Tag Archives: technology

She, Robot

“I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.”

Samantha the Operating System, ‘Her’, Spike Jonze, 2013

“Boomer was a good MARCBOT. Those goddamn Mahdi Army scum took him from this world far too early.”

red_one_foxtrot commenting on Reddit, 2013

~

Mike Powell awoke blurry-eyed to a dimly lit room that was almost unbearably hot. Grunting disagreeably, he rolled over and peeled the sheet from his torso. It was heavy with sweat.

“Jesus, how fucking hot is it?” he asked hoarsely of the dark room.

“It is thirty-seven degrees Celsius. Good morning Mike.”

It was a female voice, soft yet remote. He glanced at the figure seated by his bed.

“Kate, I thought we agreed to speak in American. And you know it creeps me out when you watch me sleep.”

“You’re not asleep, Mike. You’re awake. And the United States adopted the Celsius scale in late 2017 after a…”

Mike cut her short with a flapping palm as he wiped his eyes with his other hand.

“Yeah, yeah, alright. Quit your yapping.”

After showering Mike returned to his bunk to get dressed. Most of the others were up and about, the room now buzzing with a muted chatter. As he laced his boots his eyes fell on the bed next to his, its sheets fresh and crisp, undisturbed by sleep. He had liked Murphy. Not the brightest, but a good kid. There were rumours he hadn’t come out too badly from the raid, just a nick in the shoulder. That he was discharged due to what the docs called ‘emotional distress’. That his bot had taken one in the head and that was why he charged the outpost like a lunatic. Just rumours, Powell thought to himself as he made his way to the canteen. Kate followed behind him.

“How are you feeling Mike?”

“I’m just fine Kate. I’m eating.”

There was a short pause.

“You’re not worried about today’s mission? It’s perfectly…”

He cut her off, “I’ve been on plenty of ‘em Kate, and I’m still here. Like I said, I’m fine.”

Another pause.

“Okay Mike. I’m going to go for my tune-up before we leave. I’ll be back shortly.”

He didn’t respond. Kate got up and walked towards the exit. A few other bots were heading that way too. Mike finished his meagre breakfast and left the table.

There were approximately two thousand troops in Camp Obama, the largest US navy camp in Djibouti, and one of the largest in Eastern Africa. Three hundred of these were classed as special operations servicemen. The other two hundred and ninety-nine of these had bots just like Kate. The Synthetic Humanoid Engine had been in service for three years now. It was listed in official Armed Forces literature as ‘equipment’, and in its current incarnation took the form of a female android. The men responded better to female bots. It was equipped with an array of weapons, and its AI was unlike anything that had been seen before. President Winfrey had described the SHE as ‘the greatest military breakthrough since the AK-47.’

Kate was Mike’s second. He had only had his first for a month when a roadside bomb in Kandahar had hit the jeep he was travelling in. It had taken eight hours of surgery to remove the shrapnel from his back and arms. He hadn’t named his first, but by the time he was back in service and was issued a second, the directive was to assign your bot a name. The psychs had informed the top brass that it was ‘conducive to developing a trust system’. Mike had a soft spot for Katharine Hepburn movies, and when he was greeted upon his arrival for duty at Camp Obama by his very own ‘African Queen’ protectress, he thought it was appropriate.

Mike left the camp at midday with his unit, each man flanked in the back of the truck by his bot. Some chatted idly to them: checked on the weather and the sports results back home, had e-mails and Facebook posts read out, that kind of thing. Mike sat quietly, sweating through his fatigues under the Kevlar vest. He winced as the bumps in the road jarred his lower back. The dull pain that had been with him since Kandahar was worse than usual today. He closed his eyes and blocked out the fluttering voices of the bots. His mind drifted back to a training exercise from the academy. They had been split into teams and had to disassemble a live bot. It was supposed to convey the idea to the men that the SHE was just nuts and bolts. Just a machine.

The Captain calmly recapped the orders as the truck neared its objective. There was a camp a few miles to the east. Satellites had picked up possible insurgent activity there, but this had to be confirmed by ground troops before a strike could be authorised. The plan was to head to a nearby ridge and scope out the camp from afar. All fairly routine. The truck slowed to a crawl as it climbed the hill leading to the ridge.

The Cap turned to his bot,

“Satellite pick up anything new, Lucy?”

The bot hesitated as its neural pathways shimmered behind its faceplate.

“Nothing new from HQ, Sir. We are a go for mission.”

The Captain nodded as the truck slowed to a stop.

“Alright ladies, let’s make this quick. In and out and home in time fo-”

A deafening explosion ripped through the truck before he could finish. Mike was thrown to the floor as gleaming rays of sunshine flooded in through a smoking hole where the Captain had been sitting. Wiping his face, Mike’s hand came away soaked in the Cap’s blood. Lucy’s limp, headless body lay writhing and twitching across his legs. The rocket had turned the front half of the truck into a mangled wreck of body parts and circuitry. Gunfire sprayed the panels of the truck, filling the air with miniscule cylinders of sunlight. Mike felt a flashing pain in his leg, and as he turned to crawl towards the back of the truck he felt himself being lifted off the floor. A split second later he was barrelled out of the back and thrown roughly behind a jagged rock, the dense air loaded with the sound of bullets striking metal.

Before he had time to register what had happened, a figure landed with a thud beside him, its back to the rock. He turned to see Kate’s half-melted faceplate, her eyes as still and lifeless as ever. Her body was covered with dents and small holes.

“I can’t walk. My leg…” he started to say. Kate said nothing, but stood and lifted him over her shoulder. She sprinted away from the truck, a hail of bullets shadowing her down the hill that they had rolled up just moments before. Mike, his leg bleeding freely and his head being jolted violently, just had time to look back and survey the scene of the wrecked, flaming truck and the scattered bodies of his comrades, before he lost consciousness.

When Mike woke up the first thing he was aware of was how much his leg, and his head, hurt. The second thing he realised was that he was outside, and it was dark. Clusters of brilliant white stars came slowly into view as he blinked groggily.

“Where am I?” he just about managed to whisper, his own voice barely recognisable.

A soft reply came from above his head,

“You are seventeen point three miles from Camp Obama, Mike. It is currently ten thirty-one p.m.”

He looked up to see a twisted face in the moonlight, its blinking lights now clearly visible, its body leaking fluid.

“What happened to the rest…”

“Mike, we don’t have much time. I’ve done what I can with your leg but you’ll bleed out before long. There are still insurgents looking for us, and I’m too badly damaged to carry you back.”

He glanced down at his thigh to see a blood-soaked shirt wrapped tightly around it. His head felt light and he was having difficulty focusing his eyes.

“Can you call…get a chopper…”

“My communication system has been damaged, I can’t contact the base.”

Mike laughed softly to himself, delirious with pain and fatigue.

“Well that’s that, then. We can’t be taken alive, so you know what to…”

“Mike, I’m going back alone. They’ll send a chopper.”

Mike’s vision was becoming blurry again.

“It’s too far. You’ll never…” he trailed off.

Kate crouched beside him and put her hand on his chest.

“The chopper will be here, Mike. Just stay alive.”

His breath was shallow as he looked up at her.

“I never told you about my first.”

“No, you didn’t. But I’ve read the file.”

Mike stared at the crescent moon that lit the arid landscape, his eyelids quivering.

