I wrote this. A long, long time ago, or that’s the way that 1998 seems to me now.
It eventually ended up in a collection of equally appalling short stories that are available on Kindle under my real name.
I’m not trying to sell it..
When I wrote it, I borrowed from other dystopian stories and added a grim twist.
And now. This week, fiction is hard to tell from reality.
Anybody want to take a bet on the whole thing being real in a few years?
Mik darted into a doorway as the poli-cruiser hummed past, red and blue lights blinking their danger signals into his eyes. He wasn’t wanted for anything, it was just an instinctive reaction, similar to an octopus darting under a rock at the first sign of a big fish.
He waited for a few minutes, just in case they decided to pull him in for routine questioning, which always left him bruised and bleeding, and then carried on walking.
Mik was tall, around the two metre mark, and very thin. His blonde hair was thinning and hung in greasy ropes around his shoulders. He dressed well, as befitted a member of his profession, and was one of the lucky few who could afford real leather shoes.
Thanks to a friend, he never had to stand in line for food, or even meat. Although this was not much of a consideration these days, as he was unable to hold anything down for any length of time.
As he walked, he constantly scanned the street, eyes flicking left and right with the regularity of a metronome.
“Mik.” A whispered call from a shop doorway.
He turned slowly, carefully making his face impassive. George, an old customer.
“Yeah, What’re you after?”
“What’ve you got?”
“Something very special, been banned for years now, one of the first ever to be banned as a matter of fact, just possession of this will be enough for six months in a cube.”
George’s eyes gleamed at this exciting snippet, moisture beading on his top lip.
“What is it? Come on, hurry up.”
Mik, in command now, reached slowly into one of his hidden pockets and found what he was looking for.
Waved his hand in front of George’s eyes, too fast to follow, the contents of his fist a blur.
He grinned, George was hooked.
Slowly he opened his fist and displayed the treasure held within.
George was openly sweating now. “How much?” He asked, voice trembling.
“Four hundred ecu’s to you, being as I know you that is.”
“Okay, okay, here’s the money, hand it over.”
Mik moved like lightning, snatching the small plastic coins from George’s hand with the speed of a striking cobra, and only then did he hand George his prize.
” A real classic that is, first film that Michael Caine ever made as a matter of fact, not many people know that.”
George smiled blankly, oblivious to the world, all he could think of was going home and watching his black-market copy of Zulu.
Mik shrugged his shoulders and walked away, there was no point carrying on the conversation, besides, he was going to the happy clinic soon, and he didn’t want to be late.
He checked his pockets as he walked, running a quick inventory of his stock, more copies of Zulu, Waterloo, The Dam Busters, Henry V, 633 Squadron, The Battle of Britain, the list ran on and on. Most of these films had been banned since 2020, when the EGov had decreed that “Offensive Imperialist Propaganda” would be banned.
This was not a move aimed exclusively at Britain, rather an across the board removal of each member state’s military past. Some subjects were removed from school curriculums, for example the First and Second World Wars were not even obliquely referred to, the same applied to Napoleon’s rape of Europe and Nazi Germany’s attempt to eradicate all “Untermenschen”.
This attempt to somehow lessen the old hatreds between the member states, predictably, did not succeed. The French still hated the English and were coldly polite to the Germans, The Germans still harboured a festering dislike for Britain, as did the Italians. The British still hated almost everybody, with especial venom reserved for the Ancient Enemy, the French.
People in authority denied that these hatreds still existed, or in fact, had ever existed. But, every summer, coach loads of young men made the trip through the Channel Tunnel and kicked the shit out of people on the other side.
These incidents, often involving hundreds of people, never once made the nightly news programmes. Neither did stories of unemployment or crime, except when the crime rate went up more slowly than the year previously.
In 2018, the EGov decided upon a policy of trying to keep civil unrest to a minimum, therefore, certain news items were banned, crime, unemployment (currently standing at 97,000,000), pollution and Global Warming.
Alongside this policy, the Happy Clinics were opened. For a small amount of money, people could go along to the clinics and take the drugs of their choice.
This accomplished two things very quickly, the first that drug dealers were driven out of business almost overnight. The second was that the number of addicts skyrocketed, and now stood at a staggering 200,000,000.
