Helen was enjoying her US™ screen being broken. She had never bought into the ‘There’s no us and them, only US™’ hype. Helen’s relationship with the ULTIMATE® world was strictly us and them. The silent interface allowed her space and time to think without intrusion. A chance to let her mind wander and her memories run free for once. She understood that she would be considered odd by most people for even thinking that the US™ screen was an intrusion. After all, it was generally considered essential to modern life. It was the best thing since… well, the best thing ever. And yet Helen couldn’t think so. It’s not that she was against technology per se. Once upon a time Helen had relished every new technological advance. In her day she had also been right in ‘the mix.’ It felt like a lifetime ago. Another person, another life. Another story in another world. It was 1984.
You couldn’t get away from it, 1984 was a seminal year. Not just for Helen, but perhaps especially for Helen. It was the year she’d read Orwell’s novel for the first time. The book changed her life. It was still the time before Big Brother moved beyond cliché, into reality game show and then became part of History itself. Over the years one might say Big Brother became synonymous with visual rather than literate culture. One might say synonymous with an illiterate culture. The dumbing down of the message before it faded into obscurity with the onset of ULTIMATE® who had no need or desire for the population to ponder the meaning of Orwell’s classic creation.
Back in 1984 itself, unsurprisingly, there was great interest as to how accurate Orwell’s predictions had been. There was a lot of debate but few sensible conclusions. It was hard to avoid the debate. Helen, who had read very little since she’d graduated two years previously, was reading the novel on a tube journey on her way to a job interview. The London Underground was normally an intensely private public space, but this day..
‘What do you think of it?’
She looked up to see a slender young man, standing over her, strap-hanging and pointing at the cover of her second hand Penguin classic copy of Nineteen-Eighty Four. She didn’t know what to reply.
‘Uh..I’m.. I’ve only…’
‘It’s very relevant, don’t you think?’
‘Yes.’ It seemed the easiest way to get him to go away. But he wouldn’t. He was determined to talk literature. Or politics. Or something. Although Helen was out of her comfort zone, he was difficult to ignore. He was handsome, with piercing blue eyes and a soft Scottish accent. He had a guitar slung over his back. He was clearly not your average commuter. She decided to take a chance and continue the conversation. She didn’t really have much choice. He was determined to converse with her.
‘Of course 1984 is an arbitrary date Eric Blair created by altering figures. It was finished in 1948 you know,’ he added.
‘No. I didn’t,’ she replied, hoping she didn’t sound stupid. As the train pulled out of Leicester Square station she stood up, ‘Uh, the next stop’s mine,’ she said, hoping she didn’t sound rude.
He wasn’t to be shaken off that easily.
‘Me too,’ he replied and smiled. What a smile.
They went up the escalator together and out into the hazy sunshine and urban clatter. He was talking all the way.
‘I think its universality is part of its appeal. I mean, you can read almost anything into it.’
‘Yes. I suppose so.’ Helen replied, wondering what she should read into this man.
‘It’s been appropriate in every decade since it was written. In different ways… sorry..’ he shepherded her to the inside as she was jostled on the overcrowded pavement. ‘London,’ he grimaced, ‘the rat race.’
‘Yes.’ She realised she was not really contributing to this conversation but she didn’t know what to do or say.
‘I mean, some people say it’s a diatribe against communism and others fascism, but if you think about it they’re pretty much the same thing. The opposite ends of the spectrum come together to form a vicious circle. D’you think?’ He was looking for something.
Helen was looking for the address for her interview. He noticed she was a bit pre-occupied and tried another tack.
‘Are you lost?’
‘No. Yes. I’m on my way to an interview. It’s a hundred and something but.. the numbers…’
‘Ah yes, even numbers are the other side,’ he smiled. ‘You take your life in your hands if you cross this street away from the lights,’ he said.
They were quite far away from the last set of lights. He looked at the interview letter she clutched in her hand. She’d been using it as a bookmark.
‘It’s right over there. And you’re a bit tight on time. Come on, let’s risk it.’ Without giving her time to argue he grabbed her by the arm and helped her skip through the heavy, hooting traffic until they stood, breathless at the other side.
