The dusty shop is small, almost empty, and in need of repair and resupply. Peeling paint and dust is in abundance. The burly shopkeeper is reading a day-old paper and smoking a cigarette. He regards me warily over the headline. “What do you want, comrade?”
“Cigarettes,” I say hastily. “I want cigarettes.” Having never smoked before, I don’t know if I like cigarettes, but I feel that I must ask for something.
The shopkeeper pulls a slim box from under the counter. “Cigarettes are a luxury, comrade. They are bad for your health.” He puts the pack on the wooden counter but doesn’t lift his hand. “Do you have the appropriate Privilege?”
I remember this from the brief and pull a wad of papers from my dirty jacket. His eyes widen – with greed or pleasure, I cannot tell – and I extract a single note from the tied bundle. “Is this sufficient?”
The ‘keeper examines the note with blatant suspicion; such a shabbily-clothed person wouldn’t normally be in possession of such a thing. “This is too much for cigarettes,” he says at last, satisfied with the validity of the slip, and gives me a smaller note in return together with the cigarettes. I nod in thanks and leave the pokey shop.
It is a drab grey day. The pavement is made of cracked slabs and withered weeds that grow valiantly wherever possible. Rubbish bags and leaves whip down the road caught in the cold winter breeze. Several hungry grubby children play on a patch of ground on the other side of the empty road. I look at the rectangular slip in my hand; it is a smaller version of the note I gave to the shopkeeper. It is a mini art of work, exquisitely-designed and filled with symbolic imagery on both sides. There is some numbers on the corners and edges but I have no idea what they mean. In bold letters is the phrase I promise, and nothing more. This note is enough to give me permission to ride a bus or buy a snack from a restaurant, but it doesn’t matter; I have bigger Privileges in my pocket. I let the slip fall from my hand and it flutters in the direction of the kids. I put one of the cigarettes to my lips and stop a passing man for a flame. He taps his own lips in response so I give him a cigarette and we light them from the same flame. He nods and walks on; it amazes me how quickly a bond can be made between two people, if only for a fleeting moment. I inhale. The smoke constricts my lungs and I cough. I feel dizzy for a moment but it soon passes. Interesting. I drop the cigarette on the floor; such things can wait for now. The Privilege slip I dropped has reached the children and they have started to scuffle over it, their previous friendships forgotten in the name of quick personal gain. The largest child snatches the slip from another and begins to beat him in the head with a metal bar. It is bloody. I watch with morbid curiosity, as do the other children. Finally the victor drops the pole and the children gradually return to their play a little way from the unmoving loser. Did the possession of Privileges trump everything, including life? An idea strikes me. I turn and re-enter the shop.
“Why have you returned, comrade?” The shopkeeper says as he continues reading his paper.
“I want to hurt you,” I reply.
Without looking at me, the shopkeeper brings out a firearm and slams it on the counter. “You are welcome to try.” It is a threat and a promise and, from his relaxed demeanour, isn’t the first time he had responded to violence. This does not surprise me considering the dilapidation and immorality of this place. However, it is the first time I have faced the possibility of being shot, so I pull out the wad of slips again and put them onto the counter as slowly as possible. The ‘keeper watches the passage of the notes, mesmerised by it. I have a feeling that my idea about the power of these Privilege slips is true, but I must prove it without doubt.
“I want to hurt you,” I repeat.
He glances between the wad and me, probably trying to work out how much damage I can cause him. “Close the door. Make it quick.” He puts the gun away.
I push the door together with a click and then haul the surprised shopkeeper across the counter. I unleash what little rage I have against him, forcing myself to be angry against this man whom I have absolutely no feelings towards. I drop him with a devastating uppercut, stamp on his head thrice, and then toss him into the shop racking. He yells in pain but I pay no heed; I’m entitled to do this to him thanks to the Privilege slips. He raises his hands to protect himself as I approach but they cannot defend against a few powerful kicks. I beat him for another minute or so until he is laying face-down on the floor in a pool of blood. He is not dead – I’m careful to stop the beating before he is mortality wounded – but it is necessary to take him to the very brink of death. I lean over the counter and take his gun. I’m aware that this next step may prove to be a fatal mistake, but I must do it. The shopkeeper raises his head a little as I squat next to him, his eyes fearful. I point the revolver at his cracked and bleeding head; it is a fine specimen of the craft. Funny; even in such squalor, guns are generally expensive and well-kept. I check that the chambers are loaded, cock the hammer, and then put the gun into the palm of the battered man. “Your weapon,” I say.
The man stares at the gun in his hand – maybe I’ve beaten him too senseless – but he struggles to a sitting position and, thankfully, puts the gun on the floor. “Leave me comrade,” he whispers, glancing at the thick pile of Privileges still on the shop counter. I nod and leave the shop, careful to lock the door behind me so the man can recuperate in peace. I cannot help but feel satisfied despite my aching hands. After I had seriously harmed the man, he did not retaliate – even after I armed him – simply because I showed him the appropriate Privilege. I have uncovered something of great importance.
