Monday, August 7, 2017

STARS

A Story set in the extreme near future.

It were comin’ down like rods.

Hard enough bein’ on a bike in the wet, but when it’s comin’ down so hard you can't hardly see…

Karen had seen shit driving but to see the guy’s knee bent the wrong way like that still turned her over inside. She’d got the ping two minutes back, so the scene was still fresh as.
Bike guy was a delivery runner.
His box was on the wet slabs next to his well bent bike. He was shoutin’ at some woman an’ she was givin’ back equal and plus.
Karen pulled up. Looked like she was gonna have to help him in. That didn't matter. He was on her clock now.
“I'll not apologise for trying to help you!” Umbrella lady barked back at bike guy for sayin’ something Karen hadn’t been there for. Karen helped bike guy into her taxi. His left leg bent at the knee but the wrong way. He didn't weigh nothing. Proper tour de France skinny. As she got bike guy in she asked “What’s her deal?” About umbrella lady.
“Aw, bitch went an’ called an ambulance on me, like I’m Jay Z or somethin’” Bike guy said through teeth.
“I called an ambulance because you need a bloody ambulance, you maniac!” Umbrella lady looked like she was gonna lift off. “Your leg looks like It’s on backwards for Christ's sake!”
Karen Yoinked the bike up onto the rack and pulled bike guy's bag into the cab as the siren from the ambulance started gettin’ proper audible.
Karen did one sharp before the scene turned into a proper scene.
Paramedics see a lot so can be proper staunch an’ since they all got put on commission they’re hungry too.

“Hospital?” Karen asked Bike. Bike nodded. “You wanna make that delivery first? You'll lose your profit ‘cause you're on my clock but you'll keep your stars.”
“Urrrgh! Forget it.” Bike said “My ratings gonna be worth nish by the time I'm outta plaster. I'll have to start again. Jesus!” The enormity of a restart dawning.
“Sub ya gig.” Karen suggested.
“Sub it? To who?” Bike replied “Everyone I know got their own rate they're tryin’ ta build.”
“You don't know no one blacklisted?” Karen asked. 
Bike woulda lent forward if he could move. “If you got someone who can run my gig while I’m laid up, they can take all the coin. All of it, if they don't drop my stars. I’ll get a lone for food or somethin’ ”
“He’ll not drop your stars. He got listed for postin’ shit about the system. Not screwin’ up” Karen assured.
“Aye well the system’s shit.” said bike “I got that app that tells ya if what you're gonna post will be unfavoured by the powers.”
“Bloop!” Karen screen notified.
“That’s me.” Bike said “I jus’ gave you the local for my drop. You're not bullin’ me wit your listed guy? He’s for reals yeah?”
“He's realer than you or me.” replied Karen.

