Aphelion Issue 216, Volume 21
April 2017
 
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A Lack of Power

by K.W. Ramsey

John hurried towards the elevator at a pace just shy of running, scanning the shadows. It was early, and the District John lived in was underpopulated, so he saw no one else on his floor. That was terrifying, as the gangs were more likely to attack if you were alone. At this time of day some of them were just getting up and some of them were winding down after a full night, but it made no difference. If they caught you it could be bad.

There was very little violent crime in the Hab, but in John's mind the gangs made a concerted effort to make up for that. John had heard stories about people that had suffered gang attacks. They never ended well, and John did not want to become the subject of a cautionary tale. Security, the informal name for TASHPD, claimed the stories were exaggerations, and that there was no statistical data to back them up, but that did little to calm John's nerves or slow the beating of his heart.

All he had to do was make it to the elevator and he would be safe for another day. He wished he could have gone into the office later, but Unwyn was an early riser and expected John to be at his desk by 7 AM.

A later start time would mean John could lose himself in a crowd and escape notice. The only time anyone in the mid-Hab levels had to worry about gangs was in the morning, just before the lower-level malls started to open and the walkways began to fill. Once that happened the gang bangers would be occupied for the rest of the day. The ones that spent the night awake would sleep, and the early risers would shoplift, harass members of the opposite sex (there were all female gangs after all), and dodge Security patrols. However, before they hibernated or the malls opened they roamed the middle levels of the Toronto Area Sustainable Habitat -- TASH for short, but what everyone called the Hab -- and bullied anyone caught alone in the open.

John arrived at the central chrome-plated District 42 elevator doors, the ones went all the way down to the subway level, red-faced and slightly puffing. He jabbed the call button a few times and then eased back on his heels to wait. All he had to do was get on the elevator and he was safe for another day. The time to arrival indicator above the door seemed to change at the pace of a slightly irritated glacier. John started slowly hopping from foot to foot. Then he heard a faint hooting in the distance, like baboons in the forest. A gang must be approaching. John's eyes darted around and his head whipped from one side of the corridor to the next.

He spotted the gang when they rounded a corner far to his left. All he could make out was shiny black clothing and red hair sticking straight up from their skulls. They saw him at the same time. The hooting increased in volume and urgency as they rushed down the corridor to claim their prey.

John started stabbing the call button, then switched to pounding it. After what seemed a year the wait indicator hit zero and the doors opened. No one was in the car to see the panicked leap John made, or his stumbling turn to face the door panel. He whacked the subway level button and then hit the close door button repeatedly, with the urgency of a panicked chipmunk. As the hooting hit a fever pitch the doors finished closing, but not before John glimpsed a red mohawk and blue eyes glaring through the narrowing slit. The elevator dropped downwards, and John was safe for another day.

John slumped against the back wall of the car and sighed in relief. He straightened his burgundy tie and shrugged his brown jacket back into place. Both had seen better days, but on a junior analyst's salary John couldn't afford a lot of nice clothes and saved the few really good suits he had for special occasions. Not that there had been many special occasions as of late.

John closed his eyes and relaxed until the stop chime binged. He didn't need to open them to know what would happen next. The same thing happened every day. The scent of flowers preceded Her. Not a strong scent, but John had always had a sensitive nose, and the combination of perfumes was distinctive. He always referred to the woman as Her in his mind, and he didn't need to open his eyes as his mental picture was much stronger. Long brunette hair, blue eyes, full lips that curved a minute fraction upwards, as if she was always shyly smiling, all contained on a petite frame.

She rode the elevator every morning at the same time as him, and every day John failed to work up the nerve to say something. Every time he came close he pictured the look of disdain on her face at the gall of a nobody like him daring to speak to her. He wasn't ugly, at least not according to his mother, but neither did he feel handsome enough to approach the goddess before him. This was enough to keep his lips firmly pressed together.

