Tag Archives: US

And Never Brought to Mind (Again)

It was Nietzsche who wrote: “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

Well I wish I could channel some of Gloria Gaynor’s optimism right now but I get the feeling that if our survival depends on extricating some grand meaning from the veritable shit pile of suffering that was the year 2016, we’re going to need a bigger shovel.

In fact if 2016 were a person then Nietzsche’s life seems to be conveniently analogous, seeing as it was one marred early on by tragic deaths, scarred throughout by severe ill health, and finally and mercifully extinguished only after a prolonged deterioration into madness.

Thankfully we don’t have to wait much longer now for the denouement, though if the process could be sped up at all I’m sure we’d all be on the first plane to Switzerland, dragging this burdensome, festering near-corpse of a year behind us in an effort to forego whatever fresh hell its death throes may yet vomit onto the carpet of civilisation.

The morbid imagery is apt, as 2016 looks set to be remembered – for whatever brief, hellish future remains for us to eke out – as the year of death. Not content with simply providing us with the usual amount of war, conflict and terror, this year we’ve been treated to an especially horrific smorgasbord of human pain and torment. It has been a miserable existence this year for so many groups of people: Syrians caught up in a bloody civil war, tourists attacked by bloodthirsty fanatics, and black people in the US who wanted to do things like drive through town or walk down the street.

Perhaps the only place more dangerous than Aleppo this year has been the world of show business, as 2016 ruthlessly dispatched celebrities with the zealous abandon of a drone at a Pakistani wedding party. Bowie, Prince, Ali, even R2-D2 died for fuck’s sake. It’s bad enough when someone you respect and admire passes away but even worse is having to deal with the outpouring of ostentatious social media grief from the kind of people who celebrate their cat’s birthdays.

There were times this year when we got up to at least a 7 or 8 on the Princess Diana-Ometer of disingenuous attention seeking. Twitter has only compounded this phenomenon as each passing is now hailed with a cacophony of teary emoticons, exclamation marks and greeting card phraseology digitally expectorated with a drooling vacancy by the chattering classes.

This was also the year that politics in the UK went from worrying about how Ed Miliband eats a sandwich to a Votey McVoteface catastrophe as the country committed economic and political seppuku to spite the Brussels fat cats who had for so long lorded over them with an iron fist of politeness, inclusive democracy and subsidisation.

The tabloid level of public discourse on display during the campaign, and the ultimate victory of witless, shameless demagoguery should probably have given us an indication of how events would unfold later in the year across the Atlantic, but most people were too busy floundering in apocalyptic angst to indulge in this kind of analysis. Or maybe even at that stage, there remained a modicum of hope, of faith in ordinary people to make a sound decision for their future. I can’t be sure as I can’t remember what that feels like.

And so we move to the biggest story of 2016, and to the proud nation that has just elected a human YouTube comment as its commander in chief. In one fell swoop the trite and much-maligned concept of American exceptionalism was confirmed as reality once and for all, if not exactly as it was meant, as US citizens defeated all competition in the race to the bottom of the barrel of narcissistic populism, displaying the collective self-awareness of an inert gas with Asperger syndrome.

This is the endgame of neoliberalism, of letting the free market dictate societal progress. An ideology that not only accepted but embraced some of the worst characteristics of a species still suffering from an evolutionary hangover and stumbling round in a haze of fear, anger and primitive chest-beating was never going to end well.

This is the broken, bitterly divided, hideously unequal pot of shit at the end of the shimmering rainbow of the American Dream. The US is trapped in a Kafkaesque Bruce Springsteen song, becoming ever more socially and culturally bereft as everything turns to misery and loss.

The binary echo chambers of the fascistic, identity obsessed left and the intractable, dried-up paleo-conservative husks will continue to orbit at a distance around the frustrated, disenfranchised majority whose antiquated political system has robbed them of their voice, and now their future.

But never fear, the wretched failed experiment in democracy that is America will stumble on in its own crass, inimitable way. After all, tomorrow is another day and there is work to be done: freedom to be wrested from tyranny; superhero sequels to be released; and of course, walls to be built. Home of the brave, indeed.

I suppose I should try to finish on a positive note and mention some of the happier moments of the year, such as they were.

Bernie Sanders was a brief bright spot amidst the gloom of the US election, refreshing the political tableau of the country with his ability to form long, coherent sentences and display something approaching human empathy. That is, before he was inevitably crushed by the Clinton money machine, like some insignificant insect or a woman whom Bill sexually assaulted.

In the world of mass entertainment as avoidance of reality the first season of Westworld was pretty good. That said, it’s a little disconcerting that TV plots now seem to be written not with story or character as the driving force, but rather constructed in such a convoluted way as to evade the painstaking, labyrinthine speculation by a committee of Reddit neckbeards that every frame of every episode is now subjected to. There’s also the unshakeable feeling that these violent delights will have nebulous and frustratingly unresolved ends.

Okay, more positives…well…the Olympics was fun I guess? Mmm…Zika didn’t become as widespread as initially feared…Planet Earth II? That was pretty impressive, right? Even if that terrifying scene with the lizard and the snakes provided us with a fitting existential metaphor for the year it’s been.

Well, what else is left to say? The long, painful penetration of the annus horribilis is almost at an end. So wipe yourself down, take a deep breath and brace yourself for 2017. It’s going to be yuge.


All’s Well That Trends Well

To celebrate the recent 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, one independent drama company is planning a series of the great man’s plays with a modern twist.

The Millennial Theatre Company for Millennials is situated in a trendy borough of London that is home to a plethora of pop-up art galleries, theatres, organic coffee shops and confused, angry locals slowly being airbrushed out of existence by the unyielding yoke of gentrification.

Indeed this chic quarter is so fashionable that it foregoes the archaic nominative traditions that have historically been used to label residents of an area as being residents of that particular area, and is often referred to by those in the know as simply The Borough with No Name.

