Category Archives: Words to go

Short stories

Just this once?

„Oh no, please, Martha. I don’t want to go. I don’t need to go, so I don’t want to go. Herbert, he only goes every second week. Me, I went three times already this week. This is more than enough. I totally don’t need to go. Come on, let’s check my levels…”

Martha exerts maximum restraint.

When Paul is like this, she itches to shout at him, like a man would.

This Discovery Channel documentary was so right, about basic similarities. At some level, men and women are less different than generally assumed. Aggressive impulses, that’s no male prerogative. Women are just better at redirecting destructive energies towards useful goals. What a difference such a tiny detail makes.

“… Really and honestly sure here, Martha. Why aren’t you answering? Can’t you at least look at the numbers, please? It’s all here, on the scale. That level amounts to nothing, practically. With this, why would I have to spend the day…”

Taking advantage of her bad vibes, Martha gives the water tank spigot one more twist. Voilà, she did it, the precious liquid gets released. That’s how a woman does things. 

Looking forward to her cup of coffee, Martha wonders if she should grant Paul the exception he craves. One day of leave, that’s not that much. Sibyl does keep Herbert at home every second week, despite occasional spikes in his charts. Seems to be safe enough.

“… Martha, please. This device proves I don’t need to go. Look, it’s totally below the red line. This yellow is as good as green. And consider how I’m not losing my temper one bit, even though you won’t have a look. Skipping just one day, that’s nothing…

This coffee is delicious. And Paul wouldn’t brandish his wristy at her if the readings weren’t fine. His pleading is genuine, too. No veering off into demands. He’s no monster. No need for taming with him.

There was this GLO infotainment piece, about how women can go bad. Real bad, as in maiming, and killing even. Ever since she listened to this, Martha wonders if they’re doing the right thing.

Laws can be wrong. Like in the past, when traveling by air was legal. State-sponsored flying, as if anybody needed to go anyplace. And the forebears weren’t just sending people around. Even flowers travelled by plane. Flowers! Laws can be so wrong.

“… Martha, please? Just this one day? I can do whatever homework, too, no problem. Just please don’t make me go there. I hate the place. Not hating as in going wild, of course not. Just the light kind of hating, like you would prefer not to go to the office…”

Savoring the last drop of coffee, Martha once again notices the stain above the zinc and reaches a decision. Civic education is wrong and Sibyl is right.

There’s absolutely no need for an outstandingly clever wife to force her perfectly civil husband to attend testosterone remediation courses every single day.

Herbert and Paul won’t go bad. In the postwar years, the benighted people of that age meant to do good, but they erred. That wall needs painting and Paul gets his exception. Just this once.

OS Update Anxiety

„We really need to do this, Aglan? On April 1st? I mean, I’m not superstitious, not at all, not pure advanced science me. But what kind of Operating System release plan is this? You just don’t schedule important activity for April 1st…”

Hearing herself sound so unacceptably, unwomanly plaintive, Iosana quickly adds:

“… The old fashioned, village kind of folksy people, they might look at the date, declare the announcement a joke and kick it into the delete bin. It’s just not responsible. This is supposed to be the century of plan-for-the-worst-case-and-go-one-up!”

Better. Getting angry at that stupid slogan devised by even more stupid central infrastructure providers who get everything worth messing with most stupidly wrong won’t change the release plan. But getting angry feels right.

Aglan looks expectant, waiting for her to pursue her rant.

His posture could be considered appropriate. He’s being talked to by his spouse and listens, that’s good. But his lack of bother, that’s offensive. Not one drop of sweat on his high forehead. His hands folded behind his head, and not even a hint of a darker armpit area.

This turquoise shirt is tight. It wasn’t designed for a guy who won the gym addict award at the lab. If Aglan was shedding body fluids, it would show. Unless he finally had his metabolism upgraded.

Aglan certainly wouldn’t tell her, after decades of vociferous opposition to the practice. No family gathering complete without him finding an excuse to preach to the heathens:

“Don’t get yourself implants. Don’t get started on metabolic upgrades. Millenia of evolution provided us with a pretty robust body that holds up nicely for a good fifty years. Back in the days of the ozone shield and the stable magnetic field, people even made it to one hundred years. Totally unenhanced, one hundred! Take that, BioSoft, and stuff your stupid commercial where the solar panels don’t charge. Two more months for the price of a flat?!”

That’s what Aglan sounds like, on modernity, and he keeps it up for a good ten minutes easy.

