CH. 59 «The City of Caspian»

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Serious question here. I know I get to comp certain approved expenses…like sticky notes and batteries, or other things I might need to pay for to help me complete a work day…but like..what about all these parking tickets I get for leaving Gerund’s rover in neighborhoods I have to work? Do I just give you guys a receipt for that?

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Well, I didn’t get a new communicator. There were too many other things that came up this week that demanded even larger portions of my latest paycheck than I’d anticipated. Besides, I can’t decide if I really want to upgrade to a smarter device or not. My workstation has been acting up an alarming amount recently, which only makes sense since I’ve had the thing for almost three years now—that’s like 600 in computer years. It looks like I’ll be replacing the loyal Z-140x after all. I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t stick with another dinky little texti and use those credits to instead invest in a more advanced and portable porti.

From what research I’ve done so far, whether I’m upgrading or continuing to use both devices simultaneously, it would be a lot more cost effective to have a touchi that didn’t have so high of a monthly upkeep, instead of getting a smartcomm that required a data service plan as expensive as a full sized computer would require you to run. I could also cut down to a smaller bag to carry my daily necessities around in. I wouldn’t even mind sporting one of those typical single-shoulder cases that look like a murse, as long as it housed some sort of elaborate electronic device.

As much as I might be trying to consolidate tools and gizmos for a more portable lifestyle, I still don’t want to whittle myself down to one solitary device. I know what it’s like to invest your entire life and identity into a single object, and then watch yourself deteriorate to shambles the moment it isn’t readily accessible to you. And of course, I’m afraid of what would happen if the gadget I’d been relying upon all day suddenly felt it appropriate to run out of power, especially if I still needed it; or in the case of the crippled Z-140X, what would happen if I wanted to use the workstation beyond the reach of its umbilical energy cord?

Needless to say, the debate on whether to upgrade my personal communicator and portable computer workstations, or whether to just get one machine to perform the duties of both gadgets will have to continue another time. I still have work to do. And its getting hot. Really hot today. The charring sun of crimson was foreboding. I was already low and water. This is the sort of day you really need some accessible. I’ll have to make sure I find a place to refill with filtered water… but I don’t even know where I’m supposed to work.

And unfortunately this malfunctioning swivel-style texti in my hands is all I have to rely on. The government-issue PDA (enshrouded in the Census Bureau logo-embossed bag over my shoulder) can’t help me find where I need to go; some regulation about protecting information from falling into unauthorized hands prevented them from being able to preinstall even a simple GPS app onto the same handheld they gave us each to manage a checklist of which units remained to evaluate.

The only reason I bring up the need for newer gadgetry is because my gorking texti is getting all buggy on me. The weak scroll wheel, invented ages ago to replace simple directional pads and improve navigating long menus, isn’t working: disabling my ability to choose anything but the first selection from any option menu, which was luckily the GPS app cause I use it so much. Free-Browse is the only available mode, so I can’t actually get directions to any of my assignments.

The Census did think to provide me a hard copy of the maps for my area on a large card with mapspots programmed in for addresses in the assignment; so if I could find a landmark to identify where I was (or at least find north) I might not be in bad shape. Not too long ago, it would have been easier to read a map like this, but I’m so used to the mock-3D display and semi-interactive interface now that a static map, even one you can zoom in and out on, just seems weird. Still, I’m confident I’ll be able to make some sense of it after I climb this huge hill and get a good view at this place.

From the looks of it, it will be a few minutes before I reach the summit at the pace I’m taking, so I’ll read over whichever blips my comm does allow me to select as I climb above one of the finer, upscale communities in Caspian to look over the rest of the city. I just hope I don’t trip over anything while I gazing into this tiny screen.
Reading the first blip sends my heart into my throat. It says: 2308- City of Caspian voted 4th Best Place to Live in The Union. A distinction previously awarded—if you would believe it—to my hometown back in 2305 when that newsource began the annual evaluations of which small towns in our nation were the most peaceful and had the most prosperous people inhabiting it. Not that I really had any sense of pride in Vine, but I felt appalled to think that a prize my town seemed to work so hard for could easily be bought by the underhanded City of Caspian.