I return to my tiny dilapidated flat and replenish my pockets with more of the Privilege slips, then venture back out. Now that it is evening, a lot of youths are walking the streets swathed in large jackets and hats with a curled ridge to them. They scowl at everyone that passes, as if looking for a fight. I cannot blame them. I would be angry too if I lived here. Eventually I see a sign in glowing lights that says “BAR”. This would be a place where the local denizens gather to consume alcohol and, in their parlance, “chill out”.
It is a place of threadbare comfort; warm, inviting, but in a state of slow dilapidation. Bunches of exposed wires run the walls, covered with generations of gloss paint which renders them all-but invisible to the casual observer. There are TV screens displaying sports games, and pool tables surrounded by groups of boys. There is a flashing monolithic gambling machine against one wall and a jukebox against another. Running the entire room is a long wooden bar that separates the bar tender and his multitude of colourful drinks from the customers. I seat myself on a plush stool at the bar and signal the bartender.
“I would like a beer,” I say.
The bartender glances away from the nearest TV . “Any particular one?”
He rolls his eyes for some reason, grabs a glass and pours a pint of beer. “Privilege?” he asks as he places the beer in front of me. I give him one of the larger notes and the bartender pales. “This is… this is too much, my friend,” he gasps. “Are you sure you wish to exchange a beer for one of these slips?”
“Well, give me as much beer as you feel the note permits.”
The bartender laughs. “You would not be able to drink that much in several lifetimes! Still,” he turns around and pulls a bottle out of a cupboard behind him, “if you are serious about using this note, then you will get whatever drinks you like all night. I will also give you this.” It is a rare cognac according to the faded label. “Happy?”
I nod and the bartender squirrels the note into a leather purse with a slight smile. I sup the beer. It isn’t as malty as I imagined beer to be, but is palatable. The bartender resumes his TV watching, albeit a little closer to me. I survey the room slowly as I take another mouthful of beer. The youths talk loudly as they knock the balls around the table, mostly crude references to mating. An old suited man is staring down into his glass, unmoving and, if not for his battered plastic trainers, would have passed for a lecturer or teacher.
The only person of note is sitting at the bar no less than five metres; a bright young woman in a white blouse and grey skirt. She has her beautiful legs crossed and is handling a small wine glass as she reads a bible. She is very pretty, but she seems quite out-of-place in this dilapidated bar. I am intrigued and so decide to make contact.
“Hello,” I say. She either doesn’t hear me or is ignoring me, so I try again. “Hello there.” She shifts away slightly from my direction without looking up. There is a stool between us so I pick up my drink and relocate next to her. “Excuse me,” I say. She looks up at last with a look of exasperation.
“What do you want?”
“I want to know your name.”
She points to a golden ring on her left hand. “Don’t bother. I am married.” She returns to her bible and I slink back to my place at the bar. The bar tender is smiling to himself, obviously amused by this hard rejection. I do not feel rejection though; rather, I am intrigued by this obviously married woman sitting alone in a bar reading a religious tome. She is married and so she does not want any contact with other men, or at least random men. The ring on her finger is an obligation to her husband, and her reaction to me indicates that she views that commitment, probably reinforced by her religious beliefs, extremely seriously.
I take my beer back to the spot next to the woman; she gives me a side-glance and then sighs. “Didn’t I make myself clear? Go away, I am not interested.”
“Tell me your name.”
I put a Privilege on the bar next to her wine glass. “Tell me your name.”
She hesitates, then accepts the note with a shrug and puts it into a small clutch bag hanging around her waist. “My name is Barbara,” she says and extends her hand; I take it.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m waiting for my husband,” she says with a smile. “He finishes work in an hour.”
“You love your husband?”
“Do you practise your religion?”
“Absolutely. In fact, that’s how me and my husband first met.” I can sense that she is proud of this fact.
“You would never cheat on him?” I ask.
She glowers at me. “No I would not. What a question to ask!” She grabs her book and starts to read it but I touch her hand. I am going to see how far these Privilege slips will take me.
“I want to have sex with you,” I whisper loud enough for her ears only.
Barbara’s mouth drops in shock; my Privilege has been exceeded by my blatant advance. “I think you’ve had enough to drink,” she splutters, “so please go away this instant!”
I put a Privilege slip on the bar. “I want to have sex with you,” I repeat, loud this time.
“That is not going to change anything,” she says. I put another one down. “No,” she says but it is less forceful. I place a third down; the married woman is silent. I add a fourth. Eventually, she grabs the notes, downs the rest of her wine, and walks off. “Come with me,” she says, and I follow her, but not before I give the bemused bartender a wink. I also notice that she has left her bible on the bar.
Barbara leads me into an orange-lit alleyway filled with trashcans and rubbish. There is no-one in sight. Facing away from me, she wriggles her panties down and raises her grey skirt up, revealing a round pair of pale buttocks. “Please be gentle,” she says and leans against the far wall. I’m instantly aroused and, within seconds, am inside of her. Her ass cheeks slap against my stomach as I thrust into her. I’m surprised by the pleasure I am obtaining from this sexual encounter, but I wish we were in more comfortable surroundings.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask the back of her head.
“You gave me Privilege,” she pants.
“What about your husband?”
She moans a little and bends down further, allowing me to go deeper. “My husband will benefit,” she says at last, “from the Privilege slips.”
