Friday 17th July
I read about all that Nazi stuff that happened over a century ago now, and I was always amazed that there was no real resistance. The holocaust was going on right under their noses; millions of people being cooked and no-one smelt a bloody thing. Worse, no-one asked the basic question, “Where have my neighbours disappeared to? Where have all the Jews gone? Where has all our freedom gone?” But no, they just kept their heads down and like automatons shouted Heil Hitler on command. But what I found even more disturbing about human behaviour was the inmates, the poor wretched bastards in the camps, who daily saw death, and their neighbours, their friends and family being marched into the gas chambers – they didn’t scream and rebel, they didn’t just walk into the wire fences, they didn’t try to rush the guards, even though that would have meant instant death. No they meekly accepted their fate; they even had some sort of hierarchy and society there in the death camps; they played chess, they had concerts, they painted and they even fucked for fuck’s sake. What was wrong with them? Were they so brainwashed that they clung on to some stupid hope despite what was happening in front of their very eyes.
God I find that so hard to accept. Are humans so adaptable that they will accept any conditions as long as they can somehow convince themselves they are living. And that my friends is my problem. Despite the luxury I used to live in, despite the semblance of an interesting job, despite a loving wife (hahaha – at least she didn’t want me to fuck her anymore, she enjoyed syn far too much) despite the ever-dangling carrot of a new strata level I could never quite convince myself that I was alive.
And yet, even that flat existence, with all the precariousness of previous centuries nicely ironed out, with nothing to really worry about, with the constant invention of new toys to play with (which frankly bored me), with holo-tv at last becoming a reality after years of promises, with syn-sex giving you far better and sustained orgasms, with all the designer drugs to regulate your moods; all of this, boring and predictable as I found it was better than living here like rats underground, listening to the sounds from the world above ground that filtered down. All they were doing was barely existing here in this semi-darkness, and quietly slurping their tasteless manna porridge three times a day. But the worst thing about the Aldwych band was that they were so pathetic in their aspirations. It was as if every day they remained undiscovered was a triumph, as if just existing was a reason to carry on. There was no end-game, simply boring existence.
Much like life above ground too (irony for those of you still half asleep).
And then there was the drinking. Along with the manna-food production they have what used to be called an illegal still down here. It is a weird looking contraption, all spiralling copper wires and plastic tubes and the stuff they manage to produce is disgusting. I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since the thirties; I had never been that enamoured with it. I hate being out of control really, that’s the truth of it, whereas I think that’s the main reason people get drunk in the first place. To escape, to get out of it, but I never wanted to let go – that was my problem. It finally became illegal in 2045 of course, or to be more precise, unavailable. At first the screens would simply say ‘not available at present – please try later’, then when you made any reference to booze of any description health warnings would appear and then downright refusals to process your request. People soon learned not to ask anymore.
Apparently like all self-abusers, drinkers were costing both the private and emergency nhs far too much, and treatments were routinely denied them until only a painless euthenase at the end was available. Like my dad. That was all he had to look forward to, though of course that never stopped him. He knew it was killing him, that he would just get sicker and sicker ‘til only euthen-heaven beckoned. But he kept on chucking the shit down his throat right to the end, stupid old bastard. And this lot were much the same. Maybe they drank to numb the pain, to forget. Maybe they drank to escape the reality and paucity of their own existence. Or were they just euthenasing in their own pathetic, and I must say a lot slower, way.
All booze production was centrally controlled by then, so it was pretty easy to wean the public off alcohol. The synth-wines and beer taste pretty good, without getting you inebriated, just an artificially induced light-headedness, that no matter how much you drink never actually gets you roaring drunk. And it does you no harm at all, that really is progress, and most people prefer that anyway, a safe and controlled way of getting ever-so-mildly pissed. Besides, if you wanted to get wasted there were far safer drugs available for that, though they have never appealed to me either. There are drugs for every mood now, uppers and downers, highs and lows, and they really do you no harm at all. Or so we are told.
But this lot, these escapees deep in their tunnel were real heavy drinkers. It was the getting pissed they craved, not the taste of the stuff at all. Actually it tasted so bad they couldn’t be drinking it for the taste of the stuff. They wanted to be drunk, simple as that, it was this inebriation they needed. They didn’t want mood-enhancers or safe options. They were seeking total oblivion, not escape from the system. If they had still been allowed to drink on the surface they would never have run away. It is the addiction to alcohol rather than any political statement these guys are making, which keeps them down here. And they are almost all guys; I only ever saw three women there, all about a hundred years old, so not exactly oldies yet, but they more than looked it. And drunk as they are, they fuck with everyone too, (they even gave me that come-on look, which of course quite disgusted me). Think of the diseases guys!!! And how are you gonna get treated down here? But they don’t seem to care; it is almost as if they are just waiting for some illness or other to carry them off. Maybe they are all just waiting for death anyway, the great euthen-heaven in the sky, getting drunk and whiling away the time until the end. Pissed then passed away – that’s no life.
