All posts by Troim Kryzl

NaNoWriMo WP

Felinity Rules

The world is once again about to end. As the title suggests, cats are involved.

There’s a bored one, a big one and the black one. That black feline could be considered huge, if it was willing to fit into this kind of category.

Three humans are doing their occasionally heroic best to cope with the mess. They are more or less bored and black, just like the cats, but none of them is big. This makes saving the world a tad harder, but will look fabulous in a screen adaptation.

Please find below the most recent daily output:

2018-11-12

Sipping away at a glass of water, to dilute an overdose of sweetness, Uzo contemplates calling her mother, or her sister. The Felinity challenge could be be imminent. Once it starts, she’ll be terribly busy. She doesn’t know in which way, but Safo was adamant that she would be, and the old lioness is the topmost available authority on the subject. 

After some wavering, Uzo decides not to call Lagos. This doesn’t feel like the right moment to listen to one more admonition to keep on track and prove she’s worth the big investment. Nor does she feel ready for the next dose of sisterly consumerism. 

When the facilitator warned her, about the loneliness of the illicit migrant, she shrugged. “If there’s one thing I’m used to,” she told herself, “it’s loneliness. Not fitting in, lacking friends, the whole panoply of wondering what’s wrong and keeps me from bonding, I’ve been handling that for like forever, certainly for the relevant parts of my life. More of the same, so what’s?”

Back home in Lagos, Uzo was genuinely convinced, of her ability to cope with all flavors of loneliness. Nothing like regular practice, to implement a successful routine. Right now, she’s discovering totally new dimensions of the phenomenon.

It’s one thing to lack a best friend, without counting Ruzo the Resourceful, when nothing of any interest ever happens. It’s nice to be able to share the tale of a particularly grueling commute, an especially untimely power outage or an exceedingly dysfunctional segment of officialdom, but not exactly necessary. Everybody reports this kind of incident, all the time. Tell it or don’t, face-to-face or on social networks, one more or less doesn’t make a difference.

What hurts, and Uzo is by now doubly aware how much it does, is living an adventure, something really extraordinary, all alone. 

Telling the good old daily routine kind of incidents only ever triggers a cascade of corresponding tales. Everybody has been there, done or endured that kind of episode.

Not so for Uzo’s adventure. Successfully making it into Schengen land, by means of a clever stratagem, that would be something well worth listening to. Even the most migration averse Lagosian wouldn’t want to miss that tale. 

Everybody knows it’s possible to pull this off, with the right kind of money. Very literally everybody. Mister and miss Olagundoye senior, Uzo’s parents, otherwise wouldn’t have managed to find a facilitator. But this general awareness doesn’t mean people know how it’s done.

They haven’t got the foggiest. Most speculation involves the assumption of some kind of bribery.

Not surprising, because people extrapolate from the familiar. Natural for Nigerians, to think corruption, forged documents, bought certificates. Feels evident and is complete off the mark.

The false French identity card Uzo carried on the Cannes to Karlsruhe leg of her journey was never destined for active use, just a fallback precaution. All that big stack of money, minus a well deserved profit component for the facilitator, went into travel expenses. 

All the details of the trip only serve one purpose, to inconspicuously reach the destination, in Uzo’s case German. A yacht screaming filthy rich at the world doesn’t get searched for illegal refugees. For illicit money or substances, perhaps, if only very rarely. For the visa-short, no, not at all, never. One more or less black person in service attire catering to the rich, that’s not a difference anyone will care to notice. A minibus ferrying the more expendable section of the workforce to their next, that’s not a promising target for a paperwork check.

Most Lagosians would love to hear about this, and try to raise the money to give it a try. Which is why the facilitator promised to get Uzo killed in case she blabs.

The second part of the stratagem is even more clever. And Uzo feels bad about it, despite Ruzo the Resourceful’s insistence she’s doing no one no harm, not adding to anyone’s plight. He has a point, but Uzo is ashamed of this part anyway.

In the good old days, both ladies and gents would travel to Schengen land. They had to pick from a set of political scenarios and learn corresponding details, to be able to convince their asylum claim processors they were at risk of serious harm in their home country, e.g. Nigeria.

The lucky ones, or perhaps just the most skilled high performers, would be granted full political asylum, including the right to invite spouses and offspring. The jackpot. The rest would have to make do with a so-called exceptional leave to remain. A lesser status, non-permanent, but people still got to stay for a while, and were granted work permits.

Those good old days, for those wealthy enough to pay a facilitator, were abruptly terminated by the EU decision to declare Nigeria, among many other African nations, a safe place. No more political refugee recognitions, no renewal of exceptional leave to remain status. No way for Uzo’s twin brothers to attain a legal status, unless perhaps, and only perhaps, if they were willing to claim being gay. An option Uzo’s facilitator prefers not to offer, on ground if religions qualms.

Nowadays, there’s only one reliable path to legal residence. If a girl or lady is a victim of human trafficking, if she is is willing to denounce her traffickers and if she is prepared to go to court, the prosecutors want her around as chief witness. They will make sure she’s granted asylum.

A lot of ifs. Too many for the typical victims of the scourge of modern day slavery. They’d rather get themselves deported than denounce the perpetrators. Even after having suffered abuse too horrendous to recount. It’s just too dangerous, for them and their loved ones back home.

Uzo’s clever facilitator spotted the demand, for victims willing to denounce their traffickers. He also noticed how easy it was to identify some such perpetrators. Not the big fish doing people and drugs at the transcontinental level. Known they are, but also way too dangerous to target.

Not so for the smaller fry. Many a Libyan dealer with the means to extort money from hapless villagers trying and failing their luck is scary only on a very local and close-uplevel, for the people he holds for ransom, but unable to strike back when hit by professional opponents.

To make sure some of these baddies get prosecuted, Uzo’s facilitator has each of his parcels, as he calls the ladies traveling with his support, learn by heart a story and a matching set of details pointing straight at a very real Libyan slaveholder. They show up at a shelter for battered women, physically unharmed because the merchandise is supposed to be delivered ‘fresh and in good condition’, and tell a tale of a perfidious trap followed by a lucky escape.

Uzo’s story involved a putative Au-Pair job with a marine biologist in the lovely coastal town of Stralsund up in Northern Germany. It went like this:

Some friend forwarded her a twitter call for Au-Pair applications, preferably from biology students.  A couple of direct messages later, she invested all her savings into a ticket to Cairo. There she was supposed to meet her future boss and his wife on their holiday. The paperwork would be completed at the German embassy, and then they would fly on to Germany.

That fairy tale didn’t happen. She was picked up at the airport all right, by a taxi driver. He delivered her at a hotel, smaller and less international looking than expected, but still according to plan. She was served a soda in the lobby, while waiting for her future boss. Next she woke up in the back of what must have been a van, handcuffed and blindfolded. They rolled and rolled and rolled for such a long time she wet her pants. She might also have been unconscious, lost any track of time and place, unable to say if she had been on the road for hours or days.

They occasionally stopped, but never for long. Finally, they arrived at their destination. Near the sea, by the sound and smell. She was taken out of the van. One man told her off for having wetted her pants, in very rudimentary English.

Two or three men discussed in what might have been Arabic. Then she was walked to a house, or a cabin. The English speaker told her she would be shot if she tried to remove the blindfold, but that he would take her handcuffs off to allow her to undress, wash and put on fresh clothes. She argued she wouldn’t, not in the presence of men. He threatened to shoot her right away. 

Scared deadly, she complied, and was very glad no one touched her. The English speaker called her good girl quick learner and gave her some bread, and a bottle of water to drink from. She was thirsty and drank, despite the toilet problem. Then they waited, and it was cold, must have been night. Another van came, and another, and men were talking, but not in English.

When it had become very cold, she heard a a boat arrive and there was a commotion, with lots of shouting in barely decipherable English. Still blindfolded, she was made to stand up and hold hands with what later turned out to be two other ladies, one on each side. It took a while until everything was sorted. They were just standing there holding hands, not daring to speak.

Then they were made to walk. They were still on the shore, but very close to the water, with the waves right next to them. Scary, she was afraid to fall into the sea. Up front there was shouting in English, the queue only advanced stop-and-go. She found out why, when it was her turn to board the boat. Still holding hands on both sides, she was grabbed and lifted and put down on deck.

Once the whole queue was on deck, they were told to sit down on the floor. They of course complied, and she feared to die at sea. But it wasn’t that kind of boat.

When they had left the shore, a man ordered them to take off the blindfolds, in passable English. There were twenty four of them on board, and the man who had given the order, and a captain. It was a big boat, like for groups of holiday makers, with cabins, sanitary, everything. They were allowed to move freely on board, provided they didn’t go near the captain or the other man. There were granola bars and water, no one was going hungry or thirsty.

They sailed for six days. After the second day, they could sometimes see a shore in the distance on their right. Especially at night, when there were beacons. In the sixth night, they reached a concrete jetty built far out into the sea. On the shore, everything was dark, no town, not even one house in the vicinity. They had had to assemble on deck in advance and were made to disbark in a hurry. As soon as the last lady was off the boat, it steamed off, full speed.