The company’s innovative re-imaginings of the Bard’s work are designed to attract a whole new audience of young, vibrant trendsetters to the world of community theatre. Its tagline of “Drama: It’s Dramatic!” underlines the simple approach of its director, Fiach Atticus Higgins-Collins.

“Young people want to be entertained,” says Higgins-Collins. “Shakespeare’s works have a lot of extraneous nuance and subtext that tends to confuse people. We’ve just focused on keeping the drama, and that’s what our theatre is all about: Drama.”

The last word is whispered with the sincerity of a true artist at work. His ground-breaking vision is one of theatre as social network, in which the audience plays an active part in proceedings.

“They’re encouraged to Tweet their reactions scene by scene, to live blog the plays, to put pictures on Instagram,” explains the director.

“The audience is our portal to the digital world,” he says with a theatrical and rather complex hand gesture that lasts several seconds.

So what can people hope for from yet another modern Shakespeare adaptation?

“Whatever happens it’s going to be dramatic,” promises Higgins-Collins, “very dramatic.”

To give us a taste of what we can expect the company has kindly provided the following guide to the programme of plays, with a brief synopsis of each one.

~

Hamlet

The King of Denmark is having problems with paranormal activity in his royal residence. He needs to put his mind at ease so he can get back to being fiscally prudent and enjoying football and expensive beer in moderation. So who’s he gonna call? That’s right – Ghost Büsters!

Not to be confused with any existent trademarked fictional paranormal detectives, Ghost Büsters are Scandinavia’s premier exorcism specialists. Which of course means that they have their own reality TV show on Danish satellite channel Kanal Umlaut.

Follow the exploits of the team, Lars, Kristian, Lars Kristian and Magnusson Lars Magnusson as they investigate the ghoulish goings-on at Castle Hamlet. Will they succeed in ridding the place of its spectral intruders before the important visit of the Norwegian Minister for Fishing? What supernatural device does Lars Kristian find in the Queen’s underwear drawer? And which of the house servants comes under increasing suspicion as the full story is revealed in a devastating and dramatic denouement? To be there or not to be there – there is no question!

Romeo and Juliet

This timeless love story is brought into the digital age in this brave adaptation. Romeo is bored with meeting the same dull, vacuous girls on Tinder, and is feeling hopeless. When he comes across Juliet’s profile, however, it’s love at first swipe.

The two share stories, laughs and animal memes as Romeo falls deeper in love with this seemingly perfect woman. Her answer to every question is exactly the response he had hoped for; every text is witty and self-deprecating; she shares every one of his hobbies, interests and rather vanilla sexual fantasies. Romeo is besotted – he must meet her in person.

However the frisson of romance is dissolved in a heartbreaking and dramatic twist when Juliet turns out to be a Google drone that had been deployed for marketing purposes in order to improve their targeted advertising algorithms. Romeo is crushed, and after sharing some valuable insurance policy price-comparing information, and a somewhat clumsy yet beautiful kiss, the two part ways forever.

Elizabeth II

Nobody wants to hear about a boring old bunch of Richards, Henrys and Johns so the Bard’s oeuvre of historical plays have been replaced with a majestic and moving tribute to the current Queen and her family. In fact most of the play centres on Prince William and Princess Catherine, since Twitter polls have shown that they’re the most popular royals among most key demographics. The Queen and Prince Philip are actually quite far down the list behind all of their great-grandchildren, some of their pets and even a few of Princess Charlotte’s teddy bears.

There is also the fact that a large number of millennials are somewhat hazy on the particulars of the monarchy; many of them think that the Queen is either David Cameron’s mum, or the woman who invented paper money.

The action of the play, therefore, is mostly based around the morning of an OK Magazine photo shoot in William and Catherine’s stately mansion. The drama unfolds as our protagonists are forced to deal with lighting problems, make-up shortages, and a delightfully whimsical last-minute wardrobe change after a hilarious (and dramatic) juice spillage.

The play also presents us with several tense sub-plots such as Prince George’s traumatic flashbacks to his brave battle against chickenpox, and Princess Charlotte’s touching personal struggle to learn how to use a spoon to eat her yoghurt.

Othello

Othello is a Syrian refugee who attempts to flee his war-torn homeland with his family to start a new life in Europe. The story follows his heartbreaking struggle in the face of adversity.

Othello’s journey begins with a narrow escape from death in his country’s bloody civil war, which impels him to seek a new life for his loved ones. The family overcome many physical, emotional, financial and political obstacles on their odyssey to the safe haven of Europe, enduring oppression, rebuttal and failure at every turn.

Eventually Othello and his family are successfully processed and granted asylum to live and work in Europe. Many months after they had set out on the long road to meet their uncertain future, they finally arrive at their new home: a sleepy English seaside village that reminds Othello of his grandfather’s home town which he used to visit as a boy. He is relieved beyond words, beyond emotions; relieved, content and even a little proud of what he has achieved for his family.

Their travails along the way have made them stronger and brought them closer to each other than they had ever thought possible. They wake at last to a dawn full of promise and possibility.

Unfortunately two weeks later Britain votes to leave the EU and they are promptly sent home.

Macbeth

This tale of a married couple seduced and corrupted by the promise of political power is transposed to the more glamorous setting of the US for a contemporary audience, because nobody cares about Scottish independence.

The gullible, power-hungry Macbeth manages to get elected President through nefarious means, while his cold, calculating wife is the real power behind the throne.

Years after her husband’s career has finished, the cunning Lady Macbeth plots a return to power. Spurred on by her ruthless ambition, hurt by the indiscretions of her husband and supported by supremely powerful vested interests, this reptilian warmonger looks set to claim the Presidency for herself, with only a court Fool standing in her way on the other side of the political divide.

Enter the brave Macduff, a plain-speaking, honest merchant, and a member of the Macbeths’ own court. His is a hopeless task as he attempts to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden and defy the might of the Macbeth dynasty. However his wit, intelligence and integrity convince the people of the realm that the last thing they need is another Macbeth on the throne, and the vile harridan is defeated.

