A Singular Occurrence

A snippet from the next stage of the Improvised Graphic Novel. I’m doing test graphics – will post more soon – and writing up (as prose, initially) some of the stories that I might want to include. This is one of them.

Bit of background, as this is just a snippet: The notion of a technological singularity, whereby networked machines converge into a single super-intelligence, has been flip-flopping on the thin edge between science fact and fiction for a while – the Terminator movies, Vernor Vinge’s fiction, Ray Kurzweil’s non-fiction, Elon Musk’s recent concerns, the upcoming Avengers Ultron movie, and so on. The history of the internet boom reads awfully like the boom in canals, railways and telegraph over 100 years ago. What if the singularity already happened, via these networks and the newly-globalised postal system? (Yes, it is all just a little bit steam-punk. This flavour won’t permeate the entire novel.)

A small crowd gathered to watch as Mother, having made her dreadful decision, folded herself into the envelope. She turned such a brave and piteous look at me and Elsie, that all at once, tears rolled down my cheeks.

Most of the crowd were just neighbours and gawkers. Old Jen Flint was peering round the door, looking to see if the carriage clock or any silverware was out on display, but Mother and I had encrypted it all last night. Her hands shook as she showed me how to find the thread of things by pretending it weren’t there, and turn it inside out in little neat loops, until it were only there in the corner of your eye.

(Editor’s Note: The depiction of encryption of goods as “women’s work” may strike modern readers as out of place, and even surprising that the women-folk of the day were capable of such mathematically challenging pursuits. The reader should recall that encryption was not in widespread economic use at this time, as the Williamson Brothers’ invention of the Vortex Turbinator was still some 15 years away.)
(Real Editor’s Note: If this sounds like sexist BS, it’s meant to – please put your satire goggles on! Wish I didn’t have to spell it out, but this is the internet…)

“You’re in charge now, Het”, she said to me, and smiled. It were a sad, trembling sort, not one you’d trust. People try to put all kinds of things in front of their faces, but you can see what’s underneath if you but look for it.

“I’m frightened, Mam”, I said then, and was fighting not to say it again now. She’d struggled her way three quarters into the envelope, only her head and one arm out now, and I squeezed Elsie’s hot little hand.

The delegation from the Weights and Measures Office turned up, in their brushed black coats and moustaches. Mother turned round to smile at them, casual as if she were hanging out the laundry on the line.

“Oh, hello Mr. Simpson”, all sweet and mild, like. He was clutching a small package, and I closed me eyes to pray there was enough money inside, that they’d had a whip round, or robbed a bank, anything.

“A fat lot of good it is you turning up now, Mr. Simpson”, she continued, sweet as cake. He went all stiff, and there were gasps and muttering, of the sort she’d normally do anything to counter.

“Now, Mrs. Smail, there’s no need for that”, he stammered. “For any of this, it’s rash. You’ve a good job in the typing pool.”

“There’s need”, she snapped, “to put food on the table for these littl’uns. Typing pool won’t do it, or what you pay our Alfred. Dear Lord, he’s at 90% most days, can’t hardly say a word to us, and you’ve got the use of both his eyes.” As if remembering he was still there, she called in through the doorway. “See you, love!” An absent-minded mumble of agreement drifted out through the door.

I were blushing. It felt she were airing our poverty to all and sundry, but then, everyone on the street was as bad off as we were. Since the invasion, and the rewriting of the books, things had been like that for most folk.

Mother had become bold as brass. She turned to the crowd with a sort of wave, as she lifted her arm into the envelope. “I’m going on a sort of holiday”, she said. “I’ll send you all a postcard.” Her eyes weren’t jolly, though.

She turned to me and Elsie, and were sober again. “And I’ll write to you, love. And you can always write back, you know that.”
“They’re very young, Mrs. Smail.” Mr. Simpson shuffled. “Writing’d be a dreadsome chore for them. We came here to offer a mannequin, we’d waive the installation fee, they could at least talk to you.” He presented the package. “I’ve taken the liberty of preparing documents, just needs a signature.”
“And how d’you think we’d pay the bloody rent on it?!” Mother snapped, her face white. “Ooh, you’re vultures, you lot, you can stick your mannequin! Stay away from my girls, I’ll be watching you.”

I swear her eyes were burning as she climbed into the envelope, folding down the flap. She called out to Mo Fairbanks and Mrs. Chowdry, and they lifted her, light as a feather, towards the post box on the corner, and slid her through the flap.

Elsie and I had been standing stiff as soldiers, but suddenly she crumpled into tears. I picked her up, and with a sharp look at Mr. Simpson – just like Mother had given him – went inside.

Dinner was bubbling on the stove. The stack of envelopes and writing paper was at one end of the table, and at the other was Father, sat in his chair, with his horrid metal eyes swinging blindly across the room, hands flat and lifeless as paper, palms down.

“We’re back”, I said. “Mother’s gone.”
“Gone? Oh, yeah.” He was miles away, calculating weights and measures somewhere. “Love you.”

He always said that, and it sounded blank as his eyes. I tried not to mind. I tore off a bit of bread for Elsie to keep her quiet, and turned to stir the pot on the stove.

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