This is the 83rd in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.
The Snail Bet, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 14th February 2013
Word count: 1000
“What would you like to be today?” the familiar refrain to clashing music awoke Lucas.
“Off!” he screamed, and the alarm cut off. He stretched his long gaunt body, modelled after an old basketball legend from the nineteen nineties.
“Sit rep,” he commanded and the plain wall of the apartment became a computer screen.
“Currency low, suit rental expired, flat rental due tomorrow,” the computer warned. Lucas looked at his currency levels they were indeed low, but enough to see him through.
“Computer bring me a list of budget suits, and jobs that pay wages today,” he instructed the machine.
It came back with jobs, so Lucas looked through the list.
“Computer how many people have applied for the plumbing job on row sixteen?”
“Twenty seven, eight of which are better qualified by experience.”
“And the carpentry job on twenty one?”
“Eleven, none with more experience or as high a rating in carpentry as yourself,” the computer responded.
“Apply,” Lucas instructed. “Now suits.”
The job list was replaced with photographs of people and creatures in a variety of clothing.
“Filter out creatures, they’re not my style, and the cost can’t be more than ninety percent of my remaining currency, ” Lucas instructed. The list grew shorter. ” I’ll take number seven.”
The curved chamber behind him rotated open.
“Please enter the booth,” the computer instructed. Lucas got in clutched tight to the guard rail. He’d done this many times, but he was still wary of it. Then a gas releases, and his body was forced to relax.
Restraints reached out and grabbed his immobile body, fixing it in place. Then machines dropped from the ceiling. Lucas was conscious and aware as surgical lasers started carving into his head.
Thirty minutes later the pod opened and out stepped a strapping man in his mid twenties, clothed in overalls.
The man stretched his arms, his legs, and then his face.
“Computer, evaluation,” he instructed.
“Synchronicity one hundred percent,” the computer responded.
Lucas left the apartment not long after to catch a bubble to today’s job. In the bubble was his neighbour, who today was wearing a cute cheerleader suit.
“You’re looking bland today Lucas,” she said.
“Work day today,” he said with a sigh.
“What? Already? It’s only been a week, that fifteen thousand you won should have lasted a month,” she said incredulously.
“Win some, you lose some,” he explained with a shrug.
When he got home that night, his budget body tired and aching he logged on to the computer, figuring with his payment for work today he could afford a better body for fun and games tonight.
“Insufficient funds,” the computer reported.
“You what?” he looked at the glowing red negative number indicating his currency situation. Debt wasn’t allowed in civilised society, people who couldn’t afford to live in the city were dysfunctional and disappeared. With today’s work, and only a budget suit he should have been fine. “Can you recheck? What’s gone out?”
On the screen was a list of his incomings and outgoings. There was good tournament fee, suit rental fees, gambling debts, his payment for work achieved, and underneath was his rent, his current suit rental, several more gambling payments, and the tournament fee. All that day’s outgoings outweighed his income.
“Fuck,” he exclaimed.
“Fine for illegal use of an expletive has been debited from your account.”
That hadn’t made anything better, yet he could appreciate why they swore in old fashioned films.
“Find me some overnight work,” he instructed the computer.
Several jobs appeared, mostly low paying, but he could do a couple and then jump into a day job, get himself back ahead. He regretted his gambling habit and putting five thousand on the largest snail in the race the previous night. There wouldn’t have been a problem had he not made that bet.
“Okay apply for jobs one and two, and schedule transport if I get them,” he instructed.
“Insufficient funds for transport,” the computer responded.
“Transport bubbles don’t cost anything,” he pointed out losing his cool.
“Transport is provided only to those with available balances,” the computer reported.
He could walk, but most of the jobs on the list were spread over the country, easy in transport bubbles. There was only one on the list that was local, he applied for it.
He sat and waited for confirmation that he’d been successful, it wouldn’t be enough but it would be a start, he could maybe find an available position straight after.
The computer beeped signifying mail. His application had been rejected.
He hung his head, this was the worst day ever.
“Computer, I need options. What can I do?”
“Activating psychiatric self help program,” the computer said.
“No,” Lucas said, “I’m off out.” He tried to open the door, but it was stuck fast. “Computer release the door.”
“Debt is not permissible,” the computer said sternly.
The curved chamber slid open.
“Please step into the chamber,” the computer said.
“I can’t,” Lucas said, not sure what was happening.
“Assuming control,” the wall screen turned red, and Lucas found himself marching towards the booth with no way to stop himself. Inside the chamber the machines got to their work, and as a concious Lucas experienced it, he suddenly realised how brutal the procedure was. Even when his brain was removed from all of the senses, the time between sensations felt endless.
At some point he became aware again, though not in a way he had ever experienced. His brain was now in a container filled with conducting liquid. Images and sounds flooding in, and responses beyond his control flooding out. He caught a glimpse of security footage, all around his jar were other jars. He realised he was now a piece of the computer, there was nothing left. His only function in life was to make the city work, his brain monitored currency, allocated assignments, kept track of lists for the two billion city living humans.
He wished he’d never bet on the big snail.