I’m actually going to return to this at some point, because I think the future is pretty well laid out for us all to see. I’ve been breaking from Dancing in Hellfire because the first draft is finished, and because some period of waiting is always necessary before moving onto the second draft. That officially ended today, though, and the second draft process is quick. One of the primary issues I’ve noticed with it is that I didn’t even try to write it emotionally–I talk about abuse, drug usage, murder, and violence so matter-of-factly, and that hinders the actual manuscript. My next project is the sci-fi story about AI, and it’s already been started (gotta do something in that downtime between drafts!), so I’m looking forward to moving onto it. Of course, both Dancing in Hellfire and “The AI Novel” will be available to patrons. Anyway–here is some thing that I wrote.
Blehk! It’s really sloppy. Clearly this is something I wrote a very long time ago.
North Korea invaded South Korea yesterday, following two weeks of diplomacy breakdowns over recent hostilities. Earthquake in Chile leaves thousands homeless and hundreds dead. AIDS epidemic reaches all-time high in Africa, despite efforts of the WHO to curb the outbreaks. Oil prices skyrocket this week as a result of civil war in Pakistan. Iran making threats to invade Pakistan to end the civil war themselves, while the U.S. prepares to institute a No-Fly Zone over Iran.
John rubbed his eyes and closed out of the webpage. Too much information for it to be so early, he decided, and walked over to his coffeemaker. He helped himself to a cup of the black drink and sat back at the table. He re-opened his Internet browser and once more and flipped through his home page, this time ignoring the headlines and words. John finally stopped on a cartoon that depicted a donkey bending over to receive a brand of ownership from a man wearing a hat that labeled him as, “Corporations.”
John laughed a little, though he didn’t fully understand the cartoon. He went back to cycling through the pages when his cellphone, sitting near him on the table, vibrated. He lifted the phone and saw he’d been sent a friend request on Facebook from someone named Mario Valez. He didn’t know a Mario, but out of friendliness, he accepted the request. Seconds later, his phone vibrated again, alerting him that he and Mario were now friends. John smiled a little at the knowledge that he was approaching the One Thousand Mark of friends. He set the phone back down on the table, but ignored his laptop, and continued to drink his coffee in silence.
When he couldn’t take the boredom any longer (which lasted only a few seconds, really), John stood up and walked over to the counter, to his small television that sat in the kitchen. He turned the TV on and grabbed the remote off the counter, then returned to his chair. He flipped through the channels for anything interesting. News, news, talk show, news, talk show. Sighing, he used the remote to turn off the TV and sat drumming his fingers on the table while he finished his coffee. He looked at the counter on top of the television, which was tied in with the other counters on all the TVs in his house (John prided himself on having six televisions). Fourteen hours, 37 minutes remaining according to the counter.
Well, it’s Friday, John told himself. Four hours tonight, five tomorrow, and five Sunday, so I should be okay to get through the weekend. Each house was allowed to watch forty hours of television per week. John had, unfortunately, fell asleep with his television on Tuesday night, which had consumed an extra 8 hours of his time. Sure, John could file a request with the Department of Energy to get those hours back, but they wouldn’t be pleased (he knew from experience) when they learned he’d fallen asleep with his television on. They were unlikely to fill the request by Sunday, anyway, he also knew from experience. Far more likely was the possibility that eight months from now, he would receive an email saying that he was to be credited for those 8 hours sometime within the next 3 months.
John knew exactly how the counters communicated with the televisions and the Allocation Counters at the central offices of the Department of Energy, as he was a networking specialist. It was a rather mundane career these days, but he had learned in school that there was a time a few decades ago when the field of networking was booming. Apparently, this was when home devices were just starting to communicate, when televisions were beginning to access the Internet, when stoves were able to be programmed to turn on from cellphones, and people actually paid for TV broadcasts instead of streaming programs to their televisions from the Internet.
Of course, now all these things were in place. John’s job was essentially to maintain this communication between devices, not to make new communications. Every electronic device that conceivably could be used to talk with another electronic device could already do so. The frontier was gone, replaced with the tedious task of just making sure the status quo was maintained.
When at last he was done with the cup, he sighed in relief, for now he was able to do something, rather than sit and wait to finish the beverage. He walked back to his bedroom and dressed for work. His watch beeped at him as he did, letting him know that it was time to exercise.
John had overheard coworkers joking one day a few years ago about the original function of a watch. Apparently, watches once performed the utterly useless task of keeping the wearer (and everyone else around that didn’t wear a watch and would bug the person incessantly concerning the time) informed of the current time. This truly was, John agreed, a completely worthless concept, as nearly every electronic device (and the average person had four or five devices on him at any given time) would allow the user to know the time.
