Archive for dystopia

Carrier Bird System

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by javedbabar

Sharon watched Pinku rise into the sky. She always felt a pang of sadness when a bird left her hand, knowing there was a chance that it would not return. They were trained to return, the same or next day, but you couldn’t be sure. Birds were a blessing to the humans remaining.

It was hard to believe that people had once eaten pigeons – beings whose brave adventures now kept us connected in far-flung territories. The flatlands were all taken; humans who had not escaped were captured and killed.

Communities remained only on the mountains at each end of the Lucerne Valley – the larger one in the meadows atop Mt Alba, and smaller one in Mt Negra’s caves. They were in regular communication by CBS – the Carrier Bird System built upon an aviary bequeathed to the village. The tropical birds were beautiful but not sustainable, and were a luxury in difficult times. Their flesh was eaten and their feathers used for decoration. But the pigeons, hawks, and eagles proved useful. They were nourished and trained.

Sharon wondered if a hawk would have been better for this mission. The message had seemed important to her, and she had alerted her commander upon its arrival. The Signal Corps were meant to relay “but not absorb” messages’ contents, so if they were captured no secrets would be betrayed. Her commander had said to send a pigeon.

Her brother had built the coop himself. Its design was ingenious. When a CBS courier arrived, wires sounded a bell, alerting the guard. Then he or she would remove the steel canister from the bird’s neck or back, decode the message, and relay it upward.

She’d heard that carrier pigeons had flown only one way originally, towards home; hence the common term for them, homing pigeons. But the Signal Corps had trained them to fly both ways, by making them feel that Mt Negra was home and Mt Alba was their feeding station. Hence they flew happily between them, managing the 160 km round trip in a day.

Pinku hadn’t returned by dusk. She began to worry, and again wondered if she should have selected a hawk. She had seen some hawks during her surveillance of the valley; even eagles back early from their winter sojourn in the Gulf. Could a hawk or eagle have got the better of Pinku? It was unlikely. He was a smart bird, always flying close to the tree line, not leaving himself exposed. She had a worse thought – were they cultural, rather than natural, predators? Maybe enemy forces had trained their own birds.

She’d better send a hawk. She prepared another coded message and selected Bubbly to deliver it. As she saw him rise into the dusk sky, she saw an eagle rise with him. Hawks were faster, but eagles were smarter and stronger, and generally got the better of any fight. She knew right then that Bubbly was gone.

Sharon prepared a third coded message, and called forth Azeem. You couldn’t treat eagles like other birds. You had to treat them like people.

She said, “Azeem, my beautiful bird, my powerful companion, I have a request for you. Would you please deliver this message to Mt Alba by daybreak, and then return safely home?” Azeem stood still as she affixed the steel canister, and then was gone. She saw his back shine silver in the half-moon.

The next morning she saw glittering air in the valley. At first it seemed a flock of birds reflecting sunshine, but then she realized that it wasn’t birds. They moved too deliberately, taking no advantage of winds and thermals. If anything, they were pushing against them.

But one shape among them moved differently, and dodged from side to side, dropping down suddenly and swirling. It was Azeem.

When he dropped heavily beside her, she saw he was injured. His breast and wings were bloody, and his feathers tattered rags. “What happened to you, brave bird?” she said as she opened his canister. As she unrolled the hand written message, she had a brief recollection of digital technologies. They were now of no use to humans; 100% too dangerous to use.

The message when decoded read, “Urgent. The machines have adapted. They are no longer confined to land and water. They can fly now. Evacuate immediately.” Sharon looked up and saw a swarm of small aircraft, all remotely controlled like toys, but deadly ones, seeking out humans.

Funk Patrol

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on March 25, 2012 by javedbabar

The child has a computer! The child has a computer! The child has a COMPUTER! Hunza’s instinct was to run but that would draw too much attention. Instead she walked towards the child and sat down nearby. Maybe it wasn’t a real one, she thought, it could be a toy – but even toy computers were forbidden in the Black Zone. They were allowed in the Brown Zone, and of course real computers resided only in the White Zone. Hunza could walk away, pretend she’d never seen it, but it was too late. A camera was sure to have seen her. She had no choice.

She said, “What are you doing, child?”

The child was young – three or four – and not aware of his actions. That was good. It wasn’t his fault. It was faulty parents. No, not faulty – that was a Brown Zone term – more stupid. Yes, stupid parents. Oh My God! It was Brain Training! It was Brain Training! It was BRAIN TRAINING! Hunza couldn’t believe this was happening. She had found a child with the highest form of contraband! She snatched the child’s computer, and he burst into tears. When he’d stopped crying, she said, “Where did you get this?” and he burst into tears again. This wasn’t getting her anywhere, so she said, “Where do you live?” The child pointed towards a crazy mosaic tree house, 200 metres away. “Come on, let’s go.”