So, after a few short weeks I knew this life, this community wasn’t for me and it was time to move on. I talked to Jonathon, one of the more sober drinkers, about it.
“Aye, well I wasn’t sure you would stay anyway laddie, and as I told you when we first made contact we don’t force anyone to stay.”
“Yes, but how can I get out of here?” I asked
“Well, that depends. I could of course just return you the way we came in, but I suspect that you will not want to return to your old life. Besides so many questions will be asked that it is far too dangerous, both for you and, more importantly, for us.” He smiled that crooked half-smile of his. I wondered if he really thought it was worth losing half his facial expression just to carry on drinking a poor substitute for his favourite whisky.
“So, what do I do?” I asked.
“We can get you out another way, and under cover of darkness, but once away from here, you must never divulge where you have been. You must simply say that you exited that day at Holborn and that their cameras must be faulty if they failed to track you. With any luck you will evade them for some time anyway. That is really up to you, Janek. And I am not sure, not absolutely sure, you wish to live outside of the system. But as I said, we cannot force anyone to join us. We have to trust that you will not betray us. So far no-one has, and there have been a few before you that have left us.”
“Look; that goes without saying. I am pretty sure I don’t want to go back, and besides you have said that you are in contact with other groups. So, by definition there must be lots of other reb groups around. Surely you can put me in touch with others.” I asked.
“Far too dangerous I am afraid. But as you must know there are the lower strata people out there. They mostly live south of the river and to the East; if I were you, on leaving here, I would try and cross the river and head East. Eventually I would recommend getting right out of G. L. altogether. There aren’t so many surv-cams out in the countryside, the system is still being rolled out and you will stand a better chance of evading them the further from here you can get.”
“I wanted to ask you Jonathon, how do I avoid the surv-cams? How have you avoided them yourself, when out on the tubelines, like the day you met me.”
“Strangely enough my out-dated clothes and long hair tend to make me invisible, or not worth a second scan. I am obviously a bit of a nutter, and they aren’t really interested in oldies likes me. You just have to be careful, keep your head down, always look at the floor, wear a hat, and of course the beard will help. The cameras aren’t quite as sophisticated as everyone thinks. They aren’t all connected, but most do record, although the images have to be accessed after the fact. Except in gov or con-glom buildings they cannot actually recognise you there and then, only later if they suspect something. Another trick is to act as if you are poorly, stumble around a bit, shuffle as you walk. There are so many lower-strata or unclassified non-persons, especially at night that you will be mistaken for one of those and ignored.”
“So; not such a perfectly controlled world as I imagined?” I smiled.
“Oh, don’t underestimate them. That could be your biggest mistake. But actually their remit only really runs for about seventy percent or so of the population, and they are mostly here in G. L. Out in what is left of the countryside, the system is still being extended. Of course, cred will be your biggest problem. Or the lack of it. But again there is a lot of barter going on. We get quite a few of our supplies by bartering our alcohol for clothes and any equipment we might need. So, while not easy, life is still possible outside of the system.”
“But I thought that you were driven from your hill-farming in, Orkney wasn’t it, by a lack of cred.”
“Yes, that is true. Because there was no way of selling the wool, except through the con-glom, and when the old village shop finally became absorbed by Tesda, there was nowhere for me to even buy food. I had to make a choice, become part of the system, or try to exist out of it. You know the choice I made.”
“So, you think I might have a chance? Out of here and out of the system?”
“Who am I to say Janek? Others have managed, and do get by, or so I have heard. It really depends on what you want? That has always been the problem, hasn’t it? What do we, any of us, really want from life?”
“Yeah, I guess you are right Jonathon. I just couldn’t face another fifty years or so of that existence. Comfortable as it might have been, it all seemed so pointless.”
“Well, I wish you well son. Obviously you cannot have your phone or micro-glasses back, they will track you in seconds above ground. And by the way I hope you do find whatever it is you are looking for. For me, I am just too old to adapt, and in a funny way I quite like it here. Even though I know it will be a miracle if we remain undetected forever – for now it will do.”