The Petrie family sat together on the tour bus as fellow passengers waited and chatted excitedly amongst themselves.
The teleportation into the city had scared the living daylights out of Marie, but once they were settled into their large executive type home, the joy of their new surroundings had taken over.
Even Andy was feeling positive about their new life and Jeanie was ecstatic with all the entertainment and personal provisions made for her, all so smoothly detailed in the virtual induction pack.
Family induction packs were made up of general information with personalised sections and listings relevant to each family member. The only slight moment of irritation for the Petrie’s, or rather Andy, was via the packs offer of private/personal items and suggestions of password protection for an individual. Andy was ready to take up this option before Marie piped up and suggested, all too primly for Andy’s liking, that such secrecy wasn’t needed.
Andy felt his old spiteful self boil under the surface but with some considerable effort, was able to supress his desire to tell Marie to 'go fuck herself’, which over the years he had not been averse to, particularly when he was in the wrong.
Andy decided he’d happily lose this little battle but would in the long run win the war. There were always ways and means to get what he wanted especially in a city as big as this.
The tour bus started to pull away and Jeanie clapped her hands and giggled as Marie wrapped a maternal arm around her. Andy draped his arm around them both and for that moment they were a picture of the little idyllic family.
The bus started its journey from the centre of the city, Proactive Square itself. The tour guide, a pretty blonde with sparkling blue eyes and a friendly yet seductive manner to match, pointed out the main buildings and their operations within the square, “Here of course is HQ, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a quite magnificent feat of architecture. This is the nerve centre of the square where all the big decisions and strategies are decided for the new world economy. These surrounding buildings you see are made up of various components that make up the economy. We have banks that service users can employ virtually and that citizens can use daily. Over there you have insurers and investment houses and all of them deal in savings, mortgages, pensions, credit cards, loans and of course the new stock exchange centre," she cooed as she pointed out the last which was a sparkling building like a glass prism.
The bus inhabitants gazed around at Proactive Square, particularly HQ itself. There it stood imposing, peerless and all seeing. Pin stripe suits and power outfits raced this way and that, a veritable hub of activity flying from one building to the next with HQ inhabitants seeming to pause and look around proudly, sensing their own importance, before entering or leaving a building.
Outside HQ the passengers gazed at the sparkling bronze statue of a stereotypical business man, phone in hand completing an imaginary deal with a furrowed brow. A decadent water fall sat in front of the bronze statue with a patch of lush green grass surrounding it, a flower bed with meticulously grown flowers of resplendent colours, spelling out the words ‘Proactive Square’.
The buildings forming the square itself ranged in size with all equally as impressive as the last though none with the architectural intimidation of HQ itself.
Marie focused on HQ, this was to be her place of work and looking at it now in all its splendour, she felt flattered and slightly intimidated at the thought of working in such a symbolic place of power. The structure stared back at her with its mix of glass floors and marble black layers, its peculiar diamond shaped elevators working their way up and down the exterior of the building. The top floor contained larger blacked out grand sized windows, huge lidless eyes gazing outwards and downwards.
Andy looked briefly at his place of work. A more modest structure containing six floors, light brown in colour with relatively plain revolving doors at its entrance. It sat neatly amongst the rest but did not demand attention. No diamond shaped elevators here. Andy felt a tickle of resentment as he stared from his place of work back to Marie’s.
Jeanie rolled her eyes and let out a drone of ‘Borrring’ as the bus idled at the exit of Proactive Square. Marie was about to tell her daughter off for being rude before the tour guide laughed, “Well I quite agree young lady! That’s the boring stuff out the way for the adults, how about we see the city and get the real show on the road?”
The kids on the bus all chorused a yes as did most of the smiling adults, Andy included, although admittedly Andy was thinking of what clubs, pubs and hunting grounds for women he could pick out. He was also debating whether to try putting a word in with the tour guide but had a quick re-think on that one, too soon, even for him. Perhaps.
The bus rolled through the exit and out onto the first street which circled perfectly around Proactive Square. The tour guide continued through her script though she had that wonderful knack of delivering it like it was fresh and entirely off the cuff.
“You’ll notice the street here winds around and from an aerial view it really is a perfect circle. Each street circles the next with each outer layer, if you will, containing themes, so here on this inner street we have a delightful range of places to eat. As you can see, we have restaurants serving delicacies, quick stop café’s, beautiful cake shops, takeaways, pretentious and unpretentious restaurants (said with a wry grin), and that sweet shop over there is certainly my personal favourite”.
