A short story by Guy de la Bédoyère
“That’s a shame”, said Jo as he sat munching on his breakfast staring at a screen. “The final unlocking’s been postponed for another fortnight”.
“Why this time?” said his wife Elizabeth.
“There’s been an outbreak of the new Antarctic variant, this time with the hybrid Finnish-Tierra del Fuego mutation, and apparently cases have soared by 100% from one to two. Both have been thrown into jail.”
“That’s what they said last week – and the week before, in fact the year before,” came Elizabeth’s retort.
“That’s not fair,” said Jo. “Everyone knows the king is doing his best for Britain and it’s not his fault if these variants keep appearing.”
“He became king 15 years ago”, said Elizabeth, “and he’s promised to unlock every week since. In fact, he was promising that every week before he became king. And he never said anything about prisons before – oh no, sorry, he called them lockdowns, didn’t he?”
Jo shrugged. In the few seconds the couple had been talking the screen on his tablet had automatically reloaded and been updated with the latest figures emblazoned across the middle. Was the news good or bad? It was impossible to say, but the outcome was always the same – the lockdown remained in force in all but name. Nothing was ever placed in context and all that happened was any one of increasingly elderly scientists, now dressed in strange priestly costumes, would turn up onscreen to repeat their disappointment that the data wasn’t quite what they had hoped it would. What they hoped it would be was never stated, all one ever knew was that the date ‘wasn’t quite there yet’.
Jo, like most people in the street, was a vaccinator. Everyone was vaccinated every week, each time with one assured to be lethal to the latest variant. The trouble is there was always another variant that the scientists were feverishly working on to have ready in a few days. Other people in the street were either van drivers or a profession called ‘being furloughed’. Once an innovation, this had become a career, complete with its own promotion structure, and pay grades.
It had been 15 years since the revolution of 2024 when everything changed for good. That was the year Keir Starmer was placed into exile and the Labour Party formally disbanded on the grounds that no-one knew what it was for any more. The Greens, delighted at how Covid had saved them 25 years of work in getting to the point where everyone was confined to their local communities and banned from owning vehicles, had joined forces with the Conservatives and agreed to abolish any further elections. What was the point? So many of the British people had fallen in love with lockdowns, masks, and social distancing they were obviously superfluous. It had all got a little tricky when the Vaccer Wars had broken out on the streets, but those were long in the past now.
The next step had been an obvious one. The royal family were swept aside, Boris made king-emperor, and Wilfred crown prince. From that moment on Boris the First had presided over his new domain, exulting in his popularity and riding the crest of a wave that never seemed to subside. On the odd occasion Dominic Cummings, imprisoned in the Tower of London since 2025, was taken out in his cage and displayed on Ludgate Hill before the baying crowds who hurled rotten vegetables at him from within their Covid-secure Perspex buggies. Sometimes Queen Carrie led the abuse from her carriage with its unusual wallpaper decoration.
By the year 2039 Jo and Elizabeth had become largely used to their new way of life, though Elizabeth was prone to express her frustration occasionally. That worried Jo. What if someone heard her? They struggled to remember the names of other countries, and indeed those of their adult children whom they had not seen since longer than they could recall. They had never met their grandchildren, and long since lost touch with friends. For their part, the grandchildren thought their grandparents lived in phones or computers. Perhaps it was just as well because none of them could read properly. Or add up.
Jo and Elizabeth’s savings, which might once have been spent on holidays or other rewards for their many years of work in jobs that had long disappeared, had rotted in their bank accounts, rendered utterly worthless by the rampant inflation that had struck the country down in the aftermath of the Pandemic. The electric car they had been promised had never materialised, and nor oddly had one appeared for anyone else. But that mattered little, since they were happy in the knowledge that they had been kept safe.
Jo glanced back at the screen and then at Elizabeth. “If everyone’s sensible”, he said, “it’ll be over in a fortnight. For good this time. You’ll see”.
Another scientist at that moment appeared on the screen. “I must urge caution”, she began.