The next bubble is more basic info, it’s what I was hoping to start this segment with. After Gams Caspian Sr. passed away, his son, Gams II, incorporated the colony land his father and associates had purchased from Duraton into The Caspian Company. He developed the area with olive and citrus crops, and allowed the construction of a magnetic rail station, post office, and military space station in what became known then as Caspian. And another station in what would even later be known as the town of Rustin. When Junior passed, the company went to his son, Mybrook, who took it in a more urban direction. This third Caspian died mysteriously in 2259, right before the company signed a deal with University of Mars to build a school on some of their prime coastal land.

Bizzare, yes, but a different story altogether. Family lines are interesting and all, but this rant is about their city, not them. And I’ve studied the rest already, though I examine a marker with almost identical information to one I’ve already seen as it passes by; after construction was over, the higher ups of both parties involved then sat down and discussed what to do with the remaining land acquired by the first Caspian. The culmination of their meeting became the Caspian Colony Master Plan, and determined which individual tracts would be developed as enclosed villages, separate from adjacent neighborhoods with their own themes, styles, room configurations and pricing scales, amenity grids, gardening and waste management schedules, club units, jogging trails, pet parks, directories, home owners associations, housing societies, and neighborhood watches. Neighborhoods with higher-priced packages include dividing biosphere domes and entrance portals embellished with signage displaying your cookie-cutter community’s unique name.

This is nothing new to Mars, and these pre-fabbed housing communities, with their nearly identical units, perfectly manicured lawns, pristine swimming pools, and three-ship landing bays are popping up all over the solar system, anywhere there used to be undeveloped space too near to the spreading clutches of capitalism’s tempting infection. I can remember both of Rip Gozo’s homes being just like the place I’m walking through, particularly the one that has its own golf course intertwined into its layout. I’d love to say that it’s a vulgar representation of the idyllic suburban homestead, lacking the soul of something crafted painstakingly by hand, and not mass produced and set up in a series, but not even my hometown can avoid this discrimination.

Vine was part of many areas our government filled in with Victory Homes for veterans of the Solar Wars, rolling them out over any flat surface they could find. Even though I’d like to believe my unit was non-GMO. I realize it too is nothing more than the turnout of some heartless assembly line. The green, foresty hill settlement did have its blend of colonial- and civil war-era dwellings, still standing in whatever sectors of town stood before they installed a terminal of the rail line from the capital, and after its addition, respectively. The style of units used to be a lot more quaint and eclectic.

But everything in my hometown changed after someone decided it was the 4th best place to live in The Union. Like it needed any excuse to become even more gentrified. Skyrocketing housing costs, stricter ordinances about appearance and other aesthetic drosslag, and a crackdown on law enforcement were just a few of the things I noticed ensue during the last year I lived in Vine, before moving to Mars. From what I’ve seen on trips back home and reports from family and loved ones on Earth, it’s apparently beginning to look a lot more like this place every day.

On one side, public amenities have been upgraded, outfitting the town with improved crosswalks, historical site renovations, a nice town green where a needless strip mall used to be, new utility lines, better park upkeep, Wi-Fi hotspots, and a brand new fleet of municipal service vehicles. The police force received a whole wing of Tiger Shark interceptors and a detachment of the brand-new Hornet motorockets. I’d previously only seen those things being piloted by highway patrol here on Mars.

On the other side, more strip malls have been built, along with more business and shopping centers, which brings more traffic and radiation pollution to the town, and reduces jobs available to locals by magnetizing workers from other surrounding suburbs who don’t want to commute all the way to the capital. Soon, they’ll build more shops and fast food franchises on any unused stretches along all the main roads and major side-streets, then all the unincorporated space that exists between town centers will fill up with more soulless housing, lined with more stucco shopping complexes, and my Vine will be nothing more than a Martian copy.

My hometown used to have plenty of charming little cottage units which made it cozy and appealing in the first place. In the past five years they’ve been outright demolished and replaced by the same kind of obscenely large mass-mansions that adorn every hill, coastline, and crater bluff in SoAm, but without so much of the red clay-tile rooftops and ironwork. The changed city has been descended upon by realtors, developers, contractors and construction workers, like a cloud of capitalistic locusts trying to take advantage of the hype, and the resources, and what was then a powerful economy. It was as if we’d discovered super-gold and everyone came to town to set up shop and catch the rush.

Often times, the construction agents would attempt to buy up two adjacent properties, tear down both the units and build three even larger ones in their place. The company that purchased the land next door to my mother’s unit wanted to do the same with her lot, and offered her a reasonable amount of credits to take the property off her hands. I’m not sure whether my mom just wasn’t ready to move at the time, or if she felt as if she was doing her part to preserve the history and esteem of our town by not letting something newer, bigger, and faker prevail, or if she was holding out for a larger offer, but I’m sure she regrets not taking it every time she looks out the kitchen window at the artificial monstrosity towering over us, or wishes she could sell the old unit to move to a cheaper place.

