C. Spivey | Basic income in four tales

woman-with-codeBes awoke in spilled Cheetos. Wiping orange residue on her pink Equine Adventures t-shirt, she freed herself from the lone sheet tangling her legs. Before even going to the bathroom she trudged, bleary-eyed, to her PC in the corner of her bedroom. She needed to hurry to log in to Ultimate Fiction XIV. It was raid day and she was late.

“Oh no.” Her fingers hovered over the keyboard as if afraid another keystroke might multiply the damage. “This can’t be happening, not today.”

But it was today. The Equine Adventures calendar above her desk glowed a green square around August 31st. The last day of the month before the first day of the next.

And she hadn’t finished half of her basic income duties.

“I’ve got time, I know I do,” she said while logging into her her CalBasic account. After a few maddening moments while the site loaded, she had her checklist.

“Shit.” Her account was down to three dollars. If she didn’t get her BINClist completed, her basic income pay would be less than seven hundred dollars by morning. That meant rent, utilities, and food. Certainly not another month of gaming subscription fees.

“Such bullshit.” What was the point of a basic income if you had to do things to get it? She ignored her rattling smartphone–no doubt her raid-mates wondering where their number five healer had vanished to–and read over the BINClist.

She’d completed a quarter of it on August first. When, much like now, she’d vowed to knock it out the first week of the month rather than leave it until the last. Well, she was done procrastinating. She’d knock the entire thing out for August and September right now.

Game reviews were easy enough. As long she didn’t cut-and-paste, she could earn creativity-contribution points toward her BINC quota. She wasn’t about to waste her time actually playing some sad attempt at an indie game, but there were ways around that.

Reviews alone wouldn’t be enough to get her full payment. She would need more duties. There were two toward the bottom of the BINClist. In-person volunteer queries that sent her skin crawling. Attending a meet-up full of sweaty, swaggering idiots who got their rocks off picking up trash, or wheeling elderly around in a nursing home was not how she intended to spend her day.

She tackled the reviews first. She’d before written a program to aggregate reviews so she could sift from them to create her own. With no time to be picky, she settled for the first three that topped her search. She set her scripts to play the first few levels, taking screen-shots of different enemies, bosses, and backgrounds. Music was also sampled, sorted, and compared to relevant genres. Finally, she set her writing scripts to generate review templates,  which she could fill in once she had the info.

She sometimes pondered how she often spent more time avoiding the work to keep her basic income flowing than was required to actually do it. The numerous scripts and programs she’d written to shirk her duties seemed more trouble than those duties actually required.

She didn’t like thinking about that. It only reminded her of her own unfinished game and all the time she spent procrastinating from completing it. She shook away the thoughts and moved to the next, more troubling task: handling the meet-up required to secure her full BINC payment. Luckily, she knew just who task for help.

“Farid,” she said in her brightest voice after he answered her call. “How’s it going?”

“What do you need, Bes?” he asked.

“Any plans this afternoon?”

“You mean can I log in for you at your BINClist meet-up? It’s the same every month, Bes. Ask someone else.”

“Oh, don’t be that way,” she purred. “C’mon. We can get ice cream together.”

“You always say the same thing. You want me to go burn in the sun, it’s gonna cost you.”

She attempted several enticements but Farid wouldn’t budge.

“Two hundred bucks or find someone else.”

For two hundred she considered actually going to that day’s meet-up, some brush clearing detail a few miles up the road. Thoughts of leaving her AC quickly dispelled such sacrifice and she soon agreed to pay Farid’s price.

“Don’t be late,” Bes said as she sent the ID mask that would allow him to slip her onto the work-detail unseen. “And don’t forget to log me in with the team-leader.”

“Yes, what a shame that’d be. We still meeting for ice cream tomorrow?”

She balled her fists, glad they weren’t video chatting. “Sure. That’ll be fun.”

“Great. I’ll make sure you work extra hard today.”

She faked a minute’s further sincerity before ending the call.

With her meet-up box checked by Farid, all that was left were the reviews. Two of her scripts were complete while the third was right behind. The first game was a sloppy attempt at a waterfall gem-matching game. Instead of gems, they appeared to be DNA sequences. Red, blue, yellow, and white corresponding to T C G and A. Only in the proper combinations could players drop lines into the badly drawn human cell at the bottom and advance. She wrote a generic review praising the game’s possibility to encourage children towards science while suggesting further work on the background animations.

The second game was typical shoot-em-up tripe, only players played zombies defending themselves from raiding humans. Her review was equally generic. She’d just submitted it, admiring the two green checked boxes on her BINClist when her suite had finished compiling info on the third game.

“Wow,” she said after reading through the bot’s summary and checking out some of the completed portions. 100 First Days of School was written by several Syrian and North African immigrants and mirrored a simulation of elementary school. Simple quests were given by “teachers” that had students go around the school, the main quest-giver hub being the player’s classroom.

The garbled NPC text-boxes Bes first assumed were errors were actually part of the game. Players began with an extremely limited grasp of the native language, with only very few words in English, while the rest were either contrived nonsense, or–she sensed–whatever alphabet Syrians used.

As she unlocked words, she got bonuses for assisting other players, adding her words to their own vocabularies while gaining bonus experience. She was currently searching the library for books the teacher had assigned her to find. She smiled while searching for Monk Train, and Fedora Do-stuff-in-da-sky. The game was clever while remaining fun, two points she added in her review.

