Nicholas Machen, British School of Geneva.

Please note: The Awards will be presented on Sunday, 8 September (1630 hours) at the Morges Book Festival as part of a special panel on youth writing. All are welcome.

I remember the first time I truly figured out that they controlled everything. I put on my televisor and decided, for once, to switch to one of the entertainment programmes everyone got for free; to see what the differences were. I don’t remember it precisely, but it went something like this:

“One could but dream about the changes we’ve made these last few years. Mechanised whirrs of robots fill the air with the sounds of progress; all jobs have been artfully perfected by automation, and people live in a time where work is no longer necessary in complex fields. There are no stressful jobs; there are no workplace accidents; there are practically no human errors possible. All thanks to ISM. Now, ISM has not ‘taken over the world’, as some are worried, it has simply become… a cog in it. We care, that’s why we’re here.”

“Thanks, Frank. I too agree that ISM is a wonderful service that has improved not only the quality of all of man’s goods and services, but has also created tons of community and medical buildings to support the weak and vulnerable. This has been our interview, and thank you for watching out there, button-mashers! Keep up the hard work!”

I shut off the televisor as a familiar blue light and ditty began to fill the room, soon to make way for three giant letters that finalised every programme: ISM.

“So this is what low-class televisor programmes are like,” I had thought, “it’s all just more propaganda.”

I’m taking a long drag of a tobacco-substitute cigarette now as I walk out onto the balcony of my apartment which overlooks the crowded, trashy streets below me. I’m not one of those wage-slaves down there, you see; I was one of the few to realise the capabilities of the Incorporated Shipping… whatever it is early, buying big in the company’s stocks when it was still on its first legs. Now? I live off my fortune, but it’s hard to see meaning in a life where everything I do has no point; where everything I could do, robots could do better. What is the joy in putting effort into something you can just as easily have done for you? Didn’t stop me from looking, I guess.

Still, it’s not worth anything anymore; everything is pointless. You either live a life of devout, unflinching slavery, or you sit there like some sadist bastard and watch the lower classes burn. Nothing you do has any meaning here; not since machines took meaning and perfected it. Painting, writing, even newscasting like the show I’d seen all that time ago was scripted corporate honey to entice the working class into watching propaganda.

“Anything you can do, I can do better!” I chuckled as I remembered old commercials advertising the release of a mechanical butler for your household. “I can do anything better than you!” I whispered along. I had been one of the first to really believe that machines could do it, become people like us, make great things, advance humanity. In a way, I was right. In all others, oh so wrong.

I found an old beer bottle one night in a gutter, from back then; early 2016. Realised the old caps didn’t even have a way to remove them from bottles without buying a tool. It’s amazing to see the changes that happened since just a short while ago. Comparing even the most basic and seemingly dynamic things from only 10 years past to what we’ve got now, it’s like looking at ancient relics.

It didn’t take long for employers to see potential in this new, sleepless model of worker. It took even less time for it to start being used to their advantage. In only a few years, they WERE the workers. Everyone else just sat there, staring into blue blankets of light, putting the weight of their fingers down on multi-coloured buttons. Nothing they did meant anything anymore; they didn’t need their fancy degrees, or their high-strung educational superiority, and it showed. Some people realised it, tried to buy ‘local’ as it were, got handmade toys, hand-painted pictures; bought hand-raised dinner. But they couldn’t compete with the dirt-cheap prices of the new trading market, ironically so inflated in price now.

The ISM: Incorporated Shipping… Mercantile? I think that’s it, can’t remember for sure. Anyways, ‘they’ launched with the goal of becoming the first ones to set up trading on Mars (and beyond when they could). It’s funny, really; even now we haven’t set up more than a colony anywhere besides Earth. Everyone had a good laugh at their goal, myself included, but I liked where their head was. I wanted to go to space too, like science fiction always told us we would. I wanted to fly out into the black kaleidoscope of stars, the great expanse. I’d always wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, and I suppose I never really stopped wanting to, since just a few days later, I bought some stock. Ridding my ‘cigarette’ of its built-up dust, I position myself so I’m leaning back upon the glass door to the open balcony, sucking down the last of the smoke from what I guess you could call my post-modern corncob pipe. I’m smiling, remembering how I always used the dull task of disposing of a cigarette’s burnt paper and leaves to dramatically punctuate my sentences. Guess I’m done with it, so I’m shoving it into an ashtray now.

I guess, in a way, I do regret the stocks. I don’t blame myself for the rise of the ISM, as it was bound to happen anyway, with the government rolling over and showing its soft underbelly to every rich company that came to pet it, but I know I contributed. I bought stock in the place before I knew that it took its goals to be “greater than ever” so seriously. I suppose I’m expected to be jolly with my ‘nice life’ up in the higher apartment floors, with good food and fancy drink and beautiful company, but I’m not. I never could get over that feeling of no… meaning.

Hell, I’m one of the few left who decided they wanted to live in a world like this. Maybe I’m not smart enough to end it now, I don’t know, but look at what good it’s done me; sitting here writing in a notebook about all the reasons life no longer matters like some deranged psycho. Christ. If we’d had some way of stopping this whole mess, somebody to step in and say “No!”, maybe we’d be OK. But we don’t, and we’re not.

I remember a conversation I had with one of the other investors the other day, a Samuel Greenwood. Way he figures is people at the top can’t be too happy either, but if they give up their money to help a few button-mashers, they’ll be in an even worse position, and said low-class people might just use the money to turn against all the high-class people. So instead, they keep everyone dormant with low wages and high prices and brainwashing and all this… meaningless drivel. I can’t speak for Sam’s credibility there, but I know I’d rather be one of those smug richies than stuck with no income and no purpose. At least they manage a company. Yet I don’t know how I’d feel now had I been one from the start.

I wonder how many times I’ve broken down since the beginning of all of this, asking questions I can’t answer. I’ve wept and I’ve hollered, and gotten drunk and high and everything I could think of to go somewhere else, somewhere interesting. I tried visiting the world, but everywhere I go is just the same corporate cyan buildings with towering navy-blue billboards that read ‘ISM’. The first few months of nothing quickly dissolved into absent-mindedly drugging myself until nothing mattered anymore. Not my wife, who ran a company before it was starved into submission by the ISM, not my kids, who decided they couldn’t take the tainted world’s crap anymore and moved to Mars, not my friends who I can’t support because I don’t have enough for both them and me, nothing. The ISM, the capital ISM, ruined everything when it gained control of it all.

Maybe you’re in better times, maybe I’m still alive or maybe I’m not, I don’t know. But if you are rather than I, don’t forget why your times are better; because world trade is trade, and not just a shipment of exorbitantly priced supplies from one part of a company-turned-government to another.

Nicholas Machen is a Year 11 student at the British School of Geneva. This entry is also published in the print and e-edition of Global Geneva’s Fall Sept-Nov. 2019 issue. 

The Global Geneva Youth Writes 2019 Young Journalists & Writers Programme is funded by the Alcea Foundation, Lausanne.

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