CH. 61 «Need a COG»

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I don’t know exactly why I do, but for some reason: I just need a COG.

I wasn’t all that dissatisfied with owning a texti. It’s not like I desired more customizable features or apps, or desperately needed a touch screen, or even lusted for a comm that was any more intelligent than the one I already had. Its not even like I want to upgrade, my texti is just broken and I’m getting tired of undoing rubber bands to answer a call. If it wasn’t for a few hardware malfunctions I wouldn’t even be considering getting a new gizmo. Really, I should be content to just get another sturdy little device with a full keyboard, and not have to explore any of the other—more expensive—forms of personal communication.

But instead of being fulfilled by the idea of owning a gadget similar to ones I’ve had for the past half decade, I’m thinking of taking full advantage of this upgrade. But that doesn’t mean I’m not just taking the next step and purchasing a touchi to satisfy my needs, oh no. I’m going straight to the pinnacle of communication devices:The COG.

Well, technically there are other, much more complex gadgets and machines that handle personal communication more efficiently, but those perform many more duties than even the most deluxe smartcomm—and cost a lot more—so they’re classified differently. Examples would be portable and ultra-portable workstations, PDAs, slates and pocket droids; but I’m sure I’ll be discussing things like these some other time.

No, I don’t think I can afford a machine so intelligent that it knows how to charge itself or contact emergency services automatically if something happened to me; nor would I need a clunky datebook with a comm attached to a modular bay. But I do need a handheld device that projects a semi-three-dimensional laser holograph screen upon the thin of air. I know, that’s so 2307, but it’s taken this long for that ability to become affordable to someone like me. This might be one the most technologically advanced time’s our race has ever seen, but only to those who have enough credits to be riding the cutting edge. I’m just catching a little wave here, it’s not like I’m going to go on a full tech-overhaul here. Only the bits I’ve needed to replace.

Not to mention, they’re rushing the release of the AM-4G series to compete with the number of droids that have become available just over the past few months. It will have even more advanced imaging hardware and this and that, and it all seems really impressive, but most important for me is how its availability drives down the prices on the other AM products I’ve secretly wished to possess since their release.

I’ve always been a sucker for cosmo new things though, usually with no real practical function aside from their aesthetic novelty. I’ve always enjoyed owning something that looked edgy or unique, and strived to make sure what I did buy was a little different than everyone else’s because I believed was in some way superior to the trendy model. Maybe getting myself an AM-3G three years too late is just unique enough. No one will still have them around here, I’m sure, though I guess I’d fit right in on the Moon or Uranus, or wherever those things are just coming into style for the first time. On Mars I’ll always look retro.

I don’t mind having the third or even forth best method of personal communication at my disposal. Gork, I didn’t mind having the 6th or 7th best, but they’ve made it inconvenient and bizarrely more expensive to get a texti or touchi; they seem to be pushing the ones that require higher data packages. Probably since the company makes more credits in the month-to-month than the price of the disposable product and they know it. Upgrading to the least expensive but relatively-advanced communication device appears to be the cheapest option I can go with, and I definitely don’t mind if that means I’m going to be using something as astro as a COG from now on.

Although having a Droid might be nice, too… Gork, look at the Droids they have on sale!

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PREV: CH. 60 «Planned Obsolescence»

PREV: CH. 60 «Planned Obsolescence»

NEXT: CH. 62 «The Pocket-Bot»

NEXT: CH. 62 «The Pocket-Bot»


CH. 60 «Planned Obsolescence»

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I had been aware that it’s only a matter of time before my dinky little communicator would reach the end of its lifespan, but does it have to be time for my trusty workstation to go too? It’s almost like they both heard that I was contemplating their replacement so they put in their two weeks’ notices, and now they’re loafing as they wait to see who will be taking their place. I don’t blame them though.

Technology is as disposable as any other product we purchase and waste on a daily basis; the electronic gadgets we lust after so much are just another type of consumable. Your average device will usually last: a short while longer than its warranty covers; when the manufacturers projected they will have their newest product out; when they expect a new technology will create a radical paradigm shift in the market; or just when you really need it to work. Producers effectively predestine any one of their stock’s life spans by programming a death date.

