Fortunately, in 2029 - Short Story

Posted on by Miles Steele

Kelly Baybridge

The traffic cameras arrayed on signals and lamp posts throughout Boston’s western districts have recorded Kelly’s driving habits for months. They have seen the blue Camry, plate DG4833, swerve between lanes, weave down busy streets, and occasionally run a red light or skip a stop sign. They categorized her into the “on the edge, but not too bad” bucket. Kelly is a twenty-five year-old college grad working at a med-tech startup in Boston. Her reckless speed in the sedan could have faded away with years of practice, it has not. So it’s time to find a solution.

We understand the pressure she is under. The pressure to keep commute time down to meet all of her commitments. But, while this behavior could be allowed before, her district is more and more populated now, and her recklessness is a risk we’re unwilling to tolerate. Her case came to our attention after the increasing congestion caused her to be automatically upgraded to risk.

We have informed Police of her usual rhythm of violations. Traditional punishment has proven to be ineffective. She is always cordial to the officers who hand out tickets, and prompt in paying fines. But her habits do not seem to change. The solution settled upon is to stop trying to change her ways. Perhaps she is an F1 racer at heart. Traffic signals have been reconfigured to keep her street clear just as she exits her apartment. When Kelly rushes outside in the morning and sees no cars on the road, it calms her tremendously. She is able to take a breath and stop worrying about being late. The traffic builds again during her commute, but Kelly now starts her commute with a calming confidence.

For this convenience she is charged a higher insurance premium, for the “usual reasons”. No need to worry her with the details. This premium goes straight back into improving roads and developing more safety infrastructure. This has worked out splendidly for all involved. Pedestrians and other drivers are safer, and Kelly is no longer a danger. She now enjoys her commute.

Levi Greene and Renee Mullins

Levi and Renee’s relationship had been in decline for some months. We were alerted to this by our sentiment analysis engine. Levi’s Reddit activity had shifted away from playful subs and towards minutes spent scrolling through /r/relationship_advice. Confirmation came from surveys in which neighbors of the couple had rated their apartment as “loud from arguments”.

Unhappy people sometimes do bad things, and that would be a security risk. It is our priority to help out preemptively in any way. Investigation of historical texts and photos showed a happy looking couple, but old texts among mutual friends revealed more. The pair had gotten together freshman year of college. Levi had done some dating in highschool, and was sure he had found the one. But Renee once expressed that she had never had time to, “take a tour of the options”, apparently her words. She felt trapped but didn’t know it. Their friends had figured as much, but couldn’t get through to the love-struck young couple and gave it up years ago.

We decided that this pairing simply could not be saved, and that they would both be better off with other people. Small things led to the breakup, like remotely dialing the thermostat, sending flirtatious delivery drivers, and highlighting suggestive comments on /r/relationship_advice.

They were given a few months to recover while more suitable matches were found. Eli escaped into his work. A promotion was arranged and Eli now enjoys pouring time into a rewarding job, according to his emails. Renee started experimenting with dating apps. We augmented her choice dating service’s database with extra information about her previous interests and her porn consumption profile in order to find a better match. It’s only been a few weeks, but she and Diego have been getting along wonderfully so far.

Levi and Renee, finally apart, are leading the lives they had been looking forward to all along.

Patience Amey-Gonzalez

Patience is afraid of her toothbrush. Her mother told her that it cleans much better than the old one. Her mother demands that she brush her teeth with it every morning, she wrote in her school journal. But she doesn’t like how the motor vibrates her head, and how it blinks its bright red light. It isn’t a terrible fear, but she would much rather stay in bed with Butterscotch, her stuffed lizard, just a few minutes longer after her mother calls out.

She got the new tooth brush on Tuesday this week. The school bus that takes her to the Devotion School records when she leaves the house every day. She has been late to the school bus for four days in a row. Now usually this matter would be escalated to “fault the parents”, carrying a fine for misuse of public services. But luckily the toothbrush uploads its video once a day, for keeping dental records and early detection of cavities. Instead of the inside of a mouth, this toothbrush sees Patience’s face screwed into a distrusting pout. With this knowledge of the cause of her tardiness, it has been arranged that the school bus wait for her, with no penalty thus far as preliminary test.

After a week Patience’s tardy habits linger. It was just by a few minutes at first, but now she is consistently five minutes late out the door as measured by the school bus. It isn’t fair to the other kids to wait for Patience every day on the way to Devotion. On these mornings the toothbrush uploads a video of her healthy teeth, as it should. It would seem that her fear has faded but that she has become accustomed to a tardy schedule.

It would a shame if Patience missed school one day. Liz, her mother, is a nurse at a local hospital and already has to work hard to make her schedule. It would cause her great inconvenience. So the school bus will continue wait for Patience and, for the inconvenience, we have informed her that her recess will be cut short by the very amount that she is late that day. We are confident that this will incentivize her and her mother to adopt a punctual morning routine.

Ellis Cope

Ellis started drinking sophomore year at BU. Judging from counting bottles in the background of his Facebook pictures, he drank a lot, but no more than he could reasonably handle. The pictures he took but did not post include his friends grabbing bottles out of his hands. It is thanks to those friends that he maintained a passing GPA, sober-looking lifestyle, and finally got his degree in Design.

Now in the real world, Ellis has found different friends; a bunch of rowdy types who love to go bar-hopping. He’s having a hard time. Bar cameras show Ellis stumbling to the bathroom almost every night with his hand clutching his stomach. He wants to stop but he doesn’t want his friends to think worse of him. They text him when they’re going out to invite him along.

If Ellis isn’t going to turn his life around, someone has to. We have regulatory modules on all the taps. We uploaded a patch and now when Ellis swipes his ID, his drink is spiked with a few drops of an emetic to make him nauseous. He is increasingly finding alcohol unpleasant, and developing a negative association. With this new impetus, he is finding it easier to decline his friends’ offers.

