tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 85

No Future Ch. 85


Our Daily Bread

When she was a child and even until quite recently, Iris cherished a very romantic vision of country life. Green fields. Village ponds. Forests. Lakes. Winding lanes with hedges on either side. Songbirds on the wing. And although much of the English countryside was still pretty much like that, now Iris was employed as conscript labour on England's green and pleasant land, what she mostly experienced of life outside the cities was nothing at all like what she'd hoped it would be.

As far as Iris was concerned the least romantic aspect of it all was the actual work she had to do. It wasn't as if she'd exactly volunteered for it. When one of the cleaning women on the estate where Iris used to work had stolen some jewellery and neglected to admit her guilt, every domestic servant employed within a few houses of the crime scene was dismissed. And it was Iris' bad luck that she happened to be out of work at the same time as the Government of National Unity was promoting its Home-Grown and English Food Initiative. The promotional material advertised a nostalgic England symbolised by cricket pitches, the healthy outdoors and a sunny sky. What Iris and the other reluctant urban farm labourers very soon discovered were agri-business compounds which were both smelly and unglamorous and where most work was done indoors and under shelter. The sunny sky and green fields were only what she might see on the walk to and from the dormitory and her place of work.

"I always thought there was like freedom to roam and get to know nature," said Cherry, one of Iris' fellow labourers, as they stood side by side at the conveyor belt and separated substandard tomatoes from the rest. She tossed a decidedly green and slightly smaller tomato into the receptacle destined for prole supermarkets. "All the nature you've got round here are the same muddy fields and pot-holed roads you see every day on the way to work. It's not as if you can go somewhere different at the weekend. The buses don't come round very often and when they do it's only to take you to the retail park."

"To where?" shouted Iris over the racket of insistent rock music blaring out more for the benefit of the shift supervisors than the several hundred or so nominal volunteers who filled the warehouse's cavernous space. "What did you say?"

"The bus is fucking useless," Cherry shouted back through the hackneyed guitar solo that could have been assembled at any time in rock music's century-long history. "It only takes you to the shops."

"Well, it is a shop bus," said Iris. "The only reason it comes to Church Norton at all is to take villagers to the Tesco-WalMart supermarket. Those that haven't got a car that is..."

"Who can afford one of those these days?" wondered Cherry.

"I used to have a car," said Charles who was working on the other side of the conveyor belt. He was at least forty years old, so it was perfectly possible that he was telling the truth. "It was a second-hand Chrysler Chipper. It even ran on petrol. You don't get cars like that anymore, at least not those made in the last twenty years or so."

"Petrol!" Cherry sniffed. "That's not very green, is it? It's worse than fucking diesel. And there aren't many fuel stations where you can buy diesel nowadays."

"It's all change," said Charles. "Almost everyone had a car when I was a kid. Now only the really well-off can afford one..."

"It's all the fault of the fucking government!" snorted Chubby who, despite his name, was unusually skinny and whose other most prominent feature was the scattering of tattoos and piercings on his gaunt face.

"You blame everything on the government," said Cherry.

"That's 'cause almost everything is their fault," Chubby asserted. "They fucked it up with Europe and the United fucking Kingdom. They fucked it up with civil rights, the economy, the environment, race relations... You name it, they fucked it up. That fucking Ivan Eisenegger and Eric Esterhazy: they're cunts!"

He hissed the final 's' of his tirade and was clearly intending to follow through with more, but Charles spoke first.

"It's not the government's fault that the oil's all run out," he said. "At least not this government. It's been a long time coming. I guess no one expected it would ever actually happen."

"What? Like the floods and the droughts and the plagues and the famines and all the other shit?" said Chubby. "They all fucking knew everything was all going to shit but, instead of holding back, the cunts just pressed hard on the accelerator."

"What's going on over here?" asked one of the supervisors who was carrying a lethal cattle-prod he'd probably have used to discipline the workers if it was ever made legal. "You all fucking shut it. We've got quotas to meet."

Even Chubby didn't want to risk having his daily rate cut for showing lack of enthusiasm, although he made sure that everyone around him could see him mouth the word 'cunt' when the supervisor wasn't able to see. The object of this silent derision wandered off down the line while singing along to the squalling cat-like shriek of the music. It was another one of those rock songs that was either an ode to adolescent sexual lust or some nonsense about hobbits.

The walk back to the dormitory was exactly as miserable as it ever was. There were two miles of muddy lanes and the rain was pissing down. This was what the countryside was mostly like, Iris decided: shit and piss. Or at least manure and slowly draining murky green puddles. There were no drains, no pavements, hardly any public transport and really very little to persuade Iris to renew her contract at the farm when it expired. She'd rather do any job in the big city than stay in this shit-filled arsecrack of the Kingdom of England. London might be grimy and grey, but at least there was always something to do and you could get about by bus, tube and, more often recently, rickshaw.

