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Drama Science Fiction

It’s an hour after curfew when Zak hears tap-tap-tap on his window. He tilts open the wooden slats to see a heavy rubber gas mask. A thick gloved finger points to the casement lock. Zak pulls up the blinds and swings open the hinged pane. Joe lowers his bulky rucksack onto the bedroom carpet and tumbles through the opening. Zak adjusts his spectacles as he scans up and down the street. In the still night air they hear the splat, crackle and pop of police RT. A neighbourhood patrol car is approaching. Zak lowers his head and flashes of blue light dance across the bedroom ceiling. The vehicle purrs past; there’s no reason to deviate from its regular circuit.

   “I thought you were coming round earlier?”

Joe yanks off the mask to reveal his tussled hair and sweat-covered face.

   “I was digging through my Dad’s junk in the garage, you know.”

   “It’s too late, we can’t go on-line now…”

   “Parental restrictions, blah, blah,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Nanny–Net, blah, blah, I know.”

   “So what gives?”

   “We can go offline,” he says, unzipping his bag. “With any luck.”

Zak’s eyebrows furrow as his head flinches back. 

Joe shrugs his shoulders and pulls out a pile of cables and two ergonomically molded handsets. “Look what I found,” he says and lifts a black plastic box.

   “Is that a…?”

   “That’s right.”

   “But they haven’t made those machines for 20 years or more.”

   “Correct.”

   “Does it power up?”

   “We need to be a bit smart now,” says Joe, scratching his ear.

   “OK,” says Zak. “I’m onto it.”

Zak pulls open a drawer under his mattress and fishes about inside. He pulls out a coil of black cabling, a box of precision hand tools and a solder-gun. 

   “You got any glasses in here?”

Zak turns his head and peers over his specks. “What’ve you got in mind?”

   “I salvaged some fizzy-cola drink.”

   “You’re really having a 20s night, aren’t you?”

   “My Dad gets it when he’s abroad.”

   “I thought Cola Drinks went bust after the sugar tax?”

   “Not in Eastern Europe.”

   “I’ll bet it’s black market sugar or a chemical substitute.”

Zak strips down the wire casing, marries the old with the new, and tweaks the metal pins into a makeshift connection. Meanwhile, Joe plugs in the Game Station’s voltage adaptor and sets up the ancient box in front of the wall’s liquid-light display-screen. Zak completes the last link, clicks the power-on button and crosses his fingers. There’s a flicker, and the wall display pulses into life, followed by looped title and theme music. The Game Station’s company logo appears on the screen and rotates above the 2020 creation date and an endless list of scrolling producer credits. There is a chunky click, an oblong front panel on the Game Station grinds open and a clunky drawer slides out.

   “I’m guessing it’s a request for media?”

Joe selects three boxed discs from his backpack and considers the titles.

   “Hmm… a 2017 skateboarding game, that’s got possibilities. Maybe soccer league 2018? That’s good for two players. The newest game is from 2020. Something about racing stolen cars in a city?”

   “Well, judging by the M rating and considering the house is without parents tonight,” says Zak. “I guess we should try that one.”

   “18+, violence, drugs, not for kids,” says Joe drawing breath. “Excellent choice.”

The lads insert the disc and without too much effort they get the game started. There aren’t many complicated rules, and they soon discover the hidden depths of the game’s inner world whilst negotiating the first two levels. The sugary drinks soon kick in and the time zips past.

   “Hey, Joe,” says Zak, pausing for breath at the end of a frantic car chase. “I don’t suppose you got any of those 20s style snacks from your Dad’s treasure chest?”

   “I got these cheesy munchies,” he says, producing a family size pack. “Or there’s bubble-gum sticks, which you chew and chew.” 

   “Then spit out, apparently?”

The lads take a snack break.

   “You know,” says Zak. “These cheese things aren’t bad.”

   “It occurred to me that nobody is wearing a mask in the game,” says Joe.

   “True enough and nevermind that all those cars make such a racket,” says Zak. “And where are all the cops?”

   “I read somewhere that they didn’t have to pay for air in those days.”

   “Really?” says Zak, shaking his head. “I thought that was always the case.”

   “I can’t imagine what it’d be like to walk around without a tank of air.”

   “Or climb up someone’s drain pipe, eh?”

Zak flips out the car theft game and inserts the soccer disc. The lads set aside their empty glasses and watch the sports introduction sequence. The preamble includes highlights from Champions League soccer stadiums with vast crowds. Thousands of fans are tightly packed into enormous stadia, all shouting for their favourite teams and not a mask in sight. The two lads look at each other and shake their heads. 