Now watches actually performed tasks, John thought with satisfaction. Then the sadness hit, for it was another frontier of technology that he had missed out on. Obesity and diabetes in the past had been a great problem in the U.S. due to high sugar diets and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. To combat this, the Apple corporation had been paid by the government to create personal devices that were worn on the wrist and would remind the person at specific intervals to get up and do some exercises. This was Friday, so push-ups were on the agenda today.
It also meant, John thought as he did his twenty push-ups, that it was now 8:00 in the morning, so he had only an hour remaining before he was to report in for work. When he finished, he grabbed the shirt he’d slept in the previous night off the bed and wiped the sweat from his brow. 70 degrees was still a bit too hot for him, seeing as it was the middle of the summer, but there was nothing he could do about it. The Department of Energy denied all requests for temperature adjustment, having decided some decades ago that 70 degrees was the perfect temperature to maintain in a house regardless of the season. The thermostats were also connected to the Internet, which allowed the DOE to adjust the temperatures of houses remotely, but they never did so.
He sat down on the bed, needing a few minutes to catch his breath and cool off from the brief exercise. He was still overweight. Most people were. At six feet tall and around 200 pounds, no one could accuse John of being skinny, but he was fine with that. The average person was no longer of an average build, he thought ironically, and the average person was overweight between 30 and 50 pounds. However, the goal of the watches had never been to make people skinny. The goal had been to simply make people less fat. Apparently it had worked, as diabetes was on the decline, as was severe obesity, which the WHO defined as being more than 50 pounds overweight.
The goal had been achieved with great success, meaning that the frontier in that area was dead. However, a new model was being developed by the Apple corporation under the direction of the U.S. Government that would expand on the functions of the current watch. Finally, the watch would actually do what its name implied; it would watch the wearer, at least to some extent.
The new model would become available in just a few days (the upcoming Monday, John couldn’t wait!—despite the amount of work it meant he would have in the coming weeks) and would monitor the heart rate of the wearer for fifteen minutes after a notification to exercise. If the person did not have an increased heart rate in those fifteen minutes (meaning he did not exercise), a notification would be sent to the Department of Health, and the person would literally be taken to an Exercise Camp for one week.
John was thrilled at the concept, as he worked with several people who routinely ignored their alarms and didn’t exercise. These people were also rapidly approaching severe obesity, and some were even at an even fifty pounds overweight.
He applauded the level of care the Government was showing in these new watches. Not only did they want to ensure that people exercised and were healthy, they had solved the problem of obesity by interfering into the lives of citizens as little as possible. Another solution would have been to ban the foods that were so high in fat and sugar, but how many jobs would that have lost? How would the economy have handled the migration of hundreds of millions of people from McDonald’s and Burger King to Wal-Mart for pre-cooked meals that only had to be heated? Considering the average Wal-Mart had between ten and fifteen employees, the job loss would have been staggering. With unemployment rates already approaching 35%, it simply was not a feasible route to go.
John had something that few others could boast: job security. In High School, an instructor had told the entire class that as long as electronic devices communicated, electronic devices would break or stop communicating, and would need to be repaired, or replacements would have to be configured. The average user was too ignorant to configure these devices himself, so the Government would always have an Information Technology department that handled such things. A job in that field was a job forever, the instructor had said. John was the only student who had taken the words to heart and joined the field.
He was also the only student in that class who actually had a job.
The new watch would do other things, too. Given that people were limited to so few hours of television each week, few households were sparing their allotted time to watching the news. To remedy this, the watches would notify the wearer with a beep followed by scrolling text displayed on the watch whenever something “important” occurred in the world. Most users had their personal laptops (bought by the U.S. Government from the Dell corporation and supplied to every citizen over ten years old) set to open a search page or a random video site, so very few people in the nation ever had any idea what was going on in the government or in the world at large.
That reminded John—his laptop would be two years old next Friday. He’d have to take it to the Department of Technology (which wasn’t a big deal, as he worked in that department) and exchange it for a newer model. They would copy his data and settings over to his new laptop, then erase the hard drive of the old laptop and sell it back to the Dell corporation, who would in turn sell it to some other country with fewer resources to be used by its people. Or so people said. Other people said that only government officials from other, poor countries (like Iran and North Korea) had laptops! This was something John couldn’t understand fully, as he’d seen his entire life virtually everyone carrying a laptop case everywhere they went. To think this wasn’t the way of the world, that it was only the way of the U.S. was unfathomable.