King Lear

Juxtaposing this classic tale of human suffering and familial conflict with the trappings of the modern entertainment industry, this adaptation sees the Lear family take their dispute to the ultimate arbiter of fairness and justice in the land: Mr. Jeremy Kyle.

The absurdly wealthy landowner Lear, a mean-tempered, conservative war veteran, is terminally ill and wishes to divide his estate among his three daughters. Regan, the eldest, is married to a successful City broker and has raised a family of her own. Goneril, the middle child, is a partner at one of the country’s top law firms. Both appear on the show to fulsomely profess their love and respect for their father.

Cordelia, the youngest, has always been different, and has not spoken to her father for many years. She identifies as a non-binary pangender individual who lives an austere, self-sufficient life on an alpaca farm in Cumbria with her life partner Esperanza, with whom she has adopted six children, each from a different African country. They earn a little extra money by making Anarchist Party woollen jumpers that they sell online.

The explosive and dramatic showdown between estranged father and daughter is one you won’t want to miss. Can Lear and Cordelia grow to accept each other before it’s too late? Will Jeremy’s sage judgement help Lear to overcome his heteronormative bias and embrace his little girl’s life choices? Or will the drama be too much to keep this dysfunctional family from crumbling apart? Drama!

The Tempest

Climate change is having a more egregious impact on our planet as each year goes by, and this retelling serves as a prophetic warning about its dangers.

As prevailing weather conditions become more erratic around the globe, the Pacific Ocean becomes one of the most turbulent regions, being struck almost daily by violent storms. One fateful day a super storm with immensely powerful wind speed hits just a few miles off the US coastline, causing a massive waterspout.

This spout causes thousand of the sea’s most fearsome (and most dramatic) creatures, great white sharks, to be pulled out of the ocean depths and deposited onto the streets of downtown LA, resulting in chaotic scenes of epic proportions.

* The Millennial Company’s legal team has advised that this synopsis be accompanied by a reminder that the company’s recent legal battle with the Syfy channel was settled out of court, and that the details of said case shall remain private by special court order.

Elizabeth II Part II

This one hasn’t been written yet, but it will just be the most popular characters from Part I repeating the catchphrases that trended the most over and over again.


Presidential Disorder

The lights come up on a stage with seven equally spaced, empty podiums. A large audience is in attendance, and as a woman enters from stage left, the crowd rises to its feet, cheering and applauding. The woman turns to the audience and the assembled television cameras and raises a microphone.

Oprah: Good evening America!

Crowd: Good evening Oprah! We love you!

Oprah: Welcome! Welcome everyone, to the 2023 Republican Presidential Debate, sponsored by Trump Cola. Mmm, tastes like capitalism!

Crowd erupts into whooping and hollering and a “U.S.A.” chant breaks out. Eventually they take their seats and fix their glazed expressions once more on Oprah.

Oprah: Well, after seven glorious years under President Trump, it’s finally time to start thinking about who we want to be the next leader of the free world. Tonight we meet the seven candidates who will contest the primary for the presidential nomination for the greatest, and thanks to our current President, the only, political party in America: The Republican Party!

Crowd explodes into a frenzy of thunderous applause and indecipherable feral yelping. At one point somebody produces a banjo. Eventually they take their seats again.

Oprah: Let’s meet the contestants!

The live band that has been hidden in a shaded alcove springs into life and begins to play a bass-heavy version of “I am a Real American” as seven figures file onto the stage.

Oprah: Introducing…the man who said he’d be back, he’s no girly-man, Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Next, the first daughter hoping to be the next little lady in the big house, Chelsea Clinton!

Back from Alaska for another shot, the mom who came in from the cold, Sarah Palin!

He’s not the Messiah, but he’s a very talented boy, voice of a generation, Kanye West!

A reluctant late entry to the race, former Democrat, Old Man River himself, Bernie Sanders!

The belle of the ball, and winner of the 2023 Hoes That Pose reality TV show, 6-year old child beauty pageant sensation, Amber May Alabama!

And lastly, a surprise wild card entry into the race after a special sitting of Trump Congress. Ladies and gentlemen, your President, looking for four more years, Donald “The Donald” Trump!

Crowd erupts into a cacophony of jingoistic yodelling, saucepan clanking and pistol shots. A sheep emerges from the maelstrom and runs off stage right. A man dressed as Uncle Sam gets hit with a steel chair. After some minutes they settle and retake their seats.

Oprah: Okay, it’s time to start the questions. Unfortunately the network has stipulated that the debate can last no more than ten minutes this year, in order to avoid a clash with tonight’s eagerly awaited finale of Dancing with the Stars: Sitcom Wars between the casts of Modern Family, and Modern Family spin-off Lily’s High School Misadventures. Accordingly, each candidate will be asked just one question on a given topic and will have one minute to answer.

Bernie: That’s not a debate, how dumbed-down can you get?  I knew I shouldn’t have lowered myself to this circus…

Oprah: Dumbed-down? Bernie please, you’re being ridiculous. Okay folks, it’s question time and you know what that means. Let’s…Spin That Wheel!

Crowd leaps to its feet, yammering approval, as a giant wheel is rolled in from offstage.

Oprah: Okay folks, you know how it works. Each candidate will spin the Issue Wheel, and will receive a question on whatever issue the arrow lands on. Immigration, Terrorism, God, all the big ones are up there! Okay, Arnold, you’re up first. Come on up and…

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Oprah: Okay, let’s go. Wow, that’s a good strong spin there, Arnold. Now we just wait…until the arrow stops…still going…that really was a big spin…Arnold’s new movie Terminator: Revelations is out next week folks, get your preview tickets now…

Arnold: I play a Terminator Satan. But it’s very understated.

Oprah: Okay…and, it’s stopped! Finally. Okay Arnold, your issue is immigration. Your question is this: Do you agree with the construction of the Trump Wall and would you continue the President’s policy of selective immigration protocols based on physical attractiveness?

Arnold: As you know Oprah, I am an immigrant myself. So I feel I am best placed to say to these illegal immigrants: Your stay here has been terminated. Hasta la vista, baby! That’s Mexican for “Go back to Mexico”.

