For your reading pleasure, I've posted Filtered Future, one of the short stories from my book, The Arcade and Other Strange Tales. It is sociological science fiction, meaning it extrapolates a current trend to its logical extreme. Inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and George Orwell’s 1984, the story deals with political correctness, safe spaces, safety issues, and more. Enjoy!
It was 2053, nine years after PolitiCor had issued the required—by penalty of death—impact suits.
Mark Bannister sat at his desk, remembering how bad things had been before the impact suits: when man killed his fellow man over a pair of athletic shoes, when angry words and simple hand gestures could lead to gunfire, and when a sting from a wasp or a scathing comment from a loved one burned like wildfire.
Now, thanks to the spandex-like suits, which incorporated nanotechnology in their design, it was virtually impossible to harm or offend anyone, either physically or mentally.
Mark gulped a mug of blazing-hot coffee like it was fraternity beer. The coffee passed through the sensor-enhanced translucent fabric stretched over his mouth, cooling it to an innocuous warm.
Mark set the coffee mug on his desk, opened the right-hand desk drawer, and pulled out a tattered copy of the King James Bible. Leaning back in his chair, trying to make the most of his ten-minute break, he turned to the story of Noah.
It seems Noah and his family and their pets—two of every kind of animal—were onboard a luxury liner, soaking in the warm sunshine. A rainbow stretched from one horizon to the other, neatly dividing the cloudless sky in two.
An occasional yacht would float by, filled to the brim with smiling, clean-shaven men, beautifully adorned women, and cherubic, almost angelic children. Invariably, they would wave at Noah, yelling words of thanksgiving for his warnings regarding the flood.
Mark set the book aside, secretly embarrassed for indulging his hobby with such a sacred tome. Over the years he had developed a fascination with comparing his memories of pre-impact suit reading material, art, movies and music with the current, suit-revised versions of same.
Like a heroin addict, Mark hated himself for his filthy habit. He hated himself not because of his interest in collecting and enjoying various forms of entertainment media, but because of his blatant hypocrisy.
Initially, Mark had loathed the impact suits and had bitterly opposed them. He despised the idea of censorship, and the suits were terribly uncomfortable. Also, it was hard to breathe naturally and easily through the rubbery mesh material.
Like most everyone else, however, Mark grew to tolerate and even appreciate the impact suits. They made life safe and largely painless, but what Mark really liked about the impact suits was their sheer cleverness. He was fascinated by the way the sensors translated offensive material, how they could instantly transform any type of art, communication or physical contact into sanitized pabulum.
Alterations of best-selling books, such as the Bible, had been preprogrammed into the impact suits, but the straight-jackets (as some people called them) were also good at modifying lesser known works on the fly. Mark remembers reading a murder mystery written by a friend of his years ago, but in the story no one died or was even wounded. That one was pretty boring, he had to admit. It was much more fun to read the classics and spot the differences.
Mark startled from his reverie and looked up from his desk to see Richard Hanking grinning from ear to ear and holding a letter opener in his hand. Richard worked down the hall in accounting. He was a hairy, nervous little guy who called everyone “boss” and “pardner.” Like a rat, his eyes were close together.
Mark watched as Richard began stabbing the knife-like instrument at his stomach, neck and wrists.
“Ummm…what are you doing?” Mark asked.
Richard threw the impotent stainless steel implement to the floor. “I am my suit! It fits me like a glove! I am my suit! I am loving it again!” Like a toddler who doesn’t like his jammies, Richard pulled and yanked at his impact suit until his face turned red.
Mark frowned, trying to make sense of the translation. The suits weren’t perfect. They did manage to filter out and alter most offensive material, but sometimes they made a mess of certain phrases spoken in haste, especially if said phrases were nonsensical in nature. And they weren’t sophisticated enough to control body language (at least not yet).
Mark assumed that Richard wasn’t really “loving his suit again,” but that he was fed up and frustrated—out-of-his-mind angry, cussing a blue streak. This wasn’t the first time that Richard had complained about his form-fitting suit.
Trying to calm his coworker and friend, Mark said, “It’s been almost ten years. You’ve got to learn to accept how things are. There’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do about it.”
Richard stopped tugging at his suit. His shoulders slumped, and he slunk down in the chair across from Mark’s desk.
Mark leaned over and spoke in a hushed tone. “Richard…you’ve got to understand…underground scientists have labored night and day for years trying to find a way to remove the suits, and nothing has worked. They’re years away from a solution, and before they even come close, government scientists will have upgraded the suits, or at least reconfigured the sensors.”
Impact suits didn’t filter all subversive conversation—that technology was still a few years away—their specialty was toning down violence, eliminating harsh language and preventing physical and emotional harm.
Richard looked down at the floor, scratched the back of his neck and said, “I know, I know. I’ve heard it all before. I just can’t live like this anymore. The darned thing is driving me crazy. I can’t taste my cigarettes. I miss chewing my food—that liquid stuff the government doles out tastes terrible. And when I’m with my girl, I feel like my whole body is wrapped in a condom.”
“You haven’t already forgotten the car wreck you were in last summer, have you?” Mark asked. “Your impact suit saved your life. Mine saved my life, too.”
Richard rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. “I know, I know. I’m just…What do you mean your life? What happened?”
“Hunting accident. I’ll tell you about it sometime.”
Richard nodded, nervously pulling at the transparent layer of second skin covering his hands.
“Hey,” Mark said, his eyes lighting up. “Why don’t you come with me to my next bouncer meeting? You can have some fun with your suit.”
