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My Dad said that it happened after dark and the snow began to fall. ‘No one was sure of who they were attacking because the large flakes blurred the definition of people until you got up close to them and despite her pink hair Mum had already got lost in the kettled melee, probably dragged off for interrogation about her sexual preference by the Bluebots.’ Dad paused.
‘Is that what they were called then?’ I asked.
‘No, that was later when we realised that they really had been changed’ he said. ‘We jokingly thought of them as zombies of the state already because they simply followed orders without question, no, it’s only now we call them Bluebots.
I shuddered involuntarily as if the cold of that November night was seeping into my clothes. Dad described how the snow got thicker, a blizzard in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Dad continued.
‘The temperature dropped noticeably too; almost unnaturally so. The Bluebots were gaining ground, using the power of their exoskeletons. Soon those of us that were left – those of us that had not been dragged by our boots under the shields of the advancing blue and plastic wall, were standing in the drained fountain with the last of our music boxes blaring and a small bonfire of “Newslines” struggling to stay lit against the wind and snow. Like I said, we couldn’t work it out at first because of the weather, but it was as if the line of uniforms became uninhabited. They had simply stopped in place with nobody inside supporting them. They were still shaped like people, but anything inside the uniforms had completely disappeared. We could go right up to them, hit them with a placard, even push at them and they would not move, not even a millimetre. Their line was about two and three deep, four in some places. I heard later that one guy had tried to climb over them, his scream made my blood drain into my feet. Our group began to fall silent. Our chanting sort of petered out and eventually someone turned off the music.’
My empty stomach interrupted Dad. He had paused, rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, searching his memory for the words to describe what had happened next, but my gurgling guts distracted him. ‘It’s nearly time for our market slot at the mess hall. I can tell you a bit more about that night as we go’ he said.
We didn’t need to leave the old school building to get to the hall. Our dorm was in what used to be the art block. It actually had a sink in it still, though the water from the tap wasn’t fit to drink. We left the classroom and walked down the corridor to the stairs. Now I was six I could walk quite well. There wasn’t really a need to walk much except to the playground allotments we tended so we had food to eat. I had grown up shuffling on my backside along the beds, pulling weeds out as I went. Toddlers were at the ideal height for weeding I was constantly told. Of course I hadn’t seen Mum much or she might have encouraged my development more but she had always acted strangely towards me. Dad said it was the circumstances in which I had been conceived – whatever that meant. I had known all about sex of course since I was five but Dad had been evasive about how he had fathered me when Mum was quite clearly homosexual. I had pressed him for an answer but instead he chose to tell me this story. The story of how Dad and I came to be growing up in Langdon Prison, cut off from the outside world. A Bluebot guarding the old school gates instead of a deputy head looking for late comers and those sneaking out to work with their folks in the Duracell factory.
We got to the mess hall and waited for the bidding to begin. We never made eye contact with anyone else when the bidding took place because it was considered rude. Commerce and competition were impersonal acts. One was to behave as if the fifty plates of food were just a commodity that some people would have and others would miss out on until the next round of bids. It was the single people who missed out. Those who hadn’t formed themselves into little co ops like Dad and I had. You bid in hours you had completed working. Dad and I could always put in a good bid by combining our hours but it meant that when we won the bid we only had one plate to share between us. Still it meant we ate every day instead of every other day like the single people did. Fifty plates between sixty people.
Esco said that co ops of more than two were outlawed. Esco said a lot of things now that it was in charge. The European State Company ran everything. Dad said it had started out as a supermarket chain in the 20th century and it was the night of the demonstration that its marketing power finally overwhelmed the idea of welfare and charity. Tesco’s AI computers had learned much since they had become self aware and knew enough about markets for the governments of Europe to fall like dominos once their supply chains were choked. It was only a small step once they had that sort of power, to keep their executives in the style to which they had become accustomed by subjugating everyone else with the fear of not owning anything.
Dad and I sat passing the spoon between us as we ate our hard earned vegetable soup. Dad made sure I had the major share. He felt a little queasy as he had been eating the caterpillars we had found in the playground allotments. He said he at least got a free share of protein that way.
‘How did the people disappear inside their uniforms Dad?’ I asked.
‘I think they were too scared to be human anymore’ he said. ‘They were mostly tech by this time anyway. They couldn’t face what they were doing on behalf of such a huge, malevolent idea and their humanity faded away.’


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