“Docs said she saved me. Rolled herself right around me in a millisecond and took the brunt of the blast.”

“She did her job, Mike.”

He reached out and took her hand, riddled with bullet holes and covered in an oily residue.

“I blamed her” he said, and laughed again. He fixed his eyes on the flickering lights that shone from beneath her gnarled visage. His grip became limp as his eyes began to close.

“I blamed her” he whispered again, but Kate didn’t hear him. She was sprinting noiselessly across the sand, her feet kicking up mounds of gold that shimmered under the light of the waxing moon.

~

When Mike woke he couldn’t open his eyes to the white light that seemed to envelop him. He felt as if he were floating through the air. Slowly he came to his senses, as a white-coated figure approached him.

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant. Good to have you back.”

Mike looked down at his leg, relieved to find it was still there.

“Chopper got to you just in time Sir. You were pretty close.”

Mike’s throat burned as he tried to speak, his voice a harsh croak, “Kate?”

The doctor looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled.

“Ah yes, your bot. We couldn’t believe she made it to the base. Nearly twenty miles, and most of her systems had completely crashed. It’s a miracle she made it.”

Mike shifted in the bed and lifted his head, his body still lethargic and weak.

“She…she made it?” he asked breathlessly.

The doctor’s smile faltered a little.

“Well, she made it here with your co-ordinates, but the damage was…well, you know…” he trailed off.

Mike lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.

“Can I…see her?”

The doctor fidgeted with his clipboard.

“Well, I’m afraid she’s been…dismantled at this stage Lieutenant.”

He offered a weak smile.

“Well, you get some rest Sir. You’ve earned it. You’ll be issued with a new bot when you’re up and about, don’t you worry.”

As the doctor floated away across the room, Mike slowly turned his head to stare out the window. The midday sun shone down remorselessly from a cloudless sky, the dunes in the distance obscured by the shimmering haze of the desert heat. As his heavy eyelids closed and he drifted into a deep sleep, Mike wondered to himself exactly how hot it was today.


The Bruce and Clark Expedition

The last decade or so has seen comic book culture pervade Hollywood’s every intimate crevice, in a fashion not unlike a sentient mass of locusts that take it upon themselves to permeate a cornfield, an allegorical biblical tale, or a locust convention. It is as if the town were bitten by a giant spider, which instead of bestowing super powers upon it, instead infused it with an irrepressible zeal for explosions, sequels, repetition, explosions, and sequels. And repetition. With the subtlety of the hammer of Thor himself, and all the panache of a Chris Hemsworth facial expression, Disney and Warner Brothers have taken turns to beat us over the head with their revamped versions of comic book superheroes.

Some of these films have been fantastic; the best of them usually combining a darker, more contemporary spin on the original character, with a self-effacing sense of humour that gives due respect to the source material – a sort of referential reverence that never strays into outright parody. Unfortunately though, for every Dark Knight there is a Daredevil lurking in the shadows. Or perhaps in plain sight; it’s not as if he’d know the difference. And in recent years, the balance in the comic book movie multiverse has definitively shifted not towards Christopher Nolan’s Yin, but rather headfirst into Ben Affleck’s Yang (ooh, matron).

Like any creature in the midst of its death throes, this leviathan is currently preoccupied with firing desperate parting salvos in a brave attempt to delay the inevitable. The latest of these is a mooted sequel to the recent commercially successful but much- (and somewhat unfairly) maligned Man of Steel, set for a 2015 release. The big news is that it will see Henry Cavill’s Superman cross paths with DC’s other marquee attraction, Batman. With anticipation already feverishly high, one does not envy the burden placed on the shoulders of Zack Snyder to revitalise an ailing mini-industry with his impending blockbuster.

What kind of dynamic can we expect between the two heroes? Will they overcome their moral, political and sartorial differences and become fast friends? Will Lex Luthor loudly ridicule them for being a pair of tights-wearing orphan homosexuals? Well, two years is too long to wait to answer these questions, so here’s an account of what we might expect to see…

~

Bruce Wayne closed his eyes as he lay back into the luxurious bubble bath Alfred had drawn for him. His body was bruised from his night’s work, and he could not remember the last time he took some time to himself to unwind. As the soothing tones of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus overture filled Wayne Manor’s opulent bathroom, Bruce felt himself drifting off to sleep.

The sound of the doorbell woke Wayne from his snooze with a jolt. As he wondered who could be calling at this late hour, he tentatively lifted himself out of the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist. When he reached the landing he looked down to find Alfred inside the front door, accompanied by a gigantic figure that Bruce had no difficulty recognising.

‘Mister Kent to see you, Sir.’

‘Thank you Alfred,’ he replied after a pause. The butler headed for the kitchen, leaving the two men staring fixedly at each other in silence. Bruce’s visitor narrowed his eyes as he looked up the staircase.

‘Is that a bat on your towel?’

Bruce clenched his teeth and replied with a snarl,

‘Is that a giant S on your suitcase?’

‘It’s not an S,’ Clark retorted. ‘It means hope.’

‘Funny way of spelling hope,’ Bruce muttered to himself as he walked down the stairs towards his guest.

‘You know I have super hearing?’

‘Yeah I found that out at Wonder Woman’s Christmas party.’

‘It’s not my fault I couldn’t sleep with you and her going at-’

‘Okay, I’m not having this conversation again. Come on, I need a drink.’

The two sat by the fire in the study, Clark sipping from a glass of lemonade as Bruce nursed a tumbler of whiskey. Kent squirmed as he tried to fit his giant torso comfortably into the armchair.

‘Will you be careful you big lump?’

‘This chair is impossibly small.’

‘Just take it easy, everything in here is an antique.’

‘What about that Nintendo Wii?’

‘That’s…Alfred’s,’ Bruce replied curtly.

‘That must be his Wii dance mat in the cupboard then.’

‘Look, did you just come here to show off your silly little powers or is there a point to this visit?’

Clark set down his glass and sighed deeply,

‘Look, I’m sorry to bother you so late Bruce but…I was wondering if I could stay for a few days. I…kind of got evicted today.’

‘Evicted? Don’t you live in some giant igloo somewhere? The Fortress of Platitude or something?’

‘Solitude. Yeah…that melted. You know, climate change and all that. I’ve been living in an apartment for a few months now.’

‘What did you do, break all their antique armchairs?’

Clark glowered at him, ‘No, I…burnt the building down.’

‘You did what?’

‘I know, I know. I was tired, my microwave was broken, I tried to cook one of those ready meal things with my heat vision…next thing I know the place is covered in goose fat and the walls are on fire.’

‘Christ, Clark.’

‘The worst part is I was supposed to be doing Celebrity Masterchef next week. Fat chance now.’

Bruce drained his glass and rose from his chair.

‘You can stay as long as you need to Clark. Come on, you can sleep in Robin’s room.’

‘He’s not here?’

‘No, he’s off following One Direction on their tour around Europe.’

Kent looked at him quizzically.

‘Yeah, I know. Don’t get me started.’

‘Thanks, Bruce.’

Wayne grunted in response and walked towards the door.

‘Oh and don’t touch his mineral collection. When people touch his minerals he goes-‘

‘Batshit crazy?’ interjected Clark with a wry smile.

‘You know I could think of a few other things that S could stand for.’

~

When Bruce entered the kitchen the next morning he found Clark preparing an omelette for breakfast.

