‘Father, what’s this?’
‘Put it down son, it’s not anything of use now?’
‘Do as I say, nothing good can come of it.’
Jake looked at his father and could see he meant it. As he lowered the thing to the ground, his father turned away. ‘Come on, there’s nothing good here, let’s get back to camp.’
Jake stood, slung his satchel over his shoulder; it was weighed down with the results of their scavenging, some rusted tins, a few prime pieces of metal. There wasn’t a lot now, the town had been stripped bare by previous scavengers.
As the two of them headed out of the ruins of what was once a small farmstead, both in their own thoughts. Naturally quiet, as much as they were thinking they were always listening.
‘You can’t tell anyone, Jake.’
Jake looked at his father, he looked tired, in his mid-forties, he was an old man with only a few years left in him. Not that he was frail, or ill; just that in the world they lived in, no one lived long beyond 50, at least no one that Jake new. ‘Tell anyone about what?’
‘That thing back there, the thing you asked about.’
‘What was it?’
‘Promise me you’ll not mention it to anyone, not even little Mickey or Raven, no one.’
‘Tell me why and I promise I will not.’
They walked on, Jake knew his father would tell him, he could see it in his stride, it had slowed, even though they had a good hours walk to get back to camp his father always slowed his pace when he needed to talk, to tell you something important. All Jake had to do was wait.
‘It’s what they called a tablet, and by the look of it, one of the true tablets, made by the man Jobs in the time of the consumers, before the Babelism.’
‘A tablet? That doesn’t make sense. I’ve read about the tablets in the bible, and then there was the medicine of the consumers that they called a tablet or a pill. That thing though, it had nothing carved but an engraving of an apple on one side, else it was entirely smooth it looked metal, not edible.’
‘That’s what they called it, some say that it was the start of the end, of what would be the Babelism, the calamity that caused the end of the world as the consumers knew it. Some say God came down from on high and realised his mistake.
Ever since he had struck down the Babylonians of Ziggurat around 610 BC he had been watching for a tower or some other physical manifestation of man's need to declare themselves a god, he didn’t see these tablets until it was too late.’
‘You mean there was more than one?’
‘Son, those things were more prevalent than man, they outnumbered man three or four to one, like the rats that lived in the cities around them. They did not truly realise their prevalence, there power. They were mesmerised by them, they were asleep at the wheel, each incrementally adding to the whole but never seeing what lay all about them.’
‘If there were so many, where are they all now? That is the first and only one I have seen in my whole life, and I’m sixteen, almost middle-aged.’
‘Son. You make me both happy and proud, do not go wishing your life away, you have so much to learn.’
Jake loved his father, in the gipsy clan his dad, Arthur was revered. Not only was he stoic, a warrior servant to the group. His knowledge and wisdom were unsurpassed. If he wasn’t out on a foray of some sort, for supplies, for trade materials, or simply to educate and pass on knowledge, he was reading and researching, talking and consulting throughout their clan and others.
Jake knew all of this, yet he still got frustrated at his father and even his mother, the Gypsy Matriarch telling him not to be in such a rush to grow up. It was annoying, he was his own man, in his own right. ‘So where are they?’
‘First many were destroyed in the Babelism. When the EMP bombs were detonated over America, they were rendered useless. Without electricity and what they called a communications network to connect to, they served no purpose at all. Freed from their digital affliction the consumers started discarding them for more important things like family, food, water, shelter and safety.’
‘So what you are saying is that before the bombs the consumers had these things all over the place, looking at them constantly.’
‘Amazingly so, they’d wake in the morning. In fact, the tablet probably woke them. They would eat breakfast with one hand holding the device in the other. Go to work and spend all day looking at various versions of the same thing. 110-inch screens on the walls, 1-inch tablets on their wrists. they’d have one for phone calls, and another the size of a book for reading. The information or what they called content would transition between all of these things at once. It was all about communications and knowledge.
Seriously they would look at them always, they’d be having dinner with their family looking at them, not talking. It got so bad they would message each other standing in the same room as compared to talking to each other. It was insanity, then they were gone, rendered useless, nothing but a blank black screen, like the one you saw.’
‘So when these tablets where live the consumers were as one. Is this what you are saying upset God, and why he destroyed the tablets?’
‘Yes and no, it is a lot more complex than that. The tablet though was the physical manifestation of the consumer affliction, an affliction that made them one, and in many other ways divided them into many. Individuals that had more of a connection with their tablets, than they did with the humans in their lives. So yes, God saw his creation losing its way, losing itself to an entity that they did not truly control, not knowing that it controlled them.’
‘So what did he do?’
‘That’s what I do not truly know. God shows his hand in mysterious ways. Because of the bombs and the devastation afterwards, I’ve never been able to work out who, or what triggered the Babelism.’
Out on the old highway now, they walked on in silence. The road was raised as if it was a dyke separating the left most grassy plains from the Forest on the right. The track had long cracks running all over it like the lines in the palm of a hand; hairy with weeds.
Jake followed his father as he turned from the road and plunged into the forest. The two of them stopped in the shadows just inside the tree line of the forest and looked back the way they had come. Watching to see if they had been followed.
After several minutes Arthur turned and plunged further into the woods, lightly crossing over the top of a log making sure not to leave any mark, Over a large granite boulder, skirting the heavily mossed areas.
‘So are you sure that tablet had no value father? Surely there would be someone who would barter or trade for it?’
Jake watched as his father lay down on a cliff’s edge, swinging his legs out over a black nothing. It was nightfall now. His legs disappeared, then his chest, shoulders and head, only his hands clung to the ledge momentarily, then he let go.
Jake heard his fatherland below, taking off his satchel he threw it over the edge after his father. Not waiting to hear if his bag landed Jake effortlessly followed his father over the ledge; free falling through the air for 6 feet before landing next to his father, who casually handed him his satchel.
‘Surely there would be someone who would barter or trade for that tablet thing.’
‘No Jake, not anyone we would want to deal with.’
‘Enough questions now son, we need to hurry and get home. Your mother will be getting worried.'
The track lay ahead of them now, a cleared line running through the forest. Arthur's pace had picked up again, the conversation was over. This was the safe part of their trip. Jake had no doubt whatsoever they had been marked by either a sentry or a scout. Possibly either Mickey or Raven.
It did not matter though, as even if they had been marked, whoever it was would not bring attention to themselves, they’d identify Jake and his father as their own and let them pass. Their job was to make sure no one followed, that no one or thing would find the clans camp.
Arthur stopped mid-track and looked back behind them. Jake looked forward after they were both certain no one else was near, they deftly stepped into the roots of an old oak, disappearing, gone as if they never been there.
** To be continued - this is pre-work to a ‘Speculative Futures’ course I am doing on the 11th - I’ll probably extend upon the story on that day.