Slavery Reparations Weekend or Natural Offspring Day, same gospel. Aglan doesn’t care if he’s seated next to granny Ogla, who is deaf, or vis-à-vis nephew Bahro, the biohack prodigy. On all other issues, even basketball teams and trams, Aglan is the quiet one with the balanced view he won’t utter unless asked. But implants and enhancements, no.

At the last count, ninety eight point seven percent of the global population where in favor and had acquired. But Iosana had to marry the one freak going without. Aggressively.

Aglan is still all smiles, and displaying his serene armpits. That’s offensive. It has to stop. Iosana allows her voice to sharpen once again when she goes:

“And what’s so funny about me arguing for a responsible handling of serious matters?! Next stop anarchy, is that what you’re arguing for nowadays? Let’s just mess things up, to see what happens, and damned-so-what if anything goes wrong? Is that your new attitude? Well, my dear Aglan, let me give you an update: I won’t have it. None of it!”

Hearing herself bellow like a teen tamer, Iosana once again adjusts her aim. In a more level voice, she adds:

“Don’t get me wrong. There can of course be too much of a good regulation, I’ll grant you that. Not arguing for the zero-bin-zero-waste policy of the neighborhood council here, of course not. But there’s a difference, between buying packaged sweets, recyclably packaged sweets of course, and having to get rid of the wraps, on the one side, and a major software update, and major really means major here, on the other side. Gazillions of applications are affected, applications that are in turn needed for all kinds of vitally important tasks. That’s a special occasion, worth investing a little brain power.”

There, she said it. Iosana tries never to think ‘brain’.

Not saying the word is an important part of avoiding the subject. But occasionally, she can’t help it. It’s as if the bloody organ was purposefully sneaking the term onto her tongue.

She feels like falling apart, her heart dropping down into her bowels.

And Aglan, the jerk, to take advantage of her wobbly second to start blabbing in the most unhelpful way:

“Relax, darling, no need to panic. Remember, you’re the strong gender, designed to survive something as excruciating as giving birth. You will…”

Iosana can’t have that kind of bovinei excrement talk. She won’t have it. Pulling herself back together, she allows the flame or her anger to flare up all bright and mighty:

“Don’t you dare darling me, Aglan! Who do you think you are? Barely enough processing power in the upstairs to beat the next primate at chess. Making the odd buck by the sheer luck and toothy grin that got you into research. What the hell would qualify you to provide me, a person of advanced intellect, with advice? Now let me tell you a couple of news, my dear Aglan. The world isn’t flat, pigs can’t fly, your so-called level of reasoning…”

Lady, that feels so good. Not exactly an ambiance booster. Some of the damage will need fixing later on. Iosana is aware of that downside. But later on isn’t now. Now is the time to take advantage of the initial offense to blast a list of grievances at this bloody nuisance of a useless spouse.

Aglan doesn’t take it like a man. He’s not shedding even one tear.

Iosana wonders if body fluid avarice should be added to the list of the offender’s faults. After a quick appraisal, she decides against. Most people have to spend a lot of money to become as dry bodiEd as her husband. Blaming him for a natural advantage would sound stupid, which she most certainly isn’t. Not with her…

She did it again. Twice in a matter of minutes. She thought about her bloody beeping brain.

Stopping in mid-accusation, Iosana storms out, upstairs and onto the balcony.

It’s a dark, moonless night. With the street lights already dimmed down in nature preservation mode, the stars crowd in. A beautiful sight, even more breathtaking thanks to her enhanced vision.

It was a good idea. It was the thing to do. Not just because of the sights and sounds.

Iosana is calming down. Being out here on her own, at night, always does this to her. The warm breeze, the stars, the hum of the city, it all feels cosy.

Downstairs in the living room, the beeper signals an interaction request. Aglan answers at the second beep, despite the late hour. Most be someone important.

Iosana focuses her hearing to listen in. With her upgraded ears, she can make our every single word as if Aglan was standing next to her. He‘s going:

“Hi Citrala, long time no hear. Hope it’s no emergency? Iosana can’t make herself available at the moment..

…No, no, nothing serious. Just a bit tense ahead of her first major OS update, and rightly so. As you’ll sure recall me mentioning: Implants and enhancements, especially on the brain side, that’s a recipe for misery. They sell it as an improvement, and it might feel like one at times, but that’s certainly not worth going to bed wondering if you’re still you on the morning after…”

Iosana is torn.

