X City – Prologue
Money ruled the world. The statement was almost true. To Neveda, a mining company that laid their finger onto every valuable product on Earth, money meant nothing.
In a parallel universe, an earth-like planet existed much like our own, following the basic principles of energy interaction and common understandings. Though the minerals and natural elements that made up of its planet differed from us in terms of proportions. They had larger amounts of gold element but concentrated at several locations for instance.
Fast forwards to the year 2065, the inflation derived from the inadequate proportion of money between the elites and the rest of the classes had come to a bubble boiling point. With climates deteriorating speedily, the uncertainty gave rise to rioting across developed nations, while underdeveloped countries experiencing massive starvation, with no aid offering to relieve such disasters.
Batons striking onto protesters head or letting propaganda infiltrated every inch of the city, was nothing new with the latest tactic of governments ways of handling disastrous events, in the hope of keeping the unrest under control. The impact was too great that the United Nations Treasury declared a global recession which would subsequently last for a decade long.
Juilliard White, the chairman of Neveda, promised to solve its crisis but came with terms and conditions during turmoil. At that time, although some small nations had voiced their concerns over the ‘ Perfect timing of Juilliard’s helping hand’, the majority of world leaders compromised one deal another in exchange for the exit of recession. The ambitious vision of the company had not been unmasked until Neveda purchased four cities and proclaimed two oceanic zones when the recession was finally over.
Since 1842, the year when Neveda was founded, White’s family had been hoarding any raw valuable object they could find gradually. From gold to oil, to pearls to honey, and even cotton. When people linked the recession to the achievements of Juilliard’s, he simply replied,’ When somebody tries to fix the cause, having good faith in humanity and determined to restore the disorder, there will always be some jealousy. I get that. My company, my people, have always been transparent and working hard toward advancing the human race. Idiotic people wouldn’t get it, thank you very much.’ He stood up and left the conference room with five muscular guards and several of his people quickly followed, leaving dozen of news outlet reporters gabbling their questions.
Nevertheless, the air was getting worse than ever. Too obscure for air routes to start, the aviator was banned from the occupational list to avoid any incident. And since two oceans have been claimed by Neveda, any foreign shipping had to pay extra tax.
X city, where Gary lived, was a coastal city that produced gold and platinum. To Gary Steinfield, he did not know much about the outside world, nor he’d heard a man named Juilliard. Up till his nineteen, all he cared about was to increase his social credit points and feeding his mom, Mary, before she gave her last breath away.
Social credit points were not only the morality check stood between the prison gate and the liberation of a free citizen, but also served as one of the three currencies in the city, besides gold and platinum. Through praising or promoting the government agenda, or exercising and engaging social works in the communities, would gain the point. Gary chose the latter option for the improvement but reality had always been cruel than expectation.
You see, living in a golden city wasn’t a better dream for people who grew up in poverty. Yes, poverty was still a thing in an abundant city where gilding golds were commonly used for car decorations. Putting the tax and rental bills aside, Gary still found himself way behind meeting the daily expenditure. While Gary had been sweeping the streets for a year and a half, his inexperienced stealing skill in the early days rendering the reduction of his points and being monitored ever since by the eyes of robots.
The government incentive for special needs on low-end families was calculated by the total amount of social points and the history of a household. Steinfield’s family history had stunned the welfare reviewers, and in return, they could only receive the free ride of transportation with 20 quotas per month and six hundred credit points for rental compensation periodically. ‘Super generous. I could REALLY use this on my daily basis.’ Gary read through only two lines in the letter and refolding back to how it was, flinging it to a pile of unread letters on the corner of the living room and went to the kitchen cooking for his bedridden mom. Unlike Jin or Gabriel, they could leisurely enjoy the homogeneous TV programs or playing virtual reality games after school, Gary had either been busy at working on his pointless points or plotting his next stealing most of his time.
He needed to plot his stealing not because stealing was hard since he felt it was such an inborn gift, Arianna, the living robot, was the hardest part of the process. Coated the futuristic white case design, Gary’s Arianna had an oval shape head buoying its main body, with a black screen to express her simple emotions and acting as a sensory to the outside world. Though the whiteness had been darkened steadily by the raising specks of dust in the house and lack of maintenance in the repair shop a long time ago.
‘Gary, according to my internal monthly analysis my case needed a recoloring as it may expose the metal of underlayer to the humid temperature this city currently experiencing.’ The robot notified his owner who crossing his legs laughing at the drama program on TV, and Gary waving his go-away hand instead. Though every robot was unique, in X city, every citizen was required to register with an Arianna when they received their birth certificate.
’Arianna is your caretaker. She plays with you when you need her. She feeds you when you’re unable. She listens and takes care of your emotional needs like a real friend does. Unlike a real friend who would betray, Arianna would never do such thing to you. This royalty is precious and deserves your trust. You want a male one? No problem! Changing the gender is just a click away! Be a smart consumer you can be. Buy Xvien’s friendly home caretaker, only costs you 4999 CP, and what’s more, if you purchase it through online—-’ Whenever Gary walked past these giant advertisement billboards inserted on the building walls, hearing this annoying male voice, above his head near the entertainment area, he rolled his eyes for his opposed view but he had to be careful not letting his Arianna saw the facial expression, otherwise she would ask a bunch of questions, and possibly, ultimately leading to demerit point.
One time when he was hanging out with Jin in the playground, his Android caught him giving a middle finger to a poster hanging on the reddish bricked wall near the exit. The Xvien’s CEO, Brain Steele, who had a pair of thick eyebrows on top of his glared eyes, was in the poster and Gary had to spend twenty minutes to clarify the action and made his android to revoke the five demerit points.
‘Do you mean the hand gesture you were given was intended to be a brother with the CEO because of the cultural reference of a country named Japan, you learned from TV?’ The Android asked.
‘That’s what I said Ario, I know that the sign language you installed might not be fully comprehended with the new culture coming out every day, but you must not misunderstand me. You’re my little robot and I want you to catch up the cultural reference as much as I do.’ Gary kneed down and hugged Ario as tenderly as he could, and gave a glaring look to Jin, who sat at the bottom of the slide and covered his mouth with his hand to hide his laughter. Gary gently brushed off the dirt on the half sphere screen, ‘ So, delete the misdemeanor charge in the system would ya?’
Sometimes, Gary would sit alone on a stone up in a hill near the Campsite at the north, a secret place that he had discovered years ago when his grandparents first took him to camp. It was a fenced military zone abandonment, a rare spot that allowed one to have a clear view of stars over the pollutant air and lights. Ario would be ordered to stay put at the lower ridge, where was near the campsite and visitor center, for a lookout. Coming down from the ridge and turned left, a shady lane leading to the oval tents and sturdy round brick fire pits, behind the undergrowth, there was a river streaming down to the sea. Gary wouldn’t let Ario go near even though the waterproof feature had claimed by the manufacturer.
On the right side of the lower ridge was a path sidewinding to the main road. A black hollow tunnel entrance connected at the tail of its main road if saw it from the hill and a simple traffic pass collection gateway sat on the sidewalk in front of the tunnel, like a shed. Loaded ore trucks and government vehicles were frequent users. Normally ordinary cars did not come this way no matter how golden they were. Which was odd to Gary that the recent missing people incidents happened around here, by the Independent Media first reporting the news that had been circulating over the internet. Gary had a chill by his random thought.
’Okay Ario, let’s head home.’ Gary said as he jiggling his wet hands off the water near the riverside and gave an elbow tap on Ario’s head, who stood near the brush as it was told, in a way that Gary felt a little better.