The sergeant called to me as we stopped at the gate, and I wound down the window to speak to him.
“What school’s your daughter in, Sergeant?”
“We’re going there this afternoon,” I said. “What’s her name?”
“She’s Julie, Julie Tomlinson.”
“Okay, I’ll make sure to speak to her.”
The sergeant gave a happy wave as we drove off.
“Is that corrupt?” I said to Max. “To talk to his daughter because I know him?”
It was strange: after our row earlier I felt closer to him, more prepared to confide. Even though I hadn’t really changed my opinions much, my respect for him had grown, and the role he had laid out for me made sense.
“No, it’s not corrupt,” he said. “I should think she gets few enough perks from being the sergeant’s daughter. And just knowing someone’s name there will be a lead-in. It’ll help. You’re so serious, Jack. Thank God you’ve got Neal around or you’d become a monk!”
“Neal’s the Rationalist. He’s been reading Padmore and he accused me to the general of ‘sentimentalist tendencies’.”
Max laughed aloud.
“Lakshmi gave him a copy of The Rational State and he keeps it on his bedside table,” I whispered. “I kind of imagine them quoting it to each other in the dark... Preserving commensuracy of analysis and action at each metalytic level is a necessary characteristic of sound praxis,” I added in a sexy purr, and Max almost had hysterics.
“You’ve—you’ve read Padmore?” he said, wiping his eyes.
“Yeah, when I was about Neal’s age, actually. But I found it hard to understand then. Maybe I’ll ask my mentor to give me a copy.”
“Do you still miss Ewan, Jack?”
“Yup. Every day. Every hour. I’m managing not to ask myself why, why, why any more, or tell myself I’m disgusting and useless all the time. Dan helped me with that, and there’s no point. Maybe when I have a mentor Ewan will tell me why. He’s obviously keeping himself out of the way until my mentor’s been chosen, so I suppose he’ll reappear at the end of next week. I won’t find it easy workng with him, Max.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Everyone has to cope with this kind of thing, I know that. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
I couldn’t stop myself: the tears began to flow quietly. I extracted a hanky from my belt pouch.
“Sorry about that,” I said. “It hasn’t happened for a day or two.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“For God’s sake don’t say anything nice, or I’ll flood the bus.”
“I won’t. The kids’ school’s coming up—you’d better make a good impression here, their coolness rating will be deeply affected.”
“Trust me, Max. I’ve never done this before; it’s bound to be a success.”
In fact, it was.
Just before we arrived, Neal came to my seat with one of Susan’s Joining cards. I was impressed: it was quite small, with a Golden Circle on a green background, and the wording in white, headed: JOINING THE FUTURE. At the top there was a space for you to write your name, and at the bottom a place marked:
I was joined by............and............on......
Neal had written his name at the top, and asked me to write mine at the bottom. I felt really moved by this.
“Did you two actually do the ceremony?” Max asked.
“Yes,” I said. “In the hotel yesterday evening. Get one for me, brother.”
He did, and we signed each other’s; I suppose the only pair of people to do that. Max found it quite extraordinary that we should actually do the ceremony ourselves.
“We did it again this morning,” I said, “in the conference room. To—help me along. Does that make sense?”
“Actually, it does,” said Max. “How interesting!”
Marsley Road Junior was quite a small school, with three hundred kids of ages roughly five to ten. Only the top two years were getting the Circles and Standard Clothing that day; just a hundred of them, and by the time we arrived, they had nearly all been measured and were waiting for their clothes in one roomful each of naked girls and boys. At our suggestion they were equipped with tunics so that they could be brought together into the main hall. This didn’t take long, and soon I was able to talk to them all, explaining what was going on, and why.
As I was talking, the three Margrave kids and three others went off to be fitted, and ten minutes later they were back, wearing the lifesuits and grinning as if it was Christmas Day. I gathered them together.
“Now we do Joining the Future,” I said. “Neal and me have done it before, and Hussein and David and Wajdi practised it yesterday. So, Hussein and me will do it with Wajdi and Ann, and Neal and David will do it with Ian and Gilly. Okay?”
And then I was sitting on the floor with the three others, nine and ten years old, and I tried to marshall my thoughts.