   The introduction continues and the highlights display some horrific physical collisions and tackle injuries. Medics remove one player from the pitch on a stretcher; a second with blood on his team shirt has received a gash on his forehead. In a further on-pitch incident, a third player points an accusing finger at the referee. He clearly mouths obscenities at an opponent and the referee dismisses him with a red card.

   “This is all pre-virus, I guess.”

   “Some kind of normal, that was.”

Joe ejects the soccer game and inserts the skateboarding one. The image quality isn’t as sharp; old style graphics, grainy and primitive looking characters. Zak takes up the controller and navigates his skater around a small townscape. The lads try to process what they’re watching on the display. There are ordinary citizens walking about the town going about their everyday lives in the open air, without breathing equipment. These secondary background people in the game now seem more interesting than the players who now act as self-propelled observers on wheels. The townsfolk are walking around streets and entering retail businesses, then coming out again carrying goods in plastic bags. The lads suppose that those businesses must be what they used to call shops. Butchers, fishmongers, grocers and shoe shops. The shops are selling things, real things. They can see paper money being exchanged for goods. The main player jumps off his board and enters a doorway. It’s a store selling cheese snacks and gum sticks. Three on-screen choices are displayed: fizzy drink, chocolate bar or cigarettes? Joe chooses the snack option, and he is told the player hasn’t enough money. His skater has three options: perform a board trick for money, ask for money, or steal money? Zak chooses, “ask for money”.

   The player exits the store and sets off down the road. He encounters a pedestrian who is, judging from the on-screen information, heading homeward. Zak’s skateboarder approaches the man, and he tries to fulfil the challenge. Without a word, the man dodges the player and runs off.

   The street is getting busier, a is crowd gathering. There has been a road traffic accident. Medics are already on the scene and they are helping to resuscitate a man on the ground. Policemen are asking everybody to disperse. They don’t use any force or intimidation. There are no weapons on display. The townsfolk are now quietly leaving the area. 

   Further down the road, there is an old woman accompanied by a furry four-legged animal. It’s a beast without a muzzle. The skater approaches the couple and enquires about directions to the nearest food shop. When the skateboarder reaches down to pat the dog on the back of its head, it reacts calmly and rubs its chin on his leg. The old woman smiles and hands the skater a few coins. She points along the street to a grocery store and waves goodbye. 

   “This is all just made up stuff, I guess?” says Zak.

   “They must all be in a glass dome with clean air inside or something?”

Behind the lads, the bedroom door inches open. It’s Zak’s father.

   “Hey, guys,” he whispers. “What’s keeping you up?” 

   “Jeez, Dad, I didn’t hear you get back.”

He raises his forefinger to his lips. “Your Mother’s not well, we came home early.”

   “Is she…”

   “She’s fine. A bit of a headache after a long shift at the clinic.”

   “We lost track of time, Joe’s late for home and…”

   “Is that a Game Station, Zak? That takes me back.” 

   “It’s my Dad’s old machine,” says Joe, lowering his face and covering the box sleeve information with his jacket.

   “I’m surprised those games will play on our modern tech.”

   “Is that what life was like?” asks Zak. “I mean, no masks and dogs and paper money and things?”

   “Pretty much.”

   “What about the police, Dad? You didn’t have many on patrol by the look of things?”

   “That’s right, not until late 2020.”

   “Was that the big election year, Mr Holmes?”

   “That’s the one.”

   “Could you afford to vote, Dad?”

   “The poll tax didn’t come in until 2022,” he says, “so it was free to vote at that time.”

   “Wow, things have changed.”

   “After 2022 it became real pricey,” he says clearing his throat, “but by 2027 voting was completely unaffordable, despite the Freedom Dividend.”

   “I heard there used to be a choice between two parties back then, Dad?”

   “That’s correct,” he says, “although in practice there wasn’t much difference between them.”

   “But each party wanted to run the country in their own way, right?”

   “Up until that 2020 election, not much changed whoever got into power,” he sighs. “And now we’ve only got one party and a thousand wealthy voters.” 

   “Were things fairer back then, Mr Holmes?”

   “Kinda seems that way, with hindsight.”

   “So which party did you vote for in 2020?”

   “That’s a good question, son.”

October 02, 2020 20:33

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1 comment

Huma Imran
13:53 Oct 09, 2020

Amazing 🤩! Carry on like that .

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