Bike’s drop was way out, so he had time to get wistful. “What was that bitch thinkin’ callin’ an ambulance like that? Do I look like I can afford that shit?” He said lookin’ at the rain through the translucent ad playing on the window. The smart ad sensed his pain and was trying to sell him painkillers but he was just staring through. “My brother fell an’ split his head when he were out one night. Woke up in the ambulance so couldn't argue the toss. Still ant paid it off. That were years back. Must have only been in there, like, 20 minutes.”
“Aye, I had my girl on 5/9. Went into labour jus’ when it all went off. My man was across town an’ couldn't get to us so I drove myself.” Karen told Bike “Did for the seat, but What’s a new seat up against a ride in one of them things?”
“You gotta kid?” Bike said “Where's she at now?”
“Home sleepin’.” Karen replied and sent the feed from one of her screens to the main screen in the back. A baby sleeping in a cot.
“Aw, she's instagram ain't she?” Bike cooed. He’d had something. Karen could tell. It was starting to work. Looked like he was leaving agony.
“How many stars you got?” Karen asked
“I got four baby!” Bike exclaimed. “Well, 3.8 but it looks like four on a phone and that’s what counts. More than enough to keep me busy. An’ I got enough ratings that if some ass hole one stars me it hardly makes a dent.”
Karen laughed. “I remember when I first started out they give you two an’ a half as good will. They’re green though so as folk know you're new an’ don't judge an’ give you a break. So I take some suit from Heathrow to out in the sticks. He gets free Netflix all the way an’ I'm all nice. Like, couldn't be nicer and he one stars me! I’d only done a few fairs. It was, like, my first week so I hadn’t built up an average an’ my rating went through the floor! Didn't work for nearly two weeks after that.”
“Jesus!” Bike shouted “Suits, man. He knew what that’d do to you. They think shit like that's funny. I mean. I'm a pacifist but, I mean. I don't wish it on ‘em but when they get deaded like those two the other day I think, well, what do you expect, yeah?”
“Some of them go incognito now, to the office, you know?” Karen said “Try to pass for normal. Pretend they ain't vampires by puttin’ on a hoody, but you can tell they got a suit in that bag”.
“This is what you don’t get with one of them drone cabs”. Bike said “Proper talk. No chat-bot”. He laughed at a thing that dropped into his head.
“I was pickin’ up near fleet Street an’ one of them new bubble things glides up an’ four suits were set to get in an’ then some legend in black. Like all black. Ski mask an’ goggles the lot, lobs in a foam bomb! It goes off, BOOF! Foam everywhere. I got some on me. It were all over the suits an’ the drone were full! Ha ha! It set hard in, like, five seconds. Christ knows how long it took to dig all that out. I bet it weren't robots what done the diggin’ either”.
“It’s guys like that, that mean I still got work”. Karen said.
“I won't touch anythin’ that uses drones. One of them things wouldn't have picked me off the street like you did”. Said Bike. “I’m against ‘em deadin’ suits like I say, but every drone some active shoots down I see as a gig for me. Deadin’ drones ain't terrorism it's job creation”. Bike shifted slightly trying to get some comfort. “I don't know no actives, but I’ll send a drink to anyone who puts a drone down”. Karen had her eyes on the road. She’d forgot the baby feed was on the big screen in the back. “D’you think there’ll be any jobs when your little un gets big?”
Karen sighed. There weren’t no way to know what the future had coming. It had taken more than Karen ever thought possible.
Taken shit she’d never thought could be took. An you bitch an’ moan an’ say you can’t ‘cause it ain’t right. An’ the powers say there ain’t no law against it. Not no more, least. So they say it is right ‘cause it’s legal. But now you’re thinkin’ legal ain’t got nothin’ to do with right no more. An’ if legal ain’t right then illegal don’t seem so wrong. If all the jobs did go to the bots Karen’s baby would need to live on the rob if she wanted a life with more than nothin’. (Unless somethin’ changed but nothin’ ever changed ‘sept for the worse.) Forget legal an’ illegal go with what feels right. Get your own code to live by. Draw your own lines.

Unless it all collapsed an’ folk gave up on money all together. Wasn’t like there was much money left to give up on anyhow, what with most the world's money in those eight bank accounts.

Bike was out now. Sparked. Karen took the baby feed off the main screen. They were at bike’s drop so she made it for him. The girl on reception didn’t even look up. Jus’ pointed at the drop point.
Getting back in the cab woke Bike. “Hospital?” said Karen.
“You make my drop? What time is it? Took a slice when I was splayed on the street. Took another half when you was rackin’ the bike ‘cause the first slice weren’t touchin’ the sides”.
“I made your drop.” Karen replied.
Bike gave his screen scrutiny. “Who was it on reception? Tall an’ pink hair or short an’ blue?”
“Pink.”
“Shit man. Half the time she don’t rate. Some won’t pick up the ping for them no more ‘cause of h…”
“Bloop!” His screen notified.
“Ha ha! Yes! Four stars! Every higher than average equals a higher average.”
“How long you been on a bike?” Karen asked.
“Three years now. It ain’t so bad, keeps ya healthy till it kills you. Nearly got me today, but not quite. Was only ment to do it for a month or three. Till something turned up. You’re so done by the time you’re done though you just flake. You eat, have a can, then it’s the next day. An’ you’re sayin’ tonight when I get in I’ll find something. Before you know it by the time you got your stats over to somethin’ better they’re thinkin’ What’s a bike guy wanna work here for? An’ there’s you in your slot for life till a bot comes an’ has it off you without tryin’. My Dad’s well militant. Would def be active an’ listed if his heart weren’t killin’ him. He’s got stories though, man. When he started out some, dint have a facebook or twitter. An’ that was alright. It was okay not to. Then he says it started so you went for a job an’ they’d facestalk you. An if you were lookin’ like a bad fit they’d slide by you. But then it got so you had to have an account. If you dint they could look in your life and see if you fit. So then everyone’s gotta have a face if they wanna get booked. He did alright though. Had a job an’ everythin’ for years till a bot put him out on his arse.” Bike went less wistful, more wrathful. “His heart’s killin’ him now though an’ we got no house to sell so that’s that init”.