Not knowing what to do, they walked to the end of the jetty, hoping to find something or someone. They found a big concrete surface, like a parking lot, but there wasn’t anyone waiting for them. In the darkness, with little moonlight, they didn’t dare walk further and stood there, discussing what to do, one group in English, one in French, one in Arabic.

Suddenly, headlines came towards them. They turned out to belong to a container truck. It stopped right next to them and the passenger alighted. He carried a gun, and barked at them, in English, to hurry into the container. It was battered, with Chinese signs for logo. But when the gunman opened it, the inside was clean and there were like bunk beds. They had to climb in, one lady per slot, were told to shut up tight, and that they would be safe.

There was no light inside the container and they were at first scared they would lack oxygen, but there must have been holes somewhere, air supply turned out to be no problem. They rolled and rolled and rolled until a first stop, somewhere in the woods, where the first six ladies were told to get off. Then they rolled again, and four more at the next stop. And so on, until there were only four of them left.

At the last stop, once again on a small bay on a deserted road, the three other remaining ladies where left standing there, in the middle of nowhere, while Uzo was told to come sit up front, between the driver and the gunman.

At first she was scared they might have bad intentions, but they gave her coffee and cookies and explained they had another two hours to roll, to deliver her to the middle of yet another nowhere. They both spoke good English and were in a talkative mood, perhaps because of drugs.

They bragged, about how big mighty bandits they were, despite their youth. And how they would build big houses back home in Passau, from the proceeds. They also badmouthed the Libyans at the other end of the route, in Tobruk. Especially a fellow going by the name of El Jameer.

When they stopped at a petrol station, she asked for permission to go to the bathroom. They let her go, because the station was out-of-town, there was nowhere for her to run.

They didn’t expect her to ask a lady she met in the bathroom to give her a ride. She did and rolled off before her captors even noticed she was missing. Luckily, the lady spoke fluent English and was well aware of the plight of the trafficked. She provided Uzo with the address of a shelter for battered women and dropped her off in walking distance. 

Staring at her small TV without listening to the newsman, Uzo once again feels the sting of shame. She’s a liar. A notorious one. She has been rehearsing and telling this tale so often that part of her believes she has been there and survived it.

When she was introduced to the plot, back in Lagos, she of course considered backing out. Riding the wave of the plight of fellow girls and women, towards an even more comfortable future than her not so bad present, what could be more despicable? Her parents didn’t raise her to go fishy, forge and fake, they were principled people.

“Those same principled people paid a fortune to get you going”, Ruzo the Resourceful argued, in Uzo’s head. “They know that what they’re paying for doesn’t qualify as straight and neat. As long as no one gets hurt, so what? This mister El Jameer, if ever Interpol catches him, he’s bad for real, committing atrocious crimes. Not against you, OK. But guess how his real victims feel, about this particular detail? You know how you would feel. You’d want the bastard behind bars.”

Uzo is aware of all these sound arguments. She did what her parents had decided she should do. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help one bit, against the sting of shame.

And the Felinity challenge, it feels like the punishment for her sins. Uzo spent months telling lies, pretending she had been through an ordeal she had instead developed, scripted and rehearsed with an acting coach. Doesn’t get much bigger, on the deception side. 

Uzo isn’t into magical thinking or religion. She doesn’t need a guru or God to tell her that lies are bad. Basic common sense makes her aware that others hate being lied to as much as she does.

Side Effects

And one more sanitary pad at the bottom of the trouble.

For lack of an obvious perpetrator, Ade silently throws a big fat curse at the white tiles of the bathroom wall. If only all ladies would learn how to safely dispose of their hygiene products, his professional life would be oh so much more pleasant.

Such a change in female behavior would also help with the chronic backlog. With so many emergency calls, at least half of them blockages, they’re forever rescheduling the installation of new sanitary equipment.

Concerning routine maintenance, the office no longer bothers to answer inquiries. As the saying goes „If you dream of getting hold of a plumber for non-emergency maintenance, why not reach right for the stars and jump onto the elective knee surgery queue?“.

It’s obvious that too little routine maintenance caused by the shortage of skilled professionals leads to additional premature degradation, and that this in turn causes yet more emergency calls keeping the precious few plumbers too busy. Vicious, but that’s how the system works. Well established dysfunction as usual.

Taking his time with the mess, his little revenge for the unpleasantness, Ade lets his brain argue the case of the ladies, like a lawyer would.

A perpetratoress could pretend to have acted out of charitable motives. Cleaning up her mess might be disgusting, but less backlog would lead to less plumigration.

Taking the argument one step further, disposing of sanitary pads into the dedicated bins would have to be considered applied racism. Ade’s inner lawyer rejoices. Only a legally trained mind can come up with this kind of obvious bullshit.

Ade’s own residential status is of course as secure as naturalization gets. Less plumigration wouldn’t affect him. But a responsible chap has to consider the potential for unintended consequences. One can’t ruin the immigration prospects of one’s peers. Less desperate house owners might lead to less visa. Currently any potential immigrant willing to learn the plumbing trade is begged to come. But if circumstances change, who knows?

Conditions might even revert to bad old first stage plumigration, as experienced by Ade’s uncle Iffe. When he got himself recruited, he had to provide a certificate confirming his plumbing skills. He dutifully paid a little fee that delivered a shiny diploma from a supposedly licensed academy. He still had no clue, but this diploma did the trick.

Being a clever and dexterous man, uncle Iffe learned his trade on the job. All went well, until an explosion he might or might not have caused. Neither himself nor anyone else did suffer bodily harm, but he remains severely traumatized. Has been scared of gas installations ever since. Won’t touch any of the beasts unless a locally trained specialist is present. Poor man, his income took a serious hit. Never will he manage to pay off that mortgage.

No such hardship for Ade. By the time he was done with university and ready to face the shit, the prerequisites of uncle Iffe’s days were long gone. No one dared ask him for a plumbing diploma, real or fake. He only needed to enter one of the shops on Migration Alley. One step turned an able bodied law graduate into a plumbing apprentice.

No questions asked, all visa and travel expenses paid, passable accommodation provided, and a nice little welcome handout on top. Compared to the trials inflicted on uncle Iffe’s generation, current plumigration is paradise. Kind of. If you don’t mind the shit.

On the plane, Ade met Taya, a lady of similar background and age. The onset of the solar era and the corresponding petrol and mining industry crisis had forced her to abandon her dream to find a job as a geologist. She was instead headed for a career in nursing, or senior shit, as she chose to call her future occupation, rather bluntly.

Noticing how they were both destined to handle excrements, Ade and Taya experienced fellowship in adversity. Eight hours of flight was more than enough to get them liaised. Their initial bond turned into assiduous dating. This in turn culminated in a in a big brash wedding, once they had both completed their apprenticeships and acquired their second passports.

„How much longer is this going to take? Would never dream of pushing, but I will need…, to go…, you know? Preferably sooner than later… ?“ This particular old lady whimpering on the other side of a bathroom door Ade has shut to labor in peace can’t be at fault. She’s way too old to be the originator of the mess. Must have been some visiting kid who didn’t dare leave traces of her current physical condition in the bin. Stupid little bitch.

Aloud, Ade goes polite: „As good as done, madam. Just give me one more minute, and the bathroom will be all yours again…“.

He flushes one more time, to suggest completion of whatever activity he didn’t perform during the last ten minutes, and checks his phone while waiting for the end of the torrent.

He finds a message: „Will be going straight to an additional girls meeting, urgent issue. Might get late, please don’t wait. Kisses, Taya.“

Texting back a full line of kisses, Ade feels all empowered and cheerful.

This is perfect timing. He had been wondering how to get himself a marital evening bliss exemption, to join some of the other plumigration lads to watch tonight’s Champion’s League game at the pub. And now it’s his lady going out. Perfectly perfect.

Having a glass with the other nurses will hopefully switch Taya’s attitude back to bright.

Ade’s wife has been tense, lately. Forever ranting about injustice, stress, politics even. How it’s not fair, to only allow immigrants in to clean up behind the legacy residents and deny them access to proper jobs, regardless of qualifications.

Ade won’t deny that’s how things are. But endless complaining is going to change exactly dick, right? Why ruin your mood about circumstances beyond your control?

Deep in his heart, Ade of course feels that little glimmer of glee, when the news report one more house blown up by the „One World Avengers“. The blokes do have a point. But that’s not a subject he’s prepared to discuss with his wife. That’s men talk.

The terrorists always make sure the owners of the houses they target are absent, typically holidaying abroad. Hence no one gets harmed. Theirs is soft terrorism. But it must still be deeply unpleasant to check your home CCTV feed only to find out the place is gone, just because some blokes hate the current world order.