“Are Privileges the only thing you care about? ” She doesn’t answer me, but I know the answer; she’s having sex with a stranger simply because I showed her an enormous about of Privilege. I decide to test her to the very limit. “Barbara,” I whisper into her ear, “I want to have sex with your ass.”
I thrust a Privilege slip in front of her face. “Yes.”
“No!!” I add another one. “No!” Another. “No.” And another. “No…” She starts to sob into the wall. I keep adding more and more notes until she finally agrees with a wail. I let her take the notes but carry on thrusting into her; I do not need to have anal sex with her, but needed to prove that the appropriate amount of Privilege can break moral obligations and beliefs. – in Barbara’s case, the sanctity of marriage and her religious beliefs. I climax and walk away from Barbara without a word. I can hear her crying into her hands full of Privileges.
I stand over the hobo and show him a Privilege slip. He reaches for it greedily but I raise it out of reach. “I want to beat you,” I say. The hobo shrugs and reaches for the slip again. I let him take it this time, and give him a syringe. “You can have this too. I suggest you use it immediately to numb the pain.” The scruffy addict snatches the needle and performs his ceremonious act of wrapping a belt around his arm, flicking the needle, then injecting himself with the drug. His eyes roll back in his head and he falls backwards in complete bliss. It is time. I take the gun out of my pocket; several people walking the pavement notice me and start to shout in warning and disbelief. I line up the hobo’s head in my sights and pull the trigger. His skull shatters into bloody pieces of shrapnel, his arteries and brain exposed to the cold wintery day. People are screaming but I don’t care. I shoot again and again until I run out of bullets, then drop the gun on the body. At least he didn’t suffer.
I walk down the now-empty pavement at a slow pace. I can see people peeking out from behind cars and windows like meercats, too afraid to face me down but too curious to simply run away. I can hear the screech of sirens at last, and three black and white cars hurry into view. I let the officers take me into custody under gunpoint. Through the tinted windows of a cop car, I can see some people placing a blanket over the destroyed man’s body, giving the hobo more care and attention than when he was alive. I feel disgusted at people’s willingness to get involved after a tragedy, not before.
The legal process is faster than expected. It takes a day for me to appear in a court of law facing the charge of murder. The Judge is a fierce-looking moustachioed man called Justice Green; he looks absolutely disgusted with me during the entire trial. This is an excellent development for my investigations, but not a good sign for my continued freedom. The evidence against me is complete and total, with CCTV and DNA evidence placing me at the scene of the crime with the murder weapon. It is an open-and-shut case.
The sentencing is beginning. The foreman stands and announces that the jury finds me guilty – as expected. There is a hush as Judge Green begins to summarise the case. “The murder of John Hurrid (that was the addict’s name according to the police report) was a pointless and callous act. You have remained silent and unremorseful during the entire case, which I find to be most chilling. Do you have anything to say?”
I stand. “All I have to offer is this.” I unravel a large Privilege slip, the bottom flapping on the ground despite holding it above my head. The courtroom gasps and the judge bangs his gavel.
“Privilege is irrelevant when the law has been broken!” The courtroom is silent again. “Granted, it is a Privilege beyond anything I have seen, but Privilege is applicable when the law has nothing to say about the matter.” The judge adjusts his glasses; they glint in the light as he stares as the huge slip in my hands. “Murder is illegal and therefore no amount of Privilege will allow it.” The moment suddenly becomes sharply focused as I realise that this has turned against me. I have found the limit of the power of the Privileges at the expense of my liberty and maybe even my life, if these prisons are anything like the prisons from my homeland. I feel my legs wanting to run, the flight-or-fight response of my body activated, but I calm myself down. The judge scribbles on his papers before continuing. “For the cold-blooded and heartless murder of an innocent man, I sentence you to thirty years in maximum security prison.” He bangs his gavel again, signalling the end of the matter. I am led away by the guards and left in a small holding room containing nothing but a cheap metal chair. I sit and watch the guards leave, then get up and try the door. It is locked; I’m not sure what I expected, but I must try. I start to consider my options; this investigation of mine has been prematurely ended by my incarceration, specifically by my incorrect assumptions about the power of Privileges. These people are not the materialistic power-hungry fools I assumed them to be – not completely. Their legal system has a rigid set of rules, one that cannot be over-ridden by the all-corrupting power of the Privileges. I am humbled.
The door opens and, to my utter surprise, Justice Green enters. He smiles warmly at me and extends his hand. “My apologies for the mild inconvenience of the trial. We were unaware that you were a man of status.”
“Not at all,” I reply, confused by the sudden change in the Judge’s demeanour.
“Of course,” he says as he circles around me, “we cannot waive the charges or the punishment for your crime. Society must feel like justice has been served, regardless of status or… Privilege.” His eyes flit towards my bulging pocket. “Publically, you will go to jail for murder. However, I think that we can arrange for you to be released early, and most importantly, quietly.”
“That’s extremely good of you,” I reply as I pull the enormous Privilege slip from my pocket and hand it to the Judge. The field agent in me is reactivated, the investigation back on by this turn of events, therefore I must investigate. “However, will the family of the person I murdered object to my quick release?”
The Judge folds the Privilege over his arm like a waiter. I wonder if that note is destined for the state or the Judge’s own coffer. “Most problems like this can be soothed by reparations to the relatives. You will be surprised by the effect Privilege can have on people.”
