The Future Subscription
Caleb awoke upright, mouth dry from dreams screams, eyes open with purple and grey bags of thinning dehydrated skin. His hair receding, but long enough to matt and knot at the back. His stubble had grown to a length of itch. Three days’ growth. The odour of his body was stronger than the stench of his apartment. The room of four walls reeked of depression and the loss of hope. Ironic, for the building in which he calls home is named “Courage hall.”
Even his subscription boxes were already down to the state minimum. His alcoholism prevention software had expired also. His body craved a drug and without the suppressant he was lost to his desires and longings. Tempatiosoft 2.0 was one of the standard neuro upgrades that came with the initial implant. Along with the multiple language upgrades, social media “vision tweet” and memory bank. The newest upgrade, affordable only to the most privileged, is a revolution in computer science. Caleb has always had an interest in the partnering between technology and biology. He was first in line for the initial implant. A revolutionary step forward in human evolution. He had been offered discount for the pioneering campaign, due to his employment at the telecommunications giant “Brexicorp” and his participation in the birth project run by its sister company “Skogarcorp.”
Caleb was once ambitious and moving forward, climbing the social ranks and ladder. All drive left him now, along with his wife.
His Augmented reality, virtual wife.
She had been appointed elsewhere and upgraded. His payments of the upkeep and maintenance of the relationship bot had gone into arears. The wedding contract had expired and renewal was more than he had spare. He had jumped at the new “Love Tech” when it was made available. Due to the overpopulation problem on the planet and the subsequent ‘remedies’ enforced by the totalitarian government that had elected itself to power at the time, the traditional sense of marriage had been eradicated. The absurd notion that choosing a stranger to spend the rest of your life with, procreate freely and inevitably force yourselves into a binding contract of misery, had been done away with. Section C of the “Human productivity bill” Under the heading of ‘personal and Self-sustainability’ When this ‘freedom’ had been finally liberated, Caleb was certain the productivity and advancement of his moving city would increase tenfold, opening the doors to new possibility and advancements. The social events were now reserved solely for networking in aid of one’s research or career. The pressure to display a primitive mating call of flamboyant clothing, sweet scents and false personals, usually self-indulgent, vain creations, reflecting the traits someone wishes they had and proceeds to project them in a form of a mask, to disguise the hatred for themselves underneath. These falsehoods led to the formation of every relationship being built on fluid foundations of lies. No longer did citizens need to worry about this. Procreation was no longer a right or a privilege, but a job. Not even for just women.
Caleb knew the procedure through and through, he had helped write the bill in his early days of high office in the Skogarcorp headquarters. After completing a short course in birth control and management, anyone could apply to carry a child. The act of sexual intercourse to concept is also extinct. The process for childbirth was as follows.
Firstly, DNA traits are selected by the governing corporations, they choose the traits needed on their production lines or offices, pay for the needed combination and then the process moves to the next stage. A successful applicant, male or female, with matching DNA strains, are brought to the clinic. They are paid from the moment they arrive. A solid one year of employment from the start to the end of the process. The Participant is fitted with new neural boosters and upgrades into the internal chip, everyone has now. For women, an already impregnated egg and sperm are placed into their womb. For men an artificial womb is attached to their neuro chip and the same process is followed. The birth is monitored and supported by a dedicated team of corporation employees. The participant can choose to live a life of indulgent comforts. The rate of pay is much lower, but the quality of life is among one of the best on the city. Every need is met, the meals are tailored to fit the needs and advance the traits of the pre-determined child. The burden of choice is taken from the applicants. A plethora of entertainment and relaxation products are on offer twenty-four hours a day. From visual entertainment, to audio comfort or physical aid, such as target centred massages from the chairs and the robotic aids.
Other applicants can choose to induced into a controlled coma. The brain activity of the applicant is frozen, the body is kept alive electronically and fed intravenously thought the process. For this, the rate of pay is much higher. Almost double, for losing a year of your life in a deep sleep. The physiological effects are still argued about. Some believe that after awaking from a year of slumber and receiving a large and generous deposit in a participant’s bank account is reward enough for simply sleeping. Other argue that the effects of creating a life and having no connection to it or knowledge of it, lead to a new and misunderstood form of post-natal depression. Leading to questioning the system, then opening the mind to dissidence and revolt. Which is a form of depression punishable by death.