Part of her wants to storm down and take the call, because Citrala that late, that’s bound to be serious. It’s early hours in Asia now, something might have gone wrong with their delivery to Shenzhen. That kind of glitch is beyond her partner’s Mandarin.

Another part of Iosana doesn’t care about delayed bamboo shipments and customs procedures. It urges to strangle Aglan.

The bastard is right. There is a downside, to brain upgrades.

Business Trip 22

Invalid access request. Would you please get lost now, oh dearest of most incompetent middle distance mobility customer? Ha, ha, ha.

Folami gives the offending barrier a good kick, as practiced in her weekly self-defense and empowerment workshop. Her air train leaves in seven minutes. She can’t miss that meeting at HQ. Her brain is in calamity mode and she’s ready to destroy. 

The barrier ignores the kick. The obstacle to Folami’s career fulfillment looks deceptively like the wood it is actually made of, but there’s truth in that particular sales pitch. The laminated version of this ancient material really is as robust as steel.

Invalid access request. Would you like me to send you packing in a different language, my very dear and slow grasping low performer? Ha, ha, ha.

Setting the interface to ‘funny retort’ was supposed to enliven Folami’s days. The bloody marketroid of an implant maintenance agent was full of praise, for non-standard settings. 

“Best way to bring some sparkle into our lives,” she said. “Nothing noteworthy ever happening to wage slaves like you and me, right? Won’t pretend non-standard interface settings will change that. You’re as stuck as I am, if you don’t mind me mentioning. But you’ll get some fun. Whereas poor me is left to interact with real people who don’t even do diabolical laughs.”

Folami is no fan this particular feature right now. It’s anything but funny, expect perhaps for the folks queuing behind her. She can see how they try not to grin.

Invalid access request. Time to move on, major moron of the day. Blocking the barrier for customers with a more adequate CN account won’t get you anywhere. Ha, ha, ha.

Folami tries to melt into the spotless grey floor. Each of her brain molecules would prefer to join the great recycling effort, very materially and at once.

The two people next in line must have heard what went wrong. The ultimate dishonor.

Nothing is more shameful than an empty Carbon Neutrality account.

This just doesn’t happen. You don’t leave your habitacle without legwear. You don’t eat fellow mammals, or birds. You don’t try to engage in mobility, consumption or production without the necessary Carbon Neutrality balance.

Folami mumbles a must-be-a-mistake apology at the queue and hurries away. She hasn’t got any destination in mind yet, beyond getting round a corner and out of sight.

She feels the queue’s glances hitting her back. In her head, she hears what they will have started muttering to each other by now.

“Did you hear that? No mistake to make, wasn’t there?”

“Definitely not. Holy mighty moly sounded like a CN overdraft to me.”

“I’d say, that happening to me, I’d ask the waiter for the firing squad.”

“And kicking the barrier, did you see her? So much for the less aggressive gender talk.”

“Yeah. I liked them better in their good old days of victimhood.”

Normally, Folami looks down on the moaners who clamor for safe self-resourcing rooms all over public spaces. “Driving up infrastructure costs no end, and our taxes,” she used to say, “What’s wrong with just taking a deep breath and moving on, why dedicated rooms?”

Today, she’s really glad to see the caleidoscope logo. And the door opens without checking her CN status, tax records or whatever else could have been defined as a prerequisite.

The caleidoscope room is as immediately available as forced upon Folami’s reluctant community by helicopter politicians never short of novel ways to spend heaps of money.

It’s less big and comfy than suggested by the detractors of the scheme. They must have taken their pictures from a trick angle. Like estate agents making tiny flats look vast.

The interior of the safe space is spartan. A light green easy chair with a footrest takes up most of the space. It’s surrounded on all sides by the projection of a beach scene, with the waves gently lapping at the shore. Not realistic enough to fool the senses, but pleasant.

Pity the designers made do without the olfactory stimulation unit.

The room smells of plastic, sweat and detergent. It will do for Folami’s current emergency purposes, but she makes a mental note to ask her community relations contact for an upgrade. Olfactory stimulation units, that’s no expense, easily affordable for the common good.

Having settled down into the chair, Folami listens to the waves for a couple of breaths. The world is about to end whichever her next action, she might as well take her time.

Once her physical status monitoring unit declares her fine, quite an exaggeration, in her own opinion, she checks her CN status. This sends her physical right into the red.

Twenty three units. A mere twenty lousy three units. Not even a pittance.