This planned obsolescence can be observed in objects as great as automobiles and spacecraft, to tiny as communication devices, toothbrushes and even things like tools and clothing. You use one up and move on to the next. Manufacturers love it because it makes consumers buy more product more often, and pay many more credits under the assumption that the product doesn’t have a set life span. But the consumer who is actively engaged in the economic system loves it too, as it generates a great diversity of available merchandise from different competing sources routinely. The idea of paying a bunch for a product you know will deteriorate and eventually rendered inoperable isn’t so daunting. When it’s spent and gone you don’t feel upset because you know you know you can always get another one, reliably; maybe they have an even better one by now.

These mass manufactured creations don’t even deserve the punishment they receive from humankind. And I’m sure every day you see people thinking it’s ok to treat other things with the same regard. Once one of my dad’s businesses has outlasted its usefulness—or it’s impossible to come out with any financial advantage—he simply closes it and starts an identical one with a new name. There’s no way for me to tell you how many companies he’s gone through in the past few years alone. I knew a girl who would let her pets come to neglect, forcing someone else in the family to pick up slack, as soon as she bought a new fuzzy or scaly critter. There was a menagerie of forgotten pets left behind when she moved out of her family’s unit.

I’ve known many to regard all of their relationships as having built-in-obsolescence, and never worrying about getting too attached to any one lovi. My father, again, has always given this example, but more presently I’m thinking of a young Amazonian girl I live with, who just so happens to have tossed her old beau to upgrade to a taller, sleeker, less sporty model. It’s also interesting to think that both my father and Rikka are also the people I know to upgrade comms most frequently, whether it’s because they’re both short on patience and are quick to deem something useless, or they saw a new one they really wanted, cause they’re just used to the cycle.

What the gork?! Oh great…speaking of cycles and getting a new comm, my computer isn’t the only device finding the approach of its own demise becoming ever nearer. The spring-loaded swivel that spins the screen open to reveal the keyboard has busted somehow, and is no longer able to hold my comm closed; allowing it to swing unrestricted and possibly even answer itself. As I predicted before, the gadget would become intolerably unusable right before it would be time for me to redeem a 2-year discount I was so close to earning…great…
I guess that’s the kind of world we live on though; products don’t have to fit the needs of their intended users, they just have to make credits for the producer. Those corporate creators also aren’t thinking about the needs of the environment either, and often end up generating a deal of negative impact on both person and planet. Just think of how many things that end up expiring on us containing lead, asbestos, lithium, cadmium, mercury, thorium, uranium or plutonium that we just throw in the trashbin without thinking? Of course, anyone of them could design products that lasted longer, but it would go against their entire business model if said products didn’t need to be replaced annually. Who knows, they may even design their widgets to indeed know how to break down when the owner needs them most. We’re just being sold an item made from the weakest materials available and could really be paying most for all the research into more fragile and easily destructible technologies.

As consumers, it’s near impossible for us to avoid these tactics which are being targeted directly at us. Everything is hastily and cheaply fabricated en masse to be disposable and eventually require replenishing, and I mean everything. From the packaging painstakingly wrapped around our food and drinks, to all plastic toys we buy for our loved ones and electronic ones for our selves, even the fancy desktop station and the sphere controlling your home. Pens and pencils, lighters, eating utensils, tents and instant-shelters, writable cards and discs, batteries, sunglasses, envelopes, air fresheners, umbrellas, stickies, and water bottles. Booster rockets, landing capsules, battery packs, oxygen tanks, fuel cells. There’s a huge market for health and beauty products, like cotton swabs, flossers, tissues, soap, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, razors, anything in a dispensable stick form, or anything that dispenses for that matter, whether it’s a tube or one of those standing, motion sensing squirters. They all get used-up, they all run out, and they all serve their purpose. And then you have to purchase more to maintain the same status of life you attain while burning through all of these so-called necessities each day. We live in a single-use-disposable culture.