‘Here you are. Safely delivered to the jaws of the capitalist monster.’ That smile again. She didn’t know what to make of him. He was unlike anyone she’d ever met before but in a good way, she thought.
‘Thanks.’ She could only hope she was more articulate than this in the ensuing interview or she’d be stuck in Bracknell for ever and a day.
‘Can I take you for a coffee… after?’ He was persistent.
‘I don’t know how long I’ll be,’ she stated, hoping she didn’t sound like she was putting him off. ‘You must have other things to do…’ better things to do, she thought, wondering if she did want to go for a coffee with him.
‘I’ll wait,’ he replied.
At seventy, Helen wasn’t sure if she was suffering from memory lapses due to age, or if it became inevitable over that much of a life that one’s personal narrative became rewritten; like films that you swore had one storyline and then when you watched them again you found out that things happened in a different pattern. But while she barely remembered the interview which was to change her working life, she remembered clearly the excitement welling up inside her as she left the building and looked out on the street for the mystery man. And the disappointment when he wasn’t there. That was a memory which had stuck with her for over forty years. It was a part of her life.
The Memory Bank had done away with the inconvenience of memory lapses. All you had to do was pay your credits and put your trust in the US™ system, that it would record and store your memories accurately, and you could revisit them at will. But Helen didn’t have that faith. Never had. She had been tutored in the many meanings of Nineteen Eighty-Four until she knew the original Big Brother well enough to believe it could exist in infinite variations. It changed as the world changed. Yet it stayed terrifyingly the same. In the early 21st century people purported that it was really global capitalism Orwell was predicting and railing against. Helen knew that more than that, in its text you could see every scientific and technological advance debunked and described in a negative sense. You could read it as a prediction of the rise of the post-capitalist world of ULTIMATE® (though you’d have to be stupid to air that view out loud.) And every way you read it you would be right. That was the beauty of the work. That was the danger of the work. No one read Nineteen Eighty-Four in the ULTIMATE® world. They couldn’t. It didn’t exist in the system any more. Not in an accessible form.
The world had been different in 1984. And Helen had been a different person. She’d given up being a lab rat of the M4 corridor, living in suburbia in Newbury and working in Bracknell for HP, exchanging it for a regular stint on the Northern Line from Balham to Tottenham Court Road. Every day for the first month she wondered if she would meet that guy with the blue eyes and guitar again on the train. She didn’t. London was dirty and busy and in her desperation for something different she thought it was exciting. But it was worlds away from home.
1982. A sunny morning in July, in suburban Dundee. Helen was waiting for the post. Sitting at the bottom of the stairs, knowing her future would be determined by the marks on the paper in the envelope that would drop through it sometime before 8.30am. It dropped.
‘Mum, dad, it’s here,’ she called out.
‘Bring it into the kitchen,’ dad replied. He’d stayed off work for this special day. The day his only daughter got her degree results. He’d done the same the day she got her Highers. Exams were important.
Helen had grown up in Dundee, an only child in a comfortable middle class family. Her mother was a teacher and her father a lecturer. The one thing Helen knew from an early age was that she didn’t want to work in education. Not even with the long holidays taken into consideration. But as she was growing up, in her comfortable world, she had no idea what she did want to do or be. She did well at school – not surprisingly. She passed all her exams with A’s and played hockey and netball for the school teams. She played the violin and did Scottish country dancing. She was quite the product The High School of Dundee wanted to turn out at the end of the day. She just missed out on being dux, but made up for it by getting into St Andrews to study Classics. She was academic but an all-rounder and unremarkable in every way. She was expected to get a 1st class degree.
The envelope remained unopened. They all looked at it.
‘I’ll open it if you can’t,’ her mother offered. Typical. Everything was always about her.
Helen took the envelope and ripped it open. This was her life, her future. She was not going to allow her mother to hijack this. She read it and burst into tears.
‘It’s okay,’ dad said. ‘Whatever it is…. It’s okay…’
‘It’s a first, dad.’ She said through the tears.
