Bri Allen came into the world at one
second past one minute past 1am on the 1st January 2101. Her
parents had met at primary school and had been one another's
first love, married for life, with Bri their first-born. She
was in the first flush of youth and lived in a penthouse atop
Block One, on First Avenue in the capital city of Protos.
Her lifepath, thus far, consisted of gently leaning against
a succession of 'open doors', carefully guided by her proud
and loving parents and warmly welcomed by her consecutive
employersfor her exemplary accotote. She was steadily
ascending a ladder with a bottom rung already at a dizzyingly
* * *
It had started as 1999 gave way to
2000, and the public and media interest turned to retrospection
and the compilation of lists. Leading up to the millennium
there'd been top 100s compiled for the world's most popular
songs, most widely read books, favourite films and the like.
But the focus on celebration and the collective emotions associated
with moving into a new century had spawned a new surge of
interestmore an obsessionin list compilation.
Truth be told it sowed the seeds of what would, in effect,
become the tangible ramifications of the genuine Millennium
Bug. Not the PC-based virtually non-existent Y2K spectre of
the impending collapse of modern society, which had driven
right-thinking souls into a frenzy of century rollover and
calendar compliance patch-test program licence purchasingor
stocking up on a decade's-worth of toilet paper. This was
a far more insidious, yet equally abstruse, aftershock that
would cast its ripples across the coming generations, shaping
and guiding mankind. Irresistible, ordered and unavoidable,
it would grow to become part status, part superstition, but
above all it would set the dictate for the New Classes and
a firm foundation for unequal opportunities.
It developed into a complex caste system
based on numerical prowess: the Accotote.
By 2040 it had gone way beyond the
top 100 greatest comedians/movies/plays/web sites/foods/beers/card
tricks/guitar riffs/plants/cartoons/quotes/holiday destinations/one-hit-wonders/athletes/news
stories/adverts/memorable TV moments/sexiest stars/chat-up
lines lists, or the top 100 worst wars/jobs/toys/religions/ideas/fashion
Fools' Day hoaxes lists. Importance was attached to the seemingly
least significant events or factors and the slogan of the
new infatuation was: 'Never accept second best, be better
than all the rest'. In the political arena the concept of
Prime Minister took on a new and more loaded meaning.
Companies fought to registeror take overthe most
accotote-significant names such as First Choice, Prime
Directive, One Stop and The A-Team. Simply
doing business with hi-accotote companies would confer tremendous
benefits on clients, strengthening both sides' positions in
the all-important ranking system.
By 2095 each individual had his or
her own Curriculum Primae: a catalogue of achievements and
associations strengthened by an increasingly bizarre underpinning
of fate-related ranking systems, such as date of birth, chronological
order of siblings/classmates/work colleagues and an inventory
of lifetime travel arrangements (economy class scoring lowest
and first class highest) to name but a few. Many of the determining
factors were consequently calculated by happenstance, but
an equal number could be bought. It was a new world in which
1 + 1 = +1.
* * *
'Please come in, Miss Allen,' the President
of the Bank of Protos requested. 'Take a seat. This is a most
impressive CP,' he commented, waving her Curriculum Primae
at her and smiling broadly, 'and an outstanding accotote for
one so young.'
'Thank you, sir. I've been most fortunate,'
she concurred and nodded.
'Ah, modesty is an admirable quality
and I can see you had a fortuitous start in life. But, first
and foremost, your career achievements show you are indisputably
a prime mover. I wouldn't deny that an associative accotote
is an important factor in the employment decision-making process,
especially from the perspective of our shareholders.' The
President raised his left eyebrow quizzically. 'But what kind
of a business would we have if we made a habit of employing
people who didn't know the first thing about the job for which
they'd applied?' He laughed loudly at his own joke.
'Not a terribly successful one,' she
replied, giggling out of politeness.
'Quite, quite. I see from your CP that
you have experience in the field of biometric security,' he
stated, fixing her with cool, grey eyes.