As a professional, Ade kind of respects the „One World Avengers“. Tough guys, really good at blasts. Always using gas, often the very cylinders he’s handling day in, day out. Who knows, they might perhaps even share his trade. He wouldn’t e surprised to learn some fellow plumigration practitioners are telling the world how much they hate the daily shit.

Having pocketed a nice surprise of a generous tip, Ade trots back to his white van, slowly. If he takes long enough loading and replenishing his emergency intervention kit, he can just make it into the lunch break time zone. 

Opening the side door, the empty slot on the rack on the opposite side reminds him to report that last stolen gas cylinder missing. He’s had enough of the mischief that has been going on for months. Some lazy colleague takes his supplies from Ade’s van, instead of going though the formal request process. Lazy idiot. Time to teach him a lesson.

Purple Star

„Will you stop doing that, please? Please, Aramide? I do mean it, Aramide, because this is not funny. This has stopped being funny, in any way, more ten minutes ago. Aramide, please, this is an office, not a playground, and this device is no toy. Aramide, please now. Did I mention I mean it? ARAMIDE, if you don’t…”

Cismom would have been able to keep up the crescendo for a good while longer. She’s becoming ever better at staggered outrage. Always fun to watch. You can bet with yourself when she will grind to an exhausted halt, before resuming at first level.

In the current setting, cismom gets interrupted by the colleague in the ugly brown business dress in the cubicle next to hers: “Eniola? You wouldn’t dream of threatening a high potential, wouldn’t you? Have you got any idea of how lucky you are, with a…”

Here we go. Aramide isn’t exactly surprised for the topic to surface.

At home, everyone is used to have a purple earpiece around. No longer a big deal, in year sixteen. They even dare tell her to do the dishes, as if she was the next slowbrain. It’s more exactly cismom daring, to transmom’s resigned frown.

Aramide’s parentals are so steeped in old-fashioned gender roles they consider it progressive to have the cis play bad cop to the trans’ leniency.

Hard to believe such antiquated misconceptions are still around, but that’s society for you. Incredibly slow at changing, with so many old people around. Advanced age, the biggest problem with parentals. Even worse than their slow-low thinking.

At school, Aramide has to face down a completely different set of challenges. No slow-low thinkers there, of course. With her potential detected before her birth, she has always been educated at specialized institutions. No lit-num farms for her kind.

A pity. Aramide would give her left arm for the right to attend Suru High.

First and foremost, they have boys. Not just your one or two affirmative action minnows. The real cis male thing. Big bragging slowbrains that whistle when you walk by. Who cares if they can’t understand the physics of sound? They’re gorgeous.

At Suru High, they do lots of fascinating stuff. Building, gardening, plumbing, cooking. And they practice real sports, like football, not just mental strain compensation. So many alluring challenges out there, and poor Aramide stuck with maths and algorithms.

Cismom and her colleague aren’t done arguing, Aramide has to keep up her offensive action. Stopping now would make her look like some nice girl! Wearing a purple earpiece is bad enough, behaving well on top would make her the perfect loser.

Aramide has exhausted the novelty potential of the 3D captors in cismom’s cubicle over five minutes ago. She pointed them at herself, first at her hand and then at her head, to check on the screen what she would look with blue skin. No big deal.

Skin color reconfiguration is all the rage all over Devastoria . Last year Devastorians went green like mad, this year they’re going blue.

Weird. But that’s normal, in Devastorians.

In Aramide’s social engineering class, they had a debate around the rationale behind the geographical distribution of the skin color reconfiguration craze.

Aramide was made to argue the biological causes side: A majority of Devastorians suffer from a very light skin tone that is especially prone to ugly irregularities. No wonder they want to replace their natural complexion with something smooth.

Aisha, Aramide’s preferred classmate and sparring partner, argued the historical origins side: Devastorians, even the current, innocent generation, feel guilty because of all their past misdeeds. Like slavery, depleting natural resources and the big one, the Mars mistake. Their complexion identifies them as perpetrator lineage, which is uncomfortable. Trying to blend in, they push skin color reconfiguration as a fashion trend. 

Cismom can be surprisingly good at multitasking, for an old av brainer. Defending the teen harassment she calls elitism prevention, she still manages to watch Aramide’s every move. High time to capture the next image and use her pronounced creativity to alter it.

Aramide shouldn’t even be here. This event is called “Company family day” and targeted at kids, as proven by the presence of a ball pool in the foyer. Cismom dragged her along to show off, and now she has to misbehave for revenge.

It’s all lies, the bit about the pronounced creativity. It does feature on Aramide’s potential curve, but she never manages to come up with cool.

Even Aisha is better at cool, as proven by her braiding robot. That was a good idea, and a pretty challenging bit of programming involved. A one-off, far too small to turn Aisha into a cool person. But still pretty neat, light years ahead of Aramide.

Damn purple earpiece. People always tell her how grateful she should be, to have been gifted with such an outstanding brain, granting her access to so many opportunities.

Aramide always begs to differ and tries to explain: “Oh really? To look forward to a future of hard brain work, while most people idle around waiting for the solar powered robots to get done whatever needs doing, that’s supposed to be great? Well, if this is your idea of great, what exactly would be your bad?” She has learned to trust slowbrains not to get it.

“You think purple is great? I’ll give you purple!” Aramide only shouts it in her head, because screaming at cismom leads to seriously negative consequences, as in network curfew.

She switches the new caption of herself, with the pulled tongue for additional maternal discomfort and eternal office ridicule, to that despised pest of a color.

This doesn’t even look that bad. And you hardly notice that damn earpiece.

Aramide quickly deletes all her output and switches the devices back to standby. The skin color reconfiguration she needs, for a tiny chance to make her abomination of a life slightly less miserable, is bound to be mightily expensive. Even transmom will balk at that kind of money, meaning cismom can’t be bypassed. Now is the time to behave.

“See, Akeju, like I said. She’s just like any other teenager. Always the rebel, needs a firm hand. Her likes will determine tomorrow’s world, Akeju, it’s our job to teach them manners.”

Cismom triumphant, as bad as moments get. But with a must have skin reconfiguration at stake, now is the moment to nod, politely. This leaves ugly brown business dress as stunned as intended, while a slight uptick of cismom’s left brow signals she’s smelling the rat.

Well, she’ll have to keep guessing. Aramide switches on her most polite poker face. She’s certainly not going reveal her project to cismom first. Transmom needs to be on board, their combined powers of persuasion will make all purple Aramide happen.

Lucky Number

“It’s just to get people thinking. To make them grasp the stakes, the urgency. We got it. I do, and you’re nearly there, too. The others, those who don’t care, they need a kick, to get their brains going. No one will do this for real, that would be cruel. It’s a thought experiment. People will hear, they will imagine, what it would be like. And then they will do what needs to be done…”

Neal vividly recalls Sophie arguing. She got all worked up, as she often did.

Anything could get Sophie started. How people parked their SUVs. That they were driving those SUVs in the first place, “Just to get their fat asses from home to the office and back?!” Sophie was really good at getting all worked up about stuff that was none of her business.

Like that completely ludicruous switch scenario.

Neal no longer recalls if the scene happened before or after Sophie filed for divorce, all of a sudden. They argued such a lot, in that second and last year of their marriage. It was also the last year of the old world order, in a funny coincidence. But Neal didn’t care about stuff that just happened, like world orders. You couldn’t do anything about overall circumstances, why bother?

Some things could have done with better organization, sure. A lot of things, actually. Like he himself deserving at bigger paycheck, for his impeccable performance on the job. Well, perhaps not impeccable impeccable. But definitely quite good.

Sophie wasn’t all wrong, when she said the world needed improving.

That kind of statement could even be fun, over a barbecue with the neighbors:

“The weather is foul. We’ll once again end up with fires all over the place, an no one doing one thing about it… The traffic sucks. For two stints per week at the office, you spend more time one the road as in the old days, when you had to go sit company bricks every day. But don’t expect anyone to do anything, about road congestion.  And don’t get me started on the world order…”.

Why not? Sophie wasn’t so mistaken, concerning the diagnosis.

Where she erred, badly, was in her insistence on treatment. She wanted to change the world. Young people, they’re like that. Not yet aware of the basic facts of life.

Neal should have considered this, before marrying a girl twenty five years his junior. Sophie being half his age had its merits, especially at bed time. But she could ruin an innocent man’s day with her attitudes. Worse than a project lead, the bloody kid. He wasn’t aware of that aspect, when he fell in love with the hot tempered hitch hiker in need of a bed for the night. A couple of nights.

That switch scenario scene, it will forever be with him.

Neal still feels the taste of a gum chewed beyond the limit of its citrus flavor. Bitter, plus what is probably the naturally ugly aroma of plastic. And the smell of rancid sun lotion. A week earlier, Sophie had spilled half a bottle on her way back from the supermarket. She was like that, always moving fast and breaking things.

They were standing in a traffic jam. Some idiots had blocked the highway, to demand an immediate stop to petrol fueled mobility. For the sake of the climate, officially. In practice, everyone knew such demonstrators to be thugs paid by a particular eMobility provider.

