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The Last Years #1

Although we are in the last years of our civilization, mercifully few people are yet aware of our plight. Resignation or violent panic? Which will be the general reaction when the realization that we are no longer in control of our planet finally sinks in?
    Alas, it is the natural reaction of our species to behave badly in the face of the unthinkable and the truly awful. There may be nobility in the human soul but it tends to be well hidden in times of crisis. I fear that there is nothing ahead of us other than violent disorder, the posturing of those seeking to gain attention by being outrageous or anti-social and an orgy of animal passions just before the predestined end comes.
    And come it will in the form of

"The feck is this all about?" Pierson Day, deputy editor of the Sentinel & Advertiser, had perfected the art of the super-heavy sigh as an expression of his disapproval. He had the bulk and the aggressive presence of someone who could do full justice to super-heavy.
   Used to the tactic, Sally Lee put on an answering patient expression and offered a practised display of dumb insolence. "It's about what the strap line says it's about," she said. "It's a follow-up piece after all the rhubarb over the council's exclusion orders for those juvenile delinquents and their parents."
   "Whose idea was this?"
   "Jill thinks a recap is appropriate at this time."
   "The feck!" Pierson Day let the simple phrase sum up his displeasure and his disapproval. He had no scope for argument when he ran into an assignment handed out my his namesake, Jill Day, who was not related to Pierson Day [other than very distantly] but who enjoyed the multiple status of being the sister-in-law of the Sentinel & Advertiser's editor-in-chief, his chief executive assistant and, it was rumoured, his intermittent mistress.
   "So do I drop it or carry on?" Sally Lee arranged her somewhat Oriental features into a blank mask, creating her personal vision of inscrutability. Her Chinese genes had been diluted by European ones during her family's century or so of history as British citizens.
   The Feck-Monster grunted and retreated, defeated for the moment but not discouraged.
   It is my experience, the writer told himself, that the female of the species in the workplace tends to cause nothing but trouble on a regular basis. Sally Lee was an at-work friend and a frequent lunch companion but she still belonged to the enemy camp in the eternal war between the sexes.

They walk among us with the arrogance of the perfectly secure, the changed-ones who now play host to our Successors. Given the wide diversity of humanity in terms of appearance and size, and the latitude available in what is judged to be acceptable human behaviour, their infiltration proved laughably easy.
   It is only the discerning eye and the agile mind which can penetrate their cloak of commonplaceness. The arrogance taken to an inappropriate degree for a human being but to a degree entirely appropriate for one of humanity's Successors. The patterns of speech, which include coded audio-transmissions to others of their kind - messages which create a sound resembling 'feck', a word defined as quantity or number; the most part of; the greatest number of in certain dictionaries and quite inappropriate to the conversational context of it use.
   In fact, 'the feck' can be translated into colloquial speech as 'the thick end of', which may be taken in a number of diverse ways ...

"The feck is all this about?"
    The writer looked up to study Pierson Day's visage. Both halves of the deputy editor's face seemed to be equally tanned for once. "It's one of those fillers you wanted. This is sized for the box on page eight."
    "Who the feck's interested in how close Mars is?"
    "People of a scientific disposition, people who've seen the bits and pieces in the nationals and who want something more informative than their rehashed NASA press releases ..."
    "Since when did you become an expert on astronomy?"
    "Since I was given the job of constructing this filler."
    "Yeah, right." The Feck-Monster moved away with a smile on his ugly mug; for once, offering approval of a snappy response to a daft question.

Although 'fick' might be a more accurate rendering of the concept - to parallel the English word 'thick' as in 'the thick end of'.

Most of them choose to occupy positions of minor authority. The rest play the role of a member of the Leisure Class and enjoy their freedom to come and go without hindrance. And yet The Successors are not infallible.
   Those students of history who turn their attention to the governance of the United Kingdom in the period around the transition from the Second Millennium to the Third Millennium will see clear indications of exhibitionist thoughtlessness in Successor behaviour.
   Of course, The Successors would never make such crass blunders again now that they have had an opportunity to study the species which they will replace. Their initial assumption that humanity is not to be feared is a typical product of their arrogant self-confidence. Now, in the light of their experiences immediately after the millennium change, they are much more cautious.
   And yet it is a caution tempered with certainty. The way ahead is depressingly clear to those members of the doomed race who enjoy

You Have 1 New Message

The writer found a coin and flipped it into the air. To his annoyance, it came down 'tails'. After a long run of 'heads', he had reversed his system. He clicked on the OK button reluctantly, just knowing that the message was going to be a total waste of his time.