The irony isn’t lost on me.
I am taken in an unmarked police car to a nearby hotel, where I spend the night in the best room they have – at my expense of course. However, I am aware that felons are not usually given the freedom to spend their first night of their incarceration eating roast pheasant on a four-poster bed watching a sports game on a 60” screen. I’m being given an easy ride because of my social status in this world, despite being a proven psychotic murderer. I rip the flesh from the prize bird’s bones and contemplate the enormity of that statement. What makes me different from other criminals? Am I “worth” more? Is my worth directly proportional to the amount of Privilege I can muster at any time, or is it my contribution and impact on the world? I’m too sleepy to think about this further so I curl up in silk sheets and dream of my home land, a place where things make more sense.
“Welcome to rich camp!” The chubby man extends his fat hand to me. He is dressed in a boater hat, white suit and a red cravat, and is sitting in a chair reading a book with a small glass of wine. He seems very jolly and I take his hand. “Franklin Marks, at your service.” Franklin is my cell mate, although it looks more like a hospital ward than a jail. There is large windows overlooking the minimum security grounds, a couple of wardrobes, and two double beds with white floral patterns. A porter has my luggage and I motion for him to put them on the bed.
“Hello Franklin. What crime have you committed to be here?”
“Oh you know, this and that, ” he closes the book and waits for the porter to leave. “Counterfeiting. You?”
“Murder.” I watch Franklin’s reaction as he subconsciously closes his body language; the crossed leg, the shift away from me, the narrowing eyes. “Don’t concern yourself,” I lie, “I am not a murderer. I was framed because I owe a debt to an important man.”
“Oh, that is good news,” he replies, opening up again. “You don’t look like a murderer, old chap.”
I unzip the first of my bags and start hanging my clothes in my wardrobe. “So what were you counterfeiting, Franklin?”
“Prestige, mostly. Some luxury goods, designer clothes, jewellery.”
“You fabricated Prestige slips?” This was interesting, considering the dubious source of my own slips. “How were you caught?”
“Quite simply, my boy, I wasn’t careful enough.” He sips his wine wistfully. “One piece of advice. Never trust anyone, even if you’re madly and hopelessly in love with them.”
“Oh.” Love is an alien concept to me. “Will you tell me what happened later on?”
“Absolutely, dear chap!” He looks delighted that I’m paying an interest in him. It is a simple trick, but one that pays dividends. The biggest compliment you can give people is to take an interest in them – and they will tell you their secrets.
The prison is similar to a sanatorium. There is a health spa, a gym, a couple of recreation rooms, even a bar and restaurant. There are a couple of guards, but the majority of the staff are there to serve the inmates with food and drink. There are about twenty inmates in total, all socially important in their particular areas; there are a couple of politicians, some sports stars, and a few businessmen. We have one thing in common; we are all Privileged, therefore we’re allowed to ride out our wave of shame away from the common man. Franklin becomes my unofficial guide, introducing me to everyone and showing me the facilities. The Privilege slips are accepted here, although my handlers have given me a Privilege Card so that I don’t have to safeguard or deal with the paper slips while incarcerated. The metal chit works the same way as the slips, but I have a balance of Privilege that is transferred out of the card’s account when I make a transaction. Initially, I thought that the card would wield less influence than the slips, but it has an even stronger effect on the populace, even before I’ve initiated a transaction. The metallic black card has its own power; the potential of promise.
Me and Franklin are in our cell, enjoying a red wine and watching the setting sun. It is lights-out, although that simply means that the door is locked and we are unable to roam the grounds. The cells have an en-suite bathroom and a small kitchen so that we aren’t truly inconvenienced by being held in our rooms.
“I love a good Merlot,” says Franklin, holding the wine up to the sunset. “However, this is not a good Merlot.”
I nod and taste the red beverage. A lot of people seem to hold their wine tasting skills in high regard. However, I cannot differentiate between a good wine and a poor one. They all taste like sweet juice to me. The effect of alcohol is quite pleasing though. “Tell me about your counterfeiting operation.”
“Of course. What would you like to know, old chap?”
“I guess the most immediate question is: why?”
Franklin laughs. “Why, I did it for the same reason anyone does anything! Power, mostly.”
“So it is illegal to make your own Privilege slips?”
Franklin nods, a little mystified. “Of course it is! Imagine if anyone could make their own P bills. Why, there’d be anarchy! The slips would mean nothing and lose their value.”
“Do you understand the power of Privilege, er, P bills?” This man might be able to answer a lot of my questions about Privilege. He nods, so I continue. “Please tell me why I can make a man do my bidding just purely based on my ownership of lot of Privilege slips. Tell me why I can do practically anything because of Privilege.”
