The Printing Press

Tall, broad windows shed midday sunlight into the vast room. In contrast to the cold gray of the building’s interior, hundreds of pale and dark skinned men populated the wide expanse, each wearing nothing but their Explique and white, tightly fitting briefs. They stood silently, row upon row in what might have passed as a military formation had it not been one continuous line snaking back and forth across the length and breadth of the room.

In one corner sat a single woman dressed in the traditional garb of her nursing profession. Beside her sat a small table stacked high with forms and boxes. Before her stood the head of the line awaiting her direction. She stood and uttered the word “disrobe” in a matter-of-fact tone nearly audible to the most distant members of the line. The man before her complied, dropping his briefs to the floor, and she began her inspection of his person.

As there were hundreds of men in line, it was difficult for Murray Steele to determine how far back he was or how long he might have to await his turn. He stood just as quietly and still as the rest, his eyes almost exclusively trained on the head of the man before him. His mind, in contrast, raced along through calculations and contemplations.

In the line ahead of him, snaking in the opposite direction, was Bernard Checks, his coworker. As the pair neared each other, Bernard remarked on Murray’s apparent confusion.

“By the looks of my credit account, I would think I could afford a new exercise suit,” said Murray, “But the cost of clothing has been going up so quickly…”

“The cost of everything goes up. That’s the way of things,” responded Bernard.

The line shifted forward leaving the two men side by side facing opposite directions. Each held his gaze forward.

“Why does the cost of everything go up?” asked Murray.

Bernard’s face wrinkled in confusion. “Surely you wouldn’t want the price of things to go down, would you?”

“Some things, yes,” Murray answered.

“Preposterous,” bellowed Bernard, “You really know so very little of economics, don’t you?”

“The value of everything must increase,” said Bernard. While his pronouncement was to Murray, it seemed to be to no one in particular. Several men looked their direction, some appearing interested and others less so. For his part, Murray had no response. “Think of the children. You want to leave them a world where things have greater value, don’t you?”

Murray glanced toward Bernard, uncertain of a response.

“Disrobe,” directed the nurse to the next in line.

“This structure was built some years ago. The Comity directed its erection and the people benefited from the space and function. If its value diminished, future generations of citizens would be left wanting. The Comity ensures against that.”

Murray measured his words before responding, knowing well Bernard’s quick temper. “But is value really the same as price? I might value something because I’ve become attached to it. It comes to have an emotional value. That’s different from the number of credits I paid for it. At the same time, other things might diminish in value as they wear or break down.”

“It is confusing, isn’t it,” answered Bernard, “That’s why The Comity removes complexity by ensuring that prices are ever rising.”

The line moved forward again, creating greater distance between the two men. During that time, only the voice of the nurse rose above a whisper. It was nearly half an hour before Murray and Bernard could resume their conversation.

“We eat the same meat meal and vegetables regardless of where we dine,” started Murray, “And the food never improves yet the number of credits required to purchase it keeps increasing.”

“Isn’t it wonderful?” responded Bernard, a broad grin spreading across his face.

“But this is why I’m confused,” Murray continued, “I wouldn’t pay half as many credits for a meal without seasoning or poorly prepared yet the price gets ever higher.”

“I’m sorry,” answered Bernard, “What I meant was that you have many more credits to pay for the meal. The Comity ensures you keep getting more credits to pay for the things we need.”

“My credit account currently has three hundred billion credits,” responded Murray.

“Oh, you probably mean trillion,” Bernard blurted. A man to looked his way, nodding agreement.

“Perhaps it is trillion. So many zeros. And I pay thousands for a meal,” continued Murray.

“Millions,” interrupted Bernard. Again the man nodded in his direction.

Murray glanced toward Bernard, uncertain how his companion found the enthusiasm to endure meat meal. “I don’t remember when I last had real meat yet the price tells me otherwise.”

“Disrobe,” directed the nurse to the next in line.

“The price only tells you that some number of credits are needed to eat,” responded Bernard, “And The Comity ensures you are able to acquire the food you need. It couldn’t be more elegant.”

