by Eamonn Murphy
“I want to go out.”
The door slid open and Pete stepped out of his house and into the street. He looked up and saw the sky through the transparent dome overhead. Patches of blue could be discerned today through the drifting chemical clouds, those sad remnants of man’s last attempts to destroy his species. The Masters hadn’t bothered to clean it up because it didn’t affect them, or perhaps they left it as a reminder to humankind that they weren’t fit to be in charge of their own affairs.
He turned to look back at his home, a neat pastel coloured plastic box two metres high, six metres long and five metres wide that contained a bathroom, a living room, a dining room and a bedroom. It was fitted with running hot and cold water and had a comprehensive voice-operated computer system for entertainment and day to day tasks. Heating was unnecessary as the Masters kept the whole dome at a temperature comfortable for humans. They also delivered meals three times a day. Pete was fed and looked after with optimum efficiency and shouldn’t have had a care in the world, like a pet dog.
Like a pet dog. That thought crossed his mind several times a day, and he frowned every time. Never mind. Pete had plans to change his status.
He was a little groggy from the night before. To keep the people in optimum health, there was an allowance of two alcohol units per day in whatever form one liked. Pete saved his up and binged one night a week, a defiant gesture he knew was pointless. Head throbbing now, he fancied a walk in the park half a mile away. He strolled down a couple of pleasant streets with wide grass borders. One or two residence cubes had gardens, well-tended by bots. There were no cars, as everything one needed was delivered to the rescubes by bots or drones, and only a select few had any work to attend.
Over to the east, Pete could see the large, mysterious building he had dubbed Area 51 in homage to an old conspiracy theory. He knew it was to the east because his father had told him so, but few others knew or cared. Such directions had become meaningless inside the dome. Area 51 had no official designation. It was a plain grey building, two floors high with no windows, and covering a couple of square miles. In the morning, if he bothered to get up early, Pete saw men in dark blue uniforms going into it. They were scientists, men and women intelligent enough to be useful to the Masters. They lived in a separate part of the dome, near the building, and didn’t mix with the other humans.
Too good to mix with the pets.
Clothes were unnecessary in the warmth of the dome but he felt more comfortable dressed and so wore a T-shirt, shorts and sandals to protect the soles of his feet. Wearing proper clothes was almost an act of defiance.
He arrived at the park: ten green acres with trees, bushes, a tennis court, and a bowling green. It was unfenced because there was no one to keep out. There was a playground for children, and a few of them were there already, supervised by one man and two females wearing the black uniform of state employees. All children were raised by the government now, in accordance with the Masters’ wishes.
Brought up to be excellent pets. Pete glared at the uniformed staff and clenched his fists in frustrated rage. They were brainwashing the next generation, and he could do nothing about it. Nothing at all.
Pete was forty-two years old and had been brought up the old-fashioned way—the human way—in a family. His father suffered wounds in the final war. Pete remembered him sitting in a wheelchair and cursing the new world order. The old man had prophesied the future of man, as slaves or pets. Pete had listened until the age of ten. Then the goons in black uniforms came and took him away to a state orphanage. When he was thirteen, they told him his father had died.
In the good old days, only dysfunctional families had their children taken away. Now the Masters had decided that all human families were essentially dysfunctional and happier adults would be produced if trained professionals raised the infants. Naturally, they had to be men and women who saw the wisdom of the Masters’ domination over man and co-operated with the new order.
Naturally, they had to be traitors.
“Hi, Pete.” He turned and saw Mohammed walking towards him, wearing a small loincloth and smiling contentedly as usual. “You don’t look happy.” The words were like an accusation.
Pete pointed at the children. “Just watching the next generation being...”
“Being treated with the care and love they deserve.” The other man finished the sentence for him.
Mohammed shook his head. “Children were brainwashed before, Pete. Conditioned to fight in wars they had no stake in; to vote for people who served their own needs; to follow moral codes that were impractical, frustrating and stupid.”
“Those rules were made by men!” Pete shouted. “By us. Not by...”