The chime sounded and John opened his eyes long enough to watch her bounce out onto one of the mall levels. He always pictured her working in one of the high-end cafes that festooned the shopping levels of almost every District. It made sense since they were amongst the few businesses that would be open at this time of day. The doors seemed to snap shut after she left and John began to mentally prepare for another gruelling day.

John was originally from out-Hab and had spent most of his life in the Niagara Region. He even went to university there, graduating with a degree in Economics and Business Management. This prompted his move to the Hab, as District 1, built upon Toronto's Financial District, was the financial centre of Canada. Toronto had always been the beating economic heart that pushed money throughout the country, and the TASH project had only strengthened this. All of the largest Canadian financial institutions, from banks to brokerage houses, had their largest if not their only offices there. To make it in finance today you needed a Hab address even more so than a Toronto address was needed back in the day. The TASH had led the economic recovery from the Crash of 2010, and ensured that Ontario dominated "green" industries both domestic and international.

So, to be taken seriously by the big firms, two years ago John and his friend Ag packed up their degrees and a few changes of clothes and moved to a mid-level apartment in Hab District 42. It was by far the scariest thing John had ever done, and only happened because Ag, his nickname for his friend Agastya Kapoor, pushed and pulled him relentlessly to do it. But now Ag had gotten married and moved out of the apartment, so John spent every morning rushing to the elevator and then trudged on to a job he wasn't sure he really wanted.

To be fair it wasn't the work that John objected to. He specialized in historical economic analysis with a focus on the retail industry, but his education was broad enough that he could perform an analysis on any industry currently running in the Hab. He got to spend his days hunting down raw data and transforming it into something understandable, so that the clients of Richardson-Kemp, the firm that employed him, could make more informed investment decisions. Ag had been a forecasting wiz and together they had made a formidable team, at least in John's eyes. It should have been a dream job, but then Ag moved away and John had been reassigned to Unwyn's department.

Fred Unwyn was a legend amongst financial analysts. He had been with the Ministry of Finance as a risk and assurance consultant and had been one of the voices pushing for construction of the Hab. Unwyn had realized the economic benefits beyond the construction of the TASH and ended up looking like a prophet. This had led to private sector job offers from numerous firms, and he had spent the last twenty years, after the initial Hab buildup was completed, hopping from company to company, always to a position of higher prestige and pay, until he ended up running the historical analysis department for Richardson-Kemp. All that success, however, did not make him any less of a jerk when dealing with his subordinates. At least, that had been John's experience.

A twenty minute subway ride had John downtown and at the base of Commerce Court. He stopped at a newsstand and picked up the latest edition of Finance and Economics Monthly, and then dashed over to a nearby coffee stand for a cup of tea. His trip up what used to be the Commerce Court West elevators was uneventful as always. No one else was ever in this early.

Most of the lights were off as he made his way to his workstation and then started the daily report downloads. Part of the ongoing office feuds between Unwyn and other department heads had resulted in Historical Analysis getting sidled with preparing a slew of daily investment reports for clients who requested them. It was boring and time consuming work that had no budget attached to it, and had only been placed on Unwyn's shoulders because he'd missed the last managers meeting and was assigned it. Unwyn had promptly dumped the work on John with explicit instructions to forward the reports to Unwyn's email.

As the report data downloaded, after glancing around to make sure his boss wasn't about to descend, John opened his newly purchased magazine and started to read. This was the only time of day he'd have a chance before the interruptions started; usually Unwyn calling for a status report or to pile on more work. This early though he should have at least a good twenty minutes while the reports downloaded and collated, and before the calls started or the squeaking of overpriced Italian loafers warned of an impending visit. Today there was no warning.

"Dinsmore!" barked a voice behind John. "Why are you reading on company time?"

John spun his chair around to face the glaring eyes of Fred Unwyn. After being stunned speechless for a breath he stammered out, "Uh, uh, just... just waiting for the daily downloads to finish running, Mr. Unwyn. I thought that during the wait it would be a good idea to work at keeping my information, uh, up to date."

"Read on your own time Dinsmore. This company pays you to produce, not to lolly-gag."

"Yes sir."

