Tag Archives: Uystopia

Breathalyzer

Bump. Soft left turn. Slowdown. Bigger bump. Sharp left turn. Gilbright reluctantly opens his eyes, thereby deactivating his mobile storyteller. No need for an arrival alert to tell him he’s home, his body is familiar with this sequence. The autonomous commuter pod delivers the customary message anyway: 

 “Dear passenger, 82 Lower GT Drive reached at 15:22. Exit with current attire safe, no additional precautions required. Your next trip is booked for tomorrow, March 6, 2120, 10:12, boarding here same. Please say ‘adjust’ to reschedule or ‘confirm’ for confirmation.” 

 Gilbright goes “Confirm”, unenthusiastically, and waits for the pod to go through whatever routine always keeps it from unlocking the door at once. 

This delay can’t be about cash. He himself had taken a profit motive for granted until very recently and most people still assume as much, but that’s not the rationale.. 

To celebrate the bonus he got two months ago, Gilbright splashed out on the upgrade to the premium package his mobility provider just happened to offer, by one of those lucky coincidences. He can now ride as many pods as he fancies, whenever and wherever he wants, for a total one hundred and fifty hours or five thousand kilometres per month, whichever limit is reached first, without extra charge. 

His commute takes a good thirty minutes in the morning and rarely exceeds twenty in the afternoon. His non-job errands add up to less than an hour per day. He didn’t yet find the time to schedule any of the excursions he had in mind when he awarded himself the premium package. A couple of minutes of idling in the docking port won’t bring him anywhere near the limit. This delay can’t be his mobility provider milking him. 

 If the recurring lag period isn’t about profit, it might be one more case of government overreach. Always trying to mess with peoples lives, the elected super nannies. Would be like them, to force mobility providers to slow down passengers, under pretext of one more unproven and uncomfortable health benefit. 

Well, if this is about forcing him to calm down, it doesn’t work. Gilbright feels his blood pressure climbing by the second. He’s not claustrophic, not the fears kind of guy at all, but a man should be allowed to exit his pod whenever he so chooses, period. 

 Click goes the door, very softly, finally granting Gilbright his currently most fervent wish. Two steps to his front door. Zoom goes the camera, and green goe… What the hell?! 

The intruder alert is meant to startle, but if it gets any more effective at this task it will be a lethal weapon. The light above the door is also flashing red, but this is far less disturbing then the deafening howl of the siren. 

 Gilbright feels his bones turn into icicles. He’s a licensed resident, not some burglar, never mind one of those Caucasian intruders. He’s a regular citizen, no deportation material 

Unable to move, Gilbright has to endure an eternity of agony before the siren suddenly dies. The light has also switched to green and the door goes: 

“Apologies for the false alarm, sir, and congratulations, your new haircut is very stylish indeed. To avoid future inconveniences, please feel free to provide advance authenticated visual notice of any such alterations of your appearance. Or may we suggest to activate breathalyzer authentication? By far the best way to prove your identity. Thanks for your cooperation in making the world a safer place.” 

Gilbright is relieved, and proud. His home is well defended, exactly as promised by estate management. There’s this notice to all residents, next to the parcel retrieval area, informing about more stringent safety settings, in the context of a fresh wave of European refugees. 

If his new haircut triggers the intruder alarm, his wife has zero reason to worry about Caucasians in the cellar. Last week, there was a dire incident in an estate just like theirs, but someone must have messed up front door security. That’s what happens, when you go cheap on building maintenance, instead of using proper professionals. 

Two levels up and one corridor down, Gilbright braces himself for all hell breaking loose again, but no problem. His owner occupier profile has been updated to his new look, the door to his flat opens at once. 

Having awarded himself an early beer to celebrate this success, he decides to heed the advice of the system. He can’t waste energy and time on forever updating his profile picture to avoid setting off that hell of a siren. Time to switch to the modern way and activate the breathalyzer, provided this doesn’t interfere with the occasional beer. 

Bump. Soft turn left. Slowdown. Bigger bump. Sharp turn left. Stop.