“You are this child’s parents?” Hunza said to the couple within.

“Yes we are,” they said, not seeming concerned. “What’s the problem Officer?”

“I must report a very serious offence to you. Here is the charge sheet. Your child had a computer.”

“He had a ‘puter?” said the mother.

“Yes, a ‘puter.” said Hunza.

“You are a puta!” shouted the mother. “A big fat puta!”

“A Cosi Fan Tutte!” shouted the father, his voice transforming into singing. A Cosi Fan Tutte! You are a big fat COSI FAN TUTTE!”

Hunza sang too, “Shut up or I’ll shoot ya! I will, I’ll shoot ya! Honest to God, I’LL SHOOT YA!”

The father grabbed a mandolin and began plucking its strings. The mother ran to another room, and returned banging bongos. The child was bemused at first, and then realized what was happening, and blew into a plastic trumpet, creating broken birdsong and a baby camel’s groan. Neighbours heard the commotion and ran to join in. A tall white man rapped about his “cracky homey hood”. An East Indian woman performed barely-perceptible, moving-nonmoving, Tai Chi moves, while her midget partner practised kendo. A black bodybuilder chanted the Kabbalistic names of God. A Chinese girl made yoga-bridges, almost becoming a hoop. A man in a wheelchair told racist jokes which everybody laughed at, while a woman on a drip and oxygen support mimed filthy porn. Hunza ripped up the charge sheet and threw it in the air, and as it fluttered down like snowflakes, began breakdancing. Everybody made a human pyramid, with the man in the wheelchair at the top, and the woman on drip and oxygen pretending to pleasure him. The pyramid soon collapsed with uproarious laughter.

What a fabulous community I live in, thought Hunza, so wonderfully eccentric, filled with every kind of art imaginable and the highest proportion of Crazies in the Valley. She was doing a good job, she felt, as a Senior Officer of the Funk Patrol.

She encouraged Crazies to join in with the Funk, but most stood on the sidelines. Every now and then a Wacky Wallflower would summon courage and share their inspiration with others – this was a big step in their returning to the fold. There was also a parallel movement of disillusioned Funksters drifting away to the sidelines, to remain there till their inspiration returned. Crazies were the most highly valued members of the Black Zone, and this crossing back and forth was precious. It enhanced their in/sanity.

“Funk Patroller!” shouted a man known to her, who had good form. “Have you considered changing your title to ‘Funk Petrol-er’? That’s what they called gas in Europe –

you know, petrol – before it ran out. Isn’t that your job really – to add fuel to the fire? To make it roar? I’ve been thinking about that a lot. The metaphor of fire. It’s an element that doesn’t exist of itself. It’s more a transformative state. A way of being free. If you…”

Hunza had to think quickly. This man was a poet, but was now becoming a philosopher. In the Black Zone, that was a truly crazy thing to do. Truly crazy! TRULY CRAZY! If he was thought to be logical, White Zone computers would see him as a threat. The cameras that watched them around-the-clock – as entertainment feed for the liquid brains in huge, cooled metal buildings – would pick up on it quickly. They would instruct slithering robots from the Brown Zone to come and deal with the matter. The robots would caution the local Funk Patroller and remove the Logical Aberration. Humans were retained for fun, not for thinking. The computers were much better at that.

Hunza snatched a bamboo pole from the midget kendo practitioner and bashed the philosopher on the head with it. He fell, clutching his temples, and shook on the floor, frothing and laughing. Cameras whirred nearby. Hunza wondered, “Did I deal that with that comically, not logically? I really hope so.”

Cake

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Unknown, World Myths with tags , , , on January 13, 2012 by javedbabar

“Now, quieten down children. I said quieten down! Ally, didn’t you hear what I said? Sshhh!” The teacher turned to the museum guide and said, “Sorry about this, they’re usually much better behaved.”

“Not to worry,” said the guide. “It’s understandable.” She turned to the children. “Children? Children! Thank you. I’m going to tell you a little story. It won’t take too long. I think you’ll like it. And then you’ll get your cake.”

“Cake!” shouted a fat white girl.

“Cake!” repeated her friends.

“Yes, I promise. But first you must listen. Who has heard of Azir?” Most of their hands went up. “Good! Well Azir woke up one morning wanting some cake. He wanted something sweet and eggy that melted in his mouth, with strawberry jam in the middle, and chocolate icing on top…”

The fat white girl interrupted. “And cream in the middle, Miss?”