“All over the country the kids will be doing this, because all the kids will be wearing these clothes, and the Golden Circle. And that’s to show that we are all one people, with one clothes, and not different races and religions and so on, hating each other. Later we’ll have mentors to help us along. And in the end, all us kids will grow up, and there’ll be a better world. But for now, we aren’t free children any more. We’re controlled children, because we have a task to do, to make the world better. That’s why we do this, and it’s called Joining the Future...”
We went through it, and recited it, and then we did it again and again with them, getting it right, and I told them how this was a kid thing, not a grownup thing, something we taught each other. Before long they got it, so we split into two groups of two, because by now there were more kids coming along. But before we did, I filled in their cards, and I wrote my name alone at the bottom.
Then Hussein and I did some more, but before long, he was doing it by himself, and enrolling another helper, and another. Neal and I did a few more, including one couple together; and just as I envisaged, the whole hall was buzzing with it, as everyone worked on it. And surprisingly quickly, everyone had it off pat.
“Are we all ready?” I shouted. “Do we all know it?”
Then we formed everyone up, and facing us were the head and the other teachers, and Max, Susan and my uncle, and we recited it. And as it wasn’t loud enough, I made them do it again, and it shook the rafters.
And that’s how the first hundred controlled children Joined the Future. Of course there was a news team there.
By lunchtime, Neal and I were already exhausted, and there were two more schools to do. At Penningford High, we asked for Julie Tomlinson and were introduced to a tiny, blushing twelve-year-old. I made sure to do her Joining myself along with Neal, and we both signed her card. The second school in the afternoon, a huge high school with hundreds of kids joining, was a chaotic blur, but somehow it seemed to get finished, and the final recitation of teenagers up to the age of seventeen was tempestuous. We returned to the Centre elated with the whole experience.
“What do you think?” I said to Fred Roberts, as the bus turned through the gate.
“Great day, Jack. Watching all those kids...”
“That Joining the Future thing,” said his mate. “it’s like being in the army, isn’t it?”
“How do you mean, Derrick?”
“It says, you’re giving up your freedom for a time to carry out this task. It’s like being a soldier.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, but I see what you mean,” I said.
“We’ve given this operation a name,” said Fred, “guarding you. We call it Operation Stand Beside.”
“He will stand beside me against everything that threatens me.”
“Thanks, Fred. Thanks,” I said, moved. “I—I really appreciate it, what you’re doing. Thanks.”
“Glad you’re talking to those guys,” said Max, when I moved back to his seat. “I noticed you know all their names.”
“Of course I do. They’re protecting me. Supposing one of them got killed and I didn’t even know his name. That would be awful! What would I say to his wife or girlfriend?”
“Always show your troops your appreciation, Jack.”
“Were you in the army, Max?”
“Lieutenant Maximilian Ernst Friedrich Markgraf von Donnerwald at your service.”
“I didn’t know you were German,” I said.
“I’m not really. My great-grandparents moved here in the 1930’s. But for some reason the army decided to use my German name, complete with title...”
There was time for me to wash briefly before going with Max to the TV Centre to do his announcement and my reply, which was a rather sobering experience. We walked back to Hotel 2 together through the twilight; the day had turned dry and quite warm. We found that my aunt had already launched a competition for a name for the place.
“What was the name of that whorehouse in Iskenderun?” I said.
“Oh God, Jack! The Garden of Paradisial Delights! How do you know about that?”
“Couple of weeks back? Implant triggering and me falling over the floor? After that. You got a bit cheerful and...”
“Fuck! How many people have you told?”
“Oh, no one. Just Neal and my uncle. And my aunt. And Dan Threadgold. That’s all.”
We found the others in the bar, and the news broadcast just starting. And of course, there was a report from Marsley Road.
My daughter attends a school in North London, said a woman reporter I slightly recognised. Today they got their Standard Clothing and Golden Circles. Okay, I know, all kids are cute, and okay, I’m biased, but look. Here she is, my Susan, in her brand new yellow and green lifesuit, and I can’t help loving it. She has two others, one a sensible brown and grey job, and the other—well, you can’t describe it, except to say that it’s wild, completely wild, and my daughter, who’s usually a rather quiet little person, thinks it’s wonderful. A success.
