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People Kibble: SciFi News 2033

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US in Ottawa Newsletter
January 22, 2033
Patrick Chowdhury Melendez
 
President Trump Jr. “Fights Hunger” With People Kibble
 
Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Jr. announced a USA-wide anti-hunger program from the so-called “press vault” in Trump Tower in NYC (the de facto White House since 2021) at 5:15 this morning.
Press coverage was limited to fifteen reporters representing the “Gang of Seven” Trump regime-approved media organizations. A source within Trump Tower confirmed that those reporters were brought into the tower during the inauguration for sequestration and “extreme vetting.”
The source also stated the initial number of reporters admitted was sixteen, two per media org. The sixteenth reporter did not appear in footage of the press conference released by Vice President (and former President) Eric Trump. The whereabouts of that reporter are unknown. US in Ottawa staff and other expatriate press speculate that Reporter Sixteen may be Miles DeGuzmen of the popular morning Fox News “Trumping the World” segment, which has been guest-hosted by Sean Spicer since January 19th.
Trump Jr.’s “anti-hunger” program, “Making Americans Healthy,” follows two years of widespread simmering protest and riots in the wake of President Eric Trump’s 2031 federal-level outlawing of the last state-level food stamp, EBT, and WIC legacy programs. Federal welfare programs, including food and financial assistance, were ended in 2023.
Riots were especially intense in spring of 2032 following the revelation of the February malnutrition deaths of Mrs. Jackie Pillman of Little Rock, Arkansas and her kindergarten-age twins, Steven and Stephenie. The President announced that he was “working on a solution” in his Thanksgiving day address to the nation that year. He also vowed to “plug news leaks” in his remarks, thought to be a reference to the anonymous bloggers who produced the viral stories of the Pillman deaths. No arrests were ever announced, though some night disappearances of suspects were rumored in following months.
“Making Americans Healthy” relies on National Guard detachments (formally placed under federal control in 2021), which are directed to distribute one fifty pound bag of UNGR (Universal Nutrition Granular Recipe, a soy and peanut based, vitamin-enriched food dubbed “Purina Human Chow” in expatriate media) to any citizen who reports in person with two approved forms of federal identification to a distribution point on the 5th and 20th of each month.
“UNGR is a terrific food that provides everything adults and children need to be healthy and well-fed,” President Trump Jr. said in the released presser footage. “The taste is a bit boring, sure. I’ve tried it. But if people are hungry, they’ll come and get it, and they’ll be thankful for it. If they don’t like the taste, great. Maybe they’ll get off their asses and get jobs. There are so many jobs that the CEOs of factories and construction companies come to me every day begging me to find them workers.”
Independent economic analysts in the EU and India estimate actual US employment at 25-30%, or 60-65% if the chronically underemployed are included. US figures, released by law exclusively by press release from the Oval Office since 2024, place US unemployment at a radically unlikely 2.2%.

The American Dream, All New For The Tricentennial — SciFi News Network 2076

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Omniews Printernet Corporation

Staff

June 3, 2076

Omimerica Holdings is bringing you a bold new twist on the American Dream for the Tricentennial! Recent polls show that more Americans than ever before believe their leaders aren’t listening. The people who govern us aren’t accountable! They tell lies to get elected, break their promises as soon as they’re made, and get re-elected anyway.

By the time they choose to retire they’re a hundred times richer than when they got there — and you paid for it!

No more. Thanks to Omnimerica.

Omnimerica’s domination of the business world in every field has placed us in a unique position in history. Once, companies and citizens were at the mercy of the politicians. Sixty years ago, that began to change. For the first time ever, a global business concern (today a division of Omnimerica) and political office merged in the single person of the President of the United States. The people accepted it. The politicians accepted it. Our world, slowly, began to change. This year, that change is complete.

Today, an overwhelming majority of politicians at every level of government are involved with Omnimerica. They’re our board members, our executives, our division and holding heads, our consultants, and the customers of our worldwide supply chain.

So we’re taking action.

We’re changing everything. For the better.