Thje F#ck is looking for 'volunteers' for something tedious.
Be sure to look busy at all times.
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer deleted the message from Jeff Boon, the sports correspondent, after reading it. Looking busy was not a problem on that particular Tuesday. He had four fillers to research and construct and then he knew that he was destined for an afternoon in the archives, helping Jackie with her mammoth task of preparing her electronically available catalogue of the Sentinel & Advertiser's back issues and those of the purchased and closed-down rivals.

At times, I reflect on how fortunate the rest of humanity is in not knowing the coming fate of our civilization and our species. I also reflect on the futility of the events that I see around me. Human beings continue to enjoy their minor triumphs over their neighbours and suffer routine pain and humiliation, secure in their ignorance, unaware that one day very soon, The Successors will declare themselves and everything will come to a full stop.
    Soon-to-be extinct humanity continues to scheme and plot internally. The Successors now have their external plan in place and the clock is ticking inexorably.
    At times, I plan my own reaction to the inevitable. There is no point in doing anything just yet. The war is already lost and further battles have no point. I am confident, however, that I can anticipate the timing of the Declaration of Extinction. And it is my inclination to take action on my own behalf just before the death-blow falls. I shall strike down one selected member of The Successors as my personal demonstration that they failed to fool all of humanity.
    The gesture will be futile and yet it will be remembered, for

"But this is going to take all bloody day!"
    The writer tuned in to a protest from an adjacent work station. Trevor Mercur, the crime correspondent and one of the more pretentious members of the Sentinel & Advertiser's staff, had fallen victim to the Feck-Monster's search for someone on whom to drop his tedious task.
   "So the sooner you get started, the better," Pierson Day said with his usual calm air of malice.
   "The feck!" drifted back to the writer when the deputy editor was safely back inside his glass box of an office.
   Trevor Mercur sat at the front-point of a diamond-shaped cluster of work stations. Assistant interiors correspondent Andras Ektors brought up the rear. Sally Lee and the writer were placed side by side between them. Ektors was boxed in by filing cabinets on both sides. Mercur had a filing cabinet on his left and a long storage unit directly in front of his desk. Sally Lee and the writer had aisles on their left and right sides respectively. The cluster format was supposed to be a highly efficient way of combining work and storage space. Those condemned to live with it were used to the arrangement and unwilling to change now that they had completed their adjustment.

Part of the cunning of The Successors lies in their use of a communication phrase, which they knew that the dominant native species on our planet would pick up and imitate. A love of wilful obscurity is an unfortunate human trait.
   I, a creature in a dominating position, say something and it clearly has meaning because a creature of my importance would not waste its valuable time on mere noises. You hear one or more sounds but you are unable to fathom their meaning. You are inferior to me. And so you throw the phrase around to others to prove that you, too, are at the leading edge of communication.
    Simple but effective logic and psychology.

The writer sensed movement - a human body rising to the vertical from a seated position. Sally Lee was off to lunch. She had the focussed air of a woman with a mission. The writer knew that all would be revealed in due course. Sally liked to share her life with anyone within convenient range and with her neighbour in particular - and often over lunch. But she preferred to share a completed episode in her life. Their usual natter at a synchronized coffee break that afternoon was unlikely to cover what had been happening at this particular lunchtime.
   Another human body in motion registered on the writer's sensors. This body was moving in the opposite direction, from a standing position to the chair which had just been parked beside his desk.
   "You know what you're doing this afternoon?" a female voice said, reinforcing the recognition information supplied by a not all together unpleasing brand of scent.
   "Wearing my bloody fingers out on your mammoth." The writer continued to polish his final filler without looking at Jackie Sydenham. She was well worth a long, admiring gaze but there had been too many interruptions and he wanted to get the job out of the way.

You Now Have 18 Unread Messages

The pop-up box was getting pissed off and thoroughly petulant. It took being told to go away via a click on the Close button as a personal insult.
   "I hope you're not going to read those now. I'm hungry," Jackie remarked.
   The writer saved and closed the file, then he frowned at Jackie to tell her that he could not see the connection between her statements.
   She had a naked face which was either devoid of make up or painted with products which enhanced without advertising their presence. This was one of her 'big hair days', when she let her chestnut waves bounce all over the place instead of drawing them back into a pony tail or a plait.
   "I thought we could go to lunch together." Jackie offered a smile that was 25% seduction and 75% innocence.
   "You mean, you're keeping an eye on me to make sure I don't do a runner?"
   "It never hurts to massage a man's ego and let him think you can't bear to be apart from him."
   "Is that a quote from your famous novel?"
   "Dead cynical, some people."
   "I'll take that as a yes," the writer decided.
   Jackie, the noted bundle of restless energy, was already on her feet. The writer logged off, switched off his work station and grabbed his jacket from its hiding place in the desk's file drawer. The rest of his day was destined to be a struggle