“Yes, child – and cream in the middle. Azir licked his lips. But before he could have any cake, what must he do?”

There were several answers, including, “Bake it”, “Mix it”, and “Order it”, before she got the one she was looking for: “Brush his teeth.”

“Yes, brush his teeth. Azir always brushed them as soon as he woke up. That’s why his teeth shone like pearls.”

“Do you brush your teeth?” asked one of the children.

“Yes I do, I have a special way.” She gave her a big smile, and said, “He didn’t have to bake the cake himself because he was from the Rulers. He was Lord of this estate and had lots of servants.”

“How big is this house, Miss?” asked the fat white girl. Her enthusiasm was to be expected.

“Well, the house is 12,000 square feet, and the estate is 12,000 acres. Azir liked things to match. He also had 12, 000 servants – the rule was one servant per acre. But only a few served in the house. A buttery-baked smell filled the air. He put on his morning clothes and went down from the Tower into the hall, and peered into the kitchen. The servants seemed busy and happy. They were sharing cake. But as soon as Azir entered, they hid it away in their aprons.

“Azir said, ‘Good morning everyone.’

“‘Good morning, Master,’ they replied.

“‘You seem very busy,’ Azir said casually.

“The Chief Servant stepped forward and bowed. ‘Yes Master. We are busy because we are finishing work early today. It is our festival of Zolly.’

“Azir became conscious that he was delaying them. As soon as he had entered the kitchen, they had all lined up and work had stopped entirely. ‘Well, I’d better let you get on with it then. Happy Zolly.’ It was only when Azir returned to the hall that he realized he’d forgotten to ask for cake.

“Cake!” said the fat white girl. The guide smiled and continued.

“He was wondering whether to return to the kitchen, when Mitra rushed in. She had a duster in one hand and a net in the other. When she saw him she froze, and looked down immediately. ‘Sorry Master,’ she said. ‘I thought you were still in the Tower. I didn’t know you were here. Please excuse me.’

“Azir had never liked this formality, but the castes were regulated, and Master-Servant relationships were set. Here was a woman who had raised him from childhood, who wasn’t allowed to speak to him unless spoken to. How ludicrous!

“‘It’s really no problem, Mitra. You weren’t in the kitchen just now, so I’ll wish you Happy Zolly.’

“‘Thank you Master.’

“‘Listen Mitra, could you get me some cake?’

“‘Master , Cake?’ she said.

A child raised her hand. “What kind of cake was it?” she asked.

“It was a cherry-fruit cake with golden raisins,” said the guide, and continued. “Azir said, ‘They were baking it this morning. I smelled it when I woke up in the Tower.”

“She looked uneasy, but said, ‘Of course Master, I will bring it.’

“‘What’s wrong Mitra? You seem uncomfortable with my request.’

“‘The cake was not on today’s menu. The cooks used some old flour to make it. It’s a Zolly tradition.’ She stopped and looked up. ‘And Master, you can’t eat it. We didn’t use the cook machines. It was made by hand.’

“‘Don’t be silly! Bring me some cake immediately!”’Azir hoped that he’d got the tone right – friendly not bossy.

“He expected her to return quickly, but she took forever. He used the time to enjoy the view through the huge windows of the hall. Beyond the misty fields and forests was Mt. Alba, its wide base rising to a sharp peak. A fitting symbol, it was said, for human society.

“Mitra entered the hall, her face flushed. Azir saw that her discomfort had increased. She held a silver tray with a covered plate. ‘Here, near the window, Master?’ she said.

“‘Yes thank you Mitra. Now take off the cover.’

“She did so, wobbling slightly. Reflected in the window, Azir saw kitchen staff peering into the hall. He said, ‘Now break a piece off for me.’ She reached for the knife. ‘No, with your hands.’

“Her body shuddered. ‘Master I cannot. It is forbidden.’

“‘But isn’t that the tradition? To feed people with your hands, as Zolly once did?’

“‘Master, yes it is. But only between ourselves. Not between Servant and Master.’ She held the knife in the air, not knowing what to do with it now.

“‘Do you not wish to follow the example of Zolly?’ he said.

“‘Master I do. But I am not as strong as She.’

“‘Well I think it’s time to update that tradition. Mitra, feed me with your hands.’