Even people are ultimately expendable, and I don’t just mean soldiers and henchmen, though I can’t think of anyone who better fits the bill of dispensable workforce. Employers are always willing to hire on anyone whom they can effortlessly fire when they’re no longer needed. In fact, if you’re getting yourself into a job that pays really well, you’d better expect your boss does not want you to be having to do it for very long. Any job paying a wage of over $15 an hour at entry level without a degree probably won’t last you longer than a month or two. If it’s a job with slaggy pay, they’re going to incentivize you into working for them longer in order to attain raises and promotions.

My current job pays me $17 an hour…which means that by the time you get this transmission, that sentence should read “my last job”. The office has been in frenzy this weekend to complete and collect any and all outstanding work still roaming about in the field, walking from airlock to airlock. I’m afraid this chapter is drawing to a close on would could be the last day I’m deemed useful to the government. It looks like I’ve been assigned at least one last operation, way beyond my jurisdiction. Maybe they need someone with a success rating like mine to make something disapear. Heading south today won’t be bad though, it will be a nice chance to get away from the creeping claws of The Caspian Company and places I probably don’t need to be much longer.

Any discussion or decision about a replacement for my disintegrating texti will just have to wait until after this enumeration mission. Doesn’t matter how much I’d prefer to get a new comm before anything else goes wrong with this one. I just hope that doesn’t happen while I’m still out there. I’d really hate for this mission to be the last for both of us.

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PREV: CH. 59 «The City of Caspian»

PREV: CH. 59 «The City of Caspian»

NEXT: CH. 61 «Need a COG»

NEXT: CH. 61 «Need a COG»


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»

CH. 58 «University of Mars, Caspian»

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The sun shone mightily on the Caspian campus of the University of Mars. It was as glorious and warm as it had been since the end of gorking February, when the weather began to lay into us with so many consecutive belligerently sunny and fair days.

Today, it was still obscenely pleasant outside from the first touches of dawns rosy fingers. The top of the taller buildings which I could see towering above the rest of campus were ablaze where the sun struck the more reflective materials of their exteriors, gleaming above the poor unsuspecting body of students. They had no idea that today was the day I would come to count them where they lived.

Well, anyone who failed to mail in the archaic paper census questionnaire on time, that is. And everyone got one, I was part of a process that made sure at least the dormers on campus here did, and I know there where hundreds of others involved in making sure everyone had the means of getting counted, whether their prerogative was to return it in a timely fashion to us or not. It wasn’t even 3 weeks after the so-called Census Day before they compiled the list, which we are each tediously following up on, one page at a time. So it’s not like any of them are in trouble, if anything I’m glad they didn’t get their forms back in on time, more work for us!

The other enumerators and I set forth upon the campus as representatives of the government’s department of commerce. Redundant verbatim instruction worked well enough to train us, and those who excelled the most during that process were promoted to an assisting position in the crew. I just so happened to be one of those who demonstrated the ability to perform the duties of the job above the average employee. It’s not hard to get promoted within the short lived decennial census, though.

It was an amazing opportunity for myself, I thought, to be working on grounds belonging to one of the most prestigious schools on Mars, and one of the most reputable institutions for science in Sol. I could only dream to attain the patience and scholarly discipline required to attend this school, let alone complete enough general education sections somewhere else to not have to see myself stuck at this expensive place for more than seven years. This may have been my only chance to get the feel for some of the collegian lifestyle I missed out on in my attempts to find life in other places.

I drove and parked where the students did, ate and shopped where the students did, and tuned into the local stations that the students did. Sure, I wasn’t taking notes in a lecture class or cramming the morning before an exam, but I was already experiencing a student’s life vicariously through Gerund. Rushing to drop him off and pick him up from his classes on time and having him share with me whatever theories he was learning about or make up on his own during discussions, and feeling the burden of his undergrad homework load was as close as yours truly would care to come to the worries of being a university student. When I’m back on Earth I’ll have to jam myself back into that kind of life. This job will be taking up most of my time for now.