Gilbright reluctantly opens his eyes, thereby deactivating his mobile storyteller. No need for an arrival alert to tell him he’s home, his body is familiar with this sequence.

The autonomous commuter pod delivers the customary message anyway:

“Dear passenger, 82 Lower GT Drive reached at 15:22. Exit with current attire safe, no additional precautions required. Your next trip is booked for tomorrow, March 6, 2120, 10:12, boarding here same. Please say ‘adjust’ to reschedule or ‘confirm’ for confirmation.”

Gilbright goes “Confirm”, unenthusiastically, and waits for the pod to go through whatever routine always keeps it from unlocking the door at once.

This delay can’t be about cash. He himself had taken a profit motive for granted until very recently, most people still assume as much, but that’s not the rationale.

To celebrate the bonus he got two months ago, Gilbright splashed out on the upgrade to the premium package his mobility provider just happened to offer, by one of those lucky coincidences. He can now ride as many pods as he fancies, whenever and wherever he wants, for a total one hundred and fifty hours or five thousand kilometres per month, whichever limit is reached first, without extra charge. And onboard beverages would be free, if he was into soda.

His commute takes a good thirty minutes in the morning and rarely exceeds twenty in the afternoon. His other errands add up to less than an hour per day on average. He didn’t yet find the time to schedule any of the excursions he had in mind when he awarded himself the premium package. A couple of minutes of idling in the docking port won’t bring him anywhere near the limit of his premium package. This delay can’t be about cash. Makes it all the more irritating.

If the recurring lag period isn’t about profit, it’s probably one more case of government overreach. Always trying to mess with peoples lives, the self declared super nannies. Would be like them, to force mobility providers to slow down passengers, under pretext of one more presumed health benefit that in practice delivers mostly discomfort. Like the exercise obsession. Gilbright doesn’t intend to make it to the proverbial healthy one hundred if this is achieved by years of walking.

Well, if this pod door delay is meant to force him to wind down, before touching home base, it doesn’t work. Gilbright feels his blood pressure climbing. He’s not claustrophic, not into any fears, but man should be allowed to exit pod whenever he so chooses, period.

Click goes the door, very softly, finally granting Gilbright his currently most fervent wish. Two steps to his front door. Zoom goes the camera, as usual, and and gree… What the hell?

The intruder alert is meant to startle, but if it gets any more effective it will be a lethal weapon. The light above the door is also flashing red, but this is far less disturbing than the howl of the siren.

Gilbright’s bones turn into icicles. Impossible. Can’t happen. He’s a licensed resident, not some burglar, never mind one of those Caucasian intruders. He’s a regular citizen, perfectly entitled to enter his own home, no deportation material.

Unable to move, Gilbright has to endure an eternity of agony before the siren suddenly dies and the light switches to green. Next, the door goes:

“Apologies for the false alarm, sir, and congratulations, your new haircut is very stylish indeed, what transformation! To avoid future inconveniences, please feel free to provide advance authenticated visual notice of any such alterations of your appearance. Or may we suggest to activate breathalyzer authentication? By far the best way to prove your identity. Thanks in advance for your cooperation in making the world a safer place, sir.”

Gilbright puzzled relief turns pride. His home is well defended, exactly as promised by estate management. What he just experienced is the material manifestation of the notice on the eboard in the parcel retrieval area: More stringent safety settings have been implemented, in the context of the threats associated with a fresh wave of European refugees.

His new haircut triggering the intruder alarm proves beyond doubt that his jumpy husband has zero reason to worry about Caucasians in the cellar. Yes, there have been ugly incidents in estates just like theirs, but that’s because they went cheap on access security. With proper safety settings there’s zero intruder risk.

Two levels up and one corridor down, Gilbright takes care to brace himself for all hell breaking loose again, but no problem. His owner occupier profile has been updated to his new look, the door to his flat opens without hesitation.

Having awarded himself an early beer to celebrate the outstanding safety of his hime, Gilbright decides to heed the advice of the system. He can’t waste energy and time on forever updating his profile picture to avoid setting off that hell of a siren. Time to switch to the modern way and activate  breathalyzer authentication, provided this doesn’t interfere with the occasional beer.