And have a look at this. What’s going on here?
We were shown the main hall, with the floor covered with groups of four kids, their heads together, quietly talking away, occasionally breaking up and reforming, moving around.
What they’re doing is learning by heart an extraordinary declaration or pledge, maybe, called Joining the Future. No surprise, I suppose, that it was brought to the school by Jack Marchmont, who wrote it. But it’s being passed from child to child, and it will be passed from school to school, in an enormous pyramid which in the end will cover the whole country. And once everyone had learnt it: they recited it.
And we heard the kids doing it.
After our eardrums had recovered, the kids showed us what they’d been given. Their Joining Card, signed by them and the children who taught them. A gigantic bribe persuaded Susan to show you hers: and here’s her recitation as well, as she does it about ten times an hour. Once you listen to it, you’ll understand how basically serious this is, and catch a glimpse, maybe, of how Jack is using this event to try to help these kids cope with things.
And Susan recited the Joining, word-perfect.
But at the moment Susan’s crucial concern is this: her card was signed not only by Jack Marchmont himself, here... but here, by his brother Neal as well. That puts my daughter right up on the tippy-tip of the pyramid, and about as cool as it’s possible to get. And what’s more, Neal is apparently the cutest boy ever! Thanks, boys!
“The cutest boy ever!” I hooted.
All around us people cheered.
“I remember her,” said Neal. “She was nice, but kinda mousey.”
Later, we went to Wendall Park Community College, said a man’s voice, where around a thousand young people from eleven up to seventeen were doing it... Here’s a group of sixteen-year-olds discussing it.They were wearing lifesuits and sitting round a table.
Boy with specs: ‘I give up my freedom for a time’—I don’t like it. It’s a horrible feeling, but we have to deal with it somehow. If we can focus on the reasons for it, it won’t seem too bad, maybe.
Asian boy: My family is Muslim. That doesn’t mean I want to kill people. I just want to observe my religion without being interfered with. Now I can’t even go into a mosque! Look at my little sister, she’s ten and has to wear these clothes and no hijab. It’s not good.
Girl with long hair: My parents were killed by religious crazies. We need to stop those people. Okay, it’s rough on ordinary religious people like your family, Ali, but we’re just going to have to take it. It’s only for a few years. It won’t do your sister any harm not to wear a hijab for that time, and I can’t believe that God would be angry with her for something she can’t help.
The report ended with a montage of different faces reading the thing, line by line: girls, boys, all different ages, white, black and brown, some with posh voices, others with strong London accents. The last one, I noticed, was Julie Tomlinson: “I am not afraid,” she said, and smiled. It made me feel good.
But then it was the government programme, and Max. I was not looking forward to this.
I’m here with Jack Marchmont. We’ve been together all day today, going round schools as children were getting their Standard Clothing and Golden Circles, as they’ll be doing all over the country day-by-day now. And Jack has been leading kids through Joining the Future, as you’ve just seen.
Jack and I get on well. He invented Joining the Future when I asked him to help with three of my own kids, who got their Golden Circles today, and weren’t feeling too happy with the idea. I admire what he’s trying to do. But sometimes we disagree. And this morning we disagreed badly, and very hard words were exchanged. Let me tell you what it was about.
The first children will get their mentors next week. As it happens, Jack will be one of these. Like many kids, he doesn’t know who his mentor will be, and it’s a nervy time for him. And what I had to say this morning didn’t make it any better.
I expect people have heard about the various controls on the Golden Circle. The ones we’ve talked about are the general controls, that apply all the time and to all controlled children—the clothes control, assault control, diet control, pregnancy control and so on. But in addition to these, there are the mentor controls.
These can be used only by a child’s mentor. There are nine of them, but only one will work to start with. The others will be released later, and to get them the mentor will have to go back to the child’s school. The controls will be activated by this— (and Max held it up; a chunky-looking ring) —which is called the Wheel.
