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Richard Tornello © 2012, Revised 2014 Word Count 3600 words
The Village idiot Press
It was a breath of fresh air. The new Constitutional Convention was held and a new constitution ratified. The Fifth Constitution of the Federated States of the Pluto/Republic of America, spanning and including the geographical territory of what was once Canada and Mexico, reflected the technological and social changes that were unimaginable in the early 19th Century. It was clearly needed and readily accepted.
CHAPTER I Peter
“Hollo Grammy,” Peter said in his usual fashion. “I can’t wait to see you. Mom and Dad said it looks as if we’ll get the passes we need this solstice.”
He loved her. When she lived with them, she treated him with respect, never talking down and provided love. On top of that she was a font of knowledge. Now Grammy was in a place they put old retired people. The videos always showed real people enjoying themselves. He wanted to see her. She was different than his parents or his brother Fred. They never answered his questions as to when they were going to visit. There was always some excuses. His father acted as if they were real. The letters were official looking with stamps and seals. No matter what they stated still he wanted to see her.
“Oh, sweetie, yes that will so be nice, indeed,” she responded as her blue gray head nodded the affirmative as a large smile broke across her face.
She must need glasses, he thought. No one notices that she blinks a lot. Peter thought she looked like the Cheshire cat in those old videos Grammy gave him as a special present long ago. He wasn’t supposed to have these videos for some reason he never understood.
He knew it was not safe to ask about things like that. He had learned that lesson. One beating was enough. He didn’t mention it. Owning a player and old discs was against some sort of law. It was a law he never understood. What could be wrong with old videos and books? He had hidden the portable player in his closet. No one ever looked there. He only played it when his parents and brother, Fred were out of the house or deep asleep. And, he only played it in the “Safe Room”, the one designed to protect the family against poisons if their locale was attacked.
“It’s a war against bad people,” his dad would always shout when he asked any related question. “You have to be vigilant, always vigilant.” That’s what he was told over and over again.
“But against what?” he asked a few times.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” was the same response. Even at that young age, he realized that they didn’t have an answer. And, he knew better than to keep questioning. It wasn’t until years later, watching an old video late one night, of an even older book about a cave, he realized what IT was.
Fred stared right into Peter’s face, “Talking to GRAMMY again?” The voice of his older brother Fred was as sharp as a knife to his heart. Fred’s voice send a chill through his blood. Fred then added for good measure, “You know she’s not real.” He was always mocking and bullying him. “It’s a video of her talking. They sit them down and they follow a script. Then they set it up to answer any questions with artificial intelligence. The letter from the government explained it. You are such a baby and a big dope.”
“She’s fine, I can tell it’s her and not a screen saver shot. I know those when I see them. Yes she is, yes she is.” Peter shouted holding back his tears. He didn’t dare look at his brother Fred. Fred was 15 and knew a lot and was the perfect boy. He was a member of all the right organizations. He played sports. He was in the band. He was in the political science class. He even got to meet a general and the president once. They said they had big plans for him. Everyone said he was going places. Peter was the dreamer and an obvious disappointment to his family, and being so, was bait for teasing.
Peter asked, “What letter? I never saw a letter. Mom and dad never said anything about a letter.”
Fred ignored the question and taunted him all the more. The truth of the matter was that no one but a few people were ever supposed to know that. So to cover his slip he continued, “You might as well believe in God, or what was it they called him, that fat guy you believed in for so long?”
“Santa Claus?” said Peter grabbing the bait, hook line and sinker, again.
“Yes Santa Claus, that’s it.” Fred yanked hard. “You’re such an idiot you know that. You’re a baby and an idiot. They should have let you die. There are no old folks. I heard it on the Hushweb,” said Fred said in loud mocking tones.
He repeated quieter this time, slowly and in mocking tone. “You’re an idiot, you know that don’t you? There are no old folks. I heard it on the Hushweb. They’re just past old workers, POWs. That’s what they are called and a burden on our society,” Fred sneered. He continued in even a lower volume, “Did you know that over half the planet’s population is retirement age? Do you? Only fractions have saved for themselves, and even less the resources to care for themselves. We are a planet of finite resources. They are taking the food and water out of your mouth, out of our mouths! Think about it, Peeeter.” He said Peter with such a mocking tone. He finished with a verbal coup de grâce, “You’re talking to a computer!”
