tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 21

No Future Ch. 21



The Good of the Country



Iris wasn't a girl who'd normally be described as someone with a nuanced understanding of politics even by those who she lived with. Her opinions on almost everything closely conformed to those of her friends and colleagues, and if she would ever join a debate regarding the limits of political freedom, the nature of democracy or what provided a government with legitimacy she would soon get very bored.

But even Iris was glued to the television as the extraordinary events unfolded from one day to the next. Only a week ago it seemed that the United Kingdom would stumble on as it always had despite the civil unrest that had become so familiar. Food riots. Petrol pump riots. Demonstrations against immigration. Demonstrations against racism. The United Kingdom was in a state of perpetual crisis. And it looked like that was just the way it would always be.

Things changed forever from the moment when the Coalition Prime Minister, Ivan Eisenegger, made his Special Announcement to the national news media. He declared a State of Emergency to resolve the strife that had caused such immeasurable damage to the British economy and the UK's international reputation. It was a natural response to the general desire for law and order in the country. The Prime Minister stood flanked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Eric Esterhazy, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Olaf Smith, as he announced a series of measures which he admitted were draconian but which he also assured the nation were absolutely necessary to get the rioters off the street, to get the looters out of shops, to protect the ordinary law-abiding citizen, and to restore Britain's pride in itself.

This was going to be, the Prime Minister announced, a Government of National Unity.

"Don't you ever get bored with watching this stuff on TV?" asked Iris' boyfriend, Giorgio. "I mean it's not like much has happened since the first day they declared a State of Emergency."

"That's just not fucking true," said Ember, who along with her lover, Ernie, and their daughter, Primrose, shared another room in the large house where Iris and Giorgio lived. "The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are all colossally pissed off about having a State of Emergency imposed on them from London. It looks like the new government wants to leave the Northern European Union. And there's talk that the BBC might lose its independence."

"Don't talk bollocks," said Ellie, who lived by herself in the smallest of the three bedrooms in the house. She was skinning up a spliff on a glossy fashion magazine with her bare legs stretched out across the threadbare carpet. "That would never happen."

"You don't know with these cunts, Ellie" said Ember. "You've heard the shit that arsehole Esterhazy's been spouting on Fox News UK all these years. I can well believe that he'd be more than willing to tell the BBC to toe the line. Not that the broadcaster anything like it used to be. All those budget cuts have left its television channels looking like one of those crappy ones you see on satellite from places like Nicaragua and Cambodia. No one really watches it now except for news."

"Well, if that bastard Esterhazy has his way, no one would want to watch it even for that," agreed Iris.

"Fuck's sake," said Giorgio, the only man in a room otherwise populated by three adult women and a child. Primrose was three years old and playing with a small tablet computer on which brightly coloured animated characters were dancing around in a magical kingdom. "Just fucking cool it. I get real pissed off with this political shit. Can't we just watch something that's just fun? There are some good cartoons on Fox at the moment."

Ember snorted. She was the only one in the room with any professed interest in politics although the only times she'd been on demonstrations was when her partner could be persuaded. And since their daughter was born, there were fewer and fewer such opportunities. Ellie's primary diversions were of a hedonistic nature. Giorgio could hardly even be persuaded out of bed in the morning since he'd lost his job at the council and he spent most of the day either in front of the television or hunched over his laptop.

Iris' interest in politics had only come about as a result of the current crisis. She sort of supported demonstrators when they demanded better pay and stuff like that but was a little worried when their demands became more vociferous and the demonstrations were tainted by violence. The riots of the last two years had even spread into suburbs like Uxbridge and Bromley. They couldn't be described as inner city riots any more. But could this new Government of National Unity be trusted? And if it was about National Unity, why were there actually fewer non-Tories in the new government than there'd been in the old Coalition Government?

Even so, there wasn't much protest when, having passed her lit spliff over to Ember, Ellie picked up the remote and began scrolling through the channels. She eventually settled on a twenty year old action movie that starred giant grasshoppers and a large number of vicious ants. Primrose momentarily lifted her head from whatever game she was playing and lowered it again when she realised how dark and gloomy the film was.

"I must have seen this film a dozen times," said Giorgio.

"Well, it must be good then," said Ellie who was more interested in skimming through the fashion pages of the magazine on which she'd just been rolling the spliff.

The company settled around the television in a moderate state of inertia as the joint was passed from person to person. Although it was mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, Giorgio was the only one who didn't have a job to go to. Ember balanced her childcare duties with her shifts as a nurse in a hospital halfway across the other side of London. She frequently had to leave Primrose to the care of the household when Ernie was working late at the office, which was on most days. Ellie was a home-worker most days of the week, but only the occasional phone call and the urgency of a looming deadline ever kept her away from the communal living room.

Iris was a fully qualified postgrad zoologist, but she'd not yet found a job that matched her impressive qualifications. Her job at the biotech labs in Southgate hardly stretched her at all. She was convinced it could be done by a machine and that it would be by a machine that she'd eventually be replaced. The hours were crap too. This evening when the rest of the household, except Ember and Primrose, were heading out to a nightclub on some courtesy tickets that Ellie had somehow organised through one of her many boyfriends, Iris would be at the lab watching the clock go by and sorting out DNA samples.

