Freedom is futile. Greg Johnson implores that you submit yourself to Gazprom to limit the suffering of your friends and family. For Gazprom!
Gazprom are on Facebook. I know this because one of their posts somehow, inexplicably found its way onto my news feed last night, and I clicked on it. It caught my eye; two tickets to the Champions League final up for grabs. All I had to do was give them my details and I too could stand a chance of lucking my way to Wembley on May 25.
But wait. I hadn’t sought out or liked their presence on Facebook; they came to me. And now they have my details – my name, my email address, the place I call home. Ponder this: what if all our jokes and Twitter quips about the now ubiquitous Russian gas giant were to come true? What if their try-hard attempt to ingratiate themselves to the world through wall-to-wall Champions League sponsorship and falsely sincere adverts was all a ruse; a stepping stone in a long term plan to supplant the current world order with their own brand of fossil fuelled, Schalke-endorsing Orwellian tyranny?
(Don’t worry Schalke fans, you’re unwitting victims in this dystopian sci-fi fantasy too!)
Below are the ramblings of a man who has seen a future of sooted air, acid soaked clouds and an Earth overtaken by an omnipresent corporation with one hand over the gas taps and another on the power levers of football.
All hail Gazprom
It was another cold, bitter evening in May, and the clocks were striking eighteen. Wilson Smythe sat in front of his blue tinted displays, dressed in the company standards: a tired, pressed white shirt, a murky blue sleeveless woollen pullover and a black tie. In the low light of the control centre, flickering screens gave the room a blurry, painted quality. A huge neon Gazprom sign hung across the longest side of this cavernous room, which lit up to notify workers of shift changes and announcements. Its illumination was foreshadowed by a hiss that caused the older engineers to visibly jolt as it echoed through the chamber.
Music was piped in from the old days croaked out of the worn, dusty speakers. He thought it was Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto 1 in B flat minor he remembered – but such knowledge of the past was forbidden. The music was that of the grand anthem of the gas-powered nation state, and no one need know that Smythe thought or knew anything different.
He gazed out of the window from his desk at the scene beyond the giant glass panes that adorned the other side of the hanger-sized space. Before the glorious revolution, Smythe would wander the forests on the outskirts of the city with his wife and dog. Now the ancient trees are coated in ash – the air barely breathable. Besides, access to the exterior of Gaspipe One was strictly forbidden without the permission of the board and appropriate travel documents. “Praise Gazprom for delivering us from the horrors of the Renewables Wars,” he thought to himself, “but if only there was another way.”
Shocked at his thoughtlessness, he pulled his eyes away from the ashen pines and toxic skies that lay outside his cocoon. Compliance to Gazprom was demanded in order for the nation state to achieve the greatness it deserved. Negligence of thought was one of the gravest crimes imaginable, and he knew his fellow engineers would not hesitate to alert his line manager and the board to any mental slovenliness.
“No, stay focussed on the screen,” he told himself. Forget about Sophia and your happiness in the sun. Submit to Gazprom. Freedom is futile without the liberation of the benevolent corporate rule.
Eyes fixed on his monitors, Smythe tried to bury his memories beneath his duties in order to make it through to the evening’s match. Soon his superiors would turn on the lights of the city in time for the game, allowing for the ceremonial traditions of handshakes and hatred chants.
Football had become Smythe’s only joy and release in life, but he had made the grave error of supporting an incorrect team. As a “Blue Wool”, he was to support the heroes of the Gaspipe One Engineering Column, but his heart lay with the red shirted Refinery Twelve Administration Corps; an unspeakable affiliation that he hid from his co-workers and social interaction contacts alike.
Eventually the familiar yet unsettling hiss of the neon Gazprom sign cracked into fizzing electrical light that hurt to look at for any period of time. He typed his worker ID number into his workstation terminal and headed to the control centre exit point for screening. The shift manager, whose duty it was to control the output of the Gaspipe One’s grid, pulled the metallic lever in the centre of the room, letting a little more gas escape into power factories on the other side of the industrial sector.
Smythe pulled on his hooded overalls to protect from the corrosive air outside, placing a ventilator attachment into his mouth and zipping closed the extra material around his head. As he stepped out into the pitch black of the netted commuter tunnels, he felt his way forward, careful not to disturb the line of colleagues he had joined.
His eyes winced as suddenly the city broke out into flaring light. The jolt of electricity from the power factories had been received and the city’s skyline flickered into life. This was all for the game.
In the distance he spied a two swathes of red and blue converging towards the centre of the city, with the convoy carrying the football heroes leading the way towards the main event. Each parade was headed by two heralds waving a giant flag dyed in the team’s colours from the back of a motor vehicle.
For those unable to make it to the stadium, this was their weekly window of artificially powered heaters and lamps. Across the city, families and community blocks huddled around telescreens to view the match remotely. Those fortunate enough to have earned rare luxury rations such as gritted coffee granules and squares of chalk textured chocolate saved their gains for nights such as these.
The crowd made their way in their single file track through the shielded walkways of the industrial sector to the coliseum; a vast arena large enough to fit in 250,000 people but which usually catered for far more. Passing under one of the towering entrance archways, Smythe’s eyes glanced over propaganda scrawled on the walls:
“Promoting children’s sports is a priority of Gazprom’s social policy. Football is popular all over the world. Teenagers will learn to cooperate and respect each other by playing football, and regular exercises will give them strength for future victories.”
