1949 words (7 minute read)

//four_

There was a stark change of scenery as I approached the station. I walked out of a desert into a well- manicured lawn of artfully placed hardscape and green succulents.

Posted around the lawn were three guards. These were sub-bub enforcement; sub-bubs were the ones that maintained the train stations. The government couldn’t afford to maintain them… and thank god, because these were the epitome of modernity and efficiency.

The guard nodded to me as I walked past him. I nodded back. I climbed the low wide concrete steps to the ticketing kiosks. I placed both my hands on the dark screen.

It took a moment or two before it lit up to the introduction screen. It would only grant access to the main menu after a quick background check; any outstanding warrants or other flags would get you “detained”. Sub-bub enforcement was known for being pretty paranoid so it was best to keep your head down and follow the rules. I pressed in my destination. It gave me the departure time.

“Accept?” The screen asked.

I did.

“$32.00 charged to your metro account?”

I confirmed this.

“Thank you!” The screen said.

My phab buzzed, indicating that it had my ticket information. I pulled it out of my pocket and walked over to the entrance doors. I held my phab up to the solar glass. The door slid open.

The train lobby was bright. To my left was the platform. In the middle was a small green space with shrubs, green plants, and benches. A myriad of flowering plants proved that they had no trouble blooming in here.

I took off my mouth cover and let it hang around my neck. I walked over to the right of the lobby where there was a small water fountain. This was the best part of the train station. These Subbites were geniuses with their condensation and water recycling.

The public water delivered once a week to my apartment was fortified with vitamins and minerals. It also contained “moisture control”… basically water on steroids. I know that I learned about the chemical process in school, but it didn’t really stick out now. This was terrible because I think someone won a Nobel Prize or something for it.  Moisture Control made a person retain moisture longer than normal so that they could consume less water. It made human respiration and perspiration more efficient.

Sub-bub water was free from all of that so it had a different taste. It didn’t have a smell and wasn’t heavy, it was just cold and crisp and perfect.

I bent over and let the cold clean water wash my teeth, tongue, and throat. This really was the best thing ever. Every time, I wondered what it would be like to stand, naked, under a stream like this. I lingered a little longer than I should have, but for the price of a one-way ticket to the other side of town, I could justify it.

My train wasn’t for another forty-five minutes. I had a little bit of a ritual when I got to the train station. The first stop was always the water fountain; it was also my last stop before I got on the train. My next stop was the bench in the green space. Here I would sit, eyes closed, breathing as deep as I could.

This place was my inspiration for everything I tried to do at home.

Granted, my “garden” left a lot to be desired. I didn’t have nearly the resources that the sub-bubs had. My little grow lights did the best they could with the seeds I could get. The Department of Agriculture seeds were mostly trash after all the modifications and experimentation, but their inventory was the cheapest so people went there.  

For a little more, I could get better quality plants and seeds from independent sellers. You had to be careful, though, as too much of that would run you the risk of being flagged. The trouble with independent sellers was origination. Much of what was sold by independent sellers was smuggled in from Cartel farms. Being in possession of Cartel produce was illegal. The Department of Agriculture was serious. If they had the slightest cause the Department of Agriculture would test the genetic makeup of your plants and compare it to a known list of Cartel products.  If you were found to be in possession of organic matter that had come from the Cartel you would be fined, have all plants confiscated, and be subject to probation which included surprise inspections.

I’d gotten pretty good at growing lettuces and herbs. My tomatoes weren’t bad either. I could normally grow just enough to trade. But trade was frowned upon as The Department of Agriculture aimed to be the main supplier of plants and produce. So, I just kept my trade with a few people in my building.  

There were never a lot of regular people in the train station. The train was expensive and most people had no reason to travel.  Normal citizens really had no need to go into an office…ever.  It was much more cost effective for them to work from home. Between storms and rolling blackouts, it was far safer to have employees stay at home. Plus, companies were incentivized by the government, the insurance companies, and the landlords to share space. There were some retail and manual labor jobs that required a person to show up, but generally, these tended to be within walking distances of neighborhoods.

