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by  scarborough

Posted: Monday, May 16, 2005
Word Count: 5047
Summary: Two bickering dissidents on the run in a dystopian future Britain. With added swearing.

Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

The glorious revolution had come and gone, and then I found myself alone. The night was cold and empty, and the sound of trucks passing by was deafening in my ears. I didn’t even know where I was any more, I was just by some road, somewhere. Furthermore, I had no idea, any more, where I wanted to be. All I knew was that the revolution hadn’t worked, and that I wanted to be gone from cities, forever.
Which direction led away? I was caught in indecision, and then a passing car pulled up, and made my choice for me.
“Hey! Simon! Is that you?”
“Sarah?” Fuck, she’d got out. Stolen a car, too, it looked like. There was a desperate look in her eyes. “Sarah, are you ok?” I asked.
“Better than you, you idiot. Get in.”
It was the only thing I could do, and besides, I’d always kind of liked Sarah. I’d never had anything but contempt for her gung-ho manner, though.
As we drove on through the night, she filled me in on the situation as it stood. “Well, Simon, we’re fucked. The cops were waiting for us, and they knew about the factory. That’s why the database wasn’t there. As far as I can tell, half of our force was arrested or killed before they ever set out from there. We were lucky. At least some of us had a chance. There were snipers on the roof of the guildhall, and that’s what took out David and Natasha. An armed force of Sciattica’s guards had been monitoring us for some hours, I guess, and had just finished moving into place, kitted up with riot gear and Electronics. They were all over, in the alleyways, in Jenkins road, and they waded in just after the Interference was triggered. I imagine most of us are dead or being Swapped right now. I got with three others, used this” she picked up a gun from the space in between the front seats; looked cool, an antique. “They didn’t have anything designed to counter it anymore, so I wasted two and ran. How the hell did you get out?” she stared at me accusingly; I think she’d rather have found someone else by the roadside; anyone, perhaps, but me. You could kind of say we were opposites, I guess. I took a second to ponder how I had managed to escape.
“I- um, I got lucky, I suppose. All I knew was this noise, this electronic sound, and then John falling. I didn’t see Natasha go down. Then someone was shouting, and then everyone was shouting. Gunshots. I saw the police, saw a few people go down with Electronics, clutching their heads and stuff. I felt my own head go haywire. Things started spinning, and I couldn’t see straight. Then I ran. I just picked some random direction, and ran into a window. Fell onto a cop. God knows how I didn’t just get shot, or something. I made off down an alleyway, and just didn’t stop going. I don’t remember anything more exact than that. Just- confusion, chaos. I kept running, I got out. The Electronics stopped affecting me. Then I was here.”
“Fucking hell, you’re lucky,” said Sarah, and somehow she made being the recipient of good fortune sound like the worst crime on earth. Well, no way was I going to stand for that...

"Guess we both are. By rights, the pair of us should be dead in the gutter with the rest of them. I said breaking into a Copyright headquarters was pointless." I retorted. Sarah just shot me a look.

Maybe I should explain all this little clearer. When I can be bothered.

We drove on, into the rain, out onto the motorway. After a few more brief exchanges, we ran out of things to talk about, and the conversation faded into uneasy silence. There’s not that many ways you can say ‘we’re fucked, aren’t we’, before it just gets depressing. I decided to avoid the issue.
Half an hour later, Sarah broke the silence. “I’m going west, to Bristol. Across the old national border it’s a different copyright.”

“Oh- good idea.”
And it was, too; Sciattica was only one of many Copyright groups, and different ones really didn’t tend to communicate that much. And when they did, They were generally so hell-bent on winning the socio-corporate struggle that no one Copyright really trusted what the other said. We might even be safe for a while. “I suppose you’ll want to come with me?” Sarah asked.
“What? Oh- yes.”

I sat back in silence, and I got to thinking about how I had got mixed up in this crazy piece of idealism in the first place. I suppose it had been down to Human Resources taking me away from Sally. That had really been the key moment where life had gone from just unfulfilled, and bearable, to downright awful. The only thing I’d really made for myself, that wasn’t part of their damned schedules, and they’d dragged me away, kicking and screaming. Off to somewhere where I would be several percentage points more productive to society as a whole. Damn it.

Sometimes, the good of the group is better served by the seeming injustice to the individual. That was how the Copyrights operated. Long-winded, impersonal, uncaring. But it wasn’t just to do with work, and moving people around to places that they would be able to build stuff, or record stuff, or whatever else needed doing. Far from it, in fact. The revolution in Human Resources had been based on a much wider vision than that.

