ANTI-BAD

Chris R-1-160 Image by Christine Renney

I once had the chip, the Anti-Bad. I was a petty criminal and a repeat offender and so was deemed suitable. Someone who couldn’t help but help himself. They made me an offer and I didn’t refuse. What choice did I have? The prospect of a prison sentence, of yet another chunk of my life, diced and cubed behind bars, was unbearable and so I chose the chip.
I didn’t read the small print but simply signed all of the documents and allowed them to insert the chip into the back of my head, low down and just above the neck, in a place where even now I still have a little hair left, and no-one can see the scar or would ever know that it had once been there.
I didn’t really believe the chip would work. If it did I was convinced that I could beat it or would be able to cope with the pain and discomfort, to manage it. The worst case scenario was that I would have to toe the line for a couple of years, go straight as it were. I was arrogant, cocky, they were the suckers and I was the one in control. How bad could it be? A few headaches and a little nausea but at least I would be out in the world and not locked up in a prison cell.
It was minor operation and relatively painless, performed at a private clinic. I was in and out in a matter of hours. I had to report in once a week but other than that I was set free, allowed to go wherever and do whatever I wanted. They informed me that I wouldn’t feel any effects from the chip, that it wouldn’t start working for at least twenty four hours.

As I walked away from the clinic my head was spinning. I was in a state of confused elation. I hadn’t expected this free time. It was a gift, a whole twenty four hours in which I really could do just as I pleased. My first thought was that I would go out that night and do a little breaking and entering. No, I would do a lot of breaking and entering, as many properties as I could manage, for as long as I was able. But of course I would have to wait until it was dark, until the early hours and this would mean wasting most of the time or at least half of it. All of the day light hours squandered. No, what I needed to do was to purchase a gun. I had a little cash hidden away in my room. I would steal a car and set off on a spree, robbing convenience stores and twenty four hour service stations, moving quickly and helping myself from the cash registers. I would build up the kitty, my nest egg. And whilst chipped, I would make use of these spoils and live in the lap of luxury.
But what if the chip did work and I wasn’t able to spend the money I hadn’t acquired honestly? I needed to settle and to clear my head.
I wandered into town and eventually I found myself sitting in the corner of a quiet café. I was annoyed with myself. I should have read all of those documents and if I had I would have been aware of this and I could have made preparations and planned something, something big, something swift and lucrative, a bank job perhaps.
And then suddenly I felt the pain in my head. It was searing, excruciating and although it had arrived suddenly no matter how hard I tried it didn’t dissipate, it didn’t lessen. And through the pain I became aware that the counter girls were staring across at me and, holding my head, I continued to howl

TRAILBLAZERS

Chris R-1-155 Image by Christine Renney

They told us we would be hailed as PIONEERS, TRAILBLAZERS, the ones who began it, CREATORS OF A BETTER WORLD, A SAFER PLACE FOR OUR CHILDREN AND OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN. We were upright and law abiding citizens. Why wouldn’t we – what did we have to fear, what could we possibly lose? The trackers would soon be mandatory anyhow and the surveillance complete and no egregious act would be unseen or go unpunished.

The trackers are small and the insertion was quick and painless. The Trailblazers all have an identical scar on their lower backs, a little hole at the base of the spine where it was inserted.
The trackers work remotely, connecting with our synapses and to our muscles and brainwaves. I don’t know how it works. I used to believe I understood why but now every time I get up to walk I feel a pressure inside, I feel it everywhere – but then again perhaps I don’t.

The Trailblazers are easily spotted. We stand out in a crowd, everywhere. People know who and what we are. Everyone carries their own trackers now in their phones and watches and tablets and such. They are able to track the trackers and yet despite the fact there are cameras everywhere gathering images and sound people are still wary when we are around. They are reluctant to cross a Trailblazer’s path. They don’t want to be captured by us and recorded for posterity.
People laugh and talk behind our backs, pointing and gesticulating. We were foolish and gullible, yes, but we did what we did because we believed in the greater good and now we are pariahs. We see the anger and hatred written on their faces, the disdain and disgust in their eyes. If they could, they would kick and punch us, hurl abuse and spit in our faces but, of course, they can’t

