Vanish Effect: Chapter 1

Before

There are very few events in history that resonate throughout all time. Even the worst world wars only affect a few generations, and eventually, after all those directly affected die and are forgotten, such events become stories. Those stories are told over and over, but lack the emotional resonance to truly affect those whohear them.

The year is 2102, and human confidence in its own superiority is at an all time high. Many ideas, once only science fiction, have now been made reality. Health, disease, electricity, and most environmental concerns have all become struggles of past generations, and only the increasing overpopulation and dwindling clean resources have become issues at the forefront of societal concern.

Many sciences have looked at the problem of population and realized that in the next fifty years, without aggressive population control measures, the planet Earth will be unable to sustain the nearly twenty-one billion people moving, eating, working and living on the shell of the little blue and green planet.

Many countries have already put in place various laws regarding population control, limiting those who are able to have a child to those chosen undera lottery system. The countries without such laws and regulations have been barred from trading with many countries. Everything was focused on allowing those working on improving the odds of humanity’s survival first access to clean water, gas hydrates, and other limited resources.

North America, a region rich in both land and resources, continues to prosper under Alliance rule. Population has been held in balance by a simple capacity system, where new children can only be born once others die. Crime has been held in check through capital punishment, allowing those that follow the letter of the law to live and have children, while both the old, and the unlawful, die.

In a metropolitan area of the north east, a large cityencased by some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world continued about its business. Named the Greater Ottawa Area, and organized into various districts including over eight million people housed in five thousand square kilometers, the average person would encounterover two hundred people in his or her own daily activities.

Jonathan Briggs

Checking his mirror at the entrance to his apartment, Jonathan gave himself a once-over before heading out. He didn’t consider himself vain, but he had mistakenly gone to work one day with a tissue paper stuck to his face. It most likely would have been there for a full day, if he hadn’t seen his reflection on a steel counter at work. Even in the bathroom, Jonathan would barely give himself more than a second or two to glance at how he looked before heading out, so as a final precaution, and a strong reminder to give himself a once-over with his appearance, he put a large mirror by the door and hung his keys beneath it.

Taking his keys from the chain would remind him to check to make sure he not only had everything he’d need for the day, but also that he wasn’t making any mistakes in his appearance, not that he was the most fashionable tech in his office. Unlike most of his co-workers, Jonathan hadn’t conformed to wearing the company uniform. It was a point of huge contention for him as he didn’t want to be branded during work hours like so many others. The idea of walking to work and back home in the dark blue branded smock that Revolutionary Data Devices gave each of their employees sent shivers up his spine. His khakis and t-shirts were his own small rebellion against the corporate environment he’d never wanted to work in.

Heading to the main elevators, Jonathan pushed up his sleeve and glanced at the weather on a small screen he wore on his forearm like a gauntlet. A gift from his mother two years ago, it was long since out of date, but he had no choice but to use it for now. The high costs of living in South Keys, and the low pay he received from RDD left him with little money to satisfy his geekier tendencies.

Getting off the elevator, Jonathan grabbed one of the umbrellas at the door. It was plastered with advertisements for N.A.R., a group of sports companies that had long forgotten what their brand message should be, but with the heavy down pour outside, it was the only recourse available to him. Walking the thirty feet to a crossing area, Jonathan looked at the entrance to the building that contained RDD’s offices. Its exterior was finished with brick on the first three floors, and then glass and steel above that. It was a beautiful tower that tried to mix old architecture styles with the modern skyscraper.

It was frustrating to him that he had to walk to a cross walk, taking around five minutes to get to work, when the building was only just across the public transportation lines, a mere minute away. But with certain trains and personal pods reaching speeds of up to one hundred kilometers an hour, and the continued accidental deaths Jonathan had heard about, it wasn’t something he could stomach. He walked over the bridge, taking him out of harms way, and making sure to not delay the continued movement of the masses.

People continued to complain about congestion and the inconvenience of travel in the Greater Ottawa Area, but unlike many other cities that still allowed the use of vehicles within city limits, Ottawa was focused on public transportation, and had been able to accommodate a larger population with a lower pollution level, thus avoiding the high mortality rate of cities like Los Angeles, California.

Finally arriving at the automatic doors of the office building that contained around twenty or so companies, with Revolutionary Data Devices taking up four floors near the middle of the building, Jonathan slowed his movements. He found it difficult to walk into work with pride. While he was a fairly smart individual, he kept himself rather isolated from his co-workers, and found the job to be trivial.

His ideas to improve the data transfer rates of the internal network usuallyfell on deaf ears, as did his ideas on how to streamline business applications and processes so that the efficiency of the network would be increased. As he sat as his desk, he looked outwards into the sea of small, confined cubicles. Even the department head only had a small ten foot square office in a corner. There wasn’t even enough room to have clients or meetings in the office, so the conference room was the only private area where more than two people could talk.

Activating the display on his terminal, Jonathan looked at the saturation of the network, pulled up a task list for the day that included checking on various data links, and sighed with relief at the lack of meetings for today. Only a week ago, he’d had a day where nearly every department wanted him included in their meeting, feeling that his presence allowed him to “understand the needs of each department better,” but in the end, he felt like he had wasted a good eight hours of his ten hour shift.

Jonathan swiped through various business applications, checking to make sure they were running well, and then went online to interact with various social sites he was a member of. His first major task away from his desk was just before lunch, so he had a fair bit of time to fill before then. The strong disconnect he felt with those around him made it all the more relaxing to join the social networks online and interact with people he would never meet in real life. It was always interesting to him that he had met very few people in the city he lived in, but was connected to hundreds around the world through three social portals.

