47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


THE system didn’t like it when Jack turned off the motorway at an exit signposted “Lancing”.

“Navigational error, navigational error!” it whined in its irritatingly inhuman take on an already irritating female American voice. “Departure from recommended route! Departure from recommended route! Your estimated time of arrival is now delayed by two minutes. Take second exit on roundabout 40 metres ahead to regain recommended itinerary.”

Jack took the third exit and it gave him the same shit all over again, except now he was at least 30 minutes late.

If only he could turn the fucking thing off. Or even down. But there was no way - not in a company car, at least.

Jack wasn’t worried about the time this afternoon. He didn’t have to be in Southampton for the sales conference until four. The system didn’t know that, of course, which is why it was panicking.

Now he was off the main road, he could slow down a bit and take in the beauty of the Sussex summer.

Clouds billowed peacefully in the mesmerising blue sky. Fields were emerging between the housing estates as he drew away from the motorway and onto the Downs. There were even clusters of trees that were on their way to looking like small woods.

There was a sharp right curve ahead of him now and he braked on the approach. As he did so, he noticed that while the road veered round at this point, there was still in fact a way straight ahead - a small shaded lane, whose surface was dark and dusty-looking, as if it had been undisturbed for many years. And it looked very inviting.

Jack glanced up at the System Display, but there was nothing shown on its map except the big bend in the road.

Oh what the fuck, he thought, then he braked and bumped off onto the little lane, all ruts of dried mud and chalky rocks.

Second later, the system caught up with him. “Illegal manoeuvre! You have completed an illegal manoeuvre! Please return to the recognised highway. You have completed an illegal manoevre.”

Jack tried to ignore its nagging and concentrated on negotiating a fallen branch lying across the lane. It started up again, clearly irked that he had driven it beyond the edge of its known universe. “I repeat, you have committed an illegal manoeuvre. Your manoeuvre is illegal, repeat illegal. Return to the recognised highway at once!”.

Jack sighed and stopped the car. He opened the door, leant out and picked up the first large stone he saw. Then he smashed it into the speaker time and time again until he was sure it would say no more. He drove on. The lane was climbing now. Up into the Downs. Up into the real world that had been hidden from him by the system. He wound down the windows and let the smell of thyme and the summer songs of the birds flow around him.

Soon the trees thinned out and the road surface became drier and whiter. And soon it was not enough for Jack to be seeing and breathing and hearing the Downs. He had to touch them. He stopped his car and as he walked away from it he did not look back, for he knew it did not belong there.

He walked up the lane, he climbed over a gate with a notice warning that access was totally prohibited, staggered into the centre of the grassy field and turned for the first time. He could see the woods below him, the houses he had passed, the shimmering trail of the motorway and, beyond it the coastal urban strip and then the sea.

He fell back onto the sweet, soft grass, gazed up into the azure with his hand shading his eyes from the sun and waited for the whine of sirens or the rumble of the helicopter that they would be sending out to drag him away.