Karl Smutts looked up for the first time that day. Normally he walked everywhere with his head down, rarely needing to look up. He found that this was an excellent method of avoiding trouble. However, he looked up because something unusual happened for a change. Someone had left a door open. A door he had never noticed before despite following the same route he always followed to and from his place of work. He could have walked the route blindfolded.
Work - that was a joke, as he simply turned up and stood in one place, watching lights on a console all day. If certain lights went out and others came on, he pushed various buttons. He knew what to push and when to push them, but he did not have the slightest idea of the consequence of his pushing buttons.
He did not actually care, as he had a job. He was one of the few non-Techs in gainful employment, so was grateful for the opportunity to glean a few extra credits for his family. He had a reasonable apartment; he, his wife and two children, (for which they were licensed) shared the two-roomed apartment in the better end of what at one time had been part of Hertfordshire. Now was simply part of London Mega-city.
However, on this particular day he saw the open door. He frowned, which creased his otherwise bland and rather grey face. He looked around, feeling guilty and furtive, even though he had not actually done anything - yet. He walked slowly over to the door, which was at the foot of a large Tech apartment block. He willed whoever had left it open to return and close it, thereby removing the necessity of him having to look in.
It was not to be, so he reached the door and looked inside. His eyes widened in amazement as he looked into one of the storerooms for the main shopping mall in the block. Within reach, he saw a small brown cardboard box. He looked about and, seeing no one, on an impulse, he simply reached out, took the box and placed it under his outer garment. He then scurried away, waiting for the sirens.
Breathless and excited, he ran for about five hundred yards, at last reaching a small dark alley. There, he tore open the box and peered at the contents. Small slabs of a smelly substance fell into his hands. He sniffed at them. They reminded him of a flower he had once smelled as a child. Then, deep in the basement of his mind he realised what he had, soap!
He laughed to himself, so this was soap - real soap, not the thin watery liquid the apartments were supplied with. This was the scented, hard soap of the Tech classes. He had once seen one of their adverts, where a semi-naked woman was smearing a frothy lather all over her body. He smiled at the mental picture of his wife doing the same.
Then a shadow fell on his life. Someone else was in the alley. He froze, fearing yet knowing exactly who it would be. He felt his pulse race, yet he was dimly aware that he wet himself.
“Citizen Smutts. Move into the light, if you could be so kind!” The voice was an unhurried, feminine voice, yet the tones were commanding and devoid of emotion.
Smutts shuffled into the light, the soap falling to the ground.
“Well, well, Citizen, what have we here?”
He glanced up at the owner of the voice. She stood at the end of the alley, dressed in the standard black of the Protective Service - black helmet, with mirrored visor, the black uniform with body armour, black utility belt with weapons and equipment thereon and black armoured leggings and high black leather boots. Three chevrons on her epaulettes told him she was a sergeant. The gold shield of the service emblazoned on her breast, with another badge in the front centre of her helmet. She looked huge, standing almost six feet in her issue boots.
All officers looked alike in their uniforms, even the cyborg officers. It was virtually impossible to tell them apart, except this one. There was no doubt as to her gender, or her identity, for this officer wore a small red rose tucked into the top of her body armour, yet no one knew why.
Everyone in this area knew her by sight and more so by reputation. She was known as “Red”. She was an officer from the local PS station, reputed to be totally devoid of pity with the highest arrest rate in the Service. It was also rumoured that she had the highest number of kills of any officer currently serving.
He looked down, unable to face her. He heard her boots scrunching the broken glass on the ground. Within a few seconds, he saw those highly polished boots in his field of vision. They had such a brilliant shine that he could see his reflection clearly; the reflection of a small, grey and very frightened man.
“I found it, Officer, honest, I was just looking to see what it was and I was going to hand it in to….” he broke off, realising his lies weren’t working.
Before he could take another breath, he found himself flat on his back with her foot resting on his throat, slowly crushing his windpipe.
“Oh, Citizen Smutts, you little worm. You steal and then lie. What am I to do?” She really had a lovely voice.
The question was rhetorical, yet he was aware that even if he had wanted to answer, the pressure on his throat prevented him doing so.
“You will go into penal servitude and lose your apartment. Your wife and children will go to the communal dormitories, so then what will become of you all?” Her voice was so delightful, yet the words were full of menace. Smutts’ blood ran cold as he could see his life wasting away in some hellhole with a penal battalion.