The new citizens followed her pointing finger and Jeanie could feel her mouth starting to salivate as she gazed longingly at the sweet shop with its enticing window display of colour and tantalising treats, neon lights advertising bouquets of variety sweets, confectionary specialities and bargain bags that would ensure your eyes are bigger than your belly. They even had a kindly shop owner waving up at the tour bus as it crawled by with the kids hanging over the edge of the bus waving back, making the perfect postcard image in the process.
Predictably the kids on tour begged to stop and look in the shop and within half an hour the kids had done just that and returned with bags of various treats, all complimentary of the Square with no parent having to put hands in pockets for payment.
The kids stuffed their faces as the tour bus continued past more eateries and cafes, all the time gliding around in a dizzying circle as the tour guide picked out various eateries and side streets that led on to further outer roads.
“Now we enter on to the next road, trust me, you will get used to these circles, and as you can see, here we have bags of entertainment to keep you all occupied. I’ll let your eyes do the work but it’s safe to say it’s very difficult to get bored around here!”
The passengers looked out at a multitude of theatres, cinema’s, home entertainment, gyms and arrows pointing to underground facilities for football pitches, basket-ball courts and just about any sport you could think of catered for. Adverts imploring enthusiasts to join various teams were posted about the place with openings for sports and social committee members advertised.
Another open glass building on the street contained, much to Jeanie’s delight, a giant swimming emporium with water slides twisting and turning both inside and outside of the structure. Jeanie gazed at children and adults alike screaming joyously while flying through water slides and splashing into pools.
The bus continued its winding journey as it hit a street that particularly interested Andy with its remarkable amounts of pubs, clubs, bars and oddly lit buildings that hinted at more than just a nice beer or two.
Andy employed his best poker expression as the bus continued its journey along with its occupants who seemed a little less communicative at this point, especially the men. Marie’s thinly veiled glare tried to penetrate him for any sign of temptation. Andy sensing her attentions turned to Marie, kissed her gently on the lips and whispered in her ear, “Don’t you worry my love, it’s about Jeanie and you, nothing else I promise. Those days really are gone.”
Marie kissed Andy back tenderly. ‘Oh yuck’ Jeanie chided before Andy swept her up in his arms and blew a raspberry on her face, making Jeanie giggle for the umpteenth time that day. “Yuck yourself greedy guts,” Andy retorted before making a playful grab at her bag of sweets.
Overhead as the bus continued its tour, a monorail twisted and bent overhead clinging to the sweeping track while at ground level other tour buses carried equally excited passengers. Smart powered cars silently passed by and cyclists weaved through orderly traffic while pedestrians ambled along neatly paved streets. It seemed just about everyone wore that same dumbfounded smile as people warmly greeted each other in passing.
The sight of the city around her reminded Marie of the adverts for a city of the future, which she remembered seeing during shows back in the fifties and sixties. In her mind’s eye Marie saw visions of those adverts that had clumsy looking robots clinking around and performing mundane everyday tasks while family members looked on smiling garishly, drinking futuristic slush.
The adverts had monorails and flying cars and a dizzy busy bustling look where no quarter was left mundane or out of use. That was Proactive Square, minus the flying cars (and clumsy visible strings).
They continued their journey and several times vacated the bus for a closer look at the sights on offer. On one such street they were amazed again at the architectural feats on show. This street contained various places of worship for the more religious citizens. Mosques, churches and cathedrals amongst others stood tall and proud with extra buildings in place for more minor religions which were available to book via the local community officers. Where this street ended and led onto the next, at its intersection stood a huge hospital which in many ways was as equally as foreboding yet inviting as HQ.
Marie mused over whether each religious denomination had argued about being so close to one another and not enough segregation. If they did, Proactive Square and those who ran it obviously won the debate.
As they drove by, Marie couldn’t help but notice that the holy places were in complete contrast to its surroundings, there was no hustle or bustle here, hardly any life at all in fact as she noted an elderly man of the cloth sat alone in front of a church. He looked happy enough, perched on a deck chair, wearing headphones and blissfully unaware of the passing tourists. All just for show, thought Marie before frowning in response at her cynical observation,, but she couldn’t help but notice that each house of worship looked vacant and underused.
There was always more to see on the journey and not enough eyes to see it all with.
Pharmacy’s, supermarkets, shopping malls and shopping centres ensured nobody would be left without those modern essentials. Fashion shops pumped out banging music while offering bargain prices. Other more up market places didn’t offer such generous prices but were no less inviting.
The passengers strolled around the city’s giant flea market which offered cheap tat or unique items while market merchants yelled about bargain offers.
By the time the tour bus finally reached the outer limits of the city, three hours had flown by and with almost no exception each passenger would do it all again.
The bus sat facing a vantage point that ensured all their homes and houses could be seen along with a vast looking country side that eventually turned into forestry. The homes were looking in and over the circular structure of winding roads and businesses. The houses were far from uniform, some were apartments, some vintage looking, and all accompanied by beautiful bungalows and the more futuristic looking flats.
