In the near future every single person in the world is given a fame score and ranked in a system called the HotBil - a who's who limited to 1 billion people, based on every achievement in their lives.
A teenager, addicted to the HotBil lies awake the night before his fifteenth birthday, wondering if his score will finally rise above zero.
Jordi Franzon (0), born 3rd September 2001 was addicted. As he lay yawning in his bed, knees tucked up, a sticky breeze whispering in through the midnight windows, the light from his e-pad falling on his puckered face and into his tired teenage eyes, he hit refresh. For the billionth time he heard the familiar tone of disappointment. It just seemed to say “fail” the more he did it. And he did it a lot.
Jordi Franzon (0). That’s all that there was.
Tomorrow was a school day, and so part of him did feel bad. It wouldn’t be good to be too tired, because third period was double drama and a chance to do something which could lead to improving the long-term situation of being a nobody. That was important. Yet tomorrow was also his fifteenth birthday, and, above all things, he could not start another year as a zero. Above all things.
Closing the HotSearch window containing his own stupid nothing name, he returned to the long list of updated movers and began to scan for anything interesting to kill a little time, picking absently at the flecks of red still left on his fingernails as he scrolled the page. In fourteen minutes and twenty seconds he could check again.
Some wrinkly old actress that hadn’t done anything in years had jumped 18 million places just because she’d fallen into a coma, aged 89, and several news and e-networks had picked up the story for its nostalgic value. Jordi snorted at this and wiped the snot the gesture produced onto the back of his hand and then onto the duvet cover. He’d seen it all before. She’d keep rising as more people heard the news and clicked the link that led to the sentimental montage, but as soon as she died – Blam! – right back to zero. She’d make the Hall of Fame for sure, she was pretty hot stuff in her time, but no matter how much she continued to rise for the moment, as soon as that feeble heart stopped pumping her name would never be seen on the HotBil ever again. That’s how it worked. And that meant room for one more at the bottom! Yeah, obituaries were a good way to cheer yourself up alright, as long as the thought of having the same HotBil Index as a dead person didn’t get to you (which it naturally did), but for right now there were bigger concerns.
Crossing to the YouTube tab / Favourites / HBI, he noted with a contorted grin that all of his top ten were still rising, some without even showing a huge amount of new hits, which meant their authors were having an impact outside of the site. Pretty impressive!
Now over to Bookmarks / HBI...
Kai Drew (991956421). Yes! Down another half mil’ in the last fifteen minutes! This was good news. The doofus went to his school, the year below, if you could believe that, and all he’d done was fall off his skateboard this one time and had his brother capture it. But he was now in freefall, and with a HotBil rating that close to the greasy edge it was a matter of hours before he was faceplanted into obscurity. Totally dope, haha.
Click. Rose Lafontaine (729412601), pretty steady in the mid 700’s for over a year now, and the most famous person he knew in real life. To start off she had been a minor contestant on X-Factor, making the first cut and getting about 4 minutes of total airtime if you included her audition. Since then she’d been video blogging regularly with her own songs and dance routines, some of which were not half bad, if you liked that kind of thing. Jordi liked them. Jordi liked Rose Lafontaine. She wasn’t HotBilled just for getting naked or breaking the law, or something, she had talent. Some. It wouldn’t be so surprising if she made the top 20 mil’ one day. She was pretty too – how could that hurt?
Defocusing for a second, Jordi peered deep into the phone to catch his own reflection. Maybe breaking the law was the only way for him? Notoriety was as good as pure fame for the first little while, and the bigger the crime the bigger the HBI. Only when convicted did the weighted penalty kick in, and that could be months.
To check his point he brought up the HotSearch again and typed in Christopher Logan, the shooter in Camden last Spring. And there he was, a mere 492655558, just four weeks after receiving a life sentence. Four weeks after he killed them he was still in the top half mil’, but four weeks after the trial and he was already about to fall out of the top half bil’! Yeah, big crime got you a low number for a while but the law saw to it that it wouldn’t stick. Jordi let out a low moan of appreciation. Yeah, that wasn’t the way.
