April the 7th.
It didn't take them long! The local and regional Connie apparatchiks sneaked their congratulatory mails through our filters, wishing me well for the future, and looking forward to our maintaining our high standard of 'casting: In other words, we'll be watching you. The lairy buggers even offered the services of a Media Liaison Assistant at no cost to ourselves if we could find some space within our organisation for one; just to make life easier for everyone concerned... Of course I politely acknowledged their best wishes while declining their kind offer; the sooner we get Maggie up and running the better! Bippin, who has been busy helping to create her, claims she will be an utter bitch to crack. I hope so; anything that makes the lives of the Connies more difficult is fine by me.
I wonder though, for how much longer these supporters of the Consensus government will remain merely an irritation? Theirs is an authoritarianism which eschews mass public rallies, intimidating parades and worship of one leader. They do however swear allegiance to a new ideology bereft of old traditions and wear their uniforms in public, as well as displaying their symbol wherever they can with obvious pride. Yet their party remains a cloistered enigma; its organisation and gatherings hidden from public view.
Instead we live under a far more subtle, intimate form of a dictatorship. One which like its supporters is becoming more deeply insinuated into the fabric of public life through their community work and infiltration of public organisations. Connies have an ardent determination, bordering on the messianic, that theirs is the only way forward. There's no point in trying to argue with them; they're constantly training to deflect your arguments like those pesky religious doorknockers who used to call at the most inconvenient times; the ones you don't see any more. In fact I can't remember when I last noticed those earnest, sombre suited young men. I wonder what became of them? Perhaps they realised they were up against some unbeatable competition? Or like many others they thought it prudent to leave the Fed while they were still able to.
The Connies are starting to become more than an annoyance: They are determined, insistent, relentless; allowing nothing to interfere with their goal of moulding the Fed and it's people to conform to their way of thinking. In theory you can still express your opinions more or less freely; as long as you don't fall foul of the continually shifting bounds of the law, or influence others to question the prevailing orthodoxy or act against it. Provided you don't publicly demonstrate your opinions, or risk actually changing things against the Consensus' vision of the common good... Yes, the freedom of speech and expression we once took for granted still notionally exixts, but as what is deemed acceptable is ever more narrowly defined I wonder for how long we will be able to express dissent in a meaningful way?
There is something more which I find unsettling about them. Whenever I see Connies; either in the flesh or on 'cast I get the feeling that there is so much more to them than meets the eye: That they have barely begun their process of social transformation, and they are becoming increasingly impatient with anyone they see as delaying or obstructing their mission. I wonder for how much longer they will be able to contain their zeal, and what will happen when they feel impelled to increase the pace of change and carry their ideology and sense of ownership still further into our lives?
I find their whole ethos - what I can understand of it - and their modus operandi creepy. No, sinister. And what makes it worse is knowing you are the object of their obsession; they want to change your life for the better, as defined solely by them, no matter what your opinion.
It's not a personal thing; they want to intervene in everyones' lives. They regard personal affairs as both public and political. A few years ago they would have been told to do one by society in general; but such has our world been turned upside down, so great has the shock to our collective senses been since then; that what would have once seemed incredible or unacceptable is now so routine as to be unremarkable, things having changed so far so quickly. Not only have people become grudgingly accustomed to these previously unreasonable impositions upon their lives; some of them have become so conditioned as to actually welcome them.
April the 14th.
Another day; another war scare. It's understandable given our recent history proving they are crazy enough to Drop It; but just when we're getting almost insouciant about the thought of an internecine war there's another attack of the jitters fuelled by another maritime incident. Of course, living near the Portsmouth naval base as we do, we wonder if we could be the ones who would suffer the Alban wrath; but most of the analysts still think that if the latest spat ever escalated that far it'd be London that would be Target One for a squadron of elderly Typhoons tearing south at low level on a one-way mission armed with the former Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea's most notorious export.
We know the Albans have working nukes thanks to their detonation of a Hiroshima sized warhead - delivered by a sea-skimming cruise missile which was concealed in a launcher disguised as a container and fired from the deck of a DPRK cargo ship - over the North Sea not far from the Sizewell nuclear power stations. Fortunately there was little damage apart from a few scorched and broken blades on the wind farm below, as well as some minor EMP problems, but the implied threat was obvious.