The Copyrights move us around, you see. When it’s needed. When one individual becomes problematic and unprofitable. Everybody knows that people have their place, and that in this new economy, social position is no longer the certainty as it was. You cannot expect to stay in one family forever. The social market is flexible, and you have to move with the times. Oh, it can be hard, especially when you’re young; but that’s the way it is in the modern market. You can be Swapped at any time. Moved from one family to the next, to somewhere they find will be more profitable. Sometimes, a brother will be introduced to a family, so that the resultant sibling rivalry will spur both on to excel. Sometimes, tensions need to be reduced, and troublesome situations defused. Whatever is good business sense. Human Resources will put you into the place you need to be. They own your copyright, and have ultimate liberty to do so, at moment’s notice. Apparently, some don’t even get that. They get Swapped in their sleep, and wake up in another bed, sometimes next to someone they’ve never even met. As a result of this, more and more married couples are choosing to sleep apart.

It’s the same with children; if you are pregnant, or make someone else pregnant, then you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting a different child back in the delivery room. If you haven’t lived up to the potential of your gene-strain, a child with the same promising DNA can be put in a family where their capabilities can be more effectively nurtured. One of the most high-profile versions of this, is the Swapping of children with potentially athletic DNA into the families of champions. Sometimes, the parents whose child is being taken away will even be told that their genetic offspring has been ear-marked for stardom. Most times, however, it is kept secret, so that all the little people can imagine that maybe that is their true son up there on the racetrack, doing them proud. Of course, this is merely a vicarious, false thrill, a sop from the Haves to keep the Have-Nots happy. To make them think that this ownership of their very essence is actually anything other than 100 per cent exploitation.

This is taking some time. What the heck. You may as well know the whole story. It’ll make things easier for later on.

Some individuals can buy their own franchise, Reproductive License to control their own DNA, but those people tend to be heads of the Copyright bodies, anyway. Those kind of people will do what is needed with their own material; they are the ones who perpetuate the system. Much to what I presume must be the Copyrights’ annoyance, There are still one or two individuals who manage to fall through the cracks, and fluke themselves into huge amounts of money. Rock stars, mainly. There’s one, Johnny Parasite, who charges a flat fee for parental incorporation to DNA groupies. They reckon he’s sold more fatherhoods than records, and is the most reproductively successful man on earth. Guess that always was the point of rock and roll, anyway.

For the rest of us, we are Licensed to a Copyright group, and they grow us, and place us with family groups that will nurture us, care for us, teach us- until such a time as we need to be moved on. Until it benefits society, or more accurately, the Copyright groups. Now, I don’t want to get you thinking this is all about work, or some kind of communism. It’s not an economic thing, although that is a part of it. They have some kind of justification behind it all, some piece of nonsense called ‘the social index’, which defines all human society, formal and informal as a kind of organisational social structure, that can be empirically measured. Every kind of relationship could be quantified within it, from the corporate structure of a trans-national banking concern, to the way we treat the girl we sit next to in double history. And all are assessed. Evaluated. That’s the way it is, but apparently not quite the way it always was. Apparently, from those who studied such things (like Sarah), there is quite some history to this. There was no revolution, no sudden sweeping away of old freedoms. Instead, the process was gradual, a slow chipping away at human rights and the concept of the individual as the focus in our society. The closest thing we have to a landmark moment is the Resource Franchising agreement, which was the first to refer to the Social Index as explicitly more important than the rights of any one person. I think it was in the 2100s, something like that. Once we were reclassified from ‘individuals’ to ‘social resources’ in society, every last right was gone.

And that’s the way we live now. Without the right to our identity. Without grounding. Social life is a polite, but paper-thin, facade. Everyone is standing back, unwilling to really care about anyone else, and engage in the relationships that I imagine must have been possible before. It’s always in people’s eyes. The first time I remember seeing it, was when my brother, whose face I can no longer remember, was Swapped. The people from HR came and took him. I think he was four, and he was crying a little. I was so angry; why were they here, what the hell were they doing to my brother? Strange, really, I just cannot remember anything about the way he looked now. I looked at my parents, confused at why they were just standing there, letting these two middle-aged men in suits take away my brother. They just looked at me, like all the light was draining from them. My father put his finger to his lips. My mother just shook her head. The message was clear; no, son, this is how it is. Don’t make a fuss, there is nothing you can do. Never.