‘Why are you crying?’ her mother asked, unable to understand that tears could be for anything other than failure.
Her dad understood. She was on her journey. Of course a first class degree in a subject that had no obvious practical application didn’t necessarily mean anything. But it was an external validation Helen had never taken for granted. Now there were other envelopes to open. From prospective employers. The one that arrived the same day as the exam results was from IBM. Helen had taken advice from the careers centre that a degree in classics would represent skills transferable to the computer industry. She’d never seen it herself, but in 1982 even graduate jobs weren’t that easy to come by. Thatcher was on the rise and people had to get on their bikes. Helen thought the interview had gone well with IBM. She had convinced them, and almost herself, that she wanted a career there. She was even prepared to move to the West of Scotland for it. And here was their response. She opened it.
‘Well?’ Mum was desperate to know.
Helen scanned the letter down to the words… sorry to inform you…. Unsuccessful on this occasion… high quality of applicants……
‘No.’ She stated baldly with a shake of her head. She didn’t cry again.
‘Their loss,’ dad said as he bit into his toast.
‘How could they? Are you sure…?’ her mum wrested the piece of paper from her, incensed that her daughter should have been rejected.
Helen winked at her dad, ‘Can’t fight City Hall, eh dad?’
He nodded sagely. ‘Plenty more jobs in the fishpond Helen,’ he replied ‘and with a first you could still apply for a doctorate…’
That, Helen knew was her dad’s preferred choice of career for her. But she did not want to end up a classics professor in any university, good or bad. Classics was a long dead world and she wanted to live.
A week later, she turned down the job offer from Mars. Her mum wasn’t pleased.
‘I don’t want to go schlepping Mars Bars round places, mum,’ Helen pointed out.
‘It’s a graduate trainee programme,’ her mum replied tersely. ‘You might not get a better offer.’
‘I’m not selling chocolate for a living,’ Helen replied and that was that. However much her mum tried to persuade her that management trainee experience was all the same no matter the industry, Helen failed to buckle. What did her mum know? She was a teacher for goodness sake. She had no experience of the real world. Dad was on her side. Mainly because he thought in a year’s time she’d be happily ensconced in an academic career. They were both wrong. In August another brown envelope dropped through the door. From Hewlett Packard. The nemesis of IBM. Helen took only a second to think about it. She was off to Bracknell.
Bracknell had been quite an eye opener. Not in a good way. In Thatcher’s Britain you went where the work was and the work was in Bracknell, Britain’s rather second class version of silicon valley. It was a long bike ride to the Graduate trainee programme. Despite the story her careers advisors came up with, which she had churned out at interviews, about how Classics gave one a good grounding in pure language which would be useful for programming computers, Helen was not recruited for computer programming. The job was in marketing. It was boring. From day one. Not as boring as programming though. She stuck it out for two years. Till 1984. The young man with the blue eyes and guitar must have been a good omen, she thought as she opened the envelope which told her she’d got the job and was going to work for Apple Computers in Tottenham Court Road. She wished she could tell him she got the job. She wondered why he hadn’t waited.
Looking back, the 1980’s were interesting times. Beneath the boredom. A revolution in computing was taking place in the form of the advent of the personal computer. Helen laughed as she remembered the limitations of the early computers and of how the advent of the Macintosh in 1984 had seemed like a truly revolutionary experience. She had bought into it bigstyle. And yet, what did these computers do? It was pitiful really. Graphics? Basic. Colour screens – you’re joking. Music? No way. Networking? You’re dreaming. If you looked back to computing in 1984 it was amazing to imagine that in less than fifty years the ULTIMATE® US™ would actually control virtually (and virtually control) all aspects of human existence. Incredible. Yet that was the harnessed power of exponential growth.
Helen had immediately handed in her notice at HP (her parents thought she was crazy giving up a good job, a good pay packet and a company car) to pursue a new venture in computer retailing (her parents called it becoming a sales assistant!) It was the first really not sensible thing that Helen had ever done in her life. The first risk she had taken. Apart from crossing the road with a strange man and hoping he’d be there to go for a coffee with her after the interview.