'I do, sir, yes,' she confirmed, maintaining
her undaunted composure with a slight nod, which caused her
perfect blond bob to bounce gently.
'Good. Well then, I'm sure you would
be an asset to the Bank. We are in the process of updating
our systems and your previous two jobs show you excelled in
sysop development. If you would like to accept my offer, can
I have my secretary print out a contract of employment with
immediate effect?' He raised both eyebrows to accentuate the
'Thank you, Mr President. I would very
much like to accept your kind offer.'
'Excellent,' he roared, and jabbed
at the intercom to summon his secretary.
This was the way interviews usually
went for Bri. They were more of a formality than anything
else, but she still had the good grace and manners to play
* * *
Otto d'Jamma had joined the Rank Outsiders
six months previously. He'd been the drummer in a neo rock
band called First Aid Kit, and their first album, Prima
Voci, had done really well. Unfortunately the music business
was as fickle as it had ever been and their second album,
First Amendment, had failed to bother the download
charts. That wouldn't have necessarily marked the end of thingsas
they were a talented bunch and could have easily changed their
style to the currently in-vogue jazzedelica that was taking
the clubs by stormbut once a rocker, always a rocker.
A small but enthusiastic fanbase would have just about kept
them going, had it not been for First Aid Kit's decision to
underline their growing 'Bad Boys of Rock' image and go for
both a pun and a numerical obscenity.
They called their next album Third
The media backlash was extreme. They
were threatened with imprisonment if they didn't withdraw
it, and their individual accototes were immediately zeroed
as a punishment. A public apology was demanded and Otto agreed
to be spokesman for the band.
The live broadcast had proven too much
of a temptation for the fiery young man.
Things started well enough but the
interviewer began accusing the band of using vulgarity and
cultural taboos to bolster a lack of innate talent, as well
as intentionally corrupting the youth market. That was enough
to goad Otto into a knee-jerk, live-on-air reaction.
'Look, buster. We're not some second-rate,
accotote-based, middle-of-the-road outfit. We don't play second
fiddle, we're second to none and just because polite society
is in its second childhood I didn't come here to get the third
It happened so fast that by the time
the director reacted it had already gone out. They transferred
to an acutely embarrassed anchorman who fell over himself
in his attempts to placate the audience, desperately apologising
for the profanity-laden outburst and pointing out that it
was the first time that anything like it had happened in the
history of the network.
As Otto was being bundled into a police
car, bootlegged copies of Third Time Lucky were changing
hands among the disaffected youth like hot cakes and recordings
of the instantly notorious interview were already popping
up on illicit download sites.
* * *
It was early, the morning after the
interview, and Otto was in a police van on his way to court,
having spent an uncomfortable and sleepless night in jail.
The van never made it.
The tyres were shot out and unmarked
cars with blacked-out windows blocked the vehicle's path.
As the driver was held at gunpoint, the back doors were lasered
open and the accompanying officer was forced to uncuff Otto.
No one was harmed.
'Who are you?' Otto asked, rubbing
his wrists, as the car sped through the back streets.
'Rank Outsiders,' came the reply. 'Welcome
aboard, Otto d'Jamma. You're one of us now. My name's Mahir.'
His rescuer, a tall young man dressed in a coal-black jumpsuit,
tugged off his polypropylene balaclava helmet and offered
his hand. Otto shook it.
'Ha, you're a folk hero, mate,' the
driver, Alex, called over his shoulder.
'Yeah. That's about the measure of
it,' Mahir agreed.
'A folk hero?' Otto repeated sceptically.
'Last night! You were the hero of the
lower-accotote classes, the champion of modern communism'
'The voice of a generation,' Alex interrupted.
'You did more for our cause in a few seconds than we've managed
to do in five years.'
'Oh right, okay
er, good,' Otto
muttered and ran his hand over his heavily-tattooed, bald
'I mean, you don't have to join us
if you don't want to, but I guess you don't have a great deal
'Guess not. I'm not killing anyone
though,' he added, pointing at the automatic weapon on Mahir's
'Ha, no way! We're not about that.