The housing was vast with picturesque parks and nature walks all in view of the sprawling countryside. The countryside however was effectively the limits and boundaries of the city and only from an aerial view would the boundaries be visible, but from within it looked as if it stretched on endlessly.
The tour guide went on to explain that the forestry represented the limits of this location and citizens could not physically go any further. This, as the tour guide had experienced every time upon mentioning boundaries, was met with a slightly uncomfortable silence.
One of the braver passengers questioned exactly how far into that forestry they could go.
The tour guide answered in a careful tone, a very deliberate tone, Marie noted with a little concern. “Well that forest is vast and spreads around the city limits so you can go pretty far, but we do advise against exploring too deeply. You see, where we are, this whole city and location, is one of the few unique secret places of the world, so to preserve it and not interfere with it any further a boundary right around the entire location has been put into place. Beyond the boundary, from what I’m told, it’s something of a wasteland, unused and perilous due to its landscape and conditions which I’m informed are considered potentially treacherous, especially for the little ones, and therefore not a part of our collective new home.”
The passenger nodded his appreciation to the answer provided, while others looked on a little perturbed at talk of danger and physical boundaries.
The tour guide piped up again, obviously sensing the growing mood of apprehension entering the party, “I can assure everybody that you are quite safe, couldn’t be safer in fact. We have city guards who patrol the forest at night from various located points to help keep citizens on the right paths. You are free to wander the forestry, of course, but we have a duty of care to you all and our guards will make sure you are safe and don’t fall into any trouble or enter dangerous territory. Besides, by the time you’ve wandered the countryside and all that has to offer, along with its marvellous nature walks and mini-zoos, the forestry will seem most dull in comparison.”
In a unexpected turn in tone, as if reading from an unseen autocue, she concluded, “If you need more information on this please do consult your virtual induction packs and you’ll find details in the ‘Boundaries’ section. I’m informed you’ll also find how you work within the boundaries in your contracts of employment. Beyond that, your local community officers will be glad to be of assistance.”
Her concluding comments were greeted with nervous looks at the floor or at each other, but none chose to pursue the matter though some perhaps wished they had.
The tour guide then invited them to jettison the bus for the last time today and join her for drinks and snacks at the countryside bar (which was more of a complex) while the kids explored the outdoor clubs, such as the scouts and cubs and the young teens recreation centre. A male and female duo stood at the foot of the bus with ‘Kids Klub Guides’ emblazoned across their bright shirts, giving a thumbs up to the passengers.
Marie, Andy and Jeanie joined the tour guide along with those who opted to take up the option of drinks and food. As people drank and ate and talked pleasantries or of the wonders seen in the city, Jeanie thought about how much she loved it here and what fun she’d have. Andy pictured the clubs, pubs and dimly lit bars and women he’d spied on the tour, of all the excesses he could doubtless have now Marie was relaxed and off his back.
Marie thought of the boundaries, of the limits, before quickly chasing away such unnerving reflections, just as she always did whenever she had thoughts about leaving Andy, or of facing up to the significant weight of doubts regarding her husband that she’d gathered over the years.
The dynamics were different for each family and resident, but one common subconscious theory remained consistent with nearly all city inhabitants when it came to the boundaries. Ignorance was bliss.
Jeanie toured the countryside with the other kids. She saw little zoos and parks within parks, rides and slides and swings. Jeanie got on with the other kids and made a friend that day with another girl the same age named Chloe. They both tittered together at the goofy Kids Klub Guides whose enthusiasm was both warming and nauseating.
Andy and Marie sat in the large country club, Marie sipping on a juice while Andy sank a pint before ordering a soft drink, mainly because he felt for the second time that day, Marie’s disapproving look.
The bus tour group chatted about where they were from, how they got the job and shared experiences since their arrival.
They laughed as they reminisced about teleporting in, the terror some of them felt before-hand and what a miraculous invention it was as indeed was the city itself.
In amongst the group was Geoff, who nodded in all the right places and exchanged pleasantries in a previously unknown comfortable manner. For a relative recluse, he was flying in such a large group of strangers.
As the afternoon crept into evening, Geoff found himself talking to Marie and Andy. He liked Marie; she was understated with a humble quality which Geoff liked, especially when he discovered she would be working in HQ and held a position of some stature there. Geoff at first was nervous in telling Marie and Andy what he did with his role being so insignificant in comparison to Marie’s, but Marie had no airs or graces about her.
Marie for her part could tell that Geoff, though very shy and obviously lacking in confidence, was a nice man who made for pleasant company.
