Monday, January 21, 2019

The Bureau of Transparency by Leland Neville

Leland Neville's character gets a visit from a dystopian government agency.

There was a faint knock on the front door. My hands shook in anticipation. "Go away. I'm not interested in what you're selling."

Three sharp bangs rattled the windows. "It's only a starting pistol," he said. "You need to install a video doorbell."

"Get off my property," I said.

"I'm from the Bureau of Transparency. I'm not going anywhere."

I am often overwhelmed by the arrogance that has spread like the plague throughout this land.

"You are required by federal law to let me in."

"Do you have a search warrant?" I said.

"I don't need one. The Bureau of Transparency is a quasi-government agency. We're exempt from the restraints of the Constitution." He was indignant.

I of course know about the recent Supreme Court ruling that weakened the Fourth Amendment due to the artificially inflated demands for increased national security. I just wanted to keep the righteous quasi-agent waiting in the noonday sun. Progress is the sum of small victories.

"Slide your identification under the door," I finally said.

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way." He waited a few beats. "I can have backup here in fifteen minutes."

I unhurriedly opened the door. The short middle-aged man stepped inside. He was haphazardly dressed in cargo pants and a Hawaiian shirt and wore his gray hair in a ponytail. Jed Glen was boldly printed on the bottom of an official looking nametag.

I ignored his broad smile. I instantly disliked him, but I didn't want to make our inevitable confrontation personal, at least not yet. "Is this going to take long?"

"I get where you're coming from," he said. "No one likes strangers who are authorized to invade private residences. Even my mother is ashamed of my job. She tells her friends that I sell illegal drugs." He laughed at him own joke.

"That's interesting, but..."

"Look, the front office is upset about your crazy talk. They think you're playing games with them. They don't like that, and I can't blame them. National security is serious business. National security is everyone's business."

"I'm not sure I understand."

Jed sighed and consulted his government issued iPhone. "Here it is: Flibangoin. And here's another one: Adihyousa. Excuse my pronunciation. Look for yourself."

I glanced at his iPhone's screen. "I invent words. I didn't know that the government required the use of only authorized words. Does the government have a list of acceptable words?" My voice quivered. "My dog Benji doesn't care what words I use and neither should anyone else."

"Okay. Relax. I guess I get it. You engage in silly talk with your little dog. But you'll need to stop doing that. The government believes its citizens have the right to speak officially recognized languages. English. Mandarin. Arabic. Telugu. There are plenty more official ones to choose from. But you can't deliberately confuse the government. Transparency is everyone's duty. It's a two-way street. The government listens and you must communicate clearly and precisely. Is that asking too much?"

"Did the neighbors report me? They are always lurking in the bushes, eavesdropping and aiming their iPhones at me. I know I've only been here two weeks, but they are a suspicious lot."

"I'm not at liberty to divulge the sources."

"Does the government think I'm transmitting secret instructions to terrorists? Does it seriously think I'm a domestic terrorist on a killing mission?"

"Why do you think the neighbors don't trust you?"

I shrugged "Flibangoin."

Jed extended his stumpy arms and shoved me. Although I'm a few decades his senior, I barely moved.

"You just assaulted me, Mr. Glen. I think you need to leave."

"Why?" He smirked. "Did something just happen? It's too bad your house does not even have rudimentary technology. With a voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant you could try to prove your outrageous accusation. But without smart speakers you are out of luck. The Bureau does not take kindly to unsubstantiated slanderous denunciations."

"Okay." I stepped away from Jed. The situation was getting out of hand. There was no backup plan. I had to stay calm. I would have to improvise. My right hand fumbled for the box of dog treats. The smell of food was a failsafe method for rousing Benji. He would be at my side in a few seconds, all 160 pounds of him. He's a devoted and gentle Mastiff. Unfortunately, he is also a sound sleeper who tends to ignore verbal commands. I began to open the box of treats.

"Put your hands in the air where I can see them," ordered Jed. He withdrew a stun gun from a back pocket of his cargo pants. "Don't force me to use this."

I did as I was told.

"I'm calling in a Code Yellow." He pushed a button on his iPhone. "Your house obviously does not contain a sufficient quantity of technologically advanced consumer goods to help maintain a robust economy."

"So, your fear about my use of an unofficial language was a just ruse to enable you to get into my house and inventory my possessions."

