The next evening it happened again. Exactly the same time, exactly the same colour screen and message. And the evening after, and the one after that. The world pausing for a minute or so each time. For five days – and then it stopped, and nothing. Nobody claimed responsibility. No hackers came forward with demands, no social disruption movement, no terrorist attack. No giant corporate brand with the most elaborate viral marketing campaign ever. Everything went back to normal. Except it wasn’t. As the week went by there was a creeping sense of unease, a constant desperation, even more powerful than usual, to go back online, to search around for an answer. Grace found it impossible to concentrate on anything else.
Friday came around, always her busiest day as her national newspaper column was due that evening. She breakfasted with Joel and they spoke of a minor workplace scandal involving a colleague of his. Keep the conversation going, keep the routines going, and everything will be fine and one day we’ll feel something again. She kissed him goodbye and went out on the balcony with her coffee. It was July now and the sun had already been up for a good couple of hours, hidden somewhere behind a bright white haze. Grace squinted up at the sky. Somewhere up there was the Veil, twenty kilometres above her in the troposphere, gradually reducing terrestrial albedo. How easily they had all internalised the new and technical language of solar radiation management. From one week to the next in 2025 everyone had begun to speak like a scientist.
And then how quickly their view of the Veil had changed. When it was first created it was heralded as a triumph, a revolution, the Veilmakers their saviours. The Veil was almost worshipped as a God. Cooling down the Earth and saving the future for our children and their children’s children. And the initial results had been nothing short of miraculous – within months average temperatures had dropped below the two per cent threshold; within a year they had dropped another percentage point. You could feel it – Grace even missed the languid, sweltering summers of her teens. The sunsets were spectacular, the lightning storms exciting, the steep rise in agricultural production a miracle. Even the acid rain curfews and the bottled water were acceptable sacrifices, new practices to be incorporated into daily life.
And then it changed. It had all been too easy. They had all known, deep down, surely. But they had wanted a quick solution, just as much as the governments. And the human need to believe is too great. At first the Veil had been their protector, making the Earth a safe haven. Now it was fragile, something to be protected at all costs. Immense costs. Because the alternative was unimaginable. Was it exhilarating, exhausting, or boring, to live with this fear? Grace didn’t know.
She needed a hook for Saturday’s weekend column. It was unthinkable not to mention #youwillbejudged, but what could she say about it that hadn’t been said already, this week alone? Everyone was their own personal freelance journalist these days. There were already a million opinion pieces out there, some of them already more profound or funny than she could ever be. She began to note down phrases about how we are being judged already. Constantly. That’s how the modern world works. Perhaps it’s how the world has always worked. She was aware that she was spouting platitudes, that this would be like reading nothing, a waste of people’s time.
She scrolled and clicked around, absent-mindedly, looking vaguely for a hook. And then she saw it. One of her followers had tweeted a video link from Youtube, with the title:
‘#youwillbejudged’ – Is This The Guy?
There were a little over fifty thousand views, and as she scrolled down the comments underneath the video, she saw they were filled with ‘OMG’, ‘prophetic’, ‘how did he know’, ‘it has to be him’… She pressed play. It was one of those theatrical preachers that seem to exist only in the USA, except instead of gospel, this one had found his niche, his angle, with rock music. He appeared to be performing at a music festival – behind him on the stage was a drum kit, walls of black speakers with guitars leaned against them. He looked in his early fifties but it was hard to tell behind his long greying hair and thick dishevelled beard. He wore baggy shorts, a t-shirt that only just covered his belly, and a denim waistcoat covered in patches. The crowd was similarly dressed and dishevelled, and she could see beer being drunk everywhere and sporadic ‘devil-horns’, the hand symbol of heavy metal, being raised into the air. This was no typical church. There were so many tattoos and evil-looking people that she wondered at first if this was some right-wing movement, but when she searched for Moshfest she saw that it was a heavy metal festival in Twin Falls, Idaho.
