The Machines of Power - Part 7 of 9
James nodded mutely.
‘Nothing?’ asked James.He wasn’t quite sure he approved of everyone’s movements being tracked down to the last detail.As he considered this, a thought struck him.Not a particularly pleasant thought, either.‘You mean you watch as people…’
‘Don’t worry, Jimmy,’ interrupted Juniper.‘This place isn’t so we can watch people taking showers or going at it or anything.We just keep an eye on things.’
‘But it’s best not to think about it,’ said Juniper, sagely.‘Imagine the panic if people knew we could see them whenever and wherever they go.There’d be outrage.’
‘So why do you do it?’ asked James.
‘Because the people need watching,’ said Grapeshot, importantly.
‘Do they?I mean, do we?’
‘Yes, Mister Caplan.They do.’
‘But why?And please, call me James.All this “Mister Caplan” stuff makes me feel like I’m back at school.’
‘Because, James,’ Grapeshot said the name with the distinct tone that he would have preferred to keep things a little more formal.‘People are idiots.’
James was stunned.
Juniper erupted into a coughing fit that sounded a lot like masked laughter.
‘What he means,’ said Juniper, cutting in quickly.‘Is that what we do here really is in the best interests of everyone.’
‘Everyone?’ said James, feeling annoyed.‘You mean all us idiots?’
‘Yes,’ said Grapeshot, without the slightest hint of irony.
‘No!’ said Juniper, as he shot Grapeshot a look that had “shut up” written all over it.
‘Well which is it?’ asked James.‘Because I want to know if I’ve just been insulted or not.’
‘What we mean, Jimmy, is that your average person can be as clever as you like.Doctors, teachers, mechanics, all of ‘em brainy as the day is long.’
‘Go on,’ said James.
‘But people, there’s a different story.’
‘I don’t follow,’ said James, frowning.
‘It is a curious phenomenon,’ said Grapeshot, taking the lead once again.‘How individuals can be sensible, intelligent and productive, but put them together to form the entity of people and you get chaos!’
‘Oh come on,’ said James, defensively.‘We’re not that bad!’
‘Oh no?’ said Grapeshot, his one eyebrow rising.‘Come over there and look at this.’Grapeshot walked off amongst the rows and rows of desks and stopped at one a few moments later.The person sat at the desk wheeled themselves out of the way on their office chair and allowed Grapeshot access to their machine.
‘What’s he doing?’ asked James.
‘Being a bloody pain in the arse, as usual,’ said Juniper, gruffly.‘He loves to prove his little points though.’
‘If you’ll kindly watch the main monitor, please.’Grapeshot pointed to what James had assumed was a bank of individual screens that dominated one of the walls.Instead it was a giant monitor that had been showing multiple images all at once.All of the individual screens disappeared and were replaced by one massive image.It was a street view, the kind taken by CCTV cameras.James could see a pub with people milling around outside it.
That one wasn’t milling, James thought to himself.He’s…
And those two.They’re not doing what I think they’re doing, are they?
Oh God they are!
James stared up at the obscene display of drunken debauchery being shown to the whole room, ashamed to be a human being.He looked back down and saw a self-satisfied smirk sitting smugly on Grapeshot’s face.
‘You see the gentleman using that potted plant as a latrine?’ asked Grapeshot, the smugness in his voice easily outstripping the smugness on his face.‘That man is a very successful property developer.Quite well respected in his field.And the couple in the alleyway who think that no one can see them?A solicitor and an architect.Individually you could not fault them, but look at what they become when they are swallowed up into the collective known as people.’
James continued to look between the giant monitor and Grapeshot.
Juniper shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation.
‘Alright, Grapeshot,’ said Juniper wearily.‘I think you’ve made your point.’
‘But wait a moment,’ said James, frowning up at the monitor.‘I admit that looks pretty bad, but they’re clearly drunk.’
‘And your point is?’ asked Grapeshot, coolly.James was beginning to dislike him.
‘My point is that you can’t possibly judge people’s abilities to function based on what they’re like when they’ve had a few.’Grapeshot looked taken aback at this statement.