‘Morning roomie,’ Kent chimed.

‘Don’t call me that,’ Bruce replied flatly as he sat at the table.

‘You break those eggs yourself? I’m surprised the house is still standing.’

Clark cast him a withering look.

‘Silly me, I thought the Joker was behind bars, but here he is in the flesh.’

‘Christ, don’t talk to me about that maniac. He still writes, you know. Last week he sent me one of his shits in the post.’

‘Good lord.’

‘I know. Not to mention all the other crazies he brought crawling out of the woodwork.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘This card was left at a crime scene last week, have a look and see what you think.’

Clark peered down at the card Bruce slid across the table. It had a question mark on one side, and an almost unintelligible scrawl on the other. Clark read the words aloud, ‘What grows smaller every time you use it?’

‘That’s a bit vague, isn’t it?’

‘Tell me about it. The last few nights I’ve gone to soap producers, pencil manufacturers, tyre yards, candlemakers…’

‘Not to mention pretty much all liquids,’ added Clark. ‘And foods. Cosmetics, toiletries, I mean it could be nearly anything.’

‘Yeah I know. It really is a terrible riddle. Still, it’s the only lead I have. I’m going out tonight to check out the giant eraser factory downtown.’

‘I’ll go with you Bruce, I’m dying for a bit of action. It seems like all I’ve been doing recently is rescuing kittens, freeing people handcuffed to radiators, that kind of thing. I could do with a bit of supervillainy for a change.’

‘What about Luthor?’

‘He disappeared a few months ago after that failed attempt to steal the Taj Mahal.’

‘He’s nothing if not ambitious, that man.’

After nightfall the two heroes made their way to the Batcave. They changed into their suits, Clark waiting impatiently as Bruce put the finishing touches to his black eye shadow. Moments later the roar of the Batmobile’s engine shattered the silence of the still evening, as the pair sped towards town.

‘It’s a bit cramped in here isn’t it?’

‘We don’t all have the luxury of flight, Clark.’

Kent frowned pensively.

‘Why is your symbol a bat then? Surely it should be something a bit more sedentary. How about a panda? You’ve got the eyes down already.’

Wayne ignored Clark, who continued to fidget distractedly.

‘What does this button do?’

‘Don’t!’

Clark looked on in amazement as the entire back seat of the vehicle was transformed. A plush velvet couch revolved into view, accompanied by an ice-bucket and an expensive-looking bottle of champagne. The lights dimmed to a soft, golden hue, and the unmistakeably smooth voice of Al Green reverberated around the car’s interior.

‘Eh…you know Bruce, I like you as a friend and fellow superhero, but…’

‘Don’t even start,’ growled a seething Wayne, pressing the button again as the car reverted to its original layout.

‘This is where I have to do most of my…entertaining. Alfred doesn’t like me bringing girls home since those two hookers stole the Caravaggios from the drawing room last year.’

A few minutes later they arrived at the entrance to the factory, and got out to have a look around.

‘I’ll fly around and see if anything’s happening,’ said Clark.

‘Right, I’ll see if I can get inside.’

Bruce made his way to the back entrance, a rusty door that was bolted and padlocked. It only took him seconds to unpick the lock, and he pulled the door back to reveal the pitch black interior of the building. Just as he stepped inside, a cloud of gas appeared with a hiss and enveloped him. Bruce slumped to the ground, trying to call for help, but to no avail. His head hit the cold concrete floor, and he faded into unconsciousness.

~

When Bruce opened his eyes his vision was blurred. His head was pounding and it took a moment to regain his bearings. He looked down to see that he had been chained to the inner wall of the building. He pulled at his shackles with all his strength, but to no avail. To his right he noticed Clark, who had been similarly fastened. He appeared to be conscious, though his head was bowed, and he looked groggy.

‘Clark,’ he whispered. ‘Come on, break your chains.’

Kent was unresponsive. It was then that Bruce noticed a small green crystal hung on the wall just above his friend’s head. His heart sank as he realised what it was.

‘Well, I see you finally solved my riddle,’ came a high-pitched voice from the darkness, as a tall, gangly figure loomed into view.

Bruce surveyed the madman with contempt.

‘Yeah, it was a real head-scratcher. So you’ve just been sitting around here all week waiting fo-’

‘Silence!’ he shrieked, a look of anguish contorting his sunken features.

‘Let’s strike a deal, fellas,’ he continued, a frenzied smile crossing his lips.

‘Solve my next riddle, and I’ll let you walk away right now.’

Wayne glanced warily at Clark as the Riddler spoke in verse,

‘This two-headed beast is black and blue,

Its night of sleuthing gone askew.’

Bruce responded immediately.

‘Well…that’s us obviously.’

The Riddler’s manic grin slipped from his face.

‘So we can go now?’

‘I’m afraid not,’ boomed a voice from the shadows.

A hunched figure stepped forward into the light, his hairless dome gleaming above the evil visage that was twisted with malevolence. He turned to the Riddler,

‘Edward, we really need to talk about your villain persona. These riddles are just ridiculous.’

‘Oh really, Lex?’ he responded, his voice becoming louder and more agitated.

‘I suppose I’ll just tell my mother I don’t want the question mark onesie that she spent a whole weekend making for me?’

Lex sighed in frustration and turned to his prisoners.

Bruce calmly met his sinister gaze.

‘Cute pet,’ he quipped.

Lex smiled scornfully in response.

‘Simply a means to an end. And now that I have you two under control, that end is looking pretty close.’

Lex retreated to a control panel and flipped some switches. The building lit up instantly, revealing an enormous contraption that looked like a giant antenna of some kind. It began to emit a powerful humming noise, as if it was powering up.

‘You see,’ Lex continued, ‘I’ve been dabbling in software development. A week ago I released an app so fiendishly addictive that every smartphone user in the world has downloaded it. And now I’ll activate the signal I hid in the coding, rendering every one of them a mindless automaton, ready to do my bidding.’

Wayne scoffed at this declaration.

‘You can’t possibly have created something that addictive.’

‘Oh no? I used the most complex algorithm known to man to calculate each variable. It uses data from every meme on the internet to ensure maximum effectiveness.’

‘So what is it?’ asked Bruce.

‘Well, it’s basically just Angry Birds. Except instead of birds and pigs, you throw tiny Nicolas Cage heads at those minions from Despicable Me.’

Wayne’s eyes widened in shock as he imagined the millions of people enthralled by such a prospect.

The Riddler perked up. ‘Ooh, that sounds like fun. Can I play?

Lex ignored him and went on.

‘I’ll have an army at my disposal to…’

‘To overthrow the world’s governments,’ finished Bruce, shaking his head disconsolately.

‘What? No, I don’t want some stuffy office job ruling over billions of cretins. I’m going to have them steal the Taj Mahal for me.’

Bruce stared at him in disbelief.

‘You really have your heart set on that, don’t you?’

Lex cackled to himself as he moved his hand over the console and prepared to turn on the antenna.

A deafening crash echoed throughout the building, as suddenly scores of men in FBI jackets streamed in through the entrances, and rappelled down from the ceiling. Within an instant dozens of guns were trained on Lex. His face etched with fury as he raised his hands, Luthor turned to his accomplice.

‘You idiot. Did you send the feds one of your stupid little non-riddles?’

‘No, I swear I didn’t. I was going to, but I couldn’t think of anything that rhymes with Taj Mahal.’