Bes found herself thinking of Farid, when they’d first met in the second grade. He’d been one of dozens of Syrians in her school. She’d never really thought about growing up learning a second language. Bes knew around ten Spanish words, spread between song lyrics and food dishes. Playing 100 First Days of School, she felt guilty for pushing Farid to do her meet-up BINC duty.

She remembered the way he’d been picked on, even more than the other kids. You couldn’t just laugh or make jokes in school–the teachers were hip to such things and were quick to threaten homework or a call home if bullying was suspected.

Bes and the other kids had learned to be so overly kind as to overwhelm the migrants. Idiot smiling adults praised the children for their inclusiveness while the bullied knew they were hated. Bes, alongside her friends, had treated Farid no differently.

The final game review filled Bes’s BINClist with another satisfying green check. All that remained was the meet-up. While waiting for her game to boot, she picked up her phone, and scheduled an alarm message for the following day for ice cream with Farid.

***

Farid adjusted his sunglasses in an attempt to hide his nerves. The old man in front of him wore blue-coveralls with “Carlos” stitched above the left pocket. His gray hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. The geezer was manning the meet-up, logging all attendees so that they received basic-income quota points for their participation.

“Normally doesn’t take this long,” the man said. “You ain’t running two IDs are you? Trying to sneak a friend past me?”

“Why would I do that?” Farid said. Brute-forcing them  into the system while his augmented contact lenses masked the intrusion with his own legitimate ID. Not that he’d ever wanted to involve himself in such a scam. But turning down money from people like Bes was hard to do.

“There it goes,” the man said as his handheld chirped. “Connection’s crap out here.” He waved a hand to the withering stands of eucalyptus trees sagging around them. He went on to explain to the thirty assembled day-workers that even though the trees thrived in drought conditions, they apparently went up like flares if they caught fire. The crew was to clear all the fallen branches and leaves from the parched ground beneath them.

They gathered tools from the back of a pickup beside a massive orange water jug and set to work. Farid picked a spot furthest from the others, hoping for silence during the four-hour session. The dried ground reminded him of Syria. Or what he’d learned of it. Born just up the road in Citrus Heights, he’d absorbed bits about his homeland from his family.

His grandfather had been a farmer when the drought, now in its fiftieth year, had begun. Farid’s father remembered little of life in the cotton fields, as the family had moved to Damascus after selling their land early in the drought. A bit of family providence as it had brought funds enough to flee the country before the true chaos of war began.

As Farid returned from loading a pile of branches and leaves into the back of the truck, the old man running the meet-up followed him back away from the others.

“You’re a good worker,” he said as he set in raking leaves a few steps from Farid. “Most your age just stand around pushing the rake until knock-off.”

“Thanks.”

“These kids don’t know how good they have it. Though I imagine you do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Farid said, steeling for a confrontation. He’d never been very good at reading people, a lesson made clear during his painful elementary years. Even a whiff of bullying set him trembling.

“Meant no disrespect. Just saying in my day we didn’t even have a BINC. Had to scramble for whatever work we could find, which wasn’t much. Would’ve killed to worked outdoors, even in this sun. Once worked nights unloading semis by hand. Soul-crushing doesn’t begin to describe it.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” Farid said wiping sweat from his forehead.

“Well it was. Jobs kept disappearing. My whole family had to scrape by on three jobs each just to pay for a house worth less than the loan my parents had taken out on it.”

Farid had heard such stories before. People whining about the horrors of living with their grandparents and being denied the right for their own three-bedroom and two- bath when they turned eighteen.

“Well those days are over,” Farid said. “People are free to create full-time and work part-time instead of the other way around. If you don’t like it you could always move to Utah.”

“Kid, I was waving signs for a basic income before you were born.” The man leaned on his rake while shaking his head. “How many times I gotta say, I ain’t ragging on you. I’m ragging on the lazy chumps what got you running multiple IDs so they can stay home.”

“I’m not doing that.” Farid was glad for the shades hiding his darting glance. The guy just waved a hand and went back to his raking.

“No sweat. I know the kind of lazy shit these kids pull. Asking them to do a single thing out of their day is about as unjust as assigning them homework.”

Homework? How old was this guy?

The man shook his head. “I’m just saying I respect you for coming out here. For busting your ass when others won’t.”

Farid tensed. More phony compliments. Just like the kids in school used to. Fake friendship where hatred was prohibited.

“Yeah, sure you do.”

“I mean it. I remember when refugees first started coming to California. You wouldn’t believe the crazy things people said to try and block it.”

“Now I got your pity?” Farid paused, leaning on his own rake. “I know you can’t actually say how much you hate us for spoiling your precious country. But I have a right to be here same as anyone. I’ve never even been out of the U.S., so fuck off, you racist.”

“No, I’m serious. I’ve supported–”

But Farid wasn’t listening. It was ten-after-three. Less than an hour and he could be done with this racist prick and be up nearly 800 dollars, if he could make it that long without swinging his rake into the old man’s face.

Farid was sure the guy’s family had once been migrants just like Farid’s family. Just like Bes’s so many years before that. And they all felt entitled to the place over any newcomers.

He winced thinking of Bes. How long before she canceled their date since her outdoor BINC duty was complete? He returned to his raking.

(Continued)

 

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