Your voice will no longer be limited to voting for the lesser of two evils. You’ll vote every single day if you want! You can vote on every single issue, join the debate with your comments, reactions, and memes, and shape the policies of the United States AS THEY DEVELOP.

Never again will your voice go unheard. Omnimeria’s We The People is your destination to connect with family, friends, and the vital issues that matter to you. With a fast-moving timeline, fun games, an automatic entry in the billion-dollar Omnimerica Lottery with every post, and an advanced participation algorithm that could propel your words direct to the timeline of your local officials, the President of the United States, or even the Omnimerica Board of Directors, there’s so much to love that you’ll never fail to do your civic duty — or should we say, civic PLEASURE — ever again!

We The People is open for business in limited-participation mode right now. If you’re a US citizen, you already have an account! Log in with your SSN, birthdate, and a scan of your Citizenship Chip.

Government by the people begins on the day of the Tricentennial — log in at 12:01 PM PST on July 4th to cast your very first votes. You’ll be choosing the contestants for Dance Across the States, airing on Omnimusical 2 every Tuesday and Friday for thirteen weeks following the week of the Tricentennial. The winners will perform at ceremonies for thirty-five change of office ceremonies for mayors and governors slated for replacement by order of the Board of Directors.

Out with the old, and in with the NEW AMERICAN DREAM!

 

 

SciFi News Network 2098: Eight Simultaneous Prison Riots Put Down In Hours

(Originally appeared on Patreon, December 16)

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US AP (Federal Approved)

Monday 17 November 2098

Staff

Riots at eight Indianapolis, Indiana-area penetentaries were put down yesterday by automated Lockup Consolidated guards aided by automated SWAT teams from the cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

All eight riots began between 8 and 8:30 Sunday morning. An Indianapolis PD SpoxBot, in a text release marked “reviewed and approved” by Deputy Police Chief W.A. Stoltzy, stated the riots are believed to have been deliberately plotted and coordinated. “So many riots simultaneously occurring in a single district and in such a constrained timeframe are highly unlikely in normal circumstances,” the statement read in part.

An investigation is ongoing.

The riots interrupted production on orders of clothing and furniture kits for markets in the European Union and India, where strong basic income programs have preserved and expanded a mass market for frivolous consumer goods.

Although the riots were ended within 6 hours and with minimal casualties relative to the inmate population (14 dead and 171 injured of 38,500 total inmates), equipment damage pushed back anticipated delivery dates.

“This is going to invoke contractual penalties. Significant monetary penalties that will severely impact revenues,” said Stanley Wallers, the Executive Vice-President of Lockup Consolidated’s Textile Division. “In order to compensate, we anticipate 30 to 60 layoffs of human production and shipping bot supervisors. If there are no more setbacks we may consider opening hiring again in a year or so.”

Lockup Consolidated is among the top 10 employers in the Indianapolis greater metro area, employing over 400 human workers.

My Patreon Patrons Are Getting A Serial…

…but you can, too! The first installment will be posted here as well as there. Subsequent installments of Broken Rice will be patron-exclusive on Patreon first, but will also appear in ebook form after a short delay! I explain it all over on my Patreon page — but before you click the link, please enjoy the cover art for Broken Rice below. I really enjoyed making it (even if some moments were kind of a pain in the butt) and I’m really pleased with how it came out. 🙂

Broken Rice cover

 

Read This Over-The-Top Press Release From Trump IX (SciFi News Network 2204)

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06 January 2204

Reuters Buzz

Above: Propaganda image of Trump I, President of the United States (pre-schism) 2016-2019. In the Eastern (Schismatic) United States, Trump I is depicted as the father of his nation and a strong military leader. In fact, Donald Trump I was assassinated by a right-Anarchist “Sovereign Citizen” in early 2019 after a divisive but ineffective partial term in office marked by internal intercultural violence, mass riots, and an escalating police state.

Financial troubles led to the de facto withdrawal of the United States from world affairs during his term in favor of addressing growing internal instability. He was succeeded first by his Vice-President Mike Pence, then by the last president of the pre-Schismatic United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2020 – both equally ineffective presidents who expanded the internal police state while failing to suppress civil disorder.

