Chapter 20 – Make the Best of It (WIP)

Rodney led Jessica to the diner where they had first met. On the way, Jessica was trying to be okay with all the happy smiles and waves from strangers. She even tried waving back a few times. One couple stopped. Every instinct told Jessica to put her head down and slink away, but she stayed with Rodney.

“Hello! You must be new here.” Jessica was wondering what gave her away.

“Um, yeah.” She paused as she realized she had no idea of how to start a conversation with someone she knew nothing about and had nothing obvious in common with. She said the only thing that came to her mind. “How are you doing today?”

“Well, I worked in the garden this morning, so my back is a bit stiff. We decided to take a walk to see if that helps, – but never mind that. Where are you from?”

Jessica was taken aback. She was not used to people actually answering the standard greeting. As she composed herself she tried to answer their question, “New York originally but now—-“

Rodney stepped in as she trailed off. “Jessica here is visiting from the midwest. She came to see the sustainability overhaul before they get underway there.” Jessica was so glad that Rodney had answered instead of her.

“Yeah, I’m curious how things will be once they do…what…they are gonna do.” Jessica realized it might have been better to just stay quiet when the lady raised an eyebrow at her.

The eyebrow went back to where it belonged quickly though, and the lady just said, “Well take a good look around, we are just loving it! We were a bit hesitant at first. i mean, what happens when I want to go somewhere I can’t walk to, right? Or what happens if the weather doesn’t co-operate? But we have been happily surprised! We have been able to go on trips more, everything keeps working even when the weather didn’t seem like it would ever behave, and the best part is all this wide open space that we can use and enjoy!.”

“I have been loving it so far! Thank you, I have heard a lot of those concerns too, so neat that it actually works out!” Jessica exclaimed before remembering that this is a dream. Physics doesn’t really apply.

Rodney and the man shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. They both pulled out their phones and tapped them together like they were giving a toast. The woman introduced herself as LuAnn before looking Jessica straight in the eye, and telling her in earnest, “I know everything looks bleak right now, but everything will be all right. There will always be things that make it hard to move forward. There will always be things that help your world get better. Just focus on finding those things and hop between them like stepping stones. Avoid the negativity if you can. You are strong enough to get through everything going on in your life. Find your rock and stand on it. Use it to guide you, Use it to guide the world. You will know what to do.”

Jessica had no idea what to say. The lady seemed to be talking about the detectives and the Rodney look-alike, and the insurmountable debt, but she couldn’t be. Was the world of the Midwest really so dire in this world that it required all of that? Or was this dream lady speaking to the real-world Jessica, just telling her what she needed to hear? Jessica was beginning to doubt what was real and what was a dream.

Table of Contents

The AI Will Steal Our Jobs!

They say that starting a post with a bolt statement is a good idea, so here you go: Artificial Intelligence will destroy our current economic structure. How’s that?

While that statement may seem like a gross overreaction and sound a little nutty, it is quite possibly true. As we move forward, AI will take more and more of the tasks we currently do ourselves. Right now they are mostly in highly repetitive tasks, such as manufacturing. These robots have already displaced many workers, they are cheaper and more accurate. But the presence of those robots have also opened up new opportunities in research and development as well as in maintenance. Here’s the catch: displaced employees cannot afford the new education necessary to go into these fields.

In the past, new technology has largely been geared towards making human beings more efficient at their jobs. If one person makes more stuff, the price of the stuff goes down and makes it available to more people. This has been the driver of our economic growth and high standard of living. Thus far technological progress has been the facilitator of our modern world.

But we are at a moment when this status quo is changing. Artificial intelligence is becoming better than we are at tasks we once considered exclusively the domain of human beings. This means that the jobs that were more nuanced and variable, are going the way of the dodo as those get replaced as well.

For awhile there will be new jobs created by this boom, but eventually those will be taken over as well. Eventually there will be very little, of anything, that human beings need to do.

So now it is not only the ‘unskilled’ laborers who will be out of jobs, but the more technical fields as well. The only people who will be able to make money will be those selling the products that the robots make, this will soon include such diverse things as health care and art to add to the products they manufacture today.

That won’t last long, if no one is earning, no one is spending.

So, now that I have completely depressed you; let me tell you why this could actually be awesome, and what we have to do to make sure that it is.