Caleb knew too well about this depression. He had taken part in three births since he left the headquarters. The second and third were induced comas, but the first he was awake for. He remembers every part of that process. The pride, the excitement and the love. An emotion supressed by the compulsory pills, prescribed by the regional corporate governments. They are to combat radiation poisoning and to help break down the density of the air to the evolved lungs the human race now carries. Caleb was sure of the inclusion of many other chemicals, one of which is a modified strain of Lithium.
Caleb had been one of the first men to take part in the parenting scheme, therefore every slight flicker was studied and documented. The results from his trial and experience were the foundations used for the years to follow. This is now the only way to advance the human race in this country. A country oppressed by its police and “Peace keepers” and numbed mentally by its oppressive advertising companies, pushing products and making consumerism compulsory.
After the United Kingdom became simply a kingdom, the traitorous Ireland and Scotland left the blanket of prosperity of the kingdom and re-joined the failing and war torn “’union of Europe”
Cut off and set into the black zone, Brexit Britain moved forward, excommunicating itself from the foreign international market, its own filth smeared den of politicians squabbled among itself for so long on the potential deals offered to them, so much so that the recession doubled over into a triple collapse. The current prime minister was elected by the English people as an act of revolt against the high society politicians that had driven the country to its parking spot. The minister in question was a reality T.V star, made famous by internet videos involving pranks, gaming and music. His last show before politics became his life was a spectacle named “Watch me rule your country” Where he chaptalized and blogged his journey from internet personality to the head of the British kingdom. He acceptance was met with embarrassment. The British people were ashamed of themselves for what they had done. The first decision of the British government was to sign allegiance to the Chinese. There the tides of British rule, the same tides that carried ships to intercept and destroy the Spanish armada or the invasion of Normandy, were now the seas that the freedoms of the British people were sailing away on. The technological advance of Brexit Britain had begun. Like the sand of time falling through the fingers of death himself, the changes were irreversible. Forward through the years of depression and up through the years of prosperity it brings us back to the studio apartment of the 256th floor, where we initiated.
Caleb had eaten an extra square of the food parcels the evening before, his three meal a day platter for today had already been opened the previous evening. His breakfast was gone. The last of the companion meals were also opened but uneaten. He could not finish the meal that would be the last remaining memory of his wife. After the fall of the general market, commerce fell with it. Materialism took a different form but was still a strong controlling factor of the weak minded, late 21st century public. Consumerism was easier to manage now. The age of retail was over. No shops filled the ground floor streets, no departments for people to peruse, no salesman employed to entice you with fragrances and incentives as you walked past. The shopping culture had died. Nothing was happened upon, no surprises or bargain bins. No, now every need and necessity was a subscription service. Paid monthly, either by the employer, who in most cases owned the apartment the employee lived in, therefore they took care of the employee food, toiletries and amenity’s in monthly subscription boxes, each deducted from the pay, enough to live on and survive without the thrills and extras.
For those fortunate enough to be above the bread line, pay could be considerable and the options for spending were still available. Even more so now. Instead of the standard state meal box, you could subscribe to the meat platters, delivered each week in refrigerated boxes, containing your choice of seven meats, selectable on the ordering screen. There was the vegetable box, again, the higher subscription, the higher quality and more exotic the product. There were the entertainment boxes, that gave you a wider choice of movies, films, television shows, even controllable VR experiences. Then there was the “Extras” It was a weekly update that came in the form of a scan-able QR code. Each week delivered into the mail slot, the reader could choose his or her advertisement package. This was mandatory. The Implant was mandatory now. Advertising was the new God. Every wall had scrolling and moving advertisements in the 300 floored buildings, every mode of transport had audio or video advertisement’s. The Implant came with a sleep monitor too. At a very high price, the adverts could be turned off during slumber, but for most this was not affordable. Sleep was interrupted every hour with dream sales. Each hour, the implant sends signals, triggering dreams that act out advertisement’s for the upcoming weeks promotions. This lead to sleep deprivation and most opted for a large pay cut in exchange for sleep tokens. These were small 12 digit codes, entered into the implant controller each evening and granted six hours of un-interrupted slumber. These codes were now becoming an underground currency used for illegal trade and gambling, which had been outlawed, outside of the government owned “IGamble” app.