Despite the claim it was a 'demonstration' shot, there are many who still believe that Sizewell, or even London itself was the intended target and it was only due to a malfunction in the missile's guidance system we escaped a greater disaster. The Albans threatened to explode further warheads with even more disastrous consequences, but by then with His Majesty's Dissolution decree in force, the creation of the Transitional Council, and the recalling of the special forces, it was clear Scotland - as it was then known - had won it's independence by some outsourced nuclear blackmail; regardless of whatever the rest of the union, or the forty-eight percent who voted against independence in the Second Referendum, thought.
We're still adjusting to living with a new, unpredictable, and sometimes belligerent nuclear-armed next-door neighbour; as are they. But with the fearsome power of the Bomb comes responsibility. We can but hope the new Sino-Russian axis can bring their influence to bear, as they did in the Gulf an Korea. Even the EU and the US - though both greatly reduced in stature - have offered their good offices to help soothe the current spat to a prickly but workable relationship.
We need only look at the Gulf, Israel, or reunified Korea for a sobering reminder of our fate if the leaders get it wrong. There are practical reasons for realpolitik optimism as well. In our interconnected world there are multinational interests in keeping the hydrocarbons flowing, and our nations are still too conjoined to allow our legacy infrastructure to be disrupted by war. The international community may have shafted us by recognising the fait accompli and tacitly supporting the renegotiation of the energy treaties; but at least our allotted trickle of oil and hydroelectricity still gets through. The poor old British Lion; emaciated, mangey, impotent and toothless, just has to adapt to the changed circumstances.
This latest scare isn't making our lives any easier though. No doubt there'll be yet more reams of reporting 'guidelines' from the OMS, and we'll need to rebalance our output to reflect our audiences' concerns away from the parochial to the international. We'll be taking from the national streams rather than contributing our own content to theirs; that'll cost us ViewCred as few people outside the area actually give a monkey's about the problems the gardeners of the Moneyfields allotments are having in stopping the latest outbreak of veg theft, or their opinions on the current war scare. Besides, vox-pops on sensitive issues such as these are discouraged. It's a good thing most of our local and regional packages aren't too time-sensitive; we can always run them later.
Fortunately whoever was at fault it was only an exchange of warning shots this time. There was no damage, and more importantly no injuries on board the trawler. In 48 hours the diplomatic protests will have been filed and dismissed, the gunboats will hopefully have stood to, and we can return to a sullen stand-off again. But the price of fish, already unaffordable, will rise still further as we realise that what was left of our North Sea fisheries are now swimming beneath the keels of the truculent Alban navy.
April the 27th.
The end of the month is approaching; quota time. Across the city, the region, and the wider Fed, everyone is making sure their accounts are in order; whether they are actually so or not. To that end you can bet every little jumped-up jobsworth in a hi-viz jacket will be out to ensure they have duly detected their tally of offences; whether those misdemeanours are real or imagined. This isn't a good time to be driving any sort of vehicle, ride a bike, or be walking alone: Better to take your chances with the rest of the herd on public transport for a couple of days in the hope the dayglo turds decide to pick on anyone else in the crowd but you.
You'd think by now they'd be aware target driven policing does more harm than good, and only gets peoples' backs up. It just seems to be such an utter waste of everyones' time, effort, and resources; especially since the same officious tossers responsible for this bureaucracy in a moment of serendipitous incompetence arranged for the partial expiry of TransCred just at the right time to enable most people to evade the worst of it by using their soon to expire allowances on public transport. Was that mere coincidence? Or did an empathic spirit trying to subvert the system from within contrive it that way?
Someone usually gets done for some minor infraction, but the chances are as long as you are streetwise or lucky, or know enough of the law and your dwindling body of rights to make them veer away and pick an easier looking target, it won't be you. If it is, you just have to put it down as an unfortunate case of chance taxation.
April the 29th.
That was a couple of days ago, but just when you thought it was safe to get back in the saddle they're at it again. Perhaps the great bureaucratic hive mind is starting to evolve some spontaneity? That would be a bad sign because as long as they are predictable the lower rungs on the ladder of the extended police 'family' are relatively harmless. The City Police can't be bothered with cycling matters; it's the Community Police busybodies who delight in making cyclists' lives a misery; because they can, and they have an incentive to do so.