Murray fell silent. The line continued at roughly the same pace. Sunlight came and went with each passing cloud, periodically dousing the assembly with warmth. As he held his gaze toward the head of the man in front of him, Murray tried to recall the number of zeros he’d seen in his credit account. Since he had the luxury of trading credits through his Explique, he rarely thought of such matters.

When they again were in view of one another, Bernard resumed their conversation. “There was a time, before credits, when people had no way of buying the things they needed to live,” he said, “And before that time people didn’t even have money. They would trade things. How barbaric.”

“Isn’t that what we do, trade credits?” asked Murray.

“Of course. We’re civilized. And we all have credits.”

“Trillions of them,” Murray interjected.

“Trillions,” agreed Bernard, “We all eat and live and The Comity ensures we have the credits to do so. But people didn’t always have that. Even when money was used, it had to be printed. Can you imagine having to print trillions of credits for each person?”

“But why so many?” asked Murray.

“Isn’t that clear?” responded Bernard, “The only way to keep things from going down in value is to keep making more credits.”

“I still think you confuse value with price,” Murray said. The man who had previously shown agreement with Bernard frowned and shook his head.

“I am not the confused one,” snapped Bernard, finally becoming frustrated with Murray, “I know that prices only go one way: up.”

“Maybe you’re right about prices, but surely value goes down. Hovers eventually break down. Clothing wears thin. ”

“Murray, you often surprise me with your ignorance,” responded Bernard, shaking his head, “Even if something breaks down, its price can’t go down. That’s the beauty of how The Comity manages credits. All prices always go up. So a broken down bus still costs more.”

“Who would pay more for a broken down bus than for a new one?” asked Murray.

“No one would. What a ridiculous question to ask,” laughed Bernard. Several men in their vicinity reacted as well.

“Disrobe,” directed the nurse to the next in line.

“But if the price of the broken down bus were less than the new bus, someone might be willing to trade for it and fix it,” answered Murray.

Bernard paused to consider that point. “You might be right, but that could only happen if prices went down. For our benefit, The Comity doesn’t allow that to happen.”

Murray screwed up his face with doubt and confusion. At that, he let the conversation drop again. When his line again snaked around, he was facing toward the entrance. The line was at least as long as it had been when he arrived. The setting sun now left the vast room in long shadows.

When Bernard again approached, he rekindled the conversation. “What if we imagine the world you want where prices go down.”

“Okay,” responded Murray as a few men nearby chuckled.

“Of course, that would mean that The Comity would have to stop creating credits,” continued Bernard, “After all, if prices are declining, you don’t need so many.”

Murray nodded in agreement.

“Disrobe,” directed the nurse to the next in line.

“When The Comity first wrested control of our health, our annual physicals were attended by far fewer men, weren’t they?” Bernard asked.

“They were,” responded Murray.

“So it appears there are many more citizens today than there were in those days,” Bernard said, looking around the room.

“It does,” Murray agreed.

“But if The Comity stopped creating credits, all these additional citizens wouldn’t have enough to feed themselves,” concluded Bernard.

“Prices would come down,” answered Murray.

“That’s right, prices would have to come down,” agreed Bernard, “So food preparers, for example, would get fewer credits for their food.”

Murray nodded his agreement as the line again shifted forward bringing the two men side by side.

“Does that mean food preparers would be worth less?” asked Bernard.

“No, it means credits would be worth more,” Murray answered, uncertainly.

Those nearest to Murray erupted in laughter, none more than Bernard. By now the entire line was staring in their direction.

“How can a credit be worth more than a credit?” asked Bernard, barely containing himself.

Murray had no response.

“Disrobe,” directed the nurse to the next in line.

The line again fell silent and remained that way for the next few hours. When Bernard’s portion of the line wound its way toward the nurse, he called back to Murray. “I can’t take you home tonight. I have errands. Have you looked into getting a new hover?”

“Yes, I have,” answered Murray, “That’s another reason I was reviewing my credit account. New hovers cost billions of credits.”

“Hmm… probably trillions,” responded Bernard.

More of that which is Seen and that which is Unseen
We respect your privacy. Et Invisibilium will never sell or share your email address.