The Shopping Channel

Entry by: jaguar

29th September 2016
‘In an ideal world, this would be twenty-four hours a day,’ William gestured at the silent warehouse, ‘wouldn’t it, Cait?’ He smiled as if the two of them were in conspiracy, as if all their minutest desires were exactly the same.

Caitlin shuddered and noted with relief that the drone above her moved too. It was working then, recording them, she was being safely monitored with this weird man. His teeth were too much for his thin mouth, they threatened to escape every time his lips parted.

When William had suggested going on somewhere after their social exchange she’d been in two minds. She had to learn to trust again and not be polluted by what had happened to her so she agreed. If she’d known he meant his bloody warehouse it would have been a firm no. She stared round at the towering stacks of wasteful brown cardboard. ‘What’s in all these anyway?’

‘You know The Shopping Channel?’

‘Of course.’ Everyone knew that. If you didn't care about the planet, or your fellow human beings, you bought stuff from there. Say you weren’t sure you’d work next week or you had a long-term illness so you couldn't afford the true cost. Everyone else bartered locally but, huge as their communities were and with all the recycling they did, you couldn’t get everything you needed. Caitlin suppressed a frisson of guilt at the thought of her rainbow coloured deckchair, it had hardly been a need.

William nodded. ‘My family runs it.’

Caitlin studied him trying to understand what he meant. Family was a long outmoded concept. Breeding was all controlled by the big pharma firms nowadays, nothing left to chance given how few new lives they could afford. You could still meet people with disabilities but they lived in small communities a bit like old-fashioned zoos. Caitlin hated going there on the mandatory annual visit. She hated being made to look at what were once humans, now bred to extremes.

‘I don’t understand.’ Well she didn’t, there was no point in pretending. Nobody owned anything, it was all shared. Why would William's family be running something like this warehouse?

‘Did you think you were here by accident? Did you think we met by computer selection the way most social encounters begin?’

Caitlin nodded trying to swallow some moisture back into her too dry mouth. Trust her to get an absolute oddball on her first attempt to reconnect with people since it happened. This was going to set her recovery back months. ‘What are you saying?’

‘Did you think you could order something from the Shopping Channel and there would be no impact from your silly, selfish action?’ William leaned towards her and clicked his fingers at the drone.

Caitlin backed away. Who was William to judge her? He had no idea how she'd agonised over the issue. ‘My counsellor said I could. I’ve broken no laws. Because of my experience I was allowed one thoughtless purchase, that’s what he said.’

William snorted. ‘There’s laws and laws. The only way our Utopian society lurches on is if no one is more entitled than anyone else, whatever they’ve experienced.’

Caitlin tried to stop the experience seeping back into her mind. The iron smell of blood; the sudden sense of her own frailty; the realisation that this person actually liked causing pain. ‘It shouldn’t have happened to me! People like him should have been filtered out by the breeding. I was owed, it was part of my recovery, the Counsellor said it was.’ Her voice dropped as she remembered the pained look on her Counsellor's face.

William hummed to himself as the drone landed at their feet with a long rectangular parcel. ‘Filtered out. Indeed. Here you are, Caitlin, here’s what you're owed, here's your recovery.’

She hesitated. How was she meant to get the deckchair back to her zone? She’d travelled here with William in his transport. She hadn’t thought to book a ship back. She wasn’t sure about travelling with this Shopping Channel item anyway, it would mark her out as someone who put her own needs above society’s. People might think she was a disintegrator. What had she thought she’d do with it anyway? It would have to be hidden from her friends. She didn’t even want to look at it. ‘I made a mistake. I don’t want it anymore.’ She tapped the box with her toe. ‘Can I just go now?’

William sighed, knelt down and started to pull the box apart. ‘The trouble is, Caitlin, you ordered this. That means materials have been fashioned that could have been put to better use. That means you’re no longer part of the big society. You’ve exposed yourself as one of us.’

Her mouth trembled until she pressed her lips together. She shook her head at him. ‘One of us? Who or what is us?’

‘Self-seekers. Homo Sapiens. Humans before brains evolved to greater wisdom, before the great realization. There isn’t room for many of us on Earth. My family is relatively lucky because we maintain all this.’ He waved his hand round what now looked like a very small warehouse.

Caitlin stared at the jerking box as William tore it savagely apart. The deckchair stuck out like a fluorescent butterfly. The screeching vibrant colours made her feel sick as if it was shouting at her mind: Wake up, wake up, wake up! Her hand reached out, lured by the chair's colours, by the memory of the comfort she'd thought it could give. Even though she knew it was a terrible mistake her fingers touched the plastic.

‘Such a shame,’ William said as Caitlin made a sound like the spores of a plant exploding into the air and disappeared in a shower of dust, ‘she shouldn't have switched to the Shopping Channel.’