Silence. The peaceful darkness was welcoming, comforting even, until the light flashes on full beam and the room reverberates with “Good morning, Evelyn.” The same dull voice that wakes me and accompanies me through every waking moment. Days are controlled by the machines: my personal holo – inescapable – chooses when I wake, what I wear, everything I am allowed to own, what I study. The same day, over and over, for me and everyone else in this village…in this world. I stretch, extending my arms, legs and back to their limits: a short moment of relief, experiencing the unedited physical world before the peace is shattered once more. Again, the holo booms out: “Evelyn, I need your choice of breakfast, now.” The emphasis on the last word bugs me: I’m not even allowed 10 seconds to stretch without tech butting in. I sigh and respond “The usual, Rust Bucket,” enjoying that small, inconsequential act of rebellion. “Done.” See, the insult doesn’t even register with the holo as there is no fighting back, nothing remotely human – the holos aren’t allowed to be rude or show anger…a bit like my self-inflicted rules for myself. In fact, I don’t really know how different I am from the machines. The holo projects my clothes on to me and drops a bowl of tasteless, nutritionally-balanced goo in to my hands. I’m just another cog in the machine that this world has become. Here we go again.
After forcing down the ‘food’, I look around my room, focussing on the walls plastered with years’ worth of drawings. Simple scraps of paper – a rarity in itself – decorated with flowers, animals and trees. The holo could replicate all of these things at a simple command, but I’d rather the real thing. And, actually, my favourite drawing is something that’s never been real: a charismatic-looking miniature dragon with eyes that feel like they penetrate my soul.* Leaving the brightly coloured gallery that is my room – my sanctuary – I make my way wearily down the stairs. Those images stick in my mind, reminding me of all that has been lost and all that might have been. No use dwelling on it – the world is what it is – but for some reason I always feel a pull towards nature and ‘real life’ that I know can never be satisfied. The world is dull, metallic, electronic, monochrome…amything else is ‘frivolous’ and automatically incurs sanctions through the holo network. Hence me dragging my unwilling feet to The Academy for the compulsory studies in Artificial Intelligence and ‘Life-Enhancing Technology’ (what a joke!) – the classes and system I hate but just have to get on with or else let myself and (worse) my devoted gradparents sink even further in society. At the bottom of the stairs, I look around at the bleak and lifeless ‘living’ space; I can’t help but roll my eyes at this stupidly ironic title for a room with no more life in it that a rock. As I reach the front door I pause, feeling content to hear the gentle snores of my grandpa and nana vibrating this small cuboid I call home; keeping them safe is why I persist at this life.
My first step outside brings my first and only smile of the day: my little patch of grass that the authorities call destructive and messy. I call it tranquility and reality; life. Even through the concrete and metal, nature found its way…and I might have managed to give it a sneaky helping hand. That concrete was crumbling anyway and I couldn’t deny that grass – or me, for that matter – a rare glimpse of life. Since those first blades fought through, the grass has spread and it has blossomed with ‘weeds’, the colours of which are a pleasant shock to the system in a muted world of greys, blacks and beiges. I take a moment to close my eyes and smell the freshness: the real, non-recycled, filtered or enhanced air that has to be pumped all over to sustain life in an unnatural world. One last look at the greens and yellows before departing to the cold grey of The Academy. This controlled, computerised life is unrelenting.
Looking around at the bleak structures, I make my way to the ever-regenerating bank of pods: the required mode of travel. The short walk feels an eternity when wherever you look is the same: each home a perfect black cube with slightly contrasting grey patches to give the illusion of windows and doors…I don’t know why they bother. The pavement is entirely holo-generated, mapping out individual journeys, agendas and notices – as if the holo’s constant verbal communication wasn’t enough! My eyes, ears and brain ache with information overload. It never relents.
I step in to the first available pod: a claustrophobic sphere designed by computers for efficiency, not comfort, just life the rest of the world. I assume the required crouched foetal position. “One lifeform detected,” announces the pod. Before I get chance to breathe, my holo takes over: “Evelyn, your pre-approved journey has been registered with the pod-deck. You will arrive at The Academy in exactly three minutes and forty-two seconds.” Yet again, I have absolutely no say, individuality, or even the illusion of choice. My existence is controlled by and for the tech. I close my eyes and the pod shoots off.
Another day of monotonous hell.
Or so I thought.