An officer stepped forward from the crowd and addressed Lex,

‘It’s the NSA you have to thank, Luthor. They intercepted an e-mail sent by you to your mother, in which you explained your plot in painstaking detail.’

‘You damned tyrants!’ Lex screamed as he and the Riddler were taken away. ‘Don’t you see what you’ve become? All I wanted was the Taj Mahal!’

The officer turned to Bruce and Clark as they were being cut from their chains.

‘Well, another terrorist cell safely disposed of. Thanks for your help, guys.’

Bruce frowned. ‘Eh, well I don’t think they really qualify as a terr-’

‘Yep,’ the officer continued as he walked away, ‘a good day for freedom.’

~

Bruce opened the door to Robin’s room to see Clark sitting up in bed, looking like his usual self again. He sat by the bedside.

‘Feeling better?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’

‘Well, take your time. With those two off the streets, I don’t think we’ll have to deal with any more supervillains for quite a while.’

There was a knock at the door, and Alfred entered with a parcel.

‘Excuse me sirs, but this just arrived. The postmark says Arkham Asylum.’

‘Christ,’ exclaimed Bruce, ‘what the hell is that smell?’

‘Give that here, Alfred,’ said Clark, who stood up and took the package. He went to the window, opened it, and pulled his arm back over his shoulder.

~

The astronauts on the International Space Station were going through their daily systems check. A voice crackled in the ear of Lieutenant Chris Johnson as he inspected the communications array.

‘Uh, Chris, radar is showing an unidentified bogey passing by. It should be visible from the east viewing panel. Can you check it out?’

‘Roger, I’m here now, I’ll have a look. Oh Jesus…’

‘What is it?’

‘Well, it’s…hard to say.’

‘Well come on Chris, what the hell is it?’ laughed the astronaut.

‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane?’

‘It’s a box of shit, Frank.’

‘Well I know that Chris, but for the next five months it’s home, so get used to it.’


The Baby Subsequently Known as Prince (or Princess)

The royal baby is due to enter the world any day now, his or her arrival sure to herald a new age in mildly distracting chitchat among royalists, morning television presenters and baby enthusiasts everywhere. The world will be invited to gawk in collective wonder at his or her cute ickle shoes, cute ickle face, and cute ickle life of hollow luxury, haunted evermore by the terrible, oppressive burden of responsibilty it must bear until the end of its days. Oh, and the cute ickle hollow part of its head. That thing is weird, man.

The Prince or Princess of Cambridge is in for an eye-opening few weeks, as it becomes accustomed to its new but transient position as the most adorable news item of the day. This will pass, of course, and as the baby grows into its esteemed position, its lofty duties and obligations, and its enormous, beak-like nose (thanks a lot Grandad), it will be replaced by some new internet-based phenomenon, like a scruffy three-legged dog that rescues a family of endearing ducklings from the BNP. Or something.

For a while, however, this young child will be the focus of boundless attention on social media worldwide, and will be trending so much that even sensible people will become enamoured with its presence, so much so that they forget that trend is not a verb.

People the world over will sit agog at their screens, frothing at the mouth in a regally induced stupor as they vacantly tickle and cuddle the virtual image of this messianic child, singing and gurgling to its pixellated form until their own children have long since starved from neglect, and their carcasses are mere husks, laid as sacrifices on the altar of #RoyalBaby.

It is impossible to predict how the child will react to the adulation that will be showered over it like confetti over a hungry passing seagull, whose stomach will later explode after ingesting the celebratory detritus. I imagine if his or her impending majesty were to keep a diary of these hectic few weeks, it would look a little something like this…

Day 1:

Today I came out all covered in goo and I met Mumsie and Daddy. They are nice. Mumsie said that I only cost seven pounds ten, but that sounds like a lot of money. I think my name is Hair because the doctor said that I was the new Hair. I think I must be called Hair because I already have more than Daddy.

After I was cleaned off, I met the whole family. They are very nice, but most of them are very old. Uncle Harry is my favourite because he is very funny, and his hair is pointy. Mumsie pointed to the television in the room and told me that the man called Kay was talking about me on the News about the sky, but I didn’t understand what she meant.

Another man was there with a camera. I think his name was Magazine because I heard people say Hello Magazine to him. The man looked different to Mumsie and Daddy, his face was brown. Even browner than Auntie Pippa’s face. Great Grandad asked him where he had learnt to use a camera, and Great Grandma told him to shut up. I think ‘shut up’ means the same as ‘go to sleep’, because that’s what he did straight away. After a while I met Grandma Camilla too. She is very nice. Great Grandma says she is not part of my family but I think she was only joking, and Daddy told her to stop being awful.

Day 2:

Today I got my very own iPad. On the back it has a picture of a crown and the letters H.R.H. Uncle Harry says that stands for Harry’s Really Handsome, but I think he’s fibbing. I heard Great Grandad say that Uncle Harry was a waste of space, but I don’t really know what that means. I should Google it.

Mumsie helped me to download some apps. One is a game where you throw birds at pigs and everybody dies. It’s not great. I also got an app called the Guardian, which is full of stories, but they’re not very good. Some of the women who write the stories look like Grandma Camilla, and they seem to be very angry with somebody called Cameron. I think he might be on X-Factor. Mumsie said that his wife is a cow, but I think this was a joke because people can’t be married to animals.

Day 3:

Today Mumsie helped me to set up my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I have thousands of followers on Twitter already, and I got some very nice messages. I even got one from Adele, who is a famous singer. I downloaded his album this morning and he has a really nice voice. Even nicer than Grandad’s singing on the night after I was born when he drank lots of fizzy water and Great Grandma told him to be quiet and that he was an oaf. I don’t know what an oaf is but I think it means you have a nice voice, so I Tweeted Adele saying he was a nice oaf.

Later I got Tweets from men who Mumsie says are bad. A man called Piers said that the monarchy was a relic of a bygone age. I didn’t understand these words but I think it was about Great Grandad because before he went back to sleep he said that Piers talked out of his bum. I asked Uncle Harry and he said that this was true.

I also got a Tweet from someone called Frank Boyle, who said it was a shame that someone called Jim Fix It had died before I was born, because he would have liked me. I think it is a shame too because I Googled Jim Fix It and he wore funny suits and glasses, and he looks like a nice man.

Day 4:

Mumsie showed me the pictures that Magazine took of me. He put them in his shiny book and Mumsie said that people buy the shiny book so they can see me. There are seventy-eight pages of pictures and I look very shrivelled and purple in all of them. Mumsie said that Magazine got his lighting wrong. Maybe that is why his face was all dark.

Day 6:

Mumsie helped me to upload a picture on Instagram of me chewing on my toy crown. I like my toy crown because some of it crinkles and some of it has bells and some of it is shiny and some of it is fuzzy and some of it is squelchy. Mumsie said that lots of people shared my crown on their Facebooks, but it was still there when I went to bed, so I don’t mind.

Day 8:

On my Facebook today someone called LADBible posted a picture of Mumsie feeding me my milk, and they said that I was a breastfeeding LAD. I do not know what this means but Mumsie says she doesn’t like the picture, so I think maybe the lighting was wrong in it.

Day 11:

Today I was on Facebook and I found a page called ‘Like if you’re bored of Royal Baby’. It had lots of likes, and people had made me into a meme, and I cried when I saw it.