He’d heard this before, but found it hard to believe. Even if it was true, it only strengthened his belief in the U.S. and its benevolence toward the other, poorer countries of the world. After all, if not for the U.S. and its corporations, third world countries like North Korea wouldn’t have laptops at all, if it was true! John laughed a little at the idea of using a laptop that was over two years old (how slow his laptop was by the current standards!), but he figured it was okay for poor saps who wouldn’t know the difference anyway. Saps like the North Koreans.
Hadn’t he seen something about them? He couldn’t remember at the moment. He knew it wasn’t important anyway, and went back to getting ready for work. It ate in the back of his mind, though, and he tried to remember what he had read about North Korea recently. They’d just had an earthquake, hadn’t they? Hopefully we are donating them money for the recovery! thought Jon. Or were they at war? Bastard North Koreans, that was probably it. Always starting fights with someone! The only thing he truly remembered from the glance at the day’s headlines was the the U.S. was finally, after years of arguing over Iran’s increased hostilities toward Israel and their questionable “peaceful nuclear program,” going to do something about the country that was, by all accounts from the CIA, the U.N., NATO allies, and other independent media sources, full of terrorists and people who burned the U.S. flag.
Coincidentally, his watch beeped. He looked down to see the daily advertisement for the U.S. Navy. “Have you considered a career in the U.S. Navy? Job security and good pay!” said the scrolling text. John ignored it. He’d served his time in the armed forces, as had every U.S. citizen. At any time between the ages of 18 and 24, a male citizen was required to spend at least 2 years in service to the armed forces. In contrast, women had to spend at least 2 years (during the same age range) as either intern nurses or “entertainment” overseas to the armed forces.
John shook his head sadly. Very, very few women chose entertainment, and those few who did rapidly switched to nurses as soon as they learned what was meant by “entertainment.” He had only been entertained once in his two years of service, and most people he’d been stationed with hadn’t been entertained at all. The government was on the verge of fixing that, too, though, by instituting a new random draft where roughly one third of women would have to serve as entertainers, while two thirds would continue to serve as intern nurses. It didn’t do John any good, as he had no interests in going back to the military, but it would hopefully help future young men from having to suffer through two years of private droughts while they fought and died to protect the very women that refused to look him in the eye while they did their duties for the country.
Selfish, John thought as he walked back to the kitchen and put his laptop in its case. He took his cellphone and put it in his shirt pocket, then grabbed his wallet from the table. With a quick look around, he surveyed himself.
Watch? Check. Not that he could take it off, anyway. One needed a special key that only workers of the Department of Health had to remove a watch.
Anklet? Check. Another device that couldn’t be removed without a key from the DOH. The Anklet, as it was called, monitored a person’s steps each day. It ingeniously reset itself after a period of 4 hours of no movement. And the daily vitamins contained a supplement that kept people from restlessly moving their legs around in their sleep. John, at roughly two hundred pounds, was only required to walk a total of one mile per day. He usually did double that during an average work day.
Cellphone? Check. It was a miniature laptop itself, capable of nearly everything that a laptop could do. The cellphone, however, served one important role that, for whatever reason (probably due to corporate bureaucracy or government copyrights), couldn’t utilize the Internet without connecting to Wi-Fi networks. The cellphone would give him access to the Internet, as well as other devices he carried that connected to the Internet through Wi-Fi (like his Anklet and Watch) the same connectivity. It was a wireless access point as much as it was a cellphone. It, too, was supplied to every citizen over the age of 10, and was bought from the AT&T corporation by the Government.
That was everything he needed. He clipped his keys to a belt loop on his pants and left for work. He had only to walk a few hundred feet to the end of the street corner to catch the 8:15 to the DOT. Unfortunately, because of all the other stops, he’d arrive at work only a few minutes before his shift started. He would have preferred to have ten or fifteen minutes to come in and collect his bearings, but the only other bus that ran to the DOT was the 7:15, and there was just no way he was going to work that early.
The upgrade to the new watches was being handled so smoothly that John was hardly able to tell that it was scheduled for the coming Monday. The watches were already in stock and were being delivered to every major workplace in the city. The bosses at those workplaces were required to collect the old watches in exchange for the new ones, then deliver them back to the DOT. In theory, the watches would configure themselves by pressing a button on the watch while pressing a similar button on each electronic device that was to communicate with the watch.
John looked at his laptop screen, which was busy pulling his tasks from the server. His first task appeared on the screen. He turned in disbelief and saw a co-worker named Brady walking by. “Brady,” John called. Brady approached. John pointed at the line in question and said, “They can’t be serious… We’re replacing everyone’s watches Monday!”