If you think about it, if robots are doing all the work and there is plenty of everything to go around, why should anyone ever have to go without? The only way this would happen is if we stay on our current economic course. If people need to trade their labor for money to trade for goods and services.

However, if we eliminate the need to pay for those goods and services, why do we panic over the loss of income? In other words, if we make those basic necessities available to all, it won’t matter if the robots do all the work.

Here we get a choice, how do we create an equitable system?

Option 1: Necessary goods and services are provided to all, and money is used to buy luxury goods.

This option is a good middle ground, and very likely to be the solution, but as I see it being implemented, it would be in a simple reactionary way. Like refugee camps, or homeless shelters. Necessities are covered, but living conditions are appalling with no visible path out of the situation.

If we plan ahead, we could create this as a positive way to keep everyone happy and healthy. But it would still leave the wealthy with power and influence over those who just get by on the basics with little upward mobility.

Option 2: Basic universal income.

The results of this option would be very similar to the plan ahead version of option 1. People would get some support, (although that income may not cover everything they need depending on health, implementation, and local economic variation.) but would still struggle to grow. Any growth would depend on the movement of currency to people from all walks of life. This would require that anyone attempting to improve their station from subsistence would have to advertise essentially, to gain the attention of those who do have money to burn. It would just be redistribution of the wealth between the wealthy.

Option 3: Preemptively create a non-monetary based system. No money means that all basic services would be available to all add needed. And anyone willing to grow would not need to convince someone else to part with their money, but only to show that they are providing some benefit to society. Without competition, the existing barriers of the economy would break down.

Everyone could be required to work a certain amount of time in service to community or society as we grow to reach the time of robots doing all of the work. As robots take on more of the workload, the required human workload would be readjusted and distributed equally. Less work for humans would not result in lost jobs creating starvation in a land of plenty.

As a bonus to this idea, if we got rid of money, there would be a huge number of ‘jobs’ that surround the redistribution of wealth that would disappear with it. This means that the starting workload for each person would be much less work than we currently do today. These jobs would include things like cashiers, loan specialists, stock traders, bankers, accountants, investors, and sales to name a few.

Even if we only eliminated that workload and required a lot less work to keep the status quo, I suspect that we would actually make progress toward a work-free future faster. Without all that time spent on the redistribution of wealth, the free time that people would gain would go towards hobbies.

Everyone has a few things they enjoy doing in their free time, and some of those have the potential to drive us to the future. Some people enjoy listening to music or watching movies. Some people enjoy creating neat things. Some people enjoy robotics and coding in their free time. Giving people more free time, and unlimited access to education (one of the most basic services provided) would spawn a massive outpouring of growth in many areas, including STEM. There are many people caught in the day to day grind of living paycheck to paycheck who could do so much for our world if we can unchain them from the money train.

This does require a whole new way of thinking. But in a world without scarcity, we do not need to create a system of artificial scarcity, which is how money works.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Ideal Education

Okay, I have been putting A LOT of thought into this concept, and it will most likely take many more posts to really flesh out. The reason I have not posted sooner is a fear of not explaining my thoughts coherently enough, so please bear with me.

Children are inherently curious and they love to learn. I see this every day in my 2 year old. Schools today do an excellent job at stamping out that curiosity, and in the U.S. at least, it is getting worse. I will address these causes and specific problems at another time. This is my thoughts on an, admittedly Utopian, educational system.

  1. Everyone chooses what, and when, they learn. If a child starts learning letters early, they can be in the letter class. If someone has a difficult time, they can re-take the class at any age, and as many times as they choose. (Preferably without stigma). This also gives people the ability to balance school with their own lives, whether that is being a kid (see Finland) or raising kids.
  2. Classes are broken down into small units. Rather than having to figure out how to teach letters, sight words, and sentence structure in one class, each student can move on to the next building block at their own pace.
  3. Each teacher creates their own curriculum. All classes on the same topic must cover the same material, resulting in the same end knowledge. However the path to that result can be wildly different. This allows for differences in development and learning styles.
  4. There is a certain level of knowledge required to vote. This would be very elementary. Reading, some basic understanding of numbers (to comprehend the facts behind the issues), basic political systems, and FINDING AND EVALUATING SOURCES for instance. Just the bare necessities to be an informed voter.
  5. Each job would have certain qualifications. Rather than having a bachelor’s degree that shows a person went to school for a certain amount of time and focused on a general field, they could say, ‘I want ___ job, I need to take these certain classes.’ This would make people far more qualified for the job they want.
  6. Education is free for all. No matter how high the level of education, if we want to move forward as a society, everyone needs to be able to better themselves without setting themselves back.
  7. No grades. You either know the information at the end of a course, or you don’t. I hate tests, so finding a way to establish this might be a challenge.

