The man walked along the near empty pavement with his usual shambling gait, carrying a bag of shopping. Heavy set and obese, he struggled to carry his weight. He passed the motion sensitive pixel poster. It flashed into life, the images creating a pool of light. The speaker crackled, “For a sustainable and secure food future; Monsauget bioengineering.” The man looked briefly at the images of rolling fields and woodlands. He watched it impassively, despite his thoughts, as the Corporate NewsAd made its grandiose statements; they always showed landscapes not seen in a generation since the food riots of 2074.
He came under the scope of Camera 77, slowly walking into and through its field of vision. Twilight was setting over the city, invisible stars would be emerging high above but in the mega city the light had a permanent orange tinge. Whether day or night due to the exhaust fumes and street lighting overspill, it seemed unchanging. High above too, barely perceptible, would be the orbiting satellites, ever watchful. The food riots had raged for months, when the bees became officially extinct in 2073 and the crops failed on a massive scale. The Back to the Land Movement sprang up, with an eye to claiming the land back from the mismanagement of the MultiNationals.
He ensured that his face was seen by the camera. Not far now, he thought, as he scanned the familiar sights of the street. I hope I’m not too late.
In the man’s pocket a handheld device vibrated strongly whilst emitting a series of polyphonic tones. He reached into his pocket in irritation, wheezing as he fought to respond to the insistent device. A red light blinked on it like an angry eye, and with stubby fingers he activated the touch screen; it was a global text from the Central Nexus. “Citizen, you are 2.5km from your HomeHub. In precisely thirty minutes you will be in contravention of the 21st Law of Curfew.” He kept shuffling along the street as he struggled to read the device. One step, two steps and he was beyond the Camera 77’s field of vision.
He tapped the screen to confirm he had received and understood the warning. He didn’t have long to do this.
Out of the field of vision afforded by Camera 77 he moved surprisingly quickly. His eyes followed the walls of plasticrete that ran to his right. From his pocket he fetched a plastic spoon and retrieved a large pot of NutriPaste ® from his shopping bag. His eyes alighted on his prize. In a crevice, where dust had gathered to form a thin soil, a plant grew. It was wild flower, its buds almost ready to burst. It defied the choking world in a tiny oasis in a sterile desert. His parents had been in the BLM before it had been declared as an illegal eco-terrorist organisation. They had been keen allotment keepers at one time, before the planning laws had forbade such things. It was hard to believe that real seeds had been readily available so recently. They had suspected what was about to happen and had drawn up plans. Things would need to go underground, if their germ of an idea would come to fruition.
Using the spoon he gently worked at dislodging the small plant’s roots free of the soil. The roots would be long, desperately seeking nourishment in the alien soil. He had to be careful not to damage them. He cursed his podgy fingers that made the work so difficult. His parents had seen the way the wind was blowing, when the Corporations, including Monsauget had patented all the fruits and vegetables that grew in this temperate climate. Such action had been easy to pass through what passed as a parliament back then. Corruption was rife and vision had long since died in the political class. Did they know the brave new world they were helping to create? Did they care? To think people really thought that they lived in a democracy back then!
He smiled to himself, as he felt the plant’s grip of the crevice yield. Quickly grabbed the pot of NutriPaste ®, running his fingers around the inside of the pot he gently loosened it and lifted the inner cup out revealing the large hidden compartment underneath. He placed the plant in this with the utmost care that his hands allowed, ensuring that no leaf or flower bud was damaged. He replaced the inner cup with the paste over it, hiding the plant. Looking concerned he noticed the ingrained dirt residue on the plastic spoon. He placed the spoon in his mouth, gently sucking at it and using his tongue to clean it. He took it out and examined it again. Satisfied that it was free of particles he scooped out a spoonful of paste and put it in his mouth. He swirled it around his mouth before spitting out the sweet substance over the grate of a drain cover.
He idly walked back into the scope of Camera 77. In his hand he held the pot of NutriPaste ®, the handles of his shopping bag over his wrist. In his other hand he held the spoon and shuffled under the camera, pretending to eat the pink coloured goo. He walked back past the Pixel Poster. It was now broadcasting standard Curfew warnings: “Be a compliant citizen, obey the law; your safety is our concern.” When the food became scarce the population attempted to take back control of their destinies, despite the long standing restrictions on movement. Parliament had been stormed by the BLM amongst other revolutionary groups. They should have realised it had been all too easy; there had barely been any resistance. It was found to be almost completely empty, but there was ample opportunity for looting, which was filmed for the subsequent propaganda broadcasts. It became apparent that the hated politicians had long since deserted the old debating chamber, as if they had expected the invasion. It became clear that what was supposed to be Government was merely a facade, an illusion. When the population attempted to leave the city, they found that they were in a prison. The Corporations controlled the army and Police and there was to be no escape. Many people were killed; their deaths fuelled the subsequent massive propaganda campaign. The corporations were the people’s friend; Monsauget was their saviour, the solution to the food crisis. Eating their product was spun as being an almost patriotic duty, despite the rise of the MultiNationals making patriotism a near redundant notion in practical terms.They controlled all the old farmland. He had heard rumours that the countryside was almost as sterile as the city now. A vast monocultural wasteland of genetically modified crops and lifeforms.