I'm alerted to this latest development by a blurt from CycloSolidarity; a cycle commuter dark net community, warning of a couple of ComPig checkpoints, though I am puzzled about their timing. I thought the Community Police - aka Compies, ComPigs, Comps, Pols, or Goons - would've realised that they'd missed their cut off date. Perhaps they feel they have to make an early start on next months' quota. Or they've just postponed their deadline.
Even the Compies have enough nouce to realise they're being dicked, so they soon give up on the fixed stops at the few points of entry to Portsea Island and go mobile; that's when the fun begins. A public-spirited frazzler sets to work remotely sabotaging their saucer drone and forces it to land, then comes the call for a mass ride-through.
I've always had a bit of a rebellious streak. Dad says I got it from Mum - God rest her - who spent some time living an 'alternative' lifestyle before she met Dad and settled down. Wherever it came from, I can't resist an opportunity to tweak the noses of the Pols. So I saddle up, flick in, and follow the blurts set on audio to the approximate rendezvous area. You need to have confidence in your blurters, but these have a good rep, so I'm reasonably sure that it isn't a set-up.
The best laid Goon runs don't look out of the ordinary to those not in the know; few would recognise them for what they are until they begin, and as yet the surveillance grid isn't smart enough to recognise the signs, especially when it is being frazzled. To a casual observer, or your average Compie checkpoint, nothing appears amiss. Then, guided by the supposedly uncrackable anonymous microblurt voice in your ear and a bit of local knowledge you set the trap; drawing together into a critical mass too large for Them to cope with before riding through.
An alarm sounds in my ear. "ALL RIDERS! STICKY WICKET! STARBURST! STARBURST!" Shit! Something has gone wrong; the Goons have either got some motorised support, or some of them have been tagged as half-decent riders. Maybe they've cracked the feed or targeted the blurters? Whatever the cause, it's time to scatter far, fast and wide.
I consider riding away from the main routes, locking the bike somewhere out of the way, and catching a bus to the city centre, but that's risking it. I've a better chance of keeping my bike mine by staying on it and continuing to ride in, just as anyone else would do. The trick is to act naturally and not guiltily. Later those who want to can have an online debrief, but whatever the outcome and the lessons learned those blurters have taken a big hit to their reputation; I hope no-one got caught as a result of their failed run.
My earpiece is full of advice to take it easy and lie low if possible, to make your return journeys at different times using different routes, or to park your ride, merge with the crowd on public transport this evening, and pick up your bike tomorrow. Above all else, whatever you do, don't look plugged in! They'll always use the wearing of earphones as evidence of Cycling Without Due Care and Attention, one of their favourite catch-alls... Bugger! It had the makings of a good run.
I wouldn't put it past the ComPigs to go on a parking patrol in an act of spite, ticketing anything they can find; tax, insurance, or annual inspection tag violations, or they'll be giving cycling licences and helmet fitting extra scrutiny when they pull their random stops. If all else fails there are always the old ways and means, such as insufficient rear tyre tread, or lack of all the required area of reflective clothing or day running lights for bike and rider. Which reminds me; I'll need to buy a new tyre soon. Hopefully there'll be some really new ones available, rather than me having to put up with one of those shoddy remakes again.
Doing my best to be inconspicuous I slow down and blend in. It takes a while for my thudding heart and flushed face to return to normal, but I make it to Media House without further problems, park the bike, and set my very illegal dark tag I keep handy for just such an eventuality to transmit a proxy registration if queried by a long range RFID scanner for a while, just in case one of the little fuckers decides to try a random beam sweep. Yes I'm old enough to know better, but I really despise those cunts who would impose themselves so harshly on their fellow citizens; even their next door neighbours or co-workers, just so they can earn some extra privilege points. I hope they skulk back to their ordinary assignments empty-handed and realising they're just going to have to live as the rest of us have to with only the standard ration of life's little luxuries. Or they'll have to do as we do and buy some top-up cred to make up any shortfall.
May the 4th.
It's a commonly held misconception but everyone thinks that IMS is far bigger than we actually are. They don't understand how our small and agile organization works, nor do they really care that much as long as they have something to watch or interact with.