"The laziness of today's employees astounds me. Instead of using this time to plan out your day or to tighten the phrasing on an analysis you chose to fritter it away reading some rag. What is that you're reading anyways?"

"Finance and Economics Monthly, sir."

"Humph, you read that pile of sewage? Well, it figures, you are from Niagara. Even when I was your age the schools out there sucked, so it is only natural you would attempt to supplement your knowledge."

John, who was very proud of his academic performance, tried not to sound hurt when he said "Yes sir." He failed, and Unwyn sensed it.

"Did I hurt your widdle feelwings there Dinsmore? Ah, is the widdle analyst gonna cry?"

"Uh, no sir, sorry if I gave that impression sir," said John, falling back on courtesy to hide his true feelings, as he always did when faced with these situations.

Unwyn waved his hand. "Think nothing of it Dinsmore. Now throw that garbage out and get back to work."

John started to doubt his own sanity when Unwyn started to flicker in and out of existence. At the same time his boss seemed to glow, and the glow was getting brighter.

"Uh sir, why are you flickering, and, um glowing?" John asked, eyeing his boss.

"Hmm... the system must still have a few bugs in it." said Unwyn. John saw him make a pounding gesture with his fist and the flickering stopped and the glow began to fade. It didn't disappear completely, giving Unwyn an ethereal quality.

"I'm testing the new holographic telepresence system we installed last night. Allows me to check up on you whenever I want and it feels like I'm in the same room. Hell, I don't even need to get dressed, as it will project any avatar I want."

John tried not to vomit at the thought of his overweight and nearly bald boss naked. It was a hard struggle. As he fought with the image of a naked middle-aged man, he glanced around the room and saw the combination projector/camera mounted in the ceiling that was inflicting Unwyn's presence upon him.

The boss continued by saying "So now there are no excuses Dinsmore. I can check up on you anytime I feel like it."

John's face assumed a neutral expression in an effort to hide the dismay he felt. "I see sir. Since you are here this early may I ask you a question?"

Unwyn snorted. "You just did, but I guess I can spare a few moments and pearls of wisdom for the unenlightened. Go ahead, ask."

"Have you had a chance to look at the article I wrote? I was considering submitting it to, uh, some of the financial journals, and, uh, would like your feedback."

A flush crept up Unwyn's face. "Hmm.. article, article. I don't know if I have or not. What was it about again?"

"It was a comparison of the state of the economy pre-Hab and post-Hab and how the entrepreneurial opportunities provided to Hab-dwellers and the rest of Ontario helped drive the recovery from the 2010 Crash. Most analyses to date have focused solely on the economic benefits to large companies, chain stores, and 'green' industries and ignored the effect on small business. As well, I noticed an upswing in outside businesses that deal in products or experiences currently not available inside the Hab. Since you were one of the first to realize the non-construction based economic benefits I sent it to you in the hopes of getting some feedback before submission."

"You wrote that piece of shit? Humph! No wonder you're still just a junior analyst. It has long been established that the economic effect the Hab had on the Crash recovery effort were based on large scale infrastructure improvements, and that the Hab drove the recovery while the rest of Ontario was along for the ride. Attempt to get the dreck you wrote published and I guarantee you'll torpedo any chances you have of being taken seriously in the financial community."

John wilted in his chair. He had worked months on that article, tracking down various publications, analyses, heck even raw data, to support his argument that while the Hab had made recovery from the 2010 Crash possible, it had only been the spark that touched off an explosion of small business based economic growth. The effect on the economy from infrastructure improvements and large-scale business activity was obvious and had been reported extensively for the last twenty years. Most of those reports had Unwyn's name attached to them, whether as the writer or listed under sources. John's article did not try to dispute or contradict the traditional analyses, but instead tried to show what they'd missed.

