This had been a nasty one. Nathan wiped his brow with his shirt sleeve and then plopped down into a nearby chair. He wanted to be glad, feel a sense of joy at completing this mission, but all that he felt was disgust. It circulated throughout his body along with his blood, driving every other sensation out through some invisible valve and leaving him devoid of anything to make joyous with. From his belt he took a water ration bottle he had spiked and swigged deeply.
This group hadn’t been like the others. They had fought back rather then scatter or surrender, and now three of them were dead while several police officers had been wounded. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen; p-folk had always been docile—up until now—but this raid had been so violent of a battle it reminded Nathan of the fanatical fighting in the Jones Revolution. Those people had had something to fight about. But p-folk were just plain stubborn; docile but stubborn, or they used to be.
“Sir, we’re ready.”
Nathan gazed up at the young officer who had spoken. He was tall and thin with a buzz cut that made him look gangly and older then he should in his ugly blue uniform. All the E-Cop uniforms were ugly. Many of those who wore them were, too. People called them Blue Puke. Applic; rumor had it that applicants to the E-Cop Academy were accepted based on the meanness of their looks and how they handled a baton. Even so, it made no sense why the p-folk would fight back.
When the E-Laws were first passed no one seemed to notice. Not one of the major print publishing houses closed their doors or curtailed production, and there was no run on the bookstores. Sales remained steady, exemptions common, and no one cared. No one until Senator Rack became angry. Rumor has it somebody didn’t publish his book or they put out one about his several rendezvous with a number of dumpy broads. Why were they always fat? No one remembered that. What they recall is the image of the man screaming red-faced on the senate floor, calling for the suppression of the liberal socialist influence pervading the great American culture through print media. It wouldn’t be surprising that he got the E-Laws to be enforced just to shut him up. Why only print media?
People then had four years to sell, trade, and finally destroy all their print. Almost everything had to go, even computer printouts. It wasn’t through some censoring, moral abuse committee that it worked—almost everything used sex-crap or bloodshed to sell—but by the EPA, which only allowed authorized printing on recycled paper; which meant the rich got to do it and the poor not at all. ‘Cleaner, safer, faster’ was the new business motto for book publishers. A person wasn’t e-conscious if they bemoaned the loss of print or didn’t actively tout the greatly reduced usage of fossil fuel energy. Nuclear Safe was the way things went today, though no one seemed to really know what that meant or if less energy was actually being used. Ask Senator Rack; ain’t he on that committee? People were chastised as ‘un-modern’ if not e-quipped with the latest e-gadgets, living from e-bite to e-bite, and having your info stellar-ed. “E” for environment, “E” for expensive, “E” for ecology, “E” for e-hole: take your choice.
The E-Cop officer stared down at him with a wry smile of disapproval. Nathan glared back. What’s the matter, lieutenant? Don’t you like a stubble beard and wrinkled clothing on your captain? I can stop bathing, too, wonder puke. Nathan couldn’t think of the man’s name, let alone that of any member of the lieutenant’s team. It didn’t seem to matter now. Not that Nathan hated the E-Cops, but these punks were just too smug for him. Nothing but an e-black hole between their ears. Maybe you did win, but screw you, anyway.
“Alright, lieutenant,” Nathan said in a languid voice. “Let’s clear everybody out.”
The lieutenant turned away and tried to yell like the drill sergeant he wasn’t, his voice cracking several times in the effort. The p-folk prisoners were shoved here and there by the officers until they finally had been lined up and sent marching up out of the basement, out the front door, and into the waiting van on the street. Continuously pushed from the rear, a woman at the end of the line slipped on the first step and one of the officers pulled her roughly to her feet.
“Lieutenant, they’re people, not cattle!”
“Yes, sir,” the young officer replied while probably giving Nathan the finger behind his back.
“Don’t yes sir me, you piss ant. Do it! Or I’ll have you dragged all the way back to the station.”
Nathan took another swig. He had never thought of p-folk as dirt; never hated them. They just didn’t develop into the modern and stayed as out-of-touch, off-line dreamers. So what? Let them keep their print for all he cared. Two or three generations from now both them and their print will be in e-useums. What did he care? Free-reading of non-edited manuscripts wasn’t against the law. And if it ever did become so, it wasn’t the type of crap crime a captain of police ought to be rooting out.
The last of the p-folk were marched out, and for the moment Nathan was left alone. He swiveled round on his chair and faced the bank of computer screens: some smashed and dark, others still flickering with colored patterns of lines or vid-images. They set everything up well. It fooled the inspectors how many times? He reached over and worked a few of the switches and dials, and the screens flittered and danced as if actually performing apps. Text messages even popped up. Cute!
From their basement, this group of p-folk had fooled every server and monitoring station in the country into thinking that their e-book readers were on and being paged, and that their computers surfed the Network. No one suspected that all the time the p-folk flipped through old magazines or print, dramatized live plays, or read poetry irl under the cover of the very processes that sought out such activity. Cute! He reached underneath the table and yanked out the power cord. There was a single “tink” like the sound of a metal pen dropped on the floor just before all the screens winked out.
What do the p-folk see in print that others don’t? Is it the smell of the paper, the feel, the weight when carrying them, or is it all for show—“look what I’ve read?” It’s not like the books were being censored or taken away. They’re there in e-form, every word, every book anyone could ever think of, while the E-Laws stated they can’t be taken away even if the person is sentenced to life in prison; the readers go with them, unaltered, to jail. The newest ones can store one-million titles; one-million books in the size of one print, and you could own as many readers as you wanted. E-books don’t carry bacteria from one user to the next, are purchased for a lifetime, and the pages never wrinkle, tear or fade. What the hell do p-folk want, anyway? It’s all better than the same.
Nathan climbed the stairs out of the basement. As he crossed the front room, he spied an odd print on a table and picked it up: a thin pocketbook by someone named Hemingway with the picture of a pair of gnarled hands holding a fishing line on the cover. He riffled the pages one-handed, and then remembered he’d read it while in school. When was the last time I went fishing out on a boat? He closed and locked the door, and placed a police lock on the outside.
A cool night had crept up. The street was nearly normal again with the van and the ambulances gone. The crowds had left, and only Nathan’s car remained with the lights bobbling off houses and vehicles as if looking for someone else to arrest. That idiot of a lieutenant switched them on, and probably has the whole block wondering who’s next to be caged.
He slipped into the driver’s seat, turned off the lights, and started the engine up. “Vehicle set in manual mode,” chimed a voice from the console. Nathan worked the maneuvering control and the vehicle pulled away from the curb.
“Collecting evidence, sir?” the lieutenant said.
“Mind your own damn business, lieutenant.”
copyright © 2012 by mari t.