Ten Minutes to Freedom

May 5, 2005
By Ric Albano

As we approach the eastern shores of the Hudson Bay and the first inklings of human civilization begin to visually materialize, I can hardly contain my excitement. It has been a little over 3 years since I made the fateful discovery that, ultimately, altered the course in life that I charted for myself and brought me to this moment and this day. The scenario which is now materializing before my eyes, with all of its perks and promises, had been worked out and re-hashed in the purity of my core-human imagination over the course of those 3 years. Nightly after the curfew, when the tap of information flow from Britannia was remotely shut off by the system administrator, I would lose myself in lingering imagination over the anticipation of this moment in the future – this moment now finally in the present. Somehow, though, as I sit here in surreal amazement of everything around me, the reality of the situation is strikingly different from anything I had ever imagined – pure, enhanced, assisted, or otherwise.

I stare out at the vast Canadian terrain through the perfectly curved, 44” polytrexlomine window that affords passengers a crystal clear, nearly-330 degree panoramic view of the landscape from within the oblique, teardrop-shaped car. The algorithmically programmed window system simultaneously magnifies the further landscape, which gives passengers with average eyesight the ability to clearly see over 20 miles in any direction, while it filters the nearer landscape by approximating the view and coordinating it to work in concert with the further and horizon view. This filtration works in much the same way as some antiquated file-compression methods. A vehicle traveling well over 2000 miles per hour just 40 feet above the ground makes it impossible for the nearer scenery to be viewed naturally and besides humans are certainly not accustomed to moving this fast, this close to the ground. Although this is my first experience traveling in such a vehicle, I am well aware of the mechanics and innovations of these late-model gridsliders, thanks to the various electronic time bombs either sent to me by my older brother, Dylan, as well as other unauthorized information posted discreetly on remote corners of Britannia by my personal heroes, the hackers of the Free World.

I came aboard this morning expecting few surprises but nevertheless there are many, which range from the look and feel of the interior and the landscape from the inside of the car to the sensation of traveling at such a high speed in a tightly compressed compartment to the unbelievable anticipation of arriving at the RA later today. So it is with stronger intensity that I revisit the previous question: Why, in spite of all my research and preparedness, is the reality of this situation so different than that which I meticulously worked out in my pure imagination? The calm serenity of this pristine moment slowly starts to give way to the ever-growing perplexity of this unanswered question.

Suddenly, I’m startled by a sharp, distinct, and familiar, two-toned, bell-like sound that announces a new query match in the Britannia system on my HHH unit. Simultaneously, a florescent gold text brightly flashes in the foreground of my vision reading; “14 Results to Your Query” followed by the numbered list of resulting titles underneath, all appearing beneath the familiar union jack-inspired symbol in the upper left that is the state system trademark. The sharp contrast of the bright, artificial graphics against the natural azure and white serenity of the wilderness initiates a drastic change in the atmosphere that startles me for a few seconds until I collect my thoughts enough to surmise what has obviously just happened. The intensity of my thought patterns and the clarity of my dilemma produced brain pulses strong enough and distinguished enough to automatically trigger a measured response from the system – something fairly common during a typical day back in England but seeming atrociously out of place here. The last thing I want to do is consult the artificial intelligence of this tightly controlled system from a state that no longer finds liberty to be an inalienable human right. I want to figure things out for myself, with my own mind or, at the very least, with the assistance of an AI function that I’m not permanently married to. In fact, just remembering the fact that the Britannia system is still operating the HHH unit is a rather upsetting revelation. All of a sudden I’m overcome with an ugly state of anxious discomfort that felt quite similar to that I’d experienced during page camp when we’d be out on a marathon nature hike three or four miles out from camp with stinging-cold ears and soaking wet socks. Instantly, I wanted to purge myself of this system not because the piercing discomfort was so much physical, but because it felt pathetically old and stale, as well as pathetically insufficient in light of my newly found freedom and informational independence.

This new revelation, however, was not without its slice of irony due to the fact that, until my defection from Europa 3 ½ weeks ago, the Britannia system had provided with nearly all my informational lifeblood everyday since its installation 5 summers ago. I had not used the system even once during my short and subsequent stay in Belfast. This was not necessarily due to a conscious decision on my behalf, but was simply because I was keeping myself busy with much more important things. I spent my time watching scores of Rancho Cucamongan films, snacking on Norwegian beef jerky, sitting on a strategic park bench during recess at St. Erin’s Girl’s School, taking long strolls up and down Waring Street at 5 or 6 in the morning, visually inhaling the beauty and nostalgia of my mother’s artwork, and talking, talking, and ah…talking. Apparently none of these activities involved any sort of intense thinking that might have tripped the system.