“So, anything interesting happening today?” A voice from behind Jonathan shocked him, as though electricity had filled the room. It was his boss, or to be more accurate, his boss’s boss.

Jonathan turned around slowly while deactivating the large, projected display. “Not too much. There might be some issues with one of the main routers for this floor.” Taking a deep breath, and with a little attitude, he continued, “But I’ll be taking a look at that very shortly.”

Ian Strong lived up to his name and was a towering behemoth of a man, an expert at intimidating the staff beneath him. Some people mocked him, saying that he only had been promoted because he intimidated those higher up the corporate ladder. Jonathan was anything but intimidated. Disliking Ian due to his inability to grasp the easiest of ideas when it came to technology, Jonathan wanted as little to do with him as possible, but Jonathan’s boss had stationed Ian on the same floor to be at arm’s reach for the marketing and business development personnel that he managed.

Looking down on Jonathan,Ian ignored the tone, “Just make sure you get it fixed pronto, okay buddy? I don’t want my computer to start acting weird again.”

Jonathan wanted to explain that the oddities in how Mr. Strong’s computer ran had nothing to do with the network, but instead stemmed from the dated software that Ian insisted on continuing to use, but he knew his explanation would fall on deaf ears.

With a fake smile, Jonathan nodded his head, “Not a problem, sir. I’ll get on that before lunch. There are just a few higher priority issues to work out. Your network connection should stay rock solid.”

Mr. Strong patted Jonathan on the back solidly, and then slowly walked away, nodding to a few other people on the floor before grabbing an energy drink from the beverage area and returning to his office.

Turning his display back on, Jonathan bid his friends goodbye after letting them know what had happened. Some made jabs at Jonathan in a friendly way before wishing him well. He would have to find time later to check in with them. Escaping to the Internet was always where he would rather be.

Getting out of his office chair, he saw hundreds of people typing, interacting with data sets, video conferencing with people, and coordinating on some marketing materials for upcoming products. He sighed, as they all looked so useless to him.

Grabbing his kit, he went to the network room at the end of the hall. Racks and racks of small grey, black and white boxes sat stacked up from floor to ceiling, their lights blinking rapidly all around him. He turned on a monitor and selected the router that he was tasked to repair.

Jonathan thought about when he had started the job: the economy and company had been doing so well that he could just switch out a malfunctioning router with a new one, no matter the problem. Now he had to spend some time diagnosing the problem, and fixing it if possible.

Unfortunately, this was one of those times where he was going to have to fix it. There were a few simple software errors that required some reprogramming, and fine tuning. It was fairly basic to him, but it would require a minimum investment of two hours. Jonathan longed for the days where he would just take the five minutes to unhook it and replace it with a new, faster, and better working unit.

Tinkering around for hours on end felt beneath him. The challenges in his job had long since passed, and his social problems limited his ability to get promoted into a team leader or managerial role. Jonathan felt like he was at a dead end in his career.

Nevertheless, fixing the router kept him away from his desk, co-workers and bosses, and that part was fine by him. The best part was that if he worked at a semi-reasonable pace, he would finish fixing the router and be off for lunch.

Two hours later, powering up the router, it looked as though everything was working perfectly, and his day was half over. Packing up his gear, he went back to his computer, marked the task as complete, and set his status as being away for lunch. The computer notified him that he had only fifty-eight minutes remaining until he was scheduled to be back at his desk. A small timer appeared on his gauntlet shaped ICD, counting down the minutes and seconds. Sighing heavily, Jonathan went to the elevator, keeping a wide distance between himself and any group conversations he saw going on.

Once in the elevator, he selected the floor for the food court, and waited the few moments it took before arriving. As the doors opened, Jonathan noticed there were only a dozen people eating lunch at this time. Happily surprised, he walked up to one of the vending machines and ordered chiliand a biscuit with a CP Cola brandedenergy drink.

His meal was served within two minutes, and the machine thanked him for his purchase. It also reminded him that he had just used up his allotment of beef for the week, and that he would only get meat substitutes in further purchases.

Sitting down, Jonathan immediately turned on the privacy screening and a large screen came up between his booth and the open design of the food court. The screen came to life and started playing advertisements for various new products while a news ticker slid across the bottom. It had been a long time since he had watched a general news broadcast, but today he focused more on eating than taking in the news and events going on worldwide.

The chiliand biscuit both tasted bland, and weren’t very hot. He chastised himself for making such a poor meal choice, and reminisced wistfullyabout the meals his mother used to make without the use of the various vending machines.

As he took a big sip of his energy drink, the bottle began to broadcast its own message in an excitable, youthful voice. “Don’t you feel fabulous when you drink the Smart Healthy Buzz? CP Cola enjoys your business, Jonathan. You’ve earned three thousand CP Friend credits to date and qualify for the gold level of beverage drinkers!”

The gold level would mean a discount of ten percent on all future purchases. He had been a devout CP Cola product consumer since his birth, and felt a little pang of excitement at finally reaching the gold level.

Jonathan’s ICD started to quietly beep, letting him know that he had two minutes to return to his desk and report in for more tasks. Turning off the privacy screen, and tossing all of his waste into a receptacle, he strolled back into the elevator and returned to his desk.

Sighing heavily, he reclined in the chair, and began answering inquiries by various staff, co-workers, management, and the building’s own technology team. They were mostly regarding the issue with the router, and it frustrated him to have the same complaints coming in from twenty different people over what was nothing more than a small five percent decrease in efficiency, but for some any decrease was “important”.

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