They were listening to webradio. Even a basic self driving car was beyond Neal’s means, no movie for them. He had let Sophie pick the channel, to avoid yet another fight, and she made him listen to an interview with a member Intercont Revenge Front, or IRT.

Neal had never heard of those particular lunactis.

The IRT chap was calling for an alignment of global living conditions. And demanding reparations for slavery and colonialism. And for the descendants of the perpetrators to experience the living conditions of the descendants of the victims. In a surprisingly good English that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Neal’s office.

The sophisticated language made the absurd demands worse. Neal would have preferred to hear a heavy Hispanic accent, or a black voice, instead of this traitor. Exasperated by the traffic jam, plus the foul taste and smell, Neal called the traitor a traitor, and Sophie went mad. She even endorsed that ludicruous switch scenario. Funny, in a way, considering how she died.

Fast forward five years, and a happily divorced Neal was still thankful for that episode.

At the very beginning of the nightmare they’re now supposed to call life, when all bank accounts were frozen and the whole country was offline except for one TV channel, Neal was the only one in his neighborhood to ever have heard of the IRT, the new bosses. He had been exposed to enough of Sophie’s rants to be able to anticipate and adjust. Like insider trading, minus the cash.

They of course kept their heads low, in his neighborhood. You don’t mess with what was bound to be a mighty, and super mightily armed, opponent. And everybody was anyway so busy to put a semblance of food on the table and assure a minimum supply of potable water, mostly on foot or bicycle, that there was no time to think resistance.

Somehow, they got organized, in the new lean normal. Missing the good old days, of course, but oh well… As long as you didn’t get sick, you could make do.

A lot of jobs, including Neal’s old one, evaporated. But he quickly set up shop as the neighborhood mobility and transport provider, courtesy of the collection of bikes Sophie had made him buy and couldn’t take along when she moved to a downtown flat.

Transport bike rental proved especially lucrative, as did the rickshaw service.

In the early days, Neal himself pedalled seniors to the market and sick people to the clinic. Soon he was replaced by gig pedallers. Not his idea, he wasn’t naturally prone to recruiting. Jobless people just started to loiter around his busy place, to check his customers for opportunities to make a coin. They became gig pedallers all by themselves.

With so many bikes in such heavy demand, Neal had to spruce up his repair skills and the corresponding equipment. There was always something to fix, and he got real good at it. Diversification into bike repair once again happened naturally.

Three years into the new normal, Neal was making solid neighborhood coins and eating well. Not getting rich, certainly not in a good old days sense. But his was one of the first doors taking a knock when funds were collected for charity.

All was about as good as it could get, in the new lean normal, except for health care. Getting an invite to Sophie’s funeral had rammed that particular risk home.

The birth of Sophie’s first child had gone badly. Loss of blood, a clinic short of supplies and staff, and bang, Sophie died at twenty eight, leaving her new husband with a toddler. Neal was furious at the foolish young bloke. How could he not use a condom? These were dangerous times, unsuitable to start a family. He should have taken better care of their Sophie.

Neal had pedalled all the way to the downtown cemetery, despite the risk. He felt he owed Sophie, because he wouldn’t have ended doing well without the headstart provided by what he had used to call her childish eco mania. Ever since, he has been afraid to fall sick.

Getting his number pulled for the global lottery instead came as an unforeseen shock.

Neal was of course aware, like everybody else, that this horror of an IRT pet project was ongoing. Each 1st of July, the participating household numbers were announced. Each 4th of July, they were told who would switch life with whom. Switch as in complete transition: House, jobs, possessions, everything. You were only allowed to take one bag each.

One hundred thousand households switched every year. Marginal, by global population standards. Pretty good odds never to be affected. But Neal is taking the hit.

There is a website, where you can check the location and details of all participants.

Neal only had a quick glance at the map before deciding to spare himself. There are certain things you don’t want to know, unless they’re imminent. Like with your own death. You know you’re not immortal, but that awareness is best buried. The deeper, the better.

Not even that many participants in actual war zones, but hey!? If your luck is bad enough to take part, nothing guarantees you won’t be the one idiot getting himself relocated to some poppy field in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Watch our for mines and pray…

Neal managed not to touch that map again. Having triple checked his number really got pulled, he packed his favorite clothes and waited for his assignment.

Neal’s brain didn’t need the map to imagine calamitous constellations.

What if he was switched into one of those parts of the world where rampaging child soldiers cut people’s arms, for no particular reason? Forty years back, a moron of a teacher had made his class watch a documentary, and Neal never recovered. He certainly won’t believe any of the modern fairy tales about Africa. Better living conditions than in the US? You bet…

Thinking of black, what if Neal got himself switched to one of those inner city neighborhoods where walking the streets while white could be considered an intrusion? It would be great to stay in the US, in principle. But some parts, they’re not the real thing, to put it mildly.

Always nothing but trouble, for next-door Joes like him. Neal for once missed a female presence in the house, someone to get grumpy at. Not even a dog around to kick, that sucked.

Ten minutes to go. Eight. Three. One. Click. Fucking bloody server buckling under the rush, failing to respond. The ruling morons could at least make sure to grant participants preferential access!

It took Neal twelve more minutes to discover where he was headed.

San Jose? As in San Jose, California, posh place full of nerds? That San Jose indeed. Not bad, not bad at all, for a designated location. And it gets even better.

Neal is headed for San Jose to replace one Fortunato Lopez. As in the Fortunato Lopez, first generation American son of a Venezuelan politician and founder of Desal inc? That Fortunato Lopez indeed. Everybody who likes to eat more than once a day has heard of the brains behind the desalination technology that keeps agriculture going, and Neal will now replace him.

Smiling for once, Neal takes his bag and steps out to wait for the eCarrier that will ferry him to San Jose. Bright future, here comes your man.

Drama King?

„No, Sapele, don‘t you dare. You will eat your burger box first. The whole box. Just like your sister already did. We discussed this. Now is the time, Sapele.“

Mom in parenting mode. No boy deserves such bane for dinner.

Next, she’s going to say „As I warned both of you, on the way to the diner: Fine to get us a veggie burger for a lunch-on-the-go, but you‘ll have to have that plate for dinner…“

Sapele takes a small bite of his burger box, to signal compliance.

This bloody packaging tastes as yuck as it looks cartonish. Totally unlike the rice he‘s craving. Everybody else is having rice, he‘s stuck with packaging. Not fair.

Azmia, she had a burger, too, and has rice now. She fed her burger box to a street dog, the bloody bitch. Mom didn’t notice, was too busy haggling with the eCarShare helpline, about her late return fee. And now Azmia sits there, munching rice, all smug. Not fair.

Sapele would love to rat on Azmia. But she’d take revenge. Sisters are cruel. Especially when they‘re older than you, and taller on top. Not fair.

A clever boy needs to bide his time. He has to grow up first, to teach her her lesson.

He’ll make things fair. Like the Black Panther hero in that retro movie, so old it wasn‘t even immerse tech. They were made to watch the movie in class, for history awareness. 

That was a surprisingly cool event, for a school thing. Until they had to write an essay, about minority majority casts in their historical context. Perfect way to ruin a fine movie.

Sapele ended up with one more lousy grade. Supposedly got minority majority upside down.

How the hell is a boy supposed to guess the ancient ones considered perfectly normal black people a minority? He‘s not into reading fineprint. Unless dealing with a game manual. Not fair.

„Sapele, I know that grimace. Don‘t you dare. It‘s written all over your face, how you wonder where to hide that burger box, to pretend it has been eaten. No way, young man. I’m here to watch your every bite. If there’s one thing I won’t tolerate, in this household, it’s hypocrisy around waste and environmental damage. No acting white at my dinner table, period.“

Time to take another bite. Sapele avoids looking in dad‘s direction.

Dad should ride to his rescue. When they go watch a football match, rarely enough, unfortunately, they always have food and drinks at the stadium. Without ever eating the packaging. They just dump it into the bio waste bin. Like everybody else, except mom.

Dad explained how this bio waste is fed to very happy pigs. They get turned into the sausages on offer at the stadium. „No waste, no environmental damage, Sapele. But we better don‘t discuss this with your mom. She‘s a vegan, doesn‘t see the pig point.“

Poor dad. All grown-up and tall, and still afraid of mom. Just like everybody else.

That‘s because mom‘s an expert. A social cohesion expert. A SOCE, that‘s really big.

Everybody has the same say on everything, how it‘s organized. But then a SOCE comes in, and does her thing with software, about the numbers. And she tells everybody if their idea can be done. More often than not, she tells them off, and their idea gets binned.

Mom is mighty cool. As long as you don’t end up at the receiving end of her SOCE ways.

„Sapele, mom really is watching. Just get it over with. I haven‘t got all evening.“

Now that‘s rich. Azmia would so deserve him ratting. Sapele doesn’t even need to look at her to see her raised eyebrows. Currently, they’re pink, in tune with her heavily lipsticked smirk.