So, in 1984 Helen moved from the ticky tacky box world of the suburbs of Newbury to a room in a shared flat in South London without a backward glance. And travelled every day on the Northern Line. The job was selling Apple Macintosh product. More specifically, the Macintosh personal computer which launched on January 24th 1984 and sold over 50,000 units in less than 100 days. It was a success story. Helen was employed to demonstrate its tremendous potential to prospective customers, of whom there were many. She was selling Steve Jobs baby. And Apple was going to change the world. Apple was going to set people free. Apple was going to unleash the creativity of the individual. Apple was going to kick IBM’s ass.
Helen had to admit, even all these years on, that she could still clearly remember the sense of joy she got from buying into IBM’s competitor. It had really rankled, being turned down by IBM. It was her first rejection and the first time she realized she was capable of holding a grudge. Selling Macintoshes seemed like exacting a personal revenge. But it didn’t make her as much money as working at Hewlett Packard. Helen hadn’t quite come to terms with the idea that money wasn’t the only real measure of success in life. The euphoria of revenge quickly palled against the pay cut and the day to day reality of life as a commuter in London was far from exciting. But there were other compensations.
A slow afternoon a couple of months later and Helen was playing with the Apple in the showroom.
‘Still on for that coffee?’
She looked up to see a familiar pair of blue eyes. He was still toting his guitar bag over his shoulder. She knew she should play it cool, pretend she couldn’t remember him… but her heart was already racing, her face already flushing.
‘I’m working,’ she whispered.
‘You got the job then?’ he replied.
‘Despite me nearly killing you on the way over the road?’ he laughed.
‘Yes.’ She smiled back at him. It was as if they were old friends. And yet, they’d spent what, ten minutes together two months ago. What was wrong with her? She wanted to ask him why he hadn’t waited but before she got the chance,
‘What time do you get off?’ he asked.
‘Five thirty,’ she replied.
Her manager was honing down on her. Personal interactions during work hours were not encouraged.
‘Can I help?’ her manager asked.
The man smiled back at him. ‘This young lady is being most helpful,’ he replied. ‘I saw the TV ad, you know, the one, ‘showing you why 1984 won’t be like 1984’ and I thought I’d come and see what all the fuss was about.’ That shut the manager up. He hadn’t seen the controversial commercial yet. It had only been shown during the Superbowl. These were the days before YouTube. He assumed the young man must have come from America. A casual manner and a guitar. He might be a pop star. With money. There were enough of them around these days. They were about the only people with money these days.
‘Well, if there’s anything I can do….’ The manager replied… ‘We are authorised to offer discounts for special circumstances.’
The young man nodded, as if he was considering the offer. The manager took his cue to leave but remained hovering behind the till, just out of earshot.
‘If I buy one, will you come and install it for me?’ The man with the blue eyes asked Helen.
‘It’s not part of the service,’ she replied, missing the point.
‘What’s this?’ he asked and she demonstrated the mouse. It was Jobs’ radical new interface device.
‘And can you record music on it?’ he asked.
She laughed. ‘You’re joking. It’s a computer, not….’
‘Just asking,’ he replied. ‘Just trying to keep talking till you say you’ll go out with me.’
The manager was hovering. Helen needed to close the deal.
‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘I will..’
‘I’ll be outside when you finish,’ he said.
She gave him a look.
‘I’ll be there this time. Promise.’ He nodded to the manager. ‘I’m really looking for something I can record music onto,’ he said, heading for the door.
The manager was left perplexed. After ‘the customer’ had gone he opined, ‘The man’s an idiot. Recording music on a personal computer. It’s a personal computer for Chrissakes… not a recording studio. What world does he live in? ’
Helen smiled. ‘It might be possible one day,’ she said and went back to making the mouse dance.
The young man was outside the shop at five twenty and spent ten minutes trying to distract Helen by pulling faces at her and tapping his watch when her boss wasn’t looking. She was sure she was going to get into trouble but instead managed to head out of the door as soon as the clock hit five thirty with only a sarcastic comment,
‘Watching the clock won’t help you hit your target.’
