Evicted

OK then. This week is a Sci-Fi story. Idea came to me and I liked how it turned out. You may or may not be able to guess where this story is going, I don’t know. I’m not going to say too much on it other than this world is very broken. I essentially took the state of our world and some of the issues in it and amplified them massively. It’s about 11,300 words long and so without further ado here is Evicted. Enjoy!

Six hundred years from now and Earth has become an overcrowded mess. There are more than thirty five billion residents on the planet and as a result space is at a premium. So much so that convicted criminals are no longer housed in prisons but fired off into the depths of the Sol system.

 You see humanity never managed to return to the stars, at least not in any way that could be classified as meaningful. Rather, they dallied with numerous return trips to the Moon and further space stations in orbit around the third rock from the sun. However, this was done as a largely private enterprise and following a series of global market crashes these corporations withered, faded and failed until none remained. The overcrowding of Earth caused by several generations of high birth rates were the only concern anyone had. Care for outer space and what lay beyond our world were seen as luxuries that would bear no useful fruit.

You may be wondering as to how it can be that sending convicts into space could ever be cheaper than shoving them in walled complexes and the truth is that yes the starships are expensive. However, when some of the cheapest property on Earth retails at thirty million global credits for a studio apartment you might get some idea of cost. What will further reinforce the sheer scale of that number is that global credits are what used to be known as US dollars. As such the starships, costing four million credits a piece, are cheap.

Sadly, due to the cost of real estate across the globe citizens are locked in almost endless payment schemes that bleed them dry of money and keep them poor. As a result of these schemes some eighty seven percent of the global population is considered destitute. Though, unlike the twenty first century all peoples and nations have access to clean running water and medicine. It is just they have to pay exorbitant costs to retain such privileges and with wages having not increased in more than a generation, society is struggling.

There might be the thought, how is enough food grown for consumption by such a massive population. The truth? Well it is grown in labs buried underground as it was discovered these offered the best conditions and result in optimal growth patterns and in the shortest conceivable time periods. Plus, it meant no more of the Earth’s forests would need to be decimated and force humanity between choosing to breathe and eat. Still, the air quality on Earth can only be described as abysmal. Citizens are forced to wear breathing masks to keep their lungs from becoming damaged by the natural air they would otherwise breathe. It is yet another way that the corporations of Earth have managed to monetise the lives of people. Yet, they are not in control. Leadership is still very much in the hands of governments. It is just that these governments saw the near limitless possibilities of being able to tax people for every necessity that their people needed to survive. Not that the governments of the world need the money for they own much of the land upon which the buildings have been built in addition to having nationalised the building companies and serve as landlords for over fifty percent of all housing on the planet. Then you have to consider that all amenities were too nationalised, this includes water and electricity. In effect it is the governments who are taxing people into oblivion. Just the corporations are getting in on the action to further compound the issue.

Theo like many on Earth is a poor soul who works twelve hour shifts six days a week to maintain a roof over his head, food on his table and breathable air in his lungs. He knows the stories of how Earth had once been. How the planet had consisted of cities and towns broken up by sprawling zones of natural beauty. In the world he is a part of he cannot imagine such a thing. He’s never even seen a tree. Not up close in real time. He’s seen holographic representations sure, but never one in the flesh. All trees on Earth are located in protected nature parks and the only people capable of visiting those, aside from those who watch over and maintain them, are the ultra rich. These are the very same people who are board members of corporations or serve as upper echelon management. They revel in money. Likely swim in it they have such vast amounts at their disposal. Own the buildings they live in. Pay for very little because they know this woman or that man who gives them water, clean air, etc for discount prices. On Earth in the twenty seventh century it is entirely about who you know, not what you know or how clever you are. The rich are born rich and stay rich. Everyone else, well they’ll never get up there. The rich don’t allow it. The hierarchy is set. Locked in place and no one is changing it. That includes the politicians, the only other people with more than enough to their names. They, with the suits, have the world and its people on lock.

Theo, on the other hand, couldn’t be further from the lives of corporate bigwigs and politicians if he tried. He is a simple delivery driver. At least that is what he is termed. He doesn’t do any actual driving. He’s a supervisor of the delivery truck who is there just in case. You might be wondering what he is there for just in case of. Well, he’s present just in case the truck’s onboard AI malfunctions or fails. It hasn’t happened in over three centuries but it keeps him employed and right on the line between survival and ruin. Still, it’s a boring job; mind numbing, soul crushing. He spends his days sat in the cab of his truck watching the slabs of glass, steel and concrete pass him by.

