Common Era, 2025, Newton Abbot, Devon.
“There you go,” said Whyte, laying a cup of coffee in a plastic cup and a plate of food next to Reignbow.
“You gave us all quite a shock with that funny turn. Perhaps you’re just hungry.”
Reignbow looked pale and drawn.
“What is it?” he asked feebly.
“It’s sushi of course! Fresh from the South China seas.”
“It’s always bloody sushi!” said Reignbow, picking at the thick plastic packaging that enveloped it.
“Don’t they have any chicken in the vending machine?” he asked hopefully.
“Discontinued,” said Whyte. “After they used up that last batch of chlorinated stuff from America, it was banned.
Chairman Blair says it’s not good for us and sushi is better. Fresh from the South China Sea,” he repeated
“Yes I know all that, I’ve seen it on the BBC too you know.”
The Community Peace Facilitator’s canteen is rather uninviting, he thought, as he put his feet up on a box of long life milk and looked up to the ceiling.
It was once painted white, but was now stained by a leaky roof.
Harsh squares of strip lights blinked at him.
The bulbs were always blowing due to the regular power surges and power cuts. And longer power cuts always seemed to coincide with endless trade talks and power was restored once they were concluded.
It seemed odd to Reignbow, but he had always dismissed the thought that there might be a connection.
A portrait of the popular Minister for Culture, Lineker, hung above the telescreen. Its immaculate smile beamed back at him and it’s eyes seemed to follow his movements.
“Sorry mate, no knives or forks,” said Whyte, looking to the back of a drawer. “How about a spoon?” he said hopefully.
“There’s a new box of plastic chopsticks under the table, I think,” said Reignbow. “Loads of ‘em arrived last week, after the Ministry of Culture said they were healthier for us. The garage is full of ‘em. Recycled from old toilet seats, apparently. There was a huge surplus after someone in the ministry added an extra nought on the order from China. Got a promotion on the back of it too, I heard.
The daily self-briefing from the telescreen was mandatory. Each cycle took thirty minutes so Reignbow preferred to watch it whilst eating his lunch. He scanned the barcode reader on the arm of his chair with the tattoo on the inside of his wrist and the screen blinked to life.
“Don’t forget to scan mate, or else you’ll have to watch it twice,” he said to Whyte as he sank into the grubby armchair beside him.
A patch of some sticky but unidentifiable spillage covered the scanner and he rubbed it with his cuff until he heard the confirmatory beep that told him he was signed in.
“Play!” said Reignbow, watching the screen as it immediately began the broadcast.
“It’s the only bleddy thing that seems to work properly around here,” said Whyte with a wink.
It began with the usual address from Chairman Blair, his face covered by a black mask.
“Looks better with a mask on, don’t you think?” quipped Whyte. “There’s no mistaking those eyebrows though.”
The voice was deliberately slow and sincere, but it never said anything of importance; just the latest slogans that seemed to seep into your bones.
It was the second half you needed to listen to, in case there were any new directives that must be implemented and followed.
After a while the droning stopped and the familiar music came on for ‘news of the day’, always given by Minister Lineker.
“Did you know,” said Whyte, this used to be the music to ‘match of the day’. The covid put an end to all that capitalist football nonsense and the crowds stopped coming. After that, they just couldn’t afford to go. At least, not the workers.
“No, I didn’t,” said Reignbow. “That’s not quite how I heard it.”
As the music finished, a beaming Minister Lineker came onto the screen. He never wore a mask but flashed his familiar immaculate smile.
“Welcome citizens of Europe! Citizens of our global peace,” he began.
“Now, some news for you today that will set pulses racing…
Chairman Blair will be leaving London for the first time in three years to visit the countryside. This is all part of his new, ‘fit citizens’ campaign and he will be visiting the beautiful coastal and moorland county of Devon and the old market town of Newton Abbot, to see just how much has changed for the better since he came to power.”
Reignbow spat out a large piece of Sushi, which landed in the middle of the telescreen and joined Linekers immaculately groomed eyebrows to comic effect.
“Blooming’eck! Number one uniforms for us Whytey.”
The telescreen was then interrupted by a call from Head office at Exeter.
“Pause,” said Reignbow to the Telescreen as he answered his Huawei device.
“Yes ma’am….Yes ma’am….Yes ma’am,” went Reignbow’s end of the conversation before the caller cut off abruptly.
“Head office at Exeter,” said Whyte. “They want everything ship-shape for the big visit. That includes a roundup of any undesirables. ‘No cock-up’s’ were the precise words she used.
“She’s not joking neither, if I heard it right,” sniggered Whyte.
“Shut up!”, snapped Reignbow. “You’ll get us both in trouble again.
It was bad enough last time you had a little joke about the superintendent’s micro-pens. Earned the both of us a mandatory 6-week diversity and unconscious bias course. And all I did was laugh.”
“C’mon mate,” said Whyte, “you know it was worth it,” he said with a big grin, whilst raising his eyebrows up and down and waggling a piece of sushi.
“How was I to know? And, I didn’t know that HQ had mixed bogs.”
“If I have to spend another minute writing my ‘personal reflections on genderqueer micro-aggressions in the public sector,’ it’ll be a minute too soon.”
They looked at one another and burst into laughter.
“It appears we’ve got to round up all the fit people in Newton Abbot to perform exercises in the main plaza,” said Reignbow, now thoughtfully stroking his smooth chin.
“Has our glorious leader ever been to Newton Abbot? It’ll be like finding a chopstick in the ocean! Actually scrub that remark- it’s bleddy full of em, and face masks; like a swarm of jellyfish they are.”
“What, fit people in Newton Abbot? said Reignbow, still preoccupied.
“No, I mean they’re rare as hens teeth.”
“Eeewwww! Is that the crunchy bit I had in my chlorinated chicken at home last week? Teeth?
“No they don’t have teeth, idiot, that’s the point.”
Continuing the daily briefing they learned that the visit was to take place on the anniversary of the ‘Great 2021 Reset’ in just one week’s time.
The other news items had been of little consequence:
Something about a new trade deal to secure water supplies for another year, a reminder for all key workers and under fifties to get their vaccines in preparation for the new covid release, (Reignbow and Whyte had already made sure to get theirs) and a frivolous piece about the latest ergonomic Nike worker’s uniforms that checked your BMI stats, and linked to the Pan-European health service super-computer.
“You’re still looking a bit peaky, mate,” said Whyte as ‘the news of the day’ music ended the bulletin.
“Let’s call it a day; early start tomorrow and we’ve got some serious work to do before the visit,”
To be continued….