Archive for Authority

Private Parts

Posted in Mystical Experience, Sacred Geometry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2012 by javedbabar

“Hello Sami, its Alfred from AMP Co. How are you doing over there?”

“What a nice surprise,” said Sami. He said it to be polite, but it wasn’t really. He hadn’t seen or heard from Alfred for three months, ever since the government had declared his 3D printing lab a National Strategic Asset, banned him from opening to the public, and made him a government employee. At the same time, they had repurposed his casual assistant, Sami, to the Transfer Station to run the 3D Unit there, deemed an acceptable public interface for the new technology.

Sami said, “I am doing some good work here. Maybe not pushing the boundaries of science like you are, but I am playing my part in helping humanity. It’s open…”

“Did you say part?”

“Yes, I said part. Why?”

“I need help with a project. Can you come over?”

Last time Sami tried to visit Alfred, he had refused to let him in, and an immediate text had come through, repurposing Sami. He said, “Isn’t your work secret now? I don’t want to get into trouble again.” The Authority knew everything, always adding information to your files. He didn’t want to become a repeat offender. He had heard what happened to them.

“It is secret, but I’ve checked with The Authority. They say you can help me.”

Sami was busy today at the 3D Unit. He had a range of appointments booked to prototype products, print components, and create unusual gifts. His rag picker assistant, Jamz, was still at school, so he couldn’t just leave.

“Look ear!” said Alfred. “You are allowed to be nosy, as long as you don’t mouth off about it. Just come and see, and then give me a hand.”

What is he talking about? Sami wondered. Some kind of private joke? Alfred really is a strange guy.

Sami went over later. Alfred opened the door immediately when Sami arrived. He must have seen him on CCTV. “Come in, come in, my friend.”

Sami saw a selection of artificial body parts scattered around the lab. He understood the puns now. They were pretty tasteless, considering.

Alfred watched his face. “Sorry about that, I was being subliminal.”

A shaven-headed oriental man stepped out of a doorway. Alfred said, “Meet Yojin. I am afraid he doesn’t speak English. He has come here from China after suffering a serious kung fu accident.”

Sami wondered about the “serious kung fu accident.” Guru Baba had once told him about kung fu’s relationship to the power called Tao. It bends like a reed, rather than being stiff like an oak, and has the fluidity of water, the most powerful element, wearing away even stone. Maybe Yojin needed to improve his alignment.

“He was more of a hustler than a fighter. One day he offended a real kung fu master, who removed half his face. He said that was appropriate punishment for half a man. But can you tell that? Take a look. You can’t!”

It was true. Yojin didn’t look at all disfigured. Sami asked, “Has he had plastic surgery?”

Alfred looked very pleased, and said, “Yojin!”

Yojin removed half his face, beneath which was a mass of horrific congealed tissue. His nose, left cheek, left eye, left ear and half his scalp came away with the mask. He stood erect, bravely, still lacking fluidity.

Alfred said, “I scanned him yesterday, did processing overnight, and printed off the replacement tissue using a dollar’s worth of materials this morning. This is the future of cosmetic surgery. What do you think?”

Sami wondered if Yojin was now more himself, or less himself. He looked different on the outside, but had his interior also changed?


Village Facility

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2012 by javedbabar

Sami was locked out of AMP Co. Maybe the lock was stuck, so he tried his key again, turning it both clockwise and counter-clockwise, but without success. He rang the bell twice and banged on the door. He opened the mailbox in case there was a new key in there, but there wasn’t. He called Alfred’s phone but didn’t get through, then walked around the back but that door also was closed.

“Thanks for all your help,” Alfred had said to him last week. “Next week, we’ll be ready to open the store. Advanced 3D printing will at last be available to everyone!”

Maybe Alfred had been so busy chasing technical progress that he had forgotten to pay his mortgage and business rates. Had the bank instructed repo men to remove his equipment and lock up the place?

Sami heard a sliding sound somewhere above him. It was Alfred at a second floor window of the old general store that was now his 3D fabrication lab.