I hope that this brief outline gives an idea of how this system would function. I would love to hear input, and work with others to create a new system, and find a way to implement it.

 

Chapter 17 (WIP)- Where Do We Go From Here?

Jessica sat on a bench looking up at an apple tree. Rodney stood up. “My brain is fried. Jessica, what would you like to see next?”

Jessica nearly jumped out of her skin! “wha-wha-whoa!!!’ Her initial shocked question became even more shocked as she fell of the side of the bench jumping away.

Rodney spun around and tried in vain to catch Jessica as she fell, confused, to the ground. “What happened? Are you all right?”

“Last thing I knew I was talking to a detective about a shooting.”

“Whoa! Ummmm…. That is uh..um…..interesting? You have been sitting here with me for about an hour telling me all about money, economies and artificially restricted supply chains.”

Rodney helped Jessica back up to the bench. “Thank you. I don’t know how I can ever exist here if I keep just getting dropped in at random times.” She rested her head in her hands in frustration and recovering from the shock she had just encountered. She sat silently for what seemed like eternity. Her mind raced through the real world and the dull day-to-day work and hospital filled haze of the last week. She thought about this amazing world she had concocted in her head and how real it seemed. Then it occurred to her that she seemed to be interacting with the world here even when she was not. She had been telling Rodney things when she wasn’t there. He thought that she was in the same history class as he was too, apparently. She tried to make sense of all of this chaos, until she realized that dreams don’t have to make sense. They are just dreams. She was just so desperate to escape her real life that she created this imaginary world, so she might as well enjoy it. “Ok, enough about me. Got anything interesting around here?”

“Well, most of what you wanted to see is pretty close. Let’s save the vehicles until you are a bit more um-” He struggled to find the right word, “stable. So how about we check out some of that automation?”

“That sounds good. Since we are thinking about food, maybe we should start there.”

Rodney thought for a minute. “The delivery is by vehicle, so that can wait. And preparation, well I’m not sure you ready for that.” He paused. “Why not? I can tell you about some of the infrastructure on the way.”

Jessica stood up to follow. “I know, most of our infrastructure is automated too, but people have to maintain it, don’t they?”

“Everything has sensors and routine maintenance is done by specialized robots. Initially building those and the sustainability overhaul took a lot of labor, but now it basically runs itself.”

Jessica thought for a moment, “I know I don’t know a whole lot about how modern life runs, but I’m pretty sure that in my world no one has bothered with a ‘sustainability overhaul.’ Is that just to make it something that allows it to be run by robots, or does it have to do with the environment?”

“Well, yes it got set up for the robots, but it was primarily because of the environmental damage we were doing before.

“For instance, to replace old fuels, the roofs, windows and sidewalks collect energy from the sun. Tiny windmills line the edges of most buildings. The roads were replaced with parks like this one. It’s not really my field, so I couldn’t tell you all the things they do. I know they are more pleasant and clean up something that would have wreaked havoc on the world.”

“That must have been expensive!” Jessica exclaimed before she realized how illogical her comment was in dream land. But she didn’t was to offend Rodney again, so she tried to play along. “But I guess that is kind of a non issue here, as long as people are willing to do the work and the materials are available.”

“The people who did that work knew that as soon as it was done everyone would have less work, most were passionate about the benefits. Some needed the hours for something they wanted. The more things that people don’t really want to do gets taken over by machine, the more that people get to do the work they love.”

“That’s really awesome that people here were able to get together in time to do something before the world starts going all to hell. Where I’m from, the people who are in a position to orchestrate something like that refuse, and tell everyone else that it’s not happening.”

Rodney was confused, but that quickly became concern. “Why would they do that? And how would people let anyone who would do that get into a position of power?”