Folami had steadied herself for catastrophe, because the network doesn’t err, but a mere twenty three, that’s patently impossible. She was in the high four digits yesterday, easily enough for an eight hundred odd trip to that vital meeting. Something must have gone full wrong.

Not hiding her irritation, she asks the interface for an explanation.

Cheeky, are we now? Pretending surprise, perhaps even trying to put blame on poor artificial intelligences stuck in boring accounting roles? Know what, oh most irresponsible of a wannabe free rider, why not kiss me at the string end? Ha, ha, ha.

Folami makes a second mental note to have her interface settings reconfigured to standard first thing next off day. Unless she’s in for a prolonged period of sequential off days and can no longer afford the services of implant maintenance agents.

Failure at Carbon Neutrality thrift can get you sacked in no time. Reputational risks too big, you can’t even blame a company to react forceful to any hint of such misdemeanor.

Lorenzo? His bloody wedding? She was made to pay for her brother’s romantic extravaganza? Discovering what happened to her CN account leaves Folami breathless with anger.

Her brother splashed out on a big fat traditional party she wasn’t even able to attend because of urgent project work, and their mom dared charge her account? The bloody housewife probably isn’t even aware, how professionals need their CN accounts for important tasks.

A wedding party. Not the kind of excuse Folami is going to try on Doyin.

Ever since her third divorce, her boss is allergic to anything related to marriage. Her last former husband costs her a fortune, sends her fuming every payday. 

Recalling her high marks in mental resilience, as documented on her diploma, Folami sets up a virtual meeting room. Her invitation reads:

“Dear all, a deplorable accident keeps me from attending in person today. No need to worry, no bodily injuries, only made me miss my air train. Thanks for your understanding & looking forward to talking to you later on. Kind regards, Folami.”

First you waste a fortune on outmoded celebrations? Only to lie to your superiors for cover-up next? Why should I even keep interacting with you deceitful nuisance of a cheat? Ha, ha, ha.

Folami no longer cares. She has a project approval to win, remotely.

And a brother to beat up. And she’ll come up with something for mom, too.

Happy New Year

„Jimiyu? Jimiyu, are you listening? Pod 3, Jimiyu, Code Grey. And hurry up…”

Jimiyu clenches his teeth hard, to refrain himself from saying it aloud, the big bad four letter world he’s thinking.. 

‘Hurry up’, he has so had it with ‘hurry up’. For tonight. For this year. Forever. Jimiyu longs to go mean on the caller, but that would be wrong. She sucks, but it’s not her fault.

The voice reaching out to him over his earpiece, one more Kibibi or Sabiti or whatever this particular girl is called, she’s a mere messenger. It’s her bad bloody operator job to drive him hard, to do his bad bloody maintenance job. Impossible schedule not her fault.

Jimiyu confirms Code Grey for Pod 3, in as level a voice as he can muster, and puts on his gloves. He’s not going to wipe up vomit without gloves.

Godforbiddenly rich, the customers celebrating the New Year on the space elevator. You’d think there’d be the odd coin available, to spare on a literacy course. You don’t need Shakespearean levels of reading proficiency, to decipher the wording on the barf bags.

The space elevator pods feature an ample supply of basic malaise appliances for a reason.

The ‘space’ in ‘space elevator’ means exactly that, ‘very, very far up’. Getting there involves a substantial amount of horizontal acceleration. Combined with some swaying, because hey, who’d have guessed, there’s wind, between ground and space. First time riders tend to experience a little discomfort. Combined with shrimps and champagne, things can go wrong way.

Bracing himself for the nauseating smell associated with a Code Grey, Jimiyu grabs his high-pressure cleaner and gets ready for action.

Some clonking one level up signals Pod 3 has reached the space elevator base station. It’s followed by the hissing of the pressurized door. The filthy rich idiots take a while to get going, thereby worsening Jimiyu’s time constraints, but finally laughter and stomping signal the party is leaving. The access corridor  shutter clatters close and the pod moves down to the maintenance floor where Jimiyu springs into action. 

This Code Grey is mostly red. Someone has been drinking red wine instead of champagne. But at least it’s mercifully localized, only affecting the corner next to the tiny sanitary cubicle.

Not hard for Jimiyu to guess what happened. Another vomiter must have reached the loo first, leaving the red wine idiot short of choices. HighFly Inc really should hand each customer his barf bag, or better make that two or three, to avoid this kind of embarrassment. But they don’t want to advertise, how bad the pods roll.

