She leaned uncomfortably. They'd made her wait now for more than twenty minutes. One cheek had gone to sleep from sitting in the remoulded plastic seating. She heard they did this on purpose. It injected a sense of sombre reflection into the Attendee. Made them pliant to the intensive questioning.
Scattered on either side of the never-ending olive peel were other expectant Attendees, all sat in the same uncomfortable seats in ones and threes and fours. She furtively checked no-one was looking and rubbed the tender cheek, shifting the weight to her other side. She readjusted the pattern dress about her knee and replaced a strand of jet black hair that had come free in the move.
She touched the corner where her Aye-Budd would usually be. They made you surrender all electronics as you entered the building. She felt alone without the constant projection of other people's thoughts and creations into her field of vision. Naked even. This also served to a purpose.
A woman in a suit stood over here, consulting a DABB in the crook of her arm. She envied the woman her skin. Her eyes were brown though. Not green like hers.
"If you'd like to follow me."
She followed red pumps and ankle chain down the olive corridor, through a door in the wall to another olive corridor, smaller and more foreboding, then through several more doors and corridors, each the same immutable shade of green and dread.
Finally they arrived at one door in particular.
"In here please. Mr Strike will see to you." She made to object. The woman smiled thinly and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Just tell him everything he wants to know and you'll be fine. Ok?"
"Ah, Ms Meagher, is it? Take a seat. I'll be with you in one moment."
A man sat behind a desk. About her grandfather's age. The way he manipulated that DABB though. Sharp operator.
"Now a few preparatory questions. Your name is Serena Meagher, is that correct?"
"It's pronounced Meagher."
"And you turn 18 in two weeks."
"Wednesday, March 3rd, yes."
"It says here that you identify as female. Would that be a fair assessment?"
"It also says that your father is of Irish origin and your mother Iranian."
"Is this relevant?"
"In the grand scheme of things, perhaps not. But it does help to calibrate the results you see."
"Fine. My dad is Manchester born and bred from Irish stock. My mother's people were forced into exile for fighting for political reform in Iran. They're still at it to this day. They've just moved on from Iran. Does that answer your question?"
He placed the DABB to one side.
"You know, sometimes I get bored with this job. I can see this one's going to be a lot of fun. Shall we begin? Other Interrogators have their methods for leading the Attendee into the Interrogation. I find it's best to just crack on. The sooner we begin, the sooner the unpleasantness is at an end."
"Sure. I'm not arsed."
"Now come now. Let's not begin with a lie."
And so it began:
Questions about her education, politics, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, hopes, aspirations and ambitions. Questions about policing. Questions about the homeless. Questions about public transport. Questions about the rate of taxation and the division between education, health and military spending. Questions about sanitation and refuse disposal. Questions about sport and the arts. Questions about space exploration. Questions about space tourism. Questions about immigration. Questions about her attitude towards other women. Questions about her attitude towards men. Questions about her attitude towards the trans and pan communities. Questions about her attitude towards the disabled. Questions about prejudice. Questions about homophobia. Questions about racism. Questions about paedophilia and paedophiles. Questions about rape. Questions about sexism. Questions about public works and mass transportation. Questions about childcare. Questions about provisions for mental health care. Questions about genetic research. Questions about religion. Questions about belief in an afterlife. Questions about the many world's interpretation of quantum dynamics. Questions about technology. Questions about literature, film, TV and music. Questions about crop rotation, organic and sustainable farming, and chemical pesticides. Questions about irrigation and agriculture. Questions about reproductive rights. Questions about justice and the criminal prosecution system. Questions about punishment. Questions about the death penalty. Questions about the elderly. Questions about culinary tastes. Questions about social structure and upwards mobility. Questions about unemployment support and financial assistance for nascent artists. Questions about adult literacy. Questions about animal welfare. Questions about meat eaters, vegans, and vegetarianism. Questions about the countryside. Questions about cities. Questions about megacities. Questions about the moon. Questions about Mars and the outer planets. Questions about gynaecology. Questions about murder. Questions about theft. Questions about guilt, regret, broken promises, broken hearts, unfinished assignments, and unfulfilled dreams. Questions about sleep patterns and recurrent themes when dreaming. Questions about colours, flowers, fragrances, and scents. Questions about alcohol; wine, beer, and spirits. Questions about drugs; opiate, synthetic, and weed. Questions about interest rates and the borrowing rate. Questions about reparations for crimes committed by historic regimes. Questions about disaster preparedness and prevention. Questions about the nature of reality. Questions about zombie apocalypse. Questions about precious metals and stones. Questions about language, spelling and usage. Questions about pornography. Questions about advertising. Questions about tattoos, piercings, and genital mutilation. Questions about individualism versus interdependedness. Questions about fight or flight. Questions about flight versus the hyperloop. Questions about her expectations for life. Questions about her personal ambitions. Questions about her career aspirations. Questions about her idea of perfection. Questions about utopia. Questions about nirvana. Questions about hell. Questions about redemption and self-judgement. Questions about being a responsible a citizen. Questions about answers given in answer to questions asked in earlier sessions. Follow up questions about answers given in answer to questions asked about answers given in answer to questions asked in earlier sessions.
For days it went on like this. Weeks it seemed. How long, she never knew. Even when they told her. Even later, when she could work it out for herself, it still seemed unreal. There were no windows. No clocks. Even in the canteen. Even when they guided her to the banks of cots where Attendees fell exhausted into instant sleep.
