Flash Fiction: Quota

FlashGood afternoon all and welcome to what will be my last piece of Flash Fiction for awhile. As a friend informed me a short time ago (hey, Rami), it’s technically not flash fiction if what you’re writing exceeds 1000 words. And as anyone who’s read anything ever written by me – ever! – knows, I rarely ever get beneath the 2000 word count. So really, what I’ve been producing is in fact short stories all this time…

Which is okey dokey for me since all of these stories are intended for my collection Flash Forward. The name itself does elicit some notion of flash fiction, but the title was really meant as an inspired bit of wordplay. It’s like, the future is here in a “flash”! By reading this book, you’ll get several “flashes” of the future! More to the point Fast Forward was taken and Future Forward sounded dumb. So here we are…

FlashForward_3Anyhoo, I couldn’t conclude the book without including this last and, I felt, most inspired piece of indie fiction which I’ve have entitled Quota. The basis of the idea came to me some time ago when I was reading up on future urban planning and how these likely will include carbon capture operations. The subject also came up as part of my research on arcologies, and recently as part of my Climate Crisis post, so I definitely knew I had to run with it.

What I came up with was sort of an ironic twist on the issue of Climate Change, and the resulting story now appears here. After two stalled attempts which I ended up scrapping completely, I finally found the voice I wanted and the way I wanted to present all the information I had absorbed on the issue. Hope you all enjoy it, and look for Flash Forward when it comes out on Amazon in a few months time!

__________

arcology_lillypadTarkington gave her neck a quick adjustment, eliciting a small crack that was both relieving and alarming to hear. There still appeared to be no cure for the common case of jetlag. But certain tasks still needed to be done in person, especially when transmissions had a way of raising eyebrows. And it seemed like she had been dealing with nothing but for the past thirty-six hours.

And now, with her Tab poised before her, she stood in yet another Hab with yet another CC module in front of her. And as usual, its technician was on hand, offering the usual combination of explanations and apologies.

“As I say, ma’am, there simply isn’t enough raw material this quarter. We were expecting the temperate high to result in a spike, but the concentrations appear to have leveled of for the year.”

“Yes, you said that,” she replied. “Your report was quite clear. But my superiors still insisted on a spot check.”

The technician nodded, wiped a small film of sweat from his upper lip. “If I may ask, have you visited many other Habs along the coast.”

Tarkington finished with the entry on her Tab and chuckled aloud. “East coast, west coast, midwest, overseas… you name it.”

“Ah,” said the man, shifting in his blue coveralls. “And have they been reporting the same thing?”

Tarkington looked at him sideways. Ordinarily, the production of fuels by various Hab’s and their CC operations was a matter of public record. But lately, information was being more tightly controlled. And the situation appeared to be moving faster than the speed of regular channels. She understood his concern, but orders were orders.

“Not at liberty to discuss this, sir. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait for the official story to be released.”

He sighed. “Ma’am, respectfully, a lot of people are worried about the status of their jobs. And there’s rumors going around that CC ops the world over are reporting that they can’t make this quarters quota. I got people depending on me and they want – no, need – answers.”

Tarkington swiped her Tab and closed the page. She saw from the flashing mail icon in the lower right hand side of the desktop screen that she had new messages, no doubt from Nairobi. At the moment, odds were even on whether or it would be more bad news or demands for an update.

“So?” the man persisted. “What should I tell them?”

Lowering her pad, Tarkington stared at him, doing her best to keep her expression even and professional. But after all she’d been through in the past day and a half, that was no easy task.

“Look, I have some communiques I need to send and some messages I need to read. Is there somewhere private I can do that?”

He frowned at her, but politely pointed her in the direction of his office. “It’s quiet in there, I sent my staff home.”

“Good,” she replied. She was about to leave, but felt a sudden pang of sympathy for her. No doubt his crew had been extremely spooked by the arrival of someone from the UNEP. She imagined they all went to their residences nursing a sense of panic and deep uncertainty. Planning for the future was always stressful, but especially so when it was uncertain.

She sighed. “Listen, I can’t convey anything officially. But if you need to tell your staff something, I’d start with the fact that still have jobs for the time being.”

The engineer groaned heavily. It was the best she could offer, and yet he still knew that it only confirmed the worst. He proceeded to put it into managerial terms which he then expressed aloud.

“Rest easy for now, but don’t neglect to update your resumes, huh?”

She smiled, but couldn’t maintain it for long. “I wish I could tell you more… or just something better.” Her Tab beeped at her, a reminder that her messages were marked urgent and were waiting upon her reply. “And if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got more bad news to tend to.”

That elicited a small laugh. Moments later, she was within four walls of sealed glass, a compartment just large enough to house the office spaces of six people, the entire CC crew for the Hab. She found a corner and sat in the chair sitting in front of the desk. The lights came on to greet her, but none of devices came on. As befitting a good engineer, all the equipment in the office space was biometrically programmed to respond to its owner.

Placing her Tab down on a clear spot on the desk, she opened up her messages and was unsurprised to see that the messages marked urgent were all from UNEP headquarters. The last was a request from Schreiner himself for a live chat. She responded in the affirmative, and a new window formed in her display with his face in the middle.