I was safe underneath the shade of great eucalyptus trees as I strolled through the campus’s titanic central park. I really wished I could stick around and lounge beneath their bows as the warm sunlight and fresh ocean breeze stirred up the arbor spirits on this fine morning. But I couldn’t soak in nature all day, or even relish in the aroma of moist ground and clay, I had to be on my way to the professor housing units on the other side of the university. At least I had enough time to inspect all the blips that popped up through the park.

These botanical gardens I strolled happened to be the center of the campus, so there were many mapspots that contained general information on historical and present statistics on the whole school, as well as interesting geopoints or pictures taken that people had tagged at locations in and around the park. I pointed my texti at what I assumed was the dead midpoint of the circle, and like a magic lens, the app revealed the giant plume that marked the main entry on the University of Mars, Caspian.

This institute was founded in 2265. It’s one of the 10 campuses of the University of Mars in Amazonia, but unlike its sisters, Caspian isn’t named after its host city—because it didn’t exist before the college. It was instead named after their benefactor, the Caspian Company, who donated 400 hectares and sold UM another 200 HA of colony land in 2259. I suspected the company also had their hand in the design and construction of the revolutionary campus.

When I aimed my texti to the left of where I was headed, a large blurb showed up on the first community outside the boundaries of university grounds, which confirmed a few things. It said that after his part in the construction of UMC, the grand designer of The Caspian Company collaborated with the school’s staff to produce the Caspian Colony Master Plan. It laid out what to do with the rest of Gams’ colony, and helped to develop whatever land the company owned into the cities of Caspian, Nuport Beach, Nuport Coast and Rustin. Until 40 years ago, none of this coastline habitation really existed. The Real OC isn’t on the south coast at all.

I’d reached the end of the park and climbed a set of futuristic cement stairs to a group of instructional buildings. Another blurb, emerging from what the app labeled as the Engineering Complex, which was closer to where I was supposed to be walking, told me that UMC was the largest employer in Olympus County, and responsible for over 4 billion credits of economic impact, or something. A link leading to another entry explained that the other top two where my favorite aeronautics company, with two major production facilities in SoAm, and my least favorite entertainment empire, with their multitude of theme parks, studios and stations in the area. But I had gotten distracted again.

It truly is a great app, but I could see it’s a really nerfed build compared to what I expected would be an astro program in 3D on a COG or even just a touchi. I wouldn’t have been able to get it without my credits from this job, and began wondering Should I just put a part of my next paycheck aside to invest in a really nice comm for myself? But that’s a path for a different day; I can’t go that way with all the things I have to do and places to be.

A yellow arrow bounced on the side of my screen and indicated the waypoint I had set a few minutes before, to mark my next destination It was curiously way off to the right. I’d apparently still been walking in the wrong direction, as my ETA began rising while I read up on the school I diplomatically strode across. I turned until my texti revealed the giant glowing golden beam reaching into the sky from the point, and resumed traveling on a corrected heading.
I contemplated having my own handheld assistive lightshow as I hurried down a student crowded corridor and back to work. I wouldn’t have gotten so off track with a larger screen. Maybe I really do need a smartcomm, I thought.

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PREV: CH. 57 «The Caspian Company»

PREV: CH. 57 «The Caspian Company»

NEXT: CH. 59 «The City of Caspian»

NEXT: CH. 59 «The City of Caspian»

CH. 57 «The Caspian Company»



It’s a symbol that’s become very familiar to me now: The swirling braid of doom; a dark star spiraling solemnly; a rotten sinkhole sprawling ever outwards. Since I moved here I’ve recognized it at every turn. Even before that, when I first visited Mars, I remember noticing it everywhere along the coast.

“That’s the mark of the Caspian Company,” explained Leucosia with slight respect, maybe a little awe. She only dwelled on it a moment before pulling out her COG and engaging the display.

“Oh, are we near Caspan?” When I said the name she looked up at me from the glowing holoscreen with her mouth open like I’d asked a noob question. It took her a nano to remember I’d just moved to Amazonia.

