The Dummy

The dummy blinked. Then it turned its head and let out a long, deep sigh. There was only so many times he could be made to sound like a perverted piece of wood and sawdust, and there was only so many times he could hear the cold, empty laughter from the darkness.

It was hard enough pretending to be inanimate. Hard enough letting a weird man stick his hand in your orifice, and hard enough listening to that voice squawk from his clearly moving lips.

As undercover assignments went, this one was the worst.

The vent would be dead soon enough though.

He let his mouth be flapped for a few more minutes, listening to the ‘jokes’ waft into the air like noxious farts. The audience were losing interest now, which was always the way. He loaded his act top heavy, and his strong bits were mostly weak, so his weak bits would make vending machine tea look tasty.

The moment was coming.

Just before he launched into his ‘big’ finale, the dummy would initiate the plan. His head would start spinning, and then he would lunge, teeth-first, at the man’s stupid face, and gnaw it down to the bone.

Here it came.

Any moment now.

He was picking up the glass of water. His fingers had hooked into the loops that operated the toupee gag. It was seconds away.

The glass reached his lips, and the gurgling strains of an old music hall ditty started to quiver from his lips.

Now.

The dummy did nothing.

The dummy always did nothing.

His plans always came to nought.

He was a dummy.

Choose Day

The queue shuffled forward.

Martin tried to focus. Everything he’d been told for the past few weeks was buzzing around his head, like a vibrator in a mixing bowl. The chorus of thought was dizzying, and he had to grip the stanchion to stay upright.

It’s never as obvious at it seems.

The good one will always have a nasty side effect.

There are hidden traps.

Think it through very carefully.

Never make a rush judgement.

Choose wisely.

It had all seemed to clear yesterday. All of the advice had coalesced into one cohesive ball of wisdom that was impossible to misinterpret. As the line stepped forward again though, it was all just a horrible white noise that was making him feel a bit sick.

He dared to lift his head and look to the front of the queue. A girl his own age was being ushered into the room. She looked confident, poised, and even happy. Was it an act? A show of bravado? Or did she really have that self-assuredness in abundance?

Time ticked on, and with each step forward the cacophony in his mind grew louder and louder, until all he could hear was a noise that made his head throb.

At the head of the line, a kindly old man patted him on the shoulder.

“Ready?” he asked.

Martin nodded, and winced at the pain in his swollen cranium.

“Choose Day is a once in a lifetime thing. Enjoy it.”

The old man smiled, then guided him through the door. Martin heard it close behind him and stood alone in the dark, hearing his own panicked breathing. This moment would shape the rest of his life. He been tutored by his family, all of whom had been through this on their own 18th birthdays. His father had chosen a stable career over a shot at fame. His mother had chosen money in a lump sum over a steady income. His brother had chosen to learn to be a pilot over learning to be a carpenter.

Everyone was given a choice individually tailored to their needs and wants.

A complex algorithm crunched all the date of the first eighteen years of your life, and offered up two future pathways.

Martin had been obsessed with his Choose Day for most of his life, and he’d been drilled relentlessly about every possible choice he might encounter. He should be ready. So why did he feel like curling up into a ball and pretending to be dead?

The lights came on.

A screen blinked into life.

It offered a simple choice, and asked him to touch his finger on the one he preferred.

On the left it read ‘Lawyer’.

That was to be expected. When he wasn’t myopically focused on Choose Day, he was reading law books.

On the right it read ‘Burnt To A Crisp’.

He dithered.

He prevaricated.

His finger hovered from one choice to the next.

Finally, it was the strong words of his Father that prompted him.

A door opened, and Martin stepped through it.

The flames engulfed him.

Moan Day

Laurie never knew what to say come Moan Day. Her usual gripe about Moan Day not actually being on a Monday was boring even her now, but who thought to hold the weekly moaning day on a Wednesday anyway?

Ever since she’d learned to speak, this weekly, legislated ritual had been a huge part of her life. Everyone else just seemed to take it in their stride, but she had to prep, make notes, do test runs, rehearsals, alternative takes, and make sure she was ready. Everyone else just rocked up to the lectern, spat out some perceived slight, and got back down again.

Not Laurie.

And it’s not like she could moan about all the work that went into Moan Day either. That was verboten. Moan Day was sacrosanct. Moan Day was done in a certain way, and anyone deviating from the format was usually never seen again.

State-sponsored whingeing seemed, on the surface, like a good idea. Until you added the policing, and the punishments.

Laurie wouldn’t be allowed to moan about anything that actually mattered. She’d have to moan about something tiny, trivial, something not worth the effort. And the consequences of moaning wrong didn’t bear thinking about.

She shuffled her note cards, checking the order for the tenth time in as many minutes. Her bladder was making itself known, the way it always did when the butterflies started to fly around her stomach.

The kerfuffle from the lectern was enough to make her look up. He was being dragged away, a buzzing think stick charring a shape into the small of his back through his burning shirt. The silence from the gathered crowd only served to amplify his screams of pain, even as they disappeared behind a door. Laurie hadn’t heard what had prompted this, and hoped that nothing on her note cards would do the same.

She stepped up to the podium, and coughed. Her throat was so dry that it was painful. A glass of water sat there, untouched. The first card suddenly became wrong, and she slipped it to the back of the pile. The second one was no better, and it suffered the same fate. The third one felt like safer ground.

“Right,” she croaked. “Yesterday I watched my friend pouring a cup of tea. He put the milk in, and THEN the tea.”

Laurie was never seen again.

Sun Day

It had been a year since they had privatised the Sun.

A year of dreams, and hopes, and scandals. A year of record sunshine. A year of rollercoaster stock prices. A year of corporate warmth, that just left everyone feeling a bit, well, cold.

There was no doubt that the Sun had been sold off cheap. They’d mitigated the uproar by offering shares to the public, and pricing them much lower than the actual value of the Sun. Which meant, of course, that the public shares were quickly flogged off, and now the Sun was fully owned by hedge funds, asset managers, and pensions.

No one could quite remember how they had been tricked into thinking the Sun belonged to anyone. It had always been there in the sky, hadn’t it? But ever since they’d sold off the water, and then the trees, it just seemed natural that the Sun would be next.

And then the air.

Whenever that thought surfaced, there was a collective gulp, but attitudes were softening, and now politicians were starting to hint at it in windbag speeches.

It was the re-branding though that was taking the most time.

Some people thought that it was going too far. There had been some uproar at first, when it was announced, but it had soon fizzled out, as the next outrage took hold, and it was all forgotten. So, over the year, anyone daring to glance at the glowing orb in the sky would see the new logo taking shape.

At the moment, emblazoned across the golden fiery surface, it read SHINEI.

It was nearly complete.

One more nuclear missile would put the final dot under the exclamation point.

The company had been pushing out scientists for weeks now, rebutting the charge that one more nuclear explosion would send the star into supernova. They’d done the maths. It was safe. They used all the money from the new income stream to do the due diligence, and the trillions they’d spent spunking their new logo on the surface was tax deductible, so they hadn’t actually paid anything back to the Treasury. And when the company looked like it was about to go bust, there had been public money to help with that – after all, no-one wanted the Sun going down. It was a vital service.

That morning, billions of people had put their payment cards in their solar meters, and paid for another day of sunshine. Here though, it was a little overcast, though not technically enough to qualify for a rebate.

The gathered protesters looked up to the sky, waving their placards with a waning anger. It they were right, the world was about to end, and their was nothing they could do about it now.

If they were wrong, they’d just look stupid.

They weren’t quite sure which was worse.