He struggled to breathe and whimpered. He stared up at the mirrored visor that hovered above him. There he saw the distorted reflection of himself cowering and gibbering like the miserable wretch he felt. He wondered what she looked like behind that visor. Some rumours told that a brutal sex attacker had disfigured her, so, as a result, she was devoid of any emotion, seeking revenge on mankind as a whole. While others said although she was incredibly beautiful, she was evil. Her name was another mystery, it either came from her alleged love of shedding blood, or the colour of her eyes, or her rose, but Smutts could not see through the visor. He hoped it was because of the rose.
The pressure on his throat lessened slightly, he gulped in some air, thankfully.
“Do you want to be sent to the penal battalion, worm?”
He could not reply, as his voice failed him.
The foot began the pressure again.
“Well, do you?”
“No officer,” he managed to squeak.
“Why should I be kind to you, Smutts? What reason could I give for failing in my duty?”
Smutts’ mind raced, he had heard of various people helping the PS, as he had seen their headless corpses floating in the stinking mire that had once been the river Thames.
He knew what she was after, and she frightened him, but so did the Faceless ones, the Non-citizens who existed underneath the pile that was this civilisation. They had literally dropped out of the system, so did not exist in the eyes of the powers that be. The PS simply executed them as vermin, for as they were not citizens, they had no rights.
They still thrived and, more to the point, as fast as the PS hunted them down, they disappeared and turned up again elsewhere, just as strong and as equally resourceful.
However, at this time, Smutts’ survival instinct meant she frightened him more than the faceless ones, allowing him to agree to anything. He swallowed, “I can help you,” he said.
“Oh, you can help me?” the sweet voice mocked him.
He dearly wished to see her face.
“How can you help me?” she asked.
“I can give you information,” he muttered.
“What kind of information could you give me that would be any help at all?” she patiently asked.
He thought fast; his insignificant life meant that he rarely came into contact with any wrong doers, also his attitude of looking down ensured that he deliberately avoided seeing anything that could cause him problems.
Suddenly a thought came to him.
“I know where the Faceless Ones are getting their food!” he said, the words tumbling over themselves to escape.
“The food unit in our block is registered as defective, yet hasn’t reached the stage it needs replacing. Everyone knows that someone is taking the food from the system before it reaches the apartment outlets.
“I once thought I would try to repair the unit, as the repair services weren’t ever going to. I went down to the basement and saw two men leaving with a large container. When I got to the unit I found the cover was loose, so I put two and two together.”
“What level and access area?”
“Level G4, access area thirty-four.” He felt relieved when it was out.
“All right, Smutts, this time you walk. But be quite aware, step over that line once more and you will not find me so lenient. If you breathe a word about this to anyone, you are dog meat. Those you have betrayed are less forgiving than I. Understand?” The foot’s owner withdrew without a backward glance.
Understand! That was an understatement. Smutts knew that even if he felt like breathing this to anyone, he was less than dog meat.
Leaving his soap lying in the pool of his urine, the little grey Smutts scurried to his little grey home as fast as he could. He took the short cut, by going outside to avoid any people. It was raining outside.
The sky was grey, the ground was grey and the buildings were grey. Even the few people who ventured out were grey and downcast. The city was vast, as were all cities. This city, called London, had a population in excess of one hundred million, a huge grey mass of enormous structures each a community in its own right. Each building housed a hundred thousand souls, with all the services that they required.
Or rather, all the services that the government stipulated they required!
* * *
In the wake of the Second Islamic Conflict in the latter part of the twenty-first century, and in the desperate struggle to claw back some semblance of society, the world had all but forgotten nation or race, as the city was the unit of belonging now. Having left much of the Middle East a radioactive wasteland and many European cities devastated, it had taken a strong post-disaster, global government enormous effort to rebuild.
It had been close, but in the end, cool organisation, harsh discipline and cyborg military technology won over religious fervour and fanaticism. The vast cities now perched like festering cancers all over the habitable world. Most on the sites of existing centres of civilisation, so from them took their names. Yet the names were the only link with the past, their characters were all as alike as makes no difference - reaching far inside the bowels of the earth, and stretching up as high as the clouds, these vast edifices created mini-weather systems all of their own.
Land was a valuable asset, as it was vital for the production of food for the world’s masses, as were most of the oceans. Farms were vast automated industrial units, mainly under glass with artificial light twenty-four hours a day, where only a few highly skilled technicians were privileged to reside.