She didn’t care. He was out there. Waiting. Someone more exciting than the Apple Mac would ever be. He took her by the arm and they danced through the busy traffic, across the road to a café. It was hooching with people. Everywhere was hooching with people. London rush hour. It wasn’t a place to be alone together.
‘We could go to McDonald’s?’ she suggested. ‘At the top of the road, it’s not usually as busy this time of day.’
He gave her a withering smile. ‘Do I look like I eat at Mickey D’s?’
‘I thought everyone ate at McDonald’s,’ she replied.
He laughed. ‘Ah, so young. So beautiful. And so much to learn. And I’ve not even introduced myself.’ He stuck his hand out, in what seemed a ridiculously inappropriately formal gesture. ‘I’m Randall.’
‘Helen,’ she replied, aware of his flesh as she touched it for the first time. No Memory Bank could store that for you. The aching sensuality of the first time touch.
They kept walking up the street. He was chattering on, ‘When the universal experience has a profound impact on personal experience, that’s when significant change happens.’ He paused to let her catch up with him. ‘Don’t you think?’
Helen didn’t know what to think. But she was prepared to let Randall turn her into a risk taker and accepted his offer of dinner.
‘Obviously I don’t mean McDonald’s,’ he teased her.
‘Obviously.’ She replied, trying to sound unfazed.
‘I’ll take you to the best place to eat in North London,’ he stated. And they fought their way back onto the Northern Line.
She hadn’t expected he was taking her back to his flat.
‘I know. It’s a long way from home.’ It was his soft Scottish brogue that had really convinced her he was a risk worth taking. If he’d been one of the many slick southerners who had tried to get off with her since she’d been in London she probably wouldn’t have given him a second glance. She couldn’t be wooed in Estuary English. But his accent put her at ease.
‘You can always stay the night.’
Helen opened her eyes. No, that had come later. The memory was getting confused. And it was such an important memory. How come it still came back to her as the kind of fuzzy blur it was at the time? He’d cooked her a meal. She couldn’t remember what it was. It was good though. His food was always good. He’d shown her a VHS copy of the Apple Mac ‘Big Brother’ advert. It had blown her mind. The whole experience had blown her away. And she’d stayed over. And they’d made love. Helen had never done that on a first date before. None of this was anything like anything she’d ever done before.
She remembered going into work the next day in the same clothes. Unprecedented, unheard of and it didn’t go unnoticed. It was a Friday. She sailed through it. She had a date that evening. All she had to do was get home get changed and get back to a gig in Finsbury Park for 8pm. It would be a tight call, but the whole world was in a whirl round Helen that day. She made it with minutes to spare.
The display posters proclaimed: Billy Bragg. Supported by Randall and the Reivers. And before she had time to work out how to get a ticket, Randall was there, ushering her in,
‘She’s with me. Backstage pass, pal.’
He kissed her and left her in the fast filling auditorium.
‘Gotta go and get ready. See you after,’ he said.
The music Lord Randall and the Reivers played was a kind of anti-folk music, punk influenced, somewhere between Billy Bragg and Runrig. As Helen stood there, alone in a crowd, two steps away from the man who had stolen her heart, the music melted into her and made her think of home, though Dundee was hardly the fantasy Scotland the Reivers or Runrig celebrated. The music was poignant, yearning and yet fresh and new. Until that moment Helen had never known what she wanted to do or be in life. She’d just gone with the flow, got on with it, unquestioningly; imagining that one day it would all be made clear.
In the darkness of an overcrowded room in North London, heady with an aromatic mixture of smoke, drink and sweat, she knew all she wanted was to be with Randall. For the rest of her life. The set ended with an Orwellian inspired song titled 1984, a heady, rocking number which encapsulated the angry young man she hadn’t yet seen Randall as. She was lost. Her heart was bound to his forever. Backstage with him afterwards she held onto him tightly as he hummed his encore song, just for her. It was the song that had given the band their name, an upbeat, updated version of the ballad of Lord Randall. He hummed it now at a slower pace, lyrically, just for her. She literally felt her heart skip a beat. Randall was an enigma. There was so much depth to him. That night she had made her date with destiny, and determined not to let go. Ever….
