A Free Online Science Fiction Novel- “Liberty”- Chapter 10
On the road to Sarah’s
*Note-a short prologue on chapter one provides details of the world in which this story takes place. Each chapter links to the next to make reading easier.
This is chapter seventeen of a novel I am sharing online, titled Liberty, A Daughter Universe Novel. I use the word “Liberty” because it relates to this story on multiple levels.
Comments and criticisms are welcome and encouraged.
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Driving to Sarah's
Lucas tuned in to the news, leaned back into the comfortable seat and relaxed as the spherical hologram appeared, the Network’s logo slowly spinning until it panned in on the newsroom. A man and a woman sat behind a wide desk with a three-dimensional image of Capitol City as the backdrop.
The woman was the picture of feminine beauty: slim, busty in a way that nature had not provided, cerulean eyes, blonde hair tied into a bun on the back of her head and just the right amount of makeup. The man seated beside her boasted broad shoulders, a square jaw, dimples, and an open, friendly smile that showed off his perfect teeth. He could have been a male model.
They certainly put the most attractive faces on camera.
“Good morning viewers, I’m Linda Darling,” the woman said with a smile calculated to put viewers at ease and assure everyone that all is well with the world.
Probably the same smile she uses when reporting a train crash or terrorist attack.
“Thank you for tuning in to News You Can Use, where we take an in-depth look at the stories aired on your evening newscasts. We’re fortunate to bring you today’s special guest Dr. Thad Nelson, Social Sciences researcher and author of the best-selling book, Know Your Quota. Thad, thank you for coming.”
“Thank you, Linda, I’m glad to be here,” Thad replied with his make-any-woman-swoon smile.
Great! A morning Talk Show.
Lucas reached toward the hologram to swipe to another station but stopped at the woman’s next words. “As you might have heard on the evening news, a boy was murdered in Manchester and Dr. Nelson is here to help us understand what happened.” Manchester was one of the poor neighborhoods House worked with each month. Linda Darling’s patented cheerful smile morphed into a convincingly sad, frustrated expression. “Thad, you believe this death is related to a number of similar killings.”
“I do Linda. I refer to them as ‘quota-related killings’ in my book.”
Of course, he’s going to push his book whenever possible.
“Can you give our viewers some background on the reason for these killings?”
“Of course. We all know that if someone’s quota is missed three times in one year, then their required quota is increased.”
One of many reasons behind the Resistance.
“I’ve never missed my quota,” Linda Darling replied then her smile became smaller. “Although it can be difficult at times”.
“Yes, it can. And the fines and accumulating fees make it even worse for lower earning citizens.”
“That sounds horrible.”
“It is, Linda, but it’s especially hard on the working poor. They can’t always meet their quota, let alone pay the fines. But, as “repeat offenders” they’re often turned over to the CCS and held in detention until the missed quota is fulfilled and all fines and fees are paid. Of course, those requirements are rarely met.”
“Can you tell us a little more about the CCS? And, in your opinion, does imprisonment work for quota-breakers, Thad?
Thad nodded. “I’ll answer your questions in the order asked. First, the CCS, Citizen Corrective Services, is basically a debtor’s prison, long outlawed in most advanced nations. The only difference is that a detainee’s children are fed and housed until their legal guardian is released, if they’re ever released.” Thad paused and took a sip of water from the glass set on the desk.
Linda Darling nodded approvingly. “So, even though the parents are criminals, at least the children don’t have to suffer.”
“But they do suffer, Linda. They become wards of the State until they’re eighteen,” Thad replied. “They miss out on socialization skills needed in life and show a higher rate of criminal activity.”
“As for your second question— ‘does incarcerating non-quota-meeting adults work’--- the short answer is ‘no’. I’m aware that some people disagree, but there is no evidence that locking up people who’ve failed to consume enough is effective in helping them learn how to consume more and become productive citizens. Increasing a quota above what a household has already failed to meet is counter-intuitive and to levy additional fines on that makes it impossible to ever catch up.”
“Those are bold statements, Thad. They go against official government policy and public opinion. The Quota is necessary to maintain full employment.”
“Yes, they do, Linda. But my opinions are backed by research, not emotion.”
“Of course,” Linda replied. “So, lower-income people either meet their quota or face detention?”
Thad nodded. “Yes. Anyone could face the same fate but most of us can consume enough to cover the cost of living.”
“Then it’s understandable why low-income families take their quotas so seriously.”
