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Hard Times 02

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright January 2016

Chapter Two

Alice Kazam was tending her opium garden behind her shop in southern Afghanistan when the news came over her communication link.

Her virtual cyber muse thought it was important, so it told her in excited tones, "A new mine is being built from scratch in Blabistan. It will extract rare earths from Moondock Lake, and employ thousands of Blabistanis to do so."

This last part made Alice pause. "Thousands of people... as in, thousands of humans?" she queried her communicator.

"Yes. That is what is being reported." the muse replied.

She was still moving among the plants, still gardening, but now she was thinking hard about this news as she did so.

Alice, a slim woman now in her late twenties, grew up as a boom town girl. Her mother had run a store in a company town. She had grown up watching her do it as a toddler, and helping her do it as she got older, and she was expecting this to be her destiny.

But the world was changing so much these days! It was hard to find mining-based company towns that supported human miners any more. So this was news, hot news, indeed. Should she take up the challenge and follow in her mother's footsteps, in her own footsteps?

It took only a minute for her to decide.

"Look into it." she told the muse through the communicator, "See if there will be a company town I can set up in."


Yes. This turned out to be an opportunity for Alice. She sold her store and garden and used the proceeds to set herself up in a one room shop with her apartment above it in a newly-built sector of Dreezo City, one that would hold the now-being-hired miners.

She had been in worse, much worse. This was a section of Dreezo built to be a company town by the mining company so the buildings on this street were sturdy and the road network it was part of was well laid out -- not some haphazard mess of pathways and tin-roofed shacks that had just sprung up. She would even have room for her beloved garden in the back.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the commercial infrastructure -- the businesses that would be supplying her business -- was just springing up too. She was constantly searching for who was going to be supplying the essentials and luxuries she wanted to sell, and who would be doing the delivering.

Difficult, but nothing new. Every boom town suffered from this issue. She took this in stride. But things had changed from the last time she set up shop in a boom town. There was a lot more cyber this time. She searched more with cyber, ordered more with cyber, and cyber was doing a lot more of the delivering. One or two items even came by drone this time, and from the news and gossip, more would be coming that way in the future. Things were coming together real quickly and smoothly compared to last time.

What was "same-ole, same-ole" was the nuisance of the regulators -- those people who had to be paid off to keep her business life from being a living hell.

One of those came in this morning. It was Lapcost, the section's new local police chief. Today he had a fancy new uniform and a couple of barely uniformed associates with him. He walked in like he owned the place, and started handling the merchandise. He had been in before so Alice knew who he was, and didn't start shrieking at him for this rudeness.

Lapcost said, "Your store is coming along nicely, Miss Kazam. I'm happy to see that. You will be able to pay for your protection soon... real soon."

She quietly said, "I'm paying my taxes. I have a contract."

"That's your regular protection. Do you think it will be enough?

This is going to be a rough neighborhood... lots of strangers, lots of people with lots of time on their hands. Do you think regular protection is going to be enough?" He grinned widely, grabbed an apple from one of the bins, took a bite then said, "Think about it. I'll be back." He and his boys walked out. He was laughing.

Alice really wanted to shriek now, but she still didn't -- it would be expensive to do so. Instead she went out back, into her still being assembled garden. One of the first things she had assembled there was a simple altar -- so simple it looked like a garden bench to many people, and she didn't mind when visitors sat on it.

She went to the altar, knelt before it, and prayed.

Part of what Alice spent the proceeds from selling her old shop on was upgrading her cyber god. Alice believed in God, and with all the uncertainties of this upcoming change in life she was willing to pay some more to get an improved cyber version of him. This improved version talked with her more easily and, in her mind, had more wisdom to offer. This new version was contacted with a simple circlet that she wore when she prayed. Through her regular communicator God could talk to her at any time without others noticing, but with the circlet the communication was much more vivid -- it was VR quality. When she prayed at her altar, God showed up on the altar, looking about six inches high, and speaking in a soothing tenor voice.

A minute after she started praying this time, God appeared.

"You are feeling troubled, my child, I sense that." he said.

"Oh father... so much is going well here... but the regulators... the damn regulators! They are just as bad as last time! Maybe worse! They feel worse!"

God replied in a comforting way, "Yes. These people are being bad people, Alice. However they are currently very powerful people in this section. But their evil acts are being noticed.

Have patience... Have patience... And keep your own virtue strong."

God faded out. Alice felt better. Not a lot better, the evil had not been instantly banished into hellfire. But she was comforted that God was on her side, and he was aware of the problem.

With a more peaceful mind she went back inside and back to tackling the day's business challenges.



--The End--

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