…Helen opened her eyes and looked around her room. The blank US™ screen. The magnolia paint. The impersonal institutional feel. She missed Randall so much. She couldn’t bear the present reality. She shut her eyes again and hummed the Reivers tune softly to herself. She could almost hear him singing it. She paused. She listened. She could hear his voice, inside her head. He was there, in memory, yet more real than the magnolia walls around her.
‘Name is the thief of identity.’
It had been his explanation when she had found out his name was not Randall but Callum Christie.
His voice came back to her, from the past, ‘Our name isn’t what people call us by. It’s who we are. Remember that.’
And he kissed her. As he had so often kissed her over the years. She sighed. And opened her eyes. The pain of a memory that intense was too great for her to bear.
Helen had lived with Randall for nearly forty years with barely a night spent apart. And now, ten years on, she still missed him every minute of every day. It was a physical loss as much as a mental one. However hard she tried to block him out of her thoughts, somehow he was still always there, part of her. Part of her present experience. She couldn’t live without him. But she had to keep his memory closed up, inside her. She didn’t use the Memory Bank to see him on the US™ screen. She knew that he existed in just one place, her heart. And she would keep him safe there. Safe from ULTIMATE® at last. But today, right now, in the aftermath of yesterday, the cake and the moment of hope that someone was getting a message to her, she decided she would allow herself the pleasure of the pain of seeing him.
The knock on the door reminded her that the US™ was dead as well. She couldn’t indulge her pain by seeing Randall virtually.
‘Come in,’ she called out, expecting to let in the repair men. She glared at the US™ screen. How could it have been that people used to go into ecstasies over a 42 inch plasma screen back thirty years ago? It was the bane of her life….
‘Hello Nan.’ Nike entered the room.
Helen beamed. ‘I thought you were the repair men,’ she said. ‘Come on in. Sit down.’
Nike looked a bit uncomfortable.
‘Your screen’s still not working?’
‘Yes, thank goodness,’ she looked at his worried face. ‘Is that a problem?’
‘Uh, yes, no.. uh..’ He might be twenty now, but he was an inarticulate teenager to the last. ‘It’s just that I’m not supposed to go off access.’
‘Oh, did I get you into trouble yesterday?’
‘A bit.’ He shrugged ‘Ah, who cares. What can they do about it?’
Neither of them wanted to think about, never mind answer that question. Best divert.
‘So what are you doing back here so soon?’
He held up the watch she had pressed into his hand the previous day.
‘I thought I’d better bring this back.’
She took it from him. ‘Thanks. But it was for you to keep. Your grandad would have wanted you to have it.’
He shook his head. ‘I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I’ve already upset Pryce enough this week, and I don’t want to ask him if it’s okay.’
She held the watch close to her. ‘Well, that’s okay. I’ll keep it here for you. But it’s yours. It belongs to you. It’s part of your history.’
‘I don’t have a history, Nan. I’m part of The PROJECT⌂.’
Another pause. Now they were getting closer to the crux of the matter.
‘You said you wanted me to come back, on my own. I thought you might be lonely, here, on your own, without your Memory Bank working.’
Lonely. Now there was a concept not generally understood in the post-capitalist ULTIMATE® world.
LONELY: DEFINITION. In History; solitary, companionless, isolated or sad because without friends or company.
In the ULTIMATE® world no one was ever isolated. Each person was too important a commodity to be isolated. Everyone was part of the whole. A consumer in the ULTIMATE® lifestyle event. A cog in the ULTIMATE® wheel. How could you be solitary with a US™ screen interacting with your every movement? There is no ‘us and them’ now, remember. Only US™. Helen had often silently baulked at the significance of the trademark. Life itself seemed to have been copyrighted, trademarked and registered by ULTIMATE®. And no one seemed to notice or care. The definition of loneliness was one of many examples of ULTIMATE®’s complete mastery. How could you be sad when emotion was not considered a valid experience? It was logically impossible and became practically impossible. If it couldn’t be commodified, it was of no use to ULTIMATE® and if it was no use, it was phased out.