He trudged up the exhausting stairwell up into upper tiers, towards the top of the east stand. Smythe could barely see the pitch from his designated space, but he was at least glad of his ability to look upon the grass and players, even if his leather-hooded mask obscured the details.
One of the few benefits of his place in the stadium was his vantage point down into the board members section on the opposite side of the stadium. Replete with real living plants, brightly coloured clothes and ornaments, and vast quantitates of supplies, far in excess of the usual rationing quotas. They sat sprawled on their plush, oversized seats, dressed in regal, purple robes as they surveyed their own personal mini-screens filled with in-game stats, figures and opinions, drinking in the instanced knowledge.
He was glad that the greatest citizens of the state had been rewarded by Gazprom, and dreamed of a future in which he would be recognised and promoted to the inner-circle – the dream of every engineer, scribe, administrator and labourer. Gazprom be praised! All hail Gazprom!
In his dazed state, Smythe is caught off-guard by his imagination, rewriting the fantasy with Sophia in the foreground. They’re on a hill; she’s smiling. The sun is high in the sky, and she sits contented in its warm, gentle glow, reading. He no longer knows what he would say to her. It’s been so long since she was taken. A single tear rolls down Smythe’s left cheek as his lungs splutter and strain.
He can only stand and weep amongst the pre-match fury. His blue clad colleague turns, yelling into his tear-stained face filter and shoving him hard in the gut. Smythe collapses into his grief and despair, breaking down into a sobbing ball. The kicks and punches rain down from all around until he’s dragged out by guards for processing.
Hoisted up the sharp, icy steps towards the top of the stand by two brutes, the rows of passing spectators rain down abuse and worse upon his lethargic, shaking body. Their screeching born of the assumption that his distress is fuelled by sympathy to the opposing team, they couldn’t possibly comprehend the true reasons for his breakdown.
Pulled further away from the spectacle below with each dragged step, Smythe can only just make out the vaguest of actions taking place on the pitch below. A gas masked player in the red of the Administration Corps has the ball and is charging down the right. He lifts a cross into the box, which is fired down from the giant he assumes is their striker. He knows it’s a goal by the wave of despondent terror gripping those around him in the Engineering Column section.
In this moment of his hopeless, bleak life, that goal was a strike for Sophia, for the trees, for blue skies and for a time before Gazprom’s terrible new world. Once lifted to the top of the steps he would be dragged deep into the bowels of the stadium where he would be interrogated and tortured for his failings and unorthodoxy before being fed drugs to medicate him back to obedience.
No matter that football was their primary tool for placating the masses, he thought, they could never poison the sheer beauty of the game he loved. Nothing could infiltrate those instances of intangible excitement and tension that made him feel alive: the knot that would become an anxious bomb of cold sweat, exploding up and out from the pit of his stomach. All he needed was the sight of a perfectly weighted chip unfolding in mid-air, hopping over the sprawling legs of two stalky centre-backs and onto the foot of a striker in the penalty box to light its fuse.
Led through the dank corridors that searched down into the mazy guts of the grand city arena, Smythe slowly became aware of a dull thud emanating from the foundations below. As he travelled deeper the guards were practically carrying him onwards, his toes scraping the slanting pathway. Metallic screams began to echo up from the shadowy bowls ahead, peppered by ominous, pounding drumming.
As they turned into a sharp right hand corner, the tinny wailing suddenly grew louder and more shrill with each drum beat becoming a throaty, flinching hit. With two grunts he was launched forward through a hatch and into a huge, red lighted hall. The heat was intense and the noise almost unbearable.
Looking out into this vision of hell, ranks of brass horns bellowed from the walls, fed by the pressure release valves of the gas piping running across the ceiling. A heavy figure stepped up behind Smythe, ripping off his hood – his ventilator piece torn out from his mouth – before snapping the back of his neck with a brutal backhanded strike. Directed forwards by pushes and punchs, Smythe eventually found himself shunted into a sweltering cubicle beneath a huge video screen of the action taking place above ground. After another swift slap against the side of his face, he noticed the terminal infront of him; a greasy looking keyboard beneath a warped, black and white monitor.
All around him sat others dressed in various colours, craned over their buttons, fixated either on their personal screens or the giant projection above, hammering keys with breathless fury. The big fist of his aggressor slammed down onto the cubicle’s desk. Smythe was to follow suit, reading the the single line of text on his screen above the slowly blinking cursor. “Blue: headers attempted: headers completed” it read. The brass blasted around him again – old war songs intended to inspire patriotic fervour that instead sent his muscles into agonised spasm.
His screen suddenly flashed red. Another smack from behind from the heavy that had beaten him into this corner. He could barely move his neck without wincing in pain, but his eyes darted up and he began to type. With each keystroke, the red tint faded. The keys, scoldingly hot beneath his fingers, began to feel sharp yet numb. Burning through their tips, the letters began weeping with a fluid, soaked up through his roasting digits. With each successful input, he began to feel calmer and cooler. The noises died down and the distractions fell away, forever.
Several stories above in the palatial, purple box lounges the citizens sipped on their luxury intoxicants proposing bragging right wagers on the data being pumped from the basement depths. A new in-play category lit up as Winston’s anonymous counts fed through onto their shining, clean tablets.
Fed by the stimulant pumps jabbing his fast typing fingers, Smythe had won the victory over himself. He loved Gazprom.