As previously posted, I’m going to start a new series called Sci-Fi Saturdays. This is the first proper post in that series. I hope you enjoy!
I’ve always been interested in technology, (I imagine I’ll write about it here before too long), and in recent years my reading has revolved more and more around dystopia and sci-fi. The first book I read of this kind was Orwell’s 1984 and I still go back to it around once a year. This is my first attempt to write in the genre.
In a speculative paper written by Dr. J. Storrs Hall, ‘On Certain Aspects of Utility Fog‘, the scientist outlines his ideas for utility fog, a vast cloud of nanobots, and how they could change the world around us. This was my inspiration for CreBots and the new world they have helped to create. I also took note of an interview with Storrs Hall from io9, in which he said that the virtual reality possibilities of utility fogs were what excited him most.
Virtual reality has all the buzz in the technology industry right now, so I wanted to examine what would happen if it went from gadget to lifestyle, from consumer product to state tool. This is just the first part of my attempt to realise this world. I’m imagining it, and have it planned out as, a 10 to 20 thousand word story. This is only the first 2800. So I hope you enjoy this installment of Humanity, Exceeded , I’m looking forward to writing more.
I step outside. At least, it looks like outside. It could still be inside. Maybe I’ve been outside all the time and now I’m just moving to a different place. Who can tell? It doesn’t really matter anyway.
As usual, cars pack the streets, the air thick with their fumes. It feels dense enough to chew, to swallow, to choke on. I adjust my mask, careful to make sure it covers my nose as well. NewGov sent round an Image only last week telling everyone that in the last two years, pollution has been cut in half. It’s bollocks. They send round a new Image almost daily, trying to convince us of something or other. It’s just propaganda; inescapable, virtual reality, propaganda. Today’s image had been all about the dangers of having sex with another human and the benefits of CreSex. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember too many dangers. CreSex is good; you can have who you like, when you like and do whatever you like. Last night I went oriental, the night before I made myself some Scandinavian twins. It feels just the same as real sex, better even. Physically. You can programme the bots to tingle, or massage, touch just the right spot. But they can’t say no. Not unless you tell them to. Without the work beforehand, getting to know someone, chatting them up, going on a few dates maybe, it doesn’t really feel the same at all. CreBots don’t make you feel wanted. A few diseases and unexpected pregnancies are worth it, whatever the Images say. I just wish I could get a few more girls to agree.
At first, when NewGov had started sending out the Images, people had protested. It was a step too far they’d said, an invasion of privacy, an attack on civil liberties. But soon enough, most people quietened down, gave in, accepted the Images as part of life. I can’t say I’m any better. There isn’t much point fighting against it really. At the push of a button, the Creative Ministry, or CreMin, can light up an Image in front of every conscious person in the country and show them whatever they like. It’s why I prefer to be unconscious. Or at least out of the real world.
As I walk into town, most people seem to have adopted my strategy. Blank faces greet my gaze, not quite dead but without much life. Some seem lustful, probably watching ads. There aren’t many faces to look at though. People don’t go out anymore. Why would they? Almost everything can be done, purchased, experienced and, most importantly, consumed from the comfort of your own home. But I’ve run out of tokens and the only place to get more is at the TokMin collection point. They insist on DNA samples to ensure tokens aren’t given to a CreBot avatar. There had been an unfortunate spate of murders when they first got rid of money. The killer would create an avatar of their victim and collect the tokens on their behalf. I lost a few friends to that scam.
Apart from my fellow token-seeking Londoners, the only other people around are ministry workers. They stroll down the streets, knowingly superior, their pinstripe suits and frilly blouses like armour against the world. What they are actually wearing is anybody’s guess. I still prefer real clothes though, even if almost everything else in my life is fake. Today, I’ve teamed my usual scruffy hoodie with my usual scruffy jeans, the latter of which have been getting just a little too tight in recent weeks. Prolonged periods indoors with nothing but cartons of CreMeat to consume tend to have a negative effect on the waist line.
A tall Japanese girl appears in front of me as I walk down the street. She’s trying to sell something but I’m too distracted by what she’s wearing to notice. To be honest, it’s more about what she’s not wearing, which is almost everything. Other than a pair of the smallest lace pants, she is completely naked. Young, with dark hair that flows almost to her hips. Small tits, but perky. Flat stomach, long legs and a perfect white smile. She looks unnervingly like the girl I’d made for myself the night before. NewGov swear they don’t have access to you private creations, but no one really believes that.