Caleb had cancelled his subscription to this also. His sleep patterns were monitored and his reminders informed him that he was in need of uninterrupted sleep. The familiar *bling bleep* chimed and the popup appeared in his inner vision module. This appeared up to the top left corner of his vision “Your sleep plan has shown us an unhealthy pattern. Would you like to upgrade now?” The selections appeared as voice recognised options. Caleb reluctantly declined and made his way to his feet. His dreams last night was a barrage of advertisements for women’s clothing and tickets for the quick commuter lines. An express monorail service that with the upgraded card means one could be brought forward and placed at the front of the que, avoiding the need to wait in line. Caleb had tried for days to make himself block these out but the implant made this impossible.
It took only seconds of awareness in the morning after dream break, before his mind snapped to images, heart to feelings and body to aching for his lost love. He assumed it was love. The term had lost any meaning, what seems like some millennia ago. Practicality, sustainable progression and constructive output were the goals of today’s society. The Corporation was the government. The rights of the people had been sold with the signing of a pen. Signing of believed safety for foreign threats, insurance against poverty and desperation and peace of mind in a tomorrow. The British people had forfeited all freedoms in place of protection and longevity. The idea of enjoyment and quality of life were second to the worry the people felt from the threats towards them from religious groups in the middle east. The immigration laws were strong and enforced by government run security firms. The drones were the first in the new wave of military and policing innovations. The technology was now in place for someone’s subconscious and conscious mind, their soul, the part that makes them, them, to be transposed and written or mapped in code, therefore allowing your mind to be uploaded to the corporation’s cloud. Military volunteers choose to retire their bodies, mostly disable and injured bodies, into the newly created, humanoid drone. In popular culture the process was call “Unlinking” and was becoming more readily available to the general public. Caleb’s team and Brexicorp were the flagship line-up, spearheading the campaign to make this commercially accessible. Caleb hated this. He knew the control the corporation and government had over the minds of all those choosing to uplink. They now had direct lines into the minds of the voters.
Caleb raised the issue of the clause in the contract, indicating that if needed the minds can be reprogrammed. This was brainwashing in its truest form and Caleb wanted to raise this matter with his manager. He only managed to accomplish one thing through this. A year working in archiving. His past employer Skogarcorp put a much higher value on employee’s opinions, this was not the case for his current one. Caleb worked hard, long and took ever extra shift to make his way back to the team and floor he was on the previous year. His hatred for the company never left though, instead this festered and grew stronger and more volatile. His attempt to quit were also met with opposition. He was invited into a room, where he was sat in front a panel of lawyers. During the conversation he mentioned the escalation and termination of his employment, to which he was handed a copy of his contract. In the small print, underlined and highlight was a section explaining how on the acceptance of this job the applicant would agree to work the minimum length of time stipulated with no option for retirement, sick pay or maternity leave during the term. In Caleb’s case the minimums term was 25 years at his current rate of pay. Despite the barrage of objection and profanity’s hurled in the direction of the lawyers, Caleb accepted this fate then but the rebellion had started in his heart. He began to see the world, not as the glistening hopeful and unflawed utopia that the corporation would lead you to believe with barrages of propaganda and good news. Instead he saw the oppression and felt its weight crush him down and grind him to dust. Like a slow turn of a gigantic heel on the foot of God.
His apartment, that once felt to him like a physical example of his success, now was a reminder of what he had never owned.