And that was the way it was. I played along with it, walked the paths they wanted me to, and never made a fuss. I saw someone who did, once. I was ten, I think. Some kid came to school, crying, because his mother was gone. I wondered if she’d died, but then he kept saying stuff about the new one. Quite upsetting, really. He got shut up by a teacher. Simmons, his name was. When the kid said that about the new mother, the teacher went white as a sheet, and then marched up over to him, picked him up, and dragged him out of the classroom. We didn’t see that kid again, but someone else with his name was there the following day. I remember thinking that being Swapped was probably very bad, and that it was probably going to happen to me a couple of times in my life. The best way to minimise this was to keep your head down and stay out of trouble. Play the role they want you to, don’t make any waves. That’s what I did, from then on. I worked hard, got on with everyone as best as I could, tried my hardest to turn into a model citizen. Did the Social index a world of good, no doubt.

The replacement kid turned out to be one of my best friends, for a few years, too.

Given all of this, you may be wondering, how come I ended up breaking into a Copyright agency’s building? I’m a model citizen, aren’t I? Don’t give two shits one way or another, and too scared to do anything about it anyway, even if I did start to care.

I suppose so. Once. But then they made a mistake with me. They gave me some love.

It was just after I’d been Swapped for the first time. I’d been moved out of the town I was in- Newport, a small place in South Wales with nothing going on- to Cardiff, a bustling and busy capital. They took me, gassed me, and I woke up in a comfy-looking room, an apartment in the suburbs. Not bad, I thought. Maybe a few too many incense sticks for my liking, and that dolphin poster on the wall had to go, but otherwise, not bad. I found I could remember a few things about my new identity. I was Adam Young, I worked for a publishing company, and I was supposed to be going out for lunch with a few workmates later on today. It was strange, this layer of information they’d put in my mind. I could feel it settling down, silting over what I had been before. Yesterday seemed a lot longer ago than that. I tried to conjure up images, memories, but they all seemed a little- faded. Drained. Like an artist’s canvas cut from its frame and put through a washing machine, bled dry of colour, but with some kind of faded, crumpled picture still remaining.
I felt confused, I felt sad. I couldn’t remember what my mother’s arms felt like. Not quite. And the stuff I knew now, it was, well, impersonal. I knew things, but they were facts, not memories. I could tell you a potted history of Adam Young, but I couldn’t remember it. Not having been there. It's like reading lines, off someone else’s script.

But then I can remember thinking that this wasn’t going to be too bad, really. This place looked kind of comfortable. I was richer than I’d been before, the previous me. From what I could tell, my job sounded much more interesting, too. I decided to explore this house I lived in now, and got up to get dressed. It was odd, how I just went to the right places, the right drawers. I’d been programmed in with all this knowledge, of how to be Adam Young effectively.

And then, there she was in the kitchen. A flatmate. She looked up at me as I came in, and her eyes registered surprise. Luckily, I had been programmed with the correct things to say, to reassure her. “How was the film last night, Sally?”. That was her name, I knew that already. She had also just gone to see Team 16, a comedy that was just on general release.

“Would you like a coffee? I’m about to make some. I think I bought the one you wanted yesterday”.

“Err.. ok. That’d be good”.

She still looked nervous, but I could see her defences re-assert themselves. This stranger in Adam Young’s clothes knew the things he ought to know. I could still dimly remember doing that, adjusting to a new person there in front of me. She smiled at me, tentatively.

“So how was it?” I asked, again.

“What? Oh, the film. Oh, it was good. Really funny.” She looked down at her feet, still a little uneasy, obviously. I guessed it was down to me to keep conversation rolling.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t go. You know how busy I’ve been”.

At least, so my little mental cribsheet of facts was telling me. I had been working late lots, and this had apparently put pressure on Us. We’d been arguing a lot, and she’d really wanted me to go to the cinema with her, just to spend some time together.

Hang on.



Oh my god, this woman was in love with me. With Adam Young. Or someone.

