On annual leave from his job working in security, not the flashy exciting kind but the sort where you sit around in a buildings’ lobby during the night to make sure it remains secure, Xander Billet has planned a day out for himself. More than likely it’ll only be a morning seeing as he’s going to Newcova’s market but it’s something he hasn’t had chance to do in a good while with all the shifts he’s been pulling day after day without a break. Plus, he does enjoy wandering around the market. Not that he tends to spend when he does. Really he does it purely to get him out the house and to take a look at the world and its people. Not something his job permits seeing as he sits alone watching the clock tick away until the sun rises to signify the start of the normal working day.

He’s tried to get his shift switched but he’s not managed it as yet. The problem with nightshift is no one wants to do it and so, in his experience, once you’re on it you cannot get off it. He understands why and for years it hasn’t bothered him. During this last stint however it’s started too. He misses daylight, people, noise that isn’t meant to alarm because you’re supposed to be the only one in a building which during the day is occupied by some four thousand people. Yeah, it’s not a vast office building that Xander serves as security for. Its medium sized, he’d say, at best and not located in a part of the cities boundary which is known for being safe and crime free. In fact, the estate upon which his building is located has had eighty three break-ins over the last few months. Some have been of the same units over and over. What the owners and renters get for not doing anything to bolster security he supposes. But still, it’s a lot. And things only seem to be getting worse.

Sighing, Xander puts the thoughts out of his head. He’s on leave. No need to think about work or the state of the world. It’s enough to force you into a deep dark hole out of which you might never climb. Not exactly the sort of thing the twenty three year old wishes to flirt with seeing as anything health related comes with a massive premium attached, and he should know as a sufferer of Alopecia Universalis.

In laymen’s terms, seeing as when he was told that as a thirteen year old he hadn’t got a clue what it was, it’s a condition in which all the hair on your body is lost because of your immune system attacking the follicles. And you might be thinking, well why does that mean Xander knows how expensive healthcare is. Well, you see the condition is treatable. The catch is that it is four hundred thousand per session and there are thirty one sessions. That’s a cool twelve point four million for the entire procedure, if it’s successful. The first time it isn’t always. So imagine having to do it a second time. That’s twelve million; they give you a slight discount for inconvenience, which is so inconsequential it’s enough to make you want to roll your eyes. Anyway, if it fails after the second time, which there remains a six percent chance, it’s free.

Not that it matters much to Xander who pulls in a little over eighty thousand a year and has since he got this current job at nineteen. And yes, he saves all the money he can. It isn’t as much as he’d like sadly, due to the ever rising cost of food and rent, and because of that still can’t afford just one session. It’ll take; he thinks, two years to reach the milestone. So essentially six years savings gets him one session paid for with maybe a couple grand leftover. Working on that basis it would take him, he knows because he’s worked it out many a time, a hundred and eighty six years. Obviously that’s not feasible. People don’t live that long. Nowhere near because it remains a feat if you make it to a century and he thinks, recalling a news story, the oldest living person, a woman, is a hundred and twenty three. If he’s right then she is the oldest by a long way, sort of twenty years kind of long way. So as you might imagine Xander has since given up on the prospect, largely. Every now and then he thinks about it. Runs through the figures with vague hope only to find it remains entirely out of reach. At which point he then shoves it out of his head for another few months.

Anyway, the point is Xander knows how expensive healthcare is in ASA, the modern world in general, but isn’t about to change his plans as he slides a thin light jacket over his plain v-neck shirt.

It’s autumn. Though not long since summer came to an abrupt end. But autumn is autumn and so there is a need for a jacket of some kind, because this far north it tends to get cold quicker than almost anywhere else in the ASA. And the last thing he wants is to spend his leave, two weeks and one day, sick in bed with a cold, flu, or anything else airbourne and willing to attack his immune system.

Humanity might have conquered the five centuries of suffering, not its actual name seeing as it’s never been given one, but that does not mean viruses do not remain a constant issue which must be contended with as best they can. Usually that means avoiding the chance of catching them like the plague.

With his jacket on, Xander checks his appearance over in a long mirror cut into one of the two doors which form his wardrobe. They aren’t furnishings of his choosing. They’re built in and came with the apartment, studio.

He smiles thinking he looks good, at least enough for a trip down to the market. And no, he is not looking to score, pull or anything else. Xander simply likes to look presentable when he goes out. As if he’s put effort into his appearance in all aspects, which he has. Still, he cannot help but wish he could grow hair, a beard would be nice. He thinks it would frame his thin face well, make him look older too, but alas.

With the check of his appearance concluded and Xander satisfied, he leaves his apartment with its white walls, sparse furnishings and piles of boxes. He’s lived here for two years and is still yet to unpack. Not because he doesn’t have the time, though recently that has been the case. Rather, he hasn’t because he’s gotten used to living out of boxes. His ma would berate him ruthlessly if she saw the state of the place but seeing as she and Xander’s dad live down south in the warm sun of Nuevo Camcias City, he’s safe.

He does wish however, they could visit but it’s simply too costly and with him only having a studio apartment there is honestly no way he could put them up. Then you have to factor in that he never knows when he’s going to be working. Something that has been especially true over the last few months as more security guards abandon working not only nightshifts but the company he’s employed at, in general.

