It all began as a random comment deftly inserted into a conversation about being under-employed. “I feel something bad coming,” he said and she said, “Me, too,” and then they went on to discuss the best way to travel from Flatbush to Greenpoint on a weekend subway schedule.
Then it happened again, someone saying in a voice unusually inflected with emotion, “You know, I really worry at times,” and the response was, “I do, too,” and after this they paused and stared for a longer time than usual into one another’s eyes before continuing their meal.
The frequency of such conversations grew in intensity like the swell of the sound of cicadas on a summer night. Someone standing within a small circle of friends might say, “I don’t understand – it doesn’t feel far away anymore,” and another would echo, “It is different now,” and glances would slide from face to face, flowing like water, seeking a similar level of fear. It was a scent on the wind, it was up close and getting personal, it was night fear with the whole place lit up until morning.
Yet the people went about their lives even as such talk became like the repeated pluck of an electric guitar chord, it was a dirge-like riff everyone had gotten used to and sick of and then one day the trucks which brought food into the city arrived half-empty and then the subject of war no longer needed to be discussed.
Everyone agreed to the rationing, it was the ration eCards that caused problems. They resembled Metrocards and those who were environmentally-minded complained about plastic while others argued that since they were made of recycled, BPA-free plastic there shouldn’t be an issue. Most people, though, thought only of whether they had an eCard and how many rations they could purchase and most people did not know that their eCard was also a smartcard. Seemingly overnight the people erected an inspired black market, coordinated through local pubs yet, simultaneously, teen-aged boys began to assemble on every corner and though the socially tone deaf referred to them in righteous voices as hoards!, most people kept quiet about them. The elderly and disabled feared for their lives, in fact, people from these two groups often disappeared, their eCards gone with them, and the middle-aged trembled and kept going, encouraging those younger to do the same, but the young did not need to be told what to do, they had been raised during a separate time, they already understood things the middle-aged had no conception of, such as the ways in which a seemingly neutral computer app could reach into your life and grab you by your throat.
Sometimes a person’s eCard would not work, so they would visit the newly constructed government building and, after filling out and signing a particular form, they would receive another. And it became known that all you have to do is go to the appropriate office in the new building and you’d get another and enough people had this happen to them so that it became okay. “The system isn’t perfect,” people said, “They’re still working out the bugs,” but with certain people it happened again and again and again and after awhile the people whose eCards worked began to avoid those whose eCards did not work, telling them, “Well, there’s always the black market, you can buy food there.”
Shortly after this, the cops changed uniforms. Suddenly they were wearing vermillion and no longer carrying visible guns, it happened on gay pride day and so the people understood this as an Historic Achievement. Meanwhile brothers-in-law on the force were given early retirement and many younger cops were suddenly injured or unexpectedly given severance still the people wondered why the number of cops had not decreased but grown — there were so many of them now, where did they come from?
Next, the de-flourination program was put into place. The water tasted slightly different and the online newspaper of record insisted it was healthier so people joked about British smiles and whispered about being dosed and that’s when ATMs began to swallow cards and some, but not all, banking customers would be told their accounts had been temporarily frozen and online opinion columnists wrote about the hacking crisis and discussed zombie computers set up locally as well as abroad and the people whose assets had been frozen said, “Not frozen. Seized.”
And so it came to be that certain people lived in an iCamp where all of their electronic devices functioned nevertheless they had been cut off, not even their emails could be sent, and no one outside the iCamp wanted to be bothered, after all, most of them were struggling, the under-employment and the under-feeding had continued for months. Besides once in a while someone in the iCamp would be released — but most times they would faint right there in the street and more often they would be found in the rubble of buildings crushed when another satellite malfunctioned, which happened more than once during this period.
Some people complained about the water and the eCards and the vermilion cops and then they would not show up for a few days but when they returned they looked well-rested and the pastel colored pills they swallowed were manufactured robotically in a clean room and targeted exactly one pinpoint section of their brains.
And now we have unseen perimeters and new neighbors and none of us can remember how the city used to be. Though they impose the eCurfew, the vermillion cops rarely speak and it is believed that their language is superior to our own; it is, in fact, a language where meaning is conveyed by tone unlike our own. Everything continues and drones soundlessly cross our skies and we sense things we cannot see and sometimes, like junkies, we nod, our hands dropping — useless — from our keyboards, and we hallucinate mountain streams
and wake thirsty
for our forever dream
and mutual liberty.