What next? No point checking the top thou’, that hardly ever changed, and besides, his phone was geared to notify him if it did. Actually it was geared for all kinds of notifications: anyone entering the top ten mil’ as a new entry (that mostly involved breaking news on a global scale); anyone from the top 100 mil’ falling straight off the index (usually a sign of something fishy, or a government intervention – it happened); anyone tagged or tagged to a tag, like an actor or a hot babe he liked, shifting up or down by more than 1% (not likely in a fifteen minute update period, but when forced to turn the e-pad off in class, or while he slept, it happened quite a bit). All kinds of things. Nothing was more exciting to Jordi than the little ping which meant something was happening.
Still eight minutes or so till the next update. The breeze was turning cold now, and the temptation to look out again at his handiwork was palpable, but he would get up and close the window later – as soon as the deed had been vindicated by the numbers and his mind could finally rest.
Thinking hard now for anyone he particularly wanted to check on, he drew a complete blank, and blowing out his lips began making random popping noises that echoed his impatience. Why was he still a zero?! Surely what he’d done today was enough to register by now? The problem was, of course, that no one knew for sure how the algorithm that gave you your score worked. And no one outside of the HotBil admin team (that mystical breed) were allowed (official) access to their own score. What was the current score that would get you into the top bil’ anyway? The higher numbers were littered with PhD’s and academics from China and Russia that no one he’d heard of had ever heard of, so how did they get on it? It was a major pain in the hole.
He was pretty sure that any time anyone Googled your name or visited any website you were linked to it registered a score. Also, any time your name was mentioned in the media – big points! YouTube hits were obviously massive, it went without saying. And TV was still God. Ten minutes on a reality show and you were in! These things all made sense. Oh, and Barack Obama (1), for five years straight – no explanation needed. But rumours that doctors scored points every time a patient with a terminal illness walked out alive; that public servants of all kinds got monthly bonuses for reaching targets and not fucking up; that it was not what you earned that got you points, but how much you spent...! Were these things myths or reality? Jordi’s father (Michael T. Franzon (0) and always had been) had asserted that anyone employed at all got a bonus, and that the jobs themselves were ranked, so the more “important” your work the more you scored. Paying a bill on time got you a bonus, stuff like that. What bullshit! What about a homeless guy who gets his own FB group made, with thousands of friends, and suddenly makes the index for a week or two? How did that work? Maybe just being a good person did score you points, but not nearly enough to compete.
Just thinking about it made Jordi tense. He let the arm holding the e-pad flop onto the bed beside him and inhaled deeply. Looking around his ordinary teenage room at his ordinary zero life, his gaze paused on the quietly buzzing laptop at his desk and he wondered if he had time to crack one out before the next update? Michelle Devonish (89600925) perhaps, or, even better, Carla Grey (46211219)! Nah. Even for him, six minutes and ten seconds was pretty optimistic. A quick check on progress though was not a bad idea.
Throwing off the grubby duvet to reveal his pale bare legs, the thin layer of pubescent down on each prickling as it felt the breeze, Jordi dashed to the desk, lifted the laptop lid and nudged the cursor to bring the screen back to life.
529 friends and so far just two brief, standard birthday wishes. Which was OK, it was only a few minutes past midnight... but: no new friend requests... at all! And that was not a good sign. This meant that his message to the world had existed for several hours without effect. No, not good at all. The whole point of taking the risk was to get noticed; to get searched; to be requested – just to be indexed for fifteen minutes, that was all he ever wanted from this. The potential embarrassment of it not working brought acid into his chest, and forced a deep, resonant breath to rattle his skinny ribcage. Glancing back toward the window, temptation called his name again, but he knew it was still there, so what was the point. Instead his eyes came back to the screen and down to the time as it ticked relentlessly on - linked to the web, accurate to the millisecond. Five minutes to the next update. Exactly five.
Another chill breath from the open window ended in a tickle at the base of Jordi’s spine that climbed up spiderlike into a full body shiver. Did that mean someone was talking about you? Nah, that was ears burning. This one was graves. Living, breathing folk walking all over your dead body, not even bothering to check the marker for a name. He reached up with both hands to check his ears anyway. Nope, stone cold. No one was interested.