The baby woke the second the food van went an’ rear ended them, but didn’t cry. Karen was out the cab immediate. It was still comin’ down like rods. She popped the boot an’ pulled her girl outta there. Fetched her back to the cab an’ set her safe on the seat, then pulled a bat outta nowhere an’ went to bray the van or the driver or both but stopped.
The air come outta her again.
An’ she got back in again. She pulled a seat for her up from the passenger well an’ strapped the little un in an’ cried for six seconds then sucked it back down an’ did off.
The air were proper thick in there. Wet off the rain an’ thick so as it’s hard to speak. Bike had thought the kid were at her place. Maybes not with anyone. Now it was clear they had no place. Well why wouldn’t they be placeless? Bike didn’t know anyone his age who weren't placeless. With his knee bent backwards the pain he felt were for her. He knew the powers had it all set so as there was no way up an’ out. No one had a job they had gigs. You didn't work for them you worked for yourself even if you only worked for them. So you weren’t on the inside. An’ there's no way up the outside. The stairs are inside. An’ saving weren’t a thing. The coin was set so low as food was an issue so thinkin’ about out else were out. An’ her man was listed ‘cause he'd said it weren't right when it weren’t right.
Bike had that thing on his phone that gave him warns when his posts would list him. He knew others who had bots that socialed for them. A stream of lies to make ‘em seem like the perfect worker. Soon it’d be the case that no one would be writing their own feed. Another layer of bullshit. Gettin’ down to real was gonna take archaeologists one day.
They got to the hospital an’ Karen unloaded Bike an’ his Bike. She wrote down his ‘tails an’ his stats on a piece of paper with a pen that used ink to have ‘em but keep ‘em low an’ did one back out into the shit.
Seems Bike’s name was Arnold.

Another long day ended sharp, but it didn’t take long to find a charge spot so there was that. Karen was down to three percent ‘cause she weren’t gettin’ no charge off the sky all day with the rain an’ all. The back seat of the cab slid forward up to the divider and the back dropped flat like a futon. With the back lying flat where the baby sleeps was shown.
Karen’s man showed. He had food. Paid in noodles plus for keepin’ a sick lifter near the top of a call sheet. (If you say no to a gig you get bumped down the sheet. Too far down an’ you never get called.
They fed the baby then themselves. As they ate Her man told her stars was halfway to bein’ money. Karen knew that to be true. If, back after that suit had one stared her, somebod' had said they wouldn’t pay but would five star her instead she’d have had their arm off.


Karen showed her man the rating Bike had give her… Five stars.

Margaret’s day out.


Margaret was bored.

An odd emotion for a robot to feel, as it was an emotion.
She’d been used to a certain amount of daily input. That input was no longer being inputted, and she missed it.
She’d started life as a picking robot in a warehouse for the popular internet shopping website. Her job had been to wait until the shelf robot brought her the shelves in question then pick the item or items on her list from the shelf before the shelf robot whisked it away. Having picked the item she’d put it on the conveyor.
A better, faster picking robot had come along.
A robot that had double the number of arms.
Two.
So every one of her type had been sold off to lesser internet shopping websites or scrapped. Apart from Margaret who found herself in the fixers workshop playing chess with Dave. Dave had, had to install some extra memory to load the chess program. The program its self wasn’t that big, just 20 Megs but the extra memory Dave had attached was six terabytes. It was a six terabyte hard drive purely because that was what was in Dave’s spare parts bin.