“Adrianna,” he said, looking scruffier and more haggard than usual. “Glad I caught you. I have travel orders for you.”

“Oh?” she said, trying hard not to sound disappointed. “Where I am off to next?”

“San Diego,” he said cryptically. She knew in a heartbeat the exact location he was about to specify. “One of our colleagues at Scripps said he had information for us. You know him, David Chong, he’ll be there to show you around. In any case, he didn’t want to transmit the information openly, given the rather tense mood the whole world is in right now. He said it might be subject to misinterpretation, make matters worse.”

She nodded her understanding. “When do I leave?”

“As soon your done there. We’ve arranged a shuttle for you from Louis Armstrong, 1900 hours. That enough time for you to get there?”

She checked her chrono. It was just shy of 17:45 Central, which was more than enough provided she left as soon as they hung up. “Should be. Guess I’m burning the midnight oil again, huh?”

“Yeah, sorry,” said Schreiner, looking just sympathetic enough. “I’ve talked it over with the others and we agree, you’re a real trooper! You can take some time when you get back.”

She shrugged. “Well, it’s not so much the travel as having to see the looks on peoples faces. They’re pretty bummed all around.”

Schriener chewed his lip thoughtfully. “That bad huh?”

“It’s the same everywhere, Gunter.  Shimazu, Shanghai, Beijing, New Mumbai, Masdar, Khrustal’nyy, the BOA, and now NOAH. Everywhere, they’re showing low yields and are worried sick if they’re even going to have jobs by the end of the year. These people have built their lives around this; living and working within these communities, now they may have no choice but to pack up and leave.”

“Well… there are jobs elsewhere.”

Tarkington grumbled and shook her head. “I never figured you for the insensitive type, Gunter. C’mon, you know these people are trained in an industry that’s going the way of the dinosaur. There just isn’t enough work in biofuels anymore. For them, this whole shortage isn’t a crisis, it’s a disaster.”

Schreiner chuckled and looked away for a moment. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought he was offended. “You’re too young to remember, Adrianna,” he said. “But trust me when i tell you, these people have no idea what a disaster looks like.”

His face disappeared a second later, leaving Tarkington staring at a reflection of her own, frowning face.

*                     *                    *

Tarkington strained her neck again and tried to get another relieving crack out of it. But it was futile, the strain had long ago morphed into a severe case of stiff neck and nothing seemed to be able to undo that. At least she knew she could look forward to a long, smooth flight home. Perhaps she might get some real sleep in that time.

But not at the moment. The report Chong had filed with her was still too fresh in her mind. Plugging the flash drive into her Tab, she watched the lovely illustrated graph again. Under different circumstances, she might have found the interplay of so much information, rendered in such a succinct and comprehensible way, to be beautiful.

But the picture it provided was something else entirely.

It began with the current year and month, May 11th 2045, with the line intersecting the current rating of atmospheric CO2 at 330 ppm. She hit the play command, and watched as the dancing line with many reference points began to move. The time index on it ticked away, the years ticking on the line dancing lower and lower the longer it went. On the left side of the graph, the fixed numbers sat, the line passing beneath each in turn.

2055… 300

2065… 285

2075… 265

And so on and so forth, until it finally ended on annum 2070 with a pitiful rating of 250. Minimizing that, she checked Chong’s written report for the main points of interest he had provided to put it all in perspective.

  • Global mean temperatures reaching levels unseen since the Industrial Revolution
  • Feedback from expanding glaciers and fungal blooms expected to accelerate “dimming” effect
  • Sea levels dropping by 20 to 30 feet by the end of the century
  • Increase in cloud cover and changing weather patterns expect to impact peizoelectric and solar production

Perhaps it was just the state of exhaustion, but she almost wanted to laugh. If she hadn’t understood Schreiner’s meaning earlier, she certainly did now. Her own words echoed in her mind alongside his.

“These people have no idea what a disaster looks like.”

“They built their lives around this.”

Unlike her, he had been alive when the last crisis had hit, the one that had nearly left a billion people homeless and countless more starving and dying of exposure. It was seen as a mere footnote in history now, how the quick intervention of the UNEP and countless governments and NGOs had staved off the worst of it. Within years, everywhere the capture operations had gone up and began turning the threatening clouds of toxic vapor into clean fuel. And little by little, things began to get better…

Until the quota system had been introduced. Until they had made a program designed to prevent a disaster into an industry that kept things going. One dependency replaced another, and everyone thought they had plenty of time. But time was a funny thing, always running short and leaving those who depended on it out in the cold.

She couldn’t imagine how they would address it this time, but she imagined it would involve something desperate and potentially habit-forming, much like last time!

Closing down her Tab, Tarkington leaned back into the contouring seat and closed her eyes. She heard a faint pop as the engines engaged their hypersonic drives, signalling that they were now in low-orbit and away from any continental masses. Soon enough, she would be back at home and able to take some rest. She only hoped Zanzibar proved to be as nice as everyone said it was…

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