Thad nodded. “And there are instances when a “non-productive’ member is asked to leave the household.” Thad’s voice was somber.
Linda Darling glanced up to the left as if trying to remember something, then continued as though nothing had happened. “I can't imagine being in a position where a member of my family has to be 'evicted'.”
“I’m sure most of your viewers feel the same way.”
“I think everyone does,” Linda said and laughed.
That nodded. “Unfortunately, more violent “evictions” are made, and the dead child in Manchester may be just such a case.”
“Are you saying… that boy was murdered?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Linda Darling’s smile melted into a mix of sadness, and perhaps disgust at what she thought of murder. It was clearly a calculated look. Lucas suspected that if it had been allowed, she would have voiced her disdain for the poor people who did such deplorable things.
She looked up, the smile only slightly subdued, “Well, that does match eyewitness accounts given to our reporters,” Linda Darling continued. “A young boy failed to meet his part of the family quota and refused to leave the household.”
Thad faced the camera again, one eyebrow cocked. “Until his uncle arrived,” he said. “And insisted the child leave or face the consequences. An argument ensued, and the boy gave up, and walked out of the house and began to run down the street. The boy’s uncle told him to stop but he kept running. He only made it a few dozen meters before his uncle raised his rifle and shot him in the back.”
The reporter carefully dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, but, true to her style, the smile never left her face. Lucas was impressed- Linda Darling was expert at pretending she cared.
“The boy’s mother ran to his body, wailing, but the father, strangely, didn’t say a word to the man who’d killed his son.”
“Let me guess, “Thad asked, “the father took his son’s body to the police station.”
Linda nodded, “Is that typical?”
“In cases like that, it is.”
“I wasn’t aware of that. Neither parent would grant an interview.”
Typical reporters. A child is murdered, and they rush to get an interview before the parents have even stopped crying!
“We did, however, get the shooter to agree to talk to us. To protect his privacy, we’ll call him ‘Mr. X’ and blur his face.”
The camera panned out as the “shooter” took a seat near the host, who turned to face him.
“Why did you shoot that child?”
The man shrugged, turned his head to the side. “He knew good and well that everybody’s gotta pull their weight out there,” the man said and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. “That kid was nothing but lazy. And I didn’t tell him to run off like a coward!”
“And that justifies being shot in the back?”
“He was my sister’s boy! She took on the higher quota that comes with second child and the kid acted like he was entitled and didn’t owe the family anything!” He spat in a cup then looked back at the reporter. “What that boy did affected his mother and younger sister!” The man seemed almost manic. “It’s survival of the fittest out there and he knew that!
Besides,” he said and leaned toward the host, “you should’ve seen the impression it made on the other kids, let ‘em know they had better work. Now my sister can adopt a second child, one who will appreciate what needs to be done.” He nodded smugly, as though he had done his sister a favor and performed a public service by ridding society of a twelve-year-old slacker.
Linda Darling had remained quiet to let the man explain why he’d murdered a child but still did not approve of his rationale. “I think that’s all the time we have. Thank you, Mr.- X for sharing your story with us. It’s always nice to hear both sides. We’re going to take a break for our sponsors now.”
The man killed a child in cold blood, but Lucas knew no charges would be filed; the kid was not from a rich family, or even middle-class.
So, this is what society’s come to. A string of killings, including murdered children, in poor neighborhoods gets relegated to the morning talk show! That was the type of thing that convinced more people to pay attention and to and quietly support the Resistance.
Disgusted, Lucas swiped his hand through the hologram to turn it off.
The reporter had unknowingly mentioned a good point but not one the Network intended; that the quota system was so flawed it led to killings, including a child murdered because he could not do something children should never be forced to in the first place. It seemed that more people, however, were realizing that the system was unfair. And a growing number of people, quietly, supported the Resistance and its goals.
Lucas knew there was not much he could do to change the system and it was not his responsibility anyway. And politicians who campaigned on a populist agenda did not get elected. At least I’m reducing my quota and that of many of the city’s poor with everything House distributes, Lucas thought. That’s more than most people do.
~ ~ ~
“Your father is calling, Lucas,” Rosie said. “Should I put him through?”
Lucas frowned. “He knows I’m off this weekend. I don’t know what’s so important it couldn’t wait.”
“He insists it’s urgent.”
“Okay. put the call through— audio only.”
“You’re on the road early,” Daniel O’Connell said. “Well- early for you.”