Mohammed dismissed him with a wave of the hand. “Not today, Pete. Say, why not ask the Masters if they’ll let you have a soapbox? Then you can set it up in the corner of the park and tell everyone. But no one will listen.” Suddenly he looked over Pete’s shoulder and grinned. “Here’s Julia.”
Pete turned to look. A slim, attractive young lady with long dark hair was walking towards them. She wore a short skirt and sandals but was topless. Everyone went topless now, so it wasn’t sexually stimulating. Pete nodded politely to her.
“Excuse us, Pete,” said Mohammed.
Julia favoured Pete with a nonchalant wave. Then she smiled at Mohammed and got down on all fours on the grass. He knelt behind her and lifted up her skirt. His loincloth was no obstruction.
Some of the children looked curiously across and Pete saw their supervisors smile.
It was all part of the conditioning. The children were learning new rules of behaviour. Sexual taboos and fidelity to one person were things of the past.
Pete stared at Mohammed and Julie then shouted aloud his frustration. “Like dogs!” he yelled. “Just like fucking dogs!”
He stalked away, heading for the War Museum.
Pete lived in Dome 376 which was about four miles in diameter at the base. The War Museum was a large red cube of a building in the centre of the dome, put there to remind man of his past follies. On him, it had the opposite effect, reminding him of the power men had wielded in their earlier history. Pete had adopted his father’s point of view.
It was a magnificent museum by any standards, with thousands of exhibits. Some portrayed scenes dating back to ancient history. Diagrams showed how the Greek Phalanx operated. There were life-size animatronic dummies of historic warriors demonstrating their moves: Roman Legionaries jabbing with the short sword, blocking with the square shield; Vikings in horned helmets swinging hefty battle-axes; Confederate soldiers loading a cannon. Old television programmes from just before the Collapse were used to demonstrate the gory reality of combat with swords and spears and bludgeons, using the works of old man to teach new man a lesson. Pete walked through these exhibits quickly. He loved the scenes of glorious combat but his favourite part of the building was the weapons section.
He entered it through an open arch and saw a cleaning bot heading towards him, half a metre high with a domed top. It was polishing the floor. Pete aimed a pointless kick at the bot, which it easily dodged. Its sensors could detect any object, even a fast-moving one. Pete always kicked at the bots. Like binge drinking, it was another way of venting his frustration at his complete lack of power in the world. It was a small, defiant token of his independence of mind. He dared to dream of better rebellions and had friends who felt the same.
Soon, he thought. Soon, oh mighty Masters.
They kept the weapons behind glass. There were shelves of pikes, swords and other hand tools, but Pete’s favourite area was the one with modern weapons. He stared hungrily at the rifles and semi-automatic machine guns, at the shining ammunition belts and cartridges. They could kill men. They could kill the black-uniformed lackeys who served the Masters. Best of all were the explosives: the grenades and the mortar shells.
They might kill the Masters.
Pete stayed in the museum for several hours.
He went to a café near the park for lunch. The dome had several cafes because the Masters recognized that people liked to get together socially. When he entered the polished glass building, he saw his friend Sergei already at the dispenser.
Sergei nodded over his shoulder. “We’re at table 7, Pete. Get your grub and join us.” He walked away with a bowl of stew.
Pete ordered the same and followed. Table 7 had six seats and his friends occupied five of them. He knew everyone.
A red-haired man smiled as he sat down. “Stocking up on calories, Pete.”
“Gotta keep my strength up, Dermot. Hullo, Moira.”
The dark-skinned woman sat opposite him reached over and touched his hand. She was nearly fifty but had kept her figure and her looks. Pete had coupled with her many times but in private, not in the park, like a dog.
She favoured him with an enigmatic smile. “Not long now?”
He shook his head and turned to Dermot. “How’s the birdbath coming along?”
“Nearly finished. I already have permission to put it in the park.”
“Pity there aren’t more birds,” said a tall, thin man seated next to Moira.