That is what he’s doing right now. His expression is one of defeat. It’s a common expression that is found on many of the faces of humanity. Regardless, unlike others that work the same job as he, Theo does not go to sleep on the job. He’s a nervous sort of a guy and while he is fully aware of when the last time a vehicle AI went wrong it does not mean he plans on tempting fate and believing that it can never happen. Of course it could. It’s highly unlikely but unlikely is not impossible. There is a reason that is written in the Terms and Conditions from the manufacturers. Those words, written in overly complex legal speak, absolve the manufacturers of all responsibilities encase of damage, injury or death. Then again those he works for, Arden Haulage, wouldn’t likely care less what his injuries might be if there were a malfunction and a resulting crash. Arden is a corporation, a large one, they’re the only type that exists in the world, and as such the cares they have extended only as far as their bottom line. After all, the bottom line is what effects the bigwig’s bonus payments at the end of a financial year.

Theo lets out a sigh. It’s long and miserable but frequently his response when dwelling on the circumstances the world finds itself in. His blue eyes scan ahead of him through the windscreen of polyglass. Theo is lucky to get a real view, instead of a camera feed like many other delivery ‘drivers’ get. Then again Arden aren’t exactly known to regularly upgrade their trucks with newer variants. It’s almost certainly why they post the best profits of any haulage company in the southern hemisphere. A positive, Theo forces himself to acknowledge. It doesn’t work and the next thought through his head is a sarcastic, whoopdeedoo. He rolls his eyes right afterward. The roll lasts barely a second and following it Theo’s eyes are straight back to the road ahead. Its arrow straight but difficult to see with the rain coming down the way that it is. Theo leans forward, his back leaving the confines of the backrest of his seat. His hands are on the wheel. They don’t need to be but he’s only using it to pull himself forward. He angles his eyes upward toward the sky. The rain is so heavy that it takes his eyes a few seconds to see past the hammering raindrops to get a distorted view of the sky. It’s a very dark grey colour. Theo’s shoulders drop. It better clear up by the time I get to… His internal voice trails off. He can’t remember where he’s headed and that’s pretty normal when you don’t do any of the driving because you don’t need to remember. Instead, the truck AI will do that for him. He wishes he could drive, even if it is only just once, for a change. Not going to happen and you know it, he reminds himself while settling back into his seat. He wriggles from side to side in hopes of getting to a state he can call comfortable for what will be a long drive. The only reason he knows it’ll be a long drive is because it always is. Theo never does short runs. If he did he wouldn’t make the dough he needs to stay on the line. At least he wouldn’t according to the calculations he’s done. What I get for living where I do, he sighs again and then decides he doesn’t want to contemplate such depressing crap anymore.

A few minutes later, Theo with his head wedged into the rest at his back and still vaguely looking at the road is sure he couldn’t feel more bored if he tried. If there was a stereo it might be something but there isn’t. Arden spares all expenses to keep their prices low and customers coming back. Just means Theo and others like him in this line of work get very bored a good chunk of the time. You see why so many resort to sleeping through their journeys? Yeah, it makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?

Theo begins to hum to himself. He can’t recall the name of the tune he’s humming and that annoys him. It’s very familiar but the more he tries to dig into his head in search of a name the further he feels he is getting from an answer. Ultimately, he gives up trying to discern what the tune is and simply continues to hum.

A couple minutes after that, he’s so irritated by his failure to name what he’s humming that he’s stopped doing so entirely. The need to know came back with a vengeance and would not let him put it out of his mind. So now Theo, the brown haired guy sat in the single seat of an AI controlled delivery truck, is back to sitting in silence. The dull drone of rubber tyres over tarmac fills his ears. He had tuned it out but with nothing else to do he’d allowed it to creep in and be the only sound in his ears. It’s a mistake he soon realises when he feels his eyes growing heavy as if he needs sleep. He shakes himself out of it, thankful his movement is enough but concludes he will not repeat that again no matter how bored he gets.

At one time he could at least converse with the onboard AI. Those days are gone. Arden upgraded their trucks to the model Theo is currently occupying. The only reason Arden did it was to stop the ‘drivers’ conversing. Management claimed it distracted the onboard AI. How? In what way would a human chatting to an artificial intelligence distract it? It wouldn’t. It doesn’t. Arden did it because they didn’t like company employees asking questions the AI would willingly answer. You might be able to guess the sort, you might not. Either way, Arden put a stop to it. Theo wasn’t one of those who asked questions. He just liked having someone to chat too.

He considers for a period if someone is the correct term. His belief is that it is not and yet calling the AI something feels wrong. Sure, they aren’t alive in the same sense as he is but that doesn’t mean they’re a thing. Or are they? He can’t decide. It’s a complex topic and without an AI to converse with and bounce questions, suggestions and statements off of he feels as though he is not knowledgeable enough to make a definitive conclusion one way or the other. That was anti-climactic then, he thinks.