The next few weeks were really strained; we spent a lot of time treading carefully around each other. As I already knew, her name was Sally, she worked in the same place as me, and for the last three years, we had been living together in blissful late-twenties harmony, sharing business and pleasure. Things had been going through a rocky patch, lately, as work had started to hot up for young Adam. A promotion, with the attendant added helpings of responsibility and cash, was just around the corner. This should, of course, have been just fine; all that hard work paying off, recognition from the Big Suits, all that jazz. Trouble is, that Adam had not been sure that this was what he wanted, not really. He had feared that the extra stresses of this new ascension would mean that his home life would suffer, that he wouldn’t be able to devote the same amount of time to Sally. Not as much as she deserved. Secretly, he’d started to wonder if management’s faith in him hadn’t been misplaced. This indecision had affected his mood. At home, he’d seemed distanced, preoccupied, and it had led to several rows with Sally.
He’d been building up to a decision, to turn this great opportunity down. He felt that to accept it would be nothing less than the death of his home life, and his love. I knew this to be true. Adam’s diaries said so. I guess that the Copyrights held the same view. And so he was whisked away, off to somewhere and something that he could do a better job of. Kind of harsh, I suppose.

So why was I put in his place? I can’t really say. Not for definite. I suppose that I could point to the fact that I’ve always been able to compartmentalize my life, shut off one part from the other. then again, that's something everyone knows how to do, these days. Maybe I’d just kept my head down for long enough, and they reckoned I had earned myself a reward. There’s no way of knowing for sure. It could be something as small as a potential clash of personalities with someone working near me. Something almost impossible to spot. I know, too, that in all the ways that matter, it was random. An act of God, above and beyond all my attempts to figure out or second-guess. This is the rational truth. I know that . Somehow, however, this doesn’t stop me from wondering why. Each day, I have to live with the knowledge that somewhere, on some computer somewhere, there exists some file with the calculated reason why I had to wake up as Adam Young, and he had to wake up as God knows who. The reason why I had to wake up, and fall in love.

As I said, things were awkward at the start. We weren’t allowed to talk about the Swap. That much, everyone knows. I also didn’t know whether or not she would feel anything for me, or I for her. I wondered how much she missed him. Sometimes, in those first weeks, I got the spooky feeling that I was this walking reminder of something that should have been wonderful, but was gone forever. I don’t really know how I made her feel. But then again, we did have space. We weren’t completely in each other’s faces the whole time. Adam and Sally had lived faintly distinct lives. They had been sleeping in different rooms a lot, too. That made things easier. I would have felt a hell of a lot stranger waking up next to her, that first time.
Anyway. You get the idea. It was awkward. But then we got over that. Round about three weeks in, things started to fall into place. What can I say? She was perfect.

All I could ever need. Far more than the woman of my dreams; no-one ever knows what they’re missing, not until it’s there in their life. She had the perfect smile; she scowled at me for biting my nails; I could always see when something was wrong, and when I held her she smiled. She made me laugh at the worst side of myself; she got me out of the bed in the morning, and she chased me back in at night. When we argued it was like two miniature hurricanes beating each other into pieces, and when we made up it was worth that price. I found that as Adam Young, with her by my side, I could live in ways that I never knew existed before. Together, we had something special, something no-one could ever take away.

I was the model employee at work, as well; Adam Young didn’t turn down that promotion, he grabbed it with both hands. I had to, it felt blatantly obvious to me why he’d been Swapped. I had to make a better job of things than him; this was my big chance to Be Someone the previous Adam Young just couldn’t have ever managed to be. So I threw myself into it like never before, and with startling results. I got a reputation as the office whizz-kid, almost to good to be true. Others at my level started to feel the heat. They felt me breathing down their neck, showing them up with my sterling efforts. Everyone around me began to work harder and harder. Probably exactly as Sciattica had wanted it.

Of course, things changed. Why else did I end up a revolutionary?

I had been sure, so sure, that maybe this was the point of the Social Index. I believed that this was how it worked; you worked hard, made sacrifices, and then you found your place. Maybe this happy union of two people was something that they had planned. I was now a job done. I talked with Sally about this, just the once. It was the only time we ever mentioned the Swap. We’d just been out, to see a film, I think, something we had both liked, and discussed intently. I can remember walking home in the crimson summer dusk, and being seized with the most intense overpowering feeling that everything was right, and that now was the time to tell her this. “I know, love, I know”, she had said.

“I feel like this as well. Like things could not have been better. Everything in its right place. We have it perfect, don’t we?”

She looked deep into my eyes as she said this, and I felt like I was on fire. I had always wondered just what this other Adam Young had been like. I wondered if I had been chosen as someone she could love a little, enough to salve the wounds of the first one being taken away. I had felt like a copy, which in many ways I was. A good match, that fulfilled the right criteria for that identity, for being Adam Young. I could see from her eyes, you know the way that sometimes, despite all that bullshit you can just look at someone, and you just know, you know what they’re thinking, it’s not wishful thinking or anything, you know in your heart and your soul that what you can see is the truth. That’s what I saw. That love. It was right. All of it, even the rows.