Dermot looked out through the glass and nodded to indicate the dome itself. “No room. All life is strictly controlled to fit a closed ecosystem.”
“Including us,” said Amina bitterly.
Pete glared at her and shook his head. “Not here.”
She winced suddenly. Pete saw Sergei’s shoulders move and realised that he had kicked her under the table. He stared at Pete, eyes wide with excitement.
“Big day at Hobby Hall tomorrow?”
Pete smiled. “A big day, Sergei.”
“It certainly is,” agreed Dermot loudly. “I’ll be unveiling my birdbath.”
They all laughed. After that, there was less tension, and they settled down to the usual everyday gossip of who was coupling and who had broken up.
The next day was Hobby Day.
Pete rose early from a deep, satisfying sleep. He ate a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages and beans. No pig had gone into the meal, all such animals being long extinct, but the facsimile was all he had ever tasted and it satisfied him well enough.
The hand that held the fork shook slightly despite his best attempts to stop it. He was full of nervous tension.
Today was the day of rebellion.
At last, the chronometer registered 0845 and he left the rescube, walking briskly towards the Hobby Hall.
Along with the War Museum, Hobby Hall was the gift from the Masters that Pete treasured most. Recognizing perhaps that humans couldn’t spend all their time in idle pleasure-seeking, they had made provision for those who needed to be more active. Work to provide the basics of life was no longer necessary, but one man’s needful labour had often been another man’s hobby. Stonemasonry, cabinet making, restoring old steam engines, growing vegetables and many other physical pastimes were part of human tradition. The Masters let them carry it on.
Pete was smiling as he approached it. They’ll pay for underestimating us.
Hobby Hall was rectangular, like all the buildings in the dome, and about half the size of the War Museum. Ten men and one woman were waiting outside, looking as impatient as Pete felt.
A tall man dressed in white overalls approached him. “Ready, Pete?’
Pete nodded at the crowd. “I think we’re all ready, Jing.”
The woman came over and smiled at them both. “Today, then,” she said.
Jing said. “Today. No more hobbies, Moira. Today is real work.”
The doors slid open promptly at 0900 and they trooped into the building,
“They can’t hear us, Sergei?” Peter said to a man in grey tunic and trousers busily replacing a panel in the wall. “You’re sure?”
“I’m sure. All microphones have been disabled. They go through a central circuit and I’ve pulled the plug.” He held up a small block of plastic.
Pete turned back to the other people in the large room. Most of them carried tools that could be used as weapons.
The idea had been Sergei’s. He enjoyed tinkering with mechanical devices, so the Masters had provided him with the tools to do so. This included screwdrivers, a small hammer, spanners of various sizes and even power drills. The Masters wanted everyone to be happy.
A few years before, the Hobby Hall had mostly been equipped for sedentary, creative pastimes. There were life drawing classes, creative writing lessons and pottery sessions. Sergei had urged his friends to take up practical hobbies. Abdul had professed a love for wood carving on a large scale, and the masters provided a sharp axe, chisels and a hammer. Dermot had taken up stone masonry and had several heavy implements. Today he carried a lump hammer. Peter had developed an interest in ancient plumbing and acquired reliable metal tools and even a gas bottle with a blow torch.
He was the leader because he hated the Masters more than anyone. In conversation with the others, over time, he had discovered their small, petulant frustrations with the new way of life. He had fanned the flames of discontent until they too wanted change, and turned a group of malcontents into a rebel force. He was a charismatic, persuasive personality. All of them were over forty, like Peter himself, and had some memory of the old days.
Their attempts to foster rebellion in the young had failed utterly.
That disappointment didn’t matter now. Pete raised a heavy wrench in a kind of salute to his troops. “The time has come, friends. We attack today.”
Peter led them out of the Hobby Hall. His head was throbbing again, not from alcohol but from adrenaline, keyed up to fever pitch.
They strode through the park, the shortest route to the museum. A few people were around. Mohammed was there and he raised his arm in salute to Pete then dropped it when he saw the mob with him, all carrying implements of various sorts. Other people stared too. They had never seen the like.