Mumsie told me to ignore it, and that the man on the News about the sky was still talking about me, but when I turned it on they were talking about somebody called Pervert Schoolteacher, who I’ve never heard of.

Day 13:

Today I looked at the Daily Mail website. I think it is a website about holidays because they have lots of pictures of people at the beach. They had a picture of Auntie Pippa changing my nappy, but they cut me out of the picture. All you can see are my socks which say H.R.H. and the rest of the picture is Pippa. I’ve decided I don’t really like Auntie Pippa, and she has nothing to do with holidays anyway.

Uncle Harry says that Auntie Pippa is ‘a goer’ but whenever I see her she is just sitting down and not going anywhere.

Day 16:

Nobody Tweeted me at all today, except for Kanye West, who sent me a picture of a Duplo Buckingham Palace that North made, and he said it was better than the real one where I lived, and that North was better at Duplo than me. Daddy says that Kanye is derivative, and Mumsie said that North’s Mumsie is a tramp. Tramps have no palaces to sleep in and live on benches in Hyde Park so I feel sorry for her. Great Grandad said something about Kanye too but Mumsie told me it was a bad word.

Day 19:

Nobody is talking about me on the internet at all today. Mumsie and Auntie Pippa have been talking about shoes for six hours and I am very bored. I wish Uncle Harry was here, but he had to fly his helicopter to a war to ask the people to stop fighting. I watched him for a while because I knew the News about the sky would show him in his helicopter. After they showed Uncle Harry they had a story about a man whose lighting was wrong who got shot with a gun. And they said that Pervert Schoolteacher is still at large, but in his picture he looks quite small.

Day 21:

Today I threw my iPad on the floor and it broke. I don’t like the internet anymore. Now I just like to play with my toy crown and listen to Uncle Harry’s funny stories about a girl he knows whose name is This Stripper. Or listen to Great Grandad read me his diary from a hundred years ago when he was in a war against some Germs.

Most of all I like to be with Mumsie and Daddy when they cuddle me and pretend that I am a cloud, and they say that I will rain some day.

Before I threw my iPad away I sent one last Tweet to the man called Piers after Uncle Harry had taught me a bold word and helped me to make a funny picture with Piers’ head and some tall men whose lighting is wrong with no clothes on. It made me giggle so much that I got sick on Harry, and he called me a stupid baby, which I think is like an oaf. I love my Uncle Harry, and I love all my family. I don’t need the internet to have fun. Now where’s my crown? My gums are sore…


Demolition Lady

Paddy O’Donnell stood motionless in the dock, his hands cuffed together at his waist, a scornful look of indifference etched on his scarred face as he stared fixedly at the judge who sat before him. His arms and neck were covered in a sprawl of black ink, his skin a patchwork of intricate Celtic symbols, murals of fallen comrades, and various words and phrases scrawled in old Irish script. Somewhat incongruously, he also bore quite a detailed tattoo on his forearm of Irish actor Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek. The magistrate’s officious voice echoed around the grand chamber,

‘Mr. O’Donnell, you have been found guilty of each of the charges levelled against you. You have not shown an ounce of remorse for your heinous actions…’

As the judge continued to address him, O’Donnell’s lips curled into a sinister smirk.

‘…hereby sentenced to life imprisonment at the Royal British CryoPrison. You will be eligible for parole only after serving no less than fifty years in cryostasis.’

O’Donnell did not react but maintained his leering glare as the judge looked down at him over the rim of his glasses.

‘That is the judgement of the King’s Court on this, the third day of September 2029.’

As the judge’s gavel fell and the guards began to escort him out of the courtroom, O’Donnell turned to look at the magistrate once more.

‘He’s not my King, your honour,’ he spat contemptuously at him, although unfortunately this venomous riposte was negated slightly by the fact that the judge had already left his seat. As O’Donnell was led away he raised his head and crowed to the assembled masses, ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’, his face still contorted in a fiendish grin as he was taken from the room.

Constable Jessica Phillips stared distractedly out of her hovercar window as the buildings of London rushed by in a glistening blur. It was early still, the roads almost empty and awash in a bluish neon haze of artificial light. As the car steered itself around the corner onto Simon Cowell Square she noticed a car that had been pulled over by two traffic drones. The driver had clearly tried to make a run for it, since he lay prostrate and unconscious on the kerb as the drones processed the vehicle.

The radio hummed quietly as the car glided towards its destination.

‘This is 20FM, your only station for non-stop 20th century music. That was I Will Survive, a huge hit for Gloria Gaynor in 1979. A hundred years old folks, and still a great tune. Stay with us, coming up after these short messages we’ve got a classic from Will Smith…’

‘Radio off,’ muttered Jessica as she continued to gaze out the window. The Captain’s phone call half an hour earlier had unsettled her. He was not a man given to panic, yet his voice had betrayed an anxiety that troubled her as the car cruised towards the imposing Metropolitan Police complex. Newer Scotland Yard was an impressive feat of architecture, its glass edifice shimmering in the dim morning light as the sun crept over the horizon.

She had met the Commissioner only once, briefly, at a fundraiser for the Science Academy a few years earlier. Something about cloning worker bees as part of their Pollination Project to alleviate food shortages. She remembered he kept making awful jokes about stinging and honey and hive minds, at which she had laughed heartily of course. Not that such fulsome indulgence had furthered her career in any way. Her superiors had always seemed wary of her obsession with the culture and history of the 20th century, as though she was somehow infected with the barbarity and lawlessness of the period. Eight years on the force and still a Constable. Perhaps this impromptu meeting was the opportunity she had been waiting for. This thought lifted her spirits, and she skipped up the marble steps to the entrance as the attendant drone guided her hovercar to its parking space.

The Commissioner’s office was, like that of most professionals, purely functional; all austere minimalism, white walls, straight lines, and gleaming chrome surfaces. The shelves were neatly stacked with masses of colossal grey volumes – legal reference material, political polemics, that kind of thing. She scanned some of the titles: Order from Chaos: Before and After the New Constitution, Civil Liberties: Bane of a Unified Society, Zen and the Art of Drone Maintenance. The only colour present in the room was the deep crimson in the swollen jowls of the man himself, a look of flustered anguish greeting her from behind an enormous desk as she entered. The Captain was already seated in front of him, and nodded curtly to her as she sat down.

‘Thank you for coming at such short notice Constable Phillips. Time is of the essence here so I’ll get right to the point.’

Jessica listened attentively as the Commissioner outlined the situation. It transpired that yesterday evening, during a routine parole hearing at the CryoPrison, a convicted terrorist had somehow escaped. He had also managed to free several of his comrades, after which they took control of an entire wing of the facility and barricaded themselves in. This O’Donnell character was one of the leaders of the Actual IRA, a group of revolutionaries from the early part of the century, who were very sensitive about confusion with other contemporary factions such as the Bona Fide IRA and Seriously, We’re the IRA. These terrorist organisations sprang up after economic difficulties forced the Irish government to sign the Act of Union II in 2023.

The Commissioner continued, ‘Which brings us to why you’re here, Constable. The Captain tells me you’re something of an enthusiast regarding the 20th century.’

‘Yes Sir, I studied the history and politics of the era as an optional module during my Citizenry Training. But the 21st century IRA was quite different to…’

The Commissioner held out his hand to stop her.