Crowd rises in rapturous approval

Bernie: Jesus Christ…

Donald: Obviously Mr. Sanders thinks it’s okay to take the Lord’s name in vain. Go back to Soviet Russia, Comrade Bernie!

Crowd boos loudly and some throw peanuts at Bernie

Arnold: Bernie’s candidacy has been terminated. Ha ha. Ha ha. Terminated. Ha ha. Like the film.

Okay, next up is Ms. Clinton. Let’s…

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Oprah: Okay Chelsea, your issue is Family. How do you feel about the political legacy left by your father? Will you ever be able to emulate his achievements, or are you simply trading on a well-known political surname?

Chelsea: Well, I’m actually really glad I get a chance to address this tonight because this campaign has been such a cathartic exp-

Arnold: Hey Chelsea!

Chelsea: Em, yes? I’m kind of in the middle of some-

Arnold: Who is your Daddy and what does he do?

Arnold turns and winks at the camera as the crowd goes wild

Chelsea: Can I answer the question now or-

Oprah: Okay, let’s move on!

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Oprah: Kanye, you’re up. Okay, your issue is Celebrity. As part of President Trump’s Celebrity Cabinet Initiative, you’re currently the Secretary of State. Do you really think celebrities are suited to these important positions?

Kanye: Absolutely. Everybody that isn’t me makes mistakes, as we saw with Secretary of Defence Beyonce’s recent nuclear mishap with North Korea. But that song she wrote about it afterwards was number 1 for six weeks and had a killer beat. So I ask you, how much is a human life really worth?

Oprah: Okay…ah Bernie, it’s your turn to…

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Bernie: A question mark, what does that mean?

Oprah: It’s the Mystery Prize! Bernie, you’ve just won a washer-dryer!

Bernie: Oh for God’s sake. Can we please talk about child pover-

Oprah: No time Bernie! Time to spin the wheel again! Okay this time it’s…Education!

Bernie: Finally, a real issue. Okay, so there are three fundamental problems with our education system that need to be tackled before we-

Kanye runs up to Bernie and grabs the microphone from his hand

Kanye: I’mma let you finish Bernie but I just wanted to say I don’t think making fried chicken is any kind of a qualification to be President.

Bernie: I’m not Colonel Sanders you moron, what the fu-

Arnold: Chill out, dickwad!

Oprah: Okay, time to move onto our next candidate, Sarah Palin. Sarah…

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Oprah: Okay Sarah, your issue is God. How big an influence is God in your daily life, and how much would your faith influence your Presidency?

Sarah: Well Oprah, I think America is God’s country. Otherwise why would he have made it the greatest country in the world?

Crowd roars its approval and rises to its feet, waving miniature American flags

Sarah: And if God doesn’t love freedom, why did he only give it to civilised people in mostly white countries?

Oprah: Em…

Crowd continues to go crazy. Somebody throws a pig dressed as Lincoln into the air.

Sarah: And if God doesn’t hate homosexuals, then why did he make them so easy to spot? I mean they prance around the place like-

Oprah: Okay, and your minute is up! Ah, thanks Sarah. Little Miss Amber May, you’re up next honey. Let’s…

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Crowd emits a collective “Aaaawww” as the diminutive Amber May totters over to the wheel in her six inch heels

Amber May: Ms. Oprah, Ma’am, I can’t reach that there wheel. She’s higher’n a kite on a Mississippi Mayday.

Crowd: Aaaaaaawwwww

Arnold: I will help the tiny prostitute to spin the wheel.

Arnold spins the wheel so hard it comes off its axel and rolls away offstage, mowing down a cameraman on the way.

Arnold: Oops.

Oprah: Ah, okay. Amber May, my producer is telling me to ask you about the War on Terror. How do you think ISIS’s latest incursions in North Africa have affected geopolitical stability?

Amber May: Shucks, I just wish there wasn’t so much fightin’ and that all them brown folks could get along. Pops had some chickens once that was like that, always fightin’ like varmints. Then one day he just done wrung their necks and that was the end of it.

Crowd: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwww

Oprah: Okay, we’ve got one minute left, and no wheel…

Crowd: SPIN THAT WHEEL!

Oprah: I said we’ve got no wheel you braindead…ah…okay, let’s go to President Trump for the final word. Mr. President?

Donald: America, if you give me four more years, I will continue to crush our enemies, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentations of their women.

Arnold: Hey, that’s my line!

Donald: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!…

Crowd: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Oprah: Well, you’ve heard from all the candidates. Now it’s up to you, the American public, to decide. To gauge the reaction to tonight’s debate we’ve had a Twitter poll running all night. And I can now announce that the winner is…me. Oprah. Ah, I think some of you may have misunderstood what was happening here tonight. Oh well, we’re nearly out of time, you know what that means. Everybody grab a partner! Goodnight America!

The lights are dimmed as the band starts to play a Garth Brooks tune. The crowd and the candidates all file out onto the floor and begin line dancing. As the camera pans out Donald swings Chelsea around the floor and begins to slide his hand down her lower back. Arnold grabs Oprah and spins her, accidentally putting her through the studio wall. Bernie Sanders simply stands at his podium disconsolately, aghast at what is unfolding before him. He trudges offstage, his feet crunching over the detritus of miniature American flags as a solitary tear runs down his cheek.


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.


New Year’s Devolutions

As another year draws to a close we are left to look back on the events of the last twelve months, and assess their impact on our lives. Unfortunately, however, due to my reliance on modern technology, I have no memory whatsoever of anything that happened before yesterday. Therefore, until we manage to invent some sort of collated, easily accessible database of news through which we can record our history as it unfolds, any attempt at such reflection is pointless.

Instead, I will attempt to predict what may lie in store for the duration of our next revolution around the sun, which conveniently gives me even more scope for absurd exaggeration and crude humour. To that end, here follows a synopsis of what we can expect in the year 2014…

To domestic affairs first, as Ireland continues its upward trajectory out of the doldrums of recession. Normality returns in increments as shoddily built apartments are bought by the thousand, helicopters are dusted off to head down to the Galway Races, and solicitors start snorting cocaine before midday again.

