The Unilever Series: Dominique Gonzales Foerster - TH.2058


Cremation dust

By Derek Bates

Anton turned the pages of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Jacob’s Room’.The pages crackled in the dry heat of his living quarters. The book, one of many 20th Century novels he had read, was so fixed in his mind, because of the compulsory memory enhancing drugs he took that he had only to look at the first word to remember what was written on each page. Nevertheless, he always found handling pages of print much more satisfying than books introduced in the last twenty years, written by a software program to be read with the ‘Injectsophy’ system

An ironic smile played around his lips as it struck him that reading paper books as he did was not much slower than reading with Injectsophy.

As he put the book back on the shelves his hand knocked against the transceivers of the tiny Injectsophy machine. It dropped onto the gold coloured, heated titanium nitride coated steel floor. He picked it up and put it back beside the many old books in his collection – looking shabby from more than a century of handling by his family all now dead – the cremation dust of their bodies scattered into space along with the dust from many others who had expressed dissatisfaction at the way they saw their lives being governed.

Just occasionally when he was allowed an out day, he would take the levitplane and visit the grave of his grandfather.

He would sit on the grass beside the carved stone sarcophagus and tune his mind to the philosophical thoughts of his grandfather. The grave stood on a small grassy knoll, surrounded by a high wall on the other side of which living quarters had been built almost up to the wall and towering above it. He had an article which had been taken from a newspaper relating the uproar there had been when the graveyard in Putney had been cleared of all bodies to make way for the living quarters of the large immigrant community who had left their own drought stricken countries to come to Britain to take advantage of the plentiful rain water.

His grandfather had been so well known and loved that the violence which erupted when the graveyard clearance was announced, forced the Elders to declare the knoll a memorial to his grandfather in perpetuity.

Protests from families whose relatives were being torn from the earth and their bodies burned were muted in comparison with the mass uprising against the planned destruction of his grandfather’s grave. The securivisors were easily able to suppress these small protests with the recently introduced more powerful Tazer guns which could render an aggressor unconscious for a day or longer. At that time securivisors were chosen for their violent nature but sometimes they displayed sympathy for the protesters. The Putney riots had worried the Elders and they started a decade of brain research which resulted in virtually complete control of the securivisors brains. If any unrest began, radio signals were automatically transmitted from satellites, triggering injected nano particles to produce the enzyme, ‘monoamine oxidiseA’ causing aggressive violence in the securivisors. Any human feelings possessed by them would be blotted out so that they would maim and kill any protesters without discrimination or regret.

Because of this and better surveillance, made possible by sensors permanently fitted in the skulls of every member of the community, except the Elders, it was almost a decade since the last serious publicised crime had been committed. Initially sensors were fitted after the age of ten but, when crimes were found to have been committed by the young, the age had been reduced to five.

Although Anton’s parents had been genetically assessed before they were allowed to marry and he had been analysed at birth, it had been discovered on random checking when he was in his late twenties that he had developed a genetic defect and had therefore been sterilised so that he could not procreate. He was still permitted to meet female members of the community but only those who had also been sterilised. He retained the mechanical ability for sexual intercourse but the knowledge that he could never produce children had destroyed any pleasure and made him impotent. Before his genetic makeup had been re-assessed, he had been allowed females at approved meeting sites and had had several partners from a group with whom the Elders thought he would be compatible.

The best designers had been employed to make the meeting sites both attractive and hygienic but the knowledge that meetings were recorded meant topics and activities were inhibited. This suited the Elders who saw the necessity to reduce the population drastically.

He envied his grandfather, who lived when it was possible to choose whatever female one found attractive. Several photograph albums mainly of his girlfriends and his two wives still existed. He had also written a number of semi-autobiographical novels about the affairs he had had. These found a large market at a time when pornography was allowed. Anton kept them and the photograph albums in a concealed compartment in the wall behind his bookshelves where securivisors would not see them on their unannounced visits. There was a worrying possibility that they would read his thoughts so he had developed what he called ‘blanketing’ a method of thinking only ‘pure’ thoughts of love for the Elders. He knew the securivisors were able to detect what he was thinking because he would notice them looking quizzically at him and at each other in disbelief that here was a man so brain conditioned that he really did think that he loved the Elders.

When they left, he would take a bath to wash away the DNA which would have settled on him from their breath. While the bath was running, he would stare admiringly at his image in the mirror. He had not been born beautiful so from an early age, his features had been remodelled.What had been a pudgy nose and flabby cheeks had been cut away. His parents had elected that he should have the features of the 20th century actor Cary Grant. At intervals throughout his early life and into adulthood, further modelling had been performed. He looked at the photograph of the actor which he kept beside the bathroom mirror and saw that he could pass as his double. The difference was that the weekly diffusion of hyaluronic acid to soften the subcutaneous layers of his skin, coupled with daily use of a moisturiser meant that he would never develop the craggy features which the actor had in later life.

His grandfather’s writings on philosophy were still available but only in the expurgated form which the Elders permitted. In the concealed cabinet, Anton had the originals all of which he remembered. The society that his grandfather had predicted from the trends which became apparent to him around the end of the 20th Century had all eventuated. Obviously he had been unable to foresee the extent to which electronics would be developed but in most other respects he was remarkably accurate.

He saw that the growth of terrorism provided an excuse for ever increasing surveillance. Even towards the end of his life in the year 2000 (he just reached the age of 100) he was appalled at loss of privacy. Every mobile phone conversation and text was available for examination by the authorities as was every email and every web search. Closed circuit television watched everyone’s movements in the streets and shops and could detect suspicious movements. It was all justified in the name of security of the nation, of society and of the individual but as Anton’s grandfather had said ‘does this not destroy the very thing it sets out to preserve – freedom’.

Anton thought about this paradox whenever he sat beside his grandfather’s grave or read his works as he sat in his air conditioned, virus free living quarters. He became depressed when he thought that the face the surgeons had given him, however beautiful, could never reward him with real success with a woman. The thought passed through his mind. ‘Is it not better to be an imperfect person, to make one’s own mistakes, to get drunk, to be promiscuous, face the risk of being mugged, burgled or violated. Would it not be more exciting than being in a sterile living quarter where all needs are supplied, where reading a book meant plugging in a transceiver and taking the memory enhancing drugs in order to remember every word’. It was at such times that he thought what Albert Camus had said in his Myth of Sisyphus “there is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide” In the concealed compartment behind his bookshelf, Anton kept an extract he had made from the belladonna plants he found on waste ground. One dose would be enough to give him oblivion.

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