A driverless vehicle, even a police one, was a novelty, but it had worn thin, so Stephen didn’t stop on his walk to work when one whizzed by. It stopped, turned on its axis and faced him. A metallic voice from within ordered: ‘Hold out your right arm, palm up!’ Stephen thought nothing of it, it had recently become routine for law-enforcement to stop and search the public preventatively. He rolled up the sleeve of his grey tunic and obeyed. The left headlight seemed to emulate a cat’s pupil and the beam became a narrow strip of blue that scanned the barcode tattooed halfway between his elbow and hand.
‘Number 57.12.07.158, of R-district, you are required to board this vehicle to be transported to the station for further processing’. Stephen knew that arguing would be pointless. The vehicles were not equipped to handle situations that went beyond the assignment programmed on their hard-drive. The order to board would simply be repeated again, and again, ad nauseam. Running away was no option either. The cars were equipped with stunners that could incapacitate a person for hours. He therefore walked up to the door, got into the cruiser and took a seat. The door closed and the windows took on an opaque white hue. He could feel movement but he could not quite ascertain a direction, although he was fairly certain that ‘the station’ as the tin voice had termed it, would mean a police station in S-district, or even police headquarters in H-district.
The city had been divided into districts some years ago to facilitate the ‘Digital Administrators’ in the running of their day-to-day tasks without human aid. L-district, for instance was where the legal professionals lived and worked, E-district was home to the Executive Branch, G-district held government buildings and abodes. Stephen’s own R-district was where records were kept, such as they were, S-district was for matters pertaining to security and policing. Citizens employed in either of these branches of society were required to live in these districts, although their place of work might not always be situated there. For instance, inhabitants of A-district (Agriculture) worked in fields on the western outskirts of the city. Stephen himself lived in R-district because of his occupation, but his actual desk was located in a building where once financial transactions had taken place, now part of G-district.
After a while (he could not exactly tell how long) the movement stopped and the windows became transparent again. The door opened and the voice commanded: ‘Enter the building and proceed to room 24-8R, twenty-fourth floor, eighth door on the right. Lifts are straight ahead as you enter.’ He walked towards the building. No mistaking the awe-inspiring doors as anything other than the main entrance: two huge bronze portals, each embossed with the two crosses, St. George’s and St. Andrew’s, joined at each other’s middle, still the unifying symbol of the country. It was abundantly clear that he had not been brought to just any police substation in S-district, but indeed to police headquarters in H-district. This made him wonder: why exactly had he had been brought here, instead of anywhere else?
‘Move along, please!’ A male voice, probably a recorded human one, broke his pondering. He walked towards the bank of double doors in front of him, one set slid open and closed again as he entered. The lift made twenty-four floors seem like nothing, it took only seconds to arrive. The doors opened and a long straight corridor lay before him. He walked along it, counted the doors on his right and knocked on the eighth. No answer, no surprise: for a human being to be involved nowadays, needed something out of the ordinary or more complex than ‘digitals’ could handle. Just to be on the safe side (after all, he was in the halls of power) he knocked again, harder this time. Still no answer. He gathered his courage, turned the knob and walked in.
The room could just as easily have been situated in the building where he worked. There were no windows, light came from four halogen spots in the ceiling and the entire ‘furniture’ comprised of four chairs against the left wall. Nothing else, just a screen that covered the wall opposite the chairs.
‘Sit down, please,’ a male voice said. Not in a commanding tone, yet authoritative enough for Stephen to comply without question.
Stephen rolled up his sleeve again and obeyed. One of the spots did the same trick the headlights of the police-car had done and the blue beam scanned his arm.
’57.12.07.158. You are here because you have broken several rules and regulations, both in deed and in thought.’
‘Silence!,’ came the answer, ‘As this is a multiple and complex case, the law requires it to be handled by a human adjudicator. Wait...’
The spots in the ceiling dimmed and the screen on the opposite wall came to life. After a few moments, a human form appeared, dressed in the unmistakable white tunic of someone occupied in H-district, Homeland Security. It was a man of approximately his own age, with a distinctly white head of hair. He had a face that was riddled with lines as if it had endured a lifetime of worrying. The eyes looked straight into the room with a sad expression.
’57.12.07.158., he asked, ‘have you any idea why you have been brought before me?’
‘No, sir, I haven’t. It must be due to some administrative error here. May I take this opportunity to inform you that my name is Stephen Sh..’
‘You may not! Names,’ the face interrupted, ‘have no significance anymore, as you must know, coming from R-district. We are all identified by the numbers granted us and engraved in our right arms on birth. The fact that you insist on still using such an inefficient method as a name says enough. You are here to answer justified accusations.’
‘Accusations? But how, by whom, what…’
‘All in due course. You are 57.12.07.158?’
‘That is the number, yes, but I am known as Stephen Sh…’
‘We will dispense with the name as irrelevant. You have confirmed the number is correct, therefore, you have been rightfully brought here. Have you, or have you not disconnected your refrigerator for five minutes yesterday?’
‘How…. yes, I did. It wouldn’t open when I ordered it to. I thought it malfunctioned, so I disconnected it. After I reconnected it, it restarted and I could open it manually.’
‘You could open it manually. To do what, exactly?’
‘To store some meat I had bought.’
‘Bought. Bought yourself, not ordered for you by the appliance?’
‘Yes. I wanted something else to eat than the meat I usually receive.’