Another success story for the Social Index, I thought. This is why we all put up with those disappearances, those little alterations. In the name of love. The Copyrights do just want us to be happy. Maybe I’ve been a good boy for long enough. What a besotted idiot I was.

And then, two years later, they Swapped me again. The bastards.

I woke up in a different bed, in a different fucking town. I was now David James, someone else entirely. She was gone, I never knew whether she stayed put, or if they moved her as well. Once, I thought I saw her on a street corner, dressed as a police officer, and I was sure, so sure, that it was her, even through that fog that memories of a past identity become. I didn’t get out and look. I was on a bus, and it drove on for five minutes more before stopping. That was the only time.

What could their reasoning have been? What were they trying to achieve by moving me? Why the fuck do I persist in torturing myself with that question?
I suppose that although I might well have been happier with Sally in my life, and that maybe, hell, just maybe, the benefit was mutual, there was another community, another social circle where my presence would lead to an increased Social Efficiency. Group morale. Maximm utility. Well, all I knew for certain was that it didn’t feel that way to me. It was like a part of me was missing. Sometimes I think, mainly late at night when I’ve been smoking too much, that they probably didn’t figure that I was capable of falling in love. After all, in my first identity, I’d never really developed any serious feelings, towards anyone. Life had been one long stream of emotional distance, up to then. I was quite the model citizen, really. Flexible in my outlook. Ready to adapt. Before her, I didn’t give two shits one way or the other. Not about people. It would be reasonable for them to assume, that it wouldn’t hurt me all that much, her being gone.
Would that make it my fault, then?

I was turning round my life story in my head, thinking over everything that had happened, and it was getting me down. I was wallowing, blatantly. I decided to distract myself by making conversation. “So what will we do in Bristol?” I asked.
“For God’s sake, do you ever think for yourself?” she replied.
This was the kind of abuse I’d come to expect from Sarah. Initially, I had tried to give as good as I got, but she’d just been too good at sarcasm, icy stares, and general verbal bombardment. Eventually, I’d just learned to ignore it. In this instance, I chose to just keep staring on out at the rain, as it hammered down onto the window. Outside, a signpost flashed past.

“What we will do, is make contact with another resistance movement. Offer up our services. Our experience can still be useful in the struggle.”

I thought about this for a second. “Hang on, given the extreme secrecy that any resistance agency has to employ in order to survive, won’t they be a little hard to find?”

“What?” Sarah grunted back.

“Well, look at it this way, miss genius, we won’t be able to just walk into a high street resistance center. You should know that. What’s more, even if we do find anyone out there, they might not accept us. Our security had to be absolutely anal in order to keep things away from Sciattica’s prying eyes. We were turning perfectly good recruits away by the end. Too scared of being infiltrated. That was something that I believe you pestered us into. And look at us, we still got sold out somehow.”

“And your point is?” ah, there it was, that note in her voice that meant I was winning the argument, lazy boy Simon had a point that she couldn’t just bat aside.

“The point is, idiot, that any other resistance movement is going to be equally paranoid.”
Even more so than ours, if they’re actually any good, I thought, but I didn’t say it. After all, she was the one driving the car.

“Then we’ll start from scratch again. Disappear like we did before, set up a base, and start monitoring. Maybe Dunetech will be different, less tough than Sciattica. Simon, it only takes one victory for us, just one, to set the whole ball rolling. The whole house of cards will just come crashing down!”

“you know, for someone so supposedly intelligent, you don’t half talk a load of idealistic nonsense”.

I was just sniping at her now, no good reason for it. I’d overstepped the mark, as well. She let out an exasperated shriek, and then pulled off sharply into a lay-by.

“Get out”, she yelled. A little histrionic, I thought. Fair play, though, I really shouldn’t have just said that. Not right now. I held my hands up in an attempt to calm her down.
“Look, I’m sorry. That was over the top. But you’ve made your point now. I’m sorry, I really am.”
I smiled at her, hoping she’d find me incorrigable, or something. That I’d win her over. Unfortunately, however, my incorrigible charm didn’t seem to be working that day.
“You are such a such a wanker sometimes.” She hissed, so beside herself I felt for a second that getting out of the car was my best option. Only a second, though. I decided against just trying to stare her down, and tried what I could to salvage things.

I was still apologizing when the cops found us.