I take a deep breath and calmly collect my thoughts. Dylan had promised to replace Britannia with just about any deluxe system that I want – once we get to America, that is. I would have been satisfied with the basic Greengo 992 or even a Baryn WC96, just as long as it had been installed immediately when I got to Belfast. That turned out to be impossible. The trick is that Dylan, computer system freak that he is, wants to extract as much info as possible from my Britannia before it is replaced (and consequently, destroyed). He believes that he has the ability to accurately read and decipher the source code, something never known to have been accomplished by anyone outside the tight-knit Crown development community. My big brother has never been one to play down his intellectual talents, especially when it comes to understanding of systems, but Dylan does possess a well-disciplined sense of judging the scope of any given task. This discipline dictated refrain from hastily attempting any system extraction while we were in Ireland, instead waiting until we are in the familiar surroundings of the PIT research lab with all of its brilliant specialists for support and its state of the art equipment for comfort. So Britannia remains, for the time being at least, within the bionic instruments implanted in my head, hip, and heels. “But this fact in no way compels me to rely on this system to help answer my own questions”, I thought, optically selected the standard boxed-x in the upper right area of my peripheral vision, “This one I’ll figure out for myself”. As I leaned back into the comfortable swivel-seat, which I strategically placed directly behind the nose and faced directly toward the back of the vehicle where the sheik, thin guide rails of the grid path glistened with reflected sunlight in the center of the grand vista, I slipped into tranquil meditation and calmly began to revisit the question; “Why is this all so much different than I had thought? Was my research and info-gathering less than thorough?”

A few seconds later my tranquility is once again interrupted by the piercing “Ding!” of a query results match from Britannia. With even greater frustration than a moment ago, I whisper to myself a few choice curse words that, in retrospect, I thank God my mum didn’t pick up on. The last thing in the world I want to do on such a glorious day is to show my mother any disrespect. As I once again optically seek out the boxed-x to eradicate this annoying display, something familiar catches my eye. The glowing, cubic text is now a much darker shade of green to accommodate the brighter background due to my switch in position more directly toward the morning sun. There is also something else different; the search result number 3. It reads: Arooski, Jacob, Going to the Show, Blanky Publishing Co., 2059, pp.166-192. Although it was not immediately clear why this seemed so familiar to me, it all came back to me in a flash. “Of course! Stourbridge, ’71”. Two years ago, I did a book report on The Freedom Effect, a more recent work by Jake Arooski. In fact, I liked the book so much that I did it twice. Actually, the schoolmaster had felt my first attempt was, as he put it; “a veiled delusion of the spirit of (Arooski’s) thesis”. In other words, as I’ve since concluded, my work violated the “scripture” of the “sacred religion” known as the European Manifesto. For such heresy I was mandated to re-read the novel from beginning to end before even attempting to construct another second report, a chore that was impossible to fabricate while connected to an active state-run HHH system. Naturally, the rest of my educational workload remained at full strength, resulting in about 18 consecutive nights with less than 2 hours sleep. When finally completed, the revised report conformed by presenting a sarcastically sticky-sweet, nearly verbatim regurgitating of Arooski’s central theme. Naturally, this second report won vast praise from the (so-called) “intellectuals” in the faculty, while I was patronized for “coming around” and “seeing the light”. Totally ignorant to subtle innuendos I tactfully inserted into the report to preserve my own self dignity, these buffoons went so far as to ask me give a speech on Freedom Effect during the school’s annual modern literature festival, resulting in more hours spent on the subject. Needless to say, I’ve come to despise that overrated piece of work by Arooski. Nevertheless, I optically select number three, partially out of habit, partially out of disciplined thoroughness, but mostly just out of adolescent humor. Reading a few idiotic lines by this puppet “expert” will surely reinforce my confidence in my own intellect.

“Good morning, Lennon”, the system spits out its standard congeal response. “You want to know why the reality implementation of a journey differs drastically from the abstract planning phase, regardless of how thorough the planning. Is this an accurate estimation of your question?” I blink once, a standard I’ve been practicing since the first days of infant training when I was two, to replay “yes”. “You think that Going to the Show may provide you with some insightful material to further understand your problem and, Dude, we think you’re right. First, let’s learn a little about the author, Jacob Arooski. Is that cool?….Splendid!…Mr. Arooski was conceived by Bethany Miller and Fahid Al-Rushki on October 7, 2033 behind the stadium bleachers, shortly after the homecoming game involving Bethany’s high school football team; the Hazlet…blah, blah, ba-blah, blah, blah…” “I really don’t need to hear about this guy’s history, I know it all too well.” I hastily cue beyond the garbage to stack pointer at the beginning of the “meat” of the narrative, a trick not learned at infant school or any other formal institution, but instead through the back-alley channels of hackers. ->->-> “On page 166”, Britannia continues, “Arooski explains in great detail the anticipation he felt on the day his Uncle Austin brought him to his first football game at Grancester Meadows when he was 9 years old:

