Writers Without Borders
Winning Entry by Kim
‘You have no right to treatment,’ said the policeman in a robotic voice. ‘NO right, your borders are red, and here, all of the borders need to be in thick black lines, like mine.’
‘I HAVE NO BORDERS,’ shouted Tom again. Through the blood dripping in his eyes from the huge gash on his forehead, he could see the black, firm outline of the man in front of him. He turned away from the hospital doors to look at the sea of carnage ahead of him. Broken bodies, and broken bits of building, and people outlined in fuzzy red, trying to get into the hospital. The policeman that had blocked Tom’s way had grown to the size of the hospital, and was shouting about red and black borders.
Tom turned from the scene and walked through the city that had been kicked about like bits of lego. He didn’t know what he was looking for but it was something that was not outlined in red. The red borders had appeared overnight, surrounding everybody and everything. The first Tom had known of it was when his cat had taken on a strange appearance that morning, before he looked in the mirror and noticed the fuzzy lines surrounding his entire body and face. It had happened to everyone, and the giant black-lined policemen were trying to herd them together. The city had rose in fierce resistance.
‘I HAVE NO BORDERS,’ he heard men and women screaming in the distance.
‘I HAVE NO BORDERS,’ shouted Tom and the men and women. Tom tripped over a dazed cat and almost didn’t see the one thing in the whole city that was not outlined in red hidden in the rubble and debris. A notebook. Outlined in heavy black. He stumbled towards it and it grew from the rubble and swallowed him whole. He was tumbling through the lines shouting about borders and redness and blackness. The notebook said firmly, ‘write it better.’
‘I can’t,’ said Tom. He felt himself falling as the notebook shook and began to write huge, wobbly words on the straight lines. He stretched up to trace each huge letter to spell it out. ‘Write what you would like to happen.’
‘Not this,’ screamed Tom, ‘I need this to be normal again.'
The notebook wrote in big letters ‘NORMAL’ and a door swung open. The notebook said, ‘you could have this reality if you like.’ Tom peeped through the papery door and saw a normal street on a normal day with normal street lamps and normal people through normal windows having a normal evening. Something struck Tom about the scene as being more monstrous than everything that had happened so far. Everyone through this doorway was more hemmed in and more contained than the strange events of today. From the distance he could hear the people shouting ‘WE HAVE NO BORDERS.’
‘NO BORDERS,’ he shouted and the notebook door swung shut.
'Write it better,' the notebook reminded him. Tom squeezed his eyes shut and began to tell a story. As words fell from his tongue, the notebook scribbled it down. The notebook and Tom wrote of a better world, a world with no borders, a world where people were people before they were anything else. A world without walls, without barriers, borders, boundaries, where all could move freely and were welcomed.
And words once again changed the world.
‘Hi. My names Susan Boyce and I’m here for an interview at 10:30 with Siobhan.’
‘Hello Susan. Could you please take this non-disclosure agreement and read it? If you’re happy to sign it, I can let Siobhan know you’re here.’
‘Oh. Yes, of course. Thank you.’
I retreat from the reception desk to the visitors seating, the customary low couches around a coffee table. A water fountain, a few coffee table books. The absence of promotional material is notable; I’m not surprised. It’s been impossible to prepare for this interview; you can’t find out much about WWB. They don’t advertise, they don’t explain who they are or what they do.
Folding myself onto a seat I scan the form, drumming the end of the pen against the paper, foot tapping a different rhythm. I’m full of anxiety and something else…anticipation? I’m a writer. I love it when I have that feeling of a story unfolding around me, of being a character in someone else’s work.
Sucking in a breath I pause, then sign. I’ve already submitted a portfolio and undergone a thorough medical, this is just a small step beyond that.
Once I’ve returned the form to the receptionist I’m asked to wait again, I just have time to sip on a cup of perfectly chilled water when a woman with vivid red hair bobbed to her chin arrives at my side.
‘Susan? I’m Siobhan. Would you like to come this way?’