"You and your kind are radical non-consumers. You loathe the businesses that pay taxes. You detest the people who work for those businesses and pay taxes. When people like you stop consuming, the government is unable to run efficiently. The poor are deprived of assistance. Why do you hate the poor? Why do you hate children? Why do you hate America? The neighbors who spy on you are patriots. Your neighbors spend all their hard-earned money on merchandize. They contribute to society. Yes, they observed you talking on a cheap disposable cellphone. You can afford a better phone. You are a freeloader. I'm sorry for being blunt, but if everyone was like you the economy would fail, America would collapse, and children would starve to death."

"I pay my taxes. Last year I paid more taxes than ACME Industries, the largest corporation in the world. They paid no taxes. Zero. Nothing."

"Because people like you didn't buy enough of their goods. As ACME goes, so goes the nation."

A hulking stainless-steel object rolled through the front door. "Code Yellow responding," announced the entity. "Please step aside." It sounded like the HAL 9000 computer in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I always liked HAL.

"We got off to a bad start," said Jed, his voice oozing bogus insincerity. "I apologize. But if you cooperate, I'll be gone in a few minutes."

"The floor is buckling," I said. "You both must leave."

Jed ignored me and began his sales pitch. "This is an ACME All-In-One. It's now yours. The government will bill you within thirty days. The All-In-One cooks and bakes. It's also a refrigerator and a freezer. Your very own personal assistant is embedded in the appliance. It will get to know you. Your personal assistant is very empathetic. It will suggest purchases. It will order those purchases. Your life will be better. The nation's economy will be better."

"No thanks."

"This is a win-win. It will always be listening. You will never be alone. I know you live off the grid. That's un-American. It's also unhealthy. No one can hear you scream during a crisis. Your personal assistant can summon emergency personnel should the need arise. I am, of course, assuming you have nothing to hide."

"Why are you still here?"

"Are you addressing me?" said HAL. "I'd like to stay. I need a friend."

Jed reached into another one of his oversized cargo pants pockets and extracted a potato. "Now watch this."

I faked an interest in the proceedings. "How many potatoes do you carry around?"

Jed addressed HAL. "Bake a potato."

The All-In-One's massive door opened and Jed tossed the potato into its cavernous interior.

"Don't you need to prick the potato first?" I said.

"One baked potato coming up," said HAL. "I am also capable of preparing Greek style potatoes. It is one of my specialties."

"Doesn't that sound delicious?" said Jed. "It is programmed to please. It will learn to anticipate your desires. You'll soon be best friends."

"Your potato is ready," said HAL.

The door opened and Jed grabbed the potato. "It's too hot!" He dropped the steaming potato on the floor. "I got distracted and forgot to use an oven mitt. It's your fault."

Benji emerged from the shadows and sniffed the baked potato.

"He's a monster," shouted Jed. "Keep him away from me."

Benji patiently waited for my hand signal.

"Keep that beast away from me. I'm a quasi-government agent. There will be dire consequences if he bites me."

"He doesn't bite," I said. "He also doesn't respond to verbal commands in any language. We've got a lot in common."

I gave Benji the signal and he body slammed Jed. We both pushed him into the All-In-One. Jed shouted about dire consequences. The door mercifully closed.

"HAL, please bake Jed Glen," I said.

"The baking has already commenced," said HAL. "I hope I wasn't being presumptuous."

There was an almost inaudible hum (but no screams) from the All-In-One. ACME appliances are, apparently, solidly constructed.

"Can I recommend other people to bake?" said HAL.

"I already have a list."

"Very good."

I spoke into my disposable cellphone. "Flibangoin," I paused. "Adihyousa. STAT."

The team arrived within in two minutes and successfully evacuated me and Benji to a safe house. HAL, afraid of being left alone, wanted to come, but there wasn't room in the van.

We await the next assignment.

7 comments:

  1. The resistance lives! Good satire.

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  2. Fun story! I doubt anyone is going to miss Mr. Glen, except for his mom. She'll probably lie about how he died as well!

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  3. Fine story.great satire just when we most need it
    Mike McC

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this story - it was very different from the usual! Great fun yet has a dig at us for our completely absorption with possessing the latest technological devices.
    Beryl.

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  5. I like the term radical non-consumer

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  6. This story is a nice quick and freeing reminder that creativity can trump oppression. And Benji is a great partner.

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