I finally reach the top of the hill I’ve been slowly mounting for the past five or ten minutes. I had to take a few breaks along the way…and they weren’t restful ones. Not like I can take a seat and get these work pants dirty. Anyway, if I stand still too long my muscles start to burn. And my stomach is already on fire. I’m obviously not prepared today, but I made it to the summit. I can take in the view and try to orient myself by identifying surrounding landmarks.

I could see quite a lot from here, including: one of the main roads leading to Gerund’s unit from this area, the huge building that still stands at the neighboring military space station in Rustin, the office buildings and corporate headquarters in the crowded business district, the campus with its town center, and against the coast the familiar shapes of the oil refinery and even Style Isle. Which is nice and all, but it doesn’t really help me find out how exactly to get to the first address of my assignment. I reluctantly unfold my texti, knowing I’m gonna get distracted from my task even if I can’t navigate a cursor through the app’s GUI, and locate north.

An enormous info cloud occludes my sight of most of the city on the map screen, so big that it has to be a sponsored link; and somebody paid a lot to have this one show up from even the most distant zoomed-out view, and if I could zoom out I’m sure I’d see it rivals Novus Angelicas. The supposedly trending blurb states that Caspian is the safest city in The Union. I begin to laugh out loud atop the hill and set the texti to my hip for a nano. It was obvious for me to see right through the subterfuge, I wouldn’t even need to adjust the transparency to know that was a lie; I know it all already.

A preplanned community like Caspian may have low-income option sectors, but there aren’t any slums or ghettos here. So it is true that its generally a safer place, but not all crime stems out of just the bad parts of a town. The hard working, dedicated, vigilant and very bored police force keeps a tight grip on everything: frightening the sheepish citizens into submission like wolves.

Whatever crime does get reported is ultimately in control of those who fill out the paperwork. Though I don’t know if this would or wouldn’t happen in my hometown’s police station, I have reason from many sources—ranged from fanatically to passively convincing—leading me to believe that Caspian’s finest often throw out most reports on crimes of proprietary, sexual or violent natures to keep the books clean and in their favor.

I’d like to note now, though it is merely speculation on my part and backed by no fact from any source greater than my intuition, that The Caspian Company and the City of Caspian are one and the same. I haven’t confirmed this at all, though; it’s not like I checked and saw the same names on the seats of CEOs as on the chairs of the city board. But in my mind, I can only assume that this city so inclusively belongs to one corporate entity. That entity sets its own outrageous prices because they possess monopoly over the property market. They maintain control over any property they leases out by having a hand in all utilities and services provided for it. If the company ultimately determines who’s allowed to operate business and who can afford to live there then their interests, resources and tactics are reflected in the make up of the city. The Caspian Company created, raised and nurtured the settlement which now allows it to thrive. Its not a parasitic or even a symbiotic relationship between city and company but two heads of the same ugly beast.

That being—whether it prefers to be acknowledged as a community or a corporation or something entirely different—is a one clever, sneaky conniving creature. When I began working for the Census, our old superior escorted a group of Enumerators to perform an overnight operation in one of the unsheltered areas notoriously frequented by a population of homeless individuals every evening. He had personally been there earlier in the week to scope it out at day and night to estimate how many workers he would need to bring. The several handpicked Enumerators chosen to accompany him on Census Day found what was apparently a barren park.

Not even the trash or scraps that signified an encampment remained; the park had been scrubbed clean of nearly every trace of the homeless population that our boss knew was present. He thus suspected the city was up to its usual tricks of record smudging and gave the large group of destitute people a one-night hotel voucher to not be counted by The UT Census; cause makes a city look bad. All it really did was disable those people from receiving the shelters, programs and whatever other aide they would need, and leave a community with an existing, sizable homeless issue bereft of the facilities necessary to deal with it as it grows over the next ten years.

Yes, whether I refer to the city or the company, Caspian likes to keep things secret; but I haven’t even gotten to my big point yet. Which is sad, cause I’m already a chapter deep on this transmission and wondering if I should have broken my expose on this town up into four parts, instead. Anyway, on top of all these things Caspian would rather stayed hidden from public knowledge, the most concerning and irresponsible thing they keep under wraps is right under our feet.