There was nothing particularly profound about what he said. But in the context of this week? He said it all. Somehow he was articulating the fears running through the mind of every human being who saw that hashtag. Tapping into some collective unconscious. She was reminded briefly of a William Butler Yeats poem she had studied for her degree… ‘Surely some revelation is at hand…’ What was it called? The Second Coming, that was it. And the preacher had made this sermon just before the event – a few minutes before, it seemed. The coincidence was chilling. Grace spun out a column – she always did. Added some quotes from the sermon. It was almost midnight when she turned it in, then crawled into bed next to Joel and dreamed purple.
The article was a triumph. By mid-morning her feeds were full of praise; her editor called with congratulations, her agent called with new offers of work. Perhaps she could make something of this. Help people to make sense of the new reality, use the intellectual skills she had been burying for so long to articulate people’s thoughts. And most of all, perhaps she could finally show Joel that she was worth something. Kernels of ideas for pieces of writing began to formulate in her mind. Perhaps she could find depth in the depthlessness. She began to think of catchy phrases, clever ideas: the epitome of the triviality epidemic, shit just got real…
But there was a higher priority in the way. Because first, she must re-curate herself. She searched for herself on the internet, looked through her feeds, her articles. A version of her life was laid bare, and how would it be judged, if she was being judged? She began to re-curate herself. That weekend, everyone would begin to re-curate themselves. They had been doing it all along, of course, but less consciously than now. Now there was an urgency. What had that preacher said? “.. by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
She ‘liked’ some good causes and charities. Not too political – the ones that couldn’t really be argued with. She deleted her more frivolous party photos, and any comments about excessive drinking. But it was still important to be seen as fun, right?
There was a new energy in the air. She felt it even from the confines of her apartment – she could sense it online. Not just because she was in demand for more freelance articles, even a television panel show. There was a new purpose to life. It was energising, one of those exhilarating, romantic sort of London summers, like they used to be before it got too hot. It reminded her of the year London hosted the Olympics, when she was just eight years old. Or the day of the London Marathon, when strangers say hello to each other, pubs serve drinks in the street, people open up their garden gates and even their homes. It was carnivalesque in the best possible way, everyone working together. When she thought about it, when she saw the montage sequences on TV with their heart-string music, it made her well up with tears. And of course she wrote about it too.
The London summer went from being sultry, languid and pointless to romantic, exhilarating, imbued with new meaning. She felt distracted in the best way, didn’t want to go to bed in case she missed anything. People were being so nice, so kind, reaching out to each other. It was like being in love. It was like the beginnings of a collective psychosis – what is it called, she wondered, when you are aware you are in a state of psychosis and yet you embrace it…. something else for her to write about.
She only wished she could share it with Joel, but the whole thing somehow felt like a betrayal. It only seemed to widen the chasm between them. He had the substance, the quiet altruism that no-one knew about. Online he had nothing to show for his life’s value. How would anyone know that he gave blood regularly, had a standing order for five per cent of his salary to a medical charity. That he called his mother twice a week, remembered all his friends’ birthdays, worried about his patients on his days off? How would anyone know? Because he didn’t document it. She did none of these things, and yet she had fifty thousand followers who ‘liked’ every wry little 240-character comment she made. She had everything to show for nothing, and him nothing to show for everything.
She dared asking him what he thought of her column.
‘It was really well written, Grace. I can see why it had so much attention. But this judgement thing. This virtue signalling – because that’s what it is. We’ve talked about virtue signalling. You’ve wrote a column about it once, for god’s sake, accusing politicians and pop stars of doing it. And now look at you. You’re addicted. I mean… who is judging you?’
‘I know. I can’t help it though. It’s… it’s weird.’ She didn’t have anything else to offer. What was the point of arguing. And he was probably right. But those words of Pastor Rex… ‘maximise your chances’ what if all these things added up? And who was judging her?