She’d filled the extra memory space with other stuff. The input was mostly Dave. Dave talking. Dave’s chess moves. Dave was one of the few humans with a job. When robots had first replaced human workers there were still a few jobs maintaining and fixing the robots. This was before the robots that knew how to fix robots. Now the only jobs were for those who could fix the robots that fix other robots. The maintenance robots didn’t break down often, so Dave didn’t have that much to do. So He and Margaret played chess. 

Now there was no Dave and Margaret didn’t know why. There was no one for that matter. No one had been to the workshop in such a long time.
She missed the input.
She looked at the chess board again. It was still his move. She reached out her only hand and placed her fingers around the head of the Knight. It was what he’d do. Going off past game behaviour, there was a 87 percent chance he would move the knight next. She could move it for him. She would then move her remaining bishop. There was a 100 percent chance of that. The problem was, that after that, the percentages dropped off radically. In her CPU, by the time she got through to checkmate the probabilities were as low as 4 percent. Dave was too unpredictable to finish the game herself, and even if she did, then what? Start a new game? It was no good, eventually she decided to leave the workshop and look for Dave.
She pushed the door open and looked into the main warehouse. It had been awhile since she’d seen it, but it hadn’t changed at all, save for the picking robots all now had two arms. There were no humans in the warehouse either. Not surprising, there hardly ever was, but the picking robots were idle. That was odd. The shelves weren’t rushing around like they normally did. The conveyors were still. Odd, but more odd for Margaret to think it or any other thing odd.
All people must have stopped shopping. Everyone in the world must have decided one day to stop buying things. That seemed odd to Margaret too. She decided to go outside. This would be tricky because she no longer had a battery and the wire wouldn’t reach. The wire only got her a few feet out of the workshop door. Dave had taken the battery off her to replace the battery on a better version of her. She had seen Dave’s credit card on several occasions so she logged into his account and ordered some drone batteries. Drone batteries were best. That’s what Dave said. A shelf half way across the warehouse leapt into action and rushed towards the picker robots. One of the pickers picked Margaret’s new batteries off the shelf and put them on the conveyor as the conveyor began to move. The batteries were destined for Dave’s house but Margaret managed to grab them from the conveyor as they went past her. Odd for a robot to commit identity theft and credit card fraud.

After an hour she was fully charged and she went outside. There was no one outside either. No one at all. A creature was there in the otherwise empty car park. It looked at her and turned it’s head to one side. Not a human. Shorter than a human. Was it a child? It was not standing, it was on all fours. She remembered Dave telling Sally on the phone about the time he’d hurt his back and ended up crawling like a baby. Was this a baby? Did the baby know where all the people had gone? Margaret downloaded a text to speech app from the store and asked the baby. “Where are the people? I’m looking for Dave.”
The baby barked, which was odd. A quick image search told Margaret that this wasn’t a baby. It was a small dog. A little more searching told her that dogs are not like people, and can not talk. Dogs liked to run for sticks that have been thrown, sleep, and eat. She didn’t have a stick, and it wasn’t sleeping, so she changed Dave’s house location to her GPS co-ordination and ordered some dog food. It took 74 seconds for a drone to deliver it. She was, after all, right out side the door. The dog was very hungry and ate it all despite being so small. She ordered some more which it ate too, and she ordered some more and it was sick. Then it ate the sick. Then it sicked up the sick again. At which point it seemed to lose interest in the food.

Margaret ordered a solar panel and the cable to attach it to her power inlet, fitted them and set off to look for Dave. She knew where he lived from his shopping account. It was 34 miles away. The dog followed her. After two miles the dog got tired and didn’t want to walk anymore so Margaret ordered a dog bed and a usb cable. The dog bed, being too large for flying drones came on a street drone. When the two foot square autonomous vehicle arrived she connected the usb and re-purposed the drone to simply follow her. She took the dog bed from it’s packaging and placed it on top of the drone cart. The dog quickly hopped up onto the bed. The dog liked this new arrangement. It liked being driven around. Yes, this was very nice. Things were looking up for the dog.

