for, just saying nonsense about peace and human rights like kids do when they don’t’ know what they’re saying. Even the Big E-Issue sellers were having trouble remembering their lines.

All the holoscreens and flat screen stickers that covered every surface of the high street had flicked off, just grey shapes it had should have been a riot of marketing tailored to everyone uniquely bland wants. Me and Katie strolled up the road through the crowd of milling ex consumers.

“No more Temple of Sport” said Kate, pointing at the ten floors of ultra mega hi def sports gear now just a shabby looking tower, no 4D images of Romeo Beckham or Julio Sanchez kicking out over the crowds.

“All looks so crappy now, dunnit?” I said, looking about at the city centre, without the electric you could see how old the buildings were. Nobody bothered with the real look of things because they were all hologrammed up, the cracks and graffiti and years of grime hidden behind too bright lights and slogans that were catchy like flu.

We had a laugh watching how people acted with each other now, cos everyone but us was always so polite, all genteel like some old English Miss Marple adventure, opening doors for each other and saying pleasepleaseplease and thankyouverymuch. Could see now it was all because the I-brain told them too, that if they didn’t they’d get social behaviour points deducted and how bad that would look at dinner parties or in the office? People have thrown themselves under the Branson train for less.

Me and Katie had never had much truck with that keeping up the Fawcett-jones-Fitzwilliams bollocks, when you come from a concentration estate you’re about minus fifty on the scale soon as you crawl out the womb. Now the good people og England were bumping into each other and effing and blinding. Couldn’t help but laugh at them, which only pissed em off more but how they gonna react? No scriupt to help them they’er like if you unplugged a politician

We nipped into Olde Worlde Fones cos Katie had her eye on the new Zephyr Omni, came with its own embedder, great big needle you stuck in your head so you could pick up all kinds of channels direct into your visual cortex. Every week we’d walk past, not even allowed in cos the shop scans you to see how much credit you’ve got and we ain’t got nothing but a record of juvenile misdemeaners and an open invitation to Jeremy Kyle.

“can I buy this?” said one suited up fella, holding up one of the latest models of googlesoft GM earworms, it wiggled in his hand and squeaked cutely

“Oh yeah” said the girl at the desk vacantly “I dunno how though”

He held out his hand, where the credit chip embedded should have been debited and a soft voice thank him for his purchase but instead there was nothing. He was left standing at the door like a lemon.

“could just leave mate” I said to him “nuffin to stop ya”

“couldn’t’ do that….” he turned to the dolled up sales girl, employed to look pretty and had no idea how anything she sold really worked, like everyone in the town it was just like being an actor in some low budget Docu-Operaporn.

“I want to buy it“ said the suit “I know my rights, I know…” but he didn’t, didn’t have a clue, no whisper to tell him, no Anne Robinson’s hard software watchdog voice coming through the implants.

“welcome to our world mate” Katie said to the guy, on the edge of tears now he coulgn’ have his precious toy “can’t buy sod all now”

We laughed our way out of the shop, into the street were people were already getting shirty, shouting at the HD-CCTV drones and the one lone Copper in his chic BAE body armour like that was going to help. He was just a bloke in a shiny uniform, I knew more about the law than him.

“I pay my taxes” said one

“There are laws against this sort of thing” said another

But they were getting nowhere, and katie gave me that look, the one that meant she was gonna stir something up. She reached down to the ground, picked up one of the loose cobbles that are meant to make the town look cute and olde English and hefted it in her hand.

“shouldn’t do that sis” I said “ custodial sentence, tag you like a Japanese schoolkid if they catch you-take your head off you so much as think about littering”

“from who?” She said waving her arm at the chaos “ain’t no electric eyes looking at me” and she hurled the cobble through the glass window of Ramsey’s F**king Food.

Everyone fell silent, looked around but Katie had ducked low so she couldn’t be spied. The copper looked but he didn’t know what to say, racking his brains for what they taught them at copper school. Everyone just waited for the voices to come and tell them how to react. When it didn’t’ they all got the same idea.