A side effect of this was that drug-related crime dropped almost to nothing, just the occasional knife or axe-murder committed under the influence. These incidents also never made the news.
Mik was unconscious of most of these decisions, the only one that he was aware of involved the banning of films and books, and he didn’t sell books, too big and bulky. No, give him a mini-vid any day, small, compact and easily erasable with the coat that he wore. This had thousands of strands of wire all connected to a power cell, that when activated by a simple voice command, turned his coat into a powerful electro-magnet.
He drifted along through the crowds, still scanning for potential trouble, occasionally glancing up at the video cameras positioned on strategic rooftops, eyes squinting against the yellow sky.
He was sweating himself now, body reacting to the pressure of the sale. He tried to slow his heart rate down, he was losing weight all the time these days. He wondered if he should mention it to the doctor at the Happy Clinic.
He decided against it, they might want him to cut down on the number of visits that he made. He was up to two hits a day now, heroin followed by crack cocaine at each visit.
He really was getting hot now, sure that he couldn’t remember a January being so hot, it was almost thirty degrees today.
And getting hotter.
A thin trickle of sweat ran down the back of his neck, down his back and spread out across the base of his spine. Making him sticky and uncomfortable, his mouth was getting dry and he had the beginnings of a headache.
He decided to go for a drink before he went to the Happy Clinic, a couple of large vodkas was always a good base for the drugs.
The pub, as usual, was packed. It took Mik what seemed like ages before he could fight his way through to the bar, nobody seemed to mind being pushed aside these days, idly, Mik wondered if they were putting something in the booze.
In fact they were.
Two years ago it had been decided to drastically cut the duty on alcohol, it was also decided to add a harmless tranquilliser. This meant that more people could afford to drink, it also cut down on the possibility of violence, and most importantly, it nipped in the bud any thoughts of “what are the EGov doing about unemployment, crime, poverty…….”
Most people, after a few hours in the bars and taverns had no more thought processes than a homing pigeon.
To save time, Mik ordered a quadruple round of treble vodkas, sinking the first one before the second had even been poured. He paid the surly looking barman and fought his way out to the “beer garden”, which had been covered over with a super hard plastic many years ago.
After a careful look round at the other customers, he casually laid out a neat row of vids on the bench in front of him. He wasn’t too worried about the police, the euro commissioners scared him more, they had almost unlimited powers of arrest and seizure of goods. Within five minutes, a large part of his stock had gone and he was several thousand ecu’s richer.
And quite drunk.
Unsteadily, he made his way out onto the street and just stood there for a moment, trying to remember where he was going to next. Just stood there in the reflected yellow glow from the windows, mouth open and slack. Looking almost like a dummy in a shop window, except that dummies didn’t drool.
After a while, an image of white coats and needles fought it’s way into his drugged brain and he shuffled off like an old, old man towards the Happy Clinic.
He arrived ten minutes later and sat in the waiting room with all the other people, hundreds of them. He suddenly realised that he couldn’t remember walking there from the pub, had only a vague recollection of moving among a swaying sea of blurred faces. Didn’t even remember sitting down.
He was worried.
He was forgetting more and more lately. He made a mental note to cut down on the booze, he vaguely remembered reading something about it killing brain cells. Drugs were ok though, the EGov had published a report on the beneficial properties of all the major drugs dispensed at the Happy Clinics.
Mik stood up and stretched, rubbed gently at his temples, the headache was still with him, it even seemed a little worse. He looked at the number that he’d been given and compared it to the number currently showing on the monitor above him, just under two hundred to go. Roughly ten minutes. He hoped that he could last that long.
The Happy Clinic was enormous, at any one time; at least thirty doctors were on duty and giving people their dosages. This particular clinic had at one time been a small hospital. It still retained a vaguely hospital-like air about it as doctors and nurses bustled busily about and porters carried the too-far-gone to the front door, where they were dumped.
Mik was starting to get itchy now, the spiders of withdrawal starting to climb all over his body, he tried not to start scratching, knowing that if he did, he’d not be able to stop for hours.
After what seemed an eternity of the spiders crawling over his flesh, even seeming to creep inside his eyeballs, his number came up on the monitor. Taking his ticket from the grim, unsmiling, security guard, he made his way to room number thirty four.
