Today Is the Day
The turn of the next century was the end of the era of global police actions, coalitions and proxy war. The turn of the next century saw prosperity that only exists in minds of imaginations of the present.
The turn of the next century proved that the future,
just the same of the present and the past,
was nothing more than a slave to the numbers created by man,
and the software that built and destroyed the lives of those underneath the oppressive, imperceptible weight.
Server stacks dominated rooms, top to bottom.
Like those blocky racks of machinery dotted with blinking lights and beeping with activity, the buildings were erected in every city on Earth, until every city on Earth joined and became nations in their own right.
The clock embedded in Roddenbury’s wall reads in stark red digital numerals: 4:00 AM. The very walls of his small room begin to chime with a pleasant tune that was devised in a media lab somewhere and tested rigorously to ensure that the frequencies and tones would foster positivity and encourage the release of feel-good chemicals in the listeners’ brains. Almost like a bashful apology for waking a person up long before the sun had a chance to crest the ocean-horizon off from the waterfront. Not that it mattered anyhow. No one in their right mind was happy to be awake at four o’clock in the morning.
But it wasn’t as though any other hour would be better.
Roddenbury went through the steps of his daily routine with such brainless automation that he may as well have been part of the robotic assembly line in some fabrication-forge. Out of his bedroom and into the equally cramped bathroom that was directly connected, but partitioned by a wall and door. Void his body, then step into the square stall to be hosed down by his shower. Step out, dry off and immediately don his work uniform, which was conveniently hung on the door. His boots were located under the sink counter. Out of the bathroom, hang up tomorrow’s uniform on the bathroom door, then go grab a breakfast drink from the kitchen which was likewise directly connected to the bedroom but partitioned off by a wall and doorway.
Everything was designed to have as little of a profile as possible. The ceiling hovered inches over the man’s head when he stood to his full height. At five foot, ten inches, Roddenbury was a giant in his own home. The muscle memory routine ensured he didn’t bump into or trip over the meager furnishings in his cubicle of an apartment.
These were just the concessions civil engineers had to make in order to accommodate the populations of the Ubermetros. People were stacked every which way they could be when they numbered in the trillions.
Another concession civil engineers had to make in some cases: windows.
Roddenbury exited his apartment. The motorized door slid across the inlaid track and sealed with a weighty thunk a pressurized hiss of air. The man in drab olive-green and gray baggy clothes and black boots made the uneventful walk to the elevator hub and waited by the unimpressive steel doors for a ride to ground level. Windows were a luxury in this day and age. A place to live above ground with access to natural light? The tenant had to have the bank account worthy of such privilege.
Roddenbury was one in the masses of masses who did not have the bank account worthy of such privilege. Living in the era where the individual was reduced to a numerical figure in the encompassing code, a free hanging variable in the great algorithm that dictated the global economy, it was just accepted that in order to live an extraordinary life, you had to make extraordinary income. All of humanity was an ocean drowning the Earth, and the best swimmers-- the best people --were able to tread water and ride the waves.
The corporations were the great ships of the line that traversed this metaphorical ocean. People gave of themselves to the corporation, any one of them, and they knew they would at least have wages to live a life on. A place to go back to. Work to occupy their time. Purpose to fill their lives. The first class passengers had the best quarters and food, but even the lowest of the lowest decks could rest assured knowing the cold water was outside of the sturdy hull. Roddenbury did not think about these concepts, but he was firmly in the lower deck of his corporate ship, matching his place of residence in one of the subterranean sectors of Ubermetro: Zen Angeandres.
Up at street-side, the hum of the elevator’s motors joined the never-ending thrum of the city. The blocky vestibule protruding from the housing complex trembled as the weighty container of people was winched up. When the elevator was level with its destination, the machinery locked, which made a tremendous banging noise that sounded wholly unsafe, but when the alternative was hiking up stories upon stories of service stairs, the passengers made due and desensitized themselves to it. The doors glided apart and the torrent of working citizens was let loose upon the sidewalk, Roddenbury among their number.
Enough time had passed that the sun was beginning to light up the day. Roddenbury referred to his watch. The time was six-twenty-three AM. Disregarding the time it took Roddenbury to get ready, the elevator ride to the metro surface was a commute in of itself. High above the city, red and purple swirled together in the clouds, as well as a few questionable trace hues. Greens and oranges. Radical compounds and charged particles interacting in dazzling, potentially toxic ways that the people below paid little attention to, if any at all. Pollution of this sort had been a part of their lives since the day they were born. Most people, like Roddenbury, were only concerned with the diminishing window of time they had before they were counted late for work.
The elevator ride was part one of the commute. Now, Roddenbury had to make the actual trip to his job. One would think this would not be an issue for a truck driver, but when private transportation of any kind and the infrastructure to use them was reserved for the corporations and the mega wealthy, the hassles of going anywhere not on foot became apparent. Luckily there was a corporation for that. Unfortunately, relying on mass transit every day gnawed into the trucker’s budget of overall earnings.
Such was life.