Sami called up, “Hey Alfred! Let me in.”

“I’m sorry Sami, I can’t let you in. You won’t believe what’s happened. The Authority has declared my lab a National Strategic Asset; it’s been nationalized and is now closed to the public.”

“You’re kidding me!”

Alfred opened the window further and leaned out a little. “I am sorry, I’m not. I am now a government employee and must obey their protocols. I can’t let you in.”

Sami was a peaceful guy, but right now he wanted to climb and haul Alfred out, maybe throw him out. “But what about our work together? We’ve spent weeks preparing for the launch.”

“It was really good of you to help me, Sami, but I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do. The Authority heard about my technology.” Sami knew it had better capabilities than fused filament or deposition, laser sintering, powder bed, lamination, sterolithography, digital light processing, or anything else currently available.

Alfred continued, “They declared it a National Strategic Asset, and banned me from revealing it to the general public. That’s it.”

Sami wasn’t Alfred’s business partner; he wasn’t even an employee. He was simply a keen amateur helping out, who had become very involved in the testing phase of Alfred’s printer. Together they had produced another printer, a worm, a baby girl (now adopted by Alfred’s family), a 4D crab, holy objects and programmable matter. They were fully ready to open the facility, and now this!

“There is some good news though,” said Alfred, waving his arms in the window like a broken little windmill. “The Authority does want a public interface for the technology, to introduce it gradually. They want to extend their 3 R’s philosophy, following the Proximity Principle to reduce the waste stream, and achieve responsible self-sufficiency at a sub-regional level…”

Too much jargon already, thought Sami. You can tell he’s become a bureaucrat.

Alfred continued, “…by producing, transforming, consuming and recycling on site indefinitely. They asked me to run a facility at the Transfer Station but I am too busy, so I suggested you could do it instead.”

Just then a text came through on Sami’s phone. It was from The Authority. It said that he was starting work at the Transfer Station’s new 3D Unit next week.

“What about my job as Guru Baba’s assistant?”

“My friend, it looks like you have been repurposed.”

Welcome to Town

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown, World Myths with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2012 by javedbabar

He stripped off entirely and lay on a rock in the sunshine. Ah, it felt so nourishing to be warmed by the source of all goodness, the giver of life on earth. Why people worshipped things other than the sun, he never knew. It’s really simple. The sun gives us light and heat; the sun’s gone and we’re gone, that’s it. Every other god could disappear tomorrow and you’d never know.

Dry and dressed, he headed out of the forest. He’d descended from Mt Alba’s summit into the valley, and his ultimate goal was the dark mountain at the its far end, with the pulsing red star above. How he’d got here, and why he was going there, he didn’t know. He just knew this was his journey.

A good gravel road led towards the village. Fields and farm buildings began to appear. He was stared at by cows, and greeted by goats; horses whinnied and ran along beside him. A metal sign said: “Lucerne Village, population 2,000. Authorized by The Authority.”

He remembered there had been a dispute with The Authority. Or maybe it wasn’t The Authority itself, more its local agents. It had to do with identity. They said that he was one thing, and he said that he was something else. That was the reason for the dispute, and the reason he had woken alone atop Mt Alba.

He must return to the village though. He was cold and hungry and had nowhere else to go. That was the cruellest thing about exile. You had no option but to return, whatever the consequences.

The man from the mountain saw the building known as the Transparent Temple. It sat at the heart of village life, acting as community centre, arts venue, and a place for holy gatherings, celebrations and feasts. There was a gathering there now. People sat around a man wearing saffron robes and turban, who rested with his eyes closed. Then he opened his eyes and looked upwards and smiled. The man from the mountain felt a rush of love for everything in the world. He was a good man, this… he remembered… Guru Baba.

Another gathering took place outside, led by a shaven headed man in loose white trousers and shirt. He turned to look at the man from the mountain, and pointed and said loudly, “This is what we must guard ourselves against. Look closely, for the Abomination comes in many guises. I, Ozwald Malchizedek, have been blessed with sharp eyes to see through them. I tell you, this is one of them!”