“Where to begin?” He sighs and runs his fingers through his greying hair. “In a nutshell, Privilege ensures social structure is maintained. Everyone needs a minimum amount of Privilege to obtain food, heat, warmth, a home, transportation. That’s the base Privilege everyone requires. It’s known as the living wage.” He pours himself another glass of Merlot. “Take for example this wine. It’s not an essential, it’s a luxury. A man doesn’t need this wine – sure, he’d like this wine, but he needs to prove to society that he’s entitled to enjoy the luxury of the wine. That’s where Privilege comes in, old chap. If he has a good job, works hard, is intelligent and is useful to society, he’ll have an excess of Privilege slips above the living wage and therefore is entitled to have luxuries such as this wine.” He looks triumphant. “However, if a man is dumb and useless, he will have a more menial job that gives a man just enough P bills to meet living wage, or thereabouts. He won’t have enough Privilege left for luxuries and frivolous items, but he knows of them. He may have tasted something akin to this wine at a party, or seen an endorsement for it in a magazine, so he strives to attain enough P bills to get the wine.” Franklin sighs. “And so begins the forever struggle of the working man. He works because he has a dream. He’s never given enough P bills to realise his dream though, but continues working regardless. It’s a sad tale to be sure, but is required to exert an invisible control over the masses.”
It is as if someone has explained the answer to a very simple sum. “So Privilege is a self-managing hierarchical mechanism that rates people based on their worth to society. It gives the elite a hungry and desperate work force in which to act out their machinations and plans.”
“I couldn’t have put it better myself.” Franklin smiles.
“That is amazing, and yet I can’t help feeling like your plan to counterfeit spoils the system somewhat.”
“How’s that, dear man?”
“Your fake slips will allow less-Privileged people to become more Privileged without working for it.”
Franklin smiles again. “I believe that I was giving the less fortunate a better life. The system is unfair, after all.”
“Really? It seems extremely fair to me.” I realise I sound conceited. “Although, I don’t know too much about the system.”
“The problem is that we speak about Privilege from an elevated position. We are at the top of the pyramid.” He swills the wine about his mouth. “Jesus wept, this is awful. If I knew I’d have to drink this rubbish, I’d have reconsidered my life of crime.”
“Who controls the Privilege system then?” I ask, although I think I know the answer; no-one. It is de-centralised, completely unemotional, and yet totally and utterly ruthless in its operation and scope. Privilege is an automated tyranny.
Franklin finishes the drink and pulls another bottle from under his bed. “I save this for the special occasions, such as having really awful wine.” He uncorks it and fills both our glasses. “The law states what an individual is allowed to do without permission. These can be viewed as pre-authorised actions that a man can do without needing Privilege. However, anything you wish to do that isn’t covered by law requires Privilege. Owning a house, for example. The law doesn’t allow or forbid the owning of land, so if you want a house, you pay Privilege and therefore you own the house. Now assume that a man bypasses the Privilege step in the process and goes from wanting the house to owning the house.”
“In other words, he’s stolen it?”
“Exactly. He is in a negative Privilege situation. He’s taken a house but does not have the Privilege to prove his entitlement to own the house. In the eyes of the law, he moves into a Restricted status of living and is locked up until the law deems his debt paid in the way of his lost freedom.”
“Much like we are right now?”
Franklin shakes his head. “Be sensible. How many P bills did you give the judge for your crime?”
“And I bet he could wallpaper his entire house with it. We can pay for our crimes without the need to sacrifice much liberty, and that is the main power the P bill gives a man. Anyway,” Franklin downs his wine and stretches, “it is time for bed. Goodnight my boy.”
I look forward to our chats during lights-out, and find myself disappointed that I’ve been sentenced for only a week. Franklin’s sentence is five months, of which he has spent only a few days. From his demeanour and confidence around the prison, I assumed he’d been there for years. He tells me more about the Privilege system and of the other control systems in place; religion, military, consumerism, media, medical. Each one enslaves the population by fear, greed, or belief, but every system in turn requires Privilege to operate.
My last day in prison comes way too quickly, and I accept a hug from Franklin as the porter takes my luggage out of my cell. “Take care my friend,” he says, “and watch who you trust.”
“Thank you for all your help,” I say. We stare at each other, his wrinkled eyes wet with tears, before I turn and leave without another word. Relationships are complicated. Best to ignore those feelings, although Franklin’s been the closest to a companion I’ve ever had. I should feel grateful.
I step out of the limo and click my fingers for my hat; a huge monstrosity made from a variety of objects that I picked out at random. An empty tin can smeared in cat food. The shin-bone of a donkey. An extremely rare gem. It is a piece of insanity and yet those around me compliment me as if it was art. Morons. A concierge opens the hotel door for me as my security guards prevent commoners from crossing my path. I enter the lobby with some difficulty due to the hat, and order that the door be widened for my departure.
The hotel is very austere and tasteful. “Welcome to the Andromeda Hotel,” says the manager, a simpering weasel of a man. He is already annoying me. “I hope your stay will be a pleasant one.”
“Get this fucker out of my face,” I say to one of my bodyguards. The man is pushed away. “I want to hire out the entire hotel,” I tell the concierge. “I don’t want to see or hear anyone during my visit.”
“That is an unacceptable request, sir,” says the concierge. I bring out the black metal chit and stick it in his face. “I think we will be able to work something out.” The concierge strides away and commands the staff to begin evacuating the other guests. It’s ridiculous that I can act like a complete asshole and get away with it. In my home land, social standing is based on respect, civilised behaviour and expertise rather than any form of Privilege-type system. Still, the rewards that can be gained from Privilege were beyond anything I could expect at home. I pass a porter who is standing to attention, so I punch him in the face. He falls over and I repeatedly kick his head until he is unconscious. “He looked at me oddly,” I say to the shocked spectators before tucking a bunch of P bills into the injured guy’s pocket. I am starting to enjoy this.