Since her sixteenth birthday, Azmia is officially allowed to wear makeup.

An unfortunate development. In the old days, she was at Sapele’s mercy. He kept quiet about her smearing herself up at school, she procured games. They had what mom calls a mutually beneficial relationship for progress and a bright future.

They were on the same side, in the good old days. But now Azmia is playing at mini-mom. As if she was going to make it into university, with her grades. She‘s no SOCE material.

And that’s not just Sapele dreaming vengeful.

He overheard mom telling dad how they might need to have a word with auntie Rosie, to check if she would take Azmia. Two days a week in a beauty course, two at auntie Rosie‘s salon, that’s the plan b for his sister, if she keeps failing at school.

Azmia already smells like auntie Rosie’s beauty parlor. Each movement, each forkful of rice, sends a cloud of perfume wafting Sapele’s way. Disgusting. He can’t even smell his own sweaty shirt any more, despite having played football right up to dinner.

Feeling mom looking at him more robustly, Sapele quickly takes another tiny bite, his gaze firmly locked on the window. No one can blame him for that. It‘s quite a view.

They reside at the top, thirty floors up from the ground, courtesy of mom‘s SOCE might.

Sitting at the dinner table, you get a bad angle. There’s nothing to see but sky, currently darkening fast.

But if you stand up, you can see all across high Lagos. All the way to where low Lagos melts into the sea in a thinning twinkle of lights. That‘s the view from the kitchen.

On the other side, in the bedroom Sapele has to share with his sister, because mom insists on adhering to the ten square meters per person rule, and also needs space for her desk, you can see all the way to the refugee camp. So little light at night, for so many people.

When he‘s laying awake and trying to control his breathing, not to get called a masturbating dickhead by his sister, Sapele focuses on the camp. It‘s so scary, especially in the dark, chills you down your man faster than anything else you could think of.

Just imagine, rows and rows of containers with hordes and hordes of light people. In the dark of night. Even the police don‘t dare drive into the camp at night. That tells you a lot.

The social cohesion teacher always waffles about how light skin doesn‘t turn people bad. 

According to her, they suffer from circumstances. „Brutality breeds brutality,“ she says. „No one wants them around, everybody is fed up with all the rationing, and they get even less than we do. No wonder they‘re not cheerful. Turns them mean. And it‘s only some of them anyway…“

Little does she know. Sapele‘s football coach, he accepted a kid from the camp into their team, Emanuel. Zero English, impossible to talk to, but a pretty good player anyway.

Sapele liked Emanuel, for his good passes. But then Chioke‘s lunch box got stolen, with all his food. Never before had anything such happened. No one saw Emanuel stealing. But it must have been him, because there were never no thefts, before his arrival. And he ran, without even trying to argue. Proof positive it was him. Pity to lose his passes. But that‘s camp people for you.

Oops, mom and dad are done arguing about whether they might apply for a vacation voucher. Sapele‘s compliance is about to be checked again. Time to take another bite from that box.

If only the bloody thing wasn’t so huge. Edible lunch box with a waft of patchouli, if that doesn’t send you vomiting, you’re ready for the territories.

The recolonization of the territories, Sapele‘s bright future.

He didn‘t tell dad yet, because he can‘t be trusted not to tell mom, but he‘s all set for a career in the Reconquest Legion.

Sapele‘s bright future came about in microbiology class.

The were doing basic genome analysis, on their own blood. First the standard tests, to check if they found what it says on their ID chips. Basic stuff, like allergy and cancer risk factors.

Next they performed the Reconquest Legion tests, for Fog Blindness Immunity and some minor robustnesses, like radioactivity tolerance. That was cool, made them feel like real recruits.

Fog Blindness Immunity, or FBI, that’s so rare. And so precious, like a million holiday vouchers.

And Sapele is FBI. The microbiology teacher at first didn‘t believe him, insisted on repeating the test. And again, because his result was exactly the same as Sapele‘s. 

All three tests confirmed Sapele to be FBI. He‘s prime Reconquest Legion material.

There‘s no way to protect yourself against infection with the Fog Blindness prion. It‘s so small, even full body gear doesn‘t keep you safe. And there is neither vaccine nor cure.

The prion is assumed to have evolved as a side effect of the Global Cooling Initiative.

In the old days, there were no SOCE, and bang, people got a big one wrong.

They made all those artificial clouds to stop the seas from rising. That didn‘t work all that well in the first place. The water had to come back down eventually, and the floods resumed. But the Fog Blindness Prion was an even worse outcome. It thrives in the cool regions, making them unfit for habitation. Which totally sucks, because that’s where the best farm land is.

„Give me that, Sapele, and help yourself to some rice. We can’t have you going to bed on an empty stomach, with the upcoming match.“

Dad, sacrificing himself to save Sapele. He might only be a sustainable mobility maintenance operator, meaning he spends his days doing nothing more fanciful than sweeping bicycle lanes, and filling in the occasional pothole, but tonight he’s Sapele’s hero.

„Don’t you dare give in to our little drama king, Somto. This is a perfectly edible box, and Sapele needs to learn that eating on the go comes with a cost. I won’t have you… Oh come on, Somto, really now? So it’s two boys in the household, now, instead of a husband and boy combo?“

At least mom is laughing. She can’t help it. Dad really does look funny, with the whole burger box stuffed into his mouth in one go, to avoid getting forced to hand it back. He can’t close his lips, never mind chew. A picture now, and he’d be sure to go viral.

„Dad, stop it, that’s disgusting! Your cheeks look like uncle Rosh’s fake boobs. Stop it, dad…“

Azmia‘s laugh is cut short by mom going full mighty pissed off SOCE: „Don‘t you dare, you impertinent little pest. That‘s auntie Rosie for you, as you perfectly well know. Auntie Rosie has had her surgery, and her paperwork, done years ago. She’s entitled to your respect, and I won’t be tolerating transphobic slander at my dinner table. Talking of nos: You’re in no hurry, young lady. Not going out until I have seen that homework, and it better be good…“

Dad and Sapele exchange glances. Happy lucky bloke glances.

Rejection, yippee!

Anyone else out there breathing a sigh of relief when a standard submission response hits the inbox?

It’s so good to get a rejection.

  • No more need to steady yourself for the kind of comprehensively critical appraisal beta-readers tend to provide. You look better without that fake frozen grin, and you know it.
  • Bye bye style sales pitch, welcome back limitation awareness. You’d love your stuff to read as smoothly as the books you adore and admire, but oh well…
  • No opportunity to declare your plot the best idea since the invention of croissants or jollof rice (or sliced bread, if you insist).  “Holes? That’s nothing but plenty of opportunities to use your imagination!” Never a fine moment…
  • No need to get all defensive about your cast. This is 2018. Every civilised person is fine with non-white, non-straight characters frolicking around in non-OECD  locations. Of course they are. Yes. I insist. This can’t be the reason for the rejection. Or can it? No, impossible. Not in 2018. That would be a really bad sign. No!

Rejections are great. They spare you a lot of tension.

But there can be too much of a good thing, even of stress avoidance.

Look at this submission query for a 70 k words novel to a publisher requiring a minimum of 80k for this format, and the corresponding rejection:

Submission of „Guilty until proven“ (Science Fiction)

Dear all,

thanks for a submission policy providing a newbie with a chance to shine, or make a fool of myself.

Guilty until proven“ is an imminent future tale taking place in rural France, Lagos (Nigeria), Djibouti, Agadir (Morocco) and a virtual reality used for penitentiary purposes.

Depending on how you look at the cast, it’s either boringly familiar, as in plenty of well educated English speakers, or can be considered pretty diverse, as far as biographies, lifestyles, gender, race and sexual orientation are concerned.

There’s quite a lot happening, including some romance and occasional mentions of violent events, but this material would be hard to turn into an action or adult movie, too many thoughts and ambivalent emotions.

As you will have noticed by now, the style is on the peculiar side, thanks to my very fluent third language English polished over twenty years of scientific writing. No idea if this bug can be declared a feature, as in ‚refreshingly unorthodox‘, ‚outside the native speaker box‘ or even ‚as addictive as junk food‘, as one of my beta readers once kindly put it.

Last not least: Apologies for falling short of your 80,000 words threshold. „Guilty until proven“ was already nearing completion when I came across your call for submissions and I’m lousy at padding.

Thanks a lot for any feedback you might be willing to provide,

Kind regards,

Troim

Pretty badly written. Itch to splice some of those long sentences. Typical evening me deciding to give conventional submission a quick try, following a prompt in the fediverse, before going my usual Smashwords. I recall the rationale sounding roughly like this:

“They don’t require the agent I don’t have. Nothing to lose but a little time. Not even that, if I submit for copyright protection in parallel (which of course I did, tend to hedge my bets).”

Nothing to lose? Well, now look at this rejection:

Dear Troim Kryzl,

Thank you for considering <name of the publisher> for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel your work would be right for <name of the publisher> at this time.