He asks his living room:

“Assuming I was to switch to breathalyzer identification, what happens in case of alcohol intake?”.

Always ready to help, the flat management system answers at once, in this wonderfully deep and melodious voice so suggestive of cosy private moments:

“No problem, sir, absolutely no problem. Neither with trace alcohol in pastries, sweets or apple juice, nor with more solidly ethanolic beverages, like beer and wine and even liquor. Zero problem. This particular aspect only constitutes a tiny fraction of the particles lacing your breath. Ethanol is actually ignored in the context of identification purposes, together with other components that vary strongly depending on food and drink intake. For authentication purposes, we rely on components that remain stable past age two, except in very rare cases of metabolic dysfunctions that don’t apply in your case. Please confirm breathalyser setup sequence initiation.“

Gilbright hesitates. His jumpy microbiologist husband is full of scary tales about snoopy analytics. The lab operator making jokes about intercourse frequencies calculated on the basis of mere drops of blood, that didn’t sound good. But breath is far less material than blood. And one close call with the intruder alarm is more than enough. The next stage would have been the guard dog bot with the taser. The decision to activate the breathalizer is such a no brainer.

On the next morning, Gilbright is pleased not to experience a delay at the end of his ride to the office. The pod door opens at once. Funny, how some issues resolve all by themselves.

Optiboost On

Glam take a deep breath, open the door and don’t step outside.

The night is over, but there is little light. Grey curtains of rain are waving by. Yesterday’s mosaic of puddles has merged into a lake. It stretches as far as the eye can see, turning all the shelters into islands. A foaming river running through the lake signals the location of the cobbled path Glam are supposed to walk, if they insist on leaving the building.

Fascinating, how the river has decided there is some kind of downhill to flow towards.

The neighborhood is as flat as a slice of powersquashed termite protein, before it starts crumpling in the frying pan. Same for the whole city, and the wider metropolitan area. The former rubbish dump, now a nice forested hill, with a wildlife sanctuary, is as mountainous as terrain gets, in the Favogoro region.

The impromptu river has gotten its direction wrong. It flows away from the coastline. Someone even farther inland will get very wet feet, and the mess will stay put for as long as the rain lasts.

Glam consider pitying the poor folks getting flooded. Too busy feeling sorry for themself, they quickly discard this option. One face-to-face office day per month to endure, and they had to get picked for the date with the worst weather, again.

In December, they had to march through a thunderstorm. In January, the wind was blowing so viciously it got very close to being called a tornado. And now the kind of downpour that sends edgy folks checking their emergency floats.

Still standing in the precarious shelter of the doorway, Glam wonder. Three ordeals in a row, that’s a lot. There’s a pattern emerging. And where there’s pattern, one has to wonder about intent. An intent that would be malicious in their case, obviously.

The quantum computing freaks in R&D have been promising big advances for ages. The ultimate weather forecast, reliable months ahead, that would be a mighty breakthrough, a life saver for millions.

When Glam were in kindergarten, their parentals used to debate whether or not to keep the catastrophic weather event insurance, and which part of their flimsy housing to fortify next. They made heroic efforts to stick to an outdated way of life that was getting more outrageously expensive by the month. The holidays were cancelled first, then the rare weekend trips, and in the final phase even the monthly BBQ.

Took Glam’s parentals five years and hundreds of rows to get themselves ready to cope with the inevitable and move to a first shelter. And what a rudimentary affair they chose, by current standards. Bit on the thick and slow side, totally unlike Glam.

With a reliable long term weather forecast, it would be possible to harass people by forcing them to commute on the worst days, a brutal form of cloud mobbing. But such forecasts would still be great to have. Weather is a life-or-death issue, and not just for the outdoorsy professionals in the high paying hazardous jobs, like agriculture.

Billions and billions have been going into improving forecasts, over decades, without much to show for the expense. There was some incremental progress, of course. The autonomously relocating offshore wind turbines are getting their positioning right more often, power supply has become pleasantly steady. But a reliable long term weather forecast, that’s on a different page. Glam know such advances don’t just pop up, their scientific mind doesn’t do fairy tales. But they would like to ask someone, about the chances of sudden progress in forecasting.

