Thursday, September 12, 2019

9/12/19

Benny’s Bad
By David Castlewitz


Benny's transgression didn't rank high on the list of "bads" published in the legal app he'd leased. That gave him hope that his eventual trial would be more nuisance than trouble. He was a first-timer. He shouldn't warrant time at a work camp.

But the app had some dire warnings. Considering how far he'd fallen in his Personal Social Account, Benny feared he'd never get back to where he'd been five years earlier. That was a lifetime ago, those heady days immediately after he finished his doctorate degree in social dynamics. That was back when he thought he'd used his education to his advantage. In fact, soon after he'd finished his seven year curriculum, he had gigs ranging from writing an original thesis to talks at virtual conferences and even a one-week stay in the Adirondacks as a seminar leader.

But none of that would matter when a judicial type got hold of his case. Those algorithms were fierce. They weighed. They assessed. They measured. Transgressions were evaluated and applied against his Personal Social Account, which were as significant as his IQ or GPA.

When he was a student, Benny found his Social nearly unchanged from day to day. He went to class. He turned in assignments. He earned points and lost them, all without much effort, it seemed.

Then life happened. A slip in attention and he earned a "dig" by crossing the street against a traffic signal. He got caught not exercising "expected politeness" when boarding a tram. There were many ways to earn demerits. They piled up.

Somehow, he'd ventured into forbidden social territory and made a terrible mistake.

He didn't know what cues he'd missed with Gloria Deel. They'd had a virtual date and he thought she'd enjoyed it as much as he. His avatar reported back with glowing recommendations about what to do next. Possibly a dinner via holo-plane, he in his apartment and she in hers. Maybe followed by a meet-up. The avatar presented a bright green future since they belonged to the same peer group.

They both worked at the State Street Emporium, a shopping mall of pop-ups, some holographic and some material, four stories deep under Chicago's downtown streets and another four stories tall above. Benny often admired Gloria zipping through the aisles on some mercantile mission. Once, they worked together setting up display cases. It was that experience that led to the virtual date during which their avatars exchanged viewpoints.

Its success prompted Benny to craft a media clip recounting the date. Tinkling glasses and catchy music provided aural highlights. The lighting was soft and dreamy, but not seductive. It wasn't meant to entice Gloria to be open to suggestion.

Where had he made his mistake? Benny wondered. How could he escape punishment? Most of the tube-pods that whisked commuters in and out of the city were liberally swept by robotic monitors. He'd be scanned when he boarded. If he evaded that trap, he'd have to deal with iris readers in the ceiling at the stations along the route. If he could tube-it north, he'd hire a self-driving car to traverse the interstate and get out of Illinois. How many dozens of electric eyes would he need to duck under to get that far?

What if he did make it to the Milwaukee Collective, he mused as he pondered his situation. They might not mind the demerits in his account. Outside of Chicago, transgressions such as the one he committed weren't considered crimes. They were just mistakes that could be chalked up to enthusiasm, excused as an excess of youth.

Lingering at Union Station, head down to avoid sensors in the walls or ceiling, an old time Cubs baseball cap pulled down so it partially obscured his eyes, Benny took stock of the situation for the umpteenth time. If he ran, he might attract attention and be tackled by some do-gooder type who needed the Samaritan points. If he walked like he had nothing to hide, he'd certainly run into a cop on the beat scanning for a quick arrest. No matter what he did, he was bound to be caught trying to board a northbound pod, and considering that his residence was on the Near South Side, he'd raise suspicion.

He knew what his dad would have told him. He should turn himself in and deal with the consequences. Dad would tell him he'd get some points for that and, who knows, he might whittle his punishment down to a long weekend pulling weeds along the highway.

Benny wandered Union Station's cavernous lobby. He knew he should find a police kiosk, pull up his record and plead guilty. He'd failed to follow protocol. Eager to pursue Gloria and capitalize on their virtual date, he'd approached her in person, exhibiting his best boyish grin, and asked her to dinner.

He'd used words. He'd spoken.

You should've sent an avatar," Gloria said, her large dark eyes blazing like fired-up coals. "Don't you even know your account balance? You don't have enough points to ask me out. Not like this."

She turned her back on Benny. She walked away, fuming over the insult and muttering that she had no choice but to file a complaint.

Benny found a kiosk in a dark corner of Union Station's marble-floored lobby. A private guard glanced sideways at him and he quickly looked into the kiosk's scanner. He didn't want that guard getting credit for collaring him.

With a sigh, Benny answered the requisite questions, took ownership of Gloria's grievance, and then waited for a uniformed cop to arrest him. Maybe, he mused, Gloria will want to have a real-time date after he finished serving his sentence, though he worried that he'd have no way of asking. His account balance wouldn't be high enough for even an avatar-sent missive.


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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy.
He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) and other online as well as print magazines.
Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

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