The idea that had arisen over the last few decades was that small business was no longer a primary factor in job creation and economic growth, and that living structures such as the Hab favoured chain stores and big business. John had found that, to a certain degree, this view was true, as every district's mall levels were crowded with the same stores, such as Roots and Sobeys, etc, but it was not the whole picture. The historical data available to John showed that as the Hab filled, each district, while still possessing a variety of chain stores, had begun to take on a different character. This was due to the natural tendency of humans to want to live near people who looked and acted similar to themselves. The districts had begun to differentiate based upon cultural and racial distinctions. For instance, one district could be composed primarily of residents of Korean descent while the district next to it was composed mainly of Caucasian Anglo-Saxons. This had led to chain stores altering their stock to better serve the needs of local customers, and even to some chains expanding or reducing their presence in certain districts.

What John had found additional to this, in the raw data he could assemble, was that the chain stores, even with all of their tremendous buying power, could not fill all of the needs of each community. Either the products could not be bought in bulk, were of a nature that prevented mass production, or would not sell enough to make it worthwhile to stock. This had left open economic niches that entrepreneurs in each community had found a way to fill. Some took advantage of the low rent on commercial space to open up speciality shops, such as Italian bakeries or traditional Indian restaurants, and some ran businesses out of their apartments, such as hairdressers.

The economic effect of small business outside the Hab had been just as great. They could produce the small amount of niche items some of the Hab dwellers wanted or offer experiences, such as horseback riding along a country trail, that were currently impossible to produce in the Hab. John was sure he had found ample evidence to support this. He'd used his parents' vineyard as an example. They produced their own wine from the ground up, from grape to glass, and they had been selling out on each year's production for over a decade. Ninety percent of their sales were to Hab dwellers looking for something other than the mass produced brands offered by TASH run LCBO stores.

"I see. Uh, thank you for your, umm, candour, sir" said John.

Unwyn waved his hand. "Think nothing of it my boy. Now how are those downloads coming along? We've spent enough time flapping our gums."

John glanced at his screen. "They're finishing now."

Unwyn grinned like a shark. "Excellent. Now you can get those reports done in an hour and forward them to me. I'm also sending you some additional work that I need done by the end of the day. Now get busy, and don't forget that magazine."

"Sir?"

"The one on your desk. Throw it out."

"Oh, I'll just put it away."

John grabbed the magazine off the desk and was about to place it in a drawer when Unwyn snapped "No, put it in the garbage! You shouldn't be reading at work, and as punishment you now must throw it out."

"But..."

"No buts," growled Unwyn. "I told you to dispose of the magazine, now dispose of it."

"Yes Mr. Unwyn." John rose from his seat, walked over to the trashcan, gently opened the lid and let the copy of Finance and Economics Monthly slip from his fingers. He then dragged himself back to his desk and sat down.

"Good to see that you know how to follow instruction," said Unwyn. "I will check on you later and expect to see progress on the projects I've assigned." He winked out of existence.

John opened his email, fearing what had been dumped upon him. It turned out to be ten different historical analyses that would need to be cross referenced to provide an overall picture of the performance of the retail sector during the initial Hab buildup. It was the kind of report the TASH Administration used when selling the Hab concept to international clients, and was not an impossible task, but it was unusual to have to go that far back as the initial buildup was over forty years ago. Some of the required data would be archived off the network.

John's workstation was optimized for this kind of work, and if he had the data he could get the analyses done in a day, as long as he was uninterrupted, but without the needed data there was only so far he could get. John dashed off an email to IT requesting that it be retrieved and then dug into the daily reports. After they were finished he started collecting what data he could.

True to his word, Unwyn checked on John at least 5 times before lunch, suddenly popping into the room like a demented jack-in-the-box. Each time John was startled, and he began to take on the appearance of a monkey in a room full of hungry tigers. Once lunchtime arrived, after what felt like years, he fled from his desk to meet Ag at a local cafe. They had begun meeting there every workday, about a week after Ag's move.

"I swear this job is going to kill me," moaned John.

"Oh don't be so dramatic," said Ag. "You just need to stand up for yourself and stick it to Unwyn".