Just positive direct action, people power, raising awareness,'
'Okay. Well I think my diary's free
for the foreseeable future so, yeah, I'm in.'
'No second thoughts?' Alex swore
'Nah, I reckon it should be second
nature, mate,' Otto replied, and they all laughed heartily.
* * *
It was One Day and Bri Allen was riding
in the first of Protos' famous, fifty-year-old gold-plated
taxis on her way to the commerce awards. Formal religion had
been outlawed twenty years previouslyfar too many conflicts
and unsound principles (for the skewed sensibilities of an
accotote-based society) getting in the way of progress. It
had been replaced by the monthly celebrationon the first
of the month, naturallyof One Day in which the collective
multicultural hope for better things to come was a unifying
principle, supported and sponsored by the state; enjoyed by
all. Once a year the commerce awards were timed to fall on
One Day to reward entrepreneurs and employees alike, as well
as emphasizing the possibilities of a better future, and a
higher accotote, to everyone else.
She was on her way to accept the "Greatest
contribution to a company in the first month of work"
award. It would go with all the others, but she was far too
young to grow complacent. And anyway, the associated accotote
boost was always welcome, along with the media splash and
thrill of seeing her face on a vidscreen. The taxi driver
knew a short cut and being the first to arrive would do them
Suddenly they found their path blocked
by two cars with blacked-out windows. The doors were flung
open and two disguised men jumped out, brandishing automatic
'Miss Allen, please get out of the
taxi. You will not be harmed if you do as we say,' the tallest
of the pair demanded.
'What should I do?' she whispered to
the driver, nervously.
'Do as they say, sugar,' he advised.
Bri slowly opened the passenger door,
stepped out, straightened the new, bespoke, one-off fuchsia
dress over her willowy form and, with all of the bravado she
could muster, called out, 'What do you want?'
'You,' her would-be captor replied.
'How do you know my name?'
'How could we not? It's One Day. Your
face is everywhere.'
'Shut that door and get out of here,'
the shorter man ordered, addressing the taxi driver.
He didn't need asking twice. He hit
the auto-close on the passenger door and sped backwards on
Now she was on her own. As she stood
there, forcing back an incipient tremble with failing resolve,
someone let out their bathwater and it hurtled down a nearby
pipe, mocking her discomfort, focusing the harsh reality of
'Come over here please, Miss Allen,'
the shorter, stronger man requested, gesturing towards the
open door of the car.
'Why? What do you want? I haven't got
any money on me,' she declared, holding her ground.
'Just get in the car,' the other said
in a tone of authority.
Bri did as she was toldstraight-backed
and unhurried, trying to mask her fear as she slid on to the
seat. The two men got in either side of her, slammed the doors
shut, and sped off.
'I know you,' she commented, narrowing
her eyes at the man on her left who had just removed his disguise.
'You may recognise me, but we've never
met. We don't move in the same circles, honey.'
'Ha, nice one,' his colleague remarked.
'Hmm. So, are you going to tell me
what you want then
Otto?' she inquired with an air of
It had the desired affect and he jumped
when she addressed him directly by name. 'How do
trailed off. 'Oh, you saw the interview, huh? What was someone
with an accotote halo the size of the moon doing watching
that? Hope I didn't taint your purity,' he remarked sarcastically.
She'd actually seen the interview via
an illicit download, viewed on an untraceable terminal. She'd
had to know what all the fuss was about and she'd experienced
an unexpected thrill, despiteor possibly partly due
tothe risk to her exalted accotote. 'I wanted to witness
your apology,' she bluffed.
'Ha, some apology,' Mahir scoffed.
She shot a well-practised glance of disdain at him and swiftly
took in his features. He was an attractive young man with
bright, mischievous eyes, childlike features and skin the
colour of golden copper. But experience had taught her to
whom to apply subtle leverage, and it was with Otto she felt
her chance rested.