“You know, bouncing. Surely you’ve heard of it.”
Richard rubbed his chin, shrugged his shoulders.
“We meet downtown every other Sunday when all the businesses are closed,” Mark said. “There’s about fifteen of us. We jump off buildings and rebound safe as basketballs off the sidewalk. We bounce around like idiots, laughing hysterically. It really is a lot of fun. And amazingly therapeutic!”
Richard frowned, shook his head and said, “I don’t know about all that. Sounds kinda scary.”
“Think about it, will ya? The impact suits aren’t so bad when you learn to take advantage of all they can do.”
Richard looked like he was going to cry.
“You know you can’t beat the security of these things,” Mark said, patting his chest. “I’d feel naked without my suit. Vulnerable. Exposed.”
Richard nodded unconvincingly.
Mark smiled, trying to lighten Richard’s mood. He shuffled some papers on his desk. “Gotta get back to work. Maybe later we can grab some lunch. I hear Bentley’s over on seventh has killer beef broth and excellent shakes.”
“What’s the use?” Richard asked. “The stupid suit filters out all the flavor—the fat, the sugar, most of the salt—everything good.”
As Richard left Mark’s office in disgust, Mark flipped on his computer. While waiting for it to warm up, he leafed through a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—the story of a young married couple who lived happily ever after.
Grinning, Mark shook his head. “Ole Shakes would roll over in his grave.”
“Welcome to the World Wide Wonderland,” the feminine computer voice said. “You’ve got messages.”
Mark tossed the book aside. Nothing but junk mail. He told the computer to delete the mail and began composing an email of his own.
How about those guys down in Houston? That was a close one. Those rascals at NASA are pretty bright. Ahem, were pretty bright. LOL. Anyhow, there’s a little weasel down the hall from me named Richard Hanking. I think he’s about to crack. He’s mostly just a number cruncher, but he does have some technical expertise—in college he majored in computer science and minored in engineering. And I believe he has connections at the University. Anyway, it’ll probably come to nothing, but you can never be too sure. Even the slave riots of ’32 had to start somewhere small. Let me know if you want the situation taken care of. I think I’ve still got a couple of those PolitiCor-issue suit-piercing bullets somewhere around here.
P.S. Next time you’re at PolitiCor South, say hey to Judy for me.
Mark pushed back from his desk, tired from hardly doing anything all morning. He had some virtual files to go through, but he figured they could wait until after lunch. He opened the right hand drawer of his desk, reached inside, grabbed a copy of Frankenstein and began reading about the adventures of a happy scientist and his grateful creation.
Later, during lunch, Richard barely spoke. He slurped his strained potato soup through the stretchy material covering his mouth. He told Mark he might show up at the bouncer meeting, but Mark was skeptical.
The following morning was Saturday, and only Mark and Richard were scheduled to work. Mark showed up a few minutes early, but noticed that Richard’s car was already in the parking lot.
Mark, thinking it odd that Richard beat him to the office, shrugged his shoulders and let himself in through the front door, locking it behind him.
Mark frowned as he went by Richard’s office. The door was open, and the light was on, but Richard wasn’t there.
Mark continued down the hallway to his office, passing by a decidedly different print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Beneath a clear blue sky, the figure was smiling, his teeth shining brightly.
Mark stuck his key card in the door to his office, but the lack of a beeping sound betrayed the fact that it was already unlocked. He nudged it open with his briefcase. As he stepped in, he flipped on the light. He froze in his steps.
Richard was sitting at Mark’s desk, fidgeting, squirming, looking nervous and uncomfortable in his impact suit.
“Richard! You scared the shoot out of me! What the heck are you doing in my office? Why are you sitting here in the dark?”
Larry pulled a gun from his lap and waved it in the air. “Just being nosy.”
He pointed the gun at Mark.
“Your email never made it to this Steve guy. Must’ve been a problem with the server.”
Mark laughed nervously. “Haven’t you forgotten something? My impact suit will…”
Mark suddenly recognized the gun. It was his own, taken from his locked desk drawer. And it was loaded with suit-piercing bullets.
Richard, slowly standing up, said something that sounded like “You friend! I’m going to like you. You friend!”
Beads of sweat appeared on Mark’s forehead, dampening the fabric stretched over it.
“Richard, buddy, let me explain. I didn’t mean—”
“Keep talking!” Richard seemed to say.
Mark felt as though his impact suit were shrinking a size a second. His scrotum followed. He closed his eyes and reached out as though to he could ward off the bullets with his hands.
Mark heard the shots ring out, but he felt no pain. Maybe I’m in shock, he thought. Maybe Richard missed. Mark slowly opened his squinting eyes.
In his state of extreme anxiety, Mark hadn’t heard Richard’s body crashing over the desk and to the floor. Richard’s impact suit had sprung a bloody leak over the newly created hole in his forehead.
A pool of blood began to appear on the floor, a sight that Mark hadn’t seen in years, not even in the movies.
Shaking in his suit, Mark realized he had been holding his breath and let out of an audible sigh. He was relieved to be alive, but angry at his “friend” for scaring him witless.
After texting the police, Mark flipped on his computer, his busy mind already composing a new email to Steve.
While waiting for the computer to connect to the WWW, Mark mindlessly flipped through a copy of The Unabridged Friedrich Nietzsche. He settled on a single line of text, frowning. It read: “God is alive.”
Mark put his head on his desk and began to sob.
The crying sounded like laughter.