Tag Archives: Solarpunk

Veblen* Vacation

Only ten minutes until pick-up time! Not prone to panicking, Ako takes a deep breath and sits down at the kitchen table. First things first now. He activates the screen mode of his implant by double pressing the first phalanx of his left pinkie with his right thumb and index to check his travel documents.

It’s all there on his left forearm, displayed in cool turquoise letters. Perfect contrast with his dark skin. The interface upgrade didn’t come cheap, but this is far more comfortable to read than the yellowish scribbles delivered by the basic version. And much more classy to display in public.

Ako discards the wave of career & earnings pride. At this stage of their vacation, he has to focus on the essentials.

First of all, his own passport, with a permission to access the wild zones formerly known as EU. As part of an organized group and in the company of a tour guide only, of course. No sane individual from a civilized country would freelance into this mess. 

A copy of Ebu’s passport, also validated for their adventure trip. 

Their health status, including a long list of vaccinations that took them half a year to acquire.

Who would have guessed there was an ailment going by the name of permafrost scabies, and that one had to vaccinate against it?

The recommended health precautions sounded a bit scary at first. But the tour operator as good as guarantees a safe trip, for participants with their kind of global health care coverage. And the neighbors did it.

Last not least, enough cash in the bank to buy a minor EU town. They’re easily able to afford purchasing whatever additional items they might need. No need to worry about forgotten face masks, toothpaste or anti-frostbite unction.

Satisfied with his trip readiness, Ako calls towards the sounds of frenzy emanating from the bedroom: “Honey, just close that bag and come sit with me for a ready-to-go coffee, please? We’ve got two days in Paris, we’ll go shopping.”

Ebu might be in panic mode, but that’s not going to stop a multitasking champion from arguing back. Shouting to make herself heard above the sounds of her own frantic packing, she goes: 

“Shopping in Paris? Are you mad? We’d pay ten times the Lagos price! And for some items, there’s no way, they’re just not there.

Ever seen a picture of what Europeans call a pharmacy? You’re better off heading for a bar if you need anything as basic as painkillers. The pharmacy will probably sell the very same moonshine, but the bar is less likely to have run out.

Just get up and help me find those bloody protein gel sachets, please, darling, now!”

She’s the doctor, and his wife, and hot, in every sense.

Ako joins her in the bedroom and starts rummaging through the second wardrobe before starting to argue back: 

“Honey, half a billion people live where we go. Suggests survival is possible. And we’re with an experienced tour operator. Our guide will know where to find essentials. They won’t come cheap, OK.

But being able to afford not cheap, that’s exactly the point of us making good money.

Besides, it’s only just pick-up time. On past form, we’ve got at least an hour to go until the driver shows up, to give us an earful about Lagos traffic.

Why not close that bag for now, and join me for a cup of coffee? It will help us remember where we put…”

Ako doesn’t get to finish his well calibrated plea.

With a triumphant “In the fridge!” Ebu rushes past him, travel bag and what must be the designated protein gel sachet container in hand. She’s sort of doing what he suggested. Ako counts himself one up on the authority score.

Three high rush minutes later, a proudly grinning conductor heaves their bags into the trunk of the red three seater before complimenting them onto the passenger seats. Mister Grin will be sitting up front behind the wheel, to take over in case of an emergency. For now, there’s no need for him to do anything.

It’s Ako giving their trip the go, prompted by a cute flashing traffic light icon on his left forearm.

While they roll towards MMA II airport, past waterfront holiday resorts and the kind of gated communities he aspires to buy into for the family stage of their marriage, with Ebu checking whatever on her pink-on-black forearm display at this side, Ako is both cursing and priding himself.

He of all people should have had Autonomous Only Saturday in mind.

No conventional driving in Greater Lagos on Saturdays, except in life-and-death emergencies.

And LMA, as in Lagos Mobility Authority does mean it, the fines are huge. No traffic jam on Saturdays. No need to schedule their trip with the usual delays in mind.

At their current speed, they’ll reach the airport in twenty minutes, and will have to wait for their flight to start boarding for six hours. 

Amazing, how smoothly the pretty thick traffic flows.

As foretold by their preliminary study, there is a higher proportion of taxis and carshare vehicles on the road. They get subsidies to go solar, and all electric vehicles are autonomy enabled.

But there are also a lot of private eVs around. It has become a trend, and it’s picking up speed.

A moment of quiet engineer pride for Ako. He’s behind this. Not just him alone, but he’s definitely a major contributor to this marvel. Without the base stations he installed, none of this would happen.

Outside, the pretty estates with their palm groves have been replaced by box-type buildings surrounded by easy-upkeep carbon capture greenery.

Some manufacturing, mostly high-end components based on petrol intermediate inputs. These well paying companies take advantage of the big refineries and recycling plants further downstream.

Some logistics, often displaying the company names in both Mandarin and English. Very Asian, logistics. Like electronics.

A lot of foodstuffs. All kinds of, all stages of processing.

The African tropical belt feeds most of the continent nowadays, mostly via Lagos. Plus some processed food gets shipped towards the few Europeans lucky enough to be able to afford imported supplements to their very basic diet.

Amazing, how one climate event can affect billions of people. Back in the 2020s, they were the lost souls living it what was referred to as a hopeless country, in polite company, and promised to suffer most from climate change. People aspired to be allowed into the EU. Until things went topsy turvy, out of a sudden.

Ako missed the early stages of the switch.

He was too busy scrambling for his degree while failing to seduce beautiful fellow student Sophia. She went for a hotshot wedding with the UK visa holder  instead, leaving Ako too heartbroken to care about world events.

Something will have featured in global news, about Greenland ice and the Gulf Stream. But this is not what you notice when struggling with romantic misfortune in a forty degree high heat wave.

By the time the dimensions of the switch registered with Ako, Europe was racing to the bottom faster than a bob slides. Most of it just froze over, for most of the year.

Remittances stopped. Their former senders started to beg for job recommendations, to be allowed to return. Sophia called to casually drop the news of her upcoming divorce and refound freedom.

Ako smiles at the memory of him mentioning his happy marriage with wonderful Ebu. “You’ll love her” he told Sophia, “let’s meet for a drink one of these days”. He would have gone on for a while, to savour this little revenge, but Sophia hang up with a foulmouthed curse. He’s so lucky not to have conquered this bitch.

Time to blow an air kiss at his wonderful wife at his side.

Yes, Ako is a lucky man. In the right time, at the right place, with the right qualifications. And here comes the airport.

With a frisson of anticipation, Ako gets ready to enjoy his first poverty porn trip.

*Please check the definition of Veblen Goods if the title fails to convey meaning

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.

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?