However, remember we have rejected works that went on to be published by other companies, and other publishers originally rejected some of our best-known writers.

We wish you the best of luck in finding an enthusiastic publisher for your work and in your ongoing writing career, and please feel free to try us again.

Best wishes & regards,

<First Name> <Last Name>

Associate Editor
<Name of the publisher>

Very professionally courteous, reads real nice.

Most probably their standard answer, however hopeless or promising the material. My output is bound to be on the drop-it side. I’m ultra niche, in many ways. Let’s just forget the episode.

Or is this supposed to be an encouragement? It’s definitely longer than the others. But in the age of copy-and-paste, that doesn’t mean anything. Well aware of how I proceed in my day job. Save as new version, copy a bit here, rephrase a bit there. This associate editor is a fellow professional, bound to proceed in exactly the same way. Time to move on.

Rejections are great, mostly.

Anyone out there who recognises the wording and can please confirm it’s a certain publishers standard rejection? Please?

Chapters are for sissies

Having declared “Guilty until proven”, my dime novel number five, sufficiently rewritten and done, I retrospectively wonder about the structure.

One more LinkedIn forum discussion got me started. Lots of real, proper, professional writers are exchanging extremely well founded views on chapter lengths. One is supposed to consider an improbable number of variables  defining the optimum: Genre traditions, attention span of the target audience, stylistic requirements, hardcopy publishing constraints,…

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. An me never not even noticing the stuff I read comes in chapters. With hindsight, I’m one of the readers who tend to finish a chapter. As I often read at night, I do indeed lose focus if the author belongs to the long chapter crowd and often need to reread a couple of pages on the following night, but this never bothered me. If I like it, I cope. If I don’t, shorter chapters won’t help.

Seems this is a very amateur view. And not doing proper chapters in my dime novels is an embarrassment. But I like announcing a switch of locations by using an explicit title. The resulting structure displays some of the properties of proper chapters, but they vary in length: At the start of the novel, they can add up to dozens of pages, well beyond maximum professional length, because I need to introduce the cast and its stage. Whereas in the endgame, there’s a far faster switch, and my not-really chapters shrink to a few pages.

I’m hopeless, as a writer. Or can this lack of consistency be considered style? That feels nice. Chapters are for sissies.

Match over?

“You’re anyway supposed to have started at age six. To make it into the top, imperative to start early. Real early. Which you didn’t, Lano. To the best of my knowledge, and loads of knowledge there is, with all the jerseys I get to wash these days, over and over and over again, you started at eight. Eight, Lano. Two more than six. You’ll never…”

He should be well on his way to practice. Instead, he gets an earful of this ignorance. She’s got no clue. He’s destined to become the best player the world ever witnessed. That’s a fact. Coach said so. That same Coach who will be mad at him for arriving late. If he misses practice, he might not play on Sunday. A catastrophe, to be prevented at all costs.

Lano considers killing the obstacle. Unfortunately, she’s huge, a mountain of purple velvet home dress blocking the door. Too big to handle, even for the most gifted of athletes. He’s tall, for an eleven year old. But not tall enough, yet.

Killing her would also be considered an overreaction. “You need to learn not to lose your temper, Lano,” Coach said. “You can’t keep blowing up like that all over the place, for nothing. Save that temper for the pitch and your attacking, Lano, and you’ll go far.”

Coach always speaks true. Sometimes, you don’t like what he says, but true it still is. Like with how to kick the ball to make it go not straight. You think “Now that’s bullshit!”, because how Coach tells it can’t work. You still do as told, because that’s how you behave, at practice. And boom, you score. From the corner right into the goal. Coach was shockingly right, like adults never are. Coach is so special. Coach proves you can grow up into something worth being.

“… you can’t just play every day. There’s more to life than balls. Match over, young man. And now, you will sit down at that table and do your homework. And when you’re done, the dishes need washing. Oh yes, the dishes. I saw you, Lano, skipping your turn at the broom. Don’t know how you made your poor little brother do your chore, but you’ll sure as hell do his in return. And when you’re done with the dishes, you go find your dad and check if he needs help…”

Despicable. Trying to keep him from practice, and getting everything else wrong, too.

Fari offered to do the dishes, in return for Lano keeping Haro in check. By age, Haro should be in Lano’s class. His parents kept him at home for three more years, considering him too fragile for school. Now, he’s no longer fragile and does attend. Being one head taller and double the weight of his classmates, he makes them hand over anything he fancies.

Lano told him to stop that, at least with Fari, and preferably with the other kiddies, too. At first, Haro screamed, because he didn’t like his head pushed into the toilet bowl. Lano kept the pressure steady and explained, patiently, how they would repeat this exercise every day, unless first the screaming and next the bullying of the kiddies stopped. He also explained how informing an adult would be a bad idea. Haro is not exactly bright, might have ratted by mistake. Lano’s forceful technique and patient approach worked, just like Coach foretold.

“… so this would be the moment where you drop that sports bag, sit down and get the bloody hell going on that homework. Lano, one more look like that, and I’ll have to tell your dad you rebelled again. You know how your dad won’t like that, and all the good he thinks of that stupid law supposed to prevent one from teaching one’s own kids manners…”

He should have opened the window. Three jumps – desk, window frame, sidewalk. With a little luck, he wouldn’t even damage her bloody vitaweeds. Easy exercise, but only with an open window. Coach is so right, when he insists you also need to think. Mental note always to open that window first thing after coming home from school.

With the window currently closed, there’s only one alternative, a barely feasible option. Pretend to go for the tight right side, making her move there even more, switch directions at the last moment to squeeze through on the left. With the sports bag as battering ram, this might just work. If she catches him, he’s in for serious trouble, but with a match at stake… “No risk, no fun” says Coach. Keeping that motto well in mind, Lano takes the plunge.

He hurt his elbow on the door frame and had to shake of her grip a bit too vigorously, judging by the pitch of her screaming, but he made it out of his room and into the corridor. Piece of cake to outrace her to the front door, open it, close it before she gets there, and run.

He’s really late, because of this stupid maternal interference.

Racing through the heavy traffic on main road, Lano relies on the safety features of the autonomous electric vehicles to clear his path. They have to brake, when confronted with a pedestrian, saving him time. They’ll also record his locator chip information and denounce him as traffic vandal. As a repeat offender, he’s in for some more civic duty. No problem. The artificial intelligence handling minor offenses will look at his profile, identify his football playing as the one bright spot to build a future on and assign sports facility maintenance work. On his last conviction, he had to clean the locker room of the professionals and met Dayé. Dayé! In person! And he posed with him!

If only his stupid skimpy dad made enough to buy him proper bump sole sneakers instead of this second hand shit. It’s just four kilometers, but he can’t keep up his top speed for more than eighth hundred meters before feeling the strain. By the time he reaches the practice pitch, the oomph will be gone from his legs, meaning he might not play on Sunday. All because of that stupid fat bitch.

His team is already on the pitch, all dressed up. Legalistically speaking, they’re not really his team. “Thirteen year olds won’t take an eleven year old as their captain, Lano, you’ve got to understand that.” Coach explained. “They’ll do your bidding on the pitch, because of your temper and skill, but I can’t formally declare you captain. That’s the price to pay, for playing ahead of your age. Tough luck, but I trust you to take it like a man.” Which Lano does, of course. 

Turns out this is Lano’s lucky day after all.

First he gets to rest his strained legs. Coach arrives even later than him because a group of stoned pedestrians blocked the only access road to the posh gated community where he lives. They’re demanding access to drinking quality tap water for everyone everywhere, not just the the upper million. Very extreme radicals, even though it’s a nice idea, when you think about it.

Next, Lano finally performs on his free kicks. He has been practicing on his own, in the dark of very early morning. On the empty plot next to the roaring desalination plant, the only spot where no one minds the noise. And the practice pays off. His impeccable performance confirms he will not only be playing on Sunday, he’ll also be in charge of any free kicks. 

Finally, when they’re nearly done with practice, Lano’s dad comes rushing, daring to interrupt Coach’s closing pep talk. Such a shame, to be blighted by a badly behaved parental.

But the misfortune soon gives way to the brightest of developments:

Coach shouts back at Lano’s dad, not mincing his words at all. About how it’s a crime, a serious crime, to try to interfere with what is obviously a “one-in-a-billion vocation”. And Lano’s dad to go: “One-in-a-billion vocation? Well, if that’s what you think, he’s all yours. Just come get him, better right here, right tonight than tomorrow. Good riddance, and good luck with him.”

And so it happened. The adults did some kind of paperwork, and Lano got to sleep one night at Coach’s home. A really posh place, with thick carpets and all. And the bit about the good tap water got confirmed, but they still drink bottled. The next day, a driver came for him. He was transferred to the Academy, and his career took off.

“One-in-a-billion vocation.” Lano always recalls this moment, to focus. How his first coach said it. So passionate, so one thousand percent sure to be right.

A lot has happened, in the twenty years since.

