The Lucky Ones
by Alyson Lawson
The sun rose confidently, scaling up the yawning hulks of gaudy concrete and glass that were Sublime Oasis Apartments – Block 4. The fifty storey block uncurled, stretched its arms and raised its fingertips to greet the insistent warmth of a new day.
The steady ascent continued until the eastern side of the block was awash with light so blinding that at first glance the glass and white concrete seemed to merge into one sleek sheet of ice. Cool white, waiting for the first blade to slide smokily across the surface; followed by shrieking and laughter as one by one children cut across on freshly sharpened blades, their joy evaporating into the cold, crisp air. But then the mirage was gone. The sun lifted higher into the sky and the stifling day had begun.
Alice awoke to the whirring sound of the Lextok 1800 air-conditioning system as it circulated recycled oxygen around her apartment. She enjoyed the sensation of waking up cool and fresh so, although it was frowned upon, she always turned her environment adaptor down by a few degrees just before bed-time.
As Alice stepped into the shower her Lextok 220 Integrated Lifestyle Companion System sensed her movements and came to life. “Good morning Alice, I hope you slept well.” Was that an accusatory tone from Lextok this morning? A comment on her air-con consumption? “Would you like the usual for breakfast this morning?’
“Yes thanks, Lex.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you this morning?”
“Run me through today’s schedule again please.”
“Certainly, first up at 8.00 you have…”
As she emerged from the shower, Alice found her green tea and toasted gluten free wheatgerm bagel waiting for her inside her food hatch. The food light was flashing a warning red.
“Lex, schedule a food restock for when I’m at work today.”
“Already scheduled,” Lex replied.
At 06.35 Alice stepped out into the hallway of floor 43. She was wearing a smart, dark grey suit jacket and skirt with a white sateen shirt. “Ground floor,” she instructed the lift. 16 seconds later she stepped into the silent marbleized lobby.
“Have a nice day Alice,” replied the lift.
Outside you could already feel the beginnings of a grimly hot day. There were several dusty white taxi cars waiting around the central fountain which sat in front of the Sublime Oasis Apartment Complex. A smartly suited man with a briefcase stepped out of Sublime Oasis Apartments Block 3 and hailed the first taxi in the queue. There was no-one else in sight and so the second glided dutifully up to Block 4, without Alice having to do a thing.
In the back seat of the car Alice used the touch screen map to indicate her destination and the directions appeared on the driver’s screen. The car raced away from the towering residential complex on a smooth conveyer belt of tarmac. The glinting buildings receded into the distance as they entered an arid land of dust bowl emptiness. The monotony was only broken every so often by a group of construction workers, waiting for their lifts by the side of the road. These people just fleeting hitchhikers, faces merging together in a blur as the car sped towards the wealth and progress of the city. It was a distasteful journey and she was looking forward to the completion of the Underground Hyperloop scheduled to open in 2032.
She did sometimes wonder where they came from – the blurred faces. The desert was so barren and empty, except for the luxury apartment blocks – built to cater for lucky corporate types like her who wanted to escape the pollution of the city. As they drove past dirty tracks that led into the desert she wondered what their lives were like. Did they live in tents or shacks or brick houses? Did they belong to a distant village? Did they return each weary night to recount their exhausting day, to retell jokes made by their co-workers, to talk with their neighbours and sit with their family round the fire?
The desert dwellers were the lucky ones. Others lived onsite in large shipping containers, set up as temporary accommodation when the big corporations first relocated from the First World. Ten years later they were still there and the rumours of hot-bedding and slave labour continued to blight Lextok’s (and the other big companies’) Green Business Ratings. Yet, although the consumer was becoming more ethically aware, cost was still the main factor and Alice knew that Lextok would get away with making as few improvements as possible to workers’ conditions as long as they provided cheap and reliable integrated lifestyle equipment.
As they approached town a skyline of large glass and metal structures loomed up ahead – each building competing with the next to be the tallest, the brightest, the shiniest, the pointiest. But, before they entered the city, they had to drive past the city’s main landfill. Everyone agreed it was a blight but the city seemed to draw people in like a magnet and all that rubbish and excrement had to go somewhere. Luckily, the internal air-con kept the horrid stench out, but Alice could never get used to the swarms of people. Dump people, like ants swarming over the waste of others, looking for anything they could re-use, recycle and sell. It was a brutal existence on the rubbish dumps – children born and brought up there, diseased and starving. She’d signed the online petition. The government and the corporations really had to do something about it.
At 06.55 the car pulled up outside the high-rise office block of Lextoq Corporation. She scanned her company credit card in the back seat machine and stepped quickly out of the harsh sunlight into the air-conditioned lobby.