“The Hushweb is for subversives and perverts. And Grammy is not just a past old worker. She’s our family.” Peter said it emphatically and quietly. He wouldn’t him let his brother see the tears. “And No One, no one at all was supposed to talk about the HUSHWEB. Peter whispered this last part with clenched teeth.
Fred realized he had gone too far and said in an equally quiet voice, “The Hushweb is where the truth comes out. And until you realize that you’re just a pawn, like mom and dad and all the rest of you.”
Fred knew more than he was telling. He couldn’t say any more. The information was supposed to be secret, only for the elite and the Guard Scouts who were the secret young elite in training. Peter knew about Fred’s training. His parents did not. He overheard a piece of the conversation Fred had with some girl Fred was trying to impress. It was enough to let him know his brother was special but not in the manner his parents had hoped for.
Peter begged the question, “but,” and hesitated, “you seem to be part of all that. You met the president. Didn’t the general say they had plans for you? Aren’t you in the advanced placement classes for college and military?” Peter was a bit confused by his brother’s comments. It wasn’t the first time he said something like this. Yet Fred seemed to go along with the crowd. He never said or did anything that would indicate he believed any different than all the others he grouped with.
Peter understood peer group pressure and surmised that Fred went along with the crowed but believed something else entirely.
CHAPTER II A Back Story
Advances in artificial intelligence and holographic technology spawned new international-state sponsored industries.
Throughout the planet crime levels and the fear it inspired, had increased to the point that the punishment for almost any infraction dictated extended prison sentences. In this new world order, prisoners had to work for their keep. So, in essence, they became slaves of the states in which they were housed. This new economic paradigm was readily accepted as a sop by the frightened populations. The unintended consequence of these new laws was a boon to the world economy.
However, families wanted to keep in touch with their loved ones even if they were incarcerated. But many of the millions of convicts housed were terminated due in part to physical infirmities or for political reasons.
The officials had no way of addressing these extra-legal actions and were straining to rationalize their activities. Bad press like this, especially within a republic, was not something any political entity desired. There were ways the populations could discover this and raise a protest. It was not something that could be completely hushed up.
A group of engineers, scientists and psychologists working within the penal system proposed to physically, and psychologically map each individual incarcerated. The data would be fed into the main computer. This advanced system allowed the state to project a holographic image of the prisoner to who ever wanted to speak to that person. The caller would never know the person they were talking to was only a computer generated representation of that person. Housing data was cheaper and easier than warehousing people.
The program was introduced and was total a success. The prisoners were always accused of additional crimes against the state. The punishment meted out forced them to remain incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives. There was no recidivism. It was a win-win situation. The states made up the costs of incarcerations and then some. The application of this new technology seemed endless.
CHAPTER III One Day at Home
Fred walked down to the kitchen to get some snacks. He saw his parents in front of the screen. A friendly voice, an actor of world wide renown was on the screen, smiling, speaking in soothing tones. “Yes this is a great idea. All of you,” he spread his arms wide in an embracing fashion just like the televangelists his parents adored. He continued his commercial. “We all know caring for elderly parents can create mental anguish. And, the financial burdens can crush your children’s hopes of a good college, not to mention your own financial well being. To help us all in this time of decreasing resources, The World Court and our dear country has authorized the development of retirement cities through out the planet for our Senior Loved Ones.
All families will still be together linked by direct communication to your Senior Loved Ones. And those that have the resources can always visit their Senior Loved Ones over and above the mandated visits. Yes, and please believe me, this will solve our planets ills. The concentration of people with similar requirements, our Senior Loved Ones, will allow us to concentrate the needed resources in specific locations instead of all of them spread out all over the planet, driving needlessly here and there for care, food, and entertainment.
The actor continued, “Look at my own mother.” He pointed to an older woman fashionable dressed behind him. “She volunteered to be one of the first in Palm Springs.” The screen slewed to other very pretty senior citizens waving to the camera surrounded by friends and contemporaries. Then it showed a shot of the actor with her sitting poolside in an animated discussion that couldn’t be heard. Both were always smiling. It was heart warming.