Lano no longer considers any of the many coaches he has more endured than enjoyed a deity. He’s on excellent terms with his parentals. They had a point, insisting on a life beyond football. He had a point, insisting on this career. Match nil, friends.

“One-in-a-billion vocation.” Lano takes a deep breath, and scores the penalty. Two more goals to go, to get them to the next round. Two weeks from now, he might be a happy man and a World Champion. Or just a happy man. Both options fine with him. Match over?

Idyll in Transit

“Where the hell is that bloody voucher? Tantra! Don’t you dare activate that! Select exit now. Now! That’s it. And from here on you keep your hands well away from that interface while daddy does the needful. Both your arms on the armrest, that’s a good girl. Pat, can’t you at least keep an eye on the kids, while I chase that bloody voucher?”

‘At least’. And in the panicky kind of resentful voice. Hector silently curses himself.

The marriage counselbot was adamant, after listening to a couple of hours of their best-ofs. It’s expressions like ‘at least’, ‘just this once’ and ‘ever’ that would already have gotten them divorced, if it wasn’t for the sake of the kids. Totally harmless words, but apparently considered insults by ladies. Stupid oversensitive bitches. Saying that aloud would be a proper insult, deserving an apology. But a man has to do what a man was told to do:

“Sorry, darling, bit on edge at the moment, no offense. I’m just so mad at that bloody voucher. And the heat in here doesn’t help. How about a nice cozy candle light dinner tonight? At that fancy place with the dolphin interface, the one I declared out of reach last year? We can afford a little luxury this season, and wouldn’t that be a nice start into the holiday?”

By the look on her face, the compensation is considered acceptable. Hector will have to volunteer for one of the stretch projects to catch up on that kind of expense, but peace is worth a little effort. Taking a deep breath, he once again focuses on his task.

He managed to call up the overall holiday schedule. It’s all there above his left hand, a mostly pastel hologram of their journey. The first day is in bright colors, he got the date right. The trip phase is flashing. But no sign of the voucher supposed to activate the transiator.

They have been standing in their four cages on the high tech merry-go-round for what feels like ages. Each of them uses the height adjusted support and leans against the wall, facing the 3D interface, a shimmering column at the centre. They have been following the instructions to the letter, but no sign of the voucher supposed to activate the transiator.

Bored, Tantra extended her chubby arm to reach into the column with her tiny hand. This triggered some kind of setup mode. The stupid kid might have fried their brains, without his intervention. But you can’t blame an eight year old. At that age, the little angels are entitled to relentless parental supervision. Very inquisitive, eight year olds.

This bloody 3D board game doesn’t seem to do anything except telling him to get going. Which is exactly what he would love to do. Shifting the hologram left, right and left again doesn’t achieve anything, confirming the results of his previous attempts. Same for turning it upside down. Reaching into it makes the picture wobble, and that’s it.

“Hec, honey, afraid doing this again and again won’t help. Something must be broken. We should really call the assistant now. I’d rather not run into bladder trouble, you know? The mere thought of peeing into these horrible diapers they force us to wear…”

Hector bites his lip, while still poking with his right index at the flashing take-off icon, to no effect. Pat has a point. The longer they stand here, the higher the bladder risk. But what will feel like a two week holiday to them will still last a mere two hours in real time. The human bladder can handle two and a half hours easy. Except in a traffic jam. And nowadays, he also rarely sleeps through the night. Isn’t that his bladder signaling fullness, again? No, he went three times already. Probably just nerves. Why can’t this bloody voucher show up?

Lost for options, Hector squeezes the bright red ‘help’ ball at the top of the hologram. The response is as immediate as terrifying. A low pitched female voice better suited to perform porn groans very slowly and calmly goes: “Thank you for using NovoNerv Trips and Tours. Biologically based intelligence will soon be available for support. While you wait, please allow me to introduce you to some of our new products. This month’s special offer…”

Hector and Pat stare at each other in silent horror. Never are they going to keep the kids still and quiet throughout what is very obviously a sales pitch bound to last half an hour, at least. No need to talk. Hector squeezes the yellow ‘exit’ ball as fast as he can reach it. Which immediately redelivers the initial configuration. They are seriously stuck.

In theory, it would now be Pat’s turn to come up with a plan. She had proposed to call for help, a debacle. She should redeem herself by coming up with a better idea now. Instead, she’s guaranteed to do what she does best. And here she comes:

“Remember, Hec, when I told you my doubts, about using this brand new technology? ‘We’ve never been early adopters’, I said, ‘why this rush now?’ Just to save a couple of glocs? We could have gone by good old virtual immersion, but no…”

‘A couple of glocs’! Hector only just manages not to hiss back “More than you’re making per month, lady.” For a party of four, a price tag difference of three hundred glocs per person adds up to a juicy sum. Before counting in that you get a lot more holiday for the gloc with the new technology. A full fourteen days, instead of the usual ten. Four more days of getting blamed might not feel like such a good deal right now, but still…

“Daddy, why can’t you at least try what Tantra suggested? She’s good at interfaces, you now? At school, she tricked the vending machine into an infinite loop, and we all got free Slugballs. Fizzgums would have been better, but still. Please, daddy?”

That’s so Bora. Hector can’t help melting, when his well behaved ten year old appeals to his golden heart. Always speaking up for her little sister, sweet Bora. If only Tantra could be more like her. Hacking vending machines now?! He will have to look into this. But not yet. Now he needs to get them going. With the courage of the desperate, he extends his left hand into the column.

Did the machine sigh? Probably not. But the flash was there all right, triggered once the holiday hologram was fully immersed into the central column. And here they are, all four of them, standing on the Clubbers Marina boardwalk. In holiday attire, without diapers. Victory!

Two weeks later, they stand in the departure lounge of their hotel, watching the last ten minutes trickle away on the once again activated hologram.

Pat just admitted Hector chose well, for once. She didn’t say ‘for once’, but the tone of her voice clearly sugggested she thought it. And she’s not done commenting:

“The illusion definitely feels more real than with good old virtual immersion. That transiator thing, whatever it’s doing to the brain, it does it well. Even wonder if the illusion isn’t a bit too perfect. 

What do you think, Hec? I mean, like when you crashed down, from that banana boat. You look like real hurting, on the video.

Your mom sent a message, all worried, asking if you’re in hospital. Poor old thing, she really doesn’t get modern technology. Wonder how much longer we can let her…

Tantra! Where did you get this? Will you put that behind you, immediately! I told you, you can’t bring stuff over. You put it down? Out of reach of the machine? Good girl.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Hec, we really need to consider, for your mom…”

Hector, all zen after two weeks away from the office, smiles at his wife. He doesn’t resent her posting the stupid video. It’s better that way.

Back at the office, he’ll be able to show off both his sense of humor and the best moment of this holiday, him riding a banana boat amid three twenty something ladies, one more attractive than the other. He flew off at the next sharp turn, but right up to that point, he was in heaven. That moment was well worth bruises that forced him to sleep on his belly for the rest of the holiday. 

“Daddy, why can’t we go hyperlocal? That didn’t sound hard. We just need to make sure everything we buy is made or grown no more than ten miles from home. And you can still go to the office, even if it’s twenty five miles away. Sharpy said you get a permit, if you need to commute to make a living. As long as the vehicle is solar powered…”

Time for Hector to exert paternal authority and stop that nonsense from budding:

“No way, Bora, darling. I won’t have some stupid fish telling me to eat algae with algae followed by a dessert made of, guess what? Algae, of course. This is not what I call living. And your mom will never tolerate some ugly lumps of recycled plastics for furniture.

Pat, I wonder whether I should file a complaint, concerning that episode. One moment, you’re enjoying your seafood. The next, out of the blue, some stupid fish tries to turn your kids into vegan eco terrorists. This calls for a refund, don’t you think?”

Pat does look appreciative, but an unusually rebellious Bora shoots back:

“Sharpy and Schroedinger are dolphins, daddy, not fish. And they say what they say in the real world, if you travel to their sea conventional and talk to them through a real communicator. Generations of disrespectful landlubbers just like us ruined their sea…”

‘Their sea’. Property rights for fish. Even if Bora is right to remind him these fish are sea mammals,  property rights for mere animals are a malignant figment of eco terrorist imagination. Time for Hector to get his favorite daughter back on track:

“Enough of this nonsense, Bora. Dolphins are animals, they don’t understand priorities like we do. If they were as intelligent as the eco fanatics say, wouldn’t they engage in more sophisticated conversation, instead of rambling on and on about how the sea is supposed to taste all bad these days? And it’s not as if they were eating algae, either.”

Proud of his point, and of having made the wannabe eco warrior shut up, Hector leans back. The flash will strike any second now, according to the hologram. And tomorrow, there’s that peer review at the office. Lucky the kids who only go back to school. Perhaps he should…

Diapers? Diapers indeed, and mercifully dry. But a strong urge suggests they’re at risk of not staying that way much longer. Hector quickly exits his cage to head for the toilets. Pat is the mom, her job to handle any post-transiator troubles the kids might be experiencing.

