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Tag: slums

Where’s the credit in it?

This is more of a provocation than a full-fledged story. Feel free to reply with what you think might happen.

Favela wiring. Photo by anthony_goto.

Photo by anthony_goto.

You couldn’t get water in the slum. You had to go to the city proper for it, and wait in a long line, and shell out your credits. All the un-augmented chumps would gleam with sweat, their thirst increasing as the queue inched forward. Augments were pretty rare among slum dwellers, but anyone optimized for heat did better. The hardest part was paying, since naturally the slum residents were broke, but the whole process was a commonly despised hassle.

“Why ain’t they just pipe out here?” was the exasperated, rhetorical refrain.

The answer that usually went unvoiced, assumed to be common knowledge: “Making us walk gets Urbancore more credits.” Slum residents weren’t exactly complacent, but they understood the lack of ROI in serving them.

Jamie Dry responded to the niche market need created by this situation: he started a water truck. Most of his customers were gangbangers or cartel men. They could afford the luxury of water hauled by someone else, and they had other things for their own people to do.

Dry’s surname was a joke, bestowed by the urchins who followed him around when they were bored. He called them “my little friends”, sometimes sarcastically and sometimes sincerely. If Dry was particularly flush, or had a party gig, he would hand out ice cubes. Most adults were busy scavenging and any children attached to adults had to work too, but freewheeling street kids would hang around for the possibility of an ice cube. Sometimes Dry’s customers would send them on errands and pay them with calories.

When Dry founded his business, people were surprised that he was able to hook into the roadnet. Transportation API access was supposed to be restricted, and everyone was incredulous that Dry might have gotten a permit. Besides, his truck was hacked together from the body of a much older vehicle and assorted parts. The slum didn’t pay a lot of attention to IP regulation, but certainly everyone knew about it. The clear illegality of Dry’s setup seemed strange considering that he interfaced with Urbancore every day.

Well, follow the money, right? Who benefits? Jamie Dry, of course. His clientele, but they’d just go back to sending their own lackeys if he folded. Dry coulda paid off a netboy to spoof his movements, but the truck would still show up on aerial scans. Maybe it was plain, traditional police graft.

Almost immediately after Dry started operating, people began trying to hijack the truck and its heavy load of clean water. Dry carried a taser on his belt, but that was no good if someone could get the jump on him with a gun. Guns weren’t cheap since 3D printing access was even tighter than transportation, but plenty of firearms circulated through the slum regardless.

Unfortunately for would-be thieves, Dry caught on quick. He had to buy his truck back from a gang once, but then he obtained a sniper drone. It hovered along with him. No one was exactly sure what triggered its attack patterns, since the street kids never got fried, but Dry’s next assailants didn’t fare well.

Andrea’s engineers were torn on whether Dry was a narc or a legitimate hustler, one of their own. Andrea would sit with her elbows on her knees, propping up her chin with her fists, and listen to them bicker. It got far enough that Lewis spent time at home building a model and tweaking a neural net to assign probabilities to the various outcomes. He tried to show it off and Jasper exclaimed, “There’s no way you can be confident enough about half the assumptions —”

Andrea cut things off there. “Back to work, netboys. No credit in solving this mystery.”

Best response so far, from Eth Morgan: “The water is allowed because it’s laced with various experimentals. The slumdwellers are unwittingly in human trials, because if they die no-one cares, they’re in worse conditions so it sets a good lower bound, and if it’s uncovered it can be trivially spun as secret philanthropism.”

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Empty Ankles + Empty Womb

Trigger warning(s) for blood and grief.

I am standing outside the entrance to the train station, yelling. My voice is so loud that it hurts my throat. I’m howling through the grey air. Is it smog, is it fog, or is it just smoke? Tourists aren’t sure unless they downloaded that one app released by the company that got so much funding. It’s gangbusters. When tourists end up here they wish the app were really gangbusters — I mean they wish that it broke up literal gangs. Tourists don’t come here on purpose very often. There are cooler places to take snapshots of #slumming than an actual not-quite-slum.

My noise has not prompted anyone to call the police. We’re not in a calling-the-police part of town. A few exasperated glares — is it a glare if it only lasts a few seconds, or does that mean it’s just a glance? Pedestrians walk a half-moon around me as they leave the station, keeping their distance.

I’m angry. Oh, it’s easy to be angry.

A guy is sitting on the concrete bench that circles the forlorn-looking landscape installation from the early 2000s. He leans his head on the scraggly little tree behind him. Its base is surrounded by fast-food wrappers. The guy is watching me. I’ve balled up my fists like a cartoon character. He can’t hear my yelling because of the boombox that sits at his feet, plugged into his ankles above bulky sneakers. The rubber coating on the cables looks battered, nicked in places. I know the music is traveling up through his nervous system to the brain and back down again. I’ve felt that. There are ports in my ankles too — to the left and right of the Achilles tendons in the left and right foot, respectively. My ports are empty.

The port is the place where a ship comes to dock. Centuries ago this was a port city, and wooden ships groaned across the ocean, traveling through the nascent networks of global commerce. Water still carries everything — it’s cheaper — but the drone boats unload a couple of cities away from here. We’ve lost our edge. The most important thing is to be the most important market. The most important market is somewhere with jobs.

I am yelling because I had a miscarriage. The reason for my public insanity is matter-of-fact. It was intensely physical, losing the fetus. The pain in my abdomen; crouching in the bathtub, gripping the sides and rocking back and forth. A clump of biomatter too thick to pass down the drain. And now I find that I must express my sorrow violently. There is power in demanding attention. The blood came out of me in private; the grief will be seen. I am mourning the child that wasn’t a child yet.

The man sitting on the bench yanks the cords from his ankles, grabs the boombox, and stands up. He takes a step toward me, dodges commuters, and takes another step. He’s wearing a long-sleeve shirt and bumpy corduroy pants. This is a violation — he is approaching me; breaking the rule that you’re supposed to ignore crazy people. I feel alarm in my stomach, a jump in adrenaline.

“Hey,” he says. “Shut the fuck up.”

“You could hear me through the system?” I jerk my chin at his boombox.

He shrugs and turns abruptly to descend into the train station.

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