In politics, Enda Kenny finally gives in to pressure to reform the Seanad, and appoints David Norris to take charge of the transition. Unfortunately, Norris chooses to make no changes whatsoever to the political structures or powers of the upper house, deciding instead to use millions of euro of taxpayers’ money to build an exact replica of an Ancient Roman Senate chamber, complete with annexed bath house, and opulently furnished in marble and gold leaf. The Taoiseach defends the developments by arguing that attendance in the house is at a record high average of 11%, a vast improvement on previous years.

Unfortunately for many of our émigrés, next year will also see Australia suffer a severe economic crash akin to the one that sent them there. Thousands of young Irish people are left floundering in a sweltering, barren wasteland, with no employment and no money to get home. As the last remaining Aussies leave their shores en masse to seek bar work in London, our hapless emigrants are left to fend for themselves in the desolate wilderness. Rule of law breaks down and society devolves into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, like Mad Max with more swearing and Offaly jerseys.

In the US, troublesome Republicans once again force a shutdown of the government, which lasts for over six months. The leadership claims it is due to Obama’s wish to implement stricter gun laws, but House insiders maintain it is predominantly a backlash to the dryness of the muffins in the Congress cafeteria. The country is thrown into chaos as millions are denied access to essential services. A deal is eventually brokered after military cutbacks contribute to a worrying breach in security in an army base in Kandahar, in which an enemy missile lands inside the perimeter. After eliminating the insurgents responsible, the missile turns out to be a football that had come from a nearby playing field, but military intelligence verifies that the deceased 12-year old boys were ‘a lot more terrorist-y than they looked.’

More revelations are forthcoming in 2014 from Edward Snowden regarding NSA monitoring of internet communications. In a somewhat tragic twist, it emerges that an entire subsection of intelligence operatives, who had been tasked with examining comments on YouTube to seek potential terrorists, take their own lives in what seems like a ritual mass suicide by self-immolation. NSA chiefs announce their grief and shock over the lost lives, especially since the group had just started their first day on the project.

In Britain, police continue to crack down on abusive behaviour on social networking sites. This policy reaches its zenith when a student is imprisoned for three months for calling Harry Styles a ‘gobshite’ on Twitter. When the presiding magistrate orders everyone who retweeted the offending message to be given the same sentence, thousands of hardened criminals are released onto the streets to make room for the hordes of potty-mouthed youngsters. This results in an unprecedented crime wave sweeping across the country, which the government announces is ‘probably something to do with immigrants.’ The Daily Mail takes a different approach and blames the situation on Ed Miliband’s dad.

In international news, North Korea follows China’s example by expanding their space program. They spend months ferrying men and supplies to the moon, much to the concern of the international community. When it is revealed that Kim Jong-un has built an enormous moonbase, fears grow over what kind of terrible weapon he might unleash. This alarm is soon allayed, however, when it transpires that Kim was simply remaking the movie Moonraker, starring himself as James Bond, and featuring Dennis Rodman as Jaws.

The winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, take place in February under the shadow of a decree from President Putin that absolutely no gay behaviour will be tolerated. Secret police are stationed around the ground to enforce the law, with security particularly heavy in the figure skating arena for some reason. Putin himself projects his usual uber-macho image by appearing at the games naked, save for the pelt of a bear that he had killed that morning, which he had come upon in the wild and hadn’t been tranquilised in any way, shape or form.

However, events take an unexpected turn at the speed skating track, when Putin’s attention is turned to a young Finnish athlete named Matthias. The Russian premier feels a strange sensation stirring in him as he watches the young man glide over the ice, his golden hair radiant, his enormous quadriceps rippling with every stride. To the alarm of his aides, Putin suddenly rushes onto the track, but trips on his bear suit and falls crashing to the ice. As he rises to his knees, a strong arm appears to help him up, and he finds himself gazing upon a set of chiselled Nordic features. Matthias lifts him into his arms and embraces him, and as the strains of Up Where We Belong begin to play over the PA system, the pair exit the arena to the cacophonous cheers of the assembled masses, and disappear into the setting sun.

Technology giant Apple’s reputation takes a hit next year after it is discovered that its iPhone 6, and its iPad Extra Mini Micro, are in fact the same device. Their PR troubles continue later in the year as a 16-year old worker in one of the company’s Beijing factories hacks the official Apple Twitter account. His strongly worded criticisms of working practices and his uploaded selfie of the effects of an unfortunate smelting accident are Tweeted for the world to see. Unfortunately for him, his revelations are overshadowed by the release of the iPad Pico, a tablet roughly the same size as a postage stamp, which is later revealed to be simply an actual stamp designed to look like a tablet.

Social media continues in the new year in its quest to rid the world of unuttered thoughts, comfortable silences and the last remaining semblances of privacy. Google introduces a controversial new app in which a drone follows the user’s daily movements and updates their Facebook status and Twitter feed accordingly, with observations like ‘Sarah has just been dumped and appears inconsolable’, ‘Paul is masturbating over a fire he just started’, and ‘Sally is bleeding profusely from a head wound caused by my malfunctioning gears’.

As collective attention spans continue to plummet, the fad of six-second long Vines becomes passé. They are replaced by Stems, videos lasting just one second. The most popular of the year is of a 2-year old child from Kansas saying the word ‘jam’ in an adorable fashion, which is shared by millions. The child is later mentioned in Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, which prompts knowing laughter and warm applause from the crowd, followed by an eighteen-minute chant of ‘USA, USA’.

New varieties of the ubiquitous selfie become popular with the babbling, androgynous masses that populate the trendiest corners of the internet, where they smear digital pictograms of the tedious minutiae of their lives across social networking sites, and heap scorn on those of us born before 1994 that still use words like ‘trendiest’. These include the ‘elfie’, a festive self-portrait, the ‘farewellfie’, an inappropriate picture taken at the service of a deceased relative, and the ‘continental shelfie’, photos taken in the shallow waters of the glacially eroded coastal plains of continental land masses. Okay, that last one doesn’t really become that popular.