Unfortunately, they only know one scientist working at the cutting edge of weather research, Sark from Cloud Seeding and Advanced Mitigation. They had to go full blunt on that unbearable character, because hints didn’t do the trick. Only when they shouted, for all the department to hear, that nothing, not even a free two year naturafood subscription, would ever make them consider a shared glider ride+, and that they’d rather forgo their precious Optiboost than spend time together, did the premium nonitohape retreat.

Glam don’t have anyone to ask, about imminent weather forecasting progress. Thinking Sark is a downer. They can’t keep standing in this doorway. They’re getting wet, even though the rain doesn’t hit them directly. Either they dive into the mess, or they retreat inside and call the HR bot, to claim non navigable weather.

Previewing this call does Glam’s mood no good. They might as well hand in their resignation. This weather sucks, but it isn’t the kind of calamity that allows one to call in commute impeded. The HR bot will take less than a second to assess and discard, before reassigning them to a job with an even longer commute.

Time for Glam to choose between horrible an atrocious.

Stepping onto the cobbled path will get them ankle deep into fast flowing water that carries along all kinds of yuck. The thick layer of foam veers between a yellowish white and outright brown, not a good sign at all.

The still part of the lake looks better. But underneath its alluringly foam free surface lurks the mattress of carbon capture moss, currently a soggy mess that won’t carry Glam’s weight. They’re sure to sink in knee deep. That’s not just disgusting. The telltale green stains would get them fined for environmental vandalism.

The foaming cobbled path river it is, then.

Time for a good fat dose of Optiboost.

Glam press their left earlobe to activate the device. Next, they silently count down from thirty. The hormonal cascade works fast, but the effect is far from instantaneous.

By the time they’re done counting, the weather has turned alluringly interesting. Who would prefer walking a sunny path to splashing around in a foaming river? Certainly not invigorated Glam.

They gingerly step into the brownish foam and enjoy the challenge of the slippery cobbles. Thankful for an exciting day, they discard their conspiracy theories. 

###

Watching Glam struggle by means of a surveillance duck prepositioned in the vicinity of their shelter, Sark look forward to revisit this footage whenever they recall the sting of the rejection.

Being a nice person, they would never publish such material, they record for strictly private consumption.

Being also a diligent person, Glam decide not to publish yet.

This local weather management prototype shows promise, definitely. Three successful trial runs prove that it is perfectly feasible to cajole wind and rain into bundling in one designated location, to spare the rest of an area. Precipitation and gusts can’t be avoided, but a certain level of control is surprisingly simple to achieve, if there’s enough power for the catalyst.

Glam are proud of their invention. They look forward to all that praise, for saving lives and advancing the common good. There’s some urgency, of course. But one shouldn’t rush out new tech. Much better to do more testing, much more consumer friendly.

And, by a happy coincidence, more testing also gives them the chance to ruin on more commute, for Glam. With a little luck and a slight increase of the test area, to increase the amount of rain and the water level, they’ll trip and dip next time.

Shit Happens

„Tap water? Never no way. You‘re kidding, right?“

Liam has to ask, because honestly. And he has to look up at his boss to check if Joshua is once again trying and failing to make a joke. The senile sucker considers himself funny. It’s a total misperception, an insult to anyone with a real sense of humor.

That’s one of the problems, with anyone past forty. Old guys laugh for no good reason, and don’t where they should. They basically ruin any ambiance by their mere presence.

Liam doesn‘t hate his job more than the next hard working bloke, but he could so do without Joshua. The company should pay a hardship bonus, to all operators forced to work alongside old guys. The union should fight for a couple more bucks for such cases. Except the union guy is even older than Joshua. Life, always piling up the odds against Liam and his kin…

Joshua makes his Morgan-Freeman-plays-God face and goes:

„Hey, keep it up kiddo, didn‘t hear myself calling a break. Why not behave like an adult, for once, and keep working while you talk? This ognitransmuter won‘t install itself.

