Take Back Sideways
by Stewart Wilson
Nobody ever believed that the new revolution would be over a dimension. Oh, futurists liked to rave into their moblogs about how the new science they were working on (or the device they had wanked over last night, or both) was the best thing since sliced bread, that it would be the cause of the new revolution. They were wrong, short-sighted. They, being futuristsm had an inherently poor idea of the real world. No futurists predicted the revolution that was the Poll Tax riots — and make no mistake, that was a revolution.
There was vast civil unrest when the government enforced the 2-D Law. It had to at the time. England was ovecrowded all to buggery, Scotland and Wales had built walls to stop the English flooding in and taking what little space there was left. The Government had an idea, but it was a long-term one. Someone in power had watched too much Flatland.
Ian hadn't read it. He wasn't much of a reader, but he could think just fine. Last of the English ex-pats, or so he told it down the pub. A good laugh for a Bloody Englishman, amiable enough and smiling enough that he didn't care that every Scotsman there was laughing at him as much as with him. But he didn't care. He liked the place, liked the feel of everything. And when his papers had been processed and put in order, he went to tell his family down in the historic city of Milton Keynes, capital of 2-D England.
The English were wary of allowing phone calls from Scotland and Wales. The rest of the world was easy to colour with media spin, Internet communications were being controlled and filtered better than the Cashologists of old. England didn't want people looking around and wondering.
The Tube was a sight. A nationwide mass-transit system, vast in size. Tourists were filed into a corridor that matched their destination, loaded in one side of the massive trains and out of the other. The only way to move a population so big was to treat them like Cattle. Ian didn't like it, but there wasn't anything he could do. Grey walls either side of him wherever he walked. Endless elegantly-curving partitions from everyone else. Some had glass ceilings, formless grey with old halogen strip-lights. The Tube handled everything that the automated conveyors in the people-tubes couldn't manage. A sign Ian read on the Tube warned of the harsh penalties for pushing people out of the way.
The flat in Milton Keynes was smaller than Ian remembered. Then again, when he had lived there it had been a real flat, spread out. Now it was a collection of sliding partition walls, everything in a straight line from everything else. Geometric. Grey. Boring. Jim, Ian's dad, appreciated the whisky his son brought, and his mum liked the flowers, but there was something strained. The flat was made for two now, and a spare room wasn't something his parents could afford. Ian shrugged, and got a smaller Tube to a nearby cube hotel.
He remembered the flat, what it was like growing up in it. What it was like having space. But those weren't the only things he remembered. Without thinking he logged on and sent an e-mail to his flatmate up in Edinburgh before climbing into a bed made for a person a foot smaller than he.
The sound of someone banging on his door woke Ian with a start.
"Police, sir. You have fifteen seconds to open the door before we do so and you are charged for damages."
Ian lept into a pair of boxers and pulled the door open.
"Can I help you?"
"You attempted to send an e-mail out of the internal network sir. I'm afriad you didn't purchase the credits to do so, and the manager saw the contents of the e-mail and was forced to contact us."
"I'm with you so far."
"I'm afraid you'll have to accompany us to the station."
The police took the same tubes as everyone else. Their central systems shunted the corridors such that we were able to ascend five stories at the nearest point, and from there we used the executive lanes. It's burned into the national psyche, Ian thought. It has to be. There's no other excuse for what people are getting away with here.
The policeman who interviewed Ian wasn't a charming stereotype. He was an old man with a scarred face and blooms on his face, probably from alcohol. He had a look about him like he enjoyed giving some of the younger detainees a right good seeing to. Ian's arse clenched at the thought.
"Now, I've read this stuff you've been writing back to your friends up there. And if this gets anywhere, you could be in a lot of trouble."
"Why? What exactly have I done? Are you going to charge me?"
"That all depends. You see, this country relies on some basic rules. If we didn't have those rules, we'd be a mass of people, overbalancing and crushing each other..."
"Is this where I get the lecture thinly disguised as an interview about this crackhead's dream of a system being the only one that will work? Because I've heard it before and it gets a bit boring. If you're going to charge me, then charge me. I'm a citizen, I know my rights."
"I'm afraid not."
"What are you talking about?" This is it, there goes my backside...
"Two years ago the government required all citizens be implanted with an ID chip. Anyone without one can be held without charge indefinitely as a potential enemy of the state. If we have reason to believe that about you, which is what this e-mail looks like."
"..." Ian was lost for words. He'd never dreamed that mum and dad on the other side of the 150-foot concrete and steel wall had to put up with this.
"You get a night in the cells this time, and you get put on our database. You can leave the country, but not come back. Subversive activities will be monitored, and your details will go on file," the policeman's face split with a hideous leer, "unless there was some kind of accident which kept things off file?"
That it was actually a question threw Ian for a loop.
"No, thanks. I'd rather not have anything happen to my file." Not yet, anyway.
The policeman sighed, and Ian was processed.
Before the country as reconfigured for corridors, the capital city was called London. This was something Ian knew from childhood stories, mostly. The populace had been relocated to the new, fresh way of living in Milton Keynes and the whole place was a building site even as he was growing up. There had been one thing he remembered, shots from the air of the blackened remains of the Palace — Crystal? Buckingham? He couldn't remember — with the big public square at the front. He was sure of what he had to do.
Ian had never tried rabble-rousing. He was an out of work physicist, ten-a-penny in Edinburgh at the moment, but that gave him enough knowledge to work on. He bought some basic supplies from a basement-level tube-shop that didn't have a human assistant. He noted that now he had to foll out a statement of intent every time he bought something odd. Fortunately, an aluminium souveneir emblem of the English Republic was fine, as was the wire wool he bought for cleaning his pans after cooking the cheap and crap food. The paper for his printer took some work, and he had to sign a declaration of intention for the spray paint and regular grey gloss coat. Helping his parents redecorate, apparently.
The thermite was easy to make. He even remembered the easy way to light it. The trick was getting everything to work right and on time. His parents had enough stuff on hand that he could fashion a fuse that burned hot enough for the thermite. Wait until the dead of night, blot out some security cameras with good old low-tech paint, and the job was set.
The thermite blew a massive hole in the corridors at a major juncture. The circle was easily five hundred feet across once they cleared the unstable beams and the rubble. When fire crews tried to extinguish the worst of the flames, half dried paint dribbled down the walls, revealing a massive slogan on the walls in black. Simultaneously, paper copies of the slogan dropped out of air circulation tubes as small charges blew through vent covers.
That morning, the English people woke up to a message as Ian walked through border control, praising a mass transit system that ran faster than government-sanctioned information.
Everyone saw it in the end as they turned to each other for the first time and read the words on the walls and on their desks.
STOP LOOKING FORWARDS
TAKE BACK SIDEWAYS