The station didn’t open to regular citizens until all local Subbite traffic had cleared. There was an obvious segregation here, but it was done out of concern for their safety. Since the sub-bubs owned that train stations they could make the rules as they saw fit.  In their defense, it could be quite dangerous for them if and when they did mingle with regular citizens. I, for one, meant them no harm… but I was not everyone out there. The Subbite life was a life a lot of people would be desperate to have. In the early days, everyone had access to the train at the same time, this lead to a spike in Subbite kidnappings and violence against the sub-bub community.

I opened my eyes. Soft light from the ceiling gave the whole station a glow. Absent-mindedly, I reached out and took a leaf between my fingers. I gently rubbed the firm but pliable leaf.

My mom had applied to a sub-bub while she had been pregnant with me. She had about a dozen interviews, providing all kinds of medical, physiological, and genealogical documentation. She took blood tests, urine tests, personality tests. Her entry was contingent upon a successful birth and a quick to follow conception.

I was one and a half when they officially denied her.

I don’t know if it wasn’t for the best. Between the secret micro-chipping, the constant threat of being kidnapped, the pledging of all your resources for “a better tomorrow” it would have been a lot for anyone.

Not to mention my grandma couldn’t stand the idea. She couldn’t quite grasp that her own flesh and blood would willingly hand over all her rights to strangers.

“You were going to join humanity’s country club!” My grandma had said. “Give up your decency to a panel of strangers for what? Citrus? Recycled water? “

“First of all, Mom, no one knows what a country club is.  And Yeah, maybe I was.” My mother would snap, “Is that so crazy?”

Subbites never had to worry about food, or water, or power. Maybe it was worth all your personal freedom and resources. I mean, Canners were technically free and they lived in the shadows and fed on their own species.

The train station was the best part of the sub-bub, without the brutal application process. No chips, no separate trains, no council to monitor my every move; I could sit here unmolested and enjoy what it might be like for a moment. This bench was as close to Utopia as I was ever going to get. 

If I was riding a train, it was because I had to go somewhere I didn’t want to. There were two stops today. The first would be work, the second a visit to the Propagation Center.

I closed my eyes and flirted with sleep until a mellow sounding bell let me know it was about time to depart. My phab buzzed in my pocket to second that. I got up and went back to the drinking fountain. There were two men in line ahead of me. I waited my turn and drank deeply before heading over to the platform.

I fiddled with the mouth cover around my neck. The train glided into the station quietly. It stopped. The doors slid open. A handful of people got off. I walked in and sat on a bench seat by the window.  

Today there was a meeting at work. They liked to do this every quarter, to get everyone together and go over the “focus”; this meant that someone somewhere had a problem with the way something had been reported.

The Department of Propagation contracted out all of their data entry and analysis. My company entered, aggregated and compiled that information. I analyzed numbers. Analyze is a generous term since no one cared about my opinion, summarize was more accurate. Like with any government report, sometimes they said some “thing” and sometimes they were manipulated to say “some” thing. Since a majority of taxpayer dollars were funneled into this department, we were forever under scrutiny and constantly having to redo everything.

It was sort of comical how many different ways you could spin something when the facts remained the same. We, the population of the United States, just weren’t propagating at high enough rates. That was the plain unadulterated truth. But, congressmen and constituents were sorts of tired of hearing it put like that. More studies, more data, more billboards, more public service announcements, more ridiculously named initiatives. All that to come back to the same thing they said in 2060: If we don’t do something about the rising numbers of infertility we were headed down the road to extinction.  

It was a big deal. Laws had been passed quickly and with bi-partisan support. Everyone was on the wagon and this thing wasn’t going to keep us down. Well, 52 years later the enthusiasm had become stale, now it was just a job. And a really nice buzzword for the news cycles and the want to -be change makers.  

With the infertility rate and the self- euthanasia, our odds weren’t great. We might make it through a couple more generations.

If we could figure it out but so far we couldn’t figure it out.

Not for lack of trying, though.

The train deposited me on the other side of town. Anything outside the city center could be considered Canner country. Since there was a Propagation Center here, the area was patrolled by drones and strategically placed cameras. Not nearly as many cameras like in the city center, but enough to get women to come to their quarterly appointments and enough to make business owners feel safe enough to conduct business. My office headquarters was just three blocks from the train station.

If there were enough people about, Canners didn’t usually attack.


Next Chapter: //five_