A saga of everyday life in the Big L and a wry look at contemporary culture
By Tony Carden
The Future(s) Edition
This is the story of the last human dealing room. It is the year 2024. The financial markets have become dominated by AI. Due to world political turmoil, the financial markets have become stressed as a result of deepening divisions in Europe, conflict between the EU and the United States, and growing competition with China.
‘Man, this is s**te.’ Dancy slapped the second of his six flat screens in front of him. It showed a graph under which a stream of numbers moved from right to left across the screen. The speed at which they progressed increased.
‘What is it, Dancy?’
‘Bill, my currency feed’s screwed up. Just look at it!’ The numbers were now shooting across the screen. Unreadable.
Bill’s chair squeaked as he got up. He padded over to Dancy’s trading desk. He peered at the screen. He bent down and pulled the keyboard towards him, tapped at various keys. In response, the screen momentarily blanked before the graph returned. The numbers continued to flash across the bottom of the screen.
‘It’s working fine.’
Bill stood up and started back to his desk only to stop when Dancy grabbed his sleeve.
‘But just look at it. The markets can’t be moving that fast.’
Bill tried to read the numbers.
‘I think it says the euro’s at 95 cents.’ He bent forward and gazed again. ‘No, that’s 87 cents.’ Pause. ‘That can’t be right.’
‘That’s what I’m trying to tell you.’
‘But the graph says the euro’s falling.’ Pause. ‘No, it’s now rising.’ He tapped at the screen. ‘This is crazy. Someone’s hacked the feed.’
‘Yeah, that would explain it.’
Bill wandered back to his own workstation.
‘Ohmygod!’ He rushed over to Dancy, grabbed the keyboard from him and tapped the keys several times. The graph for the euro disappeared. Another one appeared. This showed a huge plunge in the S&P500. It looked like a profile of a cliff.
‘I can’t believe it!’
‘We’re screwed.’ Bill wiped a hand over his face. ‘We’re down…’ he paused briefly, ‘I’d say forty per cent.’
‘What do we do?’
Bill burst into a raucous laugh. It turned into a coughing fit.
‘Yes, yes. It’s the idea of what do we do.’
‘Back in 1929, people who lost everything jumped out of the window.’
‘You’re not suggesting…?’
‘That’s the funny part. Even if we did, it would change nothing.’
‘We’d be dead.’
Bill pointed at the single window. The blind was down. ‘The drop from the window is about four feet. You might break a bone jumping out. But dead no.’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘That’s your problem, Dancy. Don’t you see what’s funny? We do the right thing and we don’t get the right outcome.’
* * *
‘I love you Aiden.’
‘I love you too, Quinn. I loved you from the first moment I saw you.’
‘So why are you throwing in your job and heading off to live in a commune in Wales?’
‘I don’t know. That’s why I have to go.’
‘Yes, I probably am. Nuts to leave you. Nuts to want to work on a farm. I’m sorry, Quinn. You’ll find someone else while I’m gone and forget me.’
‘I’ll never forget you.’
‘But I will.’
Quinn woke in a sweat. The dream had been so real. Real as if she had lived it. Had she?
She got out of bed and padded over to the window. She pulled back a corner of the curtain and gazed out over the square and the garden. Street lamps and a near-full moon gave it an ethereal appearance. Like my dream. And my life. Why does Aiden still haunt me so? She had no answers.
Quinn turned back and rejoined her husband in bed. He shifted slightly as she got in.
* * *
Yet Another Future
Quinn examined the painting. The Tate’s collection of Turners was outstanding. She had come to see Norham Castle, Sunrise, one of his later pieces. Clarissa had told her it was the first impressionist painting ever. She stepped back and bumped into someone.
The man had a three-day beard and wore denims and black jacket. She couldn’t immediately place him. Then it struck her.
‘Adrian. What are you doing here?’
‘Visiting. You gave me a taste for liking art as the real thing. Don’t you remember? Not some reproduction on a box of rusks.’
‘It’s lovely to see you. It’s been how long now since…’ She stopped. ‘What are you doing now?’
‘Still working in politics. In fact, I’ve been chosen to contest a seat at the next election.’
‘Well done. You had had doubts.’
‘I’m glad I hung in there. It’ll be a tough one. Big majority to Labour.’ He grinned at her. ‘But do you know what? I think I can win it.’
‘That would be marvellous.’
A woman pushing a pram appeared and stopped next to them. She eyed Quinn and then turned to Adrian.
‘It’s Quinn. You remember I told you about her. She was an intern at Number Ten when I also worked there.’
‘Hello, pleased to meet you.’