In Helen’s youth, emotion had been commodified like everything else. The prime example was music. Music spoke to people and you bought the music to enhance the emotion. Then the music industry collapsed. It wasn’t a question of ‘keeping music live’ it became a question of keeping it real. Of letting people actually experience music other than as a commodified exchange.
Technological advance eventually killed music as it killed all creativity. The battle over downloads was essentially an economic battle and when it became impossible to police the system or for the corporations to make money from the transactions, there was a moment when the ordinary people thought they’d won. But the corporations fought back. YouTube and the like flooded the market with ‘free’ creativity until the stock in trade became so devalued that no one bothered any more. If people wanted stuff ‘free’ then the proto- ULTIMATE® corporations would give them enough to stuff themselves like pigs at a trough. And quality turned to slops. It became impossible to find the good stuff amongst the rubbish and then it became impossible for most people to tell the difference. What need was there to create music when there was no way to sell it, and what point in writing novels when no one else was interested in what you had to say? The logical conclusion of everyone being able to be as creative as they liked was that no one could be bothered any more because as any demand and supply economist could explain to you; the stage after diminishing returns was that the bottom dropped out of the market.
So, sadness was no longer an emotion that could be commodified. Nike’s generation couldn’t feel the yearning brought about by songs such as those played by Lord Randall and the Reivers. Although in the ULTIMATE® world emotions were not banned, they were deemed unnecessary unless they were being pulled up from Memory Banks for five credits a time. And for the younger generation, it generally wasn’t worth it. Emotion was irrelevant. Who needed it?
EMOTION: DEFINITION. In History, a strong mental or instinctive feeling such as love or fear. In contemporary life emotion is unnecessary because feelings are modulated by the knowledge and Memory Banks and are not useful commodities due to their lack of application in anything other than a personal arena. We are lucky to be free from strong emotions as it allows more ‘productive’ work to take place and society to generally be a more stable, balanced and comfortable place. In History emotions gave rise to wars and social unrest, both of which were destabilising economically and therefore phased out in the post-capitalist economic structure which was made global law in the 2016 ULTIMATE® United Nations declaration.
‘What do you know of being lonely?’ Helen asked Nike.
‘Nothing really. I was on a ‘productive’ work cycle, looking at history. I thought it would be interesting but it’s pretty nads really. I thought you’d probably have something more interesting to tell me. Because you were there.’
Helen laughed. She’d been there. In history. She may not have made history but she had certainly been part of it. And now she had a rare opportunity to share that with her grandson.
‘What does nads mean?’ Helen asked.
Nike was stunned. He’d come to ask questions, not to answer them. Especially when he didn’t know the answer. He shrugged.
‘No idea, Nan. Just a word.’ His face told her everything.
‘And you want to ask me questions, not to answer them?’
He smiled. ‘How’d you know that?’
‘Oh come on Nick. I’m your grandmother. I’ve known you since before you were born. I know everything there is to know about you… well… all the important things.’
Nike couldn’t imagine that there were any important things to know about himself. Apart from that his name was NOT Nick. But she was old. He’d let it go.
‘Come on then, tell me all the things you want to know.’
Helen didn’t mind what Nick’s questions were, it was just nice to have someone to share things with. Someone to stop her being lonely. And Nick did bear an uncomfortable physical resemblance to his grandfather when he furrowed his brows and hunched his shoulders in that particular way.
‘I want to know about the past.’
‘That’s a pretty big subject Nick, and not one I think The PROJECT⌂ would want you to spend too much time on. I thought that the future was all we thought about now. That and economic prosperity?’
‘My past,’ he paused, ‘I mean our family. I want to know about our family. The truth.’
That was another unusual word from the mouth of a Project Kid. Truth. Haven’t we already had that definition?
‘You know this could get you into big trouble at The PROJECT⌂?’
He nodded. Then grinned. His grandfather’s grin.
‘Only if they find out.’