"And how am I supposed to do that? If I take this to someone higher up how do I know they'll believe my word against his? I'm just a junior analyst and he's one of the first people who saw the Hab's investment potential. And I'm the only one he seems to treat this way. I don't know what I did, but somehow I got on this bad side."

Ag shook his head. "It's not you man, it's him. He's intimidated by your giant brain. You have more knowledge in your little toe than that prick bastard has in his whole body. I keep telling you this hoping it will sink in. What you need to do is get the prick bastard on record saying or doing something bad and then send that to the higher ups. Then you can watch as they tune his ass."

"How am I going to get him on record? The only time he's abusive is when we're in the same room. His emails are always polite, if brusque, and he never says anything damning over the phone. My station is out of sight from the security cameras and most of the desks near me are reserved for visiting agents from other offices. With the company's 'Clean Desk' policy there's no place I could hide a recorder that it wouldn't be so muffled as to be useless. And now with him able to keep tabs on me whenever he wants and pop up in a flash, I can't even try to set a up a recorder cause I never know when he's watching me. Face it, I'm screwed."

Ag looked puzzled. "How is he watching you? Has he bugged your desk?"

John waved his hand. "Nah. The company installed a holographic telepresence system. Similar to what the cafe has setup." As if to underline John's statement a distortion wave passed through Ag, starting at his feet and working its way up.

A predatory smile broke out on Ag's face. "You have your Berry with you?"

"Yeah, sure." John pulled out his smart-phone with a confused look. "What good will this do me? The camera sucks and the audio is even worse."

Ag shook his head. "You don't get it my friend. Your Berry can tap into open telepresence systems and record the feed. Here, let me show you."

Ag pulled out a smart-phone identical to John's and started entering commands. A large blue button appeared on the touchscreen. Ag pressed it and then started singing "Sweet Caroline", which came off surprisingly well considering his accent. John just sat there open-mouth and staring. After finishing the song Ag entered a few more commands into his phone and then showed it to John. Played out on the small screen was a scene showing a dumfounded John watching his friend sing.

"See my friend, it's easy" chuckled Ag.

"But it needs to be an open system, right?" asked John.

"Yes."

"How likely is that in the office?"

"Have they changed IT people since I left?"

"No, its still Tadeshi and his crew."

Ag snorted "Then it's open. Those guys could not find their asses with search dogs and a map." He showed John how to set his Berry to tap into and record the telepresence feed. He even walked John through setting it up so that a single press of a button would start the recording. They tested it and it recorded without a hitch.

Lunch was over far too quickly and as Ag disappeared in a puff of smoke -- he always did like to play with the holographic settings for dramatic effect -- John dragged himself back to the office and resumed work.

As the clock edged closer to quitting time, he'd made a serious dent in the analyses, but IT's response to his email had indicated they wouldn't be able to get to his request till Monday. He hoped the progress that had been made would be enough to satisfy Unwyn.

"Dinsmore!" shouted Unwyn as he popped into existence. Even though it was the about the tenth time today that the boss had made a sudden appearance John still jumped, causing an evil little smile to crease Unwyn's face.

"Yes sir, what can I help you with?" said John, heart hammering like the drummer at a heavy metal concert. As he touched his chest to quiet its thudding, almost without thinking he pressed the record button he and Ag had configured on the smart-phone tucked in John's shirt.

"Status report. How are those files I sent you coming along?"

"Very well sir. I'd estimate I'm 80% done and I should be able to finish the rest of the work on Monday."

A brief impressed look took hold of Unwyn's face, but shifted so quickly to a scowl that John wasn't sure it had been there at all. "No good Dinsmore, I needed those files today. What's your excuse for not having them done?"

"No excuse sir but they required data no longer available in the system. I've submitted a request to IT but it does require someone to physically access the archive stores and upload the data to the system. IT says they can't get to it till Monday.

Unwyn sighed. "Isn't it just like you to blame your failures on others."

"But..."

