Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Repeaters ( a short story )
after 2012 came and went, he was disappointed. nothing much happened. he turned on the tv and it was still the same old war, life was still the same old gameshow with slightly different actors repeating the same old lines.
he sat on the morning train and looked at peoples faces and they seemed as asleep as ever. their eyes were open but they didn't seem alive. he listened to them speak and they all sounded like robots, programmed with the same story, the same 2.2 beta version of interaction. he started to make notes. he studied them.
at night, when he had removed his rather expensive striped silk noose and hung it on the back of the door next to his suit jacket, he would examine his notebook, read the snippets of conversation he had overheard and recorded.
the first thing he noticed was that people liked to talk about what they had seen on tv. they would speak so fondly of people who didn't exist, as if they were real. they would analyze every pretend situation and give their verdict as if it were a matter of life and death. this, he soon realised, was the only time people ever really seemed to come alive, when they were talking about these imaginary worlds and these imaginary places and these imaginary people.
alot of the time, people would repeat things they had read in a magazine or a newspaper. he heard the same story over and over again, like a pointless, stupid echo. even peoples lives seemed the same. every day a different face beside him on the train would recount the similar tale of the day before, meaningless anecdotes detailing some random child, or some random boyfriend, or some random car/holiday/house they had bought. it was like listening to the drone of a million and one ants, the pulse of the hive mind sweeping them from day to identical day.
he didn't know what to make of it all. he put on his tv and on every channel, people were dressing in the same clothes, trying to copy each other, people were going to plastic surgeons and demanding they be changed to look the same as someone else. people were all driving the same car, drinking the same cola, smoking the same cigarettes. they were all giving their children the same few names, all parting their hair in the same direction, all listening to the same music, all dying of the same diseases.
and he looked up from his notebook, and stared at the tie hanging on the back of the door. even that was the same. the same three diagonal stripes. and he looked at his shoes, and he thought, impossible! those were the same shoes a million other tired feet had worn before him.
and he got out his wallet and looked at his identity card. that grey, shocked, badly lit face didn't look anything like him. that name, printed underneath, that didn't capture the essence of who he was. how could it? he started to repeat his own name, over and over. it just sounded like noise, not like real words. it sounded no different to the squeak of a monkey in a zoo, or the squeak of any monkey, anywhere.
his ape heart beat furiously and he needed air.
he went outside and looked around. there was still enough light to see, so he lit a cigarette and started paying attention. he sat cross legged on the lawn, which he had trimmed to the same length as everyone else in his street, and looked at the grass. the more he looked, the more he noticed how no two blades were the same. they weren't even close.
he looked at the sky, at the clouds, and there was no symmetry. he went to bed feeling very confused.
the next morning on the train, he didn't make any notes, he just looked. he looked at the sea of faces in the same way he had looked at the grass but nothing stood out. it was just the same bland face over and over again, like some kind of repeating hologram.
some of the faces were male, and some were female, and some were old and some were fat and some were incredibly ugly, but when it came down to it it was just the same old face, repeating forever, a self-replicating fractal of identical skulls, to infinity. their lips moved and their eyes opened and closed but the more he looked, the more he could see that they were like animations in a perpetual loop. they never thought anything new, or expressed an opinion that was entirely their own, they were all stuck in one monotone vinyl groove, repeating themselves forever.
and he watched them disconnecting from the world, plugging themselves into music players so they wouldn't have to listen, texting each other so they wouldn't have to speak, and he thought, what the hell is this?
whenever one of them approached him at the water-cooler now, he didn't know what to say. he would just stare at their lips and hope he looked like he was listening. he lost all interest in girls, because eventually, no matter how pretty or different she appeared at first, all he could see was the dull grey face of his boss, writhing beneath him, and he would have to makes his apologies and leave.
he began to find he couldn't tell people apart anymore. his own face in the mirror every morning was the only thing that seemed real. all around him were programmed people following sub-routines he no longer understood. they went to work and came home and watched tv and went to sleep, then got up and went to work again, over and over again, as if they were sleep-walking, as if they had never fully been awake.
he was pretty sure he was awake. he turned the lights on and off in his room every now and then, because he was sure he had read that in dreams, this was impossible. he couldn't remember why.
he got out his notebooks again, tried to find an answer, or at least some meaning, anything. but it made no sense, and he cried with frustration.
and suddenly he remembered being a child, knocking on peoples doors and running away, scrambling behind the nearest bush and having to choke back laughter as a confused face would appear, staring blankly at their empty doorstep, looking this way and that, shaking their heads silently and going back inside.
he put on his trainers and went into the street. he knocked on his neighbours door. noone came. so he tried the next, and the next, and the next. he didn't bother running away. he knocked more and more furiously, shouting hello. he peered through windows. in each house, people were huddled around their tvs, while cold plasma light streamed the same images onto their empty eyeballs. in each house, people just sat and stared, barely noticing each other, or his face, pressed against the glass.
he went home and closed the door. this had to be a dream. a dream within a dream, with no waking. he got into bed and closed his eyes.
and as he slept, the meat robots did not once break their gaze, did not lift their hollow eyes from the screen. they watched every second of his dreaming. the last free human, his soul just a film, his mind their entertainment.
and they sat around, plugged directly in, chasing every last synaptic wave, every last abstract, confused, hyper-real thought, absorbing every memory, until all that was left was a tiny spark, feeding them with liquid light, and he was just a spot, fading into darkness on the screen.