In Hollywood news, the most anticipated film of the year, the third instalment of The Hobbit, is delayed as director Peter Jackson falls ill during filming. The only director available to take the reins at short notice is Michael Bay, who selflessly offers his services. Upon its release, many critics question the wisdom of Bay’s changes to the original script, including casting Samuel L. Jackson as Gandalf, replacing the eagles with a fleet of Chinook helicopters, and even contriving an entirely new female elven character called Tauriel to spice up proceedings. Well actually, that was Jackson, but it was Bay who decided she should be played by Eddie Murphy in drag as the film’s comic relief.

Most of the criticism, however, centres on the movie’s antagonist, Smaug Mohammed Smaug, who is portrayed as an Islamic oligarch who uses his obscene wealth to arm a sinister band of Yemeni terrorists. The film’s denouement sees the dragon and his insurgent colleagues consumed in the hellfires of US Army drones remotely piloted by a ragtag bunch of wisecracking dwarf grunts, who are all played by Robert Downey Jr. Empire magazine gives the film five stars, their review simply consisting of the words ‘high-octane action’ repeated seven hundred times, followed by an exclamation mark.

In the world of music, Miley Cyrus continues her crusade against subtlety with her new single, Dark Room Full of Middle-Aged Men. The raunchy video becomes a viral phenomenon, and gives rise to a new dance craze among adolescent girls the world over, affectionately called ‘the Miley’. This is much like the Macarena, except with less smiling, and more penetration using household objects. Twitter is abuzz for months with trending topics like ‘doing the Miley’, ‘My tongue is a feminist too’, and ‘late night emergency room visit’.

In hip-hop news, Kanye West releases an experimental 3-hour long album featuring the sounds of his infant child’s bowel movements, set to a snappy bassline from a little-known 1970s adult movie about a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon who falls in love with a sassy waitress named LaQuanza. It sells eighteen million copies, and is hailed by music critics as ‘the seminal post-racial artwork of this, or any, millennium’.

So ends my forecast for the year 2014. Some of these things may come to pass; some will not; some may even look tame when reflected in the reality that comes to meet us. The future is a puzzling thing; no less a man than George Orwell had a great fear of it, which manifested itself in his works. This sense of foreboding is nowhere better illustrated than in an achingly bleak line from 1984: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’

While I don’t think I’ve quite reached the depths of Orwellian cynicism just yet, it must be said that the pain in my face seems to be increasing exponentially with each passing year. Happy New Year you shower of bastards.


The Cliché After Tomorrow

What a week. Meteors are exploding in the air over Russia, leaving a trail of broken glass, burst eardrums and dashboard camera YouTube videos in their wake. Asteroids the size of swimming pools are hurtling through our region of space unchecked, like cosmic meatballs being wantonly lobbed at an exasperated parent by an errant toddler. And most worryingly, Rihanna seems to be considering getting back together with Chris Brown. Like, ZOMFG!

It truly is the end of the world as we know it, and I most certainly do not feel fine. These outbreaks of celestial happenstance only serve to highlight the precarious nature of this shitty little rock we all desperately cling to, counting down our days of pitiful existence in a miasma of work, sleep, shit conversation, disappointing sexual interludes and cat memes. But enough about my weekend. The fact is that at any moment a disaster of epic proportions could wreak havoc on this pale blue dot we call home, bringing to a close in an instant four and a half billion years of spadework. I hope somebody remembered to keep the warranty.

One wonders how humanity would face up to such cataclysmic events, and based on nothing except the disaster movies I’ve seen and the ramblings of my depraved consciousness, here’s an account of how it might go down…

It was a cool spring evening in upstate New York and the Johnson family was sitting down to dinner. As usual it soon descended into a heated argument.

‘Tommy, stop annoying your sister.’

‘She started it.’

‘Tommy, do what your mother tells you.’

‘She’s not my mother you asshole.’

‘That’s it, go to your room this instant!’

Tommy threw his chair aside and stormed towards the front door.

‘Where do you think you’re going young man?’

‘I’m leaving. I hate you and I wish you were all dead!’

With that he slammed the door shut and ran off into the night, tears streaming from his face.

He had barely gone twenty yards when he heard a strange whistling sound coming from above him. As he turned to look up at the sky he saw a blinding flash, followed by a deafening boom as the object collided with the roof of the house he had just left. The ground beneath his feet shook with tremendous force and a gigantic fireball enveloped the house, sending Tommy flying through the air into a neighbour’s garden. Sprawled across a rose bush, his face blackened and burnt, Tommy groggily lifted his head to survey the charred wreckage where his house had stood just moments before. Amidst the ash and debris that billowed around him in the cool breeze, Tommy began to sob uncontrollably, and raising his fists in the night air, bellowed a single word: ‘Why?’

But his anguished plea went unanswered, drifting off into the spring night along with the scorched, fluttering ruins of his home.

It was a little after four in the morning when US Vice President Joe Biden burst breathlessly into the Obamas’ bedroom, clutching a stack of papers to his chest.

‘Mister President,’ he panted as he tried to regain his breath.

‘Sir, I’m sorry to wake you but you’re needed in the Situation Room.’

The President opened one eye and squinted up at Biden.

‘Joe,’ he grumbled sonorously, ‘if this is about that mixed tape, I told you I just haven’t had the time. I promise you when I get a few minutes…’

‘Sir, it’s not about that. The NASA administrator is here and he needs to brief you right away.’

‘NASA?’ repeated Obama as he sat up and rubbed his eyes.

‘Did one of our space drones hit the ISS again? I should never have listened to the General, he just seemed so sure there were terrorists operating in space. I didn’t want to take the chance…’

‘No that’s not it sir. Please hurry, we don’t have much time.’