It was a welcome sight when Iris, Cherry and her new workmates came within sight of the dormitory block, but less because of what it was than for the shelter it offered from the rain. The building had once been secondary school in the late twentieth-century when education was free and universally available, but had become derelict as the numbers of families who could afford to buy their children a place at even the most humble school had steadily decreased. The room which housed Iris's bunk bed and that of her closest companions had originally been a chemistry lab, but all that was left of its previous role were tatty posters that showed the human body sectioned into some very peculiar angles and a line drawing of the nitrogen cycle.

Nevertheless there was still an educational role offered on the premises even if it was entirely vocational and utterly pointless. There was a nightly two-hour lecture on agricultural matters as part of the government's initiative to encourage people to work in the countryside and go some way to compensate for the prohibition on migrant labour. Since Iris' only other distractions were drugs, drinks and whatever she downloaded onto her laptop, she decided to sit in on the sessions. After all, her degree in biotechnology actually made her more knowledgeable on matters relating to biology than those conducting the presentations.

It was obvious, however, that these lectures could only be described as educational to someone who didn't know the difference between a bacterium and a virus, who thought all animals were born in phials, and who were surprised to discover that potatoes grew in the ground and didn't hang from the branches. The content was mostly propagandistic, although the enthusiastic lecturers in their colourful sweat-shirts and baggy shorts couldn't completely disguise the fact that life in the countryside generally involved being dirty, getting cold and wet, and learning how to operate sophisticated agricultural machinery. From Iris' perspective, it was the last which was the most instructive. The scientists in Japan, China and Indonesia had pushed technology forward further than Iris realised. Some of the robots that herded cattle, picked beans or trimmed hedges were as multifaceted as anything Iris had ever seen cleaning windows, handling customer complaints or serving beer in the more modern tourist hotels.

As each year went by and the Government of National Unity uncovered yet more excuses to suspend parliament and postpone the General Election, like most English citizens Iris now suspected the worst of anything the government did. Nothing happened by accident and everything was for a reason. Why was the government so enthusiastic to promote the countryside and encourage so many urban and suburban citizens to relocate to the villages and hamlets? There were the economic reasons, of course. The White Death and the government's trademark draconian immigration policy had drastically reduced the number of agricultural workers. But Iris had come to realise that such an answer, however much sense it made from a rational economic perspective, was unlikely to be the real reason. After all, agriculture was only one of the many industries that had suffered in the last eight years.

Iris had two theories which she happily discussed with Cherry and Chrystal, another fellow labourer, when they huddled around a few lines and one of Cherry's potent spliffs. The first hypothesis was that it was just a plot to relocate a bunch of urban malcontents out of the capital city where they could only cause trouble to places as far away and politically irrelevant as possible. The other was that it was a perfectly natural direction for a government of national chauvinism to be heading.

"I can see the first theory," said Chrystal as she brushed a few crumbs of white snow off her nose. "After all, what government wants a load of stroppy protestors embarrassing them? If it got really bad it might even get a brief mention on Fox News. But what are you getting at with your second theory?"

"I dunno," said Iris. "It's just that there must be some kind of logic behind all this insular, anti-foreign, pro-business stuff. I don't mean that it makes logical sense in a rational way, but rather that the kind of people who believe all that shit must sort of think there's a direction it's sort of taking them."

"Yeah...?" said Cherry sceptically.

"Well, the ultimate end is that England should be totally isolated," continued Iris. "It's like the Kingdom has no trade or commerce with foreigners at all. It'd be like Mediaeval days. In fact, it'll be worse than that since there used to be things like the Hanseatic League. So, if you're going to be one hundred percent self-sufficient you're gonna need to be able to grow all the food you need. And to do that you're gonna need a load of people who know how to work the land."

"I dunno," said Chrystal. "That sounds too much like the cunts in government have a rat's arse idea what they're doing. I reckon they're just pushing all this countryside shit 'cause they've run out of other ideas. They're always pushing one popular initiative after another while they try to justify being in power. They've done anti-drugs, patriotism, foreign war, and, of course, immigrants. Now it's the time of the countryside. That's all it is. They're a bunch of cunts with no idea of what to do with the power they managed to get through lies and deceit, so they have to come up with some kind of shit to justify still being there."

"Sounds plausible," Cherry agreed.

"If only we could get shot of the bastards," echoed Iris.

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