It wasn’t until 2023 that Donald Trump’s son Eric (Trump II) led the Schismatic Coup, establishing the Trump dynastic “democratic republic” and severing the country into the Eastern and Western Schismatic United States along the strategic Mississippi River, today lined with walls and fortresses, most dating to the 21st century.

To this day, neither nation recognizes the other’s existence and officially refuses the label“Schismatic,” used by the United Nations World Federated Government, of which the Western United States is a member (since 2119) and which was in 2114 (continuous to today) recognized by the UN as the successor state of the old USA.

(Editorial additions and clarifications are indicated by italic text.)

Full statement of His Excellency President George Washington Lincoln Ronald Wilson Reagan Donald Trump IX, 9th President of the (Schismatic Eastern) United States of America and Defender of the Christian Faith, in his 7th Duly Elected Term of Office, Upon the successful ground test of the most Modern and Powerful (2nd generation, used by the UN beginning in 2084 and retired from official service in 2113) high-efficiency ion drive spacecraft engine and orbital kinetic bombing technology, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE courtesy of Fox-USA Authorized Presidential News Agency:

Scientists of the (Schismatic Eastern) United States of America startled the world in an event to be specially recorded in the history of the USA, which spans 597 years from the founding of Jamestown. This is an exciting period in which all service personnel and People (sic: nonstandard capitalization throughout is as presented in the original press release) of the USA are making a giant stride, performing miracles and turning out as one united people in the all-out charge to hasten the Final Victory of the revolutionary cause of the Founders and the America First Trumpite GOP Party.

In joint operations, ion drive testing in the outskirts of the industrial district of Charleston, West Virginia and orbital kinetic weapons released from high-altitude atmospheric drones (the UN has maintained a no-fly zone above 50,000 meters over the WSUSA and interdiction of any orbital or interplanetary operations since the establishment of the UNWFG in 2045) in the Army-Airforce Testing Range in the ruins of Vacated St. Louis, Missouri proved that the technological prowess of the United States is the equal of any in the world. The tests were conducted perfectly and demonstrated unprecedented power release from both the ion drive and the kinetic orbital weaponry.

These tests prove the USA the equal and Better of the so-called United Nations World Federated Government and demonstrates the Spirit of our Most Dignified nation now equipped with the most Powerful orbital kinetic deterrent. These tests are measures for self-defense the USA has taken to firmly protect the Sovereignty of the country and the vital right of the nation from the ever-growing orbital and interplanetary threat and blackmail by the UN-led hostile forces and reliably safeguards the peace of the Ancestral Territory of the United States.

In world history there has been no precedent of such deep-rooted, harsh, and persistent policy as the hostile policy the UN has pursued towards the USA. The UN is a gang of cruel robbers which has worked hard to bring disaster to the USA, not content with having imposed the insane and unheard-of political isolation, economic blockade, and military pressure on it for the mere reason that it has differing ideology and social systems. The USA will Never yield to the UN’s ambition for aggression and conquest.

The United States, along its entire border including the seacoasts and the Mississippi River border with the bastard Nazi-Communist false “Western United States” rebellion illegally protected by the United Nations, has long been the world’s biggest hotspot of danger of war as the United Nations has lined the land, air, sea, and space itself with its largest and most threatening forces and weapons, including massive orbital strike groups and continuous high-altitude EMP-bomb drone coverage. Under continuous assault of economic sanctions and conspiratorial and false “human rights violations” accusations, the UN has desperately attempted to block the USA from building a thriving nation and improving the living standards of the People, and has attempted to sabotage the social system of the USA.

The USA’s access to orbital kinetic weaponry of Justice, standing against UN aggression and threats to attack with enormous forces, preserves the legitimate right of a Sovereign state for self-defense and a step for Justice immune to the insinuations of UN propagandists.