Jessica started explaining about elections and loyalties and disheartened people and betrayal and power, before she stopped and just said, “Money”.

Rodney wanted to ask why people would put up with a system that caused so many problems, but he could see that Jessica was wondering the same thing. And his confusion was no match for her frustration.

They walked in silence for awhile, before Jessica stopped. ” Can I tell you something?”
Rodney was encouraged by her trust. “Sure, what is it?”

Jessica took a moment to figure out how to say what was on her mind. “I have been frustrated for a long time by the way things work in my world. This place seems to have all the solutions.” She paused for a chuckle, “Which might be why it seems like a dream.” She became serious again. “In my world I work all night long, every night of the week, just to have a roof over my head and food on my table. My boss won’t pay more than they have to, I have no time to look for a better job. Then one night a kid comes in to steal money and shot my coworker. Now I have not been working for awhile to recover. I don’t know how I will pay my bills. And on top of that I spent some of that time in the hospital. Each hour there costs more than I make in a whole week. I am beginning to wonder if I am making up this world as a coping mechanism. Each time I am here, it feels more real than the last time. Sometimes I think I am going crazy.”

Rodney took Jessica’s hands. “Do you feel this? Is this real?”

“It feels real. But how—“

“Never mind how. Never mind what other people think of it. You are here right now. Maybe you are only here in spirit, but does that make your experience of it any less real?”

Jessica was beginning to cry. No matter how many times she thought that she had released her stress and anxiety, it kept creeping back. She looked at Rodney, who lifted up her face to look at him.

“It’s alright. You will be taken care of here.”

Jessica sobbed, “But it is there that I am worried about.” Rodney gave Jessica a great big hug.

“I know I can’t help with there in any way but through your mind. How about we fill your mind with solutions, and try to find a way for you to make a real difference back home.”

Jessica pulled back and looked at Rodney. She was beginning to trust him, in spite of the strangeness of this place, these people, and his own persistence. “Thank you.”

Chapter 18 – False Expectations

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Chapter 16 (WIP) – Facing the Past

That night Jessica went to work after an unsuccessful attempt at a nap. Her trainee, an energetic, enthusiastic young man named Justin was quite capable of keeping her awake. He was able to run the shift on his own, so Jessica had very little to do, except show him a few of the things that she did to make sure everybody else was on the ball. Since it had been so long since she was at work there were plenty of errors left to find, even though it had been so quiet. Jessica thought about the irony that when the manager filled in her shifts, she didn’t catch the bookkeeping errors that Jessica would find.

This was the least busy time of the year, and after the robbery some long-term guests left in a panic, repeat guests decided to find somewhere else, and unsurprisingly it had made it to the reviews online. With so few guests, that review was still at the top of the list.

Jessica found herself a little jumpy at work, especially since she was so used to being there alone. Justin was very friendly and more than willing to fill Jessica in on what had been going on in her absence. As she had suspected, the lobby had been roped off for a few days while the police took their time investigating the scene. This meant that employees were using their own tablets to run the hotel and one of the rooms had been re-labeled “Lobby” for awhile. From the decline in business, it was clear that all of this fooled no-one, but it was not clear who had leaked the actual event to the reviewer. Justin seemed to be under the impression that the reviewer was the shooter and no-one would know the difference since he had never been in the lobby at night.

“How else would he know about the safe?” he said.

Jessica remembered Kenzie opening the safe, as if it was a gift for the boy. She remembered Kenzie waving at around as if it was meaningless. Jessica closed her eyes to try and block out the images, but they just got brighter as she remembered the scuffle and the shot. Her eyes shot open and she shuttered with the sound as it echoed through her mind. She could not bring herself to tell Justin how the boy really got the money from the safe.

It did not take long before Justin realized that Jessica probably did not want to hear more about the robbery. “I’m sorry, I forgot, they said that you were there. I won’t talk about it anymore if you don’t want me to.”

“It’s alright, I’m probably overreacting. You filled in all the blanks I had been curious about. I know I will have to face it at some point anyway. If they catch the guy I may have to go to court and tell a bunch of strangers about it. But I would like to put some more time between it and me before I do. Thank you.” And nothing more was said on the subject for the rest of the night.