‘Well of course not,’ he said, as if that point was glaringly obvious.‘But there is a wealth of evidence that I could show you to prove that what we do here is for the greater good.’
‘He could, you know?’ said Juniper in a low voice.He sighed before adding: ‘He really could.’
‘Okay then,’ said James, feeling as if he were the sole defendant for the nation’s independence.‘Show me something else.Something not related to how people behave when they’re drunk.’James folded his arms with some small degree of satisfaction.He felt he was perhaps on the verge of some minor victory.
‘I’d be happy to,’ said Grapeshot, without missing a beat.He walked briskly off to another desk and spoke briefly to the person who was sat there.A moment later, Grapeshot returned to where James and Juniper were standing, a stack of printouts in his hands.‘Here you are,’ he said as he handed them to James.
‘This is a list of people who have replied to spam e-mails over the past six months.If you were to check the details of some of these people you would find professionals of all kinds, highly educated and successful, but still we see people handing over credit card details to the shadiest of sources again and again.’James thumbed through the pages and felt a growing sense of despair as he saw name after name of people who had apparently fallen prey to the Nigerian Lottery scam, or whatever fraudulent scheme was currently doing the rounds.He silently handed back the papers to Grapeshot; that victory he sensed speeding away with its middle finger raised.
Grapeshot continued to look smug, but this time it did not go without mention.
‘Will you wipe that bloody smirk off your face?’ snapped Juniper.‘You’ve made your point and then some, so let’s get Jimmy to the workshop so he can do what we brought him here for!’Grapeshot looked a little sullen for a moment; he had clearly been enjoying himself parading society’s faults in front of James, but he quickly recovered.
‘Yes, quite right.This way, James.’Grapeshot took off again at a brisk pace and James and Juniper followed.As they passed row after row of desks, James looked around him.
‘So you really watch the whole country from this one room?’
‘Oh no, lad,’ said Juniper, smiling.‘That would be impossible.’James felt a sag of relief flood his body.He knew it couldn’t all be true.He knew that this place couldn’t really be watching the nation’s every move.‘No, this is just one of the observation rooms.’
‘This is just one of the rooms,’ said Juniper, more slowly.‘We have a room like this on each floor, all watching a different bit of the country.’James remembered the readout on the lift and how it had more numbers than he thought it should.As much as James wanted to fight it, what Juniper and Grapeshot were telling him seemed to be true.
‘Oh,’ was all he could manage as they continued to make their way across the huge observation room.After a few more minutes’ walking, they came to another lift, although this one was more like a freight goods lift than the ones they had previously used.Grapeshot pressed a large button on a control panel set into the wall and the reluctant groan of metal on metal momentarily filled the air as the lift made its way up from who knows where.It took long enough for the lift to arrive for James to wonder, again, just how big the building was, or how deep.Eventually, the lift arrived at their floor and Grapeshot tugged the metal fencing aside to allow all three men to step inside.Closing the lift, Grapeshot pressed another button and the lift began its rumbling descent.Everyone was silent for a moment or two, but as they continued to travel deeper into the earth another question stepped to the front of the queue in James’ mind.
‘What about the Government?’ he asked.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Grapeshot, raising an eyebrow.
‘I mean what about the Prime Minister?The Cabinet?All of the politicians?What do they think about all of this?’As James looked from one man to the other, Grapeshot gave Juniper another meaningful look and James noticed his uncle shuffle his feet a little.
‘Well, it’s funny you should mention that, Jimmy, my boy.’
‘Because that’s why you’re here.’
‘Well perhaps this will help,’ said Grapeshot, as the lift shuddered to a stop.He pulled back the metal fencing once again and stepped out on to the floor they had arrived at.‘As you can see, Mister Caplan, the Government needs your help.’
As countless pairs of blank, expressionless faces stared back at James he felt the world get pulled out from under him for the second time that day, and before he had any real chance to process what his eyes were telling him were in front of him, he fainted again.
‘Not again!’ said Juniper, rolling his eyes.
'No, no, no!
The voice inside James’ head was quite insistent. It refused to believe what it had just seen, so much so that James came to vocalising this very thought process.