"No buts! You failed in the tasks I assigned. It's a wonder you still have your job, and at this rate I don't know how much longer you will." Unwyn started waving his arms around. "What am I going to tell the senior managers when they come looking for the data early on Monday, hmm? Sorry it's not available because the analyst I thought I could trust with collecting it was too busy reading magazines and lunching with his lazy immigrant friend, who couldn't cut it as an analyst in this country, to actually get the one or two minor tasks I assigned done."

John's face was flushed and he clenched his fists down at his sides so hard his forearms were trembling. He had done all he could to get the assignments done, and this spiteful old man was still running him through the grinder.

"Sir, the only reason they are not done is because I need data that is nearly forty years old. And my friend Ag is not lazy. He worked just as hard as I do while with the company, if not harder. The only reason he moved back to Mumbai was to get married."

"Hell, that just means you're as lazy as him. The only reason that sorry sack of curry was hired was because the company can't look bad by not having any visible minorities on staff. Bunch of PC rubbish in my mind. It was bad when I started in finance and it's only gotten worse. I mean, how are we supposed to get anything done when we can't understand the person were supposed to be working with because they have an accent thicker than maple sap. Never mind that the rest of us have to work that much harder because they never carry their weight and don't have to worry about getting fired. I'm just glad I wasn't saddled with him the same time I was saddled with you."

The trembling that had started in John's forearms worked its way through the rest of his body. It was bad having his work criticized, it was worse having his friend insulted, but to be called lazy was the worst personal insult anyone could give him. His family had been farmers and vintners for generations, and had instilled in him a strong work ethic and a high level of integrity. He always did his best, worked as hard as he could, and that was one of the reasons he and Ag had become friends. They both were borderline workaholics who prided themselves on efficiency. To have to listen to this dried up, spiteful, fossilized vulture, who couldn't even work up the energy to come into the office, calling others lazy made John want to scream. It was only remembering he was being recorded that kept him from exploding.

Unwyn had continued to prattle on while John was reigning in his temper. "Very well Dinsmore, since you've screwed up and we can't get the data till Monday there's nothing else to be said. I would take this weekend to consider your failure. I hope that next week you are more productive. I'd hate for your annual review to be affected by this."

With those words Unwyn disappeared. John tapped his Berry to stop the recording and stood, turned, and then slammed his chair into the desk. He grabbed his jacket and stomped towards the elevator, stopping in front of the trash bin. As a petty act of defiance he fished his magazine from amongst the few bits of waste. To hell with Unwyn. John had bought the magazine and he was going to read the copy he'd paid for. The ride down the company elevator seemed to last a century.

On the subway John flipped through his copy of Finance and Economics Monthly. Nothing caught his interest until he read the title 'A Comparison of Pre-Hab and Post-Hab Economics: The Entrepreneurial Spirit'. It was his article! He started reading carefully, looking for any minute differences, but none appeared in the first few paragraphs so he started skipping and scanning for any obvious differences. The only part missing was the analysis of his parents vineyard, and the benefits to out-Hab businesses had been reduced to a few lines stating that a small amount of business outside the Hab had seen moderate growth. The byline at the bottom of the article read 'Fred Unwyn'.

The bastard had stolen his article. He had stolen it almost word for word, only altering the sections that differed with the traditional view of the Hab as the centre of Ontario's economy, the view that Unwyn had developed and supported for the last twenty years.

John had never experienced anything like this. During his university days there had always been a level of respect amongst the students, even as they competed for the highest grades. None of them would have stooped so low as to steal another's work and then denigrate it to that persons face. John had never liked Unwyn and thought he was a prick, but until today had considered himself lucky that he worked under someone so respected. He had always hoped that someday he would live up to Unwyn's seemingly impossible standards and therefore earn the old man's respect. A nagging fear had crept into John's heart that the insults that Unwyn heaped upon him were justified, that no matter what John actually thought about himself he was actually a useless nobody. Finding his boss' name at the bottom of an article that John had written dispelled any such doubts, and confirmed that no matter what he did, Unwyn was never going to let him be more than just an overworked peon.