And yes, oh yes, tap water. And not talking some cheap grey variant here. Full bloody potable tap water, as in real fit for drinking, no kidding. Tap water was all over the place, in those days, for all kinds of purposes. Right until 2026. The stuff was so cheap, in the early twenties, that people took what was called showers. Now let me tell you about showers…“

Liam has obediently resumed assembling the ognitransmuter. He’s performing every move extra slowly because Joshua calls slow diligent and considers it a virtue. That’s because he’s such a snail, mentally and physically. It’s his weight, he’s so fat, in combination with his age. Joshua is to power and speed what emptying an ognitransmuter tank is to fun and roses.

Liam doesn‘t need Joshua to find out about showers. The wasteful rituals of the forebears did feature at school, at more length than any kid should be made to endure. Artificial indoor waterfalls, to not really clean your two square meters of skin, that‘s showers. Even assuming best grey water capture practices, people were bound to loose at least the equivalent of growing one plate of beans, per go. That‘s a life and death difference.

Liam knows such stuff. He has done more than his share of water conservation awareness calculations. Back in his schools days, when he was still a kid. He doesn’t need some oldie and his half educated waffling. Joshua‘s generation, they learned basically nothing. They go blank, on the most basic basics, like sandstorm survival skills. 

Last week, Joshua was off sick for two days. Went out without protective goggles, despite his implant beeping imminent sandstorm alert. The blunder nearly cost him his eyes, and getting oneself that kind of transplant grown costs a fortune. He claimed he had misinterpreted the alert. But no one mistakes a sandstorm alert for a heatwave warning. That’s so basic basics, impossible to get wrong. Unless you’re a total dimwit. The last thing anyone needs is being lectured by a total dimwit.

Not listening to Joshua  is the thing to do. Liam needs to switch his mind to something worth processing, like pre-2026 entertainment.

The barbarian past managed to come up with some cool viewfare. Most of it is 2D. The plots are weird. The casts are even weirder, with a totally unrealistic abundance of all shades of white people, and in major roles, too. The outfits are madness, often short sleeved, full get-me-my-melanomas-at-thirty risk, and what is called gendered, one of the more creepy legacy practices. In some plots, you get familiar sounding names, but the locations look unlike anyplace in present day Calixico. It‘s all one big mess, the creepy kind of. But classy, in its own weird way. Couple of pre-2026 movies, a round of tongue balm strips, that’s the best way to spend a good night awake among friends.

Liam fades Joshua‘s voice into the background. Keeping his eyes on the half assembled ognitransmuter, he lets his mind wander. What did it feel like, to live in a world of bikes and roads, where muscle shirts and bikinis were worn ex habitat? How cool must it have been, to have a fight among blokes without getting into trouble? No implants, no civility monitors, no policing drones… Liam is no longer aware of Joshua‘s presence.

„… and so, on my honor as a plumber, trained, tested, certified and accredited, because me, I learned a proper trade, not just how to execute bloody implant fucking instructions, yes, there was even worse waste than the water toilet. Hard to believe nowadays, but I myself installed a full acre, as in four thousand square meters, of sprinkler plumbing, to water a lawn that wasn’t used for anything but golf putting practice. Did it with these same hands, on my honor. These same hands, just that they were a little less spotty, back in those days…“

Liam so struggles to keep his mind in his favourite scene from Torque. He’s Ice Cube, and going for it. Why can‘t Joshua shut up and get himself his own daydream? With water toilets or whatever other lurid granny tales he fancies. This is so lame.

Liam forces his inner self back onto the bike, full speed, full risk. Doing it here isn‘t the same as playing the Torque-themed immersion game. One absolutely needs a gaming scaphander and chair to properly experience the speed and thrust. But he‘s having as much fun as one can have, at work.

Liam is about to win his race when Joshua dares intrude once again, in his booming boss voice, just like president LL Cool J going tough commander in chief on food racketeers and soil hoarders:

„What the hell, kiddo?! That’s the wrong way round, the fan, in the vent. You don’t want to pump up the container, you want to drive out the gases! Out, kiddo, out, as in not in. Honestly, kiddo, you got to learn to use your head, in our job, or you’ll end up in a call center trouble shooting bot botches.“

In response, Liam quickly draws a deep breath and holds it, to reassure his implant. With the new violence prevention settings, the slightest hint of being about to act on an aggressive impulse gets one tasered. You need a martial arts cage, a sports arena or a hacker to get the chance to fight it out. This is supposed to be the latest in civilisation. Currently, his every fiber begs to differ.