A new day with new challenges: the writer switched on his work station a good ten minutes before the formal start of his working day and found himself confronted with a pop-up message telling him:

You Now Have 31 Unread Messages

The writer experienced a moment of compulsion. Messages are to be opened and actioned to the exclusion of all other work assignments. The law was unwritten, i.e. it did not appear in the Sentinel & Advertiser's Staff Handbook, but it was understood that working efficiently meant keeping up with the flow of information.
   "Not even close to the world record," a female voice remarked nearby.
   The writer moved both hands well away from the keyboard and looked up at the wall clock placed immediately to the right of his work station. He still had eight and a half minutes of his own time left in which to gear himself up for the rigours of toil.
   "The feck!" Somehow, the bogus obscenity sounded genuine when it fell from Sally Lee's pink-painted lips.
   The writer looked over at her monitor screen. She had 29 unread messages, even though she had been beavering away at her work station until the normal going-home time the previous day and not stuck in the archives, cross-indexing to Jackie's orders.
   "I hope you're not going to do anything about those outside the company's time," the writer said severely.
   "If I don't, I'll never get anything done this morning." Sally began to plough through her messages, muttering to herself as she deleted ones which had been copied to her for no apparent reason.
   "Don't you wish there could be a Delete All Irrelevant option?" Sally remarked eventually.
   "Some people just want an easy life," the writer scoffed.

I am often struck by my own calmness in the face of the inevitable. Knowing what is to come, I continue to follow my usual routines. Maybe I find refuge in them.
   I get up in the morning, I go to work, I go home in the late afternoon, I enjoy whatever is on offer in the way of a social life during the evening, I go to bed, not always my own, I get up, and I go to work; which may involve going home first.
   Survival instinct also plays a part in my behaviour. For while I have identified one of The Successors by his intermittent data transmissions to others of his kind, I know that there are many more undetected others moving freely among we obsolete and soon-to-be-replaced human beings.
   It is well known that infiltration of the government, the civil service, the military, the police force and any other instruments of control has to be the first step in any take-over. 'They've got the guns but we've got the numbers'. While this may be true, Mr. Jim Morrison, expired popular musician, our inability to detect most of The Successors renders our numerical superiority meaningless. In fact

You Now Have 32 Unread Messages

Surrendering to the inevitable, at a token 19 seconds past his official starting time for the day, by the wall clock on his right, the writer began to WOT-rate his messages. As usual, zero [is a waste of time] dominated and nobody had had anything particularly interesting to tell him during his absence from his normal working position - but that had not inhibited their urge to communicate.

Sometimes, the surveillance cameras are box-shaped, they turn and point, and they wear a red light as a warning that they are switched on and that anyone who can see the light is under observation.
   Sometimes, the boxes have a rounder, more organic shape, they wear colours which match their surroundings closely and their mechanisms for controlling the direction in which they are looking are internal. As a result, no one who views their exterior can be sure what they are inspecting at any given time. These 'Sneaky Pete' scanners, of course, do not wear a warning light.
    Neither do they show any indication of who owns the pair of eyes which is viewing the monitor screen linked to them. Is the owner of the eyes still human? Or a collaborator, willing or pressed? Or one of The Successors?
    This question is becoming increasingly irrelevant in our final days.

At lunchtime, Sally Lee headed for the outside world with the air of a woman with a mission - which was clearly not work-related.
    "Guess what? I've won the lottery."
    The writer looked up in surprise at the beam of delight on Jeff Boon's weathered face. The sports correspondent generally kept his in-office work time to below 20% and he had been catching a lot of sun recently.
    "But ...," Boon added.
    "It's only small-time because if it was big-time, we wouldn't see you for dust?" the writer divined.
    "Four numbers. Fifty quid."
    "Better than a slap in the eye with a wet fish. Are you buying me a drink, then?"
    "Only if you're buying me one back."

You Have 1 New Message

   "The feck!" said the writer. "I'm outa here."
    "What about your message?"
    "It'll still be there when I get back."
    "Not many people can do that," laughed Boon. "How did you get on with Jackie yesterday?" Boon added as they headed for the outside world. "Did she buy your lunch? Or did you buy hers?"
    "No," the writer told him.
    "Very fanciable, is our Jackie."
    "She's got a steady boyfriend called Graham. And getting involved with people you work with isn't usually a good idea."
    "Rules are made to be ignored."
    "And Jackie has some adverse connotations," the writer said with a shudder.
    "What, all that hard work in the archives? Tell you what," Boon added with a laugh, "you should get the Feck thinking you're having an affair with her. He'll never let you go down into the bowels of the building and be alone with her ever again."
    "Interesting thought," laughed the writer. "Zen and the Art of Office Politics. Might even work."

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