"Don't worry about it," said Giorgio who kissed Iris when she at last left for work. "You'll be able to get in later, won't you? What time do you finish, anyway?"

"Five in the morning," said Iris.

"Fuck that," said Giorgio. "The bastards are fucking slave-drivers. You can't slip out early, can you?"

"Yeah, I can. And get sacked too."

"Well, a job's a job," said Giorgio ruefully.

Iris looked back at her housemates. Ellie was in sparkling form with elegantly applied makeup and dressed in a revealing silk top and low-slung denim shorts, while one of her boyfriends was sitting nervously on the sofa clearly uncertain about what the evening might have in store. It wasn't unknown for Ellie to go out in the evening with one guy and come back with someone totally different. And it wasn't necessarily another guy. Giorgio and Ernie were sitting around idly watching an American sitcom where the canned laughter accompanied all but the most trivial gesture or verbal inflection.

It was pissing down outside, so Iris hoisted up the hood on her jacket and ran through the puddles to the nearest bus stop. Her journey consisted of two bus journeys and one stretch underground. She had to allow plenty of time for the journey. The traffic was dreadful. There might be fewer petrol-driven cars and more battery-powered ones, but they still occupied as much space on the roads. The allowance she made for any delay was so great that she normally arrived at the lab at least half an hour before she needed to, and on a fixed shift system she wasn't paid for hanging around in the canteen.

"You see the news?" asked Khadija, one of the other lab assistants, as they sat down together with their coffee mugs by the microwave.

"Yeah," said Iris. "About what in particular?"

"What the new government says about immigration and stuff," said Khadija. "The way they're tightening it up. It was on the BBC. It didn't sound so bad the way the minister expressed it, but when the political editor analysed it the whole thing sounded like Nazi Germany or something."

"It can't be as bad as that," said Iris. "And, anyway, you've got nothing to worry about. Your family's been living in London for generations."

"Nearly fifty years," said Khadija in her South London accent. "Ever since my grandfather came over from Iraq during the Gulf Wars. Not that there's much left of Iraq now. But it's all this Burden of Proof business. A lot of people who've been legal might now be reclassified and even deported. You know: retrospective tightening of the regulations."

"I didn't know that immigration was such a big issue, anyway," said Iris. "It's only because of Fox News UK and the newspapers you'd ever think so. I heard that loads more people are emigrating because of the shit state of the economy and all those riots..."

"Yeah. Civil unrest. Good excuse for a coup."

"Don't be so melodramatic. I'm sure it's not that bad. And anyway they're the same old faces. Eisenegger. Esterhazy. Sauterelle. The same ones who've been in government since I can ever remember. And let's be honest, the riots left me shit-scared. Do you remember when the whole of Central London was paralysed that time? Some bastard threw a brick or stone in my direction when I was trying to get to the tube station. Nearly hit me."

"Yeah. I hope you're right about there being nothing to worry about," said Khadija. "How's Giorgio? Got a job yet?"

"I don't think he's even trying," said Iris. "But he'll have to pull his finger out. In two months time he won't be able to claim dole any more. His six months'll be up. Then either he'll get nothing and scrounge off me or he'll have to go on the Voluntary Labour scheme."

"What do you think the lazy sod'll do?" wondered Khadija.

"I'll fucking ditch him if he thinks he can get away sitting round the telly all day living off me. He's going to have to dig ditches, mend roads, work in soup kitchens, and all that other stuff they have to do these days."

"It doesn't help create jobs if all the work's that's needed is done by the unemployed for a pittance."

"I dunno," said Iris. "I'm not an economist. Anyway, I guess it means that there are even fewer jobs available for those immigrants who manage to get into the country. That'd suit the government right down to the ground."

"It's time, ladies," said Ollie, the gay shift supervisor, who appeared at the coffee lounge door. "Chop chop. To the workstations."

"Okay. Okay," said Iris as she made her way down the aisle to her desk. The monitoring equipment was waiting for her, although the session required her to log on before the start of her shift. There was still a buttock-shaped indentation in the chair where Duncan had been sitting. He was the rather fat guy whose shift had just finished and who left a trail of biscuit crumbs all over the desk.

Iris sat down and logged on to the system. The DNA samples she had to monitor today came from some kind of fruit fly and Iris had to match the mutations with the observable physical characteristics and behavioural modifications of the actual animals. It was tedious, mechanical work, but still considered too specialist to be done by machine alone.

Iris glanced at the clock. Twenty hundred hours. Only four hours till her lunch break which at just after midnight wasn't really going to be a meal she'd enjoy. She glanced around her. Khadija was already making some notes on the tablet she had in her hand. The other five or six people were also at their desks. Everyone was in, except, of course, Anthony who'd been designated as surplus to requirements about a week ago just before he was eligible for redundancy payments. Would Iris be in the same situation when she'd worked for one year and eleven months?

Iris banished such concerns as she rotated the holographic images of DNA helixes around on her workstation. She had another night's work to do.

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