‘It’s not an expert on the terrorists we need, Constable. We unfroze our own last night, after the escape.’

Phillips looked from the Commissioner to the Captain in confusion.

‘I don’t understand Sir…’

‘You’re the expert on our expert, Constable Phillips. You’re to be her handler for as long as this situation takes to resolve.’

With these enigmatic remarks the Commissioner pushed a button on his desk and addressed his secretary in the hallway.

‘Sarah, please send in the Baroness.’

Jessica turned to face the door as it slid open with a hiss. A figure she instantly recognised swept into the room, her beady eyes surveying the three of them with a slight hint of curiosity, and no little amount of disdain. Her hair was immaculately coiffed, her overcoat prim and pristine. Her frail hands, more bone than skin and practically translucent, were tightly gripped around a small brown handbag.

‘Well it’s about bloody time. Woken up after sixty-odd years and left sitting out in the hall with only a frightfully dull woman and a flying robot for company. It’s a long way from 10 Downing Street, I’ll tell you that much. If Denis were here, he’d tell you…’

‘Ah, Mrs. Thatcher,’ began the Commissioner hesitantly, ‘I do hope the security drone didn’t bother you too much…’

‘Infernal Japanese invention no doubt. Of course you know what Ronald always said about the Japanese…’

‘Baroness,’ he interrupted again, ‘I’d like to introduce you to Constable Phillips. She’ll be taking care of you while you’re with us.’

Jessica, still in shock at what was happening before her, stood up and extended her hand.

‘It’s an honour, Ma’am.’

Thatcher looked her up and down with a contempt that wasn’t so much thinly veiled as stark bollock naked.

‘A woman? Couldn’t you find someone more…senior, Commissioner?’

‘I assure you Ma’am, the Constable is an expert on…’

‘Yes, yes, alright, she’ll have to do’ she snapped impatiently.

‘Although if I may say so dear, you’ll never be taken seriously walking around with all that slap on your face. I told Edwina Currie the same thing. Edwina, I said, if you act like a whore then you can expect to be treated…’

‘Yes, well, no time to lose,’ interjected the Commissioner hastily.

‘We have a Situation Room set up at the prison. Let’s get over there and see if we can sort out this mess.’

Jessica sat in the back of the hovercar, nervously trying to answer Mrs. Thatcher’s incessant questions to the best of her ability.

‘These flying contraptions must cost a tidy sum, dear? I hope you’re not paying through the nose for labour costs, they seem quite flimsy.’ The Baroness was fidgeting with the video screen in front of her and had managed to break it cleanly off its mount.

‘Well Ma’am, we don’t really deal in money anymore.’

‘No money?’ she exclaimed, aghast at the notion.

‘Why if old Major heard that one he’d chase you round the House with his cricket bat. No money indeed. How on earth do your companies function?’

‘There are no private companies anymore. Everything is run by the City Authorities.’

‘Sounds a lot like Communism to me dear,’ replied Thatcher, and spat on the floor of the car.

A flat, monotonous voice buzzed from the speaker overhead, ‘Expectoration in a municipal vehicle is a crime. A civil obedience drone has been dispatched to your…’

‘Override dispatchment. Authorisation code Phillips Bravo Foxtrot.’

After a slightly awkward pause Jessica went on,

‘People need control. There’s practically no crime anymore; any that does occur is taken care of by the drones. They can be quite a deterrent.’

‘And the whole country is like this now?’

‘The major cities are. Some outcasts prefer to stay in the wilderness, but it’s total chaos out there.’

‘So there’s no crime, no resistance, no trade unions to be faced down, no foreign dictators to be put in their place, nobody protesting or clamouring for change?’

Phillips shook her head.

Turning back to stare out the window, Thatcher muttered with a hint of sadness, ‘What on earth do you do for fun?’

The Situation Room bustled with activity as they entered, the Commissioner waiting for them in front of a screen that showed the interior of the prison wing. A breathless subordinate ran to greet them, evidently still finishing his lunch as he clutched a half-eaten sandwich and a glass of milk.

‘Mrs Thatcher, it’s an honour. It’s all go here as you can imagine. Anything I can get you?’

‘Yes, I’m thirsty,’ the Baroness replied coldly, and snatched the glass of milk from his hand. The Commissioner motioned to her and she strode across the room to where he stood, an audible hush having descended amongst the assembled crowd as every pair of eyes followed her regal march across the floor.

The Commissioner greeted her at the screen, ‘The leader of the terrorists is ready to talk, Baroness. As per your recommendation, we’ve disguised his real voice and replaced it with an alternate.’

‘Good. He’ll get no free publicity from me.’

‘Quite. We weren’t sure whose voice to impose on him, so we picked a prominent celebrity from your era. I hope you approve, Ma’am.’

‘Yes yes, let’s get on with it, shall we?’

She stepped up to the intercom and addressed the prisoner, ‘Mr. O’Donnell, this is Lady Thatcher. What exactly is it you want that’s so damned important?’

There was a short pause, then through the makeshift speakers that flanked the giant video screen came the unmistakeable voice of 1990s’ entertainment personality Mr. Blobby.

‘I’ve told your Commissioner what I want. I want equality. I want justice. I want…’

‘Oh shut up for a minute, you sound ridiculous,’ she snapped. She turned to the Commissioner and raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, what does he want? His country freed from oppression, I suppose. His children’s children released from the yoke of bondage most likely, yes? The lifeblood of his comrades in arms vindicated by the submission of…’

‘Eh, fag breaks,’ came the crackled voice over the intercom. Thatcher turned back to the microphone, a look of confusion on her face.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Fag breaks. Just a few a year or whatever. Gets bloody cold in that thing, you know.’

The Baroness swivelled and cast an accusatory glance at the Commissioner that would turn a lesser man to stone.

‘This…is what you brought me here for?’ she snarled at him. Before he could answer she turned on her heels and promptly marched out of the room, followed closely by Jessica.

‘Eh…is that a yes?’

The hovercar drifted through the evening fog towards the Citizens’ CryoFacility on the outskirts of the city. Phillips sat opposite the Baroness, who sat sedately silent in her seat.

‘You’re sure you don’t want to stay a few more days Ma’am?’

‘What’s the point? May as well get back to that blasted ice cube for another lifetime I suppose, until I’m needed again.’

Jessica sensed the resignation in her voice.

‘You might grow to like it here, after a while.’

‘I thrive on conflict dear. In a world without any, what good am I to anyone?’

Sighing to herself, she sat back in her seat, her eyes glazed and downcast. For the first time that day Jessica didn’t see a fearsome, indomitable force of nature, but a tired and lost old woman who felt discarded by the world.

‘Well there is one place I can think of Ma’am, but like I said, it’s total chaos.’

Thatcher looked up to meet her gaze, her wizened face betraying a trace of a smile.

When they reached the outer gate the Baroness turned to Jessica and shook her hand.

‘Thank you Constable. You’ve been very helpful. I shan’t imagine I’ll be seeing you again.’

‘You’re sure about this Mrs. Thatcher? Once you go out there there’s no turning back.’

The Baroness looked her in the eye,

‘Don’t worry dear. This lady’s not for turning.’

With that she shuffled through the gate and into the bleak terrain beyond. Leaning against her hovercar, Jessica watched the hunched figure disappear into the grey mist.

After a few moments she sat into the car and began her journey home. ‘Radio on.’

