The abolition of the family was, perhaps, the hardest part of the Unity to accept and the most difficult thing to adjust to afterwards.

 

Even many who did not personally wish for parenthood were unhappy about the right being taken away, for themselves and others, while those who desired both children and Unity, suffered terribly. They fought against an ache in their DNA, a passionate longing to hold and to raise their own children; to teach them, nurture them and tickle them. They clung to a stubborn belief in the superiority of their own care to that of professionals or machines. They longed for that transforming love of a parent for a child; and for the trusting, terrifying love that a child has for a parent, before it gets to know them better.

 

To counter these clinging, backward-looking ways, many reasoned and rational speeches were made and illustrations given – from history, current affairs and fiction – of the darker possibilities of family life. There were presentations, showcasing the totally safe, fun-to-bursting and intellectually stimulating environment of the proposed Child-Rearing Enclosure[1], with an undertone of admonition for those who could wish to deprive their offspring of this paradise. Leaflets on common childhood illnesses – with graphic illustrations – clogged letterboxes worldwide. A YouTube video of an unattractive toddler, screaming for a quarter of eternity without pause, and drooling ectoplasm, went viral.

 

This was still not quite sufficient to quash all doubts.

 

For those people who already had children under eighteen or were expecting at the date of foundation, and for whom such abrupt and unprepared separation would be inhumane and – with some exceptions – certainly refused, the option of a temporary Family Unit was proposed. This was essentially a small step on from the SafeZones[2], which were sensibly occupied by most Governing bodies, and their families, during the worst of the Riot Years. Each family would have their own, compact, living-space, with one small bathroom and a complimentary gift of a drum-kit for all children of six or under. At the eighteenth birthday of each child, or sooner on request, a ceremonial nest-departure would occur: the child would then be housed, alone, in Unity Proper, the parents also separating, often with relief, when the last child had gone.

 

There was no delicate[3] way of preventing more children being born into this dubiously safe environment, but the numbers, it was calculated, would dwindle rapidly enough and any application for earlier separation would be very favourably considered. It was shrewdly suspected that, within the close and unrelieved companionship of the Family, not a few people, children and parents both, would come to view the idea of Personal Space with a fresh and welcoming eye.

 

But why not, it was naturally argued, adopt this Family Model permanently, perhaps combining it with a Nursery-like environment for part of the day, to enable better socialising skills in the children and allow freedom for parents to work in other Constructive activities? There were many advocates and the notion was considered: with a very little thought, however, this dilution was quickly seen to make a mockery of the entire system. For was it not within family itself, that the greatest dangers lay?

 

 “For entire safety and harmony, complete physical isolation is imperative.”

 

John Constance, though fortunate in his own parents, had encountered enough misery in others to persuade him of the truth of this. In his rallying speech for Change, he quoted extensively from R. K. Ottery’s piece on the family, on:

 

 “… that secret snake and greatest menace to society, a parent’s love…”

 

He alluded to:

 

“A wealth of real and literary reflections and warnings of the miseries resulting from bad or careless parenting … Shakespeare, Philip Larkin, Marriott Edgar…”

 

And finally urged that:

 

 “Our greatest love for, and gift to, our children must be shown in the establishment of a world without danger, without disease and without prejudice.[4]

 

The system that was finally agreed on for the long term, was something of a compromise. It was supported by a large body of psychologists and all of the most influential Leading Bloggers of the time, a group who were already a powerful force for the promotion – and moulding – of popular opinion and was aimed, in part, at easing the pain of thwarted personal parenthood, increasing Communal Spirit and also moderating envy and pride.

 

To this end – and because the usual method had now become “unacceptably proximate” – the parentage of Unity children has become entirely detached from the concept of Romantic union and from “the narrow, bony arms of the few, to the wide, full embrace of the many.[5] The Nursery children are in a sense, everyone’s children. In another sense, of course, they are nobody’s.

 

[1] This name did not survive long. Others suggested were ‘The Nurture Nest’, ‘The Squeakeroo’, ‘Happy-Happy-Funland’ and ‘Areas of Controlled Proximity for the Optimal Rearing of our Young’. ‘Nursery’ was eventually adopted as being friendly, comprehensible and not completely nauseating.

[2] Or ‘slunker-bunkers’.

[3] Except by the unethical introduction of certain, mostly harmless, prophylactics into the food.

[4] Often misquoted, deliberately or otherwise: many people finish the quote as “… without parenting.” while Channel 43’s version suggests “ …a world without danger, without disease and without icky touching.”

[5] Constance.   Or from “the wholehearted embrace of the few, to the distant pat on the head of the many” as has been alternately suggested.

 


 

A little reflection, on almost anything, will lead inevitably to the thought, “but, hang on a minute…” A little reflection on this reflection, may suggest that, as there are a finite number of minutes in a lifetime, so there should be a finite amount of reflection.

(Many people have already reached this conclusion).”