He might have been daydreaming, but he of course followed the implant instructions step by correct step. The fan is installed exactly as it should be. With the new model, air gets pumped in as often and as long as excess current is available. Airing the organic matter in this way drives what causes the smell into the filter, where it gets neutered. This clever trick allows you to install an ognitransmuter pretty much anywhere, no need to fear olfactory inconvenience. Everybody has smelled the ads. Even someone as hopeless as Joshua should know.

Liam is starting to feel the strain but keeps holding his breath, he‘s so mad. And Joshua to go:

„Hey, kiddo, no need to turn all sweaty face. Everybody makes the odd mistake, occasionally. No drama. Shit happens. You make amends, fix the mess, and that’s it. Shit happens. Otherwise, how would we fill the ognitransmuter…“

The worst about Joshua is his being funny illusion. Oh yes, shit does happen. Any young person stuck with an old boss doesn’t need no reminder.

Black Friday

Gorsus taps his left temple to switch off his interface. It’s been a good forty-five minutes, half a day’s worth of linked work, he’s overdue a break.

“Never more than thirty consecutive minutes” says the sky above his reclined operator armchair, in a psychedelic 3D whirl of colors. As if someone had thrown bags of powder in the air, and they had aligned to form and reform this same sentence, again and again. Beautiful, stunningly beautiful. Still failed to attract Gorsus’ attention.

It took the strident high overrun alert to pull him out. He’s forty-two, and it shows. His brain struggles with complex tasks. Time to consider using the pension calculator, to check how much longer he needs to go on. No way he ends up in vegetable state, like his late mom. There can be too much of a good thing, including diligence and performance. They won’t get his brain for intermittent storage, in return for keeping the rest of his body alive.

Gorsus didn’t risk his health on purpose. His current research is so fascinating, he often struggles to pull himself out. “The origins of the Black Friday ceremonies”, that’s the title he’s going to use. The bigger the news, the more important to keep the title bland, not to get accused of lack of seriousness.  Gorsus doesn’t have that much of a reputation to defend, yet, but with this paper, he’ll change the world. 

Twelve billion adults on the planet. Down from fourteen, but still a lot. And most of them, unless they are severely incapacitated or total morons, are celebrating Black Friday. Year in, year out, they plant at least one ritual sapling for St. Alecho.

They buy a slot in a high-rise carbon capture rack, the closer to the city, the more expensive. They ride there on bicycles adorned with festive garlands. They use a ceremonial shovel to pretend to dig the symbolic hole, before plugging the roots of the sapling into the holder protruding from the nutrient matrix. They complete the ritual by shaking their heads three times in silent prayer: “May you carbon capture well!”. Never ever is this sentence to be uttered aloud, St. Alecho is known to abhor ostentation.

Twelve billion adults perform this ritual, year in, year out. It has been established, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Black Friday ceremonies go all the way back to the twenty first century. Thirty generations have been planting trees for St. Alecho on Black Friday.

Some of the origins of the ritual are well understood. People in the prescientific era used to beg Alexa and Echo, two deities represented by a shared cylindrical effigy, for help with a climate alteration that caused severe droughts and floods before culminating in the Age of Mayhem. Prescientific people prayed, instead of planting trees and adjusting their lifestyles. No wonder lay people consider them responsible for the hardship they suffered.

As a historian, Gorsus knows better. One can’t blame the superstitious ancients. Clever individuals, like himself, can pull ahead of the field of established wisdom, but there are limits. The time just wasn‘t ripe, in the twenty first century, for an understanding of how things work. Rudiments of climate science were being developed, but this age lacked so badly in both data and computing power that even the most obvious correlations were hard to determine with any rigor. They didn’t even have self programming quantum machines!