People were now forced to live in the cities and were cast into two moulds, the Tech and the Prole. K-Smutts was a Prole so he envied the Techs. The Techs were skilled, educated people who maintained the world’s industrial units and civil administration. The Proles were the unfortunate underclass, which was enslaved to the little manual work that had yet to be replaced by automation.
For the Techs, life was relatively pleasant. They were entitled to large apartments; they enjoyed a good standard of living, with plenty of leisure time and facilities. They also enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the large and immensely powerful Central Government. It was from the Tech class that the centres of bureaucracies were drawn, so for their continued survival it maintained the status quo.
The Proles lived in smaller units, near the bottom of the pile, literally! With their living units situated at the base of the City Structures, as a result they rarely saw the light of day. Their factories were inside; all their homes were inside, the schools, of a somewhat restricted nature, were also inside.
It was not uncommon for a Prole to be born, to live and to die and never see the sky!
The Proles out-numbered the Techs by about one hundred and fifty to one, yet they were restrained from any thought of reform of the system by any means by the highly effective Protective Service.
The only way for a Prole to obtain any elevation was by serving in the Protective Service for thirty-five years. Retirement after this period guaranteed a Tech apartment and a place on the electoral role. Proles could not even vote.
Then there were the Faceless Ones, for whom life was a constant struggle. They had no access to the established food supplies, shelter or medical supplies. The microchip placed within each citizen at birth was an individual’s key to all he or she required. That chip was the individual, the information it contained was all the government needed to keep track of each person at any given moment. Even recording and updating the person’s features and fingerprints. Hence, it was known as the ‘Face’. Those without a chip were the Faceless ones.
Should the Protective Service invalidate the chip, or a child born without licence and away from the central computerised hospitals, then those poor souls had no access to the official services, such and health and education that meant the difference between a reasonable life and merely surviving, or even death.
It had all begun with simply having microchips in ID cards. Then followed the deceptively easy step of transferring the chip from the card into the person. The selling points were hard to resist - making fraud, identity theft, terrorism, plus many other crimes and loss of chips a thing of the past. They had been doing it to animals for years, so it was a natural, yet dreadful step to take.
* * *
Patrol Sergeant #8062861 “Red” Redman walked slowly back to the open door that had enticed Karl Smutts as successfully as a mouse trap baited with cheese enticed mice. She gently closed it, locking it with the magnetic-key she had in her hand. Then, without a backward glance, she walked the few blocks to where she had left her car. Passing the back of her left hand over the small scanner set in the vehicle by the door, the door mechanism opened once her chip’s details were registered. The vehicle was an armoured, hydrogen-hybrid powered car, capable of speeds up to a hundred and fifty mph, yet virtually silent. There were very few private vehicles on the roads, as the public transport systems were, at long last, highly efficient. Twenty-first Century Police officers would have envied the PS for the clear roads and their all-encompassing powers.
The Protective Service was an amalgamation of the world’s armed services and police forces, it was by far the most powerful single department of the new order, so its control was a matter of much debate and disagreement amongst the upper echelons of government.
However, Red relaxed slightly as she sat in the car, closing and sealing the door. Once sealed in her vehicle, she took her helmet off and, with some relief, shook her hair free. It cascaded down onto her shoulders, obscuring her three chevrons on each epaulette. Her hair was long, luxurious and red. Her face would have caused Smutts some real problems. She was one of the most attractive women he would have ever seen, had he been so lucky. She looked at herself in the mirror, as her clear green eyes sparkled back at her.
She thought of her encounter with K-Smutts. She smiled slightly, not at the pathetic little man or his silly theft of the soap, but at the desperation he had shown over something so trivial. She got no pleasure from the encounter, which would cause many to be surprised, she detested dishonesty, but she also detested injustice, and the system, in her view, encouraged and actively practised injustice towards the Proles.
She took out a small notebook. An unusual item in the day’s computerised world, but the police officer of the twentieth century would have related to it. Computers break down, and you never really know who has access to the information they hold. This was her notebook, so while she had control of it, no one could hack into it. All officers had personal PDA’s issued as notebooks, but for all the above reasons, Red preferred her little paper and card variety.
She wrote down, in her own unique shorthand, Karl Smutts’ details, along with a brief note of the information he had given. His was the last of a list of seven names and similar entries. The soap trap had caught more than one mouse today.
She sighed and looked out at the grey world she had sworn to serve, wondering what it must have been like back in the twenty-first century.
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