I fall into a less certain version of Siobhan’s confident stride, to her side and just a half step behind. Siobhan flashes me a smile, glossed to perfection as she swipes her corporate ID and an electronic lock clicks to admit us to the inner sanctum. We walk down a short corridor, take the first right and are soon in a small conference room.
‘Take a seat.’ Siobhan’s gestures are as consummately elegant as the rest of her, it’s hard not to feel clumsy and awkward around her and impossible to reject her invitation. ‘I’m going to show you a short video presentation which explains a bit about WWB and what we do here, and then we’ll get on with the interview part. Coffee?’
I nod, suddenly dizzy, as though I were standing on a cliff’s edge being asked to jump. ‘White, no sugar. Thank you.’
The video begins as I settle myself, crossing my legs and folding my hands carefully in my lap in the hopes it will disguise the tremor.
‘Welcome to WWB, where art and science combine.’ I glance towards Siobhan but she’s busy making coffee with the indifference of one whose heard this pitch a thousand times.
‘WWB was founded more than a decade ago by twin brothers, Samuel and Leonard Conway. These unique individuals were both quickly identified as gifted by the school system, but their gifts were in radically different areas. While Samuel had a gift for understanding the arts, Leonard had a natural affinity for quantum physics.’
Left and right brain, I think, feeling more and more a part of this narrative.
‘During their post-graduate studies, a late night debate over the relative merits of their fields lead to a breakthrough in our understanding of the world around us.’
Siobhan slides a coffee in front of me but I barely notice, I’m leaning forwards now, trying to see where this is going.
‘Samuel’s work dealt mainly in analysis of recurring motifs in folk stories from around the world; Leonard was working on a thesis based on Many Worlds Theory. Sharing their research gave them the unique perspective that underpins WWB today and lead to the formation of a company that now works with governments, companies, and individuals, worldwide to solve problems.’
I absently reach for my coffee. I wish they’d cut to the chase; what do they do? Why might they want me to work for them?’
‘The Conway Brothers collaborated on research which led to remarkable discoveries; creative inspiration was not as random as had previously been thought. Certain writers actually possessed the ability to transcend the natural borders between moments in time and different realities; they were not making things up; they were simply accessing a different part of their consciousness.’
I give out a coffee scented splutter of disbelief, turning to Siobhan to find her watching me with amusement. I’m half tempted to leave, but whatever game they’re playing has grown into a successful business.
‘By developing technology that monitors the brain waves of writers, we are able to determine to within a great degree of statistical probability, whether the ‘story’ they create is simply that, or contains information gleaned from the past, the future or alternate realities.’
‘WWB is now part of the decision making process in some of the most critical choices facing our world; from the personal micro level of locating missing persons, or solving crime to the macro; what is the likely outcome of a particular technological advancement or commercial decision.’
I have a sudden understanding that this is a joke, an elaborate set up. I glance around for cameras, but can see nothing obvious. I look to Siobhan again, holding what I hope is just a hint of a challenge in my eyes. She reaches for a remote control and hits pause.
‘You tested positively for the ability to write about the present.’
‘A combination of brain wave analysis from your medical and your response to the prompts we gave you.’
‘That…that was just fiction!’
Siobhan smiles that assured smile.
‘Are you trying to say I have some sort of…psychic powers?’
‘I know it’s a lot to take in, but most writers who come on board with us describe how in a way they had always known. They had always experienced the world as being something not quite real, of their lives being part of a story.’
My spine slumps with the realisation that she is describing my experience from reception; that moment of anticipation, when everything had just seemed like I was one with the narrative.
‘You understand the non-disclosure agreement now? This is proprietary technology, we don’t want even the ideas falling into the wrong hands, yet.’
‘How do you know someone isn’t writing about them, right now?’ I say, flippantly.
‘We closely monitor fiction,’ Siobhan says, addressing the question as genuine.
I ruffle my hair, destroying the carefully groomed style I had hoped would impress the good people at WWB. I understand now they are far, far more interested in my mind.
‘How does it work?’