He put the pot of NutriPaste ® away and hurried along as fast as his form would allow him, causing him to perspire; he would smell unpleasant now for certain. He was less than 1km away from his home when his Hand held spoke again. Despite his expectation it still alarmed him with its polyphonic invasiveness. He took it from his pocket and activated the touch screen; the angry red eye now stared unblinking. “You are in contravention of the 21st Law of Curfew. Peace Enforcement Officers have been dispatched to your present position.
He sighed; looking into his bag ensuring the lid was safely secured on his pot of NutriPaste ®. He walked a few more steps towards his HomeHub, breathing deeply in preparation.
The street outside his home was lit suddenly by flashing blue lights as the officers climbed out of their near silent electric vehicle. They wore black paramilitary body armour and encounter helmets that covered their faces. They were tall and well-muscled; in complete contrast to the man.
“Citizen… Smith,” one said though his helmet, his voice sounding electrical and alien, as he read the display inside it, “you are 300m from your HomeHub. Yet you were warned and were seen still moving away from it over 30 minutes ago.”
“I was…”The man was about to answer when the officer spoke again.
“Oh this is interesting; your parents were convicted criminals. You had better explain yourself citizen, or we may have to take you to the correction facility. Well?”
“I was getting some exercise Officer.”
“Exercise?” Even behind the electronic voice the man could hear the mocking tone.
“Yes, exercise Officer,” he panted,” but I got hungry and shaky. Luckily I had my NutriPaste ®.” He said, holding up the pot proudly.
Both Officers laughed electronically and cruelly. “Good for you Citizen Smith, now get to your HomeHub. But don’t you worry about exercise in future, there’s no need for you to trouble yourself. Exercise is bad for you. The NutriPaste ® gives you all the nutrition you need. We have to suffer lesser foods, live longer and keep fit in order to keep you safe. Now get home, we will watch for your safety from here so there is no need to hurry.”
“Thank you Officers.” The man wheezed and he waddled on to his front door.
The two Officers watched him go. “Stupid bastard,” one said to his companion, “Imagine eating that hormone laced crap, and did you smell him? Unhealthy, sweaty pig of a man. Still it keeps them overweight, compliant and lethargic. Exercise, he says… exercise! I’ve heard it all now. Come on lets get on.” He laughed.
As he shut the door behind him and pressed the electronic key coder to lock it, he breathed a sigh of relief as he leant against the door. He looked through the verifier window in the door, watching as the blue lights disappeared around the corner of the street. He got out his handheld device; the red light had gone out. The Officers must have confirmed that all was well, and now he was at his HomeHub, the system had reset itself. Satisfied that he was safe he took off his coat and waddled into the kitchen, placing the shopping bag on the countertop. He took out the pot of NutriPaste ® and stood in front of the fridge. He opened it and retrieved a bottle of water, closing the door again. On the front of the fridge was a digital display with a small keyboard. He reached his podgy fingers to the keyboard and carefully entered a code. He stepped to one side. With a sound of rushing air the Fridge disappeared into the wall. Lights behind it blinked on. The man stepped through, pressing a button on the wall, as the fridge gradually moved back to its original position.
He opened the bottle and took a drink of water, eager to wash out the sweet taste of the sickly NutriPaste ®. He walked to a large wardrobe and opened the door. Reaching under his left armpit he found a small tag of Velcro which he pulled. Exposing a zip he drew it down. He then took off his greasy wig and peeled the mask off his face and neck. He grasped his left gauntlet with his right and pulled it off. He opened and closed his hand enjoying the experience of having them exposed to the air again. He removed his right gauntlet and with both hands free extricated himself from the fat suit, revealing a lean body. He hung the boneless suit in the wardrobe, as well as the gauntlets, wig and mask. He was about to close the door when he suddenly remembered something. Reaching into his nose he removed both nasal filters and threw them in a bin. He sucked air in through his nose and screwed his face in disgust. The fat suit smelt badly, but it made the illusion all the more realistic. It was fortunate that he wore anti-pollution filters.
Picking up the pot of NutriPaste ®, he went to a door at the opposite wall. Pulling it open he walked into a brightly lit room behind thick plastic curtains. Here was a room full of plants; tomatoes, beans, lettuce, carrots and potatoes amongst others, all grown hydroponically. The room was alive with the sound of trickling water and a low buzzing sound, never heard now in the world outside. He grabbed a ripe cherry tomato and popped it in his mouth, relishing the flavour. His parents had chosen a good variety.
He walked to the far end removing the cup from the NutriPaste ® pot, screwing his face up in disgust at the sweet pink goo; he carefully lifted out the flower and carefully secured it in a trough of the nutrient rich water. “There you go now my lovely, you’re safe now.” As he spoke he noticed one of the flowers had just opened. He smiled as he heard the buzzing of a bee that passed his ear to alight on the fresh bloom.