JANUARY 22, 2057 ChicagoIllinois.usa.com
“Survival of the fittest,” I coughed, looking down at a sandwich board as I passed. President Gates had delivered his inspirational fourth State of the Union Address last night. I'd had to read it on the big screen on the NewsVixen building on the way home, since I couldn't afford a plasma.
I'm going to die. Everyone is, but my HealthScreen prognosis told me last year that I have a genetic proclivity for high blood pressure. My boyfriend, Carl, left me, since we could never afford children together. My monthly health insurance was already higher than my annual rent, and any children I might conceive had a 50% chance of the same genetic defect. I hadn't even shown my first symptoms, but I was already in danger of losing my job. Any form of civil union was out of the question, and we had already lived together for six years. Getting married was my idea, but that came with the required HealthScreen. It was a risk, but a CommonLaw union would have tied Carl to me financially without the legal recourse of having me screened for genetic defects.
I shivered as a frigid gust of wind blew my hair in my eyes. We were suffering a freak cold snap in a winter that had thus far been unseasonably warm. YahWeather said that it might snow tonight, but nobody believed it. There hadn't been snow in Chicago since I was a young child. I looked up at the orange glow of the city lights on the clouds. I hadn't seen the sun since … I couldn't remember. Most of us worked nights so we could see sunlight at the end of their days, but I needed the extra money that came with a day shift. Working daily 5 am to 8 pm, plus an hour walk to work, saps your energy. Mom said that when she was a child, the working day was limited to eight hours. I don't know how businesses could have functioned that way!
MerchandiseMart.com had a chapel, so I couldn't even escape on a Sunday morning. My parents hadn't been particularly religious, but they told me that they never worked on weekends when they were young, and that some religions even mandated that they couldn't work on what they called the Sabbath. Before they dropped history from the curriculum, I had read part of the Holy Bible, the precursor to the eBible, a revised translation from ancient Greek and Aramaic, languages that nobody studies any more. After the eBible was published, there was no more money in it. I would have liked to study the old texts, specifically TheNineCommandments, but the teaching of anything but CorporatMath, JurisPrudence, and SocioTheology had become unsustainable after the hardship of TheBlip. Few schools could find sponsorship for anything else, other than MajorSports. I was never particularly coordinated anyway, so I wasn't allowed to participate.
I coughed again, harder this time, leaving a pool of black mucous in my palm, which I wiped on a graying Kleenex from my pocket. I've been going through a box a day lately, but my company doctor said I was fine. With my prognosis, it wasn't financially viable to investigate further.
“Watch yourself!” shouted a man in a blue suit as he crashed into me, most likely on his way to work. He probably worked from home most of the time, only deigning to show up at his office for rare face-to-face meetings. Most suits resented the corporate fray in the Loop.
I've often wondered why they called the business district that. My father said that there used to be a railway that ran a loop of the city center. It was dismantled when he was young to make more room for road traffic before cars became scarce. Roads are almost empty now. Most of us dreamed of buying a car, but that was never going to happen. The price of petroleum limited them to the most wealthy, and they had to be ordered specially for each customer.
My ePod bleeped. “Yes?” I answered looking down at the dim figure of the NightFascilitator.
“Candace, we need you to come back in. Jason Parks is ill, and we need cover.”
“Okay,” I replied as his image flicked out. He knew I couldn't refuse. Jason had been ill with increasing frequency and would be relegated to days soon. I was sure of it. If his health got worse, he would lose his job altogether. He would become uninsurable and only eligible for public service jobs, like garbage collection and police work. They didn't pay much, and came with no benefits. If it weren't for my genetic defect, I would be next in line for his position.
Determined to keep my job as long as I could, I worked as many hours as they asked. I would be asleep on my feet for tomorrow's shift, but at least I will have had an hour to myself outdoors. My ePod said it was 8:27 pm, so I didn't have time to stop home before I turned back. I had spent too much time reading the State of the Union address. Although many day-workers depended on NewsVixen's giant plasma display for current events, few ever bothered to read it. They cared little what happened on the other side of the world, and the President's address mattered even less to working Americans after tax was abolished for high-earners as an incentive to keep us employed around the clock. That was President Gates' legacy. The pundits on NewVixen expected him to retire after his fifth term, when he turned fifty. As the MegaSoft heir, he controlled communications throughout the western world. His inexpensive wrist-mounted ePods were ubiquitous even among the working class.
Mine honked: a message. “ETA?” It was from the NightFascillitator.
“Twenty two minutes,” I replied, giving myself a little leeway. He would know my exact location, but two minutes allowed me to stop at a hotdog van so I could eat dinner on the way. He would … might … understand. I had to eat at least once a day. It was a human right, as long as I could afford it. I splurged on a FootLong, and even paid for ketchup and mustard. It would have to last me almost twenty-four hours.
Walking past NewsVixen again, I looked up at the address. This year's agenda included the final deregulation of the insurance industry, made necessary by the deregulation of the HealthCare industry last year. My company would like that. They could recoup some losses, and it might mean they could cut some staff. That likely meant curtains for Jason. Since I was still asymptomatic, I might be spared again this time. I'd shown an eagerness to work whatever hours they wanted for almost nothing. Besides, they provided my insurance and were earning it back in my premium. They would lose a lucrative customer if they let me go.
I coughed up another glob of mucous and took a bite of my FootLong as I continued my journey.
The new legislation would come into effect next week after Congress.org met for its annual session to rubber-stamp it. They would soon be back at their desks, running their FortuneFifty companies. Having a part-time legislature kept my taxes low, and that could only be a good thing. New policy statements were already sitting on my desk, waiting for me to implement them in my department.
The VixenNews rolling headlines said that the Middle-Asian war continued rumbling on. I was so glad President Gates had privatized our military, who had immediately pulled themselves out of it. TheArmedForces.com were now making a killing on selling arms to both sides as they obliterated each other. India.gov were doing their best to mediate between the warring factions, but they weren't friendly with either and had suffered horrific civilian casualties, especially in the Punjab.
I have no wish to ever visit that part of the world, even if I could. Our national borders are closed except for commercial traffic, and I can't even afford the fee to cross the state border into Indiana.gov to visit my sister. I haven't seen her since her wedding ten years ago. She didn't inherit the gene, fortunately, and moved to Indianapolis.org with her husband and six children. I'm not sure she wants to have any contact with me anyway. (As if a genetic defect was infectious, even over an ePod link!) I don't get any more vacation leave for another five years anyway.
I coughed so hard this time that it hurt.
“Are you okay?” asked a tramp who had interrupted his fiddling to inquire after my health. His instrument looked in remarkable shape, better than its master. I think it was a violin, but I could be wrong. I'd seen a picture of one as a child. Nobody plays acoustic instruments in public anymore, except for the homeless. He hadn't been playing a jingle that I recognized.
In spite of my momentary fascination, I sped on. Speaking with tramps was something one didn't do, lest you become one yourself. I consulted my ePod as the hulk of MerchandiseMart.com loomed before me. I still had four minutes to finish my FootLong and purchase a glass of water from TheCanteen.com before clocking in at MyDesk.
I licked the last drop of ketchup off my fingers. I was so glad that I'd invested in the condiments. (The extra hours would pay for them.)
Isn't life sweet?
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