The crowd turned and stared. Some sneered and shouted, “Go away! Leave us alone! Lord save us!”

This seemed familiar to the man from the mountain. It had happened before. There was something about him that people feared. Though Guru Baba welcomed this difference, Ozwald Malchizedek rejected it.

Who has the right to do this? To hate the wonder of life, born of a pulsing red heart?


Posted in Lucerne Village, Unknown with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2012 by javedbabar

Grandpa was pleased they’d built a new playground in Lucerne. His grandchildren were on the other side of this vast country and he saw them only twice a year. Now he could watch children play daily; it would be something to look forward to.

It was a pretty fancy playground; in his day there would have just been a roundabout, see-saw and swings. This playground had those, but also a complicated climbing frame, something that looked like a maze, and a series of long tunnels. The central features were two artificial hills, one higher than the other, the launch and terminal for a zip-line for children to ride along in a suspended tyre. The red metal fence enclosing the playground had only one entrance, with a hut beside it, manned by a guard.

Everything was privatised these days, maybe even playtime; he wondered if there was an entry charge. “Gooday Sir,” said Grandpa. “What a fabulous playground you have here. Is entry free?”

“Of course it is. We’re not going to charge these angels. What do you think we do – rob children?”

Grandpa didn’t like his choice of words; they were unnecessary, but he smiled just the same. There was no harm in being friendly. He said, “Okay, thank you. Have a good day.”

As he entered the playground, the guard called out, “Wait a minute! Where’s your child?”

“My child is forty-four years old,” said Grandpa. “He’s on the East Coast, rearing my grandchildren.”

“What? You don’t have them with you? No? I’m afraid this playground is for children.” He gave Grandpa a suspicious look. “Adults can enter only as guardians. That’s a strict rule. No unaccompanied adults.”

Grandpa was disappointed. However he accepted that in this paranoid modern world, they needed to keep adults away from children. Because of a few sick individuals, the most natural thing in the world – an old person interacting with a young one, sharing generational wisdom – was forbidden. It was, in a sense, even purer than a parental relationship, which primarily served genetic interest.

Grandpa watched from beyond the red fence. He ate an apple and sucked on mints as he watched children playing. They were sort of enjoying themselves, but things didn’t seem quite right, and it took him a while to notice why.

This playground ran like clockwork; children were moving between attractions in an orderly manner, their moves timed to coincide. What was going on here? Weren’t playgrounds meant to be chaotic places with children running wild? How would their enthusiasm express itself, and their sense of adventure? Their curiosity, feelings and emotions? Why were they behaving in such a strange way? Grandpa was confused and went home.

He thought about it all night, and in the morning returned to the playground. He said to the guard, “I’m with my grandson today; he’s visiting from the east coast; look there he is.” He pointed to a child on the zip-line, and the guard nodded him in.

Grandpa chatted to some children. They all seemed scared. He noticed that within each group one child acted as leader, shepherding other children around. Sometimes quite casually, but at other times they pushed and bullied. Many children wore grazes and bruises, and worse than this, they wore looks of fear, and of pain.

His casual questions and observations revealed that The Authority ran a programme designating superior children as Lifetime Leaders (LL). Their job was to develop their own leadership skills, and via this process, shape other children’s characters to be downtrodden; to become yielding, malleable future citizens.

A Lifetime Leader reported Grandpa to the guard. He was arrested and banned from the playground forever.


Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , on June 6, 2012 by javedbabar

Alberto made it to Lucerne’s Multigame Final. He had trained very hard and was confident of success; sure of putting in a good performance; giving it 101%, and performing well at every event. Whether or not he would win, of course, could not be known. That was in the hands of his rivals.

Multigame was the world’s most popular sport. The Authority had developed it from the Olympian decathlon, though changed some disciplines. They had added shooting and archery, feeling they were a good balance to running and jumping events, developing a different kind of concentration, and giving athletes a rest from strenuous exertion.

One hundred athletes had been selected for the Lucerne District Finals, with similar events taking place in every community in the land. Athletes were divided into groups of ten, competing in every event together till only one person remained.