And today we announced the first mentor control, which will work right from the start. It’s called the silence control. I expect every parent knows that there are times when you need your child to stop talking, stop protesting and simply to listen to what you say. That’s what the silence control does. It’s not for punishment. It’s not to give you a quiet life. It’s just for the moment when reason has gone out of the window, and the mentor must insist on being heard—in silence.
That’s what made Jack so angry. He’ll tell you why in a few moments. Let me try to explain a bit.
No one ever said that being a controlled child was going to be easy. Jack has spent today gently leading kids, frightened nine-year-olds like my son, and confident seventeen-year-olds, through the transition into control. There is no easy way. There is no way that can get round the truth: a controlled child is not free, and Joining the Future doesn’t hide this; on the contrary, it says it straight out. Control will be exerted: over all kids, over Jack, over my kids too. None of them is exempt. But if you accept the control, and order your lives accordingly, I make this promise, to Jack, and to all our kids, as I made to my own as well: I promise you will be happy. I promise you will be sane. I promise that you will be better people than we have ever been. And I promise that in the end, you will be free.
Max’s face faded from the screen, to be replaced by mine.
There are lots of reasons why I admire Max Margrave. One of them is the way he treats his own children, because he and his wife have ten. And they’re all adopted, orphans from here and the Middle East. Max loves kids.
Which makes the mentor controls all the harder for me to get a grip on. Max has told us how he sees the silence control being used: think of a teenager, ranting and shouting, and the mentor saying: Enough, already. Sit down, and listen. And dead, blissful silence.
You mightn’t like that picture quite as much as as Max seems to, but at least it’s not an outrage. But here’s the picture that came to my mind as soon as I heard of this control: A tiny twelve-year-old girl, she’s away from her parents for the first time in her life, she’s meeting things which are breaking her in pieces—and she can’t talk. She can’t ask for help. She can’t—even—weep.
I’m not talking about real abuse here. I’m talking about the ordinary pains that happen when a child grows up, the ordinary fear and misery and the ordinary loneliness. But abuse happens as well; there are abusers. There are stupid people. There are people with strange and wild ideas about the right ways to bring up a child. This control be will a weapon for those people, and they’ll use not just against big teenage hooligans, as Max implies, but against the weakest and most helpless, against those who need to speak.
And this is just the first. There are more controls to come, and am I wrong if I think that they’ll be worse? I don’t think I am.
Right at the beginning of this régime, on the very first day, they told us about their plans for children. I looked it up to make sure I got the words right. George Padmore said: Children and teenagers can expect care, love, total protection and relentless control. To me, that’s a contract, a contract with the children of this country, and it says this: accept our relentless control, and in return we will give you care, love, and total protection. I’m been going from school to school, explaining to children why they should accept the government’s relentless control, even though we know it’ll be hard, why it’s right to accept it, and our duty, so that we can build a sane society. I’m proud to do that.
But in return, we want the care and protection you promised us. You shall make sure that we aren’t handed over to stupid people, crazy people and abusers, you shall make sure that these controls are not misused.
Let’s make this clear, because I mean what I’m saying, and it’s important. You have made promises to us. One day we’ll be free. And then, we will hold you to account.
We’ll take a short break said the announcer, because I think we have a message from General Baxter to follow that.
“Fuck,” said Max. “That’ll teach me to take you unawares.”
“I warned you,” I said. “But I did not enjoy doing that.”
“It’s a weird dictatorship, though,” said my uncle. “To use the government TV slot for a ferocious attack on the government by one of its own supporters. You’re odd, you Rationalists.”
The government logo appeared again, and then it was the general.
When Jack Marchmont gets really angry, it’s an awesome thing. You may think I’m joking, but I’m not. Jack is young, and it’s already clear that those of us in the government are going to have to deal with him for a long time. He’s not going away. And what he said today was both simple and staggeringly ambitious. It was: you have taken control of us; very well. In that case, keep us safe, or I’ll settle accounts with you, just as soon as I can.
Could it happen? Oh, yes. Quite soon, now, there will be political process in this country. Quite soon, there will be a legal system, and well-constituted courts. And quite soon, Jack will be able to use either of these routes to do just what he said.