At her desk, Lextok 4500 (which was the sector’s leading employee companionship product) kicked into life and reiterated her schedule for the day. At 08.00 she had a meeting with Paul Christiansen himself – son of the managing director - to discuss Lextok’s Integrated Lifestyle Companion System’s Northern American sales figures.
At 08.00 exactly the black screen clicked on and there was Paul. He wore a dark grey suit and blue tie, with a crisp white shirt. He was freshly shaved and smiling a half-smile that meant business in a non-aggressive, yet straight to the point way. She tried to make out where he was calling from but all she could see in the background were staff like her, sitting at desks with their heads down or talking to their personal screens.
Luckily the meeting was a success. Sales figures were down but she had an explanation and various strategies to boost sales and the Lextok 320 Integrated Lifestyle Companion was out next year. The Americans loved an upgrade. Paul seemed happy enough and as the screen clicked off she wiped a tiny bead of sweat from her forehead, despite the perfect office temperature created by the Lextoq Environment Adaptors.
The rest of the day was easy in comparison. She had several reports to read, emails to write, and a few international calls to make, which Lextoq 4500 had scheduled to tie in with the various time zones. She ate her pre-ordered lunch at her desk which meant she could leave at 17.30. The Christiansen family and Lextoq had a reputation for treating employees well - large offices, personalised employee companion systems, environment adaptors and best of all, employees were encouraged to leave their desks at a reasonable time. She was lucky - they were unlike other companies she had worked for where it had been an hours clocked competition against other colleagues – the longer you stayed in the office, the more productive and valuable an employee you were deemed. However the Christiansens didn’t buy into that and as long as you were productive and clocked in at 0700 – nobody frowned if you walked out at 17.30.
Before she left she checked her personal Lextoq tablet. She had a Lexchat message:
JimT473 – Still on for tonight?
AliceG245 – Yes, see you soon.
It was her first date with Jim. Lextoq had matched them up using its Soulmate Compatibility 2.5 software package almost three weeks ago. However, Jim had been on a sales trip to Europe for two weeks and this was the first chance they had to meet each other in the flesh. After looking at Jim’s profile and the Lextoq compatibility statistics, Alice was feeling hopeful as she ascended in the China Town skyscaper’s sleek glass lift. She stepped out into a large room with many round tables covered with red table clothes and red paper lanterns. They had agreed on Chinese food and Jim had said the restaurant on Level 17 was the best. A cute Chinese waitress showed her to the table and there he was: JimT473.
Her heart sunk a little. His photos were more flattering than real life – the new Lextoq Soulmate package allowed 20% photo upgrades and Alice couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or not. Jim was traditional and stood up to meet her, shaking her hand. His face was slightly pouchier that in his profile and she could tell he had slimmed the edges down. The dark circles under his eyes couldn’t be hidden by the veiled lights and he’d obviously used the corrector wand on a few photos. She shrugged it off. It was her fourth Soulmate pairing in two months and she had to give people a chance.
She asked him about his background, his qualifications, his parents, any history of family illness, his social beliefs. She referred to the landfill and he talked about how it was an eyesore and how the Hyperlink was a necessity. He hadn’t heard about the petition and he didn’t seem to share her social consciousness. After dinner they shook hands. “I’ll be in touch,” she said, both knowing this meant he would receive the standard Lextoq Soulmate rejection: “Thank you for a lovely evening. I don’t think we are compatible at this point in time.”
As the taxi sped back into the desert, Alice felt hemmed in by feelings of frustration and disappointment. She had already secured the twelve month leave of absence necessary. It was due to start in a little over eight months. It would take her six months to grow and prepare and six months to complete the nurture period. She had selected Sublime Oasis Apartments Block 4 for its highly rated crèche – but at this rate, all the planning would be futile.
It was 21.00 hours when she arrived back at the complex. As she stepped out of the taxi into the heavy night, she saw the same suited man from the morning stepping out of an identical taxi. He nodded, a brief acknowledgement of their similar existence, then he ducked into Block 3.
As soon as she was safely inside her apartment she instructed Lextoq to review her matches afresh. She sent a standard rejection to JimT473, then deleted him. She instructed Lextoq to trawl through her matches again and ordered a green tea. As the Soulmate software harvested its data she took the tea to the large vista window in the lounge and from the 43rd floor of Block 4 she stared over into Block 3. The opposing windows glinted vague and empty. She pressed her head against the cool glass, and thought to when she was a child, gliding freely over the icy lake. She redirected her gaze beyond the other buildings and out into the empty night.
Behind her the Lextoq Soulmate Compatibility 2.5 Programme beeped, “There are no new matches.”
© The Treacle Well 2013