Saturday, 29 September 2007

The MET Are All For This

By Steve Aylett.

As Menwith Usansa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic bug. The body was a ball of aerials from which his face peaked as though from the battlements of his own enemy. These beeping bayonets moved sluggishly, re-orienting like the spines of a sea urchin, guided by geosynchronous LANDSAT satellites. Foetally folded in protection of what he yet considered his harmless innards, Usansa itched – a tarnished crust of infinity receivers coated his skin. He had a discreet pinhole camcorder embedded in his forehead and a quartz-controlled ultra-high frequency transmitter up each nostril. The right managed four standard audio channels and monitored room conversation in real time; the left incorporated an inbuilt audio tape storage system and was designed to monitor telephone dialogue for retrieval at high speed. Both were coupled to the public telecommunications network and were activated by dual tone multiple frequency signalling.

All this had happened while he slept. It was as if the wire-eyes in the walls had flocked to him like filings to a magnet. Why remain concealed from one in so defenceless a position? This self-fulfilling mockery denied him protection.

What has happened to me? he thought. What to do now? Was there a procedure?

He scanned the window, where the overcast sky – raindrops beating on the window gutter – made him quite melancholy. He looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It was half past eight o’clock and the hands were quietly moving on! The next train for the office was at nine – to catch that he would have to hurry. His antennae clashed together as an American-owned Vortex satellite passed silently, miles overhead.

There came a cautious tap at the door. “Menwith,” said a voice (it was his mother’s), “it’s half past eight. Hadn’t you a train to catch?”

Usansa had a shock as he heard his own voice answering – unmistakeably his own voice, but with a persistent electronic enhancement behind it like an undertone, so that he could not be sure who had heard him. “Yes, yes, thank you, mother, I’m getting up now.” His mother began to shuffle away. “Just getting ready.” However, he was not thinking of opening the door, and felt thankful of his habit of locking his door at night, though it had aroused suspicion in the neighbourhood. His immediate intention was to get up quietly without being disturbed, to put on his clothes and eat his breakfast, and only then consider what could be done. He remembered that often he had awoken from oppressive dreams with an aftertaste of fear and persecution, which had proved purely imaginary when he got up, and he looked forward eagerly to seeing this morning’s delusions gradually fall away. With an effort of beleaguered willpower, he flexed the stiff stalk-field of his aerials, pushing himself across the mattress. Rolling like a theatrical asteroid, he crashed to the floor with a sound which resembled the overturning of a trashcan. He had probably caused anxiety, if not terror, behind the door.

Menwith rolled slowly toward his mobile, thinking to call the office and explain that he would be late, but found that the old A5 digital scrambler had been somehow switched to the less secure A5X. Would it matter what he said now? he thought. Nothing could escape detection – if someone is spying on me, he thought, I must have some explaining to do. Perhaps he had discussed the possibility of doing something wrong, or harboured an opinion of something done already. Could ECHELON sift thoughts? “Menwith!” his mother shouted. “What have you done? Someone’s here to see you.”

That’s someone from the office, he thought, going rigid. He tried to suppose that this sort of thing could have happened to anyone. Perhaps there existed the possibility of a mistake in such a matter – but the bug stuck.

“Menwith, a police constable is here!”

Usansa’s transmitters ticked nervously, his aerials clattering together. I should have expected this, he muttered to himself – he didn’t care to make his voice loud enough for anyone to hear. Behind the door, his mother began to sob.

Then the door opened and a man entered, slipping a small tension wrench into a pocket. Behind him, Usansa’s mother stood gaping – he was, after all, a chrome cacti of transmitters, the fading personality at its centre like a palmsqueeze wad of playdough – then she let out a shriek.

“Menwith! How could you?” And she rushed away, leaving Usansa with the officer.

And before this presence Usansa was drained completely of courage. He’d become a convolute contraption of magical guilt and timorous enquiry.

“You’ve made it worse for yourself, Ukusa,” said the man, approaching Usansa. He leant over and gripped one of the aerials, which was crooked, and bent it until it had attained a semblance of the true.

Usansa was too afraid to correct the officer’s mistake. “Am I allowed to have them removed?” “Removed from what?” said the man, and pointed a finger. “Do you consider there’s some dark corner in this body?”

And propelled by the demand, Usansa clicked through Boxer into the Harvest and Supercray computers at Silkworth. Running through the system, he found himself barred from the Ultrapure, Velodrome, Totaliser, Moonpenny, Voicecast, Carnivore, Trojan, Transcriber, Trackwalker, Silverweed, Pusher, Ruckus, Herdsman, Watson, WatCall, Holmes and Troutman programs. Even Vortex, Chalet and Magnum satellite data was closed to him. It was a one-way deal.

“Teflon polymer-coated sensory probes the size of a sandgrain interacting with your neural response patterns,” said the man. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.”

“Then why do I feel so embattled?” wondered Usansa.

But time passed, and he became the norm under panning lenses. His resentment twinkled like a far star in a streetlit sky, dwindling. He was at one with Edgewell, Rudloe, Canberra, Bude, Chicksands, Cheltenham, Peasemore, Molesworth, Feltwell and the switching station at Oswestry. And as signals busied and the law’s devices twisted on, at the dimmest inner heart of the trash star, his last flicker of consciousness went out.


Anonymous said...

Where's this from?

Jow Lindsay said...

I don't know man, online somewhere, google it. You and me should organise a reading for Ben Watson & Steve Aylett because they look exactly the same, it'd be funny.