I pick the biggest room out of the entire hotel and order room service. I ask for a chicken roasted in plums, chocolate and sprinkled with gold leaf. To my surprise, it arrives within the hour, a red-faced chef explaining the problems with preparing such a dish on short notice. I compliment him on his excellent work, then open the window next to me and throw the meal out. I watch his face barely contain his anger, but he nods respectfully and leaves.
After a great night’s sleep, I walk around the hotel naked until midday, defecate onto the manager’s ornate mahogany table, and then start a small fire in the honeymoon suite. I setup a chair with some snacks just outside the burning room to watch the fire brigade extinguish the blaze. The men work efficiently to control the blaze; it is very entertaining, so I set a reminder to do the same tomorrow. Despite my bizarre behaviour, the hotel staff continue to treat me like the world’s best guest, which I find disappointing. After ordering the concierge to source me an ape costume (“God help you if it’s an orang-utan costume” I tell them. I don’t know the difference between the two but they are similar enough to create extra pressure on the suffering staff), I spend the rest of the day dancing on the roof, watched by my Privilege-enslaved employees. They applaud at my amateur pirouettes, and cheer my idiotic flailing-around. In honesty, my dancing is complete shit, but I do it to see if my staff will comply. Deep inside, I am aching for one of them to tell me the truth; I want one of them to step forward and tell me I’m acting like a retard. Again, I think back to the words Franklin the counterfeiter told me – trust no-one. How can I trust anyone when the promise of P bills can sway personal opinion?
I give each of my attentive audience a gift – a small vial containing my piss – then return to my room, bored. The problem is that my lavish and eccentric lifestyle is coming to its natural conclusion. There’s little else to do to prove that any behaviour is acceptable if the person has Privilege. The difference between eccentric and madman is Privilege, and only one is socially-accepted. I watch one of the many TVs I’ve stacked up against the far wall; a mushroom cloud appears, the shockwave blowing houses down in grainy black and white film. I smile. That might be worth pursuing.
I use a computer given to me as a gift by the hotel to investigate nuclear weapons. I discover that an individual cannot own a nuclear weapon under any circumstances, which hints that the military can trump Privilege in the name of security. I am intrigued by this. The power to destroy entire countries is something that appeals to my inquisitive nature. The only way I’d ever control a nuclear arsenal is to control a military force, and to do that I would need to control a country with a nuclear-capable military force. This appears to be possible with the P bills. I just have to wait until election time. I prop open the 10th floor window next to me and urinate through the opening, no doubt hitting the shoppers and commuters passing below. Will one of them complain? Possibly, but the hotel staff will definitely not bother me about it. Take control of a country. My handlers will go mad if I became a ruler.
The run-up to the election is a chaotic whirlwind of canvassing people and businesses, the latter usually the key to a successful campaign. I do not need the blessing of business though; I have more than enough Privilege to fund my own campaign, an advantage which I publicise to the electorate. Why trust my adversaries, I say, when they are funded by the very companies that threaten your well-being with poisonous goods and deceptive services? How can you trust them to work in your interests when they value Privilege above you? I did contemplate joining an existing party to run for Prime Minister, to take advantage of their well-established infrastructure and political experience, yet I quickly vetoed that idea; the internal wars waging within the parties were hugely distracting and almost always deep-rooted in Privilege. Most ministers were vault-rolled by businesses that wanted certain laws and legislations to go ahead or be repelled according to their business strategy. The country was fooling itself as a democracy. It was a corpocracy, ruled by corporations and their interests. I wanted to break that bond. Me and my party, the NeoUK Party, win by a landslide majority.
My first act as the Prime Minister is to hire Franklin as my adviser. He is enthusiastically grateful, pumping my hand and thanking me at every private opportunity. My faith in him is three-fold. One, he understands Privilege and its power. Two, he trusts no-one. Three (which is an uncharacteristic trait of me and my race), I feel quite close to him. He is the only person that I have enjoyed the company of during my field assignment. I miss the nights talking about the world and its flaws. My political rise is the perfect opportunity to draw him into close proximity. It is a selfish act.
I give out orders to my political party; lower P-bill tax and amend the law to give everyone the right to free water, electricity and a baseline of food. The masses rejoice, but businesses start to scheme against me. This is not unexpected but I do not care. I threaten the industries operating in the country with huge taxes and fines for any slight misdemeanour against the country. Franklin suggests that I call it the Patriotism Bill to give it a good “spin” in public.
However, my ulterior motive for all of this has yet to be initiated. In secret (everything has to be in secret now that the public focus, spearheaded by the thousands of media reporters and paparazzi, are watching my every action), I go to my small bedsit and make contact with my handlers. They rage for a full ten minutes. Undercover, they scream, means under cover! You are now the leader of an entire country! How is that an effective position for an undercover field agent? I argue my case; not one of our order has ever ascended the ranks of this society. I am learning things that we have never even considered. I forward everything about my experiences with the Privilege system and the notes drawn up about the other control systems and their purpose. The handlers are silent for hours, and then they reluctantly congratulate me on my progress so far. They ask what my intention is as the leader of millions. I tell them and they do not reply at all. I am certain they will assist me, and I give them detailed instructions. I hope they assign a skilled agent to the task.