‘No, no, no!’ he said, blearily.
‘Erm…is he alright?’ asked the voice of Grapeshot. James could not see him, or anything for that matter, because he had screwed his eyes tight shut in the hope that this was all going to be a dream. A horrible, extremely long and thoroughly detailed dream.
‘He’ll be fine,’ said Juniper’s voice. ‘It’s not the first one he’s had today, is it Jimmy, my boy?’ James felt the gentle nudge of Juniper’s boot in the small of his back. ‘But as long as it’s the last, eh? Can’t have you falling about the place when there’s work to be done.’
‘But how…why…?’ said James, as he cautiously opened his eyes. He shut them again straight away when the vacant faces were still there, staring at him.
‘Well, if you would kindly get up off the floor we can explain,’ said Grapeshot, testily.
‘Yeah, come on Jimmy,’ said Juniper in as jovial a tone as he could muster. ‘It’s not too bad, once you’ve wrapped your head around the basics.’ James stood up uneasily and fixed both men with a look of confusion and bewilderment. He then looked into the workshop that stretched away before him.
‘Wrapped my head around it?’ he said, incredulously. ‘Wrapped my head around it? I’d need a head the size of the West Midlands to wrap my head around this!’ James waved a hand in the direction of the workshop.
‘I understand that it is a lot to take in,’ said Grapeshot, soothingly. ‘But think of it like this. You have a unique opportunity to be of real service to your government.’
James laughed, but there was no mirth in it.
‘Hah! Service! Good one.’ He strode out of the lift and up to one of the blank faces that had been watching him expressionlessly all this time. ‘I can see the headlines now: Prime Minister goes in for M.O.T.’ Juniper chuckled and Grapeshot gave him another stern look.
‘I hardly think this is the time for jokes, Mister Caplan,’ said Grapeshot, stiffly.
‘Oh you don’t think?’ said James, excitedly, a wild stare entering his gaze. ‘Because I think it’s the perfect time for jokes. In the last few days I’ve found out that my uncle is actually alive after me thinking him dead for the last thirty years, that he’s part of some secret organisation that runs the country, and to top it all off that the politicians who make up the government are…are…’ James faltered as he waved his hand in ever more frantic motions at the slumped figures on the numerous workbenches.
‘Automatons,’ said Grapeshot, importantly.
‘Robots, to you and me,’ said Juniper more plainly.
Whatever James had been expecting, robots wasn’t it. He stared, dumbfounded, into the unmoving faces of people he had seen on the news, heard on the radio, even voted for. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; they were all here and they were all clearly robots. Some of them had no lower half to their bodies, just a mass of cables and wires; others were missing arms or the tops of their heads. The more James looked around the eerier it became. It was like being suddenly dropped into some kind of weird, futuristic horror film. James turned on the spot a few times, taking in the mass of immobile robots that covered practically every available surface in the workshop. As he locked eyes with the ones nearest to him he felt a cold shudder run down his back.
‘What happened?’ he asked in a small voice.
‘Bad wiring,’ said Juniper.
‘Look Jimmy, take a seat for a moment.’ Juniper indicated a couple of chairs by a nearby workbench. James walked tentatively over to it and sat down, Juniper following suit.
‘I’ll…erm…go and make some tea,’ said Grapeshot, uneasily.
‘Yeah, you do that,’ said Juniper over his shoulder. He looked back at his nephew and continued. ‘This is it, Jimmy. This is what we need you for.’
‘You want me to fix these things?’ asked James, hoping he wasn’t going to get the answer that he knew was coming.
‘Yes, and quite quickly, if you can.’ James looked around some more, a look of helplessness on his face.
‘But I don’t know anything about robots!’
‘But you know machines,’ said Juniper, encouragingly. ‘Just think of them as machines and you’ll do fine. I wouldn’t have brought you on this job if I didn’t think you were up to muster.’
‘But why do you have them at all? What about the real politicians?’ At this Juniper chuckled again.
‘Jimmy, my boy, these are the real politicians.’
- July 2014
- To be continued...