Friday, 3 May 2013

Two parallel (t)Ruths

A slight departure from the norm - rather than poetry, a short story that's been rumbling around in my head for some time. One person; two very different tales.

[Note: this story has now been published here by the lovely people at Rebelle Society]

Two parallel (t)Ruths

Ruth 1

The bicentenary of the New Liberalist World Order began early for Ruth Q487181/BKC with a time-unit 6.0.0 wake-up call courtesy of the alarm function of her THE sub-cranial implant. She yawned and stretched as the lights in her Grade 2 (Regulation) modular habitat responded in kind to the alarm and switched themselves on, glowing dimly at first, then gradually brightening to something slightly more intense than the height of the midday haze. Eyes still fuzzy, she swung her legs off the sleeping platform, and stood up. There was no point trying to stay asleep as the platform would sense her weight and transmit to her implant, instructing it to repeat the alarm call more loudly, and eventually administer mild but uncomfortable electric shocks. Yawning again, she peered into the mirror opposite as the sleeping platform concertinaed and folded itself into a shallow niche in the off-white polymer-clad wall. ‘I’m starting to look puffy again’, she thought to herself, but then she was about midway between scheduled lipo-fragmentation treatments.

To one side of the mirror, a silvery semi-cylindrical niche some 0.75 standard length-units across and half that deep ran from floor to ceiling. Ruth stepped inside and the inner surface of the wall spun quickly around her to form a closed cylinder. There was a faint click, then the cleansing pod briefly sprayed her from all directions with a fine foam from thousands of minutes holes. A burst of rinsing fluid followed before warm air dried her and the pod opened. Stepping out, she opened a new packet of disposable THE-branded leisurewear and dressed in the familiar synthetic garments. Clothing could not be bought in person. Instead, THE sent items from a standard selection, unless requests were made for specific purposes such as specialist work-wear or registered extramural activities. In any case, they degraded swiftly in air and so, a citizen who did not return to their appointed dwelling, workplace or registered activity location could not clothe themselves. As the cost was deducted at source from the citizen’s account, THE was guaranteed a vast income from this source alone. For today she had been sent a tight green pastel two-piece with the THE logo on the fashionably large epaulettes and flaps of the thigh-pockets. Formed within a decade of the inception of the Non-Localised World Order – NLWO, or ‘Newlo’ as most people called it – Total Holdings Enterprises now controlled almost every aspect of global consumption – food, housing, technology, information, everyday goods and luxuries alike - everything. True, licenses could be granted to trade as a competitor in any business sector, but these too were controlled by THE, and in practice only black-market operations had any realistic chance of survival. Although these officially did not exist, Ruth knew they did, but the penalties for patronising them - let alone taking an active role in their operation - were severe, and she had never dared engage in the peculiar goods-and-services bartering system that rumour said they employed.

As she pondered this, a shrill chirp from her implant made her jump and she uttered one of a small selection of sanctioned expletives for the benefit of the habitat monitors. “Clean words make clean lives” chimed the integral speaker in response. The bicentennial address was to be broadcast in three minutes’ time at 6.3.0 and all implanted citizens – which meant all citizens as far as she knew – were expected to watch. The implant meant they had no choice but to listen. She reached for a small white cylinder and popped the lid. Inside were a stack of contact lenses and she dipped a finger in, quickly transferring one to cover her left iris. Immediately, recognising the DNA from the surface of her eye, the lens flickered and began to receive images from NeoNet, the global computing, information and communications system that Newlo had created as a replacement for the World Wide Web. Normally, THE (Comms.) broadcast hundreds of channels which could be selected using the omnicard touchpad that every citizen used to control anything from computing facilities to their habitat’s Nutri-ration dispenser. Today however, all channels carried the same message, a global address from Reinhold Pyrle, Chief Executive Officer of THE and Newlo. With his board of twelve hand-picked Directors, Pyrle was effectively President of the world. Eventually, Pyrle would die, resign or be ousted by the board, at which point they would elect a new CEO who in turn would choose Directors to replace anyone they felt unfit, and fill any vacant spaces.

The image in Ruth’s left eye had stopped flickering, but was distorted and grainy. She blinked a few times, and shifted the lens slightly with her finger, but it did not improve. ‘The lens must be old’, she thought to herself and replaced it just as the broadcast was due to begin. With a fanfare and images of fireworks and cheering crowds, the THE logo appeared in her vision and she uttered her second sanctioned expletive of the day. “Clean wor…”, “Oh, shut up”, she shouted back in irritation, receiving a Level 1 Admonishment for her trouble. The images were still distorted and she realised the sound quality was also poor, with an underlying hiss. Her implant must be faulty, which meant a compulsory adjustment, or worse, surgery to effect a major repair or replacement – not to mention the headaches and nausea that a new implant often induced. Still, there was nothing she could do until this broadcast was over, so she flipped a small platform out from the wall and sat down. This could take some time.

Ruth 2

Ruth Quinnan woke with the sunrise. Birdsong drifted in through the half-open sky-light and she rolled over, pulling the downy sleeping cover with her and curling into a sleepily contented ball. A few decades ago, there had been trials of anti-grav sleeping fields and ultralight hyperfoam or aerogel duvets, but they were unpopular – people simply liked a soft, comfortable nest. Hearing her new lover pottering about in the kitchen, she mused on getting up and decided another hour or so of dozing was what she needed. Later she might work on that story she’d been meaning to finish, but for now...

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