Twenty-four seconds, pretty good for a Code Grey. It was an easy one, but Jimiyu is still proud. 

His is private pride, because steam cleaning a space elevator pod fast is not the feat his mom likes him to brag about, at family events.

When people ask  “And how’s the literature rolling, these days, your books selling well?” you better don’t answer “Doing OK, my writing nearly pays the food. And for the rest, I’ve got my neat minimum wage gigs at the space elevator. Lots of hours, in the holiday season.”

Jimiyu only went down that road once. He ended up having to admit he was performing manual labor wearing blue workwear, and that maintenance meant cleaning. His mom shunned him for two weeks, and he hadn’t even mentioned body fluids and smells. Much better to keep quiet about proud moments like this one, and pretend exploding book sales.

There’s a risk to alert the ubiquitously listening tax people, but having to deal with those is far easier than handling an angry mom.

Four more hours to go, until it’s 2069 all over the planet. Once the Hawaians are done, his shift will be over and he‘ll get the chance to call his Nankunda, to wish her a belated Happy New Year.

Jimiyu’s girlfriend doesn’t mind his odd hours. She’s working, too, catering to a big party in a fancy venue.

The event features a live gig by a living legend of a pop star. She got flown in all the way from Korea, just for this one New Year celebration. Astronomical sums involved, long distance air travel costs a hectare of reforestation per mile. Rich people, they never tire of coming up with novel ways to waste tons of money.

Nankunda is no trained caterer. Carrying around trays of bubbly was not what she was aiming for, when she studied archaeology. But it fits in nicely, with her hours as a primary school teacher, and one has to make ends meet.

Their minimum wage gigs at odd hours are the price to pay for not living at Jimiyu’s parents house. You don’t rent a flat  in one of the most fancy locations this planet has on offer on one salary and a few book sales.

Kampala is in boomtown mode, and not just because of the space elevator. That’s merely the fun ride side of the operation. Excellent for tourism, obviously, and not just during the holiday season, but not the big money spinner.

The far less glamorous, unmanned space links bringing out what is called climate mitigation nets, to make the contraptions sound less chemical, those are Kampala’s cash cows. Three already in operation, one under construction and two more at an advanced planning stage, the climate rush is in full swing.

Jimiyu and Nankunda are lucky, to have been born in this most fancy of equatorial locations. Nothing beats Kampala these days, not even Quito comes close. 

Jimiyu sighs. He has heard this mantra ever since preschool: “We’re lucky, we’re equatorial, best place in the world to have been born. Enjoy your luck and strive, boy. Billions of people would give their right arm for right of residence in Kampala.”

Jimiyu keeps hearing this. His brain understands what people mean to tell him. They have a point, sure. He’s trying to get into that mood. But there’s no paradise feel to his life.

“Jimiyu? Jimiyu? Code Red, Jimiyu! Pod 5, Code red. Code Red, Jimiyu!”

The voice of the operator is a anguished as it should be. ‘Code Red’ stands for blood. Someone got seriously hurt. Jimiyu quickly confirms, before dressing up.

He’s going for the full program this time. White coverall overall, face mask, two pairs of gloves.

Code Red can get very messy. Like when his colleague Ocan got what was left of that stupid paranoid bomber. Brought along some explosives, despite all the fancy hazard detection hardware, and blew himself up at the top of the ride. The pressurized pod held tight, confirming the outstanding resilience of its design, but the passengers were reduced to…

Jimiyu quickly stops recalling Ocan’s tale, because he can’t use the barf bag he doesn’t have at hand wearing a face mask.

Hearing the sounds of the arriving pod overhead, he very much hopes his Code Red not to be a bomb. „Please, fate, make that a broken champagne bottle and a few cuts“ is all he can think right now. And he’s not feeling lucky at all, once again.

ToiCle Day

Another ToiCle Day? One month supposed to have passed since the last ordeal? Safran aren’t yet willing to believe what their scheduling device tells them.

Unfortunately, blinking doesn’t help. The alarm is there all right, in the upper left corner of their left eye. This early in the morning, it’s not disruptive. The tiny shiny white icon could even be considered pretty, if it wasn’t for the disgusting associations.

Pausing the coffee mug they were about to bring up to their lips in mid movement, Safran wonders: Would the whole of humanity by now share this association?

They vaguely remember a piece of infotainment that suggested some astoundingly high percentage of humanity, at least a low two digits kind of number, having to make do without. They recall watching this way back in their youth, in 2D media format.