(and even here the questions followed them, like a continually moving panorama burned onto the back of the retina from a day spent in continuous travel - questions about the borrowing rate of child poverty, questions about mauve repatriation to u-taupia, questions about the way to west a wren with wrath).
Questions about love. Questions about hatred. Questions about recycling. Questions about dairy products. Questions about the virtual word. Questions about imaginary numbers. Questions about printed media. Questions about IVF. Questions about adoption. Questions about mega corporations. Questions about self-sacrifice. Questions about suicide. Questions about guns. Questions about the famous. Questions about passive consumption. Questions about the Undead. Questions about fascism. Questions about communism. Questions about socialism. Questions about capitalism. Questions about anarchism. Questions about Existentialism. Questions about Platonism. Questions about freedom of choice. Questions about equality of choice. Questions about social justice. Questions about slavery. Questions about madness. Questions about eternity. Questions about the abyss. Questions about the past. Questions about the future.
"Finally Ms Meagher, we come to the final question that I have for you for now." She nodded out of relief and that he'd finally got her name right. "What do you know of what's gone on here? What do you know of what this is about?"
"Is that not two questions?"
"No, it's the same question stated in two different ways." He leant back in his chair. "Still not bowed. I said we'd have fun. No come. What's this all about?"
She thought for a moment. "It's preparing us for good citizenship."
"Good. Go on."
"You test us to see what we like and what we believe in and then you feed that into the cloud and the cloud makes decisions about what's best for the country based on the average of whatever everyone says."
"It's a little more sophisticated than that, but yes. Once upon a time important decisions were left to what were called 'Elected Representatives'. These Elective Representatives were elected to represent communities, often tens of thousands at a time, and to vote on important matters at a centralised location on behalf of those people."
"But how could one person accurately reflect the wishes and beliefs of so many people?"
"They couldn't. The system was open to mass manipulation and corruption and the majority of elected representatives behaved in exactly the way in which we now know human beings are programmed to behave."
"You mean they abandoned the communities wishes in favour of their own desires?"
"Often exploiting the people they were meant to be representing as they did so, yes."
"The cloud. The cloud brought stability, after many a shaky start. Elected representatives became obsolete once human beings could transmit their every thought and opinion to the entire solar system in real time at the speed of light. Earlier versions of Nephocracy (from the Greek, meaning to rule through the cloud) were stormy. Decisions then were made based on opinion on social media. The result was pandemonium, and led to at least one gruesome incident where three men were found guilty and publically executed for the crime of being what were back then known as 'Hipsters'."
"I've seen people cloud that they used to have organised groups back then."
"You mean political parties. Yes, well they were a very backward people. Not nearly as independently minded as today's population. Which is why the present system was devised. Shortly before a person's 18th birthday they are brought in for Interrogation and subjected to rigorous questioning in order to build up a 4-d map of their life choices and moral centres. This is added to the Wise Owd Cloud, the central map of all preferences across the system, and it is this master brain that ultimately regulates everything that we do today. It has maintained stability for more than two centuries, granting freedom of equality and choice to all, whilst being able to accommodate, facilitate even, most life choices that don't actively involve harm to others."
"But surely my opinions and interests will change?"
"Which is why everyone is retested every nine years.
"What if my ideas change so radically that I want to be retested right away?"
"You can request a retest at any time."
"And you'll grant that request?"
"It shouldn't present a problem. Retests are common. It's only the vexatious retesters that we have to turn away."
"What if my ideas are subversive?"
"Subversive? I don't understand. If your ideas are out of step with the general consensus, they will be too ineffectual to alter very much. And if they're in step with the general consensus then they can't be subversive now, can they?"
"I wouldn't worry. It'll take a few days to get the results back, but you seem like a good person. Not everyone is so conscientious; another reason why we drag people in here for days at a time. To show and remind them that there is quite a bit of the universe that doesn't revolve around them. That actually water doesn't just fall out of the sky, or spaceships just rise into the air. Our decentralised society didn't just happen. No one individual is more important than any other, but it couldn't operate without those individuals having some sense of the whole and finding their place within it."
"So the Wise Owd Cloud is not all."
"Even the most perfect instrument can only enhance life, not replace it. All the Wise Owd Cloud can do is store your beliefs and choices to allow you to travel away from them. It does not abnegate personal responsibility. It is not a short cut to intellectual enlightenment. All it really does is tell the Wise Owd Crowd what actions need to be taken to clear a path for your particular world line to move forwards unobstructed. The rest is up to you."
She nodded. "What next?"
"You go home and get some rest. In a few days the results will come back and we'll be in touch to make a follow-up appointment to come in and review the results and see if there's anything with which you disagree."
"Will it be you reviewing the results?"
"And then I'll be a full citizen?"
"You will. With all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges to match." The possibilities were endless. "I'd bring a night bag. There's still a bit to go, but we're through the worst of it. And first time is almost always the longest session. Ms Levoulle will show you out. Oh, and Happy Birthday."
Red shoes and ankle bracelet seemed a lifetime ago from first crossing these corridors. Personal items returned in a brown legal envelope. Harsh sunlight. The first in eons. A towering city skyline slowly resolving into outline. The sheer enormity and complexity of it all. She rolled the Aye-Budd slowly between finger and thumb, delaying its reattachment to her cornea for an instant or an eternity as she relished the sound of a single voice inside her head.
Then with barely a conscious thought it was done and her left eye felt heavy under the extra weight. She held her breath for a moment, then closed hers eyes and looked hard down to the left. A shudder in her skull told her the Aye-Budd was resetting itself. It told her to wait. She waited.