“riot man” I said, as the chunks of pavement started flying “wicked man Katie, started a proper riot”

She dragged me out of the fray, up to the statue of Saint Delia in the square so we could watch properly as the good citizens of the city smashed the hell out of everything

“look at em go” said Katie as the Mcdonald’s Holistic Wholefood was kicked in “They’re lovin’ it”

There was proper chaos going down, saw a couple of IT geeks throwing those big recycling bins through the windows of Anne Summers, young mums raiding Mothercare and fighting over the cute baby grows that were half bumblebee costume half body armour half anti paedo wear.

A couple of those animal rights people with the placards put the bronze sculpture commemorating the Anti Microsoft uprising of ’09 through the window of the GM pet shop, letting all them modded animals free, chimera’s and Picachus and the odd bambi clicking down the highstreet

“Is this ethical?” asked one

“Who cares?” said another

But a kind of order asserted itself, once everyone had smashed up the shops and got all the goods they realised the didn’t’ really know what to do with them. Woman had grabbed clothes they had no idea if they were the latest thing or not since the hectoring figure of Commandante Susannah was no longer projected onto the walls.

“Is this a bag or a hat?” said one girl desperately fingering her looted Gucci.

“Am I in trend?” asked some hipster as he tried to fit into the clothes of a child.

People just sat about in dejected groups or swearing loudly, trying to think of what other rules to break, cos that never looses its appeal.

But there was a clump of business people who had a look in their eyes, one of them climbed up next to us on the statue, grabbing onto the sacred eggwhisk in Delia’s bronze mitt.

“free people of Britain! (brought to you by tesco)” he yelled “ We’ve escaped from the yoke of consumerist tyranny, together we can build a new society, one were we decide what things are cool, what clothes we want to buy and what films we want to watch. Once where we don’t’ need to fight over bargains in Primark or spend our life savings betting on the Big Brother death matches! Where we don’t’ slave away on the render farms or the call centre cubes”

“what’s he chatting about?” I asked Katie quietly

“revolution innit?” said Katie, who was always quicker on the uptake

People were gathering about below, muttering in agreement, thinking for more than five seconds at a time without being distracted by bargains or celebrities.

“we don’t’ need those trinkets anymore” one of the business women said, holding up a gossip Bible “because no one is telling you to need them, no more voices, you can be the judge, imagine it”

The man on the statue climbed down, walked about like one of them preachers only without the hip hop.

“if we organise ourselves, if we get it all together we have the skills to live free”

there were murmurs of agreement from others in the crowd

“no more Topshop tyranny” said one girl casting down the skinny denim she’d raided “I can have a decent lunch at last without feeling guilty” she said “bring me the bastard bacon” and she ran off into Ramsey’s food.

“I don’t have to pretend to be into hip young bands” said one of the students “I can just listen to Phil Collins and no one will care”

“yes, yes- we can reclaim the world, relearn the skills our forefathers used, not have to rely on being told every second of every day”

“he’s got a good point” said Katie, with that look in her eye.

Just then, as they were about to start marching on the county council building to demand their autonomy, there came a crackling from one of the holo screens over the high street. The image of some model turned celebrity turned politician turned businesswoman, the one that ran for parliament a few years back for the Tesco’s party looked down on us.

“We apologise for the inconvenience to your consumer experience” she said, and struck that super white smile. “Normal services will be resumed… now”

There was the sound a hundred air con units and HD-CCTV Drones charging up, Holos sprang to life all down the high street and recorded sounds of hundred ad jingles wormed back into our heads.

“don’t listen to them” shouted the business man “they’d just enslave us all again we don’t’ need…oooh, sale on in Marks and Sparks

Then he was gone, off with all the rest cos the lure of knock down prices was louder than that of revolution. All the businesspeeps were running back to their offices, muttering about spreadsheets.

“nice while it lasted” said Katie

“yeah, but I nicked you this” I held up one of the embedders from the Fone shop “and if we’re lucky we can grab one of them baby unicorns, saw one go round the back of the Primark castle a moment ago”


we set off through the crowd, all of them zooming about after bargains like nothing had ever happened, lights from the holograms too bright to let them see the city they’d trashed.


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