Genuine peace and security cannot be achieved through the UN’s campaign of humiliation or through compromise at the negotiating table. The present-day grim reality clearly proves once again the immutable truth that the Great Destiny of the United States of America can only be defended by our own efforts to Make America Great Again – by force of arms at home and abroad.

(This post appeared on my Patreon page 3 days before it appeared here, on the 18th. Become a patron and see posts early, get free ebooks THIRTY DAYS BEFORE RELEASE, and also you get my eternal thanks for being part of getting me the hell out of this damnable trailer park!)

13 Word Story: Misanthrope’s Paw (now with image)

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I posted this story about a year ago, before I started putting the stories on images.

I like the story being on the image much better. It looks better. Somehow it makes the story feel better. And you can easily save and share this image anywhere you want if you like. You couldn’t do that before.

If you do decide to save and share the image, I’d recommend clicking on it to expand it first. Hopefully WordPress will be nice and give you the full size which is somewhere around 2000 pixels wide.

As for the 13 word story itself, I leave you to ponder the potential of robots, androids, AI-what-have-yous as force multipliers for small numbers of humans, even a single human.

Or, if you’re into visions of Terminatoresque futures, for themselves.

Of course, there are a host of reasons why a scenario like this is highly improbable. The safeguards we devise will expand and improve along with the technology to create autonomous war machines. However, determined humans have a way of finding a way to bring their dreams to life.

Even if those dreams are nightmares.

Sleep tight.

Thirteen Word Story: Superstar

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(This story and commentary appeared first at my Patreon page on the 5th of this month — my patrons there saw it first. You can see my posts, too, plus get a FREE PDF of any short story I publish, even if I charge for the ebook elsewhere!)

Also, please feel free to save and share the image above wherever you wish. In fact, please do — it’s one way you can help me become better known as an author. Thanks!

 

—–

 

This story is one possible form of the science fiction trope of virtual reality as an addiction, a no-drugs drug with the potential to spread so widely through the populace that society or even the survival of humanity will be threatened. The idea is that once virtual reality gets really realistic, it will offer people more than ‘real life’ does. People will withdraw from interacting with actual people and become shut-ins, ordering all of the groceries and other things they need delivered to their homes (perhaps by Amazon drones — no human interaction there). Toss in enough AI to hold a good conversation, and the VR addict won’t even need to interact with others through social media and discussions forums, as poor as that interaction can be for some. They can simply talk to simulated people.

 

As more and more people withdraw to their customized virtual worlds, the trope goes, society goes screaming down the path to hell in a printed-circuit handbasket. Nobody wants to leave the house. Nobody wants to fix the roads or the cars, nobody wants to participate in the work of governing, nobody wants to party, nobody has sex to make new children. The whole human race dwindles, becomes the last withered human locked in a basement ‘eating’ via IV, and finally even he dies leaving a mess of broken-down infrastructure and skeletons with funny goggles strapped to their faces for future alien archaeologists to figure out.

And sure, a fantasy life can be addicting. That’s what virtual reality is, just a high-tech way to enjoy a fantasy life. People do get into trouble with them — there’s a bit of that in my own past; I avoided a lot of real-life responsibilities, at one time when I was younger, by immersing myself in role-playing games. I was pretty useless to other people, but on the other hand my imagination got one hell of a workout. And of course we have plenty of other tales to choose from about the misuse, overindulgence, and addiction of/to fantasy. Perhaps you’ve seen stories in the news about the parents who neglected their child to uphold their raiding responsibilities in World of Warcraft, the young man who played his favorite game for a couple of days straight and keeled over dead, the people who have spent fortunes amassing Star Trek memorabilia or virtual property in Second Life to the detriment of their own finances. They exist, and like nearly anything else, fantasy can be overindulged with.

 

Virtual reality will be no different. Some people WILL fuck themselves up with it.

 

But the dissolution of society and extinction of humanity will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps for a really big nuclear war or engineered plague. Because like the other things we can overindulge in, virtual reality will be consumed in moderation by most, avoided altogether by many, and abused by only a minority.