Multigame was the most popular of the Authority’s Population Reduction programmes, known as PR’s. Since humanity had hit ten million, their stated goal was to reduce this total by ninety percent over ninety years. Multigame was the perfect metaphor for this, with each group of ten being whittled down to one, and to drive the message home further, the remaining ten held a playoff, from which a single winner remained.

Alberto’s family were cheering him from the stands; competitor’s loved ones received special treatment, including free food and drinks all day. His mother and father had hugged and kissed him, and told him how very proud they were. His father said that he didn’t have to participate if he didn’t want to, but Alberto was not changing his mind.

The groups of ten paraded around the arena together. Mt Alba rose before them as inspiration, its lone peak standing strong, for all to see and aspire to.

Alberto’s group began with the one hundred metres swimming. He took a gulp of water at one point, but otherwise did well, and came in third. His shot putt went further than he’d expected, and he was declared the winner. Then the 1500 metres hurdles, during which two of his group were shot by the group doing small-bore rifle shooting. He felt sorry for those fallen, but was pleased about his improved chances.

His favourite sport of archery came next, and he managed to hit two people from the next group doing the 1500 metres. There was a gasp from the crowd – he must have hit a favourite. The high jump was uneventful, except for another of his group being hit in the arm by an arrow. Then the hundred metre sprint, where he came in second from the seven athletes remaining in his group.

Alberto’s discus didn’t go as far as he’d hoped; he only came sixth. In the one kilometre canoe race he came second. Two more of his rivals were shot. It was down to five. During the pole vault, one more was hit by a shot putt – what an amazing throw! The last event was the rifle shooting, in which Alberto hit all his targets.

The judges announced the results of the heats. Alberto came top of his group. The other three athletes performed a lap of honour, and were taken away for humane endings. Only the winner of each group remained.

The last event of the day was inspired by the ancient pentathlon rather than the modern decathlon. It was a form of wrestling/boxing known as Pankration but with a twist. Each person was allowed to keep the weapon from their last event – shot putt, discus, oar, pole, or bow – and those without weapons were given a choice of rope net, sword, nanchuku, or throwing star. Alberto was sitting pretty with his small bore rifle. His concern though was that he had only nine bullets.

Art Attacks

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by javedbabar

Naomi and her Uncle Bobby had begun by sketching a jungle, to which they’d added roads, railways, and power lines, then factories, media, and telecoms. They discussed developing it into a city but decided to stay with quality over quantity, and avoid the congestion, pollution, noise, crime, expense and stress of urban centres. Modern development can’t be stopped though. Transformation of rural landscape to urban jungle is inexorable.

The hub of the city remained the original village, but it became increasingly commercial, and residents could no longer afford the inflated rents. Houses became shops, and shops became factories, and factories became distribution centres. Lucerne village was essentially a CBD: Central Business District. New suburbs developed on what were once farms, and beyond them were exburbs – separate municipalities within easy commute. These rapid changes horrified Bobby, but Naomi was more relaxed about them. New parks and playgrounds, shops and salons, galleries and museums were all open to her, mostly within walking distance, and because she was in her own drawing she didn’t have to attend school. There wasn’t one.

As the city acquired administrative, legal, and historic status its attraction grew, and many more people came for trade, sometimes travelling great distances. Whether they acquired the resources they needed, and how much, and at what price, and how soon, was affected by the skills they offered, the goods they brought with them, and sometimes their physical size, used to threaten shopkeepers. Most transactions were performed in an orderly manner, but a group of public-minded citizens formed an association called Lookout Lucerne to keep an eye on things, just in case. Their navy blue jackets sporting LL were a reassuring presence in this fast-paced new world.

The new city thrived. People poured in for jobs and entertainment. So many of them in close proximity ignited creative sparks. “I feel itchy fingers,” said Bobby. “I don’t know what it means though.”

“What kind of itching is it?” said Naomi.

“It’s on the inside of my skin, like insects wanting to burst out.” Bobby itched and rubbed his fingers. “I wish I could scrub it from within.”