I’m not frightened, Jack. I think we will be able to settle up. I’m not saying there won’t be cases when children are mistreated by their mentors, and the controls misused. Of course there will be, but there will be only tiny numbers of them, fewer than there would be if they weren’t with mentors. Because there will be stops. The use of the controls will be monitored electronically: if anyone uses a control too much, we will know.
More importantly, in a way, every indenture will be under review. Pupils will be able to complain if they feel they’re being mistreated. So will their parents. It will not be permitted to separate pupils from their parents. Selectors will be able to investigate a mentor’s actions at any time. And remember the next sentence in George’s talk that day, after the one Jack quoted: Adults who harm children will be punished without mercy. Betrayal of the mentor relationship is a particularly awful crime, because it’s the betrayal of a profound trust. Those who commit that crime will quickly realise how seriously we view it.
All this will be in the Mentor Rules which will be published soon. Understand this, Jack. We are not perfect, but like anyone, we love our children, and as a government, we put the welfare of children at the top of our priorities. But loving children does not mean treating them like tissue-paper cutouts. Children are tougher than they look. And like any human being, they benefit from being made to use their strength and their resilience and their abilities to the utmost. We make no apologies for this at all.
A final thing: Why do we put up with Jack? Three reasons. The first is very practical: there’s no one in the government who can address children as well as he can, and we need to address our children, and be understood by them. We can’t just treat them as objects. The second is so that children can see that they are not without a voice. Jack speaks on their behalf. He hits hard and he doesn’t hold back.
The third is very simple, and it can be understood by anyone who reads the Request or Joining the Future, or his speech to Chedley High. And it’s this. You can read my dear friend George’s books, and you will find the mind of our revolution, our textbooks, which we consult and study day-by-day. But to find its soul, you couldn’t do better than to go to Jack. That will probably astonish him, and certainly embarrass him. We love you, Jack, and never more than when you’re angriest. Sorry, but it’s true.
“You spoke very well, Jack,” said my uncle. “Clear, firm without being rude.”
“Do you agree with me, though?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I don’t.”
I sighed dramatically.
“Here I am, official Soul of the Revolution, sitting in Revolutionary Hotel No. 2, a.k.a. The Garden of Paradisial Delights, and no one agrees with me!”
Max spluttered into his drink.
“Better to be the soul than the damn textbook,” said George. “All the same, as you’d expect of the soul, there are inconsistencies in your position.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well. You agree with mentors. You wrote that beautiful Request, which I read each day, and I find something new in it every time. So, we have a mentor. He has to guide and control; he has to take the lead; if need be he will be strict. How can he do these things? Won’t he need some sanction, some way to coerce you?”
“If it was just me, I wouldn’t actually object,” I said. “You know from what Dan Threadgold said yesterday that I can cope with physical coercion. It’s the others that worry me. It’s that little twelve-year-old girl I’m thinking of. I suppose everyone here knows what the next control will be? The discipline, pain at the touch of a switch? How’s that little girl going to deal with that? It terrifies me. All the sanction you would need with her would be a firm look, I think, and even then you’d have to follow it with a smile.”
“Of course I agree, but you’re mixing up the controls and the use of the controls. Someone who used the discipline on the girl you describe should be locked up. And he would be locked up.”
“And what if it’s too late? What if she’s already damaged? It’s so dangerous!”
“Everything we do is dangerous,” said George. “Doing nothing is dangerous. I’d love to be in a place where it wasn’t necessary to place any child ever in danger of any kind of pain or fear. But that isn’t where we are. We have to do things that are risky, and that includes risky to children. If we don’t, things will get worse for everyone, children included. What we can do is take all the precautions we can. And we can honour those who are controlled, and help them to feel pride in themselves, which is just exactly what you’re doing.”