 

Thirteen Word Story: Skyless

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Skyless

Digging deeper, fleeing a greenhouse sky, in time humanity forgot sky, sun, stars.

In Defense of Pessimistic Science Fiction

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(Thanks for the image, Pixabay artist ‘hucky’)

Look, I like optimistic science fiction. Sometimes. It’s like hard candy to me: I like a little nibble now and again, but it’s just too damn sweet to go eating a whole bunch at once. A bag of hard candy, like a collection of upbeat optimist short stories, can last me a month. Pessimistic or even neutral fiction—I’m focusing on science fiction because that’s most of what I make and read, but it really applies to all fiction; I mean, I read Saunders’ CivilWarLand in Bad Decline just earlier this year—just feels more balanced to me. Like a meal, like savory, like a candy balanced by notes of salt or sourness or even heat (ever have chocolate with red pepper flakes? Wonderful stuff).

I’m not even saying you shouldn’t like a steady diet of upbeat science fiction. They’re your teeth if you want to rot them out; what do I have to do with that?

But, like the damned health food purveyors who insist that I will be better off if I eat less beef and bacon (they’re right, and there are days I hate them for it, because MMMMMM beef and bacon), I am saying that you’ll be better off if you consume more pessimistic fiction than optimistic. Pessimistic science fiction is fiber and bitter and sour and garlic and meat that’s really sort of tough but once you get chewing you notice all this FLAVOR NOM NOM NOM.

So I am saying that all in all, I think the pessimistic stuff is just plain better than the optimistic stuff, on average. And I am saying that it’s my opinion that the pessimistic stuff is more likely to make you a better reader, a better thinker, a better writer (if that’s your bag) than the upbeat stuff.

But, you ask—and I would be disappointed in you if you didn’t—why is pessimistic science fiction better?

Pessimistic science fiction is the pointing finger that says there—right there—is a problem that we must solve before it comes to this. A story about a dystopia inspires us to start thinking of ways to prevent that dystopia from coming to pass. It’s no guarantee, mind. Orwell’s 1984 did not prevent the rise of the current regime of surveillance; it did not prevent the widespread use of propaganda techniques. But it did, and still, keeps many of us questioning what we are told and why we should or should not be surveilled. And whatever the failings of today, they’re certainly not so bad as in 1984, and part of the credit for that goes to Orwell and 1984. The decidedly downbeat Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as well as older tales of golems, inspired Isaac Asimov to construct his three (later four) laws of robotics, a bit of problem solving that is still hotly debated today among roboticists and programmers and futurists (plug inspired by Asimov’s laws of robotics into your favorite search engine for a sampling). Paolo Bacigalupi’s works of dystopian climate-change-focused science fiction invite readers to think more deeply about the complications of climate change and what we might do about it—and how they might help. At the least, they contribute to raising awareness of the problems. You can sneer at that if you’d like to be cynical, but the bottom line is THE FIRST STEP TO SOLVING A PROBLEM IS RECOGNIZING THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM.

The ‘pointing hand’ of pessimistic fiction invites you, the reader, to recognize problems and consider taking a hand in the solution, however small or large your hand might be.

Secondly, optimistic science fiction, in being upbeat, tends to gloss over the negatives. And, let’s face it, there are always negatives. The introduction of agriculture in human history led to the growth of cities and the eventual industrial revolution, which led to people being able to sit in air-conditioned rooms and write blog entries on computers to ultimately be distributed to potentially millions of other human beings worldwide via a global telecommunications net composed of ground-based and orbital transmitters and relays.

But the introduction of agriculture also led to fun things like economically viable mass slavery and serfdom, reduced lifespans (at the time; they’ve since rebounded and more, thanks medical science), favorable environments for the spread of epidemic disease, and mass warfare. Many of those ills are still with us today in one form or another.

I’m not saying that this means that humanity should never have taken up agriculture. That debate is long since settled, and here we are in our air conditioned rooms in front of our internet-connected computers.