I try to suck in my stomach. It’s an unconscious reaction. I want her to like me. Obviously it’s pointless. She’s programmed to flirt so it doesn’t matter what I look like, but some things don’t change and if a pretty lady shows some interest, real or not, I can’t help but try to impress her.
‘Hi there Ben. Want to have a look?’ She holds up the newest communicator from Atwood Inc. It’s just a piece of glass with a small circle visible at the top right where the camera is.
‘I don’t have enough tokens.’ The communicator is almost completely transparent. Through it I can see a nipple, slightly magnified by the glass. She obviously senses where my gaze really is and puts her other arm across her chest. She doesn’t want me distracted.
‘My records show that you are due 1000 tokens this month, you could put half down as a deposit and pay the rest in twenty four monthly payments.’
It starts to rain. Her bare flesh gets wet almost immediately and I can see goose bumps stand up on her skin. My cheeks flush. Why are my ads always naked? What does that say about me? I refocus on the communicator, twenty four months isn’t that long. I’ve been planning on saving some tokens and moving to a better area, but I can just use the CreBots to redecorate, freshen the place up a bit.
‘Okay then. I’ll take it.’ The communicator in her hand instantly turns into a larger screen showing the details of my token allowance. The “1000” disappears and is replace with “500”, underneath an instruction to pay Atwood Inc. 100 tokens a month appears.
‘Thanks Ben.’ Both her arms drop to her waist, one thumb loops around the top of her pants. ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’
I can think of too much. I look over her body. If you try, you can forget they aren’t real, that they’re just ads. You learn to enjoy it.
‘Oi! Watcha think you’re doing?’ The man whose coffee I had just spilled clearly wasn’t impressed. ‘Don’t think you can walk around out here like it’s that CreWorld of yours. Open your eyes for once.’
I try to look taken aback, like I have no idea what this man is talking about, but the surprised ‘O’ I force my mouth to make isn’t really convincing and my eyes, which I know are glazed and red, tell everyone the real story plain enough.
‘Junkies”’the man spits at me in disgust as he walks off.
Some of the coffee is on my hoodie. Looking around to make sure no one is watching, I bend down and suck it off. Real caffeine, amazing. I stand and immediately start to feel hot. I know my cheeks must be turning red. My left eyebrow is twitching infuriatingly, a cute nervous tick Mum always used to say, bloody irritating in reality. The man, clearly a ministry worker, hadn’t even tried to get me to pay for the spilt drink, he’d just marched off, assuming I wouldn’t, or couldn’t pay. The truth is that he is absolutely right. I haven’t even bought myself a real coffee in over two years and the Cre stuff isn’t worth drinking. But knowing that everyone else can see how low I’ve sunk makes everything far worse.
‘It’s not my fault!’ The world already thinks nothing of me so why does it matter if they hear me shouting in the streets? ‘Everyone uses it.’ Like we have a choice. I might be shouting in the street, but I’m not crazy enough just yet to say something like that aloud where anyone might hear.
I continue into town, still fuming, but silently. The Creators have been busy since I last ventured this far out. From the third story window of my rented studio flat in Moore Gardens I can see some of the changes, but further into the centre it is all a bit more obvious. Down this way it used to be a row of 1950s, cheap terraced housing with shops on the ground floor. As a kid I’d often walked down here on the way back from school. Most of the shops had been boarded up even then, London had never really recovered from what they’d called the “financial crisis”. I’d hated those history lessons, all economics and boring politicians. What I really cared about was getting a few snacks from Mr Jones’ place before I got home, especially when Mum was on one of her healthy eating kicks, and he didn’t go out of business till a couple of years back. It looks so different now though. The front of the buildings rise up like Roman temples, all white columns and shining marble. Carvings of microchips and old tech like TV’s sit at the top. I’ve even heard some of the modifications go inside here too. My place is a little less spectacular. It looks a bit like a town house from the old films, neat little windows with boxes of flowers growing outside. It’s just a skin though. Occasionally, if a cluster of bots all fails at the same time, you can see the old building underneath. Crumbling brickwork and rotting wooden window frames. Sometimes I wish we could all just see the truth the entire time, but even the small glimpses we used to get happen less often now. The Ministry of Progress make regular updates according to their Software Streets plan. It might have been nearly 125 years since the war, but I still can’t believe people can stomach a government policy called the SS.