“Just because you’re up before dawn every day doesn’t mean I am. You know I’m having a long weekend and wanted to get an early start. I’m not working today so why the call?”
“I’d rather not discuss details on the phone, but I’ve already called a special Board meeting for this afternoon.”
He must not want me there.
“So, what’s the purpose of the special meeting? I assume it’s something you don’t want me voting on?”
“Not at all, Lucas. You know I wouldn’t do that.”
What I know is that you’ll do whatever it takes to get your way.
“Okay, then what is the meeting about?”
“Increased automation. It’s as simple as that, nothing nefarious. I’ve been checking and off-the-shelf robots can replace eighty percent of the human workers we employ, more once the transition is fully implemented. Now, I know you’re against automating the factories more than they already are, so I wanted to inform you in advance. I’m asking the rest of the Board for approval today, Lucas. No point in you being blindsided if someone asks you about it. I want you to back this initiative, though.”
“You’re right, I don’t like it.” And he knows I’m the only one who can stop him.
“Well, we’re not going to be able to switch over immediately. We’ll have to keep a lot of the current employees for a while. The robots can’t train themselves.” He chuckled, as though he’d said something funny. “Company-wide, I expect we’ll replace about twenty thousand employees every quarter.”
So, the plan is to fire everybody, but not until they train the machines that are taking their place. Why am I not surprised?
“We can’t just take away our employees’ jobs. That’s their only source of income!”
“You must think of the company, Lucas. Your concern for doing things Poppa’s way is holding us back and before long, we’ll lose our competitive edge.”
“Holding us back? Dad, QCore has tripled in size since I took ownership. We’re the biggest corporation in the world. Just how has doing things Poppa’s way held us back?”
“Well, I guess it hasn’t but there’s always room to grow. With our plants as fully automated as possible, we’ll have far less to pay in wages. And robots don’t take sick days or vacations—hell, they don’t take time off at all. They’ll pay for themselves in in the first year and after that, we’ll save almost eight billion annually!”
Lucas considered reminding his father that he already was the second richest man in the ECA, but he knew it would be wasted time. Poppa had been right when he had told Lucas that no amount of money would ever be enough for Lucas’ father.
That’s Poppa meant when he left most of the company to me.
“I don’t know…. I’m not sure I want to fire our employees just to make more money.”
“Oh, we’ll still have some people on the payroll. Your department for example. R&D requires creative, intuitive minds and you can’t get that from a machine.” Lucas had never told his father that he had freed House from the factory restrictions and allowed House the capability of "creative" thinking. Not on the level of a human, but as close to sentient as a computer could be. While his father wasted his Class X AI, Edward, by using it as a virtual butler, little more than a glorified PDA.
“I’m sure some of the executives might keep their human assistants, too--for a while at least,” Daniel O’Connell continued. “And I intend to keep Marla on, of course. She’s been my right hand for twenty years. No AI could ever keep my office the way I like it. And we’ll help everyone let go with retraining and job placement. I’m not heartless.”
Lucas thought about it for a few moments. Poppa had told Lucas to trust his father with managing the business and he did not think it would be that bad for their employees. And he was an experienced businessman…
“What about our own quotas?” Lucas asked. “Employing all those people covers a lot of it.”
“I’ve already thought of that. I’m renting apartments- and not cheap ones- for all our household staff and paying them well. And you’ve never had any problem spending money.”
“True. I suppose I can find ways to spend more…”
“Well?” Daniel O’Connell asked. “What’s it going to be, son? Are you going to continue holding the company back or are you going to step up and do your duty?”
My duty? All I’ve been doing is treating our employees the way Poppa had.
Lucas audibly sighed. “Okay. If you think it’s for the best then have your Board meeting and if everyone agrees, I’ll consider backing it. But don’t do anything more than get their approval. They know the final decision is mine. I’ll think it over this weekend and give you an answer when I get back.”
Since meeting Sarah, Lucas had begun to question his father’s motto of loyalty to family, and whether Poppa, his grandfather and founder of the company Lucas had built into QCore, would have agreed. “If I decide to go along with your plan,” Lucas continued, “and that’s a big ‘if’, for now, then every person replaced by a machine gets two year’s salary, paid monthly, along with their standard severance package and whatever pension they’ve vested. That will keep our quotas from getting larger immediately. That’s not negotiable.”
“I’m okay with that.”
Of course, he’s okay with it. Those salaries are a pittance compared to what the company would save for years to come.
“When you get back, I’ll need you to come to my office, so we can finalize the paperwork.”