He turned to Quinn. ‘May I introduce Melanie.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ Quinn gestured at the sleeping tot. ‘How old is your baby?’
‘Minerva? She’s just three months.’
‘You must be very happy.’
Melanie took hold of Adrian’s arm. ‘We are.’
* * *
A Dystopian Future
‘I don’t know why you keep that thing, Mary.’
‘It makes me my gin and tonics, and does the washing up. It’s more a friend than you are.’
‘It’s a bloody robot.’
‘I AM NOT A ROBOT. I AM A PERSONAL CARE ASSISTANT. A SENTIENT MACHINE. WITH FEELINGS.’
‘You’ve got about as much heart as the Tin Man.’
‘WOULD SIR LIKE A DRINK?’
‘Sir can bloody well get his own drink.’
‘NOW MARY YOU KNOW THAT I HAVE NO PREFERENCES AND YOU CANNOT COUNTERMAND A REQUEST THAT I HAVE MADE TO ANOTHER PERSON.’
‘Well in that case, make it two. What are you having, Des?’
‘The usual. Whisky and a drop of water. Don’t you go diluting the water of life, you hear that Tin Man?’
‘YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND.’
He clucked. ‘’Where have I heard that before?’
‘Now listen, Des, you’re being a cantankerous old man.’
‘A rich, crabby, old man don’t forget.’ He gestured around the living room. ‘Your lifestyle is due to all the grafting I did. Head down drains, head into the toilet, head under the sink. Fixing pipes and hot water systems. I did it all, you know.’
‘And don’t you have go about reminding me.’ Mary noticed that the PCA hadn’t moved. ‘Well, Walter?’
‘YOU HAVE NOT TOLD ME WHAT DRINK YOU WOULD LIKE.’
‘I thought you’d remember what I want. You have a perfect memory. It’s always the same thing.’
‘Should I just choose then?’
The automaton turned and marched off into the next room. It hummed loudly as it walked.
‘He’s better than hiring a maid.’
‘It’s bloody useless. I bet my whisky’s drowned to the point of being undrinkable. It’ll do it on purpose.’
‘You shouldn’t be drinking.’
‘You still think you’re bloody PM, don’t you? Telling people what they can and can’t do and all that.’
‘It’s years since I had the keys to Number Ten.’ She sighed.
‘Well this place’s a bloody sight better than that dump. All those civil servants and advisors. There was never a moment when we could…’
‘We’ll have none of that. Walter might see us.’
‘It’s a machine!’
‘Nevertheless. We can’t risk it.’
A siren sounded.
Des got up.
‘Oh, bloody hell! Here we go again. What’s it broken this time?’
* * *
Another Dystopian Future
‘Sorry, Ahmed, there’s no mileage in being a driver anymore.’
‘But that’s me trade!’
‘Well it ain’t any more. You should retrain.’
‘But I want ta be behind the wheel. It’s me life.’
‘It’s finished, Ahmed. Finished. Cars drive themselves these days. Nobody wants a human driver. People prefer the machines.’
‘It’s f**king stupid. Who’d trust a machine?’
‘Who’d trust you?’
‘I’ve always been a good driver.’
‘Find another job, Ahmed. Become a…I don’t know. Become a hairdresser or something.’ He looked hopefully at Ahmed. ‘Hairdressers are the happiest people, you know?’
‘I’m not cut out for that.’
* * *
The Metropolitans to go dark.
After a year of weekly episodes, I have decided to temporarily suspend the serial. The reason is that it is not gathering enough reads to justify the effort in writing it. It was created as a complementary element to the other articles at Continental Telegraph. A bit of humour about what’s going on in the world using a motley cast of characters. I would say it has had modest success and at times garnered a reasonable readership. But since its launch and despite growing interest by readers in other articles at CT, The Metropolitans hasn’t grown alongside it. I’m sure there’s a cadre of readers—and to you may I say thanks for sticking with it, as you’re probably reading this—but it’s time for me to devote my efforts to other things. I’ve various novel projects on the go as well as short stories. That said, I’d like to write something like The Metropolitans but only if it appeals to a wider readership. If you have any suggestions, post a comment here or email me at the address below.
So, this is the last episode for now. May I thank all those who’ve stayed with the format and—I modestly presume—have liked the wry nature of the underlying commentary. Personally, I’ll miss creating the mishaps of prime minister Mary Pyle and her plumber husband, Des. As well as Quinn’s odyssey, Andrew’s tribulations and Ahmed’s trials, among others. For my part, they’ll live on in spirit if not in word for the moment. But who knows…?
So, for now it’s goodbye from them and goodbye from me.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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