Near the centre, I can see into a few more buildings, their interiors seem almost as nice as the outsides. Some of the big hotels are decorating properly again. Authentic Chic they call it. I’ll never be able to afford to stay in one, but I love the idea of having real things that just look like they are. I turned off all the CreBots in my flat last year, I thought it might give my life a bit more purpose if I wasn’t always surrounded by projected images. I can be such a pretentious wanker sometimes. The rotting floor boards, damp riddled walls and mouldy carpets soon made me think twice. I left the broken window just above the sink though. A brick had gone through it during one of the last big riots. The one Dad died in. He’d stopped going to the protests years before, it’s why him and Mum split, she hated that he’d given up. But that day, he’d felt the need to go. The month before I’d told him that I was moving out of the house we shared, that I wanted to live in the present, with the CreBots he’d banned from the home. The riot started a week after I moved into Moore Gardens.
The last of the big hotels behind me, the only buildings in the very centre of London are the ministries. TokMin is tucked away behind the rest. To get there I walk past several other NewGov buildings, all with their own CreBot fronting. EduMin has numbers and the alphabet spiralling up the columns that guard its doorway. HealthMin is shaped like a big cross, made to look red. GovMin, where all the politicians work, has virtual copies of books fluttering around the entrance like an old flock of birds. The biggest though, rising up from the site of what was once Trafalgar Square, is CreMin. The facade changes colour with the time of day and sometimes, if important dignitaries are coming, they even make it change shape. Most of the time though it’s just a large, rectangular sky scraper. A hundred foot aerial sits on top, broadcasting the signals to all the state controlled CreBots. They’d first pumped them out from here too. I still remember the information leaflet we were given in school just before assembly.
CreBots, Your New Best Friends.
Exciting news! Very soon you will all get to experience CreBots!
Starting next month London will be filled with lots of tiny robots, too small for you to see unless you have a microscope.
These little robots will help you in many different ways. You will be able to use them to play games, help with your homework and let you pretend like you are in far away places. Best of all, you will be able to make your very own CreFriends, who will always be ready to play and do just what you say. Almost like real friends, but better!
Imagine all the fun you will be able to have when every break time can be filled with trips to amazing places with perfect companions!
Your parents or guardians will be getting information packs of their own, so you can ask them or your teachers if you want any more information. Just don’t forget to tell them how excited you are about CreBots!
And I had. That day I rushed home and showed my parents the leaflet, with its gold writing on bright red paper and promises of adventures and perfect friends. They hadn’t seemed so convinced. Sitting at the kitchen table, a pot of tea between them as usual, they were both frowning at a large, ring bound, book. Neither seemed to have noticed they hadn’t drunk anything, the cups left abandoned on the counter by the sink.
‘They’re meddling with our lives. It’s not right.’ Mum said. She picked the book up, slammed it shut and threw it back down onto the table, making the whole thing shake. The piece of cardboard that we used to keep under one of the legs to stop it wobbling came out.
‘Careful Mum!’ I ran forwards and replaced it. ‘Why are you angry?’
‘It’s nothing dear.’ She had smiled at me briefly before looking back at Dad. It wasn’t a normal look though, her eyes seemed sad. And wrinkly too, I suddenly saw how much older she had started to look. All the protests and late night meetings seemed to have turned her into Granny overnight.
‘We can’t do anything.’ Dad carried on the conversation as if I’d never come into the room. His voice was flat and I couldn’t quite associate it with the cheerful and mischievous person I knew. ‘This has been coming, you know that. We went to the rallies, we did our bit, we just have to accept it now. What else can we do?’
I ignored much of the rest of the conversation, annoyed they’d forgotten me. Plonking myself down at my usual seat, I noticed the front cover of the book they’d been frowning at. The cover read: “CreBots: What you need to know”, but not in gold like on my leaflet so I looked away until I could show Mum and Dad my better version. Instead I stared down at the tabletop. I used to spend hours sitting there, just looking and stroking the surface of it. The graining of the wood, the coffee stains from mugs that had still contained real coffee, and even the pen marks from where I’d scribbled on it as a toddler. They had always seemed to me to form a kind of map. It had been a world of its own, of my own, and now this leaflet seemed to promise that it might come to life if only I could make my parents see.
‘Why are you two so worried?’ I still feel a slight sense of embarrassment at how hard my younger self had tried to sound mature, like I knew best. ‘They talked to us about it more in assembly. They explained everything. We even had a man in a suit come in. He said he worked for the government. Miss Bell obviously didn’t like him, but no one likes her, so that doesn’t matter. He said that it was going to make everyone’s lives better. He said that it would make things easier for our parents. Isn’t that a good thing?’
They didn’t speak. They didn’t even look at each other, just down at the table. I could tell though that they didn’t see the possibilities in its graining that I did.
‘Everything will be alright.’ I cannot believe I actually said those words. They still spiral around in my head whenever I think back to that moment. I knew nothing.