Tag Archives: Uystopia

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.

Civilup II

An actual monitor. Not even embedded. Fixed to the wall like some antique on display in a museum. Which in a way it is. Minuscule, too. Two square meters, at best.

How is anyone supposed to learn anything, with obsolete equipment?

This is such a farce.

Garnalag is pissed off. They forced her to attend.

Didn’t accept her perfectly legit ReaFo. It was her third Reason For Absence in a row. This kind of series never looks good. But Lafu Xia Ten got away with four consecutives. Discrimination at work. If she was called Lafu Xia, she would have gotten away. But she’s a Garnalag…

First they don’t accept her ReaFo. Next they assign her a location at the other end of the city.

Getting here took her a full forty five minutes. With a state of the art e-skel set to max. And at the end of this marathon sprint, what does she find? A decrepit building. Obsolete technology.

Brooding never got anyone anywhere. Time to cheer up. The young man on the seat to her left looks like companionship in adversity.

Garnalag opts for a conventional starter:

“Makes you wonder where they put all our taxes, doesn’t it? This must be the most antiquated information device still in use on the planet. Just being confronted with this should count as the history lesson. I mean, I don’t expect a 3D-Chamber. But a virtual immersion wall, that should be feasible, shouldn’t it?”

The frown on the young man’s forehead signals irritation. Perhaps even displeasure.

Garnlag stops short. Harder and harder to engage, young people. As if they were inhabiting some slightly detached parallel universe. Easy to see, hard to reach.

“Well said. First they rob us of our nation, then they rob us of the fruits of our labor, and what for? To treat us like simpletons. Civilup or down my ass. There’s perfectly no point, to this whole exercise. ‘Thanks for your attendance, and for no longer starting wars’. Hand back our guns, I say, just hand back our guns, and then let’s give you some proper ‘thanks’…”

A flag-kisser. The fully blown dinosaur warrior version. What wrong has Garnalag done, to be seated next to one of those? He quotes the ritual closing words of Civilup gatherings in an effeminate voice. To highlight whom he considers responsible for his plight.

Garnalag is no fan of the mandatory Civilization Upkeep.

No one is. You don’t like to attend high rise safety drills, driver license confirmation courses or carer supervision. Same for Civilup. Nearly as bad as taxes. Or pedlane speed limits.

You moan, you groan, you’d love to be elsewhere.

But that doesn’t turn you into a bloody flag-kisser. They are… Big ‘Yuck’ factor.

Thinking about flag-kissers is like focusing on the content of a toilet. Before the flushing. You don’t want your eyes wandering that way. Nor your nose. Never mind your soul.

A whole planet of 1.5 billion adults has to attend at least one Civilup module per quarter. A full three mandatory hours of wasted time. Plus the trip. A full four times a year.

A galactic amount of resources is spent on staff, venues and training materials. Sports events are missed and shopping trips rescheduled. Lawns remain unmown and dishes uncooked. More people die in pedlane collisions on their way to Civilup than from heat strokes.

A whole panoply of human miseries, and why? Because a couple of bloody machos use their right to free speech to keep some bad old flames alive.

Garnalag notices how closely the young man to her left watches her reaction to the rant on her right. She stares back, not hiding her turn to be irritated.

Daring insinuate she might sympathize with a flag-kisser is an insult. Why not call her a gerontophile, while he’s at it? Males, forever the clumsy brutes.

Garnlag is well aware the nuisances are not at fault. Not really, personally.

Nurture by erroneous parentals transforms innocent boys into aggressive adult males. Bad upbringing, on top of an unfortunate natural proclivity for high testosterone levels, turns good seeds into weeds. Males are perfectly capable of restraint. Empathy, even. Given the chance, they will improve. In the due course of time. Can’t be relegated to second class citizen status forever.

Garnalag endorses the progressive approach. It’s the right thing to do. Otherwise, you’ll have to watch your back forever. Perfectly fine rationale. Especially when considered from a boardroom perspective, with a maximum one diversity male around. But…

Garnalag is no sexist. She’d never threaten to alert an Enforcebot without a serious reason. Despises colleagues who harass males for fun. She’s definitely no sexist.

Even got close to intervening in favor of a harrassed male, once.

It all happened in Clafang Ran Tlo’s office. Garnalag had joined her for a teleconference. The window cleaner was busy next to them. The clumsy brute splattered some water right onto the desk. Some drops even hit the screen. And Clafang Ran Tlo to lose her countenance. Performed the scissors gesture. Very unambiguously. Twice.

Garnalag got within an inch of intervening. Their remote interlocutor got in first and resolved the situation. With a joke about how one needs to be careful how one snips one’s fingers, in the era of facility staff empowerment. Zero sexism. Very professional.

Wit is so elusive. Garnalag will come up with a perfect retort. Tonight. Over dinner. Or at bedtime.

Now she’s lost for words. Reduced to stare ahead, without any hint of a smile.

Luckily, something’s finally happening in her line of sight. The screen lights up. The familiar voice of the tutoress purrs: “Welcome to Civilization Upkeep Module 2. Dear citizens, thank you for taking the time to contemplate once again…”

This equipment insults the senses. Zero immersive experience.