Later that night, in the privacy of her sleeping cubicle, Tantra finally gets to admire her prey.

Four silvery white sea shells. So beautiful, and all hers.

Because dad wouldn’t listen and learn, about the souvenir function. Each participant was entitled one souvenir, options identified by a discreetly blinking ‘s’. Different types of shells and rocks were proposed, as well as boring adult stuff like pottery, perfume and whiskey. Tantra isn’t a big talker. She once again didn’t manage to explain before dad told her to shut up. This got her the shells. Sometimes, a techno-clueless dad is a nice-to-have feature.

Black Hat Hack

„I‘ve got it! Listen to this one: „Conventional auto-black turns you tan-wreck? Never again: A new you with Lagos blue.‘ That‘s good. Powerful. Suggestive. We‘re done, team.“

Riba Shi leans back on his lounger, a fluffy white affair. The guru on his cloud has spoken. His virtual reality glove points at the bright future, a larger than life 3D representation of a bottle of their new product taking centre stage. 

Taru Van squeezes the steering wheel adorning her own lounger, a red sports-car. Never no criticism to be uttered in a brainstorming session. Not even when the ultimate poser comes up with the worst slogan ever, and expects you to applaud.

Smile. Focus on doing better.

Let someone else stop that phrase from ruining the prospects of a perfectly viable product.

Not easy, in the fifth hour of a pre-launch meeting that was supposed to last ninety minutes. 

Taru Van normally cherishes the forty second floor view. Today, watching the sun glide into the glittering Lagos Lagoon is insufficient compensation for the ongoing hardship. 

Seven of them steaming, faces gleaming despite the perfect chill.

Production reported upscaling issues. Business as usual a this stage. What works fine for a one hundred liter lab container might not produce the same results in a ten thousand liter tank. Adjustments needed to be made here, there, and at one more step. As if anyone not involved in the actual manufacturing process cared. But it‘s mandatory to pretend to listen, while checking messages or compiling the groceries shopping list for the weekend.

Unless you‘re over-diligent Quality Control. Their representative, the new guy, listened for real. He didn‘t like what he heard and countered with an impromptu thirty minute stand-up. Something about potential shelf life issues caused by all those last minute twists, including a most deplorable one initiated by Financial insisting on cheaper packaging. The scene sent Taru Van wondering if the new guy will last long enough to make it worthwhile to memorize his name.

International distribution contributed unexpected regulatory requirements. Some minor markets have funny ideas, concerning product specifications. Compliance not achievable at short notice, unless additional resources are made available. Proposal to reduce the initial launch scope. Once the product is established in the trendsetting mega-cities, the backwater clients will clamor for access, and the regulators will go flexible. Business as usual, again. And Financial of course demanded additional savings, to make up for the lost earnings from the Americas, the Europes and Japan.

This triggered another angry rant from Quality Control. Absolutely no way for them to postpone the purchase of some expensive equipment. Taru Van noticed how attentively Financial listened. A bad sign. Typically leads to a spreadsheet. First stage of doom. The new guy in Quality Control excels at digging his own grave. Definitely no need for her to learn that name.

All this was bad, and excruciatingly long-winded. Taru Van suffered. But compared to the currently ongoing disaster, the first phase of the meeting was a holiday.

The latest management fad from Cairo has wormed its way into the occasionally cloudy mind of their technically incompetent but extremely charismatic CEO:

„Only creative tasks will retain the best talent. Provide them with the chance to shine, and they’ll stay. In-house all the creative tasks currently outsourced to advertising agencies.“ 

At thirty five, Taru Van has seen her fair share of fads foam up, and trickle back down.

She‘s old enough to recall last century style meetings, with chairs around a conference table instead of a 3D projection area. Her internship at a small health food company led by an ancient eco-warrior taught her more history than twelve years of virtual immersion at school. That boutique insisted on keeping equipment until it broke down. Which chairs and tables do far less frequently than 3D equipment. An obsolete meeting culture persisted.

When Taru Van moved on to a proper job, her new colleagues called her first encounter with a virtual reality glove the best office comedy ever. She had to endure a lot of jokes, until the next generation of devices was rolled out and everybody had to acknowledge that she’s actually quite good at technology. She has survived her share of fads and will survive more.

But middle management sloganeering?! That‘s never going to work.

Oh, good. Klen Fado from R&D is doing the needful to stop Riba Shi‘s stupid phrase.

Taru Van wants to sleep at home tonight. She needs a slogan.

Creativity 101, let your mind wander.

Without personalized loungers, their forebears had to make do with variations in business attire, to express their inner selves. The likes of Riba Shi wore broad, aggressively colored ties. Ladies were provided with slightly more choice. An early Taru Van would have gone business vamp.

A bright red dress, in sharp contrast with her black skin. Flashy, in a cute, outmoded way.

But wearing the usual aluminiumish suit on her sports car lounger, that‘s far more comfortable. Safety and hygiene would also have been issues, with legacy attire. And who‘d dare go without functional garb, when every street corner is plastered with posters reminding citizens: „You like to breathe? You hate to bake? Wear functional, for a good ambiance!“

Creativity 101 strikes. Totally unlike lightening. Taru Van clears her throat and goes:

„Klen Fado, Riba Shi, apologies for interrupting your perfectly fascinating exchange, but how about this permutation: ‚Lagos blue. Wear it. Feel it. Live it.‘“

Taru Van did it. Their faces tell it all. Five displays of relief, one case of badly concealed hatred.

The appreciative comments come flooding:

„Without even mentioning it makes you look like naturally black people? That‘s clever. The lighties are going to love it. Already hear them lying: ‚It‘s a wellness thing, really. Would never aspire to conceal my natural skin color. Not my way. The darkening, that‘s just a side effect.“

„People will wonder, what‘s behind that slogan. We want them to guess. To get them emotionally engaged. And ready for the product they’re about to discover. Sometimes, you need to gate crash. Sometimes, you better sneak in through the back door.“

„What I really like is how we don‘t even deign compare with conventional darkeners. Auto-black, that‘s basically the concept of cooking oil applied to humans. Sick, plain sick. Millions dying too early, because of all this sun-bathing and the cancers it triggers. People don’t want to turn crusty. They don’t insist on premature death. They long for dark. Totally different game…“

Klin Fado from R&D in passionate mode, that‘s going to take a while.

Taru Van has heard it all, many times, and lets her mind wander once again.

She can‘t help wondering how the aliens feel about this scene, if they‘re listening in.

The upper floor neighbors, as they‘re mostly referred to nowadays, are assumed to have access to all virtual reality equipment. That‘s where they show up, once or twice a year.

As dark skinned women, with African or South Asian looks. The scene always unfolds according to the same script: The nightly entertainment of some innocent middle class family gets interrupted by a thirty second statement urging them to make the world a better place: „We have this dream…”

Same exhortation, for fifty years. The world obviously isn‘t a good enough place yet.

Despite the substantial efforts triggered by the persistent neighborly interest.

The aliens never threaten to use force. But signals scientifically certified as coming from one and the same very distant spot are scary. Even more so when there is exactly nothing, no potential source whatsoever, at that spot. Not even according to the most advanced instruments.

Superior technology taking an interest in local affairs, that’s not negligible.

Governments, supranational institutions and charities dutifully devised policies. And a global multitude of individuals decided not to end up on the wrong side of the upper floor neighbors. Showing off receipts for donations and diligently paid taxes replaced conspicuous consumption as status symbol. And everybody suddenly longed to be black.

That obsession with skin color strikes Taru Van as odd. The aliens manifest themselves as black women. Why the craze about just one of their properties? It’s perfectly possible that being female beats complexion. But global opinion, men and women alike, went the other way.

Taru Van’s father always entertains family gatherings with the anecdote of his first skin darkener client. A regular customer at his convenience shop, a lady with not so dark skin, had bought one tube of lightener per week for years. One day, she suddenly asked if by any the chance the opposite would be available. Preferably without having to sunbath, because heat caused her discomfort. From one week to the next, she had switched aspirations.

„… if you take the numbers seriously, sunbathing in public should be prohibited. We did it for smoking, we did it for unassisted driving, we wouldn’t dream of allowing anyone to operate an internal combustion engine outside of a carefully ventilated museum,…“

Klen Fado‘s voice turns shrieky when passion strikes. Unpleasant. Has to be endured.

A mind has to think. Taru Van tells hers to contemplate a really weird scenario:

If ever the upper floor neighbors turned out to be a black hat hacker exploit, would people switch back? After so many years? Would anyone dare display lack of respect?

Taru Van has endured so much white whining, about black privilege and presumably denied opportunities, she’s sure certain she’d never walk that road. Not even if she experienced actual, verifiable discrimination. Claiming special treatment, that’s so undignified.

Silence? Klen Fado done? A nod from Riba Shi? All is well that ends well – dinner ahead.