Panem Et Circenses: Part I

Matryx – Image by Omni Matryx from Pixabay

Steve walks wearily to his recently rented sofa from Amazon Global and noisily flops down on it with a heavy sigh.  Amazon Global’s airborne package guarded by their fleet of lightly armed defence drones, dropped his much sought-after item last night, precisely twenty minutes after he confirmed the transaction on their Alexa Screen.  Synthetic leather of course, who can afford a black-market deal nowadays?  Steve wasn’t flush with BitCredit and anyway, who wants to take the risk.  Not him.  Jeez.

But he spread himself over it, pulled the brim way down low on his tattered fedora that his uncle gave him, sighed again, and knew Bunny would approve.  “Lights low Alexa, heating on economy mode”, he snapped to the household AI and kicked his feet out, making a clicking sound, just about hanging on the edge of his seat.

The robot cat stirred and shuffled towards Steve.  He booted it across the room and watched it disappear under the table.  He hated that creepy thing that Bunny had bought.  He just prayed that Bunny didn’t playback the cat’s internal video footage.

He closed his eyes.  Ah, bullet-time.  Another dead beat apartment, he paid no rent or mortgage of course, since the Global Social Housing Act in 2025, property ownership bites the dust thanks to the autonomy of The New World Order, but he and Bunny were enjoying their new lives together with their combined Universal Basic Incomes in their state sanctioned accommodation.  The only slight downside was they could be moved into another accommodation unit at no notice, sometimes to allow one of the Newcomer families to live there.  The luxury of living in a four-bed house had long gone, unless they had the right Social Credit score.  Spare room space was no longer permitted in these fairer times and so you would be forcibly downsized by the Act and its enforcers.  No ownership meant they were happier, and it was fairer for all, as the daily reminders and messages assured them.

It was a pleasant enough neighbourhood, heavily mingled with the NewComers that arrived from Africa and the Middle East.  Those countries had been ravaged due to the sustained devastation of Climate Disruption.  He’d seen the awful GlobalTube footage of the fires, the severe droughts and the flotilla of cargo boats of NewComers fleeing to the safety of the Northern Territories, although there were rumours that Climate Disruption was a scam, but he didn’t want to know, he had his responsibilities for himself and Bunny.  God only knows what would happen to his Social Credit Score if he started spreading more conspiracy theories on GoogleBook.  They would restrict his travel again and freeze his Universal Basic Income.  He didn’t want to go through all that again.

He heaved himself off the sofa and filled their compact cleaning machine with last week’s clothes.  Although their apartment was small, he thought buying this little unit would be a little more convenient than going to the communal laundrette.  Anyway, utility supplied water was expensive, so these new washing units were a godsend: ultrasonics and nanobots to

“♫ Zap that grime and make your clothes shine ♫”

went the popular GlobalTube ad with its catchy little jingle.

Steve hoped that this would alleviate the high cost of his state water utility bill, as their economy recycling units bought from a Chinese company were struggling with their household water and sewerage  demand (every household had sewerage recycling since the nation’s sewerage system had long collapsed due to lack of maintenance).  He simply didn’t have enough BitCredit to pay for the more efficient units.

He set the timer for 03:00 at night, to take advantage of the cheaper electricity rate.  Most of their household chores were best carried out at night as using electricity during the day was a big hit on both Carbon Credits and BitCredit for them.  Even so, their smart meters would often cut off their power supply when there wasn’t enough renewable energy available or battery storage, unless you could afford the high Carbon Credits cost from the more exclusive and reliable gas turbine power station tariff.

Steve itched the top of his right hand.  This was where his biochip was implanted.  Amazing how we came to accept this so readily, he thought.  He sat back down on their new sofa, his eyes closed, and he drifted off to the time when the world changed…

When The Great Plague came, it hit hard.  Harder than the previous ones.  Nobody knew where it came from.  There were rumours on the old social media that it was from China, or Hong Kong or the Middle East.  But it was quick and it was ruthless.  Not content with just killing the old this time, the young as well.  Some say it was weaponised, some said it was natural.  It didn’t matter, it was killing us rapidly and spread everywhere.  New Zealand tried to close their borders immediately, but it was too late.  The pathogen had arrived and it showed no mercy.  Hundreds of millions died across the world.  The panic spread rapidly, fanned by the mendacious media as always.

The world stopped.

For a brief moment, it looked like we were falling into the abyss.  Steve’s mother died in his arms from this virus.  He held on to her and cried as her body grew cold in his arms after she let out her long, drawn out last breath, “Steve, dear, I can’t…wait… I…”.

Food became scarce and people panicked.  Looting, fires, riots and chaos.  Steve could barely watch the TV anymore.

Then just as sudden as the world was thrown into chaos, the world miraculously joined hands.  New leaders appeared and offered news of hope and of vaccines.  Business leaders joined forces to provide the infrastructure to support our families, our children.  They offered sanctuary, a way out from this carnage, but there would be sacrifices, there would be changes.  We would have to change the way we work, the way we live.  They promised fairness for all, for an end to corruption and embracement and responsibility for our world, our planet, our Gaia.  Let the lungs of the world breath freely once again, they proclaimed.