Some parts of the Post-Crises media would be recognisable to a viewer from the past, but the way it is run and funded has changed greatly since the Bennett Report and the Media Act. Following the seemingly endless series of scandals in both the BBC and commercial broadcasters, events suddenly came to a head. What used to be known as ITV went bankrupt following the precipitous fall in advertising after the Second Slump, while the Beeb tried making the news just a step too far and too often, coming badly unstuck in the process. They lost their grandiose Salford complex to a professional arson attack which took place under cover of the last series of riots. That time it was the building; next time - if they were stupid enough to provoke a next time - they were warned the staff would burn... Soon after the incident the BBC lost their interest in sensationalist investigations of the Manchester underworld. The rest of the media duly took note; regionally dispersed resilient office nodes such as we in IMS have are the industry standard, as well as being cheaper to run.
However the problems weren't confined to the terrestrial channels. Even the once all-conquering satellite network was suffering badly; then the effects of the Crises really began to bite... Despite the appetite for rolling news, or escapist programmes to avoid the rolling news, it was obvious the media as we knew it had exhausted the possibilities for development under the existing regulatory regime; the way in which people consumed and interacted with the hyperconnected world had changed far more quickly than the industry could adapt to. Something had to change, and quickly.
The Royal Commission set up in the wake of the turmoil to create a plan for the future concluded the media was one of the reasons for the nation being in its current state, so asked independent critic and commentator Charles Bennett to come up with some radical solutions. He certainly did as he was asked. What he suggested, and became the Media Act, was the drastic restructuring of the BBC, along with the 'democratization' of the independent sector. The Act also established the 'pay as you watch' ViewCred virtual media currency to replace the licence fee and provide an alternative funding stream to advertisements. It was hoped that these new opportunities would rejuvenate a jaded industry. An up and coming entrepreneur named James Purvis, seeing the potential, swooped for the wreckage of both organisations and formed Independent Media Services. Charles Bennett became a major shareholder and member of the IMS board shortly after.
Since then we've grown quickly to become a major provider of streamed services for the majority of people who can't be bothered to seek out their own entertainment, but who instead want it served up for them to slump in front of at the end of an exhausting day. Few people thought that the model would work; a rump BBC providing small quantities of high quality news, drama and documentaries, with IMS providing streams of ahem, 'popular' programming. To an extent they were right; the Beeb has scraped through the bottom of the barrel in its desperate scramble for ViewCred and we in the independent sector have paradoxically become the home of what quality programming remains.
Those doubters also didn't foresee the effect the Consensus' economic reforms would have. Becoming self-assigned in the media is a bold step or a desperate gamble, depending on your point of view, but it is far better than the alternative. So now we have a growing, vibrant and diverse Arts, Culture and Media sector, even if much of what it produces is utter brain rotting junk. Part of my job at IMS is, to be brutally honest, a sewage screen. I have to find gems, or anything remotely watchable from the torrent of execrable content submitted to us. The autosist culls a lot of it, but plenty remains!
There are only so many times you can watch variations on Cook It! Good As New, Made From Nothing For Nothing (with that irritating jingle), Growers' Club, or community Am-Dram productions before your aching eyes glaze over. Occasionally you'll get a surprisingly good programme such as The Improvisation Show, but those are very rare. The 'Adult Content' is a consolation, but after a while there are only so many home produced slap and tickle or Real Life Love shows you can watch, and many of the people involved are certainly less than erotic!
Ours being a lean and multi-skilled, multi-role organization we need all the help we can get just to keep on top of it all; so we welcome the assistance of any interns or media academy graduates wanting to gain real world experience by aiding us in sifting the diamonds from the dirt. So that's why today I'm familiarising Nathan Taylor to the local area. You can only learn so much sat at your terminal. The way I was taught, and it's still the case, is that to get the real stories you have to beat the streets. There's always more going on there than is visible. There are the personal contacts, the rumours, the undercurrents, the animal sensing of what is otherwise imperceptible. Once you get a good reputation people will take you into their confidence in a way they never would online. To know, you have to Be There.
