Friday 22nd May
Diary Entry – 20660112
“I am being watched. Observed. Spied upon. I am fairly certain of that, I really don’t know how they know, or maybe just suspect at this point, but I am certain that they do know (at least something, because you can never be that sure of anything). Nothing is knowable in its entirety, and nothing is trustworthy that you haven’t seen with your own eyes, and even then….. no certainty exists because we have no control of anything anymore, even what we see.
That is why this diary is so important to me. I have just re-read the entries, and never mind how paranoid I sound, the words are still there, exactly as I wrote them, every word is still there in black on white. And yet despite the security of seeing them, un-tampered with, exactly as I wrote them, I fear that I am being watched.
Yesterday I returned from lunch, not really refreshed, but in my line of work, you not only take the obligatory five minutes every hour off-screen, but you actually need time away from any stimulus at all, or all that concentration you have built up is lost. As well as a sustenance drink I need to lie down and blanket out my mind for about thirty minutes, or it takes me too long to warm up when the numbers start spinning again on my screens. I lie there in my pod, and send my mind into relax-mode, clearing my brain of all thoughts and impressions and enter that state of almost-but-not-quite sleep, where all my functions are slowed down but I am not dreaming either. It takes a bit of time to learn the technique; it’s a sort of self hypnosis. I am not actually in a trance, but that is the closest thing to describe it. My mind just goes blank, I can never actually remember anything about it. I ease myself into my pod, close the padded lid, and start to relax one by one my muscles, and then I drift out of this consciousness and I am a blank screen with no input. Asleep to all outside observers, but just as the screens are never truly asleep, neither am I; I am simply on stand-by.
A gently rising buzz in the pod wakes me up, brings me out of my self-induced state, back into the real (or is it?) world. I slowly surface as if from under a lake of thick glutinous water; maybe the surface is covered with little bits of debris or dead insects, as I always brush my face clear, as if some skein, some net had been weighing me down. Refreshed and cleansed, I am ready for another bout of number screening. I don’t really mind the work, at least it keeps me active, my mind is fully engaged and I have no time to think about my life, or my lack of one. Sometimes I imagine it would be far easier to spend my whole life in that state; simply not thinking. It is thinking that is my problem. I think.
So I return to my position, my little screened-off cell and I straight away feel uncomfortable, something seems different. I can sense something has changed; some slight alteration. Nothing is missing, maybe something has been added. There was my pad and pen just where I had left them surely. But no, the pen is next to the pad and lined up vertically with it, surely I had left it on the pad and at sort of right angles, maybe 85 degrees or so. Just off-centre, a right angle would be just too obvious. I have these strange little routines; I always like to leave my pen at nearly right angles across the pad. I have to tear off the sheet I was scribbling numbers on, and throw it in the bin, I like to leave my pad clean, lined up with the pen across it ready for the next session. But today the pad has been moved, it is slightly off-centre, a centimetre or so wonky, and the pen is definitely not where I left it. I am sure of that. Or am I sure? I can’t be one hundred per cent sure. I rack my brain to remember but cannot be certain. Would they have been so stupid as to not have left the pad and pen exactly as I had left them? Or did I just forget my normal routine? Is it me or them?
I quickly check the contents of the bin, but just the few sheets I tore off, scrunched up, (though there is no way of being sure they haven’t been unscrunched, is there?). Stop these stupid thoughts Janek, so what if they have touched my pad, what does it signify? I don’t know, but whatever it was for I don’t like it. I nod towards the top of the right top screen and the four screens come awake one after the other, glowing gently then they swell brighter and slowly they populate with numbers, row upon row of numbers, white on a blue background, my preferred colours. After a quick rub of my face, to shake off these paranoid thoughts I try to concentrate. It takes me a minute or two to recover and I almost imperceptibly nod again and the numbers start their never-ending screening, slowly at first and speeding up as the screen senses my eyes scanning the numbers.