Being deaf was interesting; shutting out the world like that – no TV, no music, no update tones. He pushed his palms in firmer and closed his eyes tight shut, trying to imagine death that way. But it wasn’t silence. It sounded to him like the low rumble of tons of earth being emptied on top of the coffin in a constant, never ending, avalanche. Creepy!
The random tangent led to images of actors being buried alive in stuff he’d seen: Uma Thurman, Ryan Reynolds, that woman in the thing that was a remake with Jeff Bridges, and he snapped back to life, wondering which of these had the highest index right now? Well, not the woman in the remake thing because he couldn’t even remember her name, so she was obviously not important, but the others had to be close. He made a mental bet with himself and opened the HotSearch on the laptop to find out.
Ha, yeah! Bridges by about 25 thou’, he was right, though all 3 were in the top 2 mil’, as he expected. Hollywood was a golden ticket, man. A golden ticket! The odds of ever getting close to that kind of fame were too hard to even try and figure. Jesus, was there nothing tonight that wasn’t depressing to think about? Hmm, Jesus...
Woah, there were over 15 million people called Jesus on the current index! The highest was some baseball player that left old Jeff in his wake. Jordi didn’t care much for sports, but he respected that a lot of people did. Score a goal one day, or hit a home run, break some record maybe and watch the numbers tumble. Jordi’s mother ran a marathon two years ago and stayed on the index for 20 hours just after, mostly because she made some money for charity. So, OK, she’d made the list, but what a lame way to do it. Personally he’d rather almost not make it on there at all if that was the reason. Almost.
The biggest bug was that kids of five years old were making it big just by falling over on camera, or being covered in their own breakfast in some cutesy way! Totally not fair, because the HotBil wasn’t around when he was five, and he was falling over all the time back then!
Two minutes and forty eight seconds. Come on, baby, PLEASE, come on!
Realising his leg was tapping a beat as fast as his heart, he stood up slowly and tried to force himself into a calm state. This was it. Time to start rehearsing the speech; the stock answers to all the questions at school tomorrow; the smart status update he’d been wanting to use all his teenage life. Get a grip, Jordi! In just one minute and fifty nine seconds you will be famous! Will it to happen – be that person.
Step by step he glided back to the bed, recovered the e-pad from beneath the folds and climbed back in. Pillows adjusted, neck cracked, posture straight, duvet smoothed down, hands wiped of sweat. This was the position of dignity he wanted to be in when it happened.
As the countdown limped towards the last sixty seconds and Jordi struggled to hold on to the various tensions vying for control of his body, a noise from beyond the window, and a light he couldn’t instantly account for, stole into his consciousness like an alarm waking you from a too real nightmare, and he found that he had stopped breathing. There was a vehicle out there. Something with a flashing warning light, emergency yellow. And men’s voices. They were by the wall – his wall - he knew it! And just as quick he knew he’d have to look. It was like hearing sleigh bells and not looking out to see Santa – he had to look!
Forty seven. To the window. Forty six. He threw it open. Forty five. He could see them there. Forty four. He saw what the men were doing. Forty three. He knew it was over. Forty two. A little nauseous now. Yellow lights on the van making him want to puke and puke. Go away! he thought. Leave me alone! he thought. Don’t you know who I am? he thought. But he knew it was over.
Across the garden, over the fence, over the road, beyond the car park, to the wall. The yellow lights turning the red paint a weird blue-purple, and the men’s overalls a sickly gold. In their hands were rollers, thick with new paint. They were working fast; another job after this one; long night ahead. They worked at opposite ends. By quarter past they would meet in the middle and it would all be gone.
Twenty four. Twenty three. Twenty two.
Jordi stared out at the ever decreasing message, until he could look no more. The remainder burned in his mind’s eye as he came away from the window, closing it tight and leaving it behind for good:
U ARE MY H
The clock clicked down to zero.
Laid in his bed, knees tucked up, his tired teenage eyes closed tight, Jordi Franzon hit refresh. It was very late now. In fifteen minutes he could check again.