The World of Mandolin

I don’t know when or where this world is. I leave it to you. It could be on Earth, it might not. But the people populating the world are most definitely men like you and me. If you feel this could be an alternate universe, it is fine by me. If you fancy it as a dystopian (or utopian) future, so be it. Whatever our assumptions are, I wish to convey one thing – this world is in many ways just like ours, and in just as many ways very different. Some of the things which you would see happening can easily happen, and even might have happened, in our lifetime in the real world. For some others you would have to forgive my stretching your imagination. But that’s the point of fantasy anyway, no?

The World

The world is in tatters. Centuries of pollution and one catastrophic event have pushed the world on the brink of annihilation. A thick, murky black cloud dominates the skies perennially. Sunlight cannot reach the surface directly, or indirectly. Temperatures are extremely low. The weather varies between winter and a sleety monsoon, with no set periods. The black rain comes down without preamble. Most forms of life find it extremely difficult to survive. Disease causing microbes and other organisms which thrive in the cold, sickly climate abound. The whole world is a picture-perfect rendering of desolation.

There are no countries or large civilizations – humans are just not numerous enough. Small, independent city-states occupy the hospitable regions. A few cities are large and powerful. Others live off these larger cities. One of the biggest cities is P2P- Power to the People.

P2P

Like a beacon on the dark sea, P2P shines in the perennial night of the world. Not because of the city lights, but because of the enormous Sun-mirror system that hovers above the clouds over the city proper, the Nucleus. The Sun-mirrors collect sunlight and direct it through a complex system of mirrors to the city below the cloud. The air gets warm and sizzles, giving the whole city a glowing aura. The Sun-mirror system is complex and only so big, so the city instead of outwards has grown vertically, with enormous skyscrapers crowding in a small space, the tallest almost a kilometer high.

With such a large number of people crowding into such a small space, the concept of ‘personal space’ takes a whole new meaning. After numerous attempts to keep the incessant fighting in check, a new system of administration was put into place – By The Book.

By the Book

The leaders of P2P realized that the biggest problem haunting them was of corruption. The world was merciless, life was tough. Large number of people shared meager resources. Nothing was ever ‘enough’ for anyone. Corruption was inevitable. But what made the corruption possible? The gullible, weak human mind. When a man in a difficult situation gets some power, it corrupts him. And from him the corruption spreads outward. The solution? Take the power out of man’s hand.

The whole administration of P2P is done by a network of connected computers. A huge, powerful central Mother Machine controls and monitors the network. All economic transactions happen through computers. Every citizen of P2P has a unique identification tag, or IDT. This IDT is the individual’s ‘face’ in the network. The network of computers controls everything – the city’s economic transactions and commerce. There is no physical currency in P2P. People are paid using ‘credits’. Money is exchanged through swiping of cards. All corporations, business establishments, schools, housing complexes – in short wherever money is exchanged – all such places are controlled by the network of computers. This forms the machine side of By The Book.

A small team of humans are elected as Facilitators. The city is divided into many different areas or precincts. Each precinct has a Facilitator. The Facilitator’s job is to hear out any problems the citizens might have and solve them on their level or escalate them to the Pointman – the human counterpart of the Mother Machine. The Facilitators are allotted a small amount of credits to spend for the precinct. And as can be guessed, each and every credit spent is accounted for by the computer network.

This parallel administrating organisation of humans and machines is called, simply, the System. The rules and regulations to be followed by the Facilitators and the Pointman,  and the hardwired lines of code of the Mother Machine are defined and governed by the hypothetical book known as the Code. Hence the name, By the Book. Only the Pointman has the authority to make any changes in the Code, but only on the lowest levels. The rest of the System is hardwired and closed to modifications. No change is expected, and no change is wanted. With such a hard coded system in place, corruption is almost non-existent.

Almost. The Facilitators are the weakest link. To trump this problem, the Code has one stellar provision – The Lottery.

The Lottery

Each morning, the Mother Machine draws a random IDT from the city’s database. For that day, the chosen woman or man has the right to kill any person they feel has gone against the conduct prescribed by the Code. Normally, killing or murder is punishable by life imprisonment without trial. But if an individual kills on a Lottery, he has the right to defend himself. And if his arguments and evidence are found satisfactory, he or she is allowed to go free. This practice has served two purposes:

  1. Though it would seem that every person would jump at a chance to kill by sanction, the actual number of people who opt for it is very low. This is because the trial is very complex – and involves the Pointman as well as Mother Machine. Personal issues cannot be and are not entertained as valid reasons to kill. The individual has to convince the System that he killed for a greater purpose and that P2P has benefited by the death of the dead individual.  Most citizens fear that their reasons to kill might not stand up to the extremely critical reasoning of the Mother Machine and the Pointman, and thus do not take the extreme step. But, just the knowledge that they have the power to make a difference helps to maintain peace among the citizens.
  2. For the citizens and specially the Facilitators, the presence of this practice serves the intended aim perfectly – everybody thinks more than twice before crossing a line. And more often than not, the fear of sanctioned retaliation keeps anybody in power from misusing it.

With a rigid, hardwired rule system, P2P is a City where changes are minimal.

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