But what I am saying is that pessimistic science fiction doesn’t gloss over the negatives. It’s fuller, richer; as I said above, it’s not just sweetness but sweetness and sour and other flavors. It’s more true to life, and more relevant to our own lives, and more relevant to our own problems. Our own lives are not optimistic realism. Your life just might be way upbeat; I don’t know you like that, so I can’t say that it’s not. But most of us have our struggles. They may not be dramatic, they may not be earth-shaking, but our pain is ours. Maybe one struggle is marked by abuse and addiction and poverty, and another is marked by social struggles in academia and the upper socioeconomic classes. Fiction that sets out to be optimistic and deliver a happy ending mutes both experiences. It has to, or else it becomes pessimistic. What else would you call fiction with a happy ending that talks about the pain and unhappiness of the characters and their environment along the way? So, to be optimistic, it has to stay shiny-happy. The poor guy is a can-do fellow who washes dishes until, in the end, the office of President of the Universe falls in his lap by dint of hard work, that’s all you need everyone, and it’s just a great spiffy job, thanks much, none of that pressure that makes the hair on the head of a mere President of the United States start to turn gray in just a few years, nosiree.

The message of optimistic fiction, finally, is just not an honest one. It’s one-sided, it’s the happily-ever-after that, at best, excuses and dismisses the struggle that it takes to get there, the uncertainty in achieving a happily, and the certainty that eternal change will lop off the “ever after” shortly after the book is set down by the reader.

I’m not saying that there can’t or shouldn’t be positive or hopeful elements in fiction. Those, as much as anything, are part of the most pessimistic story. What makes pessimistic fiction pessimistic is the possibility of what might have been. Frankenstein’s monster might have been accepted for the human being he truly was, instead of being hated. Reading the story, you wonder how things might have been different. And maybe, when you meet someone strange and alien and a bit scary, you try to look past the monster you see to find the human, and make a friend instead of hounding an enemy with torch aflame.

That’s the value of pessimistic science fiction.

New SF Short: “I Pledge Allegiance”

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Pictured: cover model and artist and damn fine stepson Erik Elliott.

Find your copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, iTunes, and/or Smashwords.

The blurb (LENGTHY PREVIEW BELOW): Keshawn Bolling lives in a future of total government control. His religion, his education, even the length of his hair are dictated to him, Worse, his own father is one of the enforcers. He wants out; rumor says there is freedom to be had in the orbital habitats. But getting there won’t be easy, and freedom is a slippery thing to define…

The preview, about 30% of the text:

I Pledge Allegiance

By S.A. Barton

Copyright 2014 S.A. Barton

Smashwords Edition

———

I pledge Allegiance to the flag

of the North American Union

and to the Republic for which it stands,

One nation under the Lord, Jesus Christ

who grants Liberty and Justice to All.”

#

I recite it from the screen with a smile, emphasizing the bolded words, my face a mask of enthusiasm. The smile is required. So is the emphasis. The menu won’t progress unless I do it ‘right’, and truancy is a misdemeanor for student and parents. A felony, on the third offense.

#

ENTER BIOMETRIC SCAN OF FINGERPRINT TO CONTINUE

#

FINGERPRINT RECOGNIZED

SWIPE CREDIT/DEBIT CARD TO CONTINUE

#

APPROVED

NAUD $0.125/INSTRUCTIONAL HOUR

ENTER DNA IDENTITY SCAN TO CONTINUE

#

I stick my thumb in the slot under the fingerprint scanner and a surface like fine sandpaper licks the skin like a cat’s tongue. The screen displays a segmented don’t-tread-on-me snake chasing its own tail in a figure 8: working.

#

WELCOME KESHAWN BOLLING

Options

((1)) Citizenship: Yr11Mo8: Pretest: Economic Obligations of the Citizen to the State

((2)) Mathematics: Yr11Mo6: Study Exercise: Algebra: Basic Competency: Binomials

((3)) History: Yr11Mo3: Lecture: Vulnerabilities of Democratic Governmental Forms and their Practical Remedies

((4)) Elective: Yr9Mo12: Lecture: Photography: Composition of Images For Esthetics and Legality

#

I know I should catch up on the history. The number in front of that option blinks sluggishly: mild urgency. If I neglect it for another couple of weeks, it will begin to flash more quickly. After that, my other options will disappear.