Civilup II is about malnutrition and lack of access to healthcare. How these blights used to affect some seventy percents of the global population. Before taking into consideration the mental stresses associated with a precarious life.

Fifty years ago, a shocking amount of suffering was considered acceptable. The sights and sounds of so much despair should be heartbreaking.

Not with this equipment. Doesn’t feel real enough.

Takes Garnalag less than half an hour to make up her mind. She will contact Civilup central. An upgrade of the program is required. Urgently. Just the basic basics should do. Virtual immersion walls. And the corresponding reprocessing of the material. You need the victims to speak to the audience in current lingo, if you’re aiming for identification.

This won’t cost a fortune. Sure to work wonders, on the customers.

Amazing, the level of luxury some ancients achieved. The food now on display on the screen looks alluring. Reminds Garnalag she had to skip breakfast to arrive on time.

Not that she would have had ham or cheese.

Garnalag does make a packet, in advertising, but that kind of delicacy is beyond her means.

Bloody animal welfare fanatics. Nowadays, cow milk has to be fairly shared between calf and client, driving dairy product prices sky high. And no pig can be slaughtered before having frolicked around the farm for a happy six years of joyful mating.

This is disgusting. Just when Garnalag is seriously getting into a foodie mood, the course switches back to health issues. Cholera and plague.

Interesting to hear that these medieval curses were still around at the beginning of the century, though. Who’d have thought?

Tananarive really has come a long way. Hard to believe today’s spa destination used to feature slums. This fast motion rush through the evolution of the cityscape leaves you breathless.

“And they lived happily ever after. Sex no-no, drugs no-no, and don’t you even start dreamin of rock’n roll. But they lived happily ever after. Who the fuck do you think you’re kiddin?”

The falsetto voice. That did it. Having spent the rest of the session to figure out what happened, Garnalag reaches the conclusion the voice must have been the trigger.

She doesn’t even know if it was her own discreet alert that summoned the Enforcebot.

They all heard the flag kisser. In her row, up front and behind. At least a dozen people were inconvenienced by his remarks. Some of them will have joined her in doing the needful.

It’s never pretty, to watch a man raise his arms in anxious capitulation. Looks so meek. The images always go viral. Big boy afraid of small toy. Better than LOL rats.

An Enforcebot is anything but a child’s game. A five pound metallic spider, equipped with a domineering temper, sharp claws and a taser designed to bring down a bull, is not to be messed with. Everybody has seen enough footage to know what not to do.

Today’s nuisance was no exception. On hearing the telltale clatter approach, the flag kisser went quiet. Was already in process of standing up when the Enforcebot reached his seat and went: “Sir, would you kindly proceed to the exit, please? For a little civility feedback, please?”

Garnalag held her breath. Would their flag kisser aspire to martyr status?

Sometimes, the wilder kind of mad men pretend compliance, only to kick at their captor once it comes into range. A very, very bad idea. Retribution follows, fast and hard.

Garnalag braced herself for the worst. She shifted her weight as far to the left as possible, ready to dive out of the combat zone if necessary.

Luckily, her nemesis followed his orders without a comment or hint of resistance.

As usual on such occasions, the whole audience focused on the lesson still unfolding on the screen and through the loud speakers. You don’t know if and how an Enforcebot will react, in case it noticed a lack of diligence. Better safe than sorry.

Garnalag listened to the pair of them exiting through the back door. Next, she spent the rest of the lesson arguing with herself.

You can’t let this kind of guy get away with aggression. There’s tons of science to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that antisocial behavior gets worse if left unchallenged.

It’s also true he stayed verbal.

And there are reports, unconfirmed reports, of Enforcebots using violence, unprovoked and unnecessary violence, in the course of civility feedback. Some hotheads even talk of torture.

But men, especially large ones, are a walking threat. To women. And civilization.

On balance, you need to act. Garnalag was right to press that button.

“Thanks for your attendance, and for no longer starting wars.” The tutoress is done. To the sound of the hymn for the three Ps, the references list unfolds on the screen.

Garnalag likes the melody. It’s a fast paced blend of Malagasy, Tamil and Celtic traditions. She doesn’t care much about the lyrics. No issue with Pragmatism, Polyethics and Peace as such. Of course not. But as a marketing professional, she can’t help identify waffle when it hits her.

Tradition demands to stay seated until the screen reverts to dark. Small talk over the credits, fine. But you don’t rush out. This is about civilized behavior. And important. You display respect.

Witnessing an Enforcebot intervention has a chilling effect on any congregation. Reminds you of the price to pay for a less violent society. Raises doubts and questions better left unsaid.

Today’s crowd is no exception. No small talk. Most people remain unusually still and quiet.

“Apologies, for my dad making a mess. He doesn’t mean bad. Would never actually harm no lady. Mom kicked him out a couple of years ago. Because of his big mouth, especially under the influence. This sent him crossfading worse, which got him sacked. And now… He’s not well, and tends to end up in trouble. Apologies…”

Garnalag is lost for comments. But at least the session is now closed. Time to hurry back to her life. Bloody lessons. She’ll have to think of a good ReaFo.