Some people have this gift, others can learn it. Getting Nate out of the office and into the real world will show us both what he's made of. I've heard good things about him, now we'll see how he does. Getting away from the desk will be good for me as well; time spent on your sources is rarely wasted and besides, due to a reoccurring administrative problem with the insurance I'm the only one allowed to drive the hybrid tuk. If we get any spare time we've got a few prearranged reports to cover, and we'll get some library video on chip; it always comes in useful. But our assignment for this afternoon leading into the evening is the forest of cherry pickers and lighting towers reaching skyward which have taken over Fort Widley as well as the surrounding green spaces. We'll be shooting some background on the practice and pre-selection for the forthcoming series of Dance Together!
It's one of the most viewed, commented on, and participated in programmes of recent times, which really says a lot about the state we're in. The Connies love it of course; with it stimulating mass community involvement, social cohesion, joyful artistic expression, and moderate healthy exercise. In the spirit of our times there is the incentive of collective prizes for the successful neighbourhoods which increase with each level of the competition.
We've already had the preliminary local contests with their own self-produced programmes. From now on it becomes fully professional, and it is decided which of the collectives goes on to represent the city as a whole in the first regional heats. There's plenty to shoot here, and we're not the only ones at it; in addition to the local set of stringers everyone not actually dancing is vidding. Even the bare-bones Beeb have sent someone because this is The Local News today. But - unlike us - they're not on the inside. Away from the expectant crowds our privileged access gets us into the screened inner compound of portakabins.
Within the closely guarded enclave the hiatus of the production meeting is at its frayed peak; and this is the real conference, not the scripted false spontaneity we'll be allowed to film later. We who know how things are really done know better than to record this part of the process, even though some of the real-life histrionics would make great back-story satellite programme copy. The revelation of such a blatant fixing would be an explosive lead on the national news, but it would be a one-shot story; and probably the final one filed by anyone stupid enough to try it. No-one; least of all us, is going to ruin this nice little earner.
Eventually the final running amendments are made to the outline narrative, a rough script to improvise upon agreed, and we can vid the 'official' behind the scenes programmes with the panel of judges 'choosing' which groups will go through to the next round. The dance groups running through their final practice nearby are unaware their fate has already been decided.
Back outside we can film the motions being gone through; everyone plays their part impeccably. As the judges go into their false conclave we capture the nail-biting anticipation of their verdict and the genuinely innocent, exuberant flushed-faced delight of the Eastney group when they are 'selected'. There are interviews with the winners, losers, judges, family and friends with Nate on the camera. Then we reverse roles before downloading the take back to the office and packing it in. If we've missed anything, though I doubt we have, someone else is bound to have picked it up and will feed it to us; though I'm sure we have enough for as much back programming as we will ever want. It will all get a guaranteed audience, plus the Dance Together! prodco will want to trawl through for anything they might want to use. It's the gift that keeps on giving, and there'll be even more to come when Dance Community! launches next year.
Imagine city sized collectives choreographng kaleidoscopic displays of thousands of synchronised dancers. The lights! The music! The sparkle! The dry ice! The streamers! The live audiences filling the football stadia! The atmosphere! The distraction! The opportunities for monetising the viewer participation! The ViewCred! I may be a cynical bastard, but I'm not as misanthropic as the people planning childrens' versions of both formats.
At least the rain held off. It's been overcast, but the tuk's solarflim roof might have picked up enough of a charge during the day or from the lighting rig to delay using the engine for a few kilometres. In fact we travel 3.6 before the raspy conversation shredder automatically restarts. Then we forget all about the noise as my scroll rings. I didn't need the autosist generated alert as I can hear the approaching sirens and see the reflection of the strobing blue lights in my rear view camera. I pull over to let the fire engine pass, then launch the protesting tuk into its slipstream. We have only a few streets to drive and arrive on the scene as the fire service begin their job.
The incident is in one of the small terraced houses which are so common hereabouts. It looks as if one house that has been subdivided into three flats is involved, with the front door of the ground floor flat open and billowing grey smoke. The crew of a rapid response mini-ambulance are giving oxygen to someone sat nearby on the pavement. Meanwhile a small knot of people are being shooed back to a safe distance by a Street Warden while the fire crew moves in with practiced professionalism. One firefighter hand-launches a microdrone while two more unpack a Salamander robot. The vaguely humanoid 'bot stretches from it's compact cube, seemingly pausing for a moment to get it's bearings, then moves with startling fluid speed through the open door, a firefighter wearing gesture gloves and vidivisor directing it.