In spite of this reality, living in Zen Angeandres was not so bleak. Roddenbury started making his way to the transit hub and as he went down the street, skyscrapers were a dime a dozen and breathtakingly beautiful to look at. Regal and elegant curves of glass, steel and concrete caught the sunlight at all hours of the day and glimmered with the same warmth and vibrancy as the abundance of neon that cast the night into an overglow of technicolor. The lights of the city meant that only the brightest of stars were visible on a clear night, but the Ubermetro had a way of captivating one’s attention regardless. There was nothing more interesting in the sky than what was going on down on the ground.
On his way to the terminal at the end of the long block-- though every block in the Ubermetro was long – Roddenbury caught a glimpse of something shifting out from one of the narrow side streets where most of the emergency scaffolding and excess venting units were attached to the expansive structures that defined the city. ‘Not this again,’ the man grumbled inwardly. He turned his gaze upwards and stared stoically into the clusters of people going to and fro. No one could say for sure where these things came from, unless they were entangled with the dealings of rival corporations and the mad schemes they frequently got up to, but every normal human being generally agreed that the manufactured oddity that blurred the definition of what it meant to be alive, known as ‘fluffies’, were more trouble than what they were worth.
And that worth was worthless. For all the speculation towards robotics, artificial intelligence and mankind’s worthiness to create life modeled after its own perceptions and flaws, one of the first products of this burgeoning frontier of science was received with confusion, indifference and economically incentivized hostility. It was a fortunate thing that the city parks and other green spaces were located inside bio-habitat enclosures and structures.
Who knew what kind of catastrophic damage the fluffies could do if they were allowed to tarnish the last bastions of nature in the Ubermetro urban landscape.
“Pweasies nice peopwe! Fwuffy nee’-- NEE’-- AGH!” A wayward foot struck the velvety creature in the side of the jaw. Accidentally, surely. The small burgundy creature spun about on its tiny hooves and collided with the corner of the building. Despite the sharp pain the impact imparted upon it, the fluffy hugs onto the coarse concrete and sobs. “Huggies maek bettew,” Roddenbury hears the thing babble to itself pathetically.
Once on the transit tube, it is a short trip to the waterfront facility where Roddenbury makes his living. Colossal constructs of steel rest in the harbor’s humongous docks. Each one is as large as an Ubermetro block, easily. Thousands of people in reflective uniforms dot the way, directing the manpower to offload the vessels and get the thousands upon thousands of steel containers to where they need to be. It’s a logistical nightmare guided by the speedy synapses of the computer mind overseeing the operation and coordinating the veritable army at its disposal.
That part is out of Roddenbury’s depth. He is a trucker. He clocks into work at the garage facility, fires up his hauler, and becomes part of the stream of vehicles that flows through the city, making his rounds from morning to night. Once done, he returns to base, parks and goes home so that he could start all over come four AM the next day.
And Roddenbury goes about this routine with the automation of an assembly line bot. Clock in at the employee station near the front of the facility, navigate the cold gray passageways lined by colored pipes and valves until he reaches the garage, arrive at his truck’s station and commence his daily inspection of the vehicle.
As Roddenbury circled the absolute mammoth of a tractor unit to check for deficiencies, he overheared some of the facility mechanics chatter.
“I saw it on the informax that Space-TEX is moving HQ from NeoTex to York Nova. It looks like they are getting serious about getting volunteers for that mining venture of theirs,” said one of the grease-jockeys.
“So are they going to rename the corp or are they going to stick with the name for brand recognition?”
“With that insane CEO of theirs, they could do whatever they want and people will still know who they are.”
“Isn’t that something? I’d hate to be that guy though, even if he’s ultra-rich. Personalities like that get people whacked in the money world.”
“Uh oh. Mullenieux got pulled into the conspiracy reel!”
The group breaks into hearty laughter. They don’t get much time to talk like this otherwise in their usual workday. The gasket gurus make the most of their morning talks before they have to crack down on breaking down machinery.
“…Would you do it?”
“Go up on a rocketship and live in space? I’d like to. I don’t think I’d ever get so lucky.”
“What if the rocket explodes on the way up?”
“I’d only have a few minutes, if that, where that would be my problem.”
“What happens after the minutes are up?”
The mechanic lets out a good-natured belly laugh. “It ain’t my problem anymore!”
By the time Roddenbury climbed into the cab of the truck, the conversation had faded to the back of his attention. The truck was how he left it the night before, endearingly worn but reliable and sturdy as ever. The driver goes through the motions in buckling up and settling into his comfortable seat. He places his hands on the wheel and starts to clear his head in anticipation of being on the road. Outside the truck, he’s just another peon of Zen Angeandres. Inside? He could drive his wedge-nosed hauler alongside the low swept, sleek sportsters of the rich and famous. Inside? He helps keep this Ubermetro alive.
Inside the truck, Roddenbury “Rod” Burgos meant something.
As for that fluffy on the street, it was about to learn its ilk meant the wrong thing to the wrong sort of people.