Brady read the line quickly aloud. “1214 Ninth Street, Apartment 117, Communication with Device B of Resident 6 has not succeeded in 72 hours. Please investigate. What’s the problem?”
John sighed, thinking it obvious. “Device B is a watch. So it’s not communicating with our servers through Resident 6’s cellphone. Big deal, he’ll be getting a new one Monday. I really don’t think it’s the best way to use time and energy, going to an apartment in the slums to repair a device that’s going to be replaced on the next working day. Do you?”
Brady shrugged. “Take it up with Mike, not me.”
“I’ll do that,” John said. Brady left.
No one in the DOT enjoyed making a trip to the slums, and Ninth Street was right in the middle of the slums of the city. The slums were full of people who didn’t have jobs, who had probably never had jobs, who relied on ANF (Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Wazzup (so they called it) (actually called WSUP—Weekly Supplement for Unskilled Workers). To make matters worse, these families usually had more children than anyone who had to pay their own bills would ever reasonably have—sometimes in the range of 8 or 9 children.
The household in question had at least 4 children. Resident 1 was the father, Resident 2 was the mother. Further residents were numbered in the order they were born. Resident 3 was the oldest child, Resident 4 wass the next oldest, and so on. This number could also be misleading (at least in non-slum households), as when a child moved out from the house, he became Resident 1 (and she became Resident 0, even if she lived alone, but never Resident 1—how odd) of his new household, and his siblings all had their numbers lowered by one, when determining how many children a person had. This wasn’t an issue in the slums, though. No one ever moved in the slums, unless the family itself had grown to proportions that simply could not continue in their current apartment, and were relocated to a larger one.
John knocked on the door of Mike’s office. Mike, as a Department Director (for the city) had his own office, not just an opening in one of dozens of workbenches onto which he could set his laptop (like John had). “Come in,” Mike called from the inside of the office, and John pushed the door open.
Mike was an aging man, probably about seventy years old, but no one had asked Mike his age in decades—it simply was rude to do. This made John remember something he’d learned back in school about something called, “Retirement,” when people got so old that they became too cranky to be valuable members of the work force. With whatever the government put in their daily vitamins, though, this “crankiness” was a thing of the past, as most people were in a good mood around the clock. This, John had been taught, meant that people could continue to feel useful and not feel like burdens to society, regardless of their age, as they would work and contribute until the age of 100. At 100, it was said a person could retire to what was known as the Beaches of Florida and live out the remainder of his or her days watching the sun rise or set over the ocean.
John shivered at that. Imagine the boredom!
“Are you cold? It’s an even 70 degrees in here. Perhaps you’re getting sick?” Mike asked.
John shook his head. “No, not at all. I was… thinking about something else.”
“Oh?” Mike asked, leaning back in his chair. Mike had the habit of making himself comfortable with people, which caused people to become comfortable in turn. When people were comfortable, they revealed themselves. Mike was constantly watching for Dissenters, and this was the best way to discover them. “Do tell.”
“It was nothing,” John said. “Look, Mike, you can’t be serious about replacing Device B at 1214 Ninth Street. They’ll be getting a replacement in three days, it’s such a waste!”
Mike shrugged. “Protocol is protocol. You know that.” Mike winked at his joke.
Protocol was a term used in the technology world to describe a given method that devices use to communicate with each other. John didn’t appreciate the humor at the moment, though.
“I know, but—“ John started.
“The device in question hasn’t communicated with our servers—or the servers at the DOH, which is more important—in over 72 hours. Protocol dictates that we send a technician to examine the problem. The meeting has already been scheduled, and Resident 6 has remained at home today rather than going to school. I know, John. Believe me, I know what’s it’s like to go over there,” Mike interrupted.
“It’s not that so much as it is the fact that in three days—only one of which—today—is a work day—will be fixed anyway.”
“Well, just pretend the world isn’t getting new watches Monday,” Mike said. Mike also winked again, something that John was finding increasingly irritating under the circumstances.
“But we are getting new watches.”
Mike shrugged. “Maybe not. There could be a problem in shipping them out, there could be a universal flaw in the new devices that causes them to not function properly. Who knows?”
John conceded that point, even though the odds were very, very steep. He doubted most people remembered a certain event about six years ago, though it had been a major event that caused a great deal of problems for the DOT. People were usually so busy trying to do a million things at once that they had no time to remember things that had happened, which, being in the past, no longer even mattered.