Before long his eyes drift to the onboard clock. It’s one of the only ‘extras’ in the cab. The large blue digital numbers constructed out of bars displays that it is 12:03. Two minutes have passed. He finds that exhausting. His belief was that at the very least he’d passed fifteen minutes, but two? Two is depressing. Theo’s shoulder’s drop and then he slumps in the seat not long afterward.

Get a grip of yourself, he demands while continuing to eye the readout from the clock. He’d give anything for a distraction; something capable of killing a decent chunk of time while he’s on his way to whatever his destination might be. It’s not going to happen. He’s fully aware of that and would sour his mood further, if that were at all possible. It’s not. Theo is about as low as he could get. It’s not the lowest he’s ever been but without a doubt is worse than he would like. Though, with the wipers working furiously to clear the screen, for his purposes only, he can at least see a little more out the windscreen than he would otherwise. Not much, mainly driving angled rain which is coming down as though someone has turned on a powerful showerhead full blast, other vehicles and a few brave souls on the sidewalks. The pedestrians pass by too swiftly for Theo to get enough of a look at them to analyse just how soaked they inevitably must be. His guess is that they have to be soaked through. He counts himself lucky to be in this cab and not just because it means he doesn’t need to wear one of the breathing masks. Still, he desperately hopes the rains stopped by the time he gets to his destination as he does not relish the thought of stepping out into this kind of weather. If he lived in his truck like some of the guys he works with it might not be so bad. They always have changes of clothes, towels and so on but Theo, he’s got nothing.

Arden hate their ‘drivers’ living out of their trucks. More than a few have been canned as a result. Harsh punishment but that is the way the world goes. Theo wonders if Grace found another job. She was one of the ‘drivers’ who got canned in the last round of sackings for having lived in the truck she drove. Theo is aware he shouldn’t call the trucks his, or hers or theirs as they are all the property of Arden. No one in this job owns their truck. They aren’t even on lease. They are company property and as such any misuse or damage comes out of the ‘drivers’ wage packet. It’s miserable when you see a month where Arden has screwed money out of you. They tend to do it more with the longest serving employees. Some think it’s so they’ll quit. Theo doesn’t see that because it’s not like Arden make contributions to a pension, healthcare or anything else like that. Instead, Theo believes it is purely so Arden has an excuse to fire them. They don’t need one as there aren’t really any workers rights, but maybe every so often having a reason helps them sleep at night or something. He doubts the bigwigs have any issue sleeping however and there is no way they sit awake at night concerned about how their employees are or have been treated.

At that moment Theo’s phone rings. It startles him and he flinches, jerking violently in his seat. Right after he curses himself, adding a shake of his head for good measure. It does nothing to ease his pounding heart or change the few seconds it takes him to get over the initial shock. Once he is over the shock Theo flips a switch above his head that is embedded into the headlining of the truck’s cab and then slaps the button on the piece in his left ear. He just about hits the answer key of the now silent call. His ringtone only sounds for the first nine seconds and then drops into a quiet buzz. He considers, as the call connects, whether he should stop the ringing sound altogether. This is the fifth time he’s almost been sent into a round of hyperventilation from shock at its sudden scream. He reaches no conclusion to his thought as the caller says, “What’s up stranger? Long time no see. Thought you’d fallen into the gutter and drowned cause you haven’t been down for drinks, or anything else for that matter, in quite a bit.”

The delivery ‘driver’ immediately recognises the voice as belonging to Cedric. He runs a bar a few blocks down from Theo’s place. The ‘driver’ isn’t sure he should call it a home or an apartment. It’s a shoebox. In fact, he’d have more room if he lived in a shoebox he thinks. Though, he’d probably have more space if he bothered to unpack the boxes from when he moved in five years ago. He hasn’t. His excuse for having not done so is he doesn’t have the time. Partially true because he does spend little time there and tends to only be present when he gets a nights rest. It’s rare due to the fact that generally just as he gets in from his shift also so happens to be right when everyone else is banging and crashing their way into the new day. That’s if there isn’t some douche bag neighbour blaring loud music, or worse playing the let’s see if we can shake the apartment complex until it crumbles to the ground game. It’s why Theo especially despises Bass Bursters. It’s a type of music which seems to be little more than insane levels of bass, which means it has a knack of turning any speaker system into a ground shaking weapon of mass irritation.

How people in his complex afford such things the brown haired man will never know but he wishes they couldn’t. It’s one of the few times he wants something to cost more than the normal person can afford and only so he doesn’t have to be kept awake by it when he’s supposed to be sleeping.

“Hi Cee. Yeah I know. It’s been busy at work. Hauling all over the continent I just haven’t had the time to come down for a brew. It may be different next week. I make no promises though. I need the money.” Theo explains unsure as to why he’s justifying himself to a ‘friend.’