It was a brisk autumn Saturday morning. We had finished our tea and French pastry and sported our casual look before heading out the door. As we approached the corner where uncle’s mates were waiting on us, I noticed a quarter keg of ale…”

“Wait a minute!” My concentration from this rather colorless explanation is interrupted by a bright, technicolor light bulb that illuminates in my head. “Of course, I’ve got it!” I silently applauded to myself. “This is so easy!” In an instant I realized that much (if not most) of the life I left behind in England was, in a sense, otherworldly. A parallel universe that no longer exists now that I’ve walked through the door from a world where freedom was only perception to the actual free world, in which I now live and breathe. Now that I’ve crossed that threshold and EVERYTHING has permanently changed. The doors of perception have been cleansed and everything appears infinite . The pure imagination that I possessed 3 ½ weeks ago was based mainly on a set of data that was compiled from several inaccurate sources. These sources included the creative bedtime stories from father (before he died 40 months ago), the unauthorized philosophy books hidden in a loft compartment, the rare Free World time-bomb files that Dylan was able to smuggle onto my personal system, and, of course, the archives of Britannia that included lame HHH simulations The simulations, often referred to by the establishment as “the pride of Britannia” because they supposedly demonstrate the “open-mindedness” of Britain as compared to the rest of Europa which effectively bans such references to Free World enterprise, provided select representations of the world beyond the “protective” gates of socialist Europa. Although I believe all of these sources to contain accurate technical information that will be useful anywhere, the information is philosophically tainted because it presented the Free World from within the walls of Europa where such a world does not exist for someone who’s not consciously been there.

Now I am actually HERE! I’m in the flesh, in a car, on the Surface Grid – the North Atlantic Crescent, gliding through these vast Canadian plains with its infinite herds of moose and caribou. I’m with the persons of my mother and brother, neither of whom, until our recent reunion, I ‘d seen for 6 years, and not at all since my discovery when I was 10. This is beyond the limits of anything my imagination could have produced, whether pure, enhanced, or otherwise, before entering the Free World. Now, no matter what happens (even if, God forbid, I somehow end up back in Europa), that threshold has been permanently crossed through a one-way gate that no longer exists and all the old rules have been modified. I feel a real sense of standing on the edge of destiny. Watching the world wake up to history , not so much in the macro sense like, say, the fall of the Berlin wall or the Chinese ratification of the Bill of Rights, but in an extremely profound, individual sense. This may be true pivot point of my life; where I turn the corner from the frustrating falsehoods and internal conflicts of the managed past to the promise of enlightenment and truth of the wide-open future. It’s not just the sense of freedom that has injected fire into my soul but also the constant, recurring realization of where I am going, at this moment, on this day. I am going to a RA! Not just any RA, but the absolute greatest one of them all; The 11th Annual British Rock Festival.

I glance down nervously at the navigational displays. There’s a strange, duplicitous flash of emotion in my soul that is simultaneously a longing for the arrival at our ultimate destination, Sugarloaf and the infinite excitement of the RA, while also a more reserved complacency that wants the journey to continue so that it may be properly cherished. I realize that reading the instruments and calculating an estimated time will no doubt break this unique concoction of feelings by ultimately satisfying one side over the other, so there’s a slight hesitation. Besides, I’ve thoroughly mapped every detail of the North Atlantic Crescent onto my mind’s eye and I do know with reasonable certainly where we are on the journey, especially since we’ve just approached a major landmark. Ultimately, however, my insatiable appetite for detailed information rules the actions of the moment. So I read: 58’ 25” latitude / 81’ 10” longitude / 4922 k from Belfast / 1524 k to Niagara Junction. Then I recall from memory the vital data of the extension grid routes: 360k from Niagara to the southern tier, from there 140k to Sunbury, then 52k to New Schuylkill – about 550 on the extensions plus another 1520 here – that’s 2070 kilometers at 90 kpm. Exactly 23 minutes away!