‘Much as it did with your portfolio. We give you a prompt; you respond to it as you feel most inspired. Let’s say we were asking you to assist in a missing person’s case. You would have as much information about the missing person as possible, to set the scene, then we’d ask you to tell their story. A number of other writers, how many will depend on the budget of the client, will also respond. Common themes are identified, coming up with a ‘most likely scenario’ of what happened.’
My jaw works, my head shaking as I want to fundamentally deny what she’s saying.
‘That…I mean; this can’t be science. Yes, there are recurring motifs in stories. Cultural bias will affect the response to prompts. If you tell me about a drunk girl leaving a club in the early hours…there are bound to be common themes in what anyone, not just writers, would tell you about what happened.’
‘Our equipment allows for that.’
It isn’t what Siobhan says that is so compelling, it’s the certainty that underpins ever word. It’s the fact that she has that response so readily to hand, that she must have had this same conversation countless times with other people.
‘It’s real?’ I ask, after a moment.
She nods, and slides a piece of paper towards me. I glance down at it.
Employment contract between Susan Boyce and WWB.
A pen is placed by my right hand, and I numbly pick it up.
The package is generous. I’d be a fool to turn it down, no matter how crazy I think the whole idea is.
Siobhan nods her approval. ‘Welcome to Writers Without Borders’.
The Chain of Words was what got us through the early days. We may have been separated by geography, but in time we could be in the same place. We'd all log on, every Wednesday (in those days we stuck to Earth-days) and write, screen share, discuss, play games and create a dialogue we could all be part of. I'm so proud to have been part of something that big, that important. At the time, it served only to keep us sane and connected; as a part of history it is now crucial and every child has to read it in Scholartime.
It is our beginnings.
The planet was discovered by chance. We'd never seen it because it was one of the shadow planets, those that needed the Hyperscopes to see them. On ordinary telescopes they simply didn't show up - or, to be more exact, they showed up as spaces in space; a black gap devoid of stars. When it was discovered it looked like utopia: clean, with water, seasonal, fertile. The only issue was the air, but that was merely seen as a hurdle.
By 2067 when we'd got things back in balance on Earth, after the oil and water crises, we were looking to expand. Since the union of nations and our pooling of resources, our technological bounds forward has been giant's footsteps; we leapt towards the future faster than we'd ever done before.
But forgive, me, you will know all of this already. I don't need to rewrite or rethink history, I'm writing this as my farewell. [It's for my family or for anyone who wants to read it, really. (NB - I must think of a better title though). It will need editing, but either I will do this, or, if I've already passed, it'll be left to you, Reader. Give it a title with buzz, will you? And edit out all these notes and mixed up parenthesis pls]
It was 2080 when we left Earth. Sixty of us left, one from each of the new sub-zones created after the union. We'd named the planet Taupio, by now, as it had begun to feel more and more like our utopia, and our salvation if the sun did eventually burn out, as had been predicted. We were all pioneers, chosen from varying backgrounds and with varying careers. I was a singer in a band; there were teachers, planters, actors, time dancers, doctors, lawyers, writers, shop keepers, binmen, recyclers, transporters, cell workers, nuclear physicists... We were a mixed bunch. What we all had in common was our ability to live completely alone, for up to four years, with no other human contact. That skill was one we all excelled in and the sixty of us were chosen from an original pool of 874 hopefuls, all of whom wanted to be part of our new beginning. The sixty of us were trained for two years in the operation of the Air Purifiers (APs)
And this beginning depended entirely on the sixty volunteers. The air of Taupio, you see, was not oxygen-rich enough for life, so our job was to alter the atmosphere. You'll know, of course, that we were successful. We did our job.
I was wanting to write, though, about the Chain of Words. It began as bantering across the miles. We could not leave our Pods for long, only to do essential maintenance on the APs, for up to an hour each time. We were spaced evenly all over Taupio, a thousand miles apart. There was no possiblity of travel, our job was to make sure the machines worked, and nothing else. One day Rovers would come, and enable us to visit each other, but those days were years away from our humble beginnings.
