The End of Season Report was not something that Overseer M. was particularly looking forward to. And neither, if truth were told, were the members of the Committee. For M. it was the first major meeting of a fledgling career, with seemingly little to gain from representing a compromised Colony well, and a lot to lose from doing it badly. For the members it was purely a matter of procedure.
Nevertheless, the Director began brightly enough: ‘Now we come to Colony 48.9. And, for this, let us welcome its Chief Monitor, Overseer M.’
‘Thank you, Director Q., and members of the Committee.’
‘Overseer, first of all, let’s ask you the traditional question and be done with it: Have they realised yet?’ Knowing signs were exchanged amongst the Committee members.
‘Not at all, Director.’
‘Nobody?’ Secretary G. asked. ‘Not even an inkling? After all this time?’
‘Well, there was someone in Dayton, Ohio,’ M. replied. ‘A Mr Francis Helmond. He was remarkably close, in fact – not just to the origins but to the reason itself.’
‘Sounds like this Helmond might be worth a Follow!’
‘Unfortunately, I don’t think there’d be much to see, Assistant Director,’ M. said. ‘They locked him up.’ The members seemed glum. ‘Locked him up. Drugged him up. I doubt that he’ll ever think coherently again.’
‘There is one that’s worth mentioning: a Mr Alex Fields from Lincolnshire, who claims to have seen us.’
‘And has he?’
‘Yes. But not in the way that he thinks.’
Director Q. was intrigued. ‘Does he attract any interest? Among his peers, I mean.’
‘He does. But not in a positive way. They call him a “crank”.’
‘A crank!’ Assistant Director H. gurgled. ‘Wasn’t it always the way?’
‘It was. It was.’ The Director agreed.
‘And apart from those two, nothing in particular. Of course, some people occasionally hit the target accidentally in conversation – or, rather, while joking – but there’s really nothing to suggest that they’re anywhere near even the vaguest point of understanding.’
‘I suppose they persevere with the concept of a Supreme Being,’ the AD stated bluntly.
‘Or multiple Supreme Beings!’ the Secretary added.
‘They do. Seemingly more than ever.’
‘And they’re still killing each other for it? Or, rather, over it?’
‘Yes, Assistant Director. They claim to hold nothing dearer than individual life, yet they persist in taking it or sacrificing it in the name of an intangible concept. Something which, as the Annals show, they initially created as a power mechanism, but which was then grotesquely manipulated until it escalated out of control.’ The Director murmured a sound of assent. ‘In fact, even to deny one of the Supreme Beings in casual conversation remains enough to ensure a rapid demise in many regions.’ The Overseer’s tone changed. ‘So much for the freedom of speech they cherish and enshrine in documents…’
‘Incredible!’ muttered the Director. ‘Of course, it’s a long time since I had any contact with Colony 48.9. Like many of my period I did have one or two Designated Humans, but my interest in them quickly waned. I believe the same may be true of my fellow Committee Members.’
The Assistant’s expression was enigmatic. ‘Well, I did spend 10 of their Time-Units observing Nottingham…but, as you say, Director, that was long ago. In this regard, Overseer, you certainly have my sympathies.’ They shared their amusement.
‘I have to confess that I dipped in and out,’ Secretary G. said. ‘Recreationally. I couldn’t find much to keep me there and, having left it, I couldn’t find anything to miss.’ The Secretary paused. ‘But having said that, I did use to like Larry David, Comedian. Has he gone yet?’
‘Larry… David?’ The Overseer checked the data. ‘No, he’s still there.’
Secretary G. exhibited some satisfaction.
‘All in all,’ Director Q. said, ‘it’s a pretty hopeless state of affairs.’
‘Hopeless, and if I may say it, Director, numbingly dull.’ The AD didn’t waste words.
The Secretary appeared purposeful. ‘When we look closely at the data, Overseer, we can only conclude that the numbers are, quite frankly, appalling.’
‘The figures from the previous End of Season Report were poor enough. But this represents a significant downturn. The plain fact is that there are hardly any Watchers left. Followers even less so.’
‘As we know, Secretary, the Colony has experienced a pronounced downward trend in the last 20 of their Time-Units, as reflected in its demotion to 0.9 status. But the time covered by this Report includes various iterations of the Virus and its aftermath. The choice to lock up its inhabitants was a grievous one in terms of attracting new Followers, or even in keeping the ones it had. Quite simply, only those with a severe melancholic disposition would have been inclined to witness the unfolding of what was, at best, due to the mediocrity of its leaders, a thin and obvious comedy and, at worst, a sequence of profoundly unstimulating events.’
The Director displayed approval. ‘Quite. Quite.’
‘Sadly, in recent times, Colony 48.9 has become a tedious and turgid watch. An experience to be endured, rather than enjoyed. And with so many other options, the major product of its unedifying battles between the stupid and the wilfully stupid is that it’s largely forgotten.’