“It’s Caspian, baby, Ca-spi-an. Get it right, they would laugh at you around here,” she reflected a moment. “Of course, around here they’ll laugh at you for everything, so don’t pay them any mind,” she advised, returning her gaze to the screen. She meant to say she would have been laughing if she weren’t dating me.

There was a quiet, slumbersome haze of orange hanging humid on the morning. Seemed as if the June Gloom had come early this year. I walked by the same spot I must have passed when I first visited over three and a half years ago; the day I came to Style Isle for the very first time. It was slightly more impressive to me back then, as were most Martian outdoor malls. Spare all that open air, it reminded me of the one that was closest to my home then, The Galleria just outside of DT. Mostly just because of the verbose architecture and lavish displays of wealth, though it did have similar stores and clientele–they were the only two malls I’d ever been in that had a Neimark Bergman. Like most things I’d learned of Mars, its beauty was exclusive to the exterior.

Though there was a fully functioning automated escalator in front of me, I instead ascended a staircase to the side in attempts to retrace old steps. It was what I can only describe as an eerily vacant Tuesday morning on the west side of the isle.

Her voice continued, echoing over the sound of my footsteps, “The Caspian Company owns everything around here.” I had only gained a vague sense of the word everything. Perhaps just this mall and maybe some of the communities right around it, I‘d seen the logo emblazoned on at least one or two of the complexes along the way. If I’d have been paying more attention then, I’d have observed it duplicated on every directory, advisory and road sign along the way.

Today it’s unavoidable for me to notice the appearance of that insignia. Everywhere I look it gets pressed into the pavement and masonry upon completion of another construction effort. Or stamped into all the serial metal and polymer pieces prefabricated off site in mass production to cut overall costs. I couldn’t yet have possibly fathomed any of this then.

“What do they do?” I was intrigued, and thought Why does one company get to own a mall? What makes them think they’re so gorking special? Until then it never occurred to me that, even back on Earth, a shopping mall was usually owned by one company. But that company usually doesn’t own every other mall and real estate in the vicinity, which I would soon learn was the case here.

“I’m not quite sure…I know they own a bunch of land and like, build housing units and stuff…I don’t know what they do at all, actually,” she confessed, now looking completely puzzled by it herself, her tiny eyebrows knotted in confusion over two unnaturally blue sapphires. She desperately plunged them into the enveloping blue of her smartcomm’s display and avoided answering more.

I paused a moment at a small platform with a strange slab of a bench and a memorial dedicated to someone long dead. I’m still not sure to whom, cause I’ve never read it, only used it to snuff out my cigis. From the peculiar little green lawn on the floating platform one could catch a wide glimpse of the ruby Amazonis Ocean through all the palm trees, parking lot light standards, and the two flagpoles: one that flew the colors of Mars, the other the spangled-banner of Earth. It’s been a long time since I got dumped on Mars, almost three years. Since the end of that fragged relationship I’d done a bit of research into The Caspian Company.

It started in 2164 when Gams Caspian Sr. and his associates purchased two large colonies of Martian land: Colone Sant Jung, a long strip against the west coast, and Colone Santiago, the adjacent hill country that proved useless for agriculture and livestock. They were buying up property after the trickling off of the Martian Gold Rush, collecting assets that would become known as the Caspian Colony. In 2194, against his father’s wishes, Gams Caspian II incorporated the land holdings into The Caspian Company, which proceeded to continue buying up surrounding land and dig a firm foot hold into Martian soil.

I took my fill of the view of the serene marine scene and turned about, pulling out my texti to check my position already out of habit. I’d only loaded the app on my texti after starting my most recent job and it had become my most frequently used tool ever since.

Still, the GPS I was using was basic, it just created a 3D rendering based on satellite imagery and triangulation, crunched it into a static image and sent it in a form small enough for my second-rate comm to handle. This particular app was neat though ‘cause it gave me access to reviews, suggestions and way points left by other users. A green arrow noted my exact location and even respected my orientation by creating the map facing east, as I was standing with the north to my left side.