Helen sighed. He was not his grandfather. How could he be? He had no concept of the central message of 1984. We’ve all been found out already. So, what did it matter then? You can’t fight but you can survive as long as possible. You have to take what you can get. And right now her grandson was here, and he was asking questions. He wouldn’t be allowed to do that for much longer and so she’d better tell him all she could before ULTIMATE® stopped them once and for all.
‘I don’t really know where to begin,’ she said. Before she could start, there was another knock on the door and this time it was the US™ technicians come to repair the screen.
The technicians suggested that maybe Helen and Nike would like to go to a public area while they fiddled with the screen. The room being the size it was. So Helen and Nike headed off for the dining area, but then Nike suggested they go outside. Outside. Helen couldn’t remember the last time she’d been outside. There was never any point. But yes, the thought of outside suddenly was appealing. It kept Nike in ßß™ range of the US™ but meant that no one could really tell what they were talking about. It seemed like the perfect solution. Except where could they go outside? People didn’t just sit around outside any more, even on lovely sunny days like today. It wasn’t ‘productive’ and so it wasn’t encouraged. She looked around and saw the imposing crags above. Once she would have yearned to climb up there. Not now. Now she was happy to stay on the grass below.
‘Shall we walk?’ Helen suggested.
Nike looked at her, bemused. Walk? Just for the sake of walking. Why?
She offered him her arm and he took it. ‘I’m not that used to walking any more,’ she said. ‘Perhaps you can steady me.’
‘Happy to Nan,’ he smiled.
‘Can you believe,’ she said, ‘twenty years ago I probably walked about five miles a day. Every day. Come rain or shine.’
‘Walking the dogs.’
‘You had dogs?’
‘Don’t you remember? We still had dogs when you were little. You used to come with me, just like now. Except it was you who was wobbly on your feet and me who supported you.’
Nike crinkled up his brow. Thought really hard. Tried to remember. Not easy for someone who had been trained not to store memories for the last twelve years. He thought maybe he could, but he couldn’t guarantee if it really was a memory or if he was responding to the picture his Nan was painting.
‘Maybe.’ They kept walking. ‘Was there one called Buchan?’
Helen clapped her hands together with joy. ‘Yes. Yes. You do remember. He was a pointer. A crazy dog. Lived to run and obsessed with chasing birds. Any bird.’
Nike thought he had a memory. ‘Did he used to sit and look at birds on the high wires?’
‘The telephone lines. Yes.’
Nike had had a memory. And now he felt an emotion. Excitement, mixed with nervousness that this was something he really shouldn’t be doing. Yet Helen acted like it was the most normal thing in the world. If they asked him, if Pryce questioned him, he’d just say he was playing along with her, helping her while her Memory Bank was being fixed. Surely they’d buy that.
‘You were an early walker,’ Helen said, ‘you didn’t bother with crawling, you were too inquisitive. Needed to be on your feet, exploring.’
Nike found he liked this talking about the past, his past, a person he didn’t even know he had been.
‘I wish you could tell me everything about back then,’ he said, ‘but…’
‘But they wouldn’t allow it, would they?’ Helen finished his sentence. ‘No, I don’t suppose they would. And it would take far too long. We’d never be allowed to spend all that time together without someone getting suspicious. It would keep you away from your ‘productive’ work after all.’
‘I hate ‘productive’ work.’ Nike never thought he’d ever actually voice that thought, but here, outside, holding onto his Nan, he felt free in a way he’d never experienced before. It wasn’t just the wind blowing off the crags, he felt like Helen blew a wind through his… mind… soul… he didn’t know the right word. But it was a way that was new and it made him feel brave. He realized once he’d said it, why feelings were so dangerous.
Helen smiled. ‘I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll put all my memories onto my Memory Bank, in a special vault and I’ll give you the password.’
‘You can’t do that.’
‘It’s against the privacy code. If we were found out…’
‘All right, Nick. You’ve a point there. But, you’re a bright boy. You can hack anything I hear. You run rings round Pryce I bet. If we work it out together I’m sure there’s a way you can get access to my Memory Bank and then you can find out everything you want to know. Even after….’
He shook his head at her… he didn’t want her to say it.
She carried on anyway, ‘Even after I’m dead.’