Fred looked at them with pity and disgust.
“Hollo Grammy,” Peter said in his usual enthusiastic manner. “Hello Peter,” she said back. Peter thought the voice was a bit strange but then adults were always acting strange. He let it pass. “I’ve got some news for you. Fred is joining the service. He said he wanted to do his share for the world.”
Grammy said nothing.
“Grammy did you hear me? Is the connection bad?" Peter asked a bit worried. Maybe something was wrong. Maybe she was sick. Grammy turned to face him and was blinking again. He had never seen her blink like that before.
“It’s just my eyes dear, they are itchy and I think I caught a code, or have allergies.”
“Grammy,” he laughed, “it’s a cold, not code, and how can you have allergies there? It’s supposed to be perfect out there.”
“Yes, perfect,” she said. He noticed she had stopped blinking and started again.
“Are you going to call a doctor?” he asked in all seriousness.
“No dearie, I’ll be fine, just fine. Have you read that old Boy Scout book I left for you? Do you remember it? You might find it interesting. I have to get rid of this code.”
“Cold Grammy, it’s a cold. Go to the infirmary, please.” Peter was chuckling at Grammy’s mistakes. She made them every now and then. It made him wonder, maybe she was in a better place.
Peter was about to say that his Dad always says that, “when a woman said everything was Just Fine, you can bet, it sure as hell isn’t.” Peter didn’t say anything and then said, “Grammy, Grammy,…”
She said, “Dearie, I have to go. Call again soon. Good-bye,” and abruptly hung up.
Something is not right, he thought. She never acts like that. Is it old age that Mom and Dad talk about? He was just about to go to his parents when an idea crossed his mind. He went into the library and logged on to the system.
That evening at dinner he told his parents he had spoken to Grammy. “She was just fine,” was all he said. His Dad looked at him a bit strangely but said nothing. No one asked any questions about his conversation. He noticed that they were both very quiet.
When he was sure everyone else was asleep Peter popped some of the old videos into the machine and watched and listened. This one was an audio/visual book by a priest, Abbot Hoffman. He was funny. He had to have been a comedian. What he proposed might have been acceptable so long ago. Today He would have been considered a terrorist. Grammy had a strange sense of humor sometimes.
He replayed his conversation with Grammy. He had saved all of them since she moved out. He felt closer to her than his own parents. She was the one who taught him to read, mathematics and science. He just never told anyone. She had said it was none of their business, and you’d be better off not mentioning it.
The next day he called Grammy again. She picked up right away. “Hello Peter, how are you?”
“Just fine,” he said as looked into the screen. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Oh yes, why wouldn’t I be? How silly of you.”
“I was just wondering,” He said looking intently. “No reason. I have to go to school. I’ll call you soon Grammy.”
“Yes Peter, you do that. Good-bye.”
Peter played that day’s conversation again and again. He had every word and gesture memorized and could mimic it in total. That’s probably why he was left to his own. He had an incredible memory. His recall was perfect. The school said he had a job with the government in a variety of anti terrorist departments. They could use his skills. Peter wondered what they were talking about. He retrieved all the books Grammy had recommended and read and reread them.
CHAPTER IV About Ten Years Later
They weren’t all dead. The Past Old Workers, no longer contributing to the needs of society, were housed in Retirement Resorts. Past Old Workers and Retirement Resorts were the official names that he knew first hand. Fred remembered that day with his brother too. He had been so naïve then. Yes he had been correct in his sense of things, but reality was another thing all together. The planet needed people like him with sense and dedication to a moral and just cause.
He turned the volume up to maximum on the satellite radio. The music kept out the sound of the thud of the bodies as his tank hit them and their screams under his treads. A 100 tons could really mess up your weekend plans, he laughed to himself. He considered combat in the senior ghetto, against the Oldies, always a messy affair. The soldiers called them oldies or POW’s, if only among themselves. The terms were used against all those that strained the resources of the planet and no longer mattered.
The small groups that had the independent resources to pay their way, or were still contributing to the good of the planet, were left to live as they chose. And these were the ones the propaganda machine utilized to assure the populations that their loved ones were doing just fine.