Most of my options disappeared, in reality, before I was born, before my parents were born, in the First American War. The Second American War and the War of American Unity nailed the coffin lid down.

The History option isn’t there for most students after Year 6. It’s there for me because the Citizenship Test Panels everyone takes at the end of Year 5 decided that my career would be Instructor: Correctional Facility. A specialized prison guard, a political re-educator. My Pa’s position probably has something to do with that, along with my more-than-average intelligence.

The smart ones are the ones they want to keep close, in the heart of the system, under maximum surveillance. Smart is dangerous.

I touch the elective icon instead, and tap my bulky camera to the spot indicated on the screen. My homework images upload. I hate the camera’s bulk, its jellybean neon-green color; it was the smallest and least gaudy I could find. Law dictates a camera must be a minimum of 8 inches by 6 by 3 and cased in plastic of a high-visibility color. Cameras must be easy to spot; unauthorized photography is a felony.

I’m not worried about the non-elective classes anymore.

I expect to be gone by the time the rest of my options disappear.

If the man standing behind me is with who I think he is. I wonder how he’ll avoid being picked up for questioning when I’m gone.

#

“Playing hooky, kid?” the man says, setting his coffee and muffin down on the battered tabletop opposite my own coffee. I look up from my tablet, let the textbook go black. He’s broad across the shoulders, chest and upper arms heavy with muscle, looks like Army except for his close-trimmed salt and pepper beard, well under the 2” legal maximum length. Army on local police duty, then. My legs tense with the urge to run, to disappear. I force my face to smile, not hard after years of insincere Pledges of Allegiance, and take a deep breath.

“Registered day off, sir,” I say. Army men are always sir with a smile. I offer my thumb. “Please scan me to verify, sir.” I’d rather spit in his fat privileged face.

He pushes his coffee to the side with the back of his hand and leans in close over the yellow poppyseed-topped muffin.

“Calm yourself, Keshawn,” he says quietly. Between us, he brings a finger up and teases a few long strands out of his hair, which I had thought was all safely under the 4” legal maximum for men.

He twists half a dozen hairs around his finger and raises an eyebrow at me. The hairs are at least double the legal length. They protrude from over his left ear for an instant before he tucks them away again. They’re a symbolic forelock, worn very thin so he can tear it off and throw it away if arrest is immanent.

He’s a secret Jew, a living felony offense. He has given me power over him by showing me that forelock, a dangerous act. He must be one of the people I’ve been trying to reach since 9th year, with careful hint-phrases in approved online discussion forums and on paper slips left in key library books, carefully inscribed and carried wrapped in blank paper so they can be left without fingerprints.

I hope he’s one of them. He could easily be an agent of the secret police. But if I don’t take a chance I might never get another one.

“30th Street Labor Center, 8AM,” I whisper, then I lean back, pick up my tablet, and stand. I’m not fool enough to try to have a prolonged discussion somewhere so public.

“Thank you sir,” I say in a calm conversational tone, “but I’m a student. If I fail I might have to do day labor, but I’ve got no plans to fail.” I turn and walk out without waiting for an answer and head home. Day labor recruiters are common in the city. Even the gainfully employed often solicit for the 10% finder’s fee the labor centers offer. Pretending he offered me work is a good cover, I hope. It has to be. After all, I’ve got no plans to fail.

On the other hand, nobody does. But the Correctional Centers are always full.

#

“Hey, Ma,” I say over the dinner dishes with the water running. I’m washing, she’s drying. Pa has gone to his study to work on the constant documentation his job requires. He’s Army, local Police division. Another privileged face; this time, no chance I’m mistaken—but I do love him, too. But while I might love him, I don’t like or trust him. This isn’t a conversation I can have with him around; I’m certain he’d turn me in.