“Why don’t you just keep drawing till it goes away?” said Naomi. “That’s what I do. When my feet itch I dance, when my ears itch I play music, and when my tummy rumbles I eat.”

Bobby picked some of her fat coloured pencils and got busy. He filled the pages of his hardback notebook with flowing music, dancing, painting, drama, film storyboards and sculptures, all merging together and pulling apart. The galleries, theatres, and concerts halls of their new city were busy, and most performances were sold out, but Naomi always comp’d tickets for herself and Uncle Bobby.

This place had a fierce creativity. The Authority recognized artistic hotspots as “growth points” and used them to fuel local economic activity. As people became more productive and creative, they began to seek answers to questions they had never asked. They debated metaphysics and moral philosophy, studied logic, explored aesthetics, and sought guidance from spiritual teachers, the most prominent of whom were Guru Baba and Ozwald Malchizedek (OM).

Guru Baba was a traditionalist who urged them to focus on meditation and prayer, and slowly develop their souls. He said, “One day you will reach yourselves.”

OM was a modern master pursuing a sensualist approach, who said the natural way was for humans to follow the Principle of Pleasure (POP). He instructed them to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch whatever gave them immediate joy. “Enjoy every day,” he said, “and tomorrow will take care of itself.”

OM’s teachings inspired a popular street art movement. Huge, red-lipped flowers filled civic buildings, golden rockets blasted off office blocks, blue sweating monkeys swung about poles, and black babies floated along factory walls. There were pickled whales in swimming pools, and corpses having sex suspended from street signs. Someone made a life size OM out of garbage. It was a deep comment on the cyclic nature of existence.

This Muse Infuse movement said that there should be unfettered art everywhere. There were occasional disputes about the quality and quantity of works, and who’d created them, but these were quickly resolved by Lookout Lucerne members. They meted out harsh punishments – a white man accused of tagging a black man’s work had his hands cut off. Similarly a black man drawing a white woman was castrated. The Authority agreed that multi-cultural harmony must be preserved at all costs. Soon art was seen as too dangerous to be left to the public. One of OM’s followers, known as Strong Man, rebelled and formed a splinter movement which took control of the streets and banned art entirely. Lookout Lucerne units were instructed to perform Art Attacks.

“What do we do now, Uncle Bobby?”

He said, “I guess we’d better stop drawing.”

Master Plan

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2012 by javedbabar

Mr. Amin was away for a month, having gone to visit his family in India. Open Hearts seniors daycare centre obviously couldn’t run itself, so The Authority had sent a temporary replacement, forty years younger than most of the clients, and sixty years younger than James. Everybody loved Mr. Amin, but a change would be refreshing, especially this smart girl up to date with all the latest developments. They awaited Shazeen Simoninian with enthusiasm.

Her arrival at the Centre was unforgettable. Sharp fragments of light flashed through the lounge. Her silver sports car’s reflections illuminated everyone present, and seemed to form a bright fabric clinging to the roof. A little tune played when she locked the car doors. “Beethoven’s Fifth,” said Gemma, knitting.

“Sure it wasn’t his sixth?” said Albert. “Or maybe his fifth-and-a-half? I’ve heard its one of his better ones.” Gemma shook her head.

Both lounge doors swung open – people usually opened only one – and a silver-suited woman of medium height and slim build appeared. There was a heady waft of jasmine and pomegranates. “She’s Persian,” said Gemma. “You can tell by the features.”

“Good morning everybody,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “I’ll be running this Centre for the next month while Mr. Amin is away. We didn’t get the chance to perform a formal handover. Would someone please show me the Master Plan.”

People stared blankly. Ex-cowboy Albert said quietly, “Yez, de Master Plan. Maybe she iz German.”

She pointed to him. “You, what did you say?”

“That your name is Persian. Am I right?”

“That’s very presumptuous of you to say that. We live in a multi-cultural society. My name is Canadian. Now can you please answer my question about the Master Plan.”

