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Always Greener
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Always Greener

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Author: J. R. H. Lawless
Publisher: Uproar Books, 2020
Series: The General Buzz: Book 1

1. Always Greener

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

Life's biggest victim, please step up and claim your prize!

A smash-hit reality show is offering a lifetime of luxury to the one person living the world's worst life, and now everyone is out to prove just how bad they've got it.

Want in? All you've got to do is accept ocular implants that let the whole world see life through your eyes, twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week.

Fortunately, there's still one person who hasn't lost faith in all humanity. The show's ever-smiling host is determined to wring some tiny bit of meaning out of this twisted competition and your unhappy existence.

There has to be a purpose behind all this misery.

...doesn't there?


Excerpt

A squat boulder of a man squirmed in his chair. The words "Mark Underhill, Marketing Director" scrolled at the top of his display. He tried to draw himself up to a height he did not possess, making him look rather like a startled hippopotamus.

"Thank you, Ms. Chair, members of the Board. Our department has been hard at work over the past few months fabricating the next big thing. We decided the best way was to go back to the source and evaluate our past successes. Why did so many people tune in every night to watch The Eliminator?"

As he spoke, free-floating AR windows popped up to the left side of his ear. They showed a desperate, half-naked man running from unseen pursuers through a jagged metal jungle.

"How did a podfeed like The Daily Diary manage to topple local governments on three different continents?"

More windows appeared to his right. The newsfeed footage showed people, young and old, brandishing old-fashioned ink pens in the air. Confused and worried officials looked on from the windows of official-looking buildings.

"Why did viewers start watching the old, so-called 'reality television' programs in the first place?"

He paused, daring anyone to venture an answer to his rhetorical questions. Or even worse, to suggest he and his department only wanted an excuse to watch old vids of half-naked young men and women walking around flats. No one suggested any such thing. Satisfied, or close enough for management work, he continued.

"I'm not trying to give you a history lesson here. What we've been seeking is nothing less than the source of the terrible attraction of realpod. And we found it: voyeurism. The need to watch, observe, love, despise, scorn and--above all else--judge.

"Today's society belongs to the individual, not the community. It no longer fulfils that basic human need to judge our peers. With realpod, we wrap all this up into convenient daily doses. Ready for consumption from the comfort of home, office, public toilet, or anywhere else you can catch the feed."

He paused, taking a sip of water and enjoying every second he made them wait. But the Chair, Ms. Preston, stared at him the way a dog stares at a fallen scrap, i.e., not for long. He coughed and resumed in a rush of words.

"We already knew all this. And to be frank, as the Mirror's troubles show, we've run the concept dry." At his words, the previous two clips faded into the background. An animation appeared instead, showing the show's ratings over the past two years. It was like something out of a ski adventure sim.

"So, how can we make it fresh and powerful again? I'll tell you how." He started to pause for dramatic effect again, then glanced at the Chair and thought better of it. "The sources of realpod's historical popularity are more potent than ever today. Literacy reaching beyond a fast-food delivery menu has become a joke. People are more isolated from one another than ever before. Everyone is a victim.

"Not only is everyone a victim. Everyone's part of a world-spanning shouting match to get everyone else to recognise them as a victim. Children are suing mothers. Mothers are suing children. Psychoactive over-the-counter drugs are popped on an hourly basis by people of all ages, colours, classes, and creeds." He couldn't help but pause again, preparing his audience for the home stretch.

"So, what we asked ourselves was this. What if we gave every poor slob in the world the opportunity they've been begging for all their lives? A chance to have their unjust suffering recognised by all? What if we created an arena where these unfortunate souls would compete for our pity? What if we let the whole world watch them humiliate and reveal themselves, then vote on who has it worst?" He grinned, and his eyes gave a firm flick to the left.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Board, I give you the Red's greatest triumph to date. I give you The Grass is Greener." You could hear the boldness.

The lights dimmed in response to the command. A tense hush fell over the assembly like a woolly comforter. A retro techno beat started up, with sound fed through bone conduction into each participant's inner ear. The walls disappeared from everyone's AR-enhanced view. Instead, there were vast expanses of nothing, spotted with rare pinpoints of bright light.

A disembodied emerald-green hand appeared above the centre of the free-floating boardroom table. It snapped its fingers three times in rhythm with the beat, with unmistakable tactile cheer. Then it gave way to a slightly squished blue-grey ball, rotating with ponderous grace.

The planet--for such it was--fell through the void, spinning upon itself as its moon spun around it, and both spun around the distant sun.

As all this happened in dizzying precision, the table and viewers fell ever closer. Bits of brown, green, and black started popping up amongst the grey clouds and the blue sea. Soon, the screen broke through the cloud cover. It soared over a landscape of vein-like maglev tracks, huddled vegetation fighting a doomed rear-guard battle, and a triumphant conglomeration of urban sprawl.

"Earth," boomed a deep voice, perhaps out of charity for the slower viewers. "Our home. Since the dawn of humanity, we have lived in society, ever striving to shape our world to meet our needs. All this time, a single question has dominated human existence like no other: 'Why am I here? Today was supposed to be my day off!'"

The view merged with a random piece of sprawl. People milled about, as hard at work as the proverbial ant. The music's beat sped up with reckless abandon.

"We all have our load to bear, and the real question behind the human condition is this: Who has it worst? Is it you? Is it your neighbour?" Everything paused at this. Maglev trains stopped halfway around a bend. Ground vehicles paused in traffic. The rare pedestrians froze mid-stride, forever awaiting another leg to stand on. The camera swooped and soared, making a show of trying to take it all in.

"Let's find out, shall we? New on Red this season, the realpod feed that will become a legend. Together, let's see who has it bad, who has it worse, and find out where--" dramatic pause-- "The Grass is Greener. Now taking applications."

Copyright © 2020 by J. R. H. Lawless


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