What, no one informed this was a native Martian burial site before? The realtor didn’t mention that strange odor that comes about every once in a while might be escaping gasses from a hastily capped landfill still decomposing beneath your neighborhood? Well they must also not have told you that the whole community may be ready collapse into one of these reclamation projects if a big enough Marsquake struck. And they definitely didn’t even bring up the fact that the corrosive carcinogen trichloroethylene is seeping up into your safe, bio-sphere enclosed village from a contaminated water table.

Just one of the drawbacks of letting the military construct a base on your land, it seems. The toxic hazard stems from below the Il Tor Marine Space Station, where the military-grade triple-chlorine-alcohol solvent was used for decades as a degreaser and cleaner for spacecraft, fighter jets and any number of other airborne vessels serviced at the station. There, the aquifer is saturated with the nasty TCE, which the UTGS—or whatever agency the government contracted to study their old bases—discovered to be noticeably spreading towards the center of Olympus County at an alarming rate. The northward drifting ‘cloud’ has also been found pluming up beneath one of Caspian’s more noteworthy colonies, Treeford.

The poor denizens of Treeford have no idea there are hazardous levels of this life-shortening chemical bubbling up below the many fountains, water features and green turfs filling in the spaces between their units. Their plants and lawns are sprayed with water reclaimed from this very source, as well as any produce or crops grown in the area, making it even harder to avoid contact made by you or your loved ones.

There’s no info bubbling up. The haywire gadget in my hands discloses no information about TCE. It seems to be wiped from all the ‘pedias and main info feeds that supply the most popular results to this app, but even if I could navigate the interface—or if I had a smartcomm—I wouldn’t find very many instances of it being mentioned in conjunction with the name Caspian.

Do me a solid real quick and do a Zillion query including the terms TCE and Marine bases and you’ll find plenty of hits on the chemical and its cause of cancer in Marines and family members of those serving live in or around bases all across the U.T.E. Either the source that my comm feeds from is wrong is wrong or someone’s done a good job of concealing any results about it in this locale. It’s not really something that’s good for business, so anyone not wanting to lose credits won’t want us to know.

Especially with the champaign being smashed on Caspian’s new project; a repurposing of land to build a ‘Great Park’. It will include sports fields and parks, and hiking trails through a picturesque, artificial canyon and botanical gardens, a museum, a library and a veteran’s memorial, a giant, communal social-terrace dotted with cafes and restaurants for visitors and locals. It will also include a thousand acre farm to help produce food for the eateries and grocers there and in the surrounding areas, with a very large portion set aside to be of a wildlife area, reintroduced into an important Olympus County watershed, as well as a few pockets of housing communities to flush with the surrounding colonies. And best of all, the infrastructures already laid out because it will be located on the waste yard of the decommissioned Il Tor station.

They ensure us the site will be safe and for humans by the time they break ground, but when they’ve done so much to mitigate this issue and keep it as small a deal as possible, I don’t think they can be trusted to wait until the land is entirely harmless and the toxic waste’s cleansed thoroughly before they’ll sink their shovels into all the credits to be made. I wish I could find an entry on this so I could back it up with fact.

Hey, there’s something! Wait…no, blast it…it’s a blip that has TCE in the beginning of the title but a sponsored bubble eclipses it. An ad for –what else—new space for lease. There’s no way for me to scroll around the larger bubble to the article I want. I’ve really had it with this gorking texti and its busted-ass scroll wheel. Apparently I get cranky and ranty when I’m upset about my possessions. I just wanna get my work done and get out of the red sun and this terrible place, but I still don’t even know where to start.

Oh yeah; north! I turn myself around in a circle watching the tiny compass in the corner of the screen rotate until the N is on top. Of course, It has me looking straight down the road I’m desperately wanting to take back home. I root through my bag for the hard copy I had out earlier, and compare it to where I was standing.

Well, if that directon’s north, and that’s the freeway, then across that strawberry field is the hill where I’m standing, and then I’m in the entirely wrong neighborhood. Gork!

Alright, all the way back down the hill…all the way back to my crawler. I hope I can get paid for all the time I’ve spent bushwhacking Mars.

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PREV: CH. 58 «University of Mars, Caspian»

PREV: CH. 58 «University of Mars, Caspian»

NEXT: CH. 60 «Planned Obsolescence»

NEXT: CH. 60 «Planned Obsolescence»


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