My eyes casually wander to Dylan and my mother, neither of whom seems the least bit interested, let alone fascinated, by the moment. They each sit in quiet intensity with heads angled strategically downward to concentrate on their respective chores and appear lost deep inside their own private universes. I know that they’ve both done this before, many times in fact. Being free citizens all along allowed them to travel to various RAs as well as other annuals whenever they pleased. Still though, I can’t imagine ever being so complacent on such a fascinating journey – whether that journey is my first or my fiftieth. To travel through these amazing scenes – the vast green and white plains, the endless sky, the caribou, the army of seals congregated at the Hudson strait, the crystal clear waterfalls formed by the shifting landscape of Greenland, the icebergs of the Atlantic, the hard and soft coasts of Ireland – and still concentrate on normal, everyday activities is, in itself, an amazement to me. But when you compound the fact that we’re going to this RA – a RA which will not only celebrate the greatest music in the history of humans but will also feature the centennial celebration of some of the best albums to ever be created such as; Dark Side of the Moon, Band On the Run, Beggar’s Banquet, and Houses of the Holy. Further, we must compound the political overtones of the British Rock Festival. Over the past 5 years, this RA has become a large rendezvous point for exiled, free Englishmen (a group of which, I suppose, I’m now a member) whose primary agenda is autonomy for Great Britain. Without consciously planning to do so, I shout it out; “23 minutes away!”

Within 2 seconds, literally, my older brother responds with a correction. “26 to 28, Lenny. I think you forgot to factor in the congestion near the Rainbow Bridge”, Dylan replied without ever lifting his head from his work. I did notice a smug grin, a hauntingly familiar smirk, had managed to migrate across his face and suddenly I felt put in my place. I’d nearly forgotten the company that I was now among. Dylan, 19, was one of the youngest persons to ever accomplish citizen adulthood. He is a mathematical and systems genius and has developed some ingenious solutions, such as his coded time bombs, which were some of the most crucial tools in orchestrating my defection to exile. He has also worked continuously on injecting unauthorized information into the European system – a system on which he is considered one of the top 20 experts in all the Free World. As a consequence to his actions, the Ministry of Justice has indicted Dylan on over 50 criminal counts. Although this court that has no official jurisdiction in the Free World, the negative implication may impede further citizenship accolades and, of course, bar him from traveling inside Europe. Last time I saw him he was, well – the same age I am now. He seemed larger than life to me then – not only due to his incredible genius and the status that gave him – but simply because he was my older brother. I idolized him and he provided a perfect road map to where I wanted to be when I was 13. That was the magical summer of ’67 when England was in the sunset of its state of autonomy and Dylan and Mom were able to visit me for the last time. For 6 years I’ve pretty much been carrying around an idealized portrait of my brother that was solidified by his ingenious communication with me throughout the past 3 years and the proliferation of a plan of escape. My confidence in his plan emboldened me to take the biggest risk of my life and navigate the murky and beast-filled waters of the Loch Ness to a prearranged rendezvous point in Fort Williams. Here I met with a liaison who, over the course of 5 days, smuggled me from the Island of Mull to Colonsay to Islay to Rathlin and finally to the Irish mainland near Ballycastle where I was reunited with my mother and brother. My mother, with the exception of her older appearance, seemed exactly the same as I remembered from her liberal use of clichés to the nurturing sound of her voice and olive eyes to her quirky laugh reserved solely for the aftermath of her own punch-lines to her absolute mastery of the visual arts. Dylan, however, seemed vastly different. For one thing, and this was probably due to the fact that I now stand at equal vertical stature, he seemed much smaller than I had remembered. Also, he didn’t speak with great eloquence. I mean, verbally he did not dazzle me the way I expected him to. It’s not that I stopped respecting his intellect, but over the past 3 ½ weeks or so while I stayed with them in a flat near Belfast and began to evaluate my own grasp on the world compared to both Dylan’s and Mom’s, I became vastly more confident in my own intellect. That was until now with the reintroduction of the smirk. I had completely blocked out any recollection of the dark side of an older brother – the intimidation, belittlement, and inferiority of the relationship. With that quiet, coy, almost nonchalant correction of my trivial estimate of arrival time, Dylan had quite definitely knocked me back in my place like a bull mauling a petite runner in a narrow corridor of Pamplona. Suddenly, he didn’t seem that small afterall.

As the fresh stench of the bad old days slowly chipped away at my brother’s pedestal, a sudden, soft, milky white feminine voice dispelled the thick tension building in the air. “32”, she said. The sly smirk escaped his face as Dylan lifted his head and returned the same bewildered look that I projected to him. “Wots that, Mum?” I replied, suddenly aware of how British I must sound to these two. “32”, she repeated, also lifting her head and looking at me directly with her olive eyes. “32 minutes until we arrive at the RA”

Still, I can’t imagine myself ever being so complacent on a future journey whether it be my 100th or 1000th – and I DO plan on doing this thousands of times.