“‘Master I am an old woman now, and don’t have too long to live. But I value the years I still have left. I am not sure that I could spend them as Zolly did. But you are my Master. Your wish is my command.’  She broke off some cake and fed Azir, with tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Azir hugged her and said, ‘Mitra, in my home, your hands and your heart will be honoured always. As will those of all others.’ Then he called in all of the white-skinned servants and fed each of them cake with his brown hands.

“So that, children, is what happened here in this room. You listened well, thank you. It’s time for your cake now.” The teacher cut the cake into slices. Then the children broke off pieces of cherry-fruit cake with golden raisins, and fed each other beneath a bust to Azir, and a gleaming plaque saying, “Who shares cake shares all”.

The children also fed the guide. She was unable to feed herself for she had no hands. The story of Azir feeding Mitra had been sweetened for public consumption. The guide was Mitra’s daughter, and had loved Azir. For this she had been punished in the traditional way, as had her mother for touching Azir, as had Zolly for preaching such acts long before. None of these mothers had ever held their children. It had been a long, hard, bitter struggle to change the old ways.

Workins

Posted in Alternative Energy, Classic Sci-Fi with tags , , on January 4, 2012 by javedbabar

Amand waved to her little sister on the training roundabout, and smiled. Ah! Those were the days, she thought, so carefree. Her sister was only two but could keep going for ages. She seemed to enjoy it; it was still a game for her. Have fun while you can, thought Amand. It won’t last long.

Amand’s pace slackened when she’d lifted her hand to wave at her sister, so she now pushed harder. Despite her extra effort there was no perceptible change in The Wheel’s speed. The other seven children must have been pushing steadily, so her lapse was absorbed. It would have been different during the evening shift. With only four children working The Wheel, a quarter reduction would have showed – or at least annoyed the other workins.

“Amand! Pssst! Amand!” came a voice from behind her.

“What is it Samanth? You know we can’t talk now.”

“Can I come and see your rat tonight? I’ve heard he’s got really fat.”

“I’ll have to ask my dom,”  said Amand. This referred to a dad who had become a mom. Its opposite was a mad. Neither were her real parents. They had been appointed by The State.

“I’ll come at four, just after dunch.”

Amand’s shift ended at two. She ate dunch – the only meal they were allowed each day – with her family, and then went to the shrine. Every home had to have one, containing either a carved or a living rat. She fed the rat some wholemeal bread. It’s teeth nattered so nicely. Nat-nat-nat-nat! It was hard to believe that people used to kill rats once. Millions of them, even in their own homes. It was good the State had banned killing animals.

Her grand-dom said that a long time ago, animals were used for work. They even had something like The Wheel that was turned by cows. Imagine that! Cows instead of children turning The Wheel at the village centre, pumping water, making power, grinding grain! It was too funny to imagine.

Samanth came over to see the rat. She fed it red cabbage. Nat-nat-nat-nat! Amand mentioned about cows turning The Wheel.

“My grand-mad told me too,” said Samanth. “But she said it was horses.

They had seen neither animal. They were kept only in temple-zoos.

“So what did all the children do?” said Amand.

“I’m not sure. I think they just played.”

“What? All day?”

“I guess so,” Samanth shrugged. “My grand-mad said there were too many children. No one could feed them anymore. That’s when The State said that children had to become workins. They had to work to stay in the community.”

“What if they didn’t want to work?” said Amand. She rubbed her hands, which were sore from pushing.

“Well, they didn’t get any dunch. They’d eventually get hungry and go back to The Wheel.”

Something got into Amand that night. A kind of fury. Even though it was evening shift, she pushed harder than ever. The other workins looked at her strangely. They whispered from all sides asking her what’s up, but she ignored them. Then instead of pushing, she started pulling backwards, working against the others. They were surprised and slackened off. So without really meaning to, Amand pulled The Wheel backwards.

The village lights dimmed. People came out to see what was happening. Workins not on duty ran to help with The Wheel. But because of the dimness and general confusion, they pushed the wrong sides of the handles, and worked with Amand rather than against her. There were no longer four, or even eight, workins at The Wheel. Each handle had three children, so there were 24 of them pushing hard together.

The Wheel accelerated, spinning in the wrong direction. All the gears worked backwards. Nat-nat-nat-nat! They reversed their linkages, magnifying The Wheel’s effects. It started here in the centre of the village, but spread throughout the system. As the children ran around together, laughing, they felt that they had broken the cruel fist of history. They had twisted it around its own back. They were playing – what children should do – and not working!

The Wheel locked without warning, and they were all thrown off. They banged their heads together and bruised their limbs. They landed in a jumble. The next day Amand was back at The Wheel. This time she was chained to it. Despite her little sister waving to her from the training wheel, she couldn’t wave back.