It is a beautiful sunny day. I am doing a quick tour of the country, meeting and greeting the people I supposedly serve. I feel ill, mainly because I spent the entire night fucking prostitutes and taking drugs. I’m not particularly interested in either, but am more interested in how my activities will leak out to the public and what the impact will be on my current reputation. I step out of the small book-store and wave to the gathered crowds. They all cheer and wave flags. According to the media, I am a hero to the barely-Privileged masses, and a villain to the greedy Vaulters and businessmen who’s powerbase I am rapidly eroding through nationalising business. Defence and the military are now mine, as well as water, gas, coal, oil, and nuclear. Renewables are still private, but they are next on my list. The common man has never lived so well. Privilege is still maintaining the social hierarchy by establishing “Gods and Clods”, but the Clods are no longer suffering. As a whole, the country is better off. The military is blossoming too. Franklin has been briefing me on rumours of an assassination attempt on my life, organised by some of the more powerful business leaders that I’ve affected. I give the reports to the media, delighted that these people are going to make my plans extremely easy.
A woman in gaudy make-up ensnares me in her grip of perfume and bosom, and kisses me on the lips, much to the delight of the crowds. I laugh it off and walk down the crowd, shaking hands and receiving more kisses. Suddenly, I am flying backwards, my left shoulder a mess of pain and wetness. I pass through the shop window and watch the shards around me with a numb fascination. Then my head is turned upwards and I am still. My ears are filled with a rushing noise, my vision peppered with sparkling stars. A face appears and yells something. I glance at my shoulder; my arm has disappeared somewhere. My ears start to clear. There is screaming and yelling. I smile a little. It is a strange experience. Then I pass into darkness.
I am in a hospital bed, Franklin and others watching me with concern. I look at my shoulder. An arm is there again, but mummified in bandages and ensnared in a metal lattice. “What happened?” I ask.
“You’ve been shot, old boy,” says Franklin, dabbing his eye with a handkerchief. “I honestly thought you were done-for!” He waves the doctors away until it’s only me and him left. “You gave me quite a scare,” says Franklin, and sits at the foot of my bed. “A sniper hit you from the roof of the shop opposite. The police and military are quite perplexed by the affair, as they can’t identify what kind of weapon the assassin used.”
Alarm bells start to ring. “Did they catch the sniper?”
“Yes, but he was killed in a firefight with the police.” Franklin opens up the file in his hand. “The man has no name, a complete ghost that popped into existence to try and kill you. A known terrorist cell in the Middle East claims responsibility for the assassination, although the secret service are looking into all leads, including those business ones I’ve been warning you about.” He seems almost angry. “I told you to be careful!”
“I can’t hide away because of a supposed threat, Franklin.” I raise myself up in bed as best I can. “I’m a public servant.”
“Yes, well be that as it may, there is a lot of call for military action against the country that the terrorists call home. Their government is denying any involvement, but the defence department reckon that they picked up some interesting transmissions just prior to the attack.”
Just as planned. “Do they have any resources to speak of? Anything that we can use to pay for a military assault?”
Franklin shrugged. “Oil, diamonds, gas. Luxuries that we’re always in need of.” He drops the file onto my lap. “It’s all in there if you want to read about it. Get some rest, old man.”
The key to going to war is positive public opinion; after all, it is the masses’ fathers and children who will be killed in it. Thanks to my enormous popularity amongst the public, I had to do little to provoke an armed conflict with the small Arabian country. On the map, it was a tiny barely-significant country, yet was one of the new nuclear powers on the world, making it the perfect victim for my false-flag event – and one with huge natural reserves of gas and oil. My handlers had delivered the precise near-fatal shot to me, as stipulated in my instructions, but had quickly sent their apologies for removing my limb. Like everything, it was a unique experience, although one I didn’t wish to experience ever again.
On the eve of battle, I land at a small military station under the cover of darkness, accompanied by a couple of advisers and a squad of elite infantry. We march down the ramp of the transport plane, my arm in a sling but camouflaged to match my khaki uniform. Franklin is next to me, extremely nervous about this escapade. “I don’t see why we need to be here,” he stammers. “It is an unnecessary risk!”
“There is no risk,” I say. Our foes are barely a threat to our military might. Isn’t that right, men?”
“Oorah!” shout our guards.
“What if they decide to go nuclear? They are a nuclear nation, after all.”
“They wouldn’t dare escalate this conflict,” I reply. They don’t need to; I will do that for them. “I want to merely follow our brave men and women into battle. I wouldn’t ask anything of them that I myself wouldn’t do.” It is a phrase that makes me seem like I am one of them, a commoner. According to my aides, my presence here has skyrocketed morale amongst the troops. It is a genius move.
The attack commences, transport helicopters and tanks racing into the Arabian night to attack their assigned targets. Tracer fire stitches the night sky. It is an awesome sight, and exhilarating to think that people are fighting for their lives in the darkness. Our transporter moves forward once the armoured division secures its target. The ride disagrees with Franklin’s sensitive nature and he is sick over the side of the vehicle. “Remind me to hand my notice in if we get back,” he says between retches. The men laugh.