John pulled his Berry from his shirt pocket and began to compose an email. It was addressed to Mr. Richardson, one of the senior partners of the firm. He explained the treatment he had been receiving from Unwyn, along with the comments made about Ag, a copy of the telepresence recording, and a copy of the article he had written with the system tags listing alteration dates proving he had written it, as well as a quickly scanned copy of the article in his hands. All he had to do was hit send.

Doubt still lingered for John. Would Richardson listen to the complaints of a junior analyst who was making accusations against a fiscal legend, or would he dismiss them and say the evidence was faked? John had only been in a room with Richardson once, and had been too shy to actually approach him. The only reason he even considered sending an email to the senior partner was because of what happened at that one meeting. The well-groomed Mr. Richardson had taken the time to introduce himself and tell John he had an open-door policy, and loved to hear employee feedback.

John was still wrestling with the dilemma when the Hab elevator arrived at his floor. His mind preoccupied, he didn't notice how dark it was. The interior lights were off, and if he had looked over the railing to his right into the District centre, he would have seen that they were out all the way down to the mall levels, and even they were dark. The only reason the Hab elevators, environmental systems, and subway were still functional was they were on a dedicated power source that could only have been taken out by a nuclear explosion, possibly, with a direct hit. The three systems were only ever offline for maintenance, and then only on a staggered schedule in the middle of the night so as not to interfere with the movement of people and air.

Historically, the Hab levels themselves were not so fortunate. It was not unheard of for an entire level, or even a district, to be taken offline during maintenance cycles or during a usage spike, and it was the mid-levels that had experienced the worst of it. They were considered the lowest priority for power. The mall levels were public areas, and made the TASH administration money, and the residents of the highest levels paid a premium for uninterrupted service. Mid-Hab denizens could not afford the premiums and therefore were the ones who suffered the power issues while the Hab's sustainable systems were constructed.

It had been a lot worse during the early days, before a lot of the power systems, such as solar, were fully productive. As new systems came online the available amount of power increased and blackouts became a memory. Sure, the power may be shutdown for maintenance reasons, but like the subways and air that was only done at night when it would affect the least amount of people, and there would have been a notice sent out so that no one was surprised. If John had not been so caught up on his thoughts he would have been shocked.

The dark may not have snapped John out of his thoughts, but the hand slapping the Berry from his grasp did. John looked up to find himself surrounded by black leather and red hair. It was the gang he'd escaped that morning. He was staring right into the blue-eyes that had glared at him through the closing elevator doors. It was at that moment he realized how dark it was and it hit him; a power outage, something he had never experienced in the Hab, must have caused the mall levels to close. That meant the bored gang wasn't occupied, wasn't distracted, and was now prowling the mid levels.

"Whatchoo doin wage slave?" asked Blue-eyes.

John stammered "Juh... juh... just trying to get home."

"Juh, juh, just trying to get home? And what were you trying ta do this mornin, huh? We're you tryin to run from us, huh?"

"Uh ... uh ... no. I just wanted to get to work on time."

"I don't think so, wage slave. I think yous scared of us. Taint that right boyos?" Blue-eyes turned to the rest of the gang.

The gang rumbled their assent and one in the back yelled "Right Skuzz!"

Skuzz snapped his head back to face John, causing his mohawk to wiggle. "We don't likes it when wage slaves scape from our 'justice'. See, we's the ones standing up for the little retail workers you wage slaves walk all over. Yous lazy pods in your offices taking all the good jobs while we gotta live on scraps, taint fair. I's thinks you gotta pay for thats."

Skuzz grabbed hold of John's jacket and pulled the him close enough that the gang leader's fetid breath washed over John's face. This was a mistake because Skuzz missed John's fists tightening and forearms trembling. Skuzz was too focused on John's face, which always had been less than expressive to people who didn't know him, and only could be read by those who knew him well or were experienced in reading others, such as Ag or Unwyn. Skuzz fit in neither category, and was caught completely off guard when John's fist smashed into his face, sending him sprawling.

