Opt-Out – short-short story.

I’m reading Accelerando by Charles Stross, which my friend Rob lent me. It reminded me of this short-short story I wrote about what hassles I think technology would bring us in the near future.


I was really tired today, so the house alarm had to shock me awake again. Same spot as last time, that scar is never gonna go away. I forgot to plug the car in so I had to carpool with Madi, my neighbor. I’m late for work because he doesn’t subscribe to AutoPilot 2020, which lets you take faster routes and use the HOV lanes even when you’re alone. It would almost be worth it for me to add his car to my subscription, if that was allowed. But no, he has to buy a license himself because the biometric scanner in his car won’t scan MY hand for the Autopilot and then let HIM drive. Maybe in the next upgrade. At least he has a hybrid so he doesn’t have to plug in… but like hell am I paying $25 a gallon.

At work they dock me a sick day for being late, and I missed this week’s drug test so I have to go to a private lab on my own time if I want to get my paycheck for this month. And government health care won’t cover that. Before lunch I am called into HR to go over family planning. My wife works for a subsidiary and they want to go over telecommuting costs for her while she takes her 4 weeks max leave. I wanted her to take unpaid leave because I can afford it, and they have to take her back, but she’s afraid that the sour taste left by the temp they’ll have to hire will hurt her when promotion time comes. And I don’t blame her. We’ve had them on notice for 6 months that we are trying to have a child, ever since they called me to ask why she stopped filling her birth control prescription, but they still aren’t prepared. So they want us to put it off. That’s why they’re trying to pre-bill me for the telecommuting costs.

I go to lunch with my department but I have to order from the salad bar because I had a burger this week, and I can’t afford private insurance. Terry gives me the bacon from her sandwich and I crumble that on top. Pat’s son is being shipped off to Syria next month. She told him not to sign up, but he wanted to fight the WOT. Some friends of his were vacationing in Boston when they hit the natural gas tanker there, that burned down half the city, and he even gave them skin for grafts… so I guess for him it’s more personal. He was recruited before that, in 6th grade, but they switched him from Air Force to Marines after the Lasik surgery couldn’t fully repair his astigmatism. Tough break.

Boss handed me a bunch of crap to do from home tonight. I need to do at least 10 hours a week or they dock me for undertime, so I might as well get it out of the way. Madi forgot to wait for me, so I had to take the bus. I turn my phone off, against company rules, so some kid can’t ride my signal and use up my bandwidth quota. It’s cheaper to get docked for not being on call than to pay their bandwidth fees for personal use. I forgot my face mask and gloves so I try not to touch anything with my hands, or breathe too deeply. All I need is to catch some superbug, the waiting lists for those specialists are the worst. The ride is nice, but the advertising gets annoying. At least with my phone off I don’t have to worry about them accidentally selling me anything. Just try to send that stuff back, they never cover the return shipping and it costs more than the product. Better to just keep it… I try to keep my hands in my pockets, but an Ad Reader must have got a glimpse, because they identify me and start trying to sell me fertility drugs. For a second I get angry then I realize that a subsidiary of my company makes that drug, so they are legally entitled to have my personal information.

When I get home, the neighborhood association leader is talking to Wendy about our car. It’s 5 years old and we have to trade it in before the year is up, or we are an Eyesore. If enough of us are Eyesores, our neighborhood becomes Blighted, and can be sold to the highest bidder. We’re near one of the last parcels of undeveloped national parkland, so developers are always looking to purchase our lot. We’re one of the last holdouts of actual townhouses and not a condo complex, so any infraction might lead to the town selling us out for a higher ratable. This is our second eyesore warning this year, after they declared salmon an unacceptable molding color after they approved it last year. We missed a meeting, I guess.

For dinner we order something off the Food Network and talk about our days. I forgot to turn my phone back on, so dinner is late until I re-order it. I watch a show, and Wendy skims an e-book while we wait. She’s read it before, and the replay fee is less than the original download, so she re-reads things a lot. I pick a show I haven’t seen before, but it must be early in the story because it’s pretty cheap. They really raise the price once they have their hooks in you, though.

We pay for the better news as well, and watch that over dinner. Some jackass down the block passed a bad drug test and they confiscated his house, which automatically gets an Eyesore label. Shit, I’d better go out to the lab, if I miss this week we’ll be an Eyesore too. I use Wendy’s car, but I can’t use my AutoPilot in her car because I was licensed before we were married. A traffic camera sees me in her car and the car pulls over. Damn it, I thought we fixed that last month? I’m supposed to be listed as a second driver on her insurance! I call tech support and wait as my call is routed to Angola, and try to explain the situation again. I have another problem by trying to bill a tech call on HER car to MY phone, but I get a manager in the Aleutians who fixes that for me. Finally they get the car started, but not before I get a parking ticket, even though the Traffic system parked me here. And I’d have to take a day off work to fight it, so forget it.

I get to the lab, pay in advance, and pay extra to not have my urine spectrum scan sold to my company’s competitors and ad agencies. Luckily I pass, though our dinner had cheese in it, so that might flag me with National Health Insurance since I already had a burger this week and my father had high cholesterol. I drive home, but because I can’t use AutoPilot I think I was going 3 over the limit and a traffic camera got me. Son of a bitch!

By the time I get home, Wendy is asleep and I join her, I’m too aggravated to play games or anything. When I wake up to the familiar singe of the bed alarm shocking me, I remember, I forgot to plug in the fucking car.

It’s rather dystopian but that’s how I prefer my stories about the future. There’s always good and bad. Accelerando is a good balance of both so far, and heads much further into the future than this little story does. I’m enjoying it a lot so far, though I’ve been burned out on science fiction and cyberpunk for quite some time. I think the last one I read was Virtual Light by William Gibson. This one begins in 2050 or so with Manfred Macx, an open-source entrepreneur who is so linked in that when his “glasses” are stolen he loses much of his memory. His daughter Amber is light-years ahead seeking the source of an extraterrestrial signal. I haven’t gotten to the third act which the blurb tells me is about her son, and the “Singularity,” or era of the post-human, where we are all like the Star-Child from 2001 – A Space Odyssey [HD DVD]. Which coincidentally, I watched last night in Hi-Def. Still as stunning as ever, even without chemical assistance. One of my favorite movies.

One thought on “Opt-Out – short-short story.

  1. Depressing but probably accurate. Every year it gets more and more involved to do anything, there are new and “better” ways to do everything and more and better ways to pay over and over for stuff we already have.

    Stross seems to have turned out quite good for a gamer. I think you know this already, but he’s the creator of four of the most famous D&D monsters of all time:
    Githyanki (he took the name from a race in a George R.R. Martin novel)
    Death Knight

    I mean, that’s beyond anyone except Gygax for critters with impact.

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