We had the Web, though. It was like Earth's internet and interweb and webweave all rolled into one. It could project holographic images of each of us to each of us, so you could be 'visited' by each of the other pioneers 'in spirit'. We found this difficult, though, as it reminded each of us about touch and contact, so after a while an unspoken embargo on this took place. It simply was too much, stirring up emotion in each of of that we didn't need. But we wrote. Our Web Writes are now the 'stuff of legend', to use an old Earthism. [edit out?] They remain unedited so there are jokes and swearing and banter, but the poetry and sheer life the words contain still moves me, fifty years on. I remember each conversation, as if it were yesterday.
I used to log on in the morning, and write some Early Words. These were usually about dreams we'd had, and one of us would start, and the thread would be picked up and continued by others who happened to be on line. I used to imagine my words stretching out of my sector [will need to describe what 'sectors' were as different now in 2198] and travelling the thousand miles over the browngreen land, to be received in someone else's Pod. We became closer than we ever could have been, had we had physical contact; a screen allows you such honesty. You could choose to speak your words, to dictate or just to ramble, to write with fingers (which was what I always preferred, despite my background of singing) and the words could be picked up by someone you chose, or by the crowd of us as a whole. I used to like to think of us all being in one room, conversing magically, mind to mind. That's how it felt, as if we were all together. I'd write a thought, someone else would pick up the thread, add to it and pass it on, come back to it later or leave it be. With such a variance in our backgrounds the words and work we produced was beautiful and almost mystical, in the connections we allowed.
The collected works of our Web Words was pulled together by the Historians who came and settled. One of the things the Historians wanted was a record of the very earliest days on Taupio, so that future generations could never dispute the early days, not assign meanings that weren't there, or religions based on fiction, or anything except what actually happened. After what happened on Earth with religion and the disputed beginnings and 'God', I thought this was genius, which is one reason I wrote so much.
When the collection was 'published' on digipage, it ran to billions of words. After all, our work was easy and we had plenty of time to write. We had to exercise, sleep, grow food and maintain the machines, but this left hours each day for cultural activity, which could come in any form. We had reading lists and access to every book ever written through the Web, and of course, we could write to each other.
You will know what the collection was named. 'Words Without Borders' became the go-to book for answers on everything, we philosophised, made decisions, played, created... Everything we could possibly do with words was done. The result is a rambling eclectic collection of ideas, written by everyday people, the everyday people who gave air to a new world.
I am proud of all of it. Proud of my contribution to Taupio's atmospherical change, proud of my words, proud of everything I've done, since I was chosen.
But I tire easily, now. I'm 97 next month and although I should have another thirty years, there is some evidence that our early days on our new planet damaged us in some way. [I'm part of this research too; every week I get experimented on to see how my body is different from those who came later. That early air, it seemed, was a little toxic. We couldn't help breathing it in sometimes; there'd be a leak, or a little extra in the air lock, or simply a moment of carelessness with the breathing apparatus. It's too late now to change this, but I hope there is some progress made in our treatment. Not sure if I should include this? Too depressing?]
I tire easily. Today I also wanted to write about Georges, plus include some of our poetry. He was my soulmate, my life partner, my missing half; all of the things that the old romantics craved on Earth. In Taupio there was little hope of finding this person as there were so few of us, which, as I said, is why we were chosen. We were all complete 'packages' by ourselves and lacked the need for another's love. We were complete. So when Georges and I connected on the Web, it was wondrous and frightening. [plus we had to keep it secret or we'd have been decom'ed - and we knew what that meant.... - should I write this???] When the APs had finally done their job and Rovers arrived and we could visit one another, and when the first settlements were being constructed, when we could, in short, be free once more, Georges and I met.
The rest is our own history, and it is where I shall start in part two of my personal history.
Til then, farewell, AJM
Sadly, part two was never written. Anju succumbed to the effects of what was named EAP (Early Air Poisoning) just three days after writing this. It will be added to the collection of Writers Without Borders, as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who came here first. Without them, Taupio would not be habitable.
I wish I had known her.
I've left Anju's parenthesis in, despite her request, as they are in her own voice, and I like them - Ed.