A black and white van pulled up to the curb. On the doors facing the sidewalk was an insignia of a scythe encapsulated by a circle. The emblem split in two as the doors flung open. A squad adorned in a dark gray rubbery garb dismounted the van. The people passing by eyed them warily and made sure to stay out of their way. They looked like the sorts who cleaned up hazardous materials, an appearance solidified by the masks they wore. There was an air filter on one side, with a hose connecting it to the packs the strange operatives wore. On the other side was what appeared to be a communication antenna.
Holstered on their belts were strange pieces of equipment that looked like bulky pistols of some sort. More reason for an outsider to not to interfere with their business.
The squad motioned to each other with hand signals and then moved into the alleyway. They had to go in half-hunched to duck much of the bulky excess trailing out of the surrounding buildings, and bits of refuse. Cardboard boxes and the likes. They got to the middle of the alley without signs of movement.
One of the squadmates placed two fingers to the temple where the antenna piece was affixed to. “Possibility of the subject being a nomad?”
“Low. The report stated there was a sizable family unit located in the vicinity. We wouldn’t be tracking them down if the entire herd was on the move… they’d be begging everyone they saw for help. They’d practically call us to them.”
“Ah. Apologies, still fairly new to all of this. I’m trying to go to school and I just kinda fell into this position.”
“All good, kid,” replied another in the group. “A hell of a way to cash in a check.”
“Guys. Found an access hatch. Bet your next ration ticket they’re down there.” The update came from someone who was kneeling before a sizable grate for storm runoff. Much too small for a person, however.
“Damn things never make this easy. Put the bait out, they won’t resist it for long.”
Contemporary animal rearing and harvesting has changed radically with the radically evolved world, but thousands of years of human instinct governs intuition. While intuition dictates that baiting prey involves said prey’s favored food, fluffies defy a hunter’s intuition. Fluffies are not wholly alive in the sense most are used to. Fluffies, according to the curated documents Hasbio has provided the initiative, were a money-generating waste management measure with a special emphasis on human companionship. Still early in the research and development cycle when the incident that breached containment occurred.
In any case, fluffy bait was not expressly food-based, although rewarding them with special ‘nummies’ as treats for a job well done was included in the preliminary fluffy-human interaction protocols. Untested. The surefire way to get a fluffy-synth to come running was… a soap-scrubber combination cleaner. The fluffy’s ideal toy for cleaning problematic areas in an upper class bathroom or kitchen.
The smell alone would bring the whole herd on a ‘Ecclestrian’ adventure to right the wrongs of this world of theirs through the power of friendship and cleanliness. Right on cue, shapes began to sift around on the other side of the grate. A snout pushed through into the light of day. Then one by one, plushy equines emerged to investigate the curious product left out in the middle of the alley.
“Smeww pwetty toysie!” one of the fluffies exclaimed. “Am sweww pwetty toysie fo’ gud fwuffies?”
“Nu noh! Wewe nice peopwe? Nice peopwe weave smeww pwetty toysies?”
The fluffies never thought to look above them. If they did, they would have seen the figures in their rubbery shrouds standing on the metal scaffolding, listening in on their juvenile dialogue. The inexperienced squadmate chimed in over the comms,
“I… they… aren’t alive, right? This isn’t like…” They were trying to avoid saying ‘murder’. But these things sounded like lispy children! What sort of game was Hasbio playing here?
“They’re toys that talk, and have a lot to say. A lot of nonsensical nothing to say,” came the jaded voice of their peer. “Let’s move. They won’t run, but still step quietly. This goes quicker when they don’t know or suspect anything.”
The family of fluffies gasped at the newcomers, who as far as they were concerned, materialized out of nowhere. “Nicey peopwe! Dey gibs us smeww pwetty toysies!” a fluffy cried out. Throwing caution to the wind, it trotted out to greet the group with the intention to give them all the best hugsies ever.
“Burn the rats.” The order crackled over the headsets. The squad picked out their targets and drew the weapons from their holsters. The bold fluffy paused.
A pinkish stream of intense light lanced into its open mouth. In seconds, the burning concentration of energy ate its way to the back of the fluffy’s head. Smoke began to wisp up from the faux-pony’s burning flesh and hair. Synthetic flesh. Synthetic hair. Plastic-based simulations melded with organic processes… talking toys. Talking toys. The others in the squad lit up their marks. This wasn’t murd–
“Agh! Eeeee! Buwny huwties! Huwties! Stahp!”
“Weggy! Weggy huwties! Weggy-- Screee! Weggy buwn off!”
“Am feewin’ sickies! Screeeee!” The breathy wail ended abruptly, when the fluffy’s body contorted – bloating rapidly – before it popped like a balloon, shedding viscera in all directions.
One fluffy, blasted in the head, spun about as it fell over. The left side of its head was a void, trailing smoke and a pink gaseous residue from the laser beam. The remaining fluffies that hadn’t been put down could only watch and weep for their fallen, not knowing they would soon be next.
Author’s Note: Dedicated to @Booperino and @Chikahiro. Instead of a piece of art as tribute to these two, I am reviving a dead project from the subreddit. Inspired by July Babies.