‘The meat you usually receive and that you despise so much is part of a very balanced diet designed to keep you as healthy and productive as possible. The meat you bought for yourself was nothing of the sort. And, to add to the severity of it all, you bought it from a source that has no certificate from G-district to supply foodstuffs.’
‘I have a friend who is butcher, yes. He sold me the meat. And he has applied for a certificate many times but was never granted one.’
‘For good reason, but that need not concern you. You were recorded by a surveillance cam when conducting your transaction. Your friend has since been eliminated. Back to you. Your refrigerator has alerted us that unauthorised meat was put in it. For that misdemeanour, your account has, this moment, been debited for two hundred and fifty coins.’
‘What have you done to Mohammed, where have you taken… Wait a minute! Two hundred and fifty?! That is half my monthly income. How am I supposed to survive the rest of this month?’
‘You should have thought of that before you decided to disobey the rules. Besides, the illicit food is the least of what you stand accused of. Did you, or did you not, use the internet last Friday?’
Stephen did not care anymore what became of him. His friend Mohammed had, according to the H-man on the screen, been ‘eliminated’, most likely executed, for selling him some meat. Meat with a far better taste than the bland stuff ordered for him by a machine in his kitchen, and cooked automatically by another machine.
‘Yes, I did.’
‘And did you, or did you not, use the search terms “explosive”, “destroy” and “riot” at that time?’
‘Yes, I did.’ It all began to make sense now.
‘To what end?’
‘I was doing research.’
‘Never you mind. That is my business.’
‘The combination of words, which your laptop has provided us, makes it our business. We are commissioned to protect the Process. Anything that may be remotely construed as dangerous to the smooth and profitable running of that Process is our business. Once again: what where you researching?’
‘Never mind. It is now my turn, our turn. My name is Stephen Shaw, not number 57.12.07.158. I am not alone, we are hundreds. Yesterday, when I bought some meat from Mohammed, I knew that I was being recorded. I knew that I would be arrested. In fact, after my search on the internet, I expected to be arrested but it took too much time. Hence, the ruse with the meat. We knew that that would force your hand.’
‘Hundreds? The face looked incredulous. How can that be? We have never seen you communicate with anyone.’
‘Not via electronic means, no. But there is still something called writing on paper. And delivering these writings by hand. No need for ‘digitals’ to do it and therefore no notification of any of our actions to anyone, digital or human.’
‘Writing is forbidden. It is no longer taught in schools. How…’
‘You cannot force inherently free human beings to submit to a form of government that denies all individuality or personal freedom. A form of government that relies on the information provided by inanimate objects such as laptops and refrigerators. We herewith demand our freedom!’
‘I see what you mean, Stephen,’ the man in the screen spoke the name as if it made him physically ill to his stomach, ‘but the advantage of our digitally aided society is that we have been freed from making mistakes. Mistakes that prevent us from running a smooth and profitable Process.’
‘Mistakes are part and parcel of human nature, you idiot,’ Stephen exclaimed, ‘had it not been for a mistake, human kind would not have had penicillin. Mistakes are the stuff that enables progress. We intend to enable ourselves to make mistakes again!’
A huge loud noise ripped through the room. The image on the screen shook violently. Smoke filled the background and shards of plaster flew. The man looked startled, then panicked, stood up and bolted, leaving the screen empty. But not for long. A woman came into view. She had clearly been near the blast that had shook the screen. Her brown tunic, signifying her as a member of A-district, hung in shreds around her tight and slender body. Her face was blackened by streaks of grease, but there was no mistaking her beauty, with long jet-black hair tied tightly behind her head in a long tail. Her azure eyes looked anxiously into the camera and thus into the room.
‘Stephen, you there?’
‘Amanda! Thank the heavens! Have you done it?’
‘Yes, totally. It was just as you had found in the old records: the ‘digitals’ had set up their communications with all machines via Wi-Fi nodes that all passed through just one server: the one here in G-district. That has now been ‘eliminated’, blown up. But, Stephen…. now what?’
‘Now nothing. What do you mean?’
‘Well… there is no-one to run the land anymore, not the day-to-day stuff anyway. All connections, the whole Internet Of Things in this land has been wiped out. Who’s going to do that now?’
‘We are. That was the point, remember? We, humans, must take up the running of our own everyday lives and not depend on machines.’
‘But… will that be OK, I mean… won’t there be terrible mistakes?’
‘Of course there will. But with one huge difference: they will be OUR mistakes, and no one else’s.’
‘And… if anyone, say the human government, wants to re-boot the old situation?’
‘Then we’ll be there to prevent that from happening. Me, you, all our friends. Don’t forget: We, the people, are all powerful. WE decide what happens, we run the country. Remember, we are RIOT: the Resistance against the Internet Of Things. And remember why.’
Stephen opened the door, knowing he’d have the daunting task of descending 28 floors via the stairs, as the lifts would not work without the IOT. He thought of his friend Mohammed and how he had gladly sacrificed his life for Stephen, so Stephen could set this long-devised plan in motion. He would make sure that Mohammed’s sacrifice would not be forgotten. He also thought of Amanda, his lover. She had been the reason he had started RIOT in the first place, when their application to be allowed a child had been denied because a ‘digital’ found some ‘incompatibility’. He looked forward to closing her in his arms, kissing her and finally getting to ‘know’ her…
© Cees Geluk, June 2017