 

 

“For my next trick, said the particle, I will require a small pack of cards, a long set of sleeves and your selective inattention…”

 

Extracts from “ Wanton Physics: Notes on an unreliable universe.” by R. K. Ottery

 


 

Governor Clarence had been working on Annihilation Method number fourteen hundred and two, when I called. This one involved the simple implantation of a bug into Medical Control. There were safeguards, of course, but really, hardly anything to trouble a determined hack and he had taken a mere three hours to break in and plant his surprise; and that was in between taking notes and playing with his ArtiCat.

 

The Governor had begun the project at the age of thirteen. He had been heavily burdened with the Failing of curiosity and growing concerns had led to his writing a long and detailed essay about the fallacy of Harmony’s supposed perfect safety. Why, even a child, he wrote, could make holes in the security arrangements large enough to drive a Postvan PAT through. He then proceeded, metaphorically, to do so.

This essay was posted on his blog[1] and, almost immediately, a representative of the Defence Department Faced him to discuss and commend the essay and also to suggest a temporary withdrawal ‘pending fact-checking and spelling revision’. After some more discussion, Clarence’s education was fast-tracked towards Defence – Transfer not required. The spelling revision is still ongoing; no further publications were made.

 

Clarence had realised before long, that the shortcomings in security were already well-understood and, in fact, even more gaping than he had imagined; but it was considered within the Department as “incitement to Negativity” to emphasise them. Nonetheless, the situation was taken seriously. Having been officially inducted, Recommended to secrecy[2] and given a (nearly) thorough overview of how everything really worked, Clarence now spent much of his Constructive Contribution time in considering potential threats, working, as practically as possible, on testing scenarios and then proposing counter-measures. The sheer thrill of enjoyment that he got from wiping out great swathes of the population in creative, and often messy, ways, was something that he kept as quiet as possible, having learned early on that most of his immediate Upper-Level Peers were deficient in both humour and imagination.

For this latest method, he had devised a virus which caused all of the medical equipment that would be used for treating minor ailments to respond, on a particular day, with the phrase, “Damnit, I’m a mechan not a doctor!” when triggered by certain words (such as ‘boil’, ‘suppurating’ and – for no particular reason – ‘Manta Ray’). It could just as easily have been programmed in such a way as to encourage some of the potentially lethal surgical apparatus to fully achieve their potential.

 

The next task, then, was prevention. This was much less enjoyable and required a great deal of concentration, much mauling of the Drawpad and the whole of the Governance Special Rations of tea and biscuit.[3] It was, therefore, with a mixture of frustration and relief that Clarence greeted the Face alert.

 

It was the Governor’s policy to be grumpy, obstructive and forbidding, until persuaded of a genuine need. This had not always been the case. In the early, exciting days of first Assignment, he had rejoiced in the opportunity to be of benefit to his fellow Harmonics and was determined to be helpful, Transparent and unfailingly courteous. This lasted for about a month, during which Clarence learned that questions addressed to Defence are usually framed as attack; that, while Transparency is Policy, it is not the best policy; and that a large section of the population was calling him on unrelated matters, solely because, having the batchname of Aardham, he was first on the list of Governance contacts.

 

After three months, he had even considered adjusting his Avatar beyond the Governance Recommended ten percent touch-up allowance and adding some element of skull and crossbones or a large “keep off the grass” sign. The guideline was intended to discourage a, too blatantly, fake and amended appearance being used for public interaction; this being, as Clarence was informed on induction, potentially construable as Obliquity (Clarence had made an offhand pun on ‘Noblesse Obliquity’ and learned his first lesson on Humour in Politics). Reluctantly, he made do with the barricade of a formidable forehead; a usefully bristling pair of eyebrows; locked and loaded shoulders and an air of angry sufferance which he had concocted from a sort of unholy marriage between his immediate equals, Governors Milo Kane and Sarah-Jane Pulaski.[4]

 

These barriers were firmly up when the call came through.

[1] Blogs can be started by anyone aged thirteen and up and this is generally the second thing that everyone does on First Independence, after perfecting their Avatar. It is usually abandoned within weeks.

[2] That is, the ‘judicious under-broadcasting of sensitive matters’. This was for the Public Good.

[3] All food allowance is equal. As not everyone can have the same food, allowing for preferences, intolerances, religious observance and unexpectedly running out of asparagus, this has to be equivalent rather than exact. As not everyone uses the same calories, allowing for age, size and physical activity levels (the – rare – strenuous jobs and any regular Extra Contribution to the grid, say through team sports, gets you Active Top-up Rations, though this amounts to little more than an extra egg and banana, here and there, and reinforced Snackos) this has to be reasonably equivalent rather than precisely. As not everyone has to deal with the public bugging them all the time and whining about their WoW being on the blink, the standards of education these days and the food, it is perfectly reasonable to allow Governance two extra cups of tea per day and a shortbread finger.

[4] Who were, in fact, conducting an anonymous Sensory Space romance unbeknownst to either, under the Love Names, Turtledove and Warm Heart.

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