Reignbow woke at 6am to the bark of a neighbour’s dog.
The neighbour, he had discovered, worked nights in the Torbay-American medical facility and always let it out before going to bed. It was just as well this morning, as he had to be at work for seven and his Huawei phone alarm was on the blink again.
He had contacted the call centre in India on several occasions, but each time he finally got through to what they told him was the right department, they cut-off the call and he had to start all over again. He had given up in frustration, despite his knowledge that was the intended result.
Things that once worked, now did not but it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Change had happened rapidly in Reignbow’s lifetime, but progress was always slow, even questionable, he thought; certainly not all that was promised.
He jumped in the shower and clapped his hands to start a feeble and spluttering trickle of water. He worked quickly in a set routine to wash his whole body; first hair then face and neck, upper body, crown jewels, then down to his feet, before it cut out after the maximum permitted minute.
He jumped out and reached for a towel, catching sight of his side profile in the tatty mirror.
If “I get any fatter,” he said to himself, “I’ll never get the soap off in time.”
The Ministry of Weather regularly predicted terrible water shortages ‘in the next few years’ and as a consequence, it had become a scarce and expensive commodity- nearly as much as the Unilever factor 100 sun-cream he had been prescribed to protect his fair skin from an ever more dangerous sun.
As he moved into the small kitchenette, the telescreen sensed his movement and came to life.
“And now the daily forecast, brought to you by the weather ministry in partnership with the Met Office.“ said the unmistakable and familiar voice of Lineker.
“You never get it right though”, he shouted at the deaf screen. “And changing your weather picture half-way through the day isn’t a forecast, it’s called looking out of the window!”
It was going to be sunny today with a possibility of cloud or some rain, and perhaps some wind later, said the smiling and confident presenter. And there would be a heatwave in two weeks time, to coincide with the big visit. He had secretly hoped for monsoon like rains to put off the circus of TV cameras he knew would accompany the visit of Chairman Blair but it was one forecast he believed: Sod’s law.
Reignbow didn’t trust the media. It seemed to put an unrealistic gloss on everything and had long given up reporting any real news. As a Peace Officer, he knew what happened in real life and he knew that the news never reflected that reality. He knew people and their motives too well.
He dried himself quickly and pulled on his uniform overalls after sniffing under one armpit.
“At least another week out of that one,” he said, satisfied that he was doing his bit for the planet.
Breakfast was a hurried bowl of his favourite ‘sugar babies’ and milk substitute. That’s what he called them. He didn’t understand the Chinese writing but liked the bright cartoon picture on the box. And they were cheap so he could spend his government issued ration coupons on other little luxuries.
Soon he jumped onto his electric bicycle, put it on full power so he didn’t have to pedal and arrived at the office to find Whyte already there with a two steaming plastic cups of tea out of the vending machine.
“You’re looking a bit better today, mate,” said Whyte.”Here – a nice cuppa to get us going.”
“Any biscuits?” asked Reignbow hopefully.
“Sorry, mate. They ran out, and with this new ‘eat fit, live fit, clothes fit’ campaign, they’re keeping all stocks at HQ. Stores are for storing you know.
Did you know that for every biscuit you eat, some poor child in China has to work overtime to increase the size of the nation’s overalls.”
Reignbow waved his wrist over the computer to log-in and scrolled quickly through the daily crime report.
“I don’t bleddy believe it,” said Reignbow. “The workers down at the chlorinated chicken factory have got wind of the visit of our glorious leader and they want to hold a protest.”
“I thought chlorinated chicken was banned?” said Whyte.”And protest for that matter.”
“For us not them. But that’s not the point. It’s a world of grief for us if we don’t squash it.
Get hold of behavioural science at HQ will you and see what they suggest. It’s going to be hot and we don’t want to stir up a hornets nest.”
Whyte went away to make the call and came back five minutes later with a silly grin on his face.
“Well, what did the ‘experts’ have to say?” said Reignbow, with exaggerated mockery.
“They said to speak to the protesters and see what they want not to protest. I’m authorised to go up to twenty tubs of Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream or 10 social credits each. The TV cameras will be there and they don’t want dissent of any sort.
“Any particular flavour?” asked Reignbow thoughtfully. “I like the one with honeycomb chips in it.
We’ve still got to round up some people to perform exercises for Chairman Blair under the statue. Maybe we could kill two birds?”
“Or two chlorinated chickens,” quipped Whyte, with a cheesy grin.
“That’s the other thing; apparently they want the statue covered so it can be unveiled.”
“It’s already been unveiled. We had a ceremony, remember?”
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” said Whyte with his hands up, “I’m just telling you what they told me.”
“Anyway,” said Reignbow. “That’s a job for the council works division. Get hold of them will you and tell them to do it.”
“They only work Tuesday to Thursday these days so, I’ll send them an e-message and follow it up later in the week.”
Half-an-hour later Reignbow and Whyte arrived at the chicken chlorination plant. The electric car had failed to charge due to another power cut so they had come by electric bicycle.
There was no one in reception, so Whyte knocked on a frosted window behind which he could see some movement.
The door burst open and the doorway was half-filled by a man of diminutive stature and East Asian appearance.
He was holding a meat cleaver and wore a blood spattered apron.
Reignbow recoiled in horror then remembered where he was.
“Take me to your leader,” he said, mouthing the words in an exaggerated fashion.
The worker waved the bloody cleaver in the direction of a long corridor and Reignbow and Whyte both flinched at the sudden movement.
“There was no expression on his face, don’t you think?” said Reignbow.”
“I dunno, he was wearing a face mask,” said Whyte, “ but his eyes did look kind of dead and cold.”
Knocking on the door that was labelled ‘Managers Office’, it was answered by a stocky and fierce looking person of indeterminate sex.
Reignbow coughed, “hello sir, peace officer’s Reignbow and Whyte. We’ve come to talk to you about the visit of Chairman Blair.”
“It’s madam, and what’s that got to do with chicken?” said the gruff voice in reply.”
Reignbow reddened and Whyte raised a playful eyebrow in his direction.
“Oh sorry my love,” he said, “we’ve been told that there’s to be a protest by the workers and we’ve come to.. err, facilitate negotiations.”
“Well you won’t get anything out of that lot”, said the manager. “They don’t speak English and they’re too busy cutting up chickens. They don’t much like the police for that matter”, she added with a scowl.
“Okay sir. Thank you for your time,” said Reignbow nervously. We’ll get it typed up and translated and send you the details. Perhaps you could give it to all your staff.”
With that he pushed Whyte out of the little office and followed him back along the corridor.
The man with the cleaver was still in the doorway of the factory floor and seemed to be smiling behind his mask. Reignbow couldn’t quite tell.
“I think she liked you,” said Whyte with a wink when they were outside again.
Reignbow was concerned. They didn’t look like the sort of people who could be bargained with.
“That place gave me the creeps,” he said.
Reignbow vaguely remembered that before the Great Reset of twenty-one, there had been many protests. Some had been ‘good’ protests and others had been ‘bad’.
Now, he was told that there was no need for any kind of protest at all and so neither good nor bad protests were permitted by law. If negotiation or bribery failed to cancel a protest, then it was simply banned under the new health laws. And state reporting restrictions ensured that there were no protests, as far as most people were aware.
He had also been in the job long enough to know that since the police force had become the peace service, and their numbers cut according to the reported drop in overall crime, that the country he once knew had become a good deal more violent.
And since they no longer had the numbers to investigate crime or confront the violence, It was much safer to appease any troublemakers and leave them well alone.
Keeping the peace had come to mean appeasement.