Andy on the other hand was very quick to put across his perception of his own status, proudly announcing he’d be running a department handling existing business backlogs for claims and how he was headhunted to shake things up, rattle some cages etc. etc, while all the time Marie smiled politely with just a hint of embarrassment.
It seemed to Marie that Andy’s internal switch had flipped and he’d temporarily turned into that arrogant version of himself that she so disliked.
Geoff reached the conclusion that he didn’t like Andy.
He found him to be brash and over bearing with his personality clumsily written all over his reddened face. Not that Geoff much cared, these were just passing people and they would doubtless morph into all the other faces, though he would be happy to see Marie’s face in work, from time to time.
At one point early in the evening, Marie told Andy she was just popping out to check on Jeanie as she spied the kids with the Kids Klub Guides (still chatting and gesticulating away with unbearable enthusiasm) in tow strolling back towards the country club. Andy nodded in response and said that they would make a move home once Jeanie returned with Marie.
With Marie gone, Andy raced to the bar and ordered himself another pint before returning to sit opposite Geoff. Geoff silently berated the others in the group who had floated off elsewhere in the club and left him with loud mouth here. Andy downed his pint before belching and wiping his mouth then grinning at Geoff.
“What do you think of the tour guide John? Fuck me she could have it.”
Geoff did his best to smile politely and debated whether to point out the fact his name wasn’t John, but thought better of it.
“Yeah, she’s very pretty I guess” Geoff stumbled in response, “Really nice with it too.” This sort of talk, lad talk, was not something Geoff was particularly skilled at.
Andy looked closely at Geoff with no small hint of amusement. “Nice with it? Yeah right, just what I want when looking for a good time. Nice indeed,” chortled Andy before continuing, “If I wanted nice mate I’d never look past my wife. Come on John, look at her, fucking hell, you would wouldn’t you, what man wouldn’t?”
Geoff’s answer fell out of his mouth before he had chance to catch it, “Perhaps a man with a wife and kid wouldn’t?”
Andy’s bleary yet cheery demeanour changed in a flash as his face reddened and his eyes misted over. “Oh a fucking smart arse,” he hissed, “Should have guessed from looking at you. Well serves me right for being polite to the likes of you, I mean, no offense John, but a little admin nerd like you wouldn’t know flange from fiction.”
Geoff, stunned at the sudden insult, tried his best to ignore Andy’s jibes so just shrugged and allowed his eyes to roam outside the club, before settling unwittingly on Marie who was talking and smiling along with her excited daughter. Andy turned his head to see what Geoff (or John) was looking at.
“Don’t look at my fucking wife and kid, tubby prick, getting on your moral high ground with me while eyeing up my wife. Cheeky bastard. Or is it my kid you were staring at?”
Andy was feeling good now, he was building up a head of steam and fat boy here was perfect to verbally knock around a bit. It reminded him of his old job and the one to ones he did with male members of staff who just may get in his way or the way of his latest female conquest.
All day Andy had bitten his tongue when Marie had given him the glare. Not now, soppy bollocks here could have it.
Geoff stood up and went to walk away and find the safety of the tour group. Failing that he would make his way home and forget about this loon.
“Yeah that’s it, move on tubby and when you are working in that pretentious shit pile of a building they call ‘HQ,’ keep away from Marie do you hear me? Do not talk to her, do not suck up to her, just do your menial little job and keep that nose where it belongs, up your own arse.”
Geoff passed the tour guide on his short pilgrimage to find the rest of the group and to get as far away from Andy as he could. She smiled politely at him and enquired if he was having a good time, to which he smiled before moving on.
When he looked back, he was not surprised to see Andy fawning all over her before quickly returning to the guise of a caring husband and father as he spied Marie and Jeanie wandering in. It didn’t stop Andy from quickly and discreetly slipping a piece of paper into the tour guides hand before turning to sweep Jeanie into his arms and hugging her as if he was father of the year.
Geoff, happy he would never likely have to deal with that sad character again, made his way out of the club and for home.
Marie caught Geoff’s nervous look before he left and saw in it a glimmer of something else that made her feel familiarly worried. It took her back to the days of the pity looks she used to get from her old employers after a latest indiscretion from her husband. The old familiar feeling of doubt swept across her as she briefly wondered with some anxiety what Geoff had just seen.
Marie once again chased the doubt away, not today she thought, no. He’s just a pleasant little loner who is probably a bit odd and found Andy hard to bare, that is all. As quickly as Marie buried that train of thought, another quickly followed as her mind’s eye projected the words boundary, isolation, secret location, teleportation. Marie in a fleeting moment felt panic grip her and a realisation that...Marie did what she did best and rejected the doubts that knocked at her door.
Ignorance, after all, is bliss.