He too has tried and thus far failed to escape to a new job or role. And it’s not as if he’s only been applying for vacancies within the security industry. No, Xander has been applying for anything and everything. Unfortunately, he is far from the only one. Millions are in search of work in Newcova but there just aren’t the jobs for people to fill.

Currently there are five people for every one job going ad it isn’t only an issue in Newcova. It’s an issue which is found all across the ASA and beyond.

Descending the stairs, his building has no elevator, Xander takes note of how faded the once white walls have become. To make appearances worse there are cracks, some vicious and jagged, spreading from the corners of the ceiling. Sometimes he swears they’re getting wider. Other times he isn’t so sure and puts it down to being a trick cause by the lights, the ones that work. It’s a shame the state the building is in because when he first viewed an apartment here, but didn’t take it as it was way outside his price range, the place had been spotless. His own fault, he knows, for applying without a visit when finally he did have the money to rent here. And yes, rent. Xander can’t buy. No one, well bar the top four percent, can afford to buy in Newcova.

If you’re willing to commute there is more hope of buying something out in the suburbs, but you need transport if you do and Xander has none.

Licences cost almost as much as healthcare. Yeah, it’s a system stacked against the majority. Xander would like to say that it isn’t on purpose but he can’t. At one time that was absolutely true. The divide was the result of circumstance, the five centuries of battling to survive. Now, that’s not so much the case it can be argued. For those who came out better from the struggles continued to do better and so the gap between people like him and the four percent is greater than it has ever been, dishearteningly. Yet, these are things way beyond Xander’s control and so he doesn’t cling to them. Some do. That’s their vice, affliction, weakness, Achilles heel.

Having exited the apartment building, which from the outside is little more than a block of stone with smaller than you would like windows recessed deep into the thick walls, the man in the jacket wanders casually down the street. It isn’t busy. Not at this time. He made sure he didn’t leave early. Sure, it means if he were after making purchases at the market he might miss some of the best stuff, but he isn’t and to be honest did not want to contend with battling the migration of people as they flocked to work.

One positive of working nights is that rush, it’s not something you are forced to contend with. You see Xander heads to work after it’s done. Security really do work, at least where he is currently, on an entirely different patterns to the rest of the working populace.

Thankfully, though there is a chill in the air, proving that the need for a jacket was paramount, the sky is clear. It explains the chill, the lack of cloud cover. However, it also means there is no rain on the horizon. Unless the winds set in and wrench dark, angry clouds from elsewhere and dump them in the sky over Newcova. Xander hopes that isn’t going to happen; at least for as long as he’s out and at the market anyway.

Looking up at the sky he can see the vague outline of the alien ship which has taken the place of Earth’s Moon. He recalls the day it happened. He was eight. Didn’t understand what was going on and doesn’t really recall much, to be honest. Beyond that people, adults, were bickering, panicked and fearful, of what might’ve been the next great disaster to befall humanity. He chuckles to himself aware that all the worry was for naught. The Cense, were and are not a violent species. They apologised, it was later revealed, profusely for their error and made it clear they were not a confrontational species but rather one that is seeking knowledge, understanding.

Having never met one Xander cannot say whether that is true. Though his opinion is that if they were going to start something, say war, they would’ve done it long before now.

Unfortunately, there are some, he doesn’t know how many, who believe the Cense are biding their time. And that one day they’ll strike, snuffing out humanity to claim Earth for themselves.

Exhausting I know but some people always see the bad in everything, no matter what it might be. Xander feels sorry for those kinds of people. Must be a hard, depressing life to live when all you see is negativity and the potential for suffering. If all of humanity was like that then they wouldn’t be standing here today. Or maybe they would, he honestly doesn’t know. He simply doubts it, and yet soon transitions to concluding that he thinks he would like to meet a Cense. Not desperately, in an obsessed sort of way, but he wouldn’t say no if the opportunity arose, for he has mild curiosity.

After all, it isn’t everyday that one species meets another from a different world. It must be fascinating. At least he hopes it would be fascinating. Shaking his head to clear the thoughts he ends them with a, not likely to happen.

The Cense, over the last fifteen years, have not mingled or integrated. It might be for good reason. More than likely, because of his cynicism, Xander suspects it has more to do with those who are elected to ‘lead’ than anything else. If you can call what they do leading that is.

You’re on leave, do you really want to go into some deep contemplation of the workings of the world and its ‘elite?’

With almost no thought necessary he renders his judgement, it’s a no. And so the matter is laid to rest, just in time because he reaches the market.

The sight, he feels, is a pleasant one due to how all the stalls are haphazardly erected as they dot the wide ‘square’ where it has been situated for… Xander doesn’t know to be truthful. It’s been here since he arrived, though suspects its existence extends much further back than that. It matters little he decides as he begins perusing, a smile splitting his face when he catches sight, sound or smell of things which bring him comfort or spark memories dear to him.

He used to do something akin to this as a child, with his mother. His father worked a lot so rarely had time, or energy, for such outings. His ma worked just as much, he thinks but cannot be sure, though always made time for Xander. She didn’t want him missing out on things and felt the hours worked did not excuse, what she would term, wilful neglect of her child.

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