All Allinson needed to do was speak to someone. He might as well have wanted to be the Queen.
There was a telephone number he had kept from an earlier time.
He’d rung it on his legacy landline. The only reason he’d still got it was because he’d ignored the promises, offers and threats to change to a mobile. Same as he’d ignored all the increasingly aggressive communications about having his heating and lighting and kitchen appliances connected to the Net. They had tried to make him feel as if he were personally responsible for killing the planet. Each appliance he refused to connect was supposedly individually, directly, responsible for overheating a Polar Bear or choking a Dolphin. The role of the power companies, the motor manufacturers, Chinese coal fired industry, everyone else on the planet was apparently irrelevant. His gas fired central heating, installed under the slogans of efficiency, cleanliness and sustainability was now going to be cut off. No he didn’t have choice.
Everything was connected now, didn’t he know.
Everything until you wanted to ask a question, get an answer, tell someone something different.
He’d rung the number. It had redirected him. It was no longer staffed. An automated voice, possibly a human recording but most probably these days a computer voice simulation told him to go to a website or text a number or email but most answers could be found on one of several social media platforms which now supplied information which satisfied over ninety per cent of client enquiries. It offered to repeat the contact details and then terminated the call.
Allinson went for a walk into town. Or where the town had been. The place he had grown up thinking was the centre of the town, the place where you could get all the requirements of life; food, drink clothes, shoes, access to the offices of those supplying amenities like water, power, telephone, had been gutted like a fish. No worse than a fish. There the spine and ribs remained. Here there was nothing. There were some takeaway food shops, some betting shops, a couple of charity shops recycling things, an opticians and some hairstylists. The remaining food shops were supermarkets on the outer ring road. The council offices where you could pay your rates in the old days, your council tax now, were closed to the public. There was a website and a mobile app to pay. A building that used to be a labour exchange, then a Job Centre and now a place where terminals scrolled online jobs, lowered over the end of the street. Inside euphemistically named jobs coaches threatened to cut your benefits if you didn’t attend the indoctrinations to indentured non jobs and enslaving zero hour contract treadmills
Allinson considered firebombing something but you couldn’t get the petrol and the 24/7 total coverage face recognition cctv guaranteed capture, probably before the crime was committed.
In shops he’d been able to have conversations. To talk to people.
Now the monitoring of staff performance by chips, key loggers and video meant staff were part of the machine and if they wanted to outcompete their automated replacements for a few more paydays, they threw the purchases at you and didn’t have time to say even please and thank you. Most of the checkouts were automated anyway and only security guards patrolled the line of pay desks. He’d tried using cash once to exercise his legal right to pay using coin of the realm, only to be told that didn’t exist any more and besides the company’s commercial considerations rated higher than his poxy rights. He’d complained until they had thrown him out and then complained some more until the police came and moved him on for causing a disturbance. He’d tried to complain about that, but the town ‘hub’ computers wouldn’t let him download the complaint form or complete the online version as it was not within the purview of the authorities IT remit. He’d tried complaining about that but…
And now he wanted to warn them of something.
He wanted to speak to someone about something the FAQs and circular non-contact contact links hadn’t bargained for.
The police station was closed to the public.
The contact numbers didn’t contact anyone.
Emergency numbers only turned out responses for immediate threats or occurrences of violence. Longer term or lesser threats were logged on another system but it would be better if you could fill in an online form.
Allinson went back home.
The alien was still there.
The translation machine hummed and it said;
Allinson shook his head.
‘They won’t negotiate?’
‘I don’t know I can’t get through to anyone.’
‘Same as us then?’
‘We shall have to mark this species as too primitive and self absorbed to be preserved you know?’
‘We’ll be off then.’
‘Would you like to come with us? You have been most helpful, within the limits of your system.’
Allinson thought about it a moment.
‘Can I take my dog, Lexxy?’
The alien paused for a moment, spoke into a small cube, then listened to a metallic crackling.
It switched the translator on again.
‘I’ll need authorisation, but there’s no-one staffing the desk at the moment. Can you fill in an online form to request the transfer?’
‘I think I’ll stay where I am thanks.’