Another full-size ambulance arrives, closely followed by a CityPol car and a Compy tuk, but by now it's clear everyone living there have been accounted for, and are unhurt. The Salamander reappears through the door, the fire extinguished thanks to its carbon dioxide jet. Between the two of us we've recced the whole incident; it'll make a good report for tomorrow's South Tonight. Now all we need to do is wrap it.
Once the drone has landed and the Salamander refolded back into itself I have a quick word with the officer in charge. She says that it was a minor kitchen fire; easily dealt with, no casualties. The thermal sensors on the drone and the Salamander, plus a human follow-up, have confirmed the fire is out and staying out, so they're finished here. Nate gets some neighbours' reactions, then we leave.
"Well that was a productive day! Shall I drop you at a bus stop or do you want to go back to the office?"
"I'll go back to the office thanks; I've got a few things to sort out."
"OK, but don't get too workaholic too soon!"
The tuk's ratty little engine stutters back into life. I make a mental note to get it looked at.
May the 5th.
Despite being plugged-in overnight the tuk has only recharged to 70%. The battery pod must be going, and the electric motor has seen better days. This may be the new age of durability, improvisation, making do and mending with the implementation of planned obsolescence now an offence punishable by Rehabilitation; but the simple things in life such as travelling can still be a source of unexpected frustration. I ask my scroll's autosist to look-up the price and availability of a replacement pod as well as searching for the cheapest garage to fit it. Then leaving that to stew I set off for a second day on the beat with Nate.
Today we'd be able to do what we'd wanted to do yesterday, before Dance Together! overran. Our first stop is to report on the opening of a new Korean restaurant and community centre. Actually this is a paid-for by the restaurant, but we can justify it as reflecting the changing demographic of the Fed since the resumption and rapid conclusion of the Korean War. Coming as it did with the Gulf already in flames and much of Israel contaminated we really thought, as our great-grandparents did during the Cuban missile crisis, that this could be The End. It seems bizarre that events so recent and horrific can become anesthetised so quickly: Ever-present yet dulled and pushed to the back of the mind.
I sit down with Mr Park and his family. He's been lucky; both in escaping from the peninsula and in doing reasonably well in the Fed, along with thousands of others who thought it worth travelling so far and undergoing a three-month quarantine at their own expense once they arrived here to begin a new life. Many of them have lent their expertise to the renascent industrial and electronics sectors while others, especially locally, found their skills in demand in restarting the local marine industries. There's so much more I could ask him, but the idea is to keep it positive and upbeat.
The Koreans are a proud, resilient, dignified people who have put up with far more than we can possibly imagine. Give it time and there may yet be some astonishing recollections of those extraordinary moments in history; yet I sense it will be a long time before the collective grief of the diaspora has healed enough to be able to express in words the obvious sadness in their eyes. The immediate numbing shock may have passed, but the wounds deeper within will take longer to mend.
Mouths still stinging from some spicy kimchi, we whirr along the road to our next assignment. At both bike and tuk repairers I stop at along the way I'm told there's a shortage of battery pods. These days I'm not surprised to hear it; there's usually a shortage of something or other. It's the times of course. Sorry, there's no news on when we might get some more in... It really pisses me off to think there is probably a warehouse full of them in India or even Brum, where they assemble the imported tuk kits, but not here and now when they are needed. I'm offered a special deal on a re-gel or an exchange pod but I'm not that desperate yet.
Then we go on to a background piece on the decline of the eastern European community, with the young heading to the polar regions or the new boom towns of the Wild East of Siberia. Where there's methane hydrate to be extracted there's money, and there are few reasons why they'd want to stay here.
Puttering back to Media House I pass a group of people manually cleaning the gutters and sweeping the road; though the road appears to be clean enough anyway. They are Credders; trying to garner themselves the Community Credits that are required to be spent, along with money, to obtain many 'luxury' goods and services.