Marta Wu

Twenty-six year-old Marta Wu is one of two Supervising Engineers of a mid-scale research plant for Cambridge’s BioCore. She is in currently in charge of managing distillation columns and increasing efficiently of fluid routing to the labs.

Marta’s friends love when she explains about the plant. She has always liked being connected. Marta started a blog series about the plant’s operation. BioCore has been kind enough to allow her to share some details of the chemical plant’s operation, subject to a thorough screening of each post. She tweets about random miniature disasters and their solutions. As well as posting pictures from her phone of particularly interesting gadgetry. Her friends and now a few hundred internet fans enjoy her publications, as indicated by the many likes and comments.

Lately, though, Marta has become increasingly absorbed by her phone. Her current project has a looming deadline according to the company calendar, and this stress might be part of the cause. But whatever it is, her incessant use of her phone has begun to invade her professional life. From the phone microphone she can be often be heard saying “Hm?” after someone addresses her. She reads random articles and plays addicting games in the brief periods of downtime at work. When talking to the machine operators, the phone’s gaze tracking shows her eyes stay planted on the screen for a few seconds longer than is recommended. We have found this sort of social distancing usually leads to reduced trust.

We slowed down her phone. We pushed an update that made it so that switching between apps takes up to second, then did the same thing with each touch, delaying it by a few hundred milliseconds. There were improvements, Marta’s personable affect drifted back into her conversations, but she got a new phone within a week. We slowed that one down too. We are concerned that that she has started to suspect something. Most people are in favor of our precautions, but naturally don’t enjoy noticing the effects on themselves. Our concerns materialized when she asked her friends to compare. They put their phones side by side and tested the speed. That was close! We slowed down the phones of nearby people by a smaller factor. This made the devices seem more similar in speed when compared side-by-side.

A few weeks later, Marta is back to healthy old habits. She spends a less time on her sluggish phone and more time focusing on work and friends.

Rachel Bender

Rachel is a junior in high school. She can be found scribbling outlines, sketches, and stories in notebooks at home in her room, at lunch time at school, and, at forgivable intervals, during class. Her parents have a bound book of her stories from childhood which they keep on the bookshelf next some of their favorite authors.

Rachel is quite an asset at school. A hard worker in all areas, and having published two stories to the Marble Collection, a local magazine for the cultivation of creativity and excellence in the arts. The point has come in her scholastic career where students are encouraged to choose a specialty. Not a riveted focus, but something to specialize in for the college application process.

Gene and Sidney Bender have been very supportive of Rachel’s autonomy. But their recent text messages to each other show that they are pushing hard for her to become a doctor. They are more than happy to let writing remain a cherished hobby, but are concerned about it as a career. They think that a medical career would be fitting and in line with Rachel’s empathetic disposition. From their correspondence, their concerns seem to be entirely financial. Rachel places tremendous weight on what her parents say, and is strongly opposed to letting them down.

It may not be clear to Gene and Sidney, but Rachel’s motivation flows from her interests. And it would be best if she were guided to follow her passion. Gene and Sidney are on the edge of understanding, all they need is a little nudge. Luckily, they are both religious readers of the Herald.

After a small reconfiguration of the parents’ news apps, the featured section of the Herald starts to show a new sort of story. Gene and Sidney spend their breakfast-time perusing stories of successful authors who have gotten rich from franchises. And just a smattering of reports of mistakes from overworked surgeons. The biases are set to increase ever so slightly with time so as to keep the encouragement natural. Rachel leans back into writing, with the comforting approval of her parents.

In the Office

Stevie swipes her card by the door of the tall building. The reader chirrups and opens the door for her. Once in the lobby, she hangs her coat on her arm and smiles at the security attendant. She hits the elevator button and checks her watch. 9:14. She thought it would be 9:20, not bad, she likes to guess how long the bus takes each day. The elevator dings and she rides it to the twelfth floor. ‘Homeland Defense and Improvement Operations’, reads the plaque in freshly polished black relief lettering.

She arrives at her desk in the two person cubicle and sips her morning coffee. Delicious as usual, she thanks Ira for making it. Ira leans sideways to see past his monitor.

“I think we made a mistake,” he says. Stevie raises her eyebrow. He explains, “remember the case we closed yesterday? The writer girl?”

“Rachel.” Stevie remembers. She thought that had gone quite well, and she expected a bright future for her.

“I’m not sure we were right there. I just have a feeling.”

Stevie and Ira disagreed on this point. They talk about it for an hour. They share evidence from personal experiences, and consulted the logs for similar cases. Stevie and Ira are usually able to resolve the rare debate through case logs. But nothing settles this dispute. Ira wants to reverse the changes. He thinks the parents had been right all along.

Their elevated voices catch the attention of others in the office. Stevie sees a man from the adjacent cubicle flash her a concerned frown. The argument turns acrimonious, and they agree to table it for the day.

Stevie leaves the office without saying goodbye to anyone. She hurries home to curl up with a good book. A good night’s sleep will clear the day’s resentment, she thinks, probably.

The next morning when Stevie arrives at her desk, her shoulders sink a little as she sits down. She does not look forward to her work as much as she had before. Her argument with Ira had become unusually taxing and diminished her enjoyment of helping others. But when she takes a sip of her morning coffee there is something a little different, a little tangy, and the prospect of debating with Ira doesn’t look too bleak anymore. She looks forward to it, in fact. The man from the adjacent cubicle peers over the barrier to check on her. He gives her an encouraging smile. She waves and smiles back, ready for a good day’s work.


This is one of two short stories I wrote for 21W.759, Writing Science Fiction at MIT with Shariann Lewitt.