Cedric is a friend in the loosest sense of the word. They’re glorified acquaintances really. That might be different if Theo had any other kind of job but he doesn’t and so their relationship is what it is. Still, this is the first time Cedric has ever called him out of apparent concern. The delivery ‘driver’ thinks that a little odd. It makes him wonder if Cedric needs something. If he does it’ll be money. It’s what everyone needs and Theo is not the guy to come too if that is the case. He barely earns enough to keep himself afloat, so there is no way he’s able to lend any to someone he knows. No matter the capacity or their level of desperation. It might sound cruel but in truth it’s realism. If he did he’d only be putting himself in the danger zone of eviction and homelessness.

“Sure, sure. Just thought I’d check on you to see if you’re still breathing like the rest of us. Never know in this world we live in. Here today gone tomorrow, as they say.” Cedric looses off a hearty chuckle as if he’s made a good joke. Theo doesn’t understand why and so keeps quiet to wait for the punch line, it never comes.

“So you’ve been working then?” Cedric asks.

“Yeah, been doing all the jobs I can. Any long run that comes up I take.”

“Where is it you’re heading to right now?”

“Not a clue.” Theo answers honestly and then goes to speak again. Before he can get a word out Cedric asks another question.

“Is there no GPS on those trucks you drive?”

Theo finds the question suspicious especially after the last one and the one before that as a matter of fact. His blue eyes narrow into slits. No one is there to see it and that is probably for the best because it would undoubtedly result in judgement. After all, Cedric could very well just be engaging in idle chit chat. Everyone gets bored and lonely at some point or another. The human condition as it’s called. Theo is fully aware of it and does himself suffer such things from time to time. More since the truck AI’s became incapable of conversing with the ‘drivers.’ Still, Theo doesn’t think he’d ever call someone he doesn’t really know for a chat. It could be Cedric has nobody else. That would be tough. Theo at least has his brother, Jacen, if he needs to talk. That reminds him, he needs to call and check-up on him to see how his new job is going. He recently became a manager. It took him long enough to get there. That’s not a criticism against Jacen but against the corporations. Theo isn’t sure if his brother moved to another employer however. Their last chat derailed pretty hard into other things. Neither ever really want to discuss work. Like always, it’s exhausting, and must be doubly so for Jacen who had been trying to climb the corporate ladder. Well, as much as the powers that be will allow. The limit to a persons’ corporate climb? Well Jacen is now at it, a manager. He won’t be allowed to climb higher. Stupid system but not one anybody is capable of beating. That’ll be his lot from now on and he’ll have to come to terms with it, if he hasn’t already done so. Still, Jacen, the eldest of the pair, has done well for himself. Theo doesn’t think he’ll get to that level or wants too for that matter. After all, when attempting to climb the corporate mountain you have to be prepared for lots of fighting dirty and Theo is not about it. All he wants to do is go in, do his shift, go home and then on the first Thursday of every month get paid. Worst thing about that payday is that all bills come out two days prior and there is no negotiating or moving it to a more appropriate date. It’s set in stone. Apparently, this is rumour only with no confirmation, that date is dictated by your date of birth. Whether it is or not the bill payment date seems to screw the vast majority of people and forces most to choose between spending or saving until the bills are paid at the end of having had your paycheque for almost a month. Inevitably most people end up overdrawn, having been unable to resist the temptation of mullah in their accounts, and having to pay interest on their excess as punishment for it.

It’s a permanent cycle of debt that no one can escape, including Jacen as the higher up the ladder you are the more you have to repay but at the same time the more things cost too.

“There is but it’s only accessible to the onboard AI.” Theo answers finally. He still feels uncomfortable with this conversation. He judges himself for his own judgement of the questions being asked of him. It might say more about his views of others than anything else, he can’t be sure.

“Does that mean no one knows where you are at any given time? Scary.” Cedric offers in response. Those statements combined confuse Theo who would’ve considered it scary if it were the other way round and Arden knew where he was at every moment. Definitely says more about you than anything else, he notes to himself feeling more than a little ashamed of his judgementalism. Still, Theo isn’t sure what else to say and so offers a bland, “Yeah I guess.”

“Sorry, you’re busy. I’ll leave you to it. Take care of yourself Theo.” Before Theo can say a word in protest, he isn’t sure that is the right word as he wasn’t the one who initiated this conversation, Cedric ends the call. The sudden end leaves the delivery ‘driver’ sat with his mouth agape, brow furrowed and a confused expression on his face. His eyes continue to take in the road ahead however and by looks of things the rain has eased, but only a little. It continues to hammer down and look as though a tap has been left on by mistake.

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