“What is it, baby?” Ma asks. I’ll be baby to her for as long as she lives, never mind I’m six feet tall and have to trim my facial hair every day, running a 1/8” clipper over my face and neck. I can’t shave clean; I’d like to, to seem younger, less imposing, to draw fewer hostile looks from police on the street. My deep black skin already gets me too many looks from the mostly Caucasian and Hispanic cops. The beard, this last year, has made it worse. But the razor bumps eat me alive if I shave clean. I’ve tried.

I turn up the water louder, let the plate I’m holding rattle the bowls in the wash water.

“Hire someone to watch me tomorrow,” I say, voice low. Half of the appliances are voice activated and every microphone is on 24/7, government computers listening for red flags. “30th Street. I’ll show you who.”

“Oh,” she says, and that’s it. I imagine she must have sounded like that when Pa asked her to marry him, a happy little gasp. She’s known I’ve wanted out for a couple of years now. She puts her towel down and hugs me, I let the plate go into the wash water and hug her back. I’m always surprised by how small she is, only a little thick and her head hardly comes up to my shoulder. She’s happy for what makes me happy.

She’s never told Pa I want out, I’m certain. That says it all about him in my eyes. Maybe he was different when I was little, but he’s an Army man through and through now. But I will miss Ma.

#

In the morning Ma swipes her card in the house tablet and calls an autocab.

“30th Street Labor Center,” she tells it, then waves her hand though the VERIFY dialogue box projected in the air.

People still call it rush hour, but there are no old-style traffic jams. Central computers coordinate vehicles perfectly; with private cars restricted to top political occupations only. Neighbors share autocabs often, keeping the traffic density manageable. The ride is smooth; the traffic lights are relics, colorful gargoyles decorating the intersections. The autocab regulates its speed so it never has to stop until it reaches its destination. The red lights are always casting their warnings in the distance, but nobody really notices—because of all of the closer distractions, because the traffic never stops.

At the labor center, I hold Ma’s hand and let her appear to be leading me. But from a half-step behind I guide her with firm pressure along the rows of hopeful day laborers. There are more workers than there are jobs for; thirty percent of the population is assigned to Laborer: Nonspecific and set loose to fend for themselves, most with a Year Six education or less.

I see the broad-shouldered secret Jew and guide Ma to him. Her finger hovers, two workers to the left. My eyes downcast, peering just high enough to see her finger, I twitch her hand right, right, squeeze.

“You,” she says. “Can you watch my son at school and make sure he logs a full seven instructional hours, and pays attention to them? One dollar now, one dollar when you deliver him home. He’ll pay the autocab with his card.”

“Two and two,” he says.

“One and two, firm,” Ma says. Laborers are expected to bargain, a nod to entrepreneurship, but not to bargain too much. They’re lowlier than anyone but a beggar. And three bucks less twenty percent for the Labor Center and forty percent for taxes is about the going rate for a day of light work. It leaves the worker enough to pay for a cot and two meals in a bachelors’ housing hall.

“Done,” he says. He doesn’t offer to shake on it—women don’t shake. It would be a misdemeanor indecency. In fact, it almost violates ‘public decency’ that she’s at the Labor Center, unaccompanied and hiring a worker, at all. But, as the ‘For the Ladies’ releases from the NAU Department of Moral Hygiene have it, children are part of the household and a mother’s job is the household’s upkeep, so it’s still okay for her to hire someone to watch me do my schoolwork. At least for now. A few of the men, laborers and employers, still cast suspicious glances at her.

Business done, we follow her outside and she calls an autocab from her pocket tablet. The one we arrived in is gone; autocabs never wait. Our wait for the new one, though, is not long either. Outside of times when large public rallies are held, more than five minutes would be unusual.

“I’m John Porter, by the way, ma’am,” the secret Jew says as we wait at the curb outside. I glance at him, then away. Playing the part of moderate resentment. He doesn’t look like a John Porter to me. An alias? I wouldn’t begin to know how having an alias would be possible. Identity is DNA and fingerprint tracked from birth. Maybe I’m thinking overdramatically, excited by our subterfuge. I breathe deep. Remain calm.