That falsehood coupled with the improved holographic technology, one that captured each new POW in their entirety, allowed a Turing machine like response to family calls. It made the lie complete. Visits were always promised, but for some official new reason for every request, never consummated. The families never spoke up. They just accepted the official explanations
“Thank god”, said Fred and he laughed at the term god. It was a term that would not go away no matter what was dictated by the authorities, “Thank god for satellite radio and especially for automated vehicle Wash & Decontam.” Cleaning the tank manually after one of these excursions was disgusting at best. The oldies could really gum up the works.
His gunner slewed the turret and immolated another group charging his tank, named Autodafe. That name was painted in red/orange letters across the turret. “Shotguns and light semi-automatic weapons were they crazy?” he shouted to his gunner, as another group of oldies attacked from the rear. “They were either stubborn, or senile. They had no right to exist. They were drags on the planet.” Everyone knew that.
“Kill them all. We’re wasting ammunition even doing this. We should just run them the fuck over,” shouted his driver.
“Fire in the hole,” laughed his gunner. Another group of Oldies was incinerated. They all laughed.
“Okay which building are they supposed to be holed up in and is next on the list? Give me the coordinates. We’ll end this group once and for all” commanded Fred. The five tanks sat there idling while the crews discussed the days events and some government sponsored event, and waited for Frank to give the orders to attack.
Glass crashed against the back of the tank. They all heard a thunk and the tinkle of glass over the idling engine as bits of the glass got sucked into the intake and chewed up.
“What was that, a beer bottle? What a bunch of idiots.” One of the crew asked. The gunner was about to swivel the turret. He was in no hurry. A fucking bottle he thought. What’s next, a baseball bat? He slowly turned the turret to the right and with a light 5.56 machine gun, cut a few of them down.
The com went on, “Lead tank you have….The fire alert and suppression system went on. Was his tank was burning. “What the….?” The Molotov Cocktails had landed on three of the tanks hitting the napalm canisters and ignited. The halon fire suppression on three systems failed to contain the flames. Fred’s tank was the first to go. Two more of the five tanks burst into flames and exploded.
“We’re under attack. It’s a trap.” One of the remaining tank commanders radioed.
“No one told us there would be resistance,” the other commander radioed back. “We didn’t sign up for this. This is a game changer. Fuck them all.”
The two remaining tanks stopped, jettisoned their napalm canisters and began to pull back. The gunners kept the turrets sweeping back and forth shooting in a random fashion. All the POWs had disappeared. There was no small arms fire. The only sound was the whoosh of flames leaping from the burning armor, the occasional rounds cooking off followed by the stench of petrol based fluids, rubber and eventually cooked flesh.
Not every soldier felt that way the commanders did. Some had family in those camps. They kept their mouths shut. It was a job.
CHAPTER V Peter
Peter stood in front of a small group of oldies. They were in the basement of a small building in an undisclosed and shielded location. All of the oldies were armed. Many were former military too. Peter had shown them a video of the battle with the tanks. He also knew who commanded the lead tank.
“Gentlemen and ladies,” he said. “This is how we can stop them, if only for a while. We will have to acquire better weapons and find people on the outside we can trust to help us. We will need their support. The state has a near monopoly on force. But if we just lie down…” he let it rest. He knew his history.
Peter was interrupted. “Why are you, a young man with promise, assisting us? We’re old and…”
Peter put his hand up to stop him. He said, “A religious man was my first teacher, No I take that back, my Grammy was. She taught me things most people today never learn. I read all the old papers of state. I studied the history of the Republic that came before this one and of its battles. I know what’s right. And I know of others who feel the same way” He was interrupted again.
“Your Grammy?” someone asked. There was some laughter in the room.
“Yes, my Grammy,” he said smiling and tears running down his face. There were chuckles throughout the room, and nods in his direction.
micheledutcher - As a soon-to-be retiree myself, I wonder what will eventually happen to those of us who are no longer of value to The State. Creepy, interesting.
micheledutcher - GordonRowlinson wrote: Given the poor state of retirement plans in the US, I found this vision of the future disturbing.
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