“Er… this place sort of runs itself, Mizz. Mr. Amin has a hands-off approach to management.” He looked around and raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that right?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “No institution runs itself. I’ll need to see the Work Schedules and Food Plans, Exercise Policies, Conversation Structures, Dispute Resolution Frameworks, and everything else required by The Authority. Now where will I find those?”

Nobody spoke. “You, in the blue uniform. Where will I find them?”

Zoe, the cook, couldn’t help smirking. She said, “In Mr. Amin’s head I think.”

“What do you mean by that?” Shazeen Simoninian looked around to ensure equal eye contact with everyone present. “You mean that none of the daily procedures are documented? You just make them up as you go along?”

“Pretty much,” said Albert. “It’s really not that hard. You just see what the day brings you, see what needs doing, and do it.”

“Sir, what’s your name? Albert? Okay Albert, from your attire I gather that you’re a cowboy of some sort. Am I correct? I thought so. Your duties would include, I imagine, riding horses and moving cows.”

“That’s pretty much it, Ms. Simoninian. You seem to know the job pretty well. Which ranch did you work at? Or are you a rustler? You can tell me, I promise I won’t tell the Sheriff. Most of the…”

“That’s enough Albert. My point is that you are a cowboy and I am a professionally trained facility manager. We don’t ‘just see what the day brings’. We bring things to the day. We don’t just ‘see what needs doing’. We do what is planned. That is why I have asked for the Master Plan. It provides the essential rhythm of every facility. Now if we don’t have one here, my first job is to create one.” She left them alone for the rest of the day.

The next morning began with the Seniors Song, composed by Shazeen Simoninian. “It is vital to share our vision daily,” she said, passing out song sheets. The song began:

“We arise each morn with the gift of life,

As an ex-husband or as an ex-wife,

We sit neither alone nor bearing strife,

For today our Hearts are Open to life.”

Albert didn’t sing, just shook his head. Then Shazeen Simoninian announced the 28-day menu rotation. On Tuesday when there was an unexpected cold snap, they ate fair-trade salads rather than the harvest stew suggested by Zoe. No external food was allowed, as Shazeen Simoninian said “it could be unhygienic.”

Albert said, “I’ve been unhygienic all my life. That’s how I…” He stopped when given a vicious look by the acting facility manager.

They were made to watch one hour of TV daily for “asymmetric socialisation,” and were discouraged from wearing brightly coloured clothes as they “created disharmony” within the “decor-neutral” facility scheme. They were allowed only one toilet visit per hour, and if they needed more than this, Shazeen Simoninian suggested adult diapers or urinary catheters. All talk of religion, sex, and politics was banned in case other people were offended. And of course Albert was not allowed to tell jokes as these could lead to over-excitement and heart attacks. The centre was suffocated by jasmine and pomegranates.

Mr. Amin was shocked when he returned from India. The vibrant seniors community he had nurtured now seemed like a mortuary. He unbuttoned his yellow shirt, put down the pakoras he’d brought for everyone, switched off the TV, and threw on a Bollywood CD. When the guitars and sitars started up he called out, “Everybody, I’m back! Let’s do some dirty dancing!” Then realizing that his stomach was unsettled he ran to the toilet, but didn’t have time to close the door. His holy vibrations resounded around the centre. They blew out Shazeen Simoninian’s heavy fragrance and returned the Centre to life.


Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by javedbabar

“What are these for?” said Irene, fiddling with the white envelopes and then holding one at arms length and reading. “The Authority, 10001 The City. Why are you giving them to me? Why don’t you take them to the Post Office?”

“There are questionnaires inside the envelopes,” said Mr. Amin. “I’d like you to hand one out to everybody here.”

He could have done it himself, but then what could Irene do? Just sit there doing nothing? As manager of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre he had to be ingenious at all times, which was the only way to keep the place running. “When completed, they should go back in the envelopes and be returned to me. Then I will take them to the Post Office.”

“What are they for?” said Irene. “I’ve filled out enough forms to last me two lifetimes. We all have. What don’t they know about us already? We’re old and we’re dying. What else is there to know?”