“Well, I agree with Jack,” said Neal, who was leaning back against Lakshmi. “Well, not agree exactly. But I understand why he’s saying it, because I’m the only other controlled child here. I don’t think other people understand what it’s like. When you’re a controlled child you never, ever feel completely safe. You never, ever feel completely peaceful. All the time, every second, you know that something nasty could be done to you that you can’t stop in any way. And you know you’re being checked by several computers several times a minute, when you’re lying in bed at night, you can feel it ticking. It’s what Jack and I call spooky feelings. Sometimes it’s worse, sometimes it’s better, but it never goes away completely. People say, oh, you lose your freedom, we know that, but you feel it. It’s almost physical. This morning for Jack it was so bad after he heard about the control that he was shaking with it, I could see. That’s what Joining the Future is meant to be, it’s meant to help the other kids with the spooky feelings a bit, because they’re going to start feeling it soon, and none of the grownups will be able to help, cos they don’t understand it. And when all nine mentor controls are there I don’t know what will happen, I really don’t. And the only person who seems to understand this stuff is Jack.”
It was a huge speech for Neal, and I looked at him with interest.
“But supposing Lakshmi is your mentor,” said Max, “would you really feel spooky about her having the controls?”
“Most people don’t have someone like Lakshmi, do they? And okay, how many people would you trust with a gadget which can silence you just like that? Or hurt you whenever they wanted? Or all the other things you’re keeping secret? How many people do you know, Max, who you’d trust that much?”
“Um. About three.”
“How would you feel about giving a stranger that power?” said Neal. “Someone you don’t even know who they are?”
“It would be nervy, no doubt,” said Max. “Look, I’m going to say something that’s hard, and which you’ll probably hate. The thing is, these feelings are not a bad thing, from our point of view. It’s good for controlled kids to feel that they don’t have control. What you call ‘spooky feelings’ are just ‘being controlled feelings’, and what you have to do is learn to live with them, Neal, gradually get comfortable with the feelings. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.”
“I did Joining with forty-seven kids today, I counted,” I said. “I did what I could to help them all, and you’ve got three of them in your house, Max. I hope you’ve been listening to what we’ve said, because the ball’s in your court now. And all the other parents’, of course. As a first step, I wouldn’t on the whole recommend ‘Tough, get used to it’ as the way to go.”
“I’m sorry, guys, I didn’t mean it like that. Seriously, what would you recommend?”
“Sit on the floor and recite Joining with your brother. That’s what I did,” I said. “Or share a bed with him. The knowledge that someone understands is important.”
“Everyone here understands, Jack,” said Max.
“Everyone here sympathises, and I’m very grateful. However, no one here understands, apart from Neal. Would people mind if we went to bed now? Only I think we’re flying to Cardiff tomorrow at six-thirty, aren’t we?”
“Not me,” said Max. “Stuff to do here. It’ll be you three and Tony, plus Fred and his guys. Cardiff, then Manchester, overnight in Glasgow tomorrow. We’ve arranged a ramchopper for you, and Fred’s guys can all pilot one.”
He looked at me.
“Maybe we can talk some more about this at the weekend,” he said. “Alan and Neal have to go back to Chedley on Thursday, and I’d like to invite you to spend the weekend with me and Carrie and the kids.”
Despite everything we’d said, I still liked this idea.
“That’ll be nice. I’m looking forward to it,” I said.
“I need to see about selling the house and starting the move,” said my uncle. “We’ll be doing all that while you spend your month with your mentor. And Neal will be starting at Parford High.”
“I’ve arranged for the last school this week to be Parford High,” said Max. “I’ll meet you there. Here’s a phone for you, and one for you, too, Neal. Use them whenever you like—all our numbers are in them already.”
“It’s important, this expedition,” said George. “Keep your wits about you, and trust your instincts, Jack. They haven’t let you down yet.”
We made our good-nights and left. We were already in bed when my uncle arrived in our room. He sat on my bed and held my hand.
“You did a lot of good things today,” he said. “You too, Neal. And even though you’re disagreeing with Max, you’re still on good terms with him. That’s excellent.”
“I’m glad you’re coming with us tomorrow,” I said. “I’m nervous.”
“You’re calling the shots, son. You said yourself—you and Neal are the only ones who understand what the kids are going through. You’ll have to take the lead, in a way.”
“I’ll tell you the thing that moved me the most today,” I said. “Fred Roberts and his guys. I mean, they’re professional soldiers, right? But they called the operation to look after me, Operation Stand Beside, you know? Unlike those kids, they know me a bit. And they’re still prepared to guard me like that...”
“So would I,” said my uncle. “So would lots of other people.”