ComCred was the brainchild of one of the many demented right-wing think tanks which existed before the Crises. With no visible means of funding they existed to act as a sock puppet and sounding board for the more extreme elements in government to express their wilder fantasies, yet not to have their lunatic ideas attributed to them.
The original idea was to side step the human rights laws blocking the policies which in effect turned unemployed people into state property; to be conscripted on to degrading workfare schemes or directed to move at the whim of the authorities to areas where it was deemed they may have a better chance of finding suitable work matching their skills. Several times legal challenges to the measures using the Human Rights Act, or the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010 were successful; only to have the government determined to enforce its bullying will sneak retrospective legislation through parliament in late-night sittings to legitimise the measures.
In due course their furtive attempts to undermine the fundamental human right not to be starved into a form of community bondage were ruled unlawful by the European Court. Defiantly the government refused to concede defeat, but tried again to stretch the law to suit its ends and exhaust the resources of those attempting to resist it. While they were at it they increased the term of the thralldoms from weeks and months to years: Someone who was unemployed and innocent of any offence faced doing more unpaid punishment work than a convicted minor criminal who had been given a community sentence. Not only that, but in addition to having to do a full week's work they had to prove they had been conducting full and active jobseeking activities as well or risk having their benefit cut.
After only a few short months of relative freedom in which to recover the unfortunate claimants faced going through the whole process again; despite the fact the schemes actually proved to be counterproductive as they destroyed employment rather than created it. Not that the government would allow facts to get in the way of ideology; it continued this perverse game of legal ping-pong regardless of all the more pressing issues demanding its attention, such was the obsession of the ruling class in enforcing their will upon those they mistakenly deemed to be idle from choice.
By the time those measures were incontrovertibly struck down for the final time by the European Court of Human Rights and remained unlawful as part of the agreed distancing of the Federation from the EU, unemployment and poverty had reached unimaginable proportions. Those who had previously been so vociferously supportive of the government's drive to conscript others into forced labour were themselves the most surprisedly indignant when; as part of the massive post-Crises state organised reconstruction of the economy and society in general, the Transitional Council made the embryonic 'voluntary' ComCred scheme universally applicable to the entire population; whether they were unemployed or working. By then most people were in some way directly or indirectly reliant on the state for some or all of their income, so there was little room for evading the obligation.
ComCred is 'earned' by performing various types of unpaid community work, and more often these days the sort of work which used to be paid, and is essential for the provision of state services. The definition of 'community' has been stretched over time so the private sector can benefit from this low cost to them source of state-supplied labour. Beyond the basic cred grant, any supplemental credit needed must be worked for or bought. ComCred is unequally distributed with those on higher incomes granted a higher basic credit allowance. Those wealthy enough can buy off part or all of the government ransom on their bodies and time, but the poor, on whom the system weighs most heavily, have no option but to fulfil their duties. As with money, ComCred can also be eroded by inflation, with each budget bringing a readjustment to how much cred is required for a purchase. Each year one must strive that little bit harder to merit life's little luxuries or permitted sins. ComCred is as it was designed to be; a very regressive form of covert serfdom and rationing.
Further along the road I realise why the street is looking so clean. There, busy brushing away and poking rods into drains, are another squad of credders getting their fluorescent overalls grimy! This is going to make my day, and James'; if there's one thing that really annoys us both it's the utter incompetence of the Consensus, with this sort of thing being just the latest and most blatant example: He loves to collect irrefutable video evidence of it.
"Nate, get ready to 'cord this!"
I turn off at the next side road, and using my local knowledge pick a route running parallel to the main road, ahead of the cred gang; then I take another turning leading me back to the main road. Acting like just another tuk, I double back on to the road facing them.
"Roll it Nate!"
Unnoticed we cruise past the first credders at the 30kph limit, then 400 metres further down the road within sight of the first, Nate frames the second group.
It feels good to get some juicy copy in the bag, but we won't use it just yet. If we made an issue of it now the local Community Credit Administration would just shrug it off, claiming it wasn't a wasted duplication of effort but a two-stage cleaning process. Instead we'll add it to the archive of similar stories, just waiting for James to decide the moment is right to launch his political campaign. There's supposed to be an election scheduled for next May. Perhaps they may even hold it this time rather than ask the Regent to invoke another term extension clause.ns 220.127.116.11da2