“Irene,” said Mr. Amin. “We are regulated by The Authority. There have been bad news stories about care homes recently, and they are a hot topic provincially. The Authority is doing some Quality Control.”

“What’s the point of doing surveys now? It will take them years to analyse results and implement changes. By then we’ll all be dead!”

Mr. Amin knew she was right. The Authority’s capitalist system was based upon dissatisfaction. Do satisfied people feel the need to buy things to prove that “they’re worth it”? Of course not. They stay at home and appreciate simple pleasures. You may as well do what good you could though. He said to Irene, “We’ll be dead anyway, so why not help future generations of oldies?”

“Okay, I will. Why not? What have we got to lose? Don’t blame me for what they write though. They’re not all in the best of moods, or even sane.”

Irene walked over to Gemma. She didn’t want to interrupt her knitting, so stood over her for a while. There was no appreciable slowing of her knitting and purling of purple and white yarns. Irene cleared her throat and said, “Gemma, may I give you something?”

Gemma’s needles slipped. She grimaced to herself, and looked up furiously. “What do you want! Disturbing a woman doing her knitting. You should know better than that! Who the hell do you think you are anyway?”

“I’m sorry Gemma. I tried to get your attention but you were too engrossed. What are you making?”

Gemma was still irritated and said sarcastically, “Can’t you see? It’s the fabric of life. The knit is what should happen to you, and the purl is what does happen.” She jabbed a needle.

Irene said, “I didn’t know that you took it so seriously. I thought it was just a pastime, making bootees for your grandchildren.”

“I don’t have any grandchildren,” she said. “Or any children, for that matter.”

Maybe Gemma was onto something, thought Irene. The yarn was a good analogy. The Two Laws of the Universe did create a kind of fabric. The weft was the Law of Attraction, drawing you along, and the warp was the Law of Karma, pulling you up or down. Us oldies must be getting wise.

Gemma said, “So why are you bothering me? What’s in that envelope?”

“It’s a questionnaire about the Centre. Please complete the questions and return it to Mr. Amin.”

“You must be joking. I was a high school teacher for thirty years. A damned fine one too. I’ve taught every person in Lucerne under forty to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and the smarter ones square roots, squares, integration, and differentiation too. And then they saddled me with so many forms to complete, lesson plans to create, reports to write, key stages to follow, observations to pass, and endless other bureaucracy that I had a nervous breakdown. Can you understand? Someone who could add real and imaginary numbers, divide by irrational ones, and multiply by transcendent ones with her eyes closed, was made to drown in a sea of stupid papers. Idiotic! Vacuous! Pointless! I never recovered and never returned to work. All I’m doing now is waiting to die. The last thing I want to do is complete any more forms.”

Irene told Gemma that she didn’t need to complete the form. She would explain to Mr. Amin, who would understand surely. She handed out forms to others more successfully, and then came to James. She wondered what to do with his form. He sat there all day, unresponsive to everybody – even to her, his one-time soulmate, so many lives ago, but he couldn’t even look back into her loving eyes now. That was life. Or should she say that was lives? She decided to complete the questionnaire for him.

It was a simple system. There were twelve questions, with a choice of responses – Good, OK, or Bad. She looked into his eyes as she asked each question, hoping for a clue to his thoughts. She asked him what he thought of the location of the centre, its facilities, staff, the food, the information they provided, responses to clients’ concerns, the treatment of visitors, their occasional excursions, overall cleanliness, healthy and artistic activities, daily timings, transport. “Anything else?”

He stared blankly ahead throughout her questioning, and gave no indications at all. She ticked OK for all of the questions. Maybe the conditions of his next life would be Good.

Who knew what The Authority would do with the results anyway? Would they reduce services to dissatisfied respondents for being unappreciative? They were just as likely to reduce services to satisfied ones, thinking that they were getting more than they deserved. Why should unproductive members of society be so happy? If everybody felt like that, The Authority’s economic system, based upon perennial dissatisfaction, would fall apart.