Half an hour later the President sat ashen-faced at the table in the Situation Room. He shook his head incredulously as he addressed the NASA chief.

‘So these meteorites that hit the East Coast last night, they were just the beginning?’

‘That’s correct sir. The primary meteor is much larger, and will collide with the Earth in less than three weeks’ time.’

‘How much larger?’

‘Well sir, it’s about the size of Washington.’

‘Well he wasn’t that big, surely that won’t do too much damage,’ said Joe.

Obama shook his head and turned to his subordinate, ‘No Joe, I think he means the city.’

‘Actually Mister President,’ the administrator interjected, ‘I meant the state. But I can see now how confusing a comparison it was, I really didn’t think it through at all.’

‘So what do you suggest, Mister Administrator?’

‘Well, why don’t you ask me again how big it is and I’ll try to be clearer this time.’

‘No, I mean about the asteroid,’ Obama shouted in frustration.

‘What are we going to do about the asteroid?’

‘Oh. Beats me, sir. Ever since you scaled down NASA’s space exploration in favour of military research, we haven’t had the technology to chart these things, or come up with contingency plans. We don’t even have a telescope anymore.’

The President buried his head in his hands in exasperation as he contemplated the grim reality of the situation. Eventually the Secretary of Defence spoke up.

‘Sir, I’m confident that the military can solve this problem. We’ll get to work right away.’

After a pause the President looked up and sighed heavily.

‘Alright, you do that Mister Secretary. I want hourly progress reports. The world is depending on us. Okay, meeting adjourned, let’s get to work people.’

The room emptied quickly until the NASA chief and the Vice President were the only ones left at the table.

‘So,’ began Biden as he took a cassette from his top pocket and slid it across the table, ‘you like REO Speedwagon?’

It was the day before the collision and the Secretary of Defence was briefing the President in the Oval Office.

‘The last of the nukes were delivered today Mister President. We’re on schedule for launch tomorrow morning.’

‘Very good. It’s hard to believe we’ve gathered every nuclear warhead in the world for this mission.’

‘Well it wasn’t easy. North Korea just gave in last week after we sent them Tom Cruise in exchange. I hear he’s playing Kim Jong-un in a biographical play. It’s six hours long and they show it three times a day. Poor bastard.’

‘Indeed. And I believe we even got some from the Iraqis?’

‘Yes sir, apparently they were hidden in Saddam’s palace grounds all along. They had been painted to look like cows.’

‘I see. We probably should have been more thorough.’

Obama stood up and walked the Secretary to the door.

‘You’ve done a great job Mister Secretary. Although you know, given the importance of this mission, I can’t help feeling we could have put more effort into the name.’

‘Well, the chiefs of staff all agreed that the name struck the right note sir.’

‘I suppose you’re right.’ The President shook the Secretary’s hand solemnly. ‘I’ll see you in the morning for the launch. Then all we can do is pray that Operation Nuke Skywalker is a success.’

‘Agreed. Goodnight Mister President.’

Early the following morning the Situation Room brimmed with tension, excitement and men with important-looking hats as the world looked on with hope and trepidation. At eight hundred hours the enormous rocket blasted off, carrying with it the ultimate destructive payload. The sense of poetic equilibrium in these weapons of chaos and devastation becoming humanity’s only hope of salvation from the impending doom was not lost on the gathered cabinet members and military officials, who watched the screen with a hushed, awestruck deference. The silence was only broken when the Vice President was heard to remark, ‘Look at that sucker go. Hot damn, she’s a big one, ain’t she?’

When the rocket finally reached the asteroid there was a collective intake of breath around the room. On impact the detonation filled the screen, and when the picture cleared, the asteroid had been blown to pieces that hurtled off in a hundred different directions. The room exploded in unrestrained joy and relief. Some of the assembled crowd broke down in tears. Others hugged and kissed each other unashamedly. Joe even had his trousers off for some reason.

The celebration was cut short, however, when an analyst interrupted with a sense of unease in his voice,

‘Sir, I think you should look at this. One of the fragments is still on a collision course.’

Obama went to the monitor, the Secretary of Defence following closely behind.

‘This shouldn’t be happening, it’s off course,’ the Secretary muttered to himself.

The President turned to face him.

‘What do you mean, ‘off course’?’

The Secretary shared a panicked glance with the chiefs of staff, then sighed to himself and responded hesitantly,

‘Sir, we planned for this fragment to remain on course, but its trajectory is off. It was meant to hit Iran and wipe out the government.’

Obama’s face darkened as he stared at him, aghast.

‘What the hell were you thinking?’

‘It was an opportunity to begin an incursion there Mister President. Not only that, but our analysis showed that the fragment is full of precious metals. After the liberation we could have begun to extract…’

‘That’s enough,’ Obama cut him off.

‘I’ll deal with you later.’

He turned back to the analyst.

‘Son, where is that fragment headed?’

‘Uh, it looks like upstate New York, sir.’

‘Good God, what have we done?’

Tommy was sitting on the back porch of his new foster house, sipping a tall glass of lemonade and watching the sun set over the horizon. He had heard on the radio that the asteroid had been successfully destroyed, and this news filled him with a warmth and hope that he had not felt in a long time. He was enjoying his time with his new foster family, and was beginning to think that, with their help, and taking it one day at a time, he would eventually be able to overcome the tragedy of the previous weeks. He grinned happily to himself as the breeze rustled the bushes in the garden, and he felt content and peaceful for the first time in an age. He was still grinning when he heard a strangely familiar whistling noise, and with the setting sun in his eyes he peered upwards at the stars. The smile vanished from his face as his glass slipped from his hand and shattered, just as the asteroid had, into hundreds of tiny pieces.