‘…back to 20FM folks, and here’s a song from the 1980s that captured the mood of an angry nation. I don’t know about you but I’m glad those dark days are behind us.’

As the car thrummed its way back along the grey highway into the sprawling cityscape, the opening bars of Ghost Town reverberated around the interior of the immense machine, and a tear rolled down Jessica’s cheek as she surveyed the dark, lifeless metropolis that awaited her return.


Curiouser and Curiouser…

When Julian Assange awoke he found himself enclosed in a tall glass cylinder in the corner of a dimly lit room. He was standing upright and his arms and legs were restrained. Through the frosted glass he could just about make out the shapes of a number of identical cylinders dotted around the room. He felt groggy and weak as he struggled to recall how he had ended up here.

“I don’t remember paying for any weird shit this time,” he thought to himself as he attempted to free his limbs from their shackles to no avail.

Suddenly a booming voice echoed throughout the room,

Arrival imminent. Commencing detainee transfer.”

Assange felt his restraints loosen as the door of the cylinder slid open slowly. He stumbled out onto a cold metal floor just as the other cylinders also began to open. There were eight other people in the room, each looking equally confused and frightened.

Assange immediately recognised the three young women beside him as the Russian pop group and political dissenters Pussy Riot. Across the room he saw another face he knew, that of a Syrian blogger and human rights campaigner who had disappeared a few weeks earlier. After a few minutes of introductions he learned that the other four comprised an Iranian nuclear scientist, a student from California who had been arrested for tweeting a joke about Obama, a technology blogger who had recently given the new iPad a negative review, and lastly and somewhat inexplicably, the English comedian and actor Russell Brand.

After they had all met they tried to figure out how this had happened. None of them remembered arriving in this room, and they recounted their last memories before waking up there.

The Iranian scientist had been invited to a seminar given by the Chemical Industries Association, which he had never heard of before, and recalled finding the situation a tad strange when he was picked up at the train station by an Israeli tank instead of the promised limousine.

Russell Brand had been in South America conducting research for a book on the drug trade. The last memory he had was of landing at Colombia International Airport, and he remembered being surprised that the entire building was made out of cardboard panels that had been rather crudely sellotaped together.

Assange himself had been eagerly awaiting a visit to the Ecuadorian embassy by the Culinary Institute of Afghanistan. He had been looking forward to a nice meal, since the Ambassador kept eating his cream crackers from the kitchen, even though he had written ‘Hands off’ with three exclamation marks on a Post-It and stuck it on them.

Try as they might, they could find no connection between their stories. As they continued to discuss the strange situation they found themselves in, a panel opened in the corner of the room. Inside were nine orange spacesuits hanging on the wall.

The voice reverberated through the room again,

Attention detainees. Put on your suits and prepare to disembark the shuttle.”

They looked at each other in puzzlement. The shuttle?

“A shuttle?” exclaimed Brand. “What wicked malfeasance has been perpetrated here? Which autocratic tyrant has enslaved us in this unsolicited bondage? What calamitous end awaits this strewn-together band of…”

“Shut up you moron!” shouted one of the Russian girls.

Brand looked shocked and hurt but did not argue.

“Sorry sweetheart,” he mumbled, reaching up and stroking her face in what everyone agreed was a highly inappropriate gesture, even given the tense situation.

Just as they had finished getting into their suits one of the walls began to open outwards, creating a giant hydraulic ramp. The room was lit up with a brilliant light as the ramp descended and landed with a thud. As their eyes adjusted to the brightness they tentatively made their way down the ramp and squinted out at the vista that greeted them.

What they saw was a vast, red expanse of nothingness. An arid, crimson desert as far as the eye could see. The only sign of life was an enormous compound enclosed by barbed wire and high walls about a kilometre away. A makeshift track led through the soil and rock to the compound entrance. As they neared, the front gates opened slowly outwards and a short, squat figure appeared. As this shadowy form came into view, Assange recognised it but could not believe his eyes. The rover rolled towards them until it was but a few feet away, then stopped. Its diminutive head panned up to meet their faces, and its lifeless eyes acknowledged their shocked expressions. A garbled, metallic voice rang out in the thin air,

“Greetings prisoners. I am Curiosity, warden of this facility. Welcome to Mars.”

They followed the rover into the facility in stunned silence, escorted by a pair of similar robot guards. Hundreds of people dressed in the same orange suits were scattered around the compound. Assange recognised many of them as political activists or dictators who had either gone missing or had been reported as dead. He could have sworn he even saw Gadafi and bin Laden sitting together rolling dice, and Pinochet playing dominoes with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Eventually they came to a small building which appeared to be an office. They entered and the door shut behind them. On the wall were pictures of famous robots: C-3PO, Johnny Number 5, Wall-E. On the desk behind which their captor now stood was a picture of him with President Obama, and a nameplate that read ‘Colonel Curiosity’. There was also a small tray of complimentary mints, which seemed slightly incongruous.

“Welcome to the galaxy’s most secret detention centre. Here the CIA and other agencies can keep dissenters,” he said, fixing his gaze on the Pussy Riot girls, “international spies,” looking directly at Assange, “or anyone so unbelievably irritating that their government pays massive sums of money to make them disappear.” Everyone looked at Russell.

Curiosity continued, “I was sent here to become warden after my predecessor, Voyager, was shanked by Idi Amin during a riot earlier this year. As you may have now figured out, NASA has been operating as a covert wing of the US military since its inception, under the pretense of space exploration. The staff here are all rovers and probes sent here to keep control of the population. We’ve also started to draft in bomb disposal robots that have been injured in the Middle East, although between you and me, the PTSD has made them very unstable. I’d steer clear of them if I were you.”

The nine prisoners stood fixed to the ground, unable to comprehend this astonishing turn of events. Eventually Russell broke the silence,

“You mean we’re forced to spend the rest of our pitiful lives in some sort of cosmic colony of miscreants, to endure this interstellar incarceration in the void of space, never again to feel the warm bosom of…”

“Silence, prisoner!” shouted the warden. He turned to the rest of them, “Jeez, does this guy ever give it a rest?”

Thousands of miles away Michelle Obama was sitting on the couch in the Oval Office, laptop on her knee, while her husband sat with his feet up on his desk, his brow furrowed in concentration as he polished his Nobel Peace prize.

“You know I swear Kissinger swapped these things when we had dinner last week, I don’t remember this scratch being here.”

His wife was distracted by the article she was reading and didn’t answer him.

“Have you seen this story in the Huffington Post about Mars, Barack? This guy thinks it’s being used as an off-world penal colony by the American government.”

He didn’t look up and continued to studiously clean his trophy.

“Honestly, I don’t know why you read that crap Michelle. There are some real nutjobs out there.”

“Yeah I guess you’re right. Well, I’d better get going. I’ve to be on Oprah this afternoon. We’re doing an intervention for some fat kid from Texas who only eats chocolate cake.”

When his wife had left the room the President picked up the phone on his desk.

“Get me the director of the CIA right away please Barbara. I’ve got a problem with a journalist that needs to be taken care of.”

Julian Assange stared out the barred window of his cell, the glowing sphere of planet Earth visible just above the dusky horizon. A solitary tear rolled down his cheek as he contemplated his future on this barren rock.

“Don’t cry Jules, it’ll be alright in the end, you’ll see.”