With the growth and biogenetic birth programs, the birth rate skyrocket in the kingdom in a very short period of time. This lead to immediate overcrowding. The rule was passed through government very quickly, with a limit being placed on “Non necessities” to five items only. Now a TV and entertainment systems were not included in this as they were the form on which one ordered and paid for most things. Mostly binaural upgrades and in app purchases. The physical items in Caleb’s home were less interesting that one would imagine. He had ceramic mug, personalised by his Ex with his name on, a fountain pen, the ink had long since dried up but the engraving on the pen read “Do not forget the past” an ironic statement as ink refills were discontinued years before it was made. He owned a large leather smoking chair, one that sank down low and had a certain air of sophistication throughout, A side table that was placed beside the chair. Carved for a solid block of wood it was chopped and carved to resemble a pile of books stacked vertically. On top of the table was the 5th item. A reading light. To most this was baffling as books were a thing of the past. Means of slow learning and prolonged storytelling. Today, a single click of the story or memory you desire will remind you of the story from start to finish or to create a memory you can keep until you purchase another. These were Caleb’s five. He was proud of the individuality they spoke. Kit was his sixth that he loved more than most however. Underneath the large base cushion of the chair was a lock. Opened only by a very unique key.
Caleb lifted the lamp off from the table and set it on the concrete floor. He lifted the cushion up, exposing the small hole. Lifting the fountain pen he twisted off the lid and placed the pen into the hole, screwing anticlockwise. Suddenly a slight click was heard from his left. The top of the wooden table had opened like the front cover of a book. From inside of that Caleb lifted out a small brown rectangular object, wrapped in old and worn burlap sacking. It would bound tightly by some woven string and had the look of something ancient. Unwrapping the object Caleb removed the pen, dropped the cushion back into place, lifted the reading lamp onto the table where the lid clicked closed again and sat himself in the chair. While still carefully unwrapping the object he tapped the left side of his head, opening the visual home panel on his implant. He scrolled down with his eyes until the highlighted option was coffee. And selected. The machine behind him blurred on and a crack was made as the pressurised, heated water passed through some freshly ground coffee bean substitutes. The little tin cup was just in Caleb’s reach as he reached behind himself without looking. Just remaining his glare on the item in front of him, now unwrapped.
On his lap rested the single remaining copy for “20,000 Leagues under the sea” by an ancient author under the name of Jules Vern. Caleb knew that by owning this he was in breach of many punishable laws. No death penalty obviously as the kingdom was not a nation of cruelty, just slavery.
Britain had a long history of this.
A sudden feeling met him there, as he sat holding contraband, such a thing that was so foreign in a room so new that it felt like a true sin to even imagine or think of it. Caleb felt that today was the end. When the first alarm for his morning schedule was to chime, he would ignore it. Then the second and the third. Once he had not checked in his movements on the team shared cloud he would accept the call from his supervisor.
On that call he would verbally express every profanity and insulting language he could muster, ending the call with an unmistakable declaration of the termination of his employment at the company. Then he would brew another coffee and re-read the adventures of Captain Nemo and his crew.
The morning progressed as imagined and Caleb followed with his plan. The resistance was must less that he thought from the other end of the conversation. He was not disappointed but a little bemused by the lack of it. His supervisor accepted his verbal resignation but informed him of the contract agreed by him on the acceptance of his role. He had a remaining ten years to complete before he was due retirement. If he were to follow through with the resignation, after the confirmation of the message on its way, then his retirement package would be forfeit.
Caleb agreed once the text message arrived and he was informed his lawyers would be contacted next.
Caleb felt free, lighter and happy. For the first time in a long time. Today would be his day. He had total control and he would act in a way that he, and only he would decide on.