Not that many records, from the Age of Mayhem. Paper was no longer in use, replaced by highly sensitive and shortlived electronic means of storage. Biorecording had been developed in principle, quite a feat, for such a low tech era, but the early DNA readers and writers were primitive devices, and hardly ever used outside of highly specialized labs with little interest in folksy beliefs and traditions.

Richeve Simdonna, Gorsus’ teacher and idol, had been lucky to dig up one intact twenty first century effigy, in what must have been its original box, wrapped into an additional layer of colorful paper, a waste of resources typical for religious items.

Her central Rhine valley desert dig, a treasure trove for archeologists. Whole households must have been abandonned, in a hurry, and spent centuries buried under tons of sand, until the Western European super twister of 2914 revealed them, in all their well preserved ancient splendor and mysteriousness.

Richeve Simdonna managed to decipher part of the writing on the effigy box she found, thereby proving what had until then been a contested hypothesis: Alecho did indeed start as Alexa and Echo, and without the saint. Some taboo, probably, a prohibition against speaking the sacred. No surprise in an age of disruption, people get edgy.

But no mention of Alexa and Echo’s race. No support for the dominant interpretation.

Gorsus had always harboured doubts, concerning Black Friday as a celebration of the shift towards dark skinned dominance. The dates just didn’t fit, the chronology was wrong.

St. Alecho has been around since the twenty first century. Dark skinned dominance only took off in the twenty fourth, in the context of peculiar solar activity. Doesn’t make sense, even if one is prepared to assume repurposing of an existing ritual. Why rename it?

St. Alecho is also revered by poor and rich, dominant and subjugated, black and white alike. Declaring him the patron saint of dark skinned dominance doesn’t make sense.

But the term Black Friday is real, transmitted in songs, poems and prayers throughout the ages. It’s simple enough, no reason to assume it might have been distorted. ‘Black’ and ‘Friday’, what’s to get wrong, with these two terms?

Gorsus got professionally hooked on this question.

And today, on what started as a perfectly banal Monday, Gorsus did it. He discovered the original meaning of Black Friday.

It was right there, on a piece of paper Richeve Simdonna decided to ignore, because she couldn’t translate any sense into it. Unlike him, she hadn’t done a research stunt in economics history. She wasn’t able to identify the item as what was called a receipt.

With this primary classification achieved, it was easy to interpret the writing revealed by trace enhancement technology. Item code and price in decimal symbols, plus a short and telltale text: “Black Friday Deal”. Black, as in black ink, good news for traders. So simple…

Gorsus barely had time to think “Oh shit” when the cerebral aneurism struck. History lost a bright mind, and the Black Friday secret remained hidden for another decade.

Bad Timing

„Phase two, step one, engage.”

Olu wouldn’t mind Samaria’s voice to be a tad softer.

He’s all in favour of lady bosses, because diligence, resilience, morale, and whatever else got praised in last years stupid gender awareness training session.

In Olu’s school days, gender blindness was all the rage. Only as far as curriculumdom was concerned, obviously. Being past reproductive age, the teachers had little trouble pretending to believe there was no difference between the Adams and the Eves. Their charges, Olu’s teenage self included, begged to disagree, always fervently and sometimes physically. Olu knew exactly whom he wanted to get laid with, and gender blindness made about as little sense to him as wasting valuable games time on homework

A little more than a decade on, science has caught up with Olu’s intuition. Unfortunately, it has also declared the ladies especially apt at management. Studies have been conducted. The gender awareness instructor, a lady, of course, had them track through a landscape of 3D graphs. On talent after talent, the guys were hills next to the ladies mountains. The ratio was only reverted for physical strength, and the ability to tolerate blood alcohol levels. Very important features, but unfortunately not from a business perspective. 

A little less volume, and a little more melody, that’s nice to have, in a voice.

Olu selects the phase two icon on his screen.

He’s left handed and of course wears his control glove on that hand, anything else would feel weird. He fondly recalls how his late boss Kevin, who was right handed, switched glove sides when he arrived, to make sure his instruction would proceed as smoothly as it did. A nice gesture, from a superior, to welcome a new teammate.

Having completed the demanded action, Olu confirms:

“Phase two, step one, engaged.”