THE FILING CLERK

Chris R-1-120 Image by Christine Renney

Cartwright’s job was dealing with information, but he wasn’t the one responsible for collecting it. He didn’t garner or gather, didn’t even transcribe the documents. When the documents arrived all of these tasks had already been done. Cartwright’s Employers had stressed that it wasn’t necessary for him to understand the info, how it might relate to things in the big wide world wasn’t his concern. His only task was to familiarise himself with it, to read everything and to look at and study the photos, to listen to the audio tapes and to watch the videos.
His Employer’s instructions had been oblique but, working diligently, Cartwright had managed to do what they ordered. Correlating and categorising, he had built an archive, one that he could navigate almost effortlessly. If and when they came a-calling he was sure that he would be able to find the documents they wanted. Even if their questions were cryptic, and all they could provide were a few key words, Cartwright believed that he would be able to locate the correct files and provide the necessary info. But no-one had come a-calling and in twenty years his system hadn’t been tested. Actually, that’s not quite true. He had on occasion been called upon to redact certain info or someone from the files. And Cartwright had always done this happily and, working with a thick black marker, he blocked out the words one at a time, page after page. The fact that he was able to do this so swiftly and efficiently was evidence at least that his system worked.

When he began, twenty years previously, the job had seemed old-fashioned. He had felt as if he were functioning out of time, even more so as the years progressed.
The info was always hand delivered by couriers, bulky envelopes stuffed with sheets of thin typing paper, the text typed on old word processors. And then there were the cassettes: the C60s and C90s and C120s and the video tapes. Sometimes there was something scrawled in biro on the labels or the index cards and sometimes not.
The video footage was mundane, mostly CCTV captures. Cartwright always made extensive notes, describing anyone who crossed in front of the camera, the cars – colour, make and model, registration plates. He included anything and everything, determined not to miss the tiniest detail. The time and date, weather conditions, street signs, pubs, clubs and restaurants, shops, office blocks, company logos – they were all recorded.
The audio tapes were equally as boring, mostly interviews, men and women describing a particular place or a particular person. As he transcribed Cartwright was struck by how similar their testimony was to his own notes on the video footage.
He included as much incidental detail as possible. Voices, accents and cadence of both the interviewers and their subjects. How much the interviewees had to be coaxed or if they gave up the info unprompted and, most importantly, if and when the voices had appeared on other tapes.

Cartwright had worked hard over the years and he had somehow managed to make something from out of nothing. And now instructions had come down from up above. He was to be retired, his services were no longer required. Cartwright wondered what would happen to his archive. Was the info also now redundant and would it simply languish untouched and untested?
He had just six months but it was long enough to do what he intended to do. He would transfer everything onto his computer and when he had uploaded the entire archive onto the hard drive he would post it on-line. Make it available to all and anyone who was so inclined could then test his system, come rain or come shine.

THE ERASER #13

Chris R-2-5 Image by Mark Renney

They are part of the System, all of their names are still somewhere in the records. Only once and it is always something insignificant – a job application perhaps or a club membership.
If one of them has been mentioned in a newspaper report or a magazine article and it isn’t in any way connected to their wrongdoing, to their fall from grace, then Tanner may choose to leave it, to let it slide.
He is unsure now why he had done this, even more perplexed as to why he continues to do so. Tanner supposes that in the beginning he had been testing the System and had expected someone would notice. That someone from up above in the higher echelons would come calling and he would be reprimanded, hauled over the coals as it were.
But this had not happened and Tanner is all too aware that he is way past the point where he can hang his head and apologise for his ineptitude and promise to try harder, to do better.
Tanner is the best of the Erasers, the most vigilant and dedicated and yet he has played Them, whoever ‘They’ are.
His rule-breaking over the years has been so subtle that it has not yet registered.
But the names remain and this is undeniable, it is a fact.

THE ERASER #12

Chris R-0978-2 Image by Christine Renney

The trails Tanner was assigned to follow were merely ones made of paper. It wasn’t necessary for him to dirty his hands with anything other than the written records.
These trails always began at the traitor’s last known address; a house or an apartment, sometimes just a room, a rented box. But whichever it was, a mansion or a bottom bunk on Skid Row, it was the subversive’s final abode, their home.
Tanner wasn’t required to enter and to rifle through their belongings and he was thankful for this. He hadn’t any desire to sift through all of the things that they had gathered over the years; the heirlooms and memorabilia. It didn’t matter to him if they had been train-spotters or stamp collectors or fans of the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan.
Some of it he could guess at – the framed certificates and sporting trophies. These, of course, would be destroyed and anything else of any real value would acquire a new price tag ready to be sold.

THE ERASER #11

Chris R-1119 Image by Christine Renney

For Tanner, each name as it appeared on his list was merely a statistic, albeit one it was his job to render obsolete. He was all too aware that there were levels and some of them had sunk deeper into the quagmire than others. But he had always believed it was important not to make a distinction and that the guilty were guilty.
But was Tanner still so sure it was as simple as that?