'Anyway,' she turned back to the ex-drummer,
'for the time being that's irrelevant, even if you are number
one on the "Wanted List".'
'Ooh, number one, d'ya think
that'd raise my accotote?' Otto mocked.
'What accotote?' she countered.
'All right, you lovebirds,' Mahir snapped,
'that'll do for now.'
They swung on to the highway out of
Protos and Alex gunned the car away from the city. As the
highway lights thinned out, she watched the strobing sodium
glare illuminate Otto's face. Despite the tattoos, the strong
jaw and the stocky physique, there was something behind the
bluster, something quiet and disarmingly attractive.
* * *
Bri wasn't used to the privations that
awaited her at the Rank Outsiders' hideaway. The shared toilet
was disgusting; there was no bathroomjust a cracked
and scummy sinkand her bed consisted of a hard, stained,
grotty old mattress. There were only sixty actual members
(along with a few children), which struck her as odd because
the way the media reported their activities you'd have thought
they comprised a small army. Most were disgruntled lower-accotote,
fighting for better opportunities, but a few had turned their
backs on healthy CPs and high accototes. For them the campaign
was based on principles and equal rights issues.
At first she maintained a stance of
indignation centring around the "You won't get away with
this" approach, but as days turned into weeks she realised
that these men and women weren't thugs or hired mercenaries,
rather that they were intelligent, caring people with a genuine
concern for their fellow man.
They'd issued a totally unrealistic
ransom demand to the Bank of Protos and, despite Bri's parents'
pleas, the Bank would not cough up such a large sum, and anyway,
to give in to the demands of the Rank Outsiders would only
set a precedent for future hostage situations.
One of the women, Scarlia, provided
Bri with more sensible clothing. The high heels and diaphanous
red number that she'd been wearing on her way to the commerce
awards ceremony were entirely unsuitable to her current situation.
Thick cotton jeans, heavy boots and a man's woollen shirt
were far more comfortable.
'Listen, Bri. I'm truly sorry that
you got caught up in all this,' Otto apologised one evening
'So let me go.'
'I would if I could, but you're a major
star in the accotote ranks and we had to make them sit up
and take notice.'
'Yeah, actually. I've learnt a great
deal these past few weeks. I've been isolated from the truth.'
She shook her hair in disapproval and it swayed naturally
about her pretty face, liberated from the stern designer bob
and curve, which had grown out by now. 'I always knew I was
lucky, but I never took it all for granted. Thing is, we're
not told about the conditions that the lower-accotote live
in, about how hard it is for them to get even the most menial
employment. The utterly egocentric upper-accotote was all
I knew. I had no other point of reference to inform me. You've
opened my eyes to the reality of it.' As she spoke, a few
of the others stopped eating and fell quiet, listening to
'So you can see that we're right?'
'Well, I can see that you are principled
and I can see that you want to close the gap between the haves
and the have-nots. It's clear that things can't carry on like
this and sooner or later there'll be a rebellion, well beyond
your own style of insurgency. It's as though I've acquired
second sight, living with you.' She smiled to herself at the
ease with which she swore in their company, although to all
intents and purposes it felt quite normal now. 'But how do
you sway the opinion of those who have the most to lose?'
'We're open to suggestions,' Otto remarked,
as he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
A month ago Bri would have recoiled
in horror and disgust if someone of an inferior accotote had
so much as touched her, let alone kissed her. Things had changed,
she'd changed, and her world had changed. She reached over
and ran her hand across Otto's cheek and smiled. The others
went back to their meals and struck up conversations of their
own. It was obvious that something special was developing
between these two.
'I'm glad you've had second thoughts
about the system,' Otto said, gently taking her hand, kissing
it and holding it in both of his.
'Yeah, and third!' she whispered back,
blushing at the word.
* * *
Otto and Bri were curled together on
a recently acquired new mattress, curtains nailed to the ceiling
for privacy. A candle flickered from within a recess in the
wall, illuminating glistening skin.