After picking up from his previous book mark, Caleb finished the Saga and closed the book. Wrapping it gently in its burlap again he placed it gingerly on the side table. Today he would witness a sunrise from the roof. The cleaning crew and delivery crews would be arriving shortly and he would be able to access to top floor through the maintenance and staff corridors and stairwell. He dressed himself in his company issued winter night robe, only after ripping the embroidered logo from its breast. He slid on his house shoes and brought his coffee with him. The door slid closed behind him. A slight breeze was felt due to the vacuumed air pressure difference in the cold, concrete, communist styled hallway. A smile still stained Caleb’s face as he vacated all he owned, his material life, the things that proved that he was real. Possessions, items, stuff, all held so dear to people at one time in history. So much so that a person’s worth and status, was measured by the items that individual owned. People used to take pride in the houses they owned. Now everyone has apartments the same size, putting no one on top. The cars people drove were also a sign of wealth. Now personal transport was only used by those who needed it. Outside of the inner city, in the rural lands for farming and labour. The inner workings of the city were all mono rails and underground tubes. Yes, there were different manner of classes on the trains but everyone knew where they stood. The corporation wanted a singlemindedness throughout its people. A worker mentality, an ant colony working toward the betterment of the association. Caleb cared not for these goals. His interest was purely on happiness. After the loss of so many of the “things” he held important, his mindset changed. Life was not to be suffered for the future generations to suffer for the generation to follow. No, time was a gift, not one that you owned but you could own what you did with it. This was Caleb’s goal today. Seize this day, make change and move forward into an unknown.
The corridors were bare, empty, lonely, silent. Caleb strolled, almost a skip, like a man without a care in the world. He was excited to see the sun rise, the dawn, the beginning. He was however in no rush. He had plenty of time. Through the service shoots and corridors, he continued, climbing the stairs, not taking his eye off the top of the staircase, until finally the finger print scanner for the lock was seen on the exterior door. Caleb knew he had no clearance, so instead he simply grabbed the plastic casing for the scanner, finished the last sip from his coffee and slammed the cup down, cracking the panel away from the wall. With a tug the wires came out like a family of snaked, intertwined and knotted together. He continued to pull, tug and wind around his elbow and wrist until, with a mighty tug, the wires disconnected. A snap of electric then a puff of smoke and the door lock disengaged, swinging slightly inward from the force of the vacuumed.
Caleb pulled the door, leaving his broken coffee mug on the floor. Using both hands he managed to create enough room for him to slide through the gap. Once he did so the door slammed shut, the tail of his dress robe was caught. Instead of trying to pull it, he simply took his arms out and left it hanging in the door, flapping in the wind. The cold morning air was crisp. The icy chill of night was being beaten back by the warming glow of morning. Caleb’s skin felt numb at first, goose skin all over him until he began to warm with the first few rays.
The sun broke over the horizon like a distant explosion. Light flooded the streets, he watched the light falling like liquid gold over the dark blue and grey surroundings. The multitude of neon and flashing advertisement screens, looked to be disconnected next to the power of the sun. outstretched arms, Caleb walked closer, towards the edge of the building, hoping to meet the light half way, making this a fair interaction and not a one sided one. He wished to greet the new day, as if no one had done so before. As he stood there, on the edge, his slippers kicked off along with his robe, wrapping his toes over the lip of the building, eyes closed and teeth showing from the massive grin he wore, Caleb felt as though he were having a private conversation with God. Behind his eyelids he saw the past.
He saw children playing by a stream, next to a stone wall where cattle ate the greenest grass he could imagine.
He saw a first kiss between two teenagers. The awkward fumbling, knocking of teeth, poking of the girl’s eye as the boy tried to brush back her hair. He felt their excitement and their nerves.
He saw a family gathered around a table, greeting each other after years of absence.
He saw the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine between old friends, celebrating a momentous occasion.
He saw a new-born child being placed into its mother’s arms, the feeling of love stronger than anything he could comprehend.
He saw a man in a bed, grey haired and paper skinned, surrounded by four generations of family, saying goodbyes and sharing words of admiration and love.
Then he opened his eyes.
The sun blinded him at first then it fell behind a building. He was once again in shadow and back to his reality. His heart sank like a freighter in the night’s ocean.
This was his day; he could choose his future.
So he did.
Caleb took a step forward and fell from the building.
After moments of freefalling he was suddenly stopped, bouncing slightly he rolled around in a safety net. Looking ahead he saw a sign for the medical facility and a voice came from a speaker. “Are you in need of help? Would you like assistance and information of suicide?”