Style Isle had been oriented in the middle of Olympus County in this image, though it normally marked the north-west boundary of The Caspian Colony. It provided an amazing lookout over the great red ocean. What better location to be crafted into the crown of the Nuport Center: a business, shopping and entertainment district created as one of many shopping mall complexes to anchor the surrounding districts. In some grander scheme it was devised also as the unofficial downtown center of the entire colony property. Surrounding the ring-shaped complex were six uberblocks, each separately leased out after being designed and built by the same self-indulgent architect behind all of the so-called interplanetary style buildings of this islet. It is not—as I have stated before—an actual island.

This verdant knoll, rising over the rivers delta’s bay, had previously been considered by the ever-so-popular Empire of The Mouse for the construction of their infamous Martian theme park–rejected in favor of a larger inland location in Olympus, closer to the cultural capital of Novus Angelicas and the mag rails that fed the city in the early days of Amazonia. Everything on the map south of here and as far east as the quite recently incorporated City of Caspian now belonged to the company. 40 years ago, this entire area didn’t really exist.

Sorry, Style Isle is totally fragged. I’m far too intimate with this terrible place to still be enchanted by any of its extravagant charm; this is where I used to work along with Leucosia and her sister. I’ve had plenty of good and bad memories here just from the short while I’ve lived around these parts. I’d actually have to say that out of any other spot on Mars I have the most emotional history with this one. But I don’t really wanna to delve into any of it right this nano, especially any of the blips that seem to pop up at an enormous, flat water feature I step to the edge of.

As always, the koi seemed rather excited, confined within their shallow pond. Well, relatively excited anyway. These oversized Japethian carp always have a bit of a dopey expression on their face if you ask me, like they’d even be thrilled live in a bathtub if it came with a little sunlight and food. When you observe systems so resistant to change, you mark any slight deviation from the norm as extremely radical. The fat gold fish looked pretty excited. On days when Leucosia wasn’t working at the island, or any time our breaks didn’t ended up overlapping, I would come up to this fortune of a fish pond alone to smoke a cig, and eventually be thankful I didn’t have kids of my own to worry about falling in the water or ruining their brand-new clothes.

It’s one of The Isle’s more beautiful attractions, but still a site even I’d grown sick of. Funny that I should think to come here to spend my break while The Census has me stationed in the area. I mean, I might hate this whole place for what it stands for, and almost every single person that shops here, but I can still find within it something redeeming and beautiful from time to time. Like all the slag they crammed into the parkng lot that used to exist outside my store…the place I’d spent most of my break time wondering and thinking while seated in Caspian marked patio furniture…back when we had a patio… that’s hax.

Seems as though one of the ways the Caspian Company has learned to gain efficiency is to lay the foundation for future constructions by quartering off the space and cementing it over to use the lot for parking first. I’ve noticed it here, and on obsolete census mapcards that display an additional landing lot where a nearly finished housing unit now stands.

I’m sure if I wanted to look hard enough on a map, from a tall vantage or even just from the side of the road, I could spot one of these provisional tracts of land, swelling as the Caspian Company fattened it up like a foul for feasting, before its had the stuff beaten to its surface and the blood let from it like some sort of sacrificial lizard. And there’s so little time before I scheduled myself to resume work today, but so much that I still have to say about the one company that controls all of our lives around here. I’ll only find more things to rant about the more days I work for the Census in this district, and the more time I spend staring at the lasting product of their influence.

Before departing from the island, I bid adieu to my fishy friends. I felt as a one of their former brethren freed from the imprisonment which they will never escape. I gave them some pity for having to sit pretty and collect coins for the Caspian Company confined in this commercial monument erected in dedication to decadence. I knew if I could hear the koi speaking they’d be congratulating me on getting out. Or ask for foods.

“You know this is the weakest part of the mall, right?” Leucosia’s voice rippled on a wave of memory. “Only the tourists waste their time at these things,” she almost swallowed as she finished saying, realizing she’d insulted me. She finally put away the comm in her brand-new purse and tried to cover up by immediately acting playful. “C’mon, I wanna show you where I shop,” her blue eyes smiled and skipped away towards the Atrium Court.