And so it came to pass, government was dissolved permanently, the New World Order was established, everybody was given a Universal Basic Income, everybody was offered hope and a new renaissance.  All debts were cleared, there would be no more ownership, because it made us unhappy.  Everything would be a service.  It would be shared by everyone and it was fair.  Nobody should be denied a service ever again because of their privilege.  And in order to grease the wheels of this new paradigm, this new world order, we would need to use our smartphones to access this new global currency, the BitCredit.  This was swiftly replaced by a small biochip after a very successful marketing campaign by Microsoft that showed just how easy it was to purchase goods and travel without all those unnecessary and nasty tests, swabs and cards.

Yes, the biochip was our path to newfound freedoms.  No dirty cash, no laundering of wealth, no offshoring, no corruption, everything traceable and audited with blockchain and the new global digital currency.  No lengthy interrogations at the last remaining restaurants, pubs and supermarkets, just breeze right in, after you waved your hand in front of the scanner.  Once the integrated Alexa Panels came about and the comms integration with the biochips, smartphones were swiftly rendered obsolete.

Of course, there was resistance to this sudden change.  There were the AntiChippers that protested and eventually rioted worldwide but the system was in place: without the smartphone software or biochip, you were outside the new paradigm.  You couldn’t feed your family.  The obvious futility of the situation was apparent, and the resistance was short-lived.

Steve was quite lucky.  With Bunny, they played games together online, they played virtual chess where they’d be the actual chess pieces and move themselves.  They also played the big online games together, the virtual society games where they could fantasise together, owning big houses, pretending they were rock stars or famous celebrities.

Steve’s favourite was the Massively Multiplayer Online VR games – fantasy war games with strangers.  Hundreds of thousands of strangers.  He bought a cheap Chinese gaming suit and headset that provided immersive levels of reality he’d never experienced in his life.  The combat was so real.  When he was shot, he felt the sharp pain in his body from the virtual projectile.  It made it real.  To get hurt incentivised you.  You made damn sure you played the game well and for real.

People had started to buy enhanced biochips that hooked up to entertainment centres and sent pain and emotion signals directly to your brain while playing.  This was the ultimate escapism.  Those people played online for weeks.  There were even companies selling IV saline and nutritional feed units to keep the players alive while immersed in their game.  There were even rumours that players died within virtual combat, but this was quickly denied by the gaming corporates.

Steve wanted one of these, but he had to save up his BitCredit.  But one day, he would really feel what it was like to be shot while playing in these virtual arenas.  It was so exciting.

You couldn’t do anything without the biochip.  Many said it was more convenient than a smartphone because the phone always suffered from poor battery life and anyway it was easy to wave your hand over the former chip and pin machines.  And in all the years, the battery longevity issue was never solved, despite the promises.  So once the chips became prevalent, people, via the promotions through the media, adopted them.  Straight into their hands, to point to the chip and pin machines and to respond to online transactions.  A Nuevo digital extension of SteamPunk maybe. As Steve always liked to say to his GlobalBook friends, “You can’t do anything unless you have this in your arm or head.  You can’t even go and buy a banana from Amazon Global!”, he chortled, knowing that he and Bunny could never afford to buy bananas.

Nowadays, they implant the mandatory biochip into newly born babies, straight into their soft skulls, between the meninges and the dura mater so that any attempt at removal risks severe brain damage.  All the new 7G scanners can read the biochips from six feet or more so there’s no need to be in close proximity to the scanners, nor have the chip implanted in the hand.

They are chipped for life.  There’s not much you can do without it in this new Technocracy.

Still, Steve mused, we have a comfortable life, access to food from our Amazon Global allowance.  We can leave our homes for an hour a day, although we must wear a mask or respirator.  Who knows who is infected out there?  We don’t want to get The Virus!

And anyway, why would we go outside?  We all live and work from our apartments; we don’t need to physically meet anyone nowadays, we can use the Alexa Panel to say hello and chat using the VR tech.  We buy our food from Amazon Global and it’s delivered within twenty minutes.  Ok, so meat is unaffordable and hits your Social Credit score but the plant and insect substitutes are good enough.  We don’t have to mingle with others – the old supermarkets, restaurants and pubs have long gone.

We are told it’s safer to be indoors after The Great Plague.

Steve and Bunny can’t afford to travel because the Carbon Credit points to go abroad are so high and of course there’s always the risk of catching the virus.  There are electric planes now for short hops but the promised new battery technology that was supposed to revolutionise electric transport still has not arrived.  Electric planes are expensive and have very small seating capacity, long haul intercontinental flights and corporate jets use old kero but are only affordable by the very wealthy.

Steve remembered as a young child travelling on aircraft for holidays abroad with his family but now, he and Bunny do not have and will never have enough Carbon Credits to fly.  He also doesn’t have enough Carbon Credits to take a ferry, even though he and Bunny have their mandatory up to date Digital Vaccine Certificates for all travel, which is accessed via their embedded biochips.

A soft tone chimed on his Alexa Screen in the living room that quickly bought Steve out of his reverie.  Bunny had almost finished her short exercise walk and was about five minutes away.  Steve smiled.

It wasn’t the incredulous splintering sound of his apartment door being blown inwards nor the concussive blast of the flash bang that erupted in front of his feet, but it was the forceful and unexpected ingress of six heavily armoured state militia aggressively pointing weapons at him that caused Steve to focus immediately on the control his bowels before launching off the sofa and prostrating himself on the concrete floor.

© Beware of Geeks Bearing GIFs 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file