When disappearing a life Tanner was often struck by how bizarre it was, this occupation of his. He always began at the very end of the trail and worked his way back toward the beginning. As he did so he discovered just how far each individual had fallen and for how long they had gotten away with it. Opposing the System and spreading the lies and helping to keep the rumours alive. Because that is all it was – the subversive’s idea that there was another way and it could be different. It was just a rumour.

Trawling down the years Tanner often wondered at which point they started listening to those lies and believing in that idea, in the rumour. But there was of course no record of this, no hard evidence that Tanner could take in his hands and rip into shreds. Or if there were it was too well hidden amidst the minutiae, too deeply entrenched within the mundane facts that help to make all of us tick.

THE ERASER #9

Chris R-0114 Image by Christine Renney

Tanner was a loner. Even prior to the System, during his childhood and throughout adolescence, he hadn’t managed to form any long term relationships. He had kept his head down, listened intently, and worked hard and he had been an above average student and yet none of his teachers had seemed impressed nor even to notice. When the System came a-calling he had known instantly just what he could do for them, what he could become.
He hadn’t ever felt resentful or blamed his choice of occupation for the solitary life he had led. In fact, he believed they were complementary, that he had been more efficient because of it. In the past, whenever an Eraser was around, people had been worried, close mouthed and reluctant to share or shoot the breeze. Tanner was unsure if this was still the case but he suspected it wasn’t. He still had the same effect and, when those who didn’t work for the System realised he was about, in the proximity as it were, their conversations would stutter to a halt.
Tanner’s colleagues, on the other hand, talked almost constantly and they didn’t care if he was around and could hear or that he was excluded. Their lives seemed to consist of an endless cycle of family feuds, of birthday parties or barbecues and excursions.
As Tanner listened to them, to the other Erasers, he was often struck by just how similar their lives were to those of his suspects. The ones he had unearthed and exposed, the lives he had cut and wrenched from their moorings that he, and they, had erased.

THE ERASER #8

Chris R-1021.jpg Image by Christine Renney

When tracking a suspect Tanner was always diligent; recording everything, scrawling it in a little notebook, all he observed and managed to over hear, no matter how mundane or insignificant it might seem. He believed the details mattered, that they were important, a part of it.

Alone in his apartment, Tanner transcribed from his notebooks, painstakingly filling journal after journal with these details. Over the years he had come to realise that a radical’s routine wasn’t so very different from his own yet he still persevered, determined not to miss out anything, however trivial.
He always included the date and the time. Time, he felt, was crucial. The time in between, the time spent at a place of employment for instance, or visiting a friend. Or simply sitting and reading a newspaper, whether it be on a park bench or in a busy cafeteria. He even made a note of what his suspects ate and, of course, where and when.

Tanner hadn’t ever witnessed one of them stepping guiltily out into the light. Caught anyone in the act, as it were, but all had been found guilty. They had been enemies of the system but Tanner hadn’t yet destroyed their journals and the minutia listed and labelled within was all that remained.

THE ERASER #7

Chris R-0825-2 Image by Christine Renney

Tanner had always managed to navigate his way through life unnoticed. He became acutely aware of this when he first began his work as an Eraser. Ordinary looking and extremely reserved, even as a young man Tanner realised that this did not fully account for the uncanny ability he had for melting into the background, for making himself all but invisible.
There was something inside of him, an innate skill, a gift even, albeit one he hadn’t asked for and wasn’t sure that he wanted. He realised also that, given the line of work he had chosen, if he were to hone his skill and nurture this gift it could be very useful.

It seemed apt to Tanner that he, whose job was the disappearing of others, could move around unnoticed, was an invisible man as it were. But whenever Tanner glanced in a mirror nowadays he was shocked by what he saw. He was a little man, short and hunched, the pallor of his skin matching the grey clothes he always wore. His thinning hair was white and his face was deeply creased and lined. He was a ghoul, his was a face that featured in nightmares, that appeared toward the end, just before dawn.

THE ERASER #6

Chris R-0098 Image by Christine Renney

Tanner had often considered creating a pamphlet of his own, writing and distributing it anonymously. It would be a manual of sorts, offering advice on how to recognise the troublemakers, those challenging the system, but more importantly those who haven’t yet but who might.
Whenever he began putting it together in his head it always seemed absurd. The notion that people should be suspicious of others based on their haircut or the kind of clothes they wore, or which newspaper they took, the music they listened to, the books they read.
Just because someone visited the library and checked out a novel by a long ago formerly banned writer it didn’t necessarily mean that particular someone would become a conspirator. A pamphlet might help, yes, but really it would be little more than a list of traits and affectations, of mannerisms and possible signs and it wasn’t enough.