I did the same thing I did back then, quickly fell back into the flowing crowd of synthetic humanoids and resumed trying my hardest to blend in like an Amazonian. This time, though, it was out of necessity for survival amongst this hazardous environment and not any desire to become any more like the creatures inhabiting Mars. Just help me slip by them unnoticed one more day.

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PREV: CH. 56 «Scavengers of Space, Martian Day-Workers, and Me»

PREV: CH. 56 «Scavengers of Space, Martian Day-Workers, and Me»

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

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

CH. 56 «Scavengers of Space, Martian Day-Workers, and Me»

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Deep in space, in the farthest reaches of our solar system, parsecs from the path of any arbitrary passerby, they work in secrecy–for the most part. Salvage ships and their crews of retrievalists operate all the time, searching for lost wrecks and hidden treasures–fair game to anyone who can find and claim them according to admiralty law. It’s rare that one finds anything denoting any significant wealth, mostly they uncover fishing vessels and cargo wrecks, or the occasional historical crash that’s been discovered and stripped already, or would need to otherwise be catalogued and reported to the historical society of whichever planet it made harbor.

But some fortune seekers, with enough super-sonar and searching equipment to locate any of the casually drifting space junk that might be worth while, catch the break of their lives and find themselves a big haul. They have to keep the coordinates of these troves hidden from the public and the other scavengers of space, lest their riches slip into someone else’s greedy clutches–or worse, fall into the hands of the state.

Space Scavenger is the more romantic nickname given to these private treasure salvors. The monikers with less positive connotations attached are Treasure Hunter, Opportunistic Vulture and Space Pirate–though that one’s not to be confused with the real buccaneers of the stars, who don’t wait until the rocket explodes before they loot it’s riches, and often leave behind the aeronautical carrion for the bottom feeders to pick through.

It could quite possibly be one of the most lucrative, and thankless, job opportunities one could become entangled in. Not to mention that one can find employment anywhere–well, anywhere shipwrecks accumulate. Mars just so happens to be one of those places immersed in such debris fields; orbits abounding with so much slagged junk sinking in from the Main Asteroid Belt. Not to menetion itself having a bustling, wasteful population that keeps it just a bit messier around here.

Another profitable occupation readily available around these parts (which also receives a terrible deal of negative wrap) is that of the day laborer. Sneaking across the Amazonian border to line up before the crack of dawn at your local hardware store. Or whichever place rents moving vehicles and containers in your town, awaiting hire for whatever menial task imaginable that you might have in store for them. Confidently, they bumble through whatever that assignment is. They may have even had to do that specific task a number of times before and at least you get yourself a half-ass job done.

Lounging around lazily in the early afternoon hours in whatever shade they can find, whistling and catcalling every young school girl that passes by, and generally disturbing the locals, who are always refined and more indoctrinated to the appropriate customs of the north. Every workweek ends with the Martians taking home mounds of cash paid to them under the table with no taxable accountability. They subsequently wire back to whatever family they left behind in whatever crater they came from since they’re not even part of the Earthling nation’s social security scheme.

You see where I’m trying to go with this, very toxic appraisal of these drudges, but its only because that’s the opinion generally held by Earthlings and Amazonians. I’m aware it seems mostly ignorant, but I know better; I used to work along side a hard working bunch of Mercurians and maybe a Venusian, but I still learned about the more transient, Martian Day-Workers. Granted, it was still from appraisals of somewhat biased sources.

I worked for my dads anti-gravity pool company on Earth and most of his employees were illegal aliens who sent back their hard earned bills to territories with currencies even weaker than our nation’s own credit. Even they hated Martians, and despised any one weak enough to mistake them for such.