Numbers, numbers, numbers. Numbers revolving faster and faster; our whole world is built on numbers, and yet we hardly any of can even add up in our heads any more. I am one of those people though who seem to have the ability to see patterns in numbers, and the letters and symbols they use too, that even the super-computers miss. Maybe it is actually a sixth sense, and I am not seeing the numbers at all, but through some divination, some intuitive reflex I can detect some discrepancy, some slight variation in the textural mass of numbers spinning past. There may be patterns inside the patterns that even I do not see. Even with the added letters and symbols, any random sample must have hidden codes buried in their apparent randomness. Infinity is a man-made concept; everything has a beginning and an end and at some point must repeat itself. And about 20% of the time I am right. The patterns I detect check out, they have some basis in fact. This is easily enough for the hypercoms to run secondary and tertiary checks which they follow-up on, exhuming and re-running the data and eventually they sort out the problems. Actually even less than 1% success rate would be enough for the computers, they never get tired, so the size of their workload doesn’t matter. They never get bored with checking and rechecking, even a hundred times, in fact they are never happier than going over and over the same data to detect the smallest discrepancy.
But this afternoon I just couldn’t seem to concentrate and after two hours I hadn’t seen anything. Nothing at all. Not the slightest irregularity. This had never happened before, i always saw something, no matter how vague. My mind just saw numbers spinning past. My pad was clear of any jottings and my mind was even blanker. I was about to ask for a break, maybe another session in the pod would see me right, when the screen spoke to me.
“Janek, do you want to take a break?” a neutral female voice spoke to me. “You seem tired; maybe we have done enough for today.” She paused, but I didn’t answer her. “Why don’t you take a break and then if you feel up to it we can start again, or call it a day if you like. It really is your call.”
I had never heard more than two words strung together at my work screens, and this was whole sentences, and remarkably, was almost sympathetic in tone. But you know no matter how they programme these machines, the voices, though synthesised from real people are never quite right. The words may be well chosen and even the tone, but somehow it isn’t quite right, not quite that genuine hesitant timbre of the human voice; it is always that bit too perfect, too polished, too rehearsed. Maybe it was an automatically programmed response which I had never triggered before. Maybe it was some new software. Something inside me always shudders slightly when a computer speaks to me, some inner me dislikes and instantly distrusts even the gentlest synthesised voice. And I was damned if I would deign to actually talk with a machine. Of course I silently agreed to take a break (it was never a suggestion at all, simply a kindly worded command), but somehow I couldn’t shift my stubbornly unco-operative mind, even after another ten in the pod. As the computer suggested – I called it a day.
Not that that would be a problem in itself, I was sure. The nature of our work was so inexplicable, so delicate that we had to be in pretty good physical shape to work efficiently anyway, so it wasn’t unusual if you didn’t complete a day for some reason. Sometimes a head cold, or an old-fashioned headache would be sufficient to stop you from working at your best. But this was different, if you decided to retire it was your decision; I had never heard the computer itself come to this conclusion. I had simply never heard of it before, but maybe it was a recent innovation that I had missed, maybe the facility had always been there, but had never been exercised in my case. My fellow workers had never mentioned it; sometimes we would chat after the work, and ask whether we had had a good day or not, and no-one had mentioned this. I had never heard of any screen asking an operator to take a break before.
On the way home I felt strange too, it was at least two hours earlier than my usual time and the tubes were almost deserted at this time of day. Apparently they used to be crowded all day long, but people rarely travelled for pleasure now and there were hardly any tourists in cold old London now. Strange that even though there was no reason at all why our work, and in fact all human work, could not be done at any time of the day, the working day, the nine to five routine seems to be hardwired into our systems, and everyone prefers to work during these daylight hours. Maybe we haven’t progressed half as far as we thought we had.
So I was practically alone as the train hurtled through station after station and although hardly anyone got on or off I had this terrible feeling that I was being followed. I kept glancing at my fellow screen-absorbed travellers, wondering if they were watching me as I was watching them. Though why on earth anyone should follow me I cannot imagine, I make exactly the same journey every day. I never deviate. Why should I? But then why should I have deviated so far and started writing this strange diary in the first place.”