John remembered, though. Six years ago, the DOT passed out new laptops on exchange for laptops that were two years old. As it turned out, the wireless on these new laptops didn’t work, and DOT employees ended up working about one hundred hours a week trying to fix all the laptops before they were given out, and giving priority to laptops that had been given out and returned already. The U.S. Government had sued Dell for negligence and faulty craftsmanship. After a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, the Dell corporation packed its things and moved its headquarters to Japan, becoming, instead, a Japanese corporation. The U.S. Government promptly dropped the lawsuit, wrote off the losses, and pretended the event never happened. John, in addition to not getting paid for his overtime hours (over 60 worked hours in a given week), saw a 2% increase in the amount of taxes he paid in. This brought his total taxes withheld to about 84%.
Once, fleetingly, many years ago, about two years after that lawsuit with Dell, John had wondered why his taxes had not gone back down. He never remembered it when it was important, so he could ask Mike about it or someone in the Department of Revenue, and in time he forgot about it completely.
John sighed. “Suck it up and deal with it?” he asked.
Mike nodded, and John left the office. He checked the time on his cellphone. 9:20. Thirty minutes for the bus ride to Ninth Street—it would, without doubt, be the loudest and smelliest bus—one hour for the actual service, thirty minutes for a trip back—once again on the loud and smelly bus (all buses that went to the slums were loud and smelled awful)—fifteen minutes to collect his next assignment, then fifteen more minutes to get something to eat. That would put him eating his first bite that day around Noon, which was completely unacceptable for a guy that didn’t eat breakfast. His stomach was growling at him already.
He reworked the times, factoring in a side trip to McDonald’s. He nodded his satisfaction at this new time frame, then left the building and caught the bus to the fastfood place. He walked in to have the smell of grease and fried foods assault his brain. He licked his lips hungrily and was pleased to find no one in line.
He looked at the menu and told the worker (after the worker gave his initial and routine greeting), “Yeah, let me get… Two Freedom Burgers, an order of Freedom Fries, and… a Diet Freedom Coke.”
Freedom everything. John had heard once, from where, he didn’t recall, that during a war long, long ago, the French government did not wish to join the U.S. in going to war with someone. As a result, Americans starting calling, “French Fries,” as, “Freedom Fries.” It was a gesture John thought was elegant—a slap in the face to a country that refused to ally themselves with a beacon of hope and freedom while the rest of the world went mad.
The word Freedom was formally attached to everything before John was born, when the U.S. Government began its move to supplying the citizens of the country with what they needed by purchasing the goods and services from corporations, like they did with Dell, Apple, and AT&T. McDonald’s was no different. Its workers were government workers (unskilled government workers, John thought with contempt), and the money made was delivered to the government. The government in turn paid the workers themselves, then paid the corporation McDonald’s the profits. Why the corporation was paid at all, John didn’t know.
Bureaucracy again, he assumed.
Some complicated lawyer mumbo-jumbo that no one fully understood.
After receiving his order, he carried his bag and drink back to the bus stop and waited for the next bus that would carry him into the slums. He ate as quickly as he could, hoping to finish his meal before the bus arrived. He succeeded, and, feeling a little nauseous, he swallowed the last bite and threw the bag away in a nearby trash can as the bus came to a stop.
John hadn’t been alive then, but the history he’d been taught in school regarding the Corporations’ takeover of, well, pretty much everything was very simple. Basically, the corporations grew larger and larger, and thus more and more powerful, as they had continually more and more wealth, until they were concentrated in the hands of a few larger, mostly unknown Megacorporations. These Megacorporations, of which there were about five, owned every smaller corporation, which gave the illusion to the public that there were thousands of distinct and separate corporations, when, in reality, there were but five.
These Megacorporations, through employment and the sheer resources they commanded, easily outweighed the U.S. Government in terms of power to direct the people. It was said that the government hated competition, and that was probably true, but competition grew up around the government while the government was wholly unaware of it, and before anyone knew what was happening, a handful of Megacorporations essentially controlled the world and all its resources, making the tiny-minded U.S. Government look rather foolish to the People of the country.
Any threats by the U.S. Government to rein in these rogue, nation-less Megacorporations resulted in direct debasement of the workers—the Megacorporations would close, would raise prices, or would exercise any other power they had in getting what they wanted. It eventually became very clear what they wanted: profits.
The Megacorporations and the U.S. Government worked out The Deal, which was that the U.S. Government would manage the smaller corporations in a business sense and would pass the profits of that operation onto the Megacorporations. Through working this out, the Megacorporations would relinquish their power to influence so powerfully the lies of the citizens, because the employment and prices and wages would no longer be in their hands, but in the hands of the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government would, in turn, control employment, prices, and wages, and would also pay the Megacorporations the profits for the privilege of controlling these things.