I learned quickly to give anyone who seemed to have features of any Ionian nation the benefit of the doubt, and first assume their heritage didn’t lead back to the crater hovels, squalid suburbs, or messy metropolitan streets of Martia. But even that was bigoted in a way, a sort of reverse-racism that only ended up making a certain ethnic group more undesirable in the favoring of every other similar variety of human. Although it seemed an appropriate prejudice to keep given the time we were in–like in ages of past where everyone hated and tried to kill of all the Davidians, or thought anyone with any Neptunian blood was in someway savage or inferior. Or all those surly, violent Amalthean immigrant with their red hair and extra pointy ears. Popular opinion didn‘t posses as much validity as it came across as having.

Of course, following certain outright attacks against the Earthling Nation on our own soil (which did also involve commuter rocket flights destined for Mars), the focus of our national spite has been redirected at people from the Middle Belt. One morning, hating on asteroid folk began to trend and suddenly Martians were cosmo for the first time in a century. They weren’t founded under religious systems too dissimilar from our own after all, they do believe in the same god and all, right? I’ll save the theological debate for some other time. Digressing: the general view of the indigenous population of Mars quickly became a little more favorable.

Ok, enough of the slanderous libel and speculation, you people want facts. Of what I know that is true: traditionally, Martians wake up at an obscene hour of the morning to get a early start on the day and beat the sun’s heat for a little while. They take an extended lunch break to feast on their largest meal of the day and rest a short while to prepare for putting in another long set of hours, with no aversion to snag a few extra on top or the extra credits that comes with it. Then they go home to their families for dinner and turn in at a reasonable enough hour get up before the crack of dawn and do it all over again the next day.

Minus the mandatory siesta, customs of the people from Mercury and Venus (at least, the people that I know) aren’t too different from those of the Martians they hate so much to be associated with. They awaken early just the same, they work long hours (or find a way to work as few as possible if they can get paid on a salary),   and they exemplify cleverness, cunning and resourcefulness more than the green skinned cousins who are quite renown for such traits. This leaves me inclined to believe that some of these traditions were descendant of Ionian practices, or what was instilled by the Vincidors or Crater Missionaries many years ago.

Gork, where was I going with this? I think the point I was trying to get to was that Day Laborers make lots of bank. Any that I knew personally finished the week with six- to eight-hundred in untaxed creds, and tended to pamper themselves intensely with a bit of it. I assume they imagined Earthlings would do so, like on teli. Though they endure harrowing ridicule, withstand all kinds of conditions and environments, from perhaps hazardous to definitely dangerous, and never be accepted as good enough by Earth society; they still make more money than they can deal with.

And where do I fit in this whole thing–I was in the title, remember? Right next to Unskilled Laborers and The Less-Frequently-Employed is where I should go. As rewarding as you’d think it would be to work as a private groundskeeper, a professional photographer’s assistant and a census enumerator simultaneously; it’s not. When it comes to getting myself gainful employment, I’ve been striking out.

I shouldn’t be finding as many dead ends and wild comet chases according to the statistics, which claim employment to be getting better across the nation. But I know for a fact most of those stats have been falsely (at least improperly) generated. The decennial census jobs will disappear over the coming months, turning the briefly employed back out into the tens of thousands of people already lacking jobs. The slowly rolling wave of credits trickling out to everyone who filed a tax return has also been skewing information about ability to purchase, though any sort of small perceptible flux in spending habits will settle down after everyone’s refund and stimulus money is used up. And its not like lottery winners ever help the economy, so I doubt the few lucky enough to beat the odds are throwing everything off.

I assume it’s all political trickery and magic, attempting to revive the economy or rouse our wallets by claiming the status of things is improving well enough to warrant our investments. Go out and spend! Everyone’s trying to convince us it’s safe to get back in the money pool and splash around a bit, but it still seems a bit murky under the surface, and I haven’t seen any evidence that suggests I won’t actually get eaten alive by the sharks.

I think something needs to be said about desperate times and dirty work. I shouldn’t rule out any possibilities in my career. I wonder if it’s cheaper to buy a hover-lawnmower or an hypobaric arc welder…

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PREV: CH. 55 «Job #7»

PREV: CH. 55 «Job #7»

NEXT: CH. 57 «The Caspian Company»

NEXT: CH. 57 «The Caspian Company»


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