There was no need to knock, his image was being displayed on the closed circuit monitor inside and compared to a database. This process only took a few seconds and the steel door hissed open.
The doctor was waiting.
Poised over his monitor, Doctor Hamilton looked the very essence of a professional medical man. Crisp white coat, desk neatly laid out, hi-tech monitoring and test equipment surrounding his desk.
Only two things spoiled the look, his cold, cold blue eyes and the bucket of blood-filled used syringes behind him.
“Hello Mik, how’s business?” The question was friendly yet innocent. Professional.
It terrified Mik.
“Oh…. Not that great at the moment….. But it’s picking up. Honest.”
“No it’s not, I was talking to Feo the other day, he said that you’ve been ordering less and less each month. Maybe it’s time that you cut down on this a bit.” Gesturing to the syringes and drug cabinets.
“It’s not that… It’s just that I’ve not been feeling that great for a while now, I don’t know why.”
The doctor’s eyes narrowed, taking in Mik’s appearance fully.
“Yes you do look a bit thin, perhaps we’d better do a blood test. Give me your arm.”
Mik, knowing that it would be pointless to resist, held out a scarred left arm fro the testing unit.
A brief whir of machinery, a sudden sharp pain in his elbow joint, and the machine began its work.
The doctor hummed quietly to himself, Mik sweated.
The display changed, row upon row of figures traversing the screen, reflecting in the cold eyes of the doctor. Coming to a halt. Giving an instant diagnosis.
“Oh dear Mik, this doesn’t look very good at all, perhaps you’d like a small hit of a cocktail before I tell you the bad news?” Already knowing the answer, preparing a syringe with practised hands.
Mik just sat there, too frightened to ask, and too frightened to do anything except hold his arm out for the injection that would give him the courage to hear the bad news.
He hoped that it wasn’t AIDS, everything else was curable, except AIDS. If that’s what it turned out to be, he’d kill that fucking bitch Martine.
Slowly, the drugs cut in and he felt their calmness spreading through his mind.
“OK, tell me the worst, it’s not AIDS is it ?” His voice seemed wrong, slower, deeper than it should be.
“No, not AIDS, you’ve got cancer of the liver and bowels.”
Mik sighed in relief. Curable.
“What are you smiling at Mik?” The voice was cold, detached.
“Curable.” His voice was slower now, but happy-sounding.
“No. I’m afraid not. We gave up on cancer research twenty years ago.”
Mik could feel panic building up in his head. He couldn’t move his arms or legs.
Or his head.
All he could move were his eyes; he looked at the doctor, who seemed to be smiling.
“As I was saying, there were too many new cancer causing factors around, chemical spillage, air pollution, solar radiation, nuclear radiation. You name it and it was on the increase. So we started doing this.”
He waved the syringe through the air.
“This….. Used to be called a Hot Shot, but these days we just call it Option Three.”
Mik couldn’t see, he could only hear. And his hearing was fading fast.
“It was the best solution really. Cheap, quick, effective. Much better than raising people’s hopes with chemotherapy and radiation treatment. This way you just disap……”
A button was pushed and two burly porters, lobotomized to make their work easier for them to live with, came in and removed the body. Then took it to the sealed-off rear part of the clinic for incineration.
Another button pushed.
A new patient.
If I may, the only small detail that’s not quite right is the use of coins. TPTB seem determined to move us to virtual currencies and do away with cash, thus making all transactions traceable and taxable. The plastic coins may of course be part of an illegal barter system that’s not under the scrutiny of government… Otherwise, I loved the opening and the sale of illegal films which we regard as classics. I wonder, was the copy of the ‘Dambusters’ that Mik had the version where Guy Gibson’s has an inappropriately named dog, or was that bit bleeped out?!?
Well. It was 1998 in my defence. 🙂
On a re-read of my comment, I was a bit harsh. It was a good short story with a great prediction at its core. You could easily turn it into a 20-30 minute film and it will hold its own, no issue.
Coming from you that’s real praise 🙂
Do you mind if I have a crack at scripting the opening deal with the films? I’d make Mik the overall narrator of the piece, perhaps breaking the fourth wall to start off, as he tells us about the world he’s living in. I think it’s so ultra-relevant right now it needs to be done 🙂