Caleb replied, bemused “No, let me fall!”
So he did, the net disappeared and once again, he resumed the vertical plummet. Only seconds later he was caught in another net. A voice came from the familiar sight at the front of the net. “Would you like information on depression? Would you like to subscribe to the self-help audio cast workshop?”
With tears in his eyes Caleb replied “No, let me fall” And so he did one more.
Again he was caught, the familiar voice came offering him help in the form of subscription boxes and neural upgrades.
This continued the entire way down. Until he was three floors from the ground. Caleb was lying on his back in another net, listening to another advertisement on depression and holiday memory advantages Crying and angry he cancelled the net and fell once more. No net came at the end. His body hit the ground with force, not the amount he had hoped for however. Lying on his back, on the concrete pavement, a crowd gathered. He was still alive. He had lost. Even the attempt to take his own life was stopped by the corporation. His freedoms were truly void. He closed his eyes once more and passed into a state of hibernation and unconsciousness. During his sleep he was greeted by advertisements for medical insurance. As he had resigned from his role earlier that morning, his insurance was void and cancelled. The bill of medical services was shown in a breakdown menu on the white screen in front of his vision. The price was truly too high for him to afford. He selected the “Other option” selection screen and was brought to a separate pop-up. Here his options were set in front of him. By going through each option Caleb finally made the decision. He would sell his vital organs in exchange for not just the medical bills but also for a handsome profit. with the extra funds he had accumulated he chose an unload programme perfect for him. He would be placed in the premium cloud and his consciousness would be uploaded with a selection of memory triggers. Here he could visit places in his mind, over and over again. By choosing to leave his body and his life, he was now in an eternal, man-made, afterlife reality.
The new reality was beginning to flash in front of him, like he stood on a light speed escalator, not moving but being glided through the endless horizontal plane towards a point of interest.
The surrounding that flew past him however were not those of his imagination, no streams or rivers, no fish and no stones.
No sea side villages, no endless beaches with golden sand.
Only desks, filing cabinets, computer systems. White turned to grey.
The sky had been covered by square tiled ceiling, only the slightest illumination could be let through the glazed plastic skylights overhead. Caleb knew where he was now. He recognised this place from the small number of times he had to come down here during his job. This was in the data collection and organisation department of Brextopia telecommunications.
His heart sank, if he had a heart. He was nothing now. He was simply a mind, a consciousness, he was no longer even a being.
The moving platform stopped with what would have been a sudden jolt, if he had a body. Caleb began to move, in his mind he was walking, but he had no legs, he looked around but he had no head, or eyes, just an awareness of what was around him at all times. 360 degrees’ vision. He was not aware of height as everything was linier and horizontal, nothing higher or lower than his cognizance. What at first seemed an empty, yet endless room, now became clear as a busy, full and still never-ending workplace.
Caleb’s date was being pulled, backwards, down a corridor of desks again until an empty desk appeared in front of him.
As a data collection and organisation officer, Caleb was paid a lower rate. Due to the laws against minimum pay of humans, a worker was protected under minimum rights, but as a form of data and past-life AI, Caleb was not considered “alive” as he is simply a conscience not a person. Therefore, paid at a discounted 10% of his previous rate.
His once 10-year employment contract was now in agreement for the following century.
The afterlife was here.
Forfeiting one hell for another.
Knowingly signing away all personal rights.
Allowing access to all parts of his private data.
Putting one’s future in a contract,
His addiction to upgrading and the pursuit of objectified success.
Caleb had stripped the last thing he had to give, in order for a freedom he could have already possessed.
In room 465 of the Courage Hall building Caleb awakes from yet another dream. The same dream. One put there. As the day breaks Caleb is calm in the knowledge that today will be a day unlike any other. "The future subscription" is a short story by C.Mahood, that started as a cyberpunk tale and morphed itself into an Orwell inspired speculative fiction piece. Involving neuro-enhancements, the global takeover of advertising and digital giants. centered around one mans struggle to accept his place.