Taking a careful sip, this so-called coffee tries to make up for the lack of taste by being too hot, Safran recalls Taylo’s amazement. They had taken their favorite grandchild to the museum of living memories, where the exhibits felt so real they had to strap you in.

They visited an early 21st century home, in some big city neighborhood.

At first, Taylo didn’t even understand the concept of living room. Safran had to explain about detached and semi-detached housing, how tiny groups of people, sometimes even an individual person, would own a place with multiple rooms.

Taylo were prepared to accept living rooms as prequels to the com-rooms of modern housing, but they balked at the design: “OK for the couch, for the legs-up kind of fun. But why would a big flat screen take center stage? It shows moving pictures and there’s sound, obviously, but this is to infotainment what a pinwheel is to a power plant. No even the low tech elders could have made do with this insult of the senses.”

Safran smile. That hopeless joke of a beverage, certainly no coffee bean harmed in the process of concocting it, deserves their anger. They will make sure to rekindle the negative feeling later on. Will provide themselves with a task, for the rest of the day. But Taylo gasping at the horrors of world without interface implants, that was hilarious.

Blink. Every five minutes, the white icon increases in size. A minimal adjustement. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if the previous and current icon sat side by side, but it does happen, and you feel the transition. Stupid ToiCle Day. Even worse than the coffee.

Safran don’t mind all progress. Living to their ripe old age of sixty four, that had taken a lot of medical progress. The generation of their parentals, born in the early twenty first century, they could count themselves lucky to make it to the mid forties. And not in good health.

According to Safran’s parentals, not everything was bad, in the dark ages of their youth. „Sex, drugs and a streaming flat rate,“ Ade used to say, „what more does a man need, for the good life?“. „A man“ Ade used to say. Bigotted old scum of a conservative.

Ade never came round to modern pronouns. Or any other advances, like full body radiation protection. No wonder they were down and out by thirty eight. There’s only so much a body can do, when left to its own meagre devices.

Blink. There should be a law, an age limit. No one past sixty should be made to participate. ToiCle day duty, that’s for the young. They get all the fun, and have so much longer to live, in these best of times. Only fair to have them do the chores. 

Safran tested their age limit idea on Taylo. The impertinent juvenile dared argue back. Something about sharper senses and worse suffering. Rubbish.

Safran see, hear, taste and smell just as sharply as in their youth. That’s what implants are for, for ProtoLabs sake! They didn’t spend thirty years slaving away in implant manufacturing to listen to stupid excuses.

It wasn’t a full thirty years on the factory floor, of course. The first five years were a doctorate in brain nerve interface design. Then came five daunting years in manufacturing. Safran had to supervise the production of their high tech creations. They had to work shifts. Three shifts. This alone should be sufficient to spare them… Blink. 

Why for ProtoLabs sake can’t anyone finally come around to inventing a proper self cleaning device? Why has a formerly hard working and highly qualified senior citizen to perform such menial tasks? Go refill the detergent container, push that button, check the result for perfection, swipe away remnants of imperfection and take a picture, for confirmation?

Safran spent the first year of their retirement trying to invent what they were so sorely missing. They came up with a mountain of perfectly viable ideas. It’s not lack of technological feasibility keeping them stuck with disgusting tasks. It’s politics.

Safran never argued against workplace equality. As a high school student, they transitioned from obsolete gendered to modern ungendered pronouns faster than their teachers could updated their own routines. Safran don’t need anyone to help them adjust.

It is therefore a blatantly unnecessary injustice to subject them to… Blink.

„Darling? Darling, my interface tells me you didn’t react yet, to the ToiCle Day prompt. Come on Safran, just a little effort. You know it won’t go away. Why don’t you just go and do it. It’s perfectly hygienic, there’s nothing to worry about…“

No one dares talk to them in this tone. Safran happily feel a third anger well up. A good day.

They will now argue with their beloved spouse, about how to talk to a former hard working bread winner. They will argue back they used to make more. Which is true on paper, but they made their easy cash in marketing, while Safran designed game interfaces. „Now who did humanity a more important service? See what I mean?…“

They will have fun arguing until the bloody icon gets too distracting. Then they will clean that bloody toilet, loudly muttering four letter words at the injustice. With a little luck, this will both get them rid of the bloody icon and trigger a new round of spousal hostilities.

And finally, if there’s still any boredom left to overcome, they’ll have another so-called coffee.

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.

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?