Hugi Magazine 32: Say It With Flowers

hugi 32 header graphic

The Wake-Up Call (Written By TAD)

Chapter 42: Paranoia

The Monsoon Interchange is an immense connection network of various transport service routes, semi-automated commercial 5-lane roads and unregulated expressways all designed to shift vast amounts of people and cargo around. Unlike the older and slower monorail shuttle system, the Interchange is primarily designed for speed. Thick concrete divider walls separate each lane of high-speed traffic in order to minimise the down time when a major crash occurs. The volume of hazardous materials combined with density of traffic means a small accident could soon escalate into a major incident. Biohazard, radioactive or corrosive materials could have been potentially devastating to the knife-edge existence of a city's economy. The design implemented throughout the major city network avoids such disasters by using computer controlled barriers and seal-able tunnels to funnel traffic around such hold-ups. The road network almost 'heals' itself.

Incidents such as terrorist attacks or industrial accidents simply go unreported across the majority of information news channels due to the possible negative effect on stock prices. Parts of the city have vanished from the face of the planet over night or have been relocated. The citizens rely on mass produced computer guides to navigate they way around, avoiding bottlenecks or the regular lock-down zones after a fresh outbreak of viral infection to take hold in the slum areas of a city. Sudden changes were a fact of life. The media helped maintain this brainwashing of citizens through glamorous promotional holo-vids designed to show 'mizers' in high-powered jobs commanding others to do their chores while they embark on yet another multi-trillion-credit deal. To be successful you had to appear dynamic. In fact you had to be dynamic and adaptive to survive. Factories changed their working hours and production targets hourly. The speed of information exchange accelerated trans-city economics into a highly unstable and unpredictable state. Espionage and industrial spying is rift. With corporations using their influence to corrupt they are able to update designs based on stolen blueprints from a rival, produce the goods and have them shipped across the city network within a day. Progress and efficiency is the key driving forces.

"People are optimised out of the loop"

Remembered Hetch as he thought about some of the customers who visited Mewco's sleazy office. The tired, beaten looking expressions on the poor wretches begging Mewco for another 100 credits were too frequent. Hetch knew what it was like to work in the heavy industrial zones to breath pollutions and taste the bitter toxic flavour days after your month-long work detail finished. He also knew what it was like to be rejected for not measuring up to the company's weekly work metric. "Those boardroom bastards squeeze you till your blood has gone and your bones break." That graffiti covering the dark tunnels where Hetch used to work revisited his mind. The familiar tag of the Nexus also invaded his thoughts: That girl in the crowd. The way she looked at him before detonating the explosives. "Maybe we are all doomed for oblivion, maybe we deserve it."

A kick sent Hetch rolling across the floor. The body crashed down on him. He picked himself up, struggled with the weight of the corpse and stared at one of the gang members. "You got something to say?"

Hetch smiled to himself and continued to walk in front of the gang. They were obviously seeing how far they could push him before he snapped, before he challenged their authority. He was too smart to take their bait. As long as he took their idea of fun, he is useful to them. It is better to be their entertainment than their cargo.

The thought of cracking a biotech lock wasn't one that appealed to Hetch in his current state. His malfunctioning arm would be a major obstacle, but life threw up difficult challenges and the thought of finding a weapon, some credits or another opportunity to escape in one of the trucks did appeal to him. The massive roadway networks had many quirks and Mewco had often used them to ship illegal goods through police patrols thanks to Splice and his skill.

With the saturation of super-wide bit stream data encryption and communication processing stations littering every square mile of a city and the possibility to transmit everything from tech blueprints to DNA sequences it seemed that people had already been optimised out of the loop. Mass entertainment combined with targeted, personalised lifestyle commercials took up the majority of data communication. The psychological manipulation was often so subtle that most citizens thought nothing of it. From home movies to job application scan, every imaginable piece of data was scanned, stored, processed and correlated. Corporation even altered holo-vids to place their products in the background. News channel stream were frequently tweaked based on customer history. Ethnicity, gender, age, credit-profile and every food product you ever bought were used to influence the customised broadcasts. Marketing corporations not only created a 'lifestyle choice' but often invaded privacy and infiltrated the everyday lives of their customers to present themselves as friends rather than advertisers.

Within this googolplex of data lived the seeds of anarchy and civil uprising, if only the citizens could see. They need a Wake-Up Call. Using synthetic actors for decades in holographic chat rooms it was easy to profile a citizen without them knowing. It was even possible to influence their actions, planting keywords within carefully constructed speech patterns to make them buy more products. Technology wasn't to be feared because it had become the life force keeping the volatile society together. The commercial world only feared those without tech. without the tools of control their perceptions, their corporation's power was gone. The governmental tools of oppression were there.

Splice once asked Hetch, "Why, with all this technology, our skills with quantum mechanics, our egotistical view of the world that there is nothing left to explore. That consumer goods break so quickly?"

At the time Hetch laughed and watched Splice break into another episode of paranoia fuelled behaviour. Now everything is possible. What if some of his crazy ideas were right? What if consumer goods are spying equipment built by rival corporations? Hell, it could make sense. Could it be a form of hardware evolution where competing devices are always fighting to survive? It had been known for over a century that the chemicals used to produce and released by an everyday device was deadly, or toxic at the very least. What if it was an attempt by governments to control population?

Hetch's mind spun. The conspiracy theorists were a crazed bunch often outcast by the media and society in general. But what if some of it is true? The memories of block clearance programmes brought a reality-check to Hetch. Riots weren't political unrest but maybe they were attempts to break free of mind control.

These thoughts continued to take Hetch's mind off the difficult task of carrying a heavy body through the dark semi-forgotten walkways and deserted factory tunnels beneath the belly of the city. At least they were far away from any reliable tracking hardware. It was a tainted sanctuary. Freedom came with a price. The toxic and radioactive cocktail of pollutants was the cost.

Another push sent Hetch forwards down a small mound of debris. He spat out the ashes from his mouth, looked at the following gang members and struggled with lifting the body onto his back.

"Hey, no slacking!" joked the angry looking gang member.

Nearly two hours later they had reached an impassable part of the underground. Either a small quake or controlled demolition had brought down a few blocks of squalid housing across their path. The leader looked up at the steep slope of twisted steps, debris and fragments of apartments.

"Picking time," shouted the leader

The remaining gang members pushed past Hetch and raced up the rubble hill like a pack of hungry dogs smelling fresh garbage. They tore through the debris, dragged bodies and striped them clean of any object worth a few credits. Gold teeth were helped from the jaws of their owner by a carefully placed boot in the face. These vultures were experts. Keeping a pair of eyes on Hetch and scavenging the ruined building they soon collected a pile of treasure. Hetch dropped the body from his aching back, rolled it over and used it like a fallen log to sit down on. He couldn't decide whether to admire their survival skills or to feel sick or pity at this sight. He was too tired to care. After what seemed like a few seconds the gang were ready to continue. They had distributed all the freshly gained loot and Hetch had received all the heavy or sharp objects, nothing useful enough to be a weapon though.

There was a relief on Hetch's face as he saw the first glimmer of The Monsoon Interchange. The unmistakable colour of the bright direction markers and approaching volume of heavy traffic were welcome visitors to his red sore eyes. Standing in the shadows of a tunnel hatchway he felt the rushing freight pods race by. The smoke filled wind created as they past a few inches from his face was a luxury compared to the underground obstacle course. The air was damp from a sudden rain burst. The deafening noise and splashes of putrid water helped focus Hetch's mind what he had to do next.