‘Well, as you’re aware, Overseer, Colony 48.9 is effectively now no longer offered or promoted. It remains available to those who want to find it, either accidentally or nostalgically, but as a force for entertainment I’m afraid it’s utterly spent.’
The pause that followed the Director’s words indicated the need for a change of emphasis. To this end, Director Q. went on.
‘Every Colony is by its nature different. As is, technically, every Committee meeting and Report. Colony 48.9 is a problem case, and has been for many seasons. As its popularity has declined, so the significance of its place in our plans has reduced. Even so, we’ve never had official cause to consider its extinction.’
M. knew that discussing the future of the various Colonies was a regular occurrence as End of Season Reports drew to a close. Some had, of course, been terminated. Not within the Overseer’s albeit limited personal experience, but historically, yes, it had happened.
The Monitoring Division had prepared thoroughly for the End of Season Report, but still M. was somewhat taken aback by what the Director said next.
‘Overseer, as our current expert in matters relating to Colony 48.9, do you believe that we should abandon it totally? Or even take the first steps in its deconstruction?’
It was clear that the Committee keenly awaited the Overseer’s response.
‘Director, firstly let me say how appreciative I am of your faith in my knowledge and my judgement.’
‘My dear Overseer, it goes without saying!’
‘Then let me be as frank as I may. In my estimation, Colony 48.9 is finished. Colony 48.9 has finished itself. Its inhabitants are categorically unable to realise that they’re on course to destroy themselves. Their choices, in the face of all indications to the opposite, are consistently those which are guaranteed to bring the swiftest exit. They have, by this stage of their history, a clear idea of the ideal form of administration, of government, of leadership, and yet they signally refuse to adhere to these methods. Instead they allow themselves to be swayed by liars and charlatans.’
The Secretary couldn’t resist a quip. ‘If it wasn’t all so predictable, it might be entertaining!’
‘No doubt… And in a way, that’s just the point. The inevitability. The evidence, the facts, the data, and yet still they persist. They knowingly destroy their environment, their habitat, while at the same time denying it. As every Time-Unit passes, they starve themselves of air. And they’re happy to do it!’
But this, as the Directors and Members of the Committee realised, was not a joke. The Overseer was passionate, frustrated, and pained.
The Director waited briefly before speaking. ‘Your interest in the project is commendable. I think we can all see an earlier version of ourselves reflected in you.’ The Assistant and the Secretary made signs of agreement. ‘And so it seems to me, Overseer, that you’re urging a termination of Colony 48.9?’
The pause was measured. ‘Director, with respect, I’m not.’
‘But in the light of all you’ve said…’
‘In my view, no such drastic action is needed. Colony 48.9, while patently unsustainable, could be allowed to run its course with no appreciable detriments. Obviously, the totality of its history won’t be lost – it’ll always be there to access in the Annals – there just won’t be any more of it.’
‘I see,’ the Director replied. ‘What’s the time frame, in your opinion?’
‘I project that, one way or another, Colony 48.9 will be done within 1,000 Time-Units.’
The Director made an affirmative movement. ‘Well I’m sure I speak for us all, Overseer, in thanking you for your input. Of course, a decision will be made in due course, but for now all I can say is that you’ve done your future prospects no harm whatsoever.’
‘Agreed,’ the Assistant Director said. The Secretary nodded.
‘Colony 48.9 was your first executive appointment. And it was by no means the easiest or the most glamorous. But you’ve acquitted yourself well in your duties and in the insights you’ve provided during this meeting.’
‘I’m most gratified to hear that, Director.’
‘I know for a fact that there are high-level vacancies in the Monitoring Division of Colony 5. If you’d be interested, I’d happily provide you with a recommendation.’
Colony 5! M. seemed to be the recipient of a major boost of energy and was, just for the briefest time, uncharacteristically short of words.
‘That would be… Well, it really…’
The Director was only too pleased to come to the Overseer’s aid. ‘Talent must always be rewarded!’
And so the meeting ended. The Committee was about to break up. But not before the Assistant Director suddenly turned to the Secretary and said, quietly: ‘Larry David, Comedian… Worth a look?’
The Secretary glowed. ‘Worth a look.’
‘Well, G, whatever else you’d say about the inhabitants of Colony 48.9, you can’t deny that they have a certain sense of humour.’
‘And neither can you deny, my dear H., that they certainly need one…’
David Dumouriez has some work ‘out there’. If you find it, he’ll be glad. If you don’t find it, he won’t be less glad.
Become a member of the IZ Digital Ko-fi for exclusive stories, classic Mutant Popcorn film essays by Nick Lowe, and an invite to the IZ Digital Discord server. Or just buy IZ a digital coffee/tea/raktajino – it is hugely appreciated.
You can also subscribe to the bimonthly print Interzone and get even more amazing writing delivered directly to you. Postage free, planetwide.
Reader memberships and subscriptions are the lifeblood of independent, small press magazines like IZ Digital and Interzone – thanks for reading, and supporting!