The APC pulls up alongside a row of bristling tanks, their diesel engines growling for action. I nudge the nearest soldier. “Are we winning?”
“Of course, sir.” He points to a barely-distinguishable building in front. “We’re going to take that position.”
“Excellent!” I pat his shoulder and settle back. Any minute now.
The radio starts to chatter frantically. “What’s happening?” I ask the soldier as the darkness moves frantically around us.
“We’re retreating!” shouts the soldier, still looking down his gun. “The enemy are using chemical weapons!”
“What’s that you said? Chemical weapons?” Franklin looks wide-eyed with fear as the tanks start their retreat. “I don’t want to die like that!”
I give Franklin a gas mask from my kit bag. “Just in case,” I say. He doesn’t seem to notice that I came prepared for this.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here now!” screams my bodyguard into the driver’s ear. He complies immediately.
It is a quick decision; the enemy state has breached international law on the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Since they also have nuclear weapons, the decision to conduct a pre-emptive strike is authorised, despite the continuous denial by the enemy that they didn’t deploy any chemical weapons. The media take the story and run overly-emotional headlines focusing on the human cost: “Hundreds of our boys gassed to death by terrorist state” is my particular favourite. Still, as the printing presses roll, the bigger story is happening.
I am sitting on the top of a Leviathan 3 tank, the biggest piece of military hardware at my disposal, with Franklin and my security staff chatting on the ground below. The machine is obscenely huge, 500 tons of armour and advanced weaponry that is designed to roll over the enemy and take out its biggest tanks. I pat the gun at my hip to check it is still there, then unclip the latches on the metal case next to me. My radio crackles: “Five minutes to zero.” I feel excited that my field assignment is coming to the most spectacular finale that I could have wished for. Months of lying, scheming, beating people, acting insane, fucking, killing, destroying property, and simply doing whatever I wanted will conclude this very night. What did I learn from it all? Privilege is an evil force. When I changed a whole country’s laws to give the under-Privileged a better life, those with Privilege wanted me dead, and when I used Privilege to oppress and harm, I was applauded and encouraged by the ones I was oppressing. Now I am about to kill 10 million people, wipe them off the face of the Earth, simply because I am Privileged. The radio crackles again. “Two minutes to zero.” I open the metal box and pull out a bottle of wine, two glasses and two big fat cigars. I call for Franklin to join me atop the magnificent war machine, and hand him a glass. “Merlot,” I say, “the very best Merlot I could find.”
“Cheers.” We clink glasses in a toast. He accepts one of the cigars and puffs it to life. “Why are we sat on top of a tank in the middle of the night, old man? Things on your mind?” He is unaware of the imminent explosion, not that it really matters, not anymore.
“A nuclear bomb is about to go off in about a minute. Don’t worry,” I add due to his frightened expression, “we’re quite safe at this distance. You may want to put these on though.” I hand him some eye protectors. “We’re going to sit here, drink a wine, and enjoy the show.”
“This nuclear explosion… is it retaliation for the chemical attack?” he asks.
“Nope,” I reply, “it’s because I want to kill millions of people in a gigantic fireball.”
“Fair enough.” He thinks I am being flippant. The radio crackles to life and begins a countdown from ten. We put on the eye protectors and stare forwards obediently. “So then old man,” says Franklin, raising his glass in front of him, “what happens afterwards?”
“I have no idea,” I reply just as the night gives birth to an artificial day; a star is brought to life in the sky before us. It is silently terrifying as it grows brighter and brighter, then slowly turns an angry hell-born red. The city is vaporised instantly, ten million thoughts and dreams silenced by the fires of physics unleashed upon the Earth. We watch the mushroom cloud grow into a flame monster that towers over the land, ballooning to fill the entire sky with its smoke. I am awe-struck by the sheer scale of the weapon, its ferocity, and its magnificence. The sound finally hits us and I am caught off-balance, even at this distance.
“Jesus wept,” whispers Franklin, his glass still outstretched before him. “That was terrifying.”
Soldiers below us are celebrating at the destruction of their enemy, but I know that they are actually celebrating my criminal killing of millions. There is no enemy to these people other than the systems they live in. These systems make men take arms against each other, to hate and fight and bicker and make sure that no man can rise above his station in life. This is a poisonous race, one that doesn’t deserve life or liberty. I’ve finished my work here.
“Franklin,” I say as I throw the glass and cigar away, “thank you for your company. I will miss you.” I take my hand gun out of its holster.
“Where are you going, dear chap?” He looks at me with confusion, and then his eyes fix on the gun. “You’re not going to shoot me, are you?”
“Of course not,” I reply, then put the barrel against my temple and pull the trigger. My body slumps over and I am released from its inhibiting shell of flesh. I watch a pale shadowy Franklin silently scrabble at my corpse and sense the movement of others coming to help try to resuscitate me, but it is futile. I am returning to my people and my land, where the greatest force is the one that we are made of. Privilege is a self-inflicted curse. I pray for mankind.
© HL Jones, December 28, 2015