And Samaria to snap back, much faster and more robustly than necessary:

“Phase two, step two, engage!”

Olu resents. This is not the fire brigade, they’re not about to perform news type heroics. There’s no life-or-death countdown, no nuke ticking in the basement.

They’re on board an Arctic surfer, harvesting vintage ice, one thousand cubic meters at a time. If they drop one of these gigantic ice cubes, and go on to miss their quota, nothing happens. If they vanished now, some filthy rich snobs would have to make do with good old desal for drinking and oral hygiene, like everybody else. Olu is no union man, but a catastrophe this isn’t, that much he knows.

Olu would love to tell Samaria to stop fuzzing.

He won’t, because in this shithole of a workplace every single word uttered is being recorded. Someone might listen in right now, ‘for quality purposes’, as in surveillance. Quality of workforce life is not the target management is going for, obviously.

Samaria would resent being criticized in public, and take revenge. By means of the shift schedule, obviously. Tougher blokes than Olu have been turned into weeping wrecks by one harvesting season of split standby shifts. You have to keep yourself available 20/7 to take over in a maximum of five minutes, and get paid a third of a minumum wage for a maximum of ten hours per day for the standby time. Stress plus financial ruin. Terrifying.

The higher ups can watch, too.

Most of the time, it’s an artificial intelligence scanning the video feed for early signs of upcoming trouble. It’s sure to have noticed how hard Olu has been staring at this screen, for the last two days. Never would an AI miss signs of anger. Unlike Samaria.

If only the bitch was a little more like Kevin. He would have noticed at once, when Olu stopped smiling. Never would Kevin have dared not to ask, about issues. And he was always ready to remedy, never hesitating to choose his own discomfort.

With Samaria, Olu is exhausting his grump muscles to no effect.

Poor Kevin. He was so stressed by his minority status, always on the lookout for any signs of anyone resenting his presence, always ready to apologize. A bit tedious, his very Caucasian servility, but still nice to have around.

Mostly nice. There can be too much of a good thing.

Olu recalls how Kevin’s apologies for fetching the wrong protein bar from the canteen culminated in a mea culpa for colonial crimes. Yes, there’s a lot of history, behind something as simple as a coconut flavor, and it’s full of white-on-black crimes. But you don’t want to hear about the more gory aspects of slavery while eating. 

Kevin never tired of telling anyone he met, about how sorry he felt, for all the misdeeds Caucasians committed, until well into the 21st century. He was most upset about them having enjoyed centuries of undeserved privileges, and forever grateful for his fine job.

“Being allowed to harvest ice, instead of slaving away in often deadly flood or fire combat, such luck, no idea how I got here,” Kevin used to say, slipping on his own slime.

Kevin’s presumed luck turned out the be deadly after all.

Olu was glad never to have added to Kevin’s pressure, unlike some of the colleagues. Otherwise, that fatal heart attack could have felt like his fault. A full Karoshi death, right here, on the chair bloody Samaria is squatting now. Less gruesome than a fire fighter death, but still pretty bad, as far as the result concerned. Death by apology. Unlike some people.

Olu hopes the monitoring AI can’t read his mind too well. He’s thinking a combination of Samaria and a fire fighter accident he saw on TV, and he’s well aware that’s not the kind of thought one is supposed to harbor, in a team context.

“Phase two, step two, engage, now!”

Samaria’s voice is so over the top, painful to listen to. Despite the discomfort, Olu struggles to refrain from grinning. Adding even one word, that’s against protocol. The bitch is at fault now. No need to look up from his screen to know her head will be in process of going steam cooker. When she’s angry, her eyes bulge forward, like ready to plop out.

Taking care to add a little pause after every word, Olu goes:

“Phase two, step two, engaged.”

He’s sticking to protocol, come what may. Takes more than a nuisance of a shrill boss to impress him. Samaria dared not grant him a switch of shifts. He won’t be watching the Dota 5 Champions League final this year. A never no way. Ever since he played his first game, he never missed any major encounter, never mind a Champions League final. 

A crime to beat all crimes has been committed, and Samaria will pay for it.

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.