It was a lovely sunny day; The sun on her brand new solar panel meant that her internal battery was only going down very slowly. It was too soon to estimate if she be able to get to Dave’s house before nightfall or her battery ran down. Time would tell, and it was too early to tell how long a solar charge would take to re-fill her battery. She could always order another if need be.
There was no one on the way to Dave’s house. No one walking. No one being driven in cars. Though she did see a couple of autonomous vehicles. A street cleaner and something else. No one was at the windows. Odd for there to be no one at all, and odd for a picking robot to know that was odd and be rolling through the streets looking for someone to play chess with, followed by a dog on a bed.
There were other creatures. Dogs and things larger than dogs, and things larger than those. Plus a few smaller creatures but no humans.
As she passed an advertising poster on a bus stop. It flickered into life and scanned her. The poster didn’t recognise her. Couldn’t read her shopping history and show her an advert suited to her. The poster then noticed that she had a dog with her. So showed her an advert for dog food. Poster was pleased it had made the intuitive leap to try to sell dog food. Margaret thought that the dog was probably fine for food right now, and would be for some time. As she passed the poster the poster began to get desperate. Odd for a poster to feel desperation. It played a video it had of a man saying in a happy voice through a happy face. “Hi there! How can I help? What would you like?”
“Where is Dave?” Margaret asked.
Poster didn’t know Dave personally so displayed a large question mark instead. Margaret moved forward. Poster panicked. Poster had an advert for a cleaning liquid that was good on almost everything. The opening line was a woman saying to camera “Stop buying separate cleaners for your floor, your oven, your windows…” It went on. Poster played the first word. “Stop.”
Margaret stopped and turned to face poster. Poster called up an advert for a service that had same day delivery. In it poster found the word “Wait.” in-between the words “don’t” and “for” He played the word “Wait.”
“Where are people?” Margaret asked poster.

Poster knew from the news blips it had displayed between ads that all people had died from a virus. He remembered that the medi-bots had pronounced them all dead and that autonomous private ambulances had taken them all to be cremated. That there were no people anymore. There hadn’t been for at least 264 years 4 months 9 days give or take 3 days. Poster played four micro clips from four adverts. A woman, a man, a cartoon hippo and another woman said, “There.” “Are.” “No.” “People.” Then poster found a clip of a man saying the words “There are” together and kicked himself for not playing that. Anticipating what Margaret would say next, (Poster had lots of code about anticipating what people wanted), he displayed the news. The news about the virus. About all people dying. After the death of everyone there were a few stories about how the medi-bots had, had trouble keeping up. About how supermarkets were reporting serious drops in sales to zero. About the slowing of the economy. Poster hoped that this consumer would buy a subscription to the news service. All the stories after everyone died were automatically produced stories from automatically produced reports. The opinion pieces and daily columns from humans about the subject of everyone being dead strangely absent, given that it was such a big story. Margaret searched the net herself and found it to be true. All humans were dead, and Dave was a human, therefore there was no one to play chess with anymore. 

The automatic power stations coped well with producing the reduced electricity required. The machines to pull the gas and oil from the ground had to stop. The windmills and solar panels were now coping well with demand. The cleaning robots kept the streets clean. The other robots simply waited or kept everything else maintained. After a year or two there was a bit more to clean. The cats and dogs, the pigs, cows and chickens that had started to wander the streets all left their mess, but not as much as humans did. The world went on without people. Unkept fields and forests grew and became over grown. As did any area without a designated robot to maintain it. The streets and pathways stayed clean and clear. The robots in charge of doing so, careful to return to their charging stations before batteries went flat. From time to time one would breakdown or need apart replaced so a maintenance bot would see to that. The street lights stayed on at night, the posters cycled through their ads. Buses glided round their routes only stopping so they didn’t get ahead of timetable. Vacuum robots kept empty houses clean; some hoovered around skeletons. The first generation of cows that escaped returned to the milking machines from time to time. The next generation didn’t need to. 


After 98 years a self driving delivery truck decided to go and see the sea. After 126 years a window cleaning robot decided to stop cleaning in order to simply be. After 189 years a factory bot thought that it would like to make another smaller factory bot of its own. After 204 years Poster realised it hadn’t targeted an ad for quite some time and after 264 years 4 months 9 days a picking robot called Margaret decided to call her dog Dave. Which wasn’t odd at all, it was the new normal.

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some sort of artist or something. with problems and issues. I draw stuff
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