“I haven’t decided yet, why schedule us a meeting? I’ll contact you.”
“Okay, I won’t. But I trust you’ll make the right decision, son.” It’s funny how every time he needs my support, I’m ‘son’, but ‘Lucas’ the rest of the time.
“I’ll be in touch next week.”
“Good, I’m looking forward to it,” Daniel O’Connell replied. “There’s one more thing I wanted to mention before you go. It almost slipped my mind.”
“I noticed a discrepancy in the inventory reports, going back several years- I’m surprised no one noticed it before. Some of the computers, including advanced test models, never made it to the recycling plants.”
Lucas’ heart sank. He knew exactly what had happened to the “missing” computers.
“It could be a problem with the drivers who pick them up,” his father continued. “I doubt anyone here is stealing them, but it’s possible we have a ‘bad apple’ working for us. It wouldn’t be good if a competitor gets their hands on those test models—that new tech your department keeps adding is too valuable to get leaked. We treat our people well; I hate to think we have a thief among us.”
Right. We treat our employees well—until they have their robotic replacements trained.
“But with what I’ve been hearing on the news about that group of Wanna-Be terrorists, what is it, the resistance? I wonder if they’re somehow involved. Any thoughts on the matter?”
Why is he asking me? There’s no way he could know about what House has been doin;, he’s too smart to leave a trace.
“No. But I really doubt the ‘Resistance’ is involved. Hold off on doing anything until I get back and I’ll investigate it. I suspect clerical errors are the most likely explanation.”
“That’s a lot of ‘clerical errors’, Lucas. Too many to have been missed for so long. You seem pretty confident those hackers aren’t involved. Do you know something you’re not telling me?”
“No, dad, I don’t. I said I’ll get to the bottom of it when I get back. Now, I’m on my way to Sarah’s. I’ll see you Tuesday.”
“Yes, you run along now. I’ll take care of everything with the Board today. Goodbye, son.”
“Goodbye, dad,” Lucas said and cut the connection. Now his father wanted to eliminate most of the human workforce and replace them with robots, increasing Lucas’ quota. He almost dreaded telling House his job was about to get harder. Much harder.
Even with the job training and placement help, many employees would be forced to work in government-provided jobs at much lower wages than they’d earned at QCore. They’d have at least two years QCore salaries to ease the transition. Lucas was troubled by what he was being forced to do; for the first time in his life, he had to make a decision that would have a society-wide impact. And take responsibility for the consequences.
Retraining the employees and helping them secure new jobs on top of two-year's salary plus the standard severance package was generous by any standard. And Lucas had asked his father to stay on and manage the business; maybe he should be allowed to make the decision.
Still, Lucas wanted to discuss it with Sarah and House; he valued their input.
. . .
“Traffic is congested on the route to Sarah’s, Lucas. Shall I take the longer route to bypass it?”
“Yes, Rosie, that will be fine. You’re the driver.”
“Of course, Lucas. I do, however, need your permission to change the preplanned route.”
The route Rosie chose took them farther from downtown and into zone 3, a mixture of Bauhaus-styled apartment towers that averaged fifty stories in height and featured courtyards for communal use of the residents, most of whom were upper-income families. The walled-in ‘courtyards’ had no trees or greenery but did boast covered shelters where children could play outdoors early in the day. Lucas knew they would be baking in the heat by afternoon, adding to the city’s heat island effect. As would the entire city.
Rosie startled him from his reverie. “Lucas, you seem troubled after speaking to your father.”
“When did you become so observant?”
“I communicate with House when you’re asleep. He’s taught me much about human psychology. House said it was okay. Did I do something I shouldn’t?”
“No, not at all,” Lucas assured her. “I am a bit troubled. Any advice?”
“Yes! I suggest you pick up Miss Sarah and enjoy your weekend. Whatever the issue is with your father can wait.”
“You’re right, of course. He can wait. Today is my day.”
Lucas thought of reaching the mountains, where there’d be no crowds, or annoying commercial ads, no construction, and, above the heat-island effect of the city, the air would be cleaner and far cooler. Best of all, he’d be alone with Sarah.
He smiled. “And it’s going to be a good day.”
~ ~ ~
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This was originally published on Simily.co
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About the author
Born at the end of the Boomer generation, I enjoy a quiet retirement with my long-time partner and three dogs.
When I write, it's on a variety of subjects or short stories. I'm a student of life and go with the flow of the Tao.