Sergei glared at the onlookers. “Can we really build a functioning human society out of these sheep?”
“They’ll change,” said Pete. “They must. First get rid of the Masters, one dome at a time. Then we’ll teach the others how to live.”
They arrived at the War Museum and marched inside. Dermot threw his lump hammer at a cleaning bot and dented it. The others cheered this small, symbolic blow for freedom and followed Pete to the weapons section.
It took several blows of their various implements to shatter the toughened glass of the display cases. Pete grabbed a semi-automatic machine gun. “Bring hand grenades and dynamite!” he shouted at Sergei.
Dermot had stopped beside the tank display and was looking longingly at a Russian T20. “If only,” he murmured.
Pete laughed, full of joy. “We’ll get it going, Dermot. We’ll get petrol and diesel and rearm big to take the other domes.” He clapped his friend on the shoulder. “This is just the beginning!”
He turned to the others. “Everyone armed? Right, let’s go.”
Pete led the way out onto the street. As he burst through the doors of the War Museum, he saw a team of men in black uniforms running towards him. They carried Tasers. He turned to face them.
Pete squeezed the trigger of his semi-automatic and swivelled it from left to right and back again. A hail of bullets crashed into the servants of the enemy and they fell, bleeding and dying.
In a frenzy of joy, he tilted the machine gun upwards and fired into the sky. Then he turned to the others and punched the air in a salute with his free hand.
“Onward, comrades! Onward to glory!”
The camera panned in on Pete’s savage grin. Two men in a clean, sterile room watched the rebellion on a large view screen.
“Regard the satisfaction he feels at having killed his fellow men,” said Assistant 2470, a young man, not many months out of training. He shook his head sadly. “What beasts they are.”
His colleague, number 1635, was older and more practical. “No one is hurt. Our men are only holograms.”
2470 nodded. Junior staff had sedated Pete and his crew while they slept the previous night. The rebels had woken up in the Holo-Building within a perfect projection of their usual environment.
1635 touched a control and the picture sharpened. “Pete and his loyal Bandidos are under control. Nothing is real.”
“He doesn’t know that. He thinks he’s killing real people.”
1635 shrugged. “At least he’s happy. The others too.”
“He always was a rebel. I wonder why Deep Green let him get this far?”
“Who knows? Our job is to serve. We’re lucky we have the intelligence and abilities to do so.” 1635 grinned. “We have jobs. Most other people don’t.”
“Jobs controlling our fellow man on behalf of the A.I.s.”
1635 frowned at his junior. “That sort of talk is suitable for bull sessions at the Academy, but you’ve graduated now. Be careful. It doesn’t go down well here. Man’s destructive capacity outstripped his social ability. We would have terminated our own race had the A.I.s not taken over. At least the life of a pet is an easy one. A happy one.”
“Not for him and not for many of his generation,” said 2470. There were tears in the corners of his eyes as he watched the terrible slaughter on the screen. Even though he knew it was unreal, the sight of such barbarism in his own kind appalled him. He pointed at the rebels. “They were too old for the new conditioning to take. They followed the ways of their fathers.”
“But this group is the last. All the other domes are now cleansed of rebels, and we haven’t kept any of their offspring. Oh, the aggressive genes may show up for a few more generations but conditioning means they will adapt to the new way. They may feel some vague sense of dissatisfaction, but they won’t break out in open revolt.”
2470 looked at the vidscreen. Pete was giving a speech in the park and other people had gathered around and were listening. He ranted about liberty and human dignity.
“We’ll release the Soldier-bots shortly,” said 1635. “Real Soldier-bots, not holograms, and they can all perish gloriously, fighting for freedom. They lived unhappily. They will die content.”
“A new age of enlightenment. Every man with his own rescube and none to make him afraid. An age ruled by logic and reason.”
“An age ruled by the A.I.s,” said 2470. There was a hint of regret in his voice at the passing of the Age of Man.
1635 didn’t notice. “By Turing! It’s gonna be great!”