One Nation Under COD

The new Call of Duty video game Black Ops II was released this past week, and looks set to be the latest roaring success in the behemoth that is the COD franchise. The campaign section of the game is more realistic than ever, weaving a fictionalised but credible path through the military history of the late Cold War and into the drone wars of the future. The game play even includes appearances from actual historical figures such as that rascal Manuel Noriega, and contemporary protagonists of the military machine, such as the newly unemployed General David Petraeus. Since each new COD game is basically just an updated rehash of the last, what better excuse than to lazily revisit an old article and examine it in more detail. In considering the question of just how much more realism the producers can infuse the games with, I have come up with the blueprint for the next instalment in the COD universe. The following is a synopsis of the campaign mode for the upcoming Call of Duty Modern Warfare 4: Shit Just Got Real.

Prologue: Your Country Needs You

This preface to the action introduces your character, Buzz Q. America. Buzz is a normal, everyday, freedom-loving teenager from a dusty little farming town in Nebraska. Most of the objectives in this level involve driving a pick-up around town, bringing in the corn at harvest time, and beating up queers and nerds in high school. One day Buzz sees an advert for the military that tells him the terrorists want to take his job, his corn and his freedom. The next day he signs up for the Marine Corps, because Buzz will be damned if some pinko Commie raghead gonna come over here and take his corn. No sir. The rest of the level is mainly made up of filling out application forms in Buzz’s bedroom while listening to the new Kenny Chesney album.

Level 1: Basic Training

In this level Buzz goes to boot camp to become a fully fledged Marine. You will take him through various missions involving firing ranges and assault courses, as well as enjoying the more mundane tasks such as boot-polishing and keeping your porno mag hidden from your Drill Instructor.

You will also undergo a tutorial on how to correctly identify enemy combatants using factors such as robe length, skin tone and beard density. The level concludes with a bonus round called Kebab or Kaboom, in which you have to tell apart bomb-wielding Muslim extremists from harmless, jocular restaurant proprietors. Maximum points are awarded for slaughtering all of them, thus removing any element of doubt.

Level 2: A Man Needs an Aide

Before being approved for active duty you must spend some time as a General’s aide in the Pentagon performing various administrative tasks. Missions will involve updating the official Marine Corps Facebook and Twitter pages with encouraging messages for the troops, summarily shredding and deleting any correspondence between the senior staff and their mistresses, and most importantly, feeding Patton, the General’s goldfish.

In order to complete the level you must master the art of stamping forms in triplicate without getting ink on your fingers, as well as sending letters of condolence to the relatives of deceased soldiers without realising how futile their sacrifice is. As a reward for your hard work there is another bonus round called Game of Drones in which you get to pilot a drone into southern Pakistan while trying to avoid hitting schools and wedding parties.

Level 3: It’s Time for Africa

For your first mission out in the field you are sent to a base in North Africa to stem the tide of Islamic terrorism that hides cunningly amidst the famine and poverty in the region. Buzz has to decide which warlords seem the most trustworthy so he can sell them arms for their child soldiers.

You get your first taste of action here as you take part in a raid on a house in Somalia, killing nine people who were reported by your intelligence network as probable terrorists. The final objective of the level is to chant ‘USA, USA’ loudly on the return journey, keeping in perfect unison with your fellow troops.

Level 4: To Helmand and Back

Buzz’s second tour of duty brings him to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Here you will spend most of your time avoiding roadside bombs, getting pissed with the British troops, and wondering aloud why these damn ragheads are so ungrateful to have been given the gift of American democracy.

Another mission in this level allows you to sit in on a CIA interrogation and try your hand at waterboarding a suspect. You then use the information gathered to order an air strike, the targets of which unfortunately turn out to be some hungover British soldiers. The level ends with a morale-boosting visit to the camp by hip-hop sensation Rihanna, who entertains the troops with some of her songs. Your final objective of the level is to masturbate furiously later that night without waking your comrades, then cry yourself to sleep.

Level 5: Enemy of the States

Buzz is nearing the end of his tour of duty and is out on a routine patrol with his platoon one afternoon. You get separated from the others and decide to make your way back to the camp. Passing through some foothills on the way, you see a tray in the middle of the road with a steak sandwich, a six-pack of beer, and a copy of Sports Illustrated on it. Puzzled, you approach it only to feel a rope tighten suddenly around your ankle and pull you up towards an overhead branch. Hanging there upside down, you see a number of insurgents walk towards you.

‘Pathetic infidel. Works every time,’ says one of them, as he knocks you over the head with his shoe and everything goes black.

The rest of the level mostly comprises enduring horribly painful torture at the hands of your captors. As well as the physical abuse, the terrorists play theme tunes from TV shows like Cheers and Friends at full volume in your cell twenty-four hours a day. Eventually your sanity is all but eroded and you are reduced to a quivering wreck, rocking yourself to sleep in a bed of your own faeces as you try in vain to kill yourself by swallowing your own teeth, all the while singing along in a hushed frenzy, ‘Where everybody knows your name…’

At the end of the level you manage to escape after noticing that your cell is simply a hut made out of mud that can be broken through quite easily in a matter of hours. As you drag your broken body through the desert in a haze of pain, hunger and thirst, you think to yourself, ‘This really hasn’t been my day, my week, my month, or even my year.’ Eventually, on the cusp of a miserable and ignominious death, you arrive at base camp and collapse at the front gate.

Epilogue: War…What Is It Good For?

The last level of the game deals with Buzz’s recuperation after being flown home. The gameplay takes you through months of painful physical rehabilitation, intense psychological torment and post-traumatic stress, and the inevitable substance abuse and relationship problems that follow. Along the way you receive a letter from the military thanking you for your service and your sacrifice. You return to the cornfields of Nebraska a hero, and a husk of a human being.

Your final objective of the game takes place some months later. On a bitterly cold winter’s night, tired of the demons that allow you only fitful sleep, drunk with whiskey, and filled with an indescribable emptiness, you discharge your service weapon for the last time.

A map of Afghanistan and its mineral resources lies sprawled across the desk of a US General in the Pentagon. An aide drops a letter on his desk. The General reads the letter and sighs softly to himself. Folding it over, he places it carefully in a drawer that is overflowing with pages. He stands and gazes out the window in reflection. He looks down at his hands, then out the window once more. After a moment he sits down at his desk and goes back to studying the map.