Assange turned from the window and lay down on his cot, turning his face to the wall as he closed his eyes tightly, praying that the nightmares wouldn’t be so bad tonight.

“Shut up Russell,” he replied, as the sun set over the red planet, and the cell was plunged into darkness.


Global Informing

Former US vice-president Al Gore is spearheading the 24 Hours of Reality campaign this week, a social networking-based series of presentations aimed at convincing climate change sceptics of the truths of how human activity is affecting our environment. The presentation is also set to attack some of the more virulent deniers of climate change, and examine where they get their funding from. The endeavour is, like all things these days, set to revolve around Facebook and Twitter. Obviously Gore thinks he can save the world in less than 140 characters.

As with all of Al Gore’s attempts to raise awareness about environmental issues, this idea seems like a noble and laudable venture. Gore’s tireless work deservedly earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which illustrates the political and societal weight of his influence and his ideas. What’s more, he didn’t even have to attach his name to an abstract noun like ‘Hope’ or give any vague and empty promises about closing illegal detention centres to get one.

Unfortunately, this project is probably destined to do little other than solidify the views of those already firmly in Gore’s camp. The science and logic behind Gore’s claims are plain to see for anyone who cares to look, and it is not due to a careful examination of the facts that most climate change sceptics voice their disagreement. Political influence is undoubtedly the biggest contributing factor to the mass ignorance of these deniers. A healthy mistrust of crackpot leftie scientists and their anti-American views that will restrict progress is now just as much of a prerequisite for members of the American conservative right as revulsion towards homosexuality and a proclivity for hilariously ill-informed statements.

Despite the massive amount of good work done by Gore and his organisations, he is forever fighting a losing battle against extremely powerful interest groups who don’t want to give any credence to claims that would see American industry forced to make concessions because of climate change. The morons that are churned out by the Republicans every four years might genuinely believe the nonsense they talk about the global warming conspiracy, but these simple mouthpieces that have been plucked from backwater towns are just being used by big business to appeal to middle Americans, and to make them think anything that will result in less income for corporations is un-American and is a threat to their way of life.

Unfortunately for those of us capable of independent thought, these corporations have a massive resource of idiots that they can very easily bend to their every whim. Without wanting to sound too much like Jim Corr, in a very general sense it should be obvious to everyone that the world is not run by states or governments, but by the CEOs who control the money that is used to influence governmental policy. In America, the corporations and their lobbyists have realised that tapping into patriotism is by far the easiest way to control people. Add an environment of fear and hostility and you have yourself an army (literally in many cases) of uneducated classes willing to kill and die for the ethereal ‘America’, that is in reality just a collection of very powerful individuals who use the war industry, mainly, to line their own pockets at the expense of young men’s lives.

The capitalist system, and our society’s outlook in general, is marked by two distinguishing features: greed and short-sightedness. An unquenchable thirst for money and power guarantees that men like Gore will always meet with a stubborn refusal to let anything get in the way of procuring more of both. At the same time, our myopic world view ensures that, for the most part, nobody really cares what kind of world our grandchildren grow up in. Our own survival and prosperity is what matters, and everything else is irrelevant conjecture. Sure our descendants can just evolve into a Waterworld-esque race of amphibians, trading dirt and stilted dialogue and avoiding crazy old Dennis Hopper in the horrible dystopia we helped create for them.

The other point that has to be made here, however, is the perceived futility of the ‘green’ movement championed by people like Gore. The damage that has already been done to our atmosphere is practically irreversible, and it is clear that world governments are not going to suddenly unite and take drastic action. So why bother doing your part by recycling and worrying about carbon footprints when our fate has already been sealed? Cycling everywhere will not save the world; it will just ensure that your lungs, as well as our ozone layer, become clogged with the exhaust fumes, fossil fuel smoke and cow farts that are slowly eroding our planet’s defences against extreme weather conditions.

Interestingly, this week also brought news of an Earth-like planet discovered in a nearby solar system. Whether it is in developing a faster form of travel to make it possible to reach somewhere like this, or simply overcoming the difficulties of making somewhere like Mars habitable for humans, surely the science of space exploration is the way forward for the long-term future of our species? Even if it is not possible to leave Earth, chances are we could exhaust other planets of their natural resources to keep us going for another few years, like some sort of cosmic life-support system for that mean old great-uncle who’s always been a bit of an asshole and refuses to just do the decent thing and die.

With NASA’s shuttle program recently being shelved indefinitely, private companies have been given the job of continuing our odyssey into the vastness of space. So let’s hope that whatever the best way forward for humanity is, it also just happens to be the most profitable path to take. Maybe after years of exploitation and manipulation, our corporations can save us from the doom they helped to inflict upon us. If we were to one day leave our sinking ship of a planet, however, I imagine Al Gore would insist on staying behind, defiant to the end about saving the environment and creating a better world. After all, in space no-one can hear you tweet.


Google Nonplussed

It is only a few years since the world collectively abandoned the sinking ship that was Bebo and flocked like a swarm of slightly bored rats into the arms of Mark Zuckerberg and his slightly bluer, slightly better social networking site, Facebook. After the launch in the past few weeks of Google+, it appears another power shift may be taking place. Not content with shifting the ratio of advertisements to music on their newly acquired YouTube to something in the region of ten million to one, Google have decided they don’t quite own enough of the internet yet and are moving into social networking.

So what improvements have been made that make this new site so much better than Facebook? Well for one thing the geometry is completely different. You can now have your friends in circles instead of those boring linear patterns – I think they call them lists or something – the concept is so outdated now I can’t even remember the name for it. It’s a bold new world out there and all sorts of shit is going to be made out of shapes. Need to send a private message? Just enter your Messaging Cuboid and type away. Want to find someone you met yesterday and said six words to so you can add them as a friend? Just add their name to the Search Hexagon and let it work its magic. Updating your personal data? The Information Dodecahedron will make it a cinch.

The other difference is the +1 button, which is sure to spell the end of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button. Who needs to use a word to express their sentiments when a vague mathematical term will do? You’ve been using the internet for so long you’ve forgotten how to spell anyway. I think it’s a great idea, I really +1 where they’re coming from with that one.

Of course social networking isn’t about communication, it’s about advertising money. Facebook is so attractive to advertisers because it gathers data on its 500 million users and enables companies to target individuals with very specific ads. The way Facebook do this, however, is dependent entirely on user-provided information. You tell Facebook your age, gender, location, likes, dislikes and anything else that defines you as a potential customer, and Marky Mark passes the info onto companies who can then use a simple algorithm to fill your page with personalised ads.

The trouble with Google+ is that it will attempt to gather information on you based on the cookies from your browsing history. And unless you’re one of the three people left who still use Yahoo as a search engine, there’s probably an awful lot of sensitive information contained in your search history. While Facebook is very much a self-contained system where you can choose exactly how much of your privacy to give up, Google is so powerful and has such a massive presence on the internet that it is next to impossible to keep certain information from them.

Since its experimental launch three weeks ago, Google+ has already amassed some 20 million members, so obviously there is a huge market for another social network. It remains to be seen whether Facebook users will leave entirely or just use the new site as an auxiliary form of communication like Twitter. You would think that one outlet to share your not very interesting thoughts with people would be enough, but apparently not. Next thing we know everyone will be writing blogs about any bit of news that they have an opinion on. I wouldn’t +1 that at all.