'I've seen it from the Rank Outsiders'
viewpoint and you've managed to convince me,' she murmured
softly in his ear, watching the projected patterns from the
flame play and dance over his shaved head. It had taken some
time for her to get used to the life-sized image of the gold,
blue and red brain tattoo, but she'd come to love it as much
as its owner.
'You've convinced me too,' he replied,
patting her naked bottom and kissing her on the nose.
'You know what I mean,' she said, playfully
digging him in the ribs.
'Ouch!' he protested. 'Yeah, I know.
It's just nice to forget about the world for a while.'
'True, but... I've been thinking.'
'Very funny. No, really. Before I met
you guys, my only opinion was based on what the media fed
us. You were, at worst, a dangerous militant outfit, hell-bent
on undermining decent society, at best a minor irritant. Any
direct action you take is just going to be distorted and used
against you. It won't sway public opinion, just reaffirm it.'
'So we're stuffed?'
'No, not at all. You just need to understand
your market,' she explained, sitting up.
'Uh huh.' Her firm young breasts, outlined
in the candlelight, momentarily distracted Otto.
'As I was saying,' she continued in
a matronly voice, lifting his head with one finger under his
chin to focus his attention. 'Rather than direct action, what
about direct communication?'
'The kids who are young enough to change
and the old folks who can remember a time before the accotote.'
'Oh, I see.' Otto half sat up and leaned
on his elbow. 'You could be right.'
'Gotta be worth a try.'
'But how do we do it?'
'Let the kids do it for you.'
'I was talking to Scarlia. She's one
of the youngest here and she's still in touch with some of
her friendsthose who are sympathetic to the cause.'
'I guess that'd be a start, but if
questions are asked it could lead them back to us.'
'Oh, what I've got in mind would be
much more effective,' she claimed smugly.
'Scarlia told me that Third Time
Lucky is still being bootlegged and circulated.'
'That's nice,' Otto commented uncertainly.
'So reform the band!'
'What? They'd arrest us on the spot.'
'Not to tour, silly, and certainly
not in an official recording studio situation. Just get hold
of a digital multi-track, plus a computer and a few microphones.
It's not gotta be commercial quality. Think about it. The
kids would do the work for you. It'd spread like wildfire.'
'Maybe. Dunno if the other guys would
be willing to take the risk, though.'
'Ask them. We'll write the lyrics in
advance, just three or four tracks. The important thing is
to get the message out there.'
'Wow, it'd fun to play again. A couple
of tracks could be really heavy neo blues, written from the
lower-accotote perspective, highlighting their plight.'
'Exactly, and we could write something
that would encourage the kids to go and talk to the old folks,
find out how it used to be, make them look like ambassadors
from a better age. You know how that generation love to jabber.'
'You've really thought about this,
haven't you?' He took her face in his hands and kissed her
tenderly on the lips before hugging her close.
'It could work, Otto.'
'Yeah, yeah, it could. I'll figure
out how to get a message to the guys.' He went quiet for a
moment, then sat back and smiled at her. 'What are we gonna
call this subversive album then?'
'I thought about that, too,' she laughed.
'"Go Fourth and Multiply",
fourth spelt with a u.'
They giggled hysterically for the next
five minutes. It was perfect, combining a pun, an obscenity,
instructions, and a direct comment on the accotote system,
all in a single title.
* * *
As rock 'n' roll, punk and gangster
rap had gone before, so the parents of the younger generation
had nothing but distaste for the musical mentors of their
rebellious offspring. However, when their own parents
started to present a united geriatric front in their recommendation
of First Aid Kit's anarchic neo rock four-track EP download
(accompanied by hard-hitting artwork featuring a background
of primulastaunting the upper-accotote with Bri's namesakeOtto's
brain tattoo, the First Aid Kit logo and a sinister retro-punk,
trumpet-sprouting skull gazing down on the contentious bullet
hole font title), they had little choice but to at least listen
to their argument, and the seditious music that had got them
all fired up. Little by little the plight of the lower-accotote
was brought to that generation's attention and the middle-accotote
started making inquiries into human rights issues, living
conditions and employment expectations.