John couldn't believe what he had just done, but a part of him was glad he had. He'd hit another human being in anger. It was the word 'lazy' that had set him off. After listening to Unwyn call him it while the old bastard stole the fruits of his labours, John was damned if he was going to let an ignorant gang banger, who probably had never worked hard at anything in his life, tell him he was lazy. Not after he had spent his childhood attending school, studying, and still helping his parents with the vineyard. Not after he had graduated from an MBA program with honours and passed the CFA exams while still working at the vineyard. Not today. He would show the world that it could not pick on him anymore, staring with the punk lying a few feet away.

Skuzz lay on the floor stunned. He looked up as John started to advance. The rest of the gang stood around dumbfounded. It was only Skuzz's screams for help as he backpedalled away from John that broke them out of their funk. Focused only on Skuzz, John did not realize the other gang members were moving until his left ear was hit from behind and he fell face-down on the ground. Then the kicks started, each one crashing into his sides from a different direction. John felt two of his ribs snap before the onslaught was stopped by a few thumps and the sound of an electrical discharge. After a few seconds he summoned the nerve to roll over and, wincing in pain, found himself staring into the face of a Security officer.

"Now then, how are you doing?" the cop asked as he knelt down, his brows furrowed with concern.

John smiled "I've had better days. I think my ribs are broken."

The cop chuckled. "If you can talk then you aren't that bad off. Don't worry, we'll have a med team up here in a jiff. Just lie there till they get here."

John looked around for his Berry. "Have you seen my phone?"

The officer looked around, spotted something and then walked away. A moment later he was back in John's view holding the missing smart-phone "Is this yours, lad?"

"Yes it is, thanks" John said as the cop handed him the Berry. The message to Mr. Richardson was still queued on the screen. Remembering the feeling of hitting Skuzz, John pressed send.

The med team took another ten minutes to arrive. They had just come from a similar incident. From listening to the cop and med techs talking, John discovered the power outage had affected three districts, including the malls and upper levels, and was not part of planned maintenance. The running theory based on evidence at the scene, the cop said, was one of the gangs had decided to sabotage the grid as a prank. This had prompted Security to increase patrols in the affected areas and the amount of gang-related violence in the mid-Hab levels had surprised them all. According to the cop, the security chiefs of districts 42, 41, and 39 were already talking about a task-force to address the gang problem. They wanted to make sure that days like today did not happen ever again.

John ended up spending a few hours in the hospital while doctors checked him for a concussion, set and taped his broken ribs, and provided him with painkillers. He was surrounded by pretty nurses for most of that time, so he felt little reason for complaint. However, the nicest thing he saw was the email that popped onto his Berry:

"Hello John. Thank you for bringing the actions of Mr. Unwyn to my attention. There have been rumours of this kind in the past, but none have ever been substantiated with proof. Please be assured that Mr. Unwyn's employment at Richardson-Kemp is now at an end, and we have sent messages to the other major financial houses letting them know the reason for his firing. We now suspect that a lot of the work that Mr. Unwyn was claiming as his own was likely done by you or other analysts under his supervision, both while in our employ and during his employment elsewhere. You will have a new supervisor on Monday and I have instructed them to provide you with leadership training as I would like to see an analyst as dedicated as you move upward in our firm. Mr. Kemp and I have discussed this matter and he shares my conviction. Please have a good weekend."

The bottom of the message read "Henry Richardson, co-founder of Richardson-Kemp".

John did have a good weekend, in spite of the occasional twinge from his ribs. He actually found himself looking forward to Monday, instead of dreading it. It was a strange, almost light feeling and he held onto it for as long as he could.

It was with this feeling that he stepped onto the Hab elevator Monday morning. When it stopped and the smell of flowers drifted into the car he looked at the brunette getting on and said:

"Hi."

THE END


© 2010 K.W. Ramsey

Bio: K. W. Ramsey earned a Bachelor's degree in English Language and Literature back in 2000 and then studied network and Internet support (a somewhat more lucrative field...). He currently works in a technical support role for the Ontario government (hence his familiarity with bureaucracies and office politics).

E-mail: K. W. Ramsey

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