The upper-accotote were riled beyond
belief and smothered the media with blatant propaganda, as
well as offering a reward of unparalleled accotote enhancement
to anyone who could provide information on the whereabouts
of the members of First Aid Kit.
The band had gone to ground. Amazingly
they'd all agreed to Otto's proposal and had set the subversive
lyrics (which he, Bri and other Rank Outsiders had compiled)
to some of the best neo rock/blues music they'd ever composed.
Their association with Otto, and his public statement, had
led to its own punitive repercussions, so they were more than
ready to strike back and live with the consequences.
The upper-accotote needed a substantial
media coup. Their best bet was to capture a ringleadera
scapegoat would doand to reveal the whole thing to be
a hoax, a travesty and blasphemy on the accotote system. Consequently,
they poured their considerable resources into tracking down
* * *
At 2am on a Sunday morning the Rank
Outsiders were woken by the sound of loud hailers and thunderous
hammering from all sides of their hideaway. Mahir ushered
the youngest into the underground escape tunneldug for
such an eventuality. The women were next and Bri clung on
'I'm not leaving you,' she sobbed.
'You must! I'll be right behind you.'
'No you won't, you know you won't.
You guys have to seal the entrance, I know how it works.'
Otto guided her firmly towards a hole
in the floor. 'Look, I couldn't live with myself if something
happened to you, especially if I could've done something to
prevent it, just get'
Shots rang out and a unit of upper-accotote
troops stormed into the building. Otto pushed Bri to the floor
and swung round with his hands up. Mahir brandished his automatic
like the brave, foolhardy man that he was. Otto lurched back
with an agonised scream.
In the dimly-lit confusion, he'd taken
a bullet meant for Mahir.
'Otto! Otto, my love. No! You're okay,
I've got you,' Bri shouted, cradling him.
He looked up as a trickle of blood
ran from the corner of his mouth. 'Be strong for me,' he gasped.
'Don't die on me. I won't let you,'
'Tell 'em to "Go Fourth and Multiply",'
he managed, forcing a grin.
Bri collapsed into convulsing hysteria
as Otto's frothing, gurgling struggle ceased and he fell lifeless
in her arms.
A bright light shone in her face.
'It's all right, Miss Allen. You're
safe now. It's all over.' One of the microweave armour-clad
soldiers dragged her away from her dead lover, shielding her
blows as best he could. He misread her flailing arms and screams
as confusion and shock, doubtlessly magnified by her ordeal
as a captive in the hands of the Rank Outsiders. He snatched
a pack from his arm pocket, bit it open, threw the wrapper
to the ground and pumped a powerful sedative into Bri's arm.
* * *
For the upper-accotote, it had seemed
like the perfect result. They'd got their man, in the form
of the non-fatally wounded Mahir. They'd disbanded the Rank
Outsiders. And, even better, they'd rescued Bri Allen, a high-level
upper-accotote 'debutante' whose face was known to all from
the continued reports of her abduction.
She'd readily agreed to a live-on-air
interview. She was someone that everyone could trust and,
after all she'd been through, she would hammer the final nail
into the coffin of insurgence.
As the upper-accotote leaders settled
down to watch the interview, they felt safe in the knowledge
that here was someone who'd been held at the mercy of a group
of worthless brigands. She had witnessed everything from the
inside, and she had first-hand knowledge of the insidious
plot to undermine decent, right-thinking folk and modern societies'
unimpeachable conduct and values. She was one of them and
she'd been through the mill. She was the darling of the media
and had won the hearts and minds of the millions who would
be watching the broadcast, having been awarded the highest
accotote of any one person in the world in recognition of
her ordeal. Her opinion was irrefutable and this broadcast
would lay the matter to rest once and for all. The truth would
come out and they could rely on her to tell it just as it
Trouble for them was... that's precisely
what she did.