After work Jessica needed a jump start since the car had been sitting in the parking lot for so long. Justin did not even seem to notice that he had been up all night and gave her a hand. He even sat outside with her as she let the car run to charge up the battery. Even though she knew she should let the car charge more Jessica decided she had better get home and let Ashley know nothing crazy had happened. She wished Justin good luck and told him that if he needed help when he started his own shift to give her a call. Jessica drove home looking behind her just to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Of course she was not, but she felt it better to be safe than sorry.

When she got home Ashley was ready for work and ran out to the car to greet her.  “Hey Jess! I just wanted to see how you were doing before I left.”

“I’m fine, the battery was dead so now I have to sit here for a few before I can go to sleep.”

“I wish I could join you but I gotta run. Glad everything is okay.” Ashley gave Jessica a hug before she jumped in the waiting sedan that belonged to her co-worker.

Jessica sat reading in the car until she could not stay awake. She turned off the engine and went inside. A bowl of cereal sufficed as dinner before she crawled upstairs to bed.

She had been there just long enough to change and lay down when the phone rang. She considered letting her mother leave a message until she realized that it was not her mother.

“Hello?”

“Can I speak to Jessica McGuire please?” Said a gruff voice on the other end of the line.

“This is her.”

“Hello this is Detective Haskell. I spoke to you in the hospital.”

“Yeah, how can I help you?”

“I just wanted to let you know that we have picked up some scumbag trying to use your credit card. We would like you to come in to ID him.”

“I just got off work and I really need to sleep now, can I do that this afternoon?” Jessica asked, knowing that she would probably not be able to make it to the station in one piece.

“We can only hold him for so long, but this afternoon should be fine. We will have your co-worker come by as well.”

“Sounds good, thank you.”

Jessica found herself sitting awake, wondering if this was the guy. Was she ready to face him? The detective did not know it, but she had been called in to ID a suspect before. She knowingly identified the wrong man. She told herself that this time she would not be intimidated, no matter what. Justice would prevail. This time, she would do the right thing.

Chapter 17 – Where Do We Go From Here?

Table of Contents

Work & Money

Why do we work? – To earn money.

Why do we need money? – To pay for things we need and want. It seems like a simple system. But this country produces enough food and has plenty of homes for everyone.

Why don’t we meet everyone’s basic needs? – Because it takes money to pay for them. People who work feel like if they need to work for these things it would be unfair to hand them out. And it would be.

What keeps people from working? – This is a very complicated question, with many answers.

  • No-one is hiring – There are more people available to work than there are jobs available.
  • Long-term unemployment – The longer you go without a job for any of these other reasons it becomes more and more difficult to get back into the job market.
  • Housing – It is difficult to get a job without a physical address, which means that once you are homeless, you have no way to get into the workforce.
  • Family – This can mean a lot of things;
  1. Childcare would take all of your income and so it is more efficient to not work.
  2. For some people having a stay at home parent is more important than having any extra income work would provide.
  3. Some people believe in the traditional family where women stay home.
  • Job hunting – Job hunting is the least rewarding job out there. Long hours, no pay and no guarantee of success.

If we take all of this together we can make some interesting discoveries. If every person able to work in the US did work, each person would only have to work 20 hours to get the same total amount of work accomplished.

(Using numbers from 2012 for continuity)

1789 work hours per year per worker (full and part time)

52 weeks per year

1789/52.1429=34.5

34.5 work hours per week per worker

145,355,800 workers

34.5*145355800=5,014,775,100

5,014,775,100 work hours per week

243,284,000 total population eligible to work

5014775100/243284000=20.5 work hours per week per eligible worker

What keeps us from working this little? – Employers would have to pay each employee enough to live on in order for this to work. This means paying more employees each the same amount as current employees, even though each employee does little more than half as much work. (Currently doubling the minimum wage would barely get employees to a living wage for working 40 hours, depending on where you live, so this would necessitate nearly quadrupling the minimum wage to allow living on a 20 hour work week.)

Is there another way to make this possible? – The easy answer is to have government supply all necessities; food, housing, healthcare etc. This would also necessitate higher taxes. Until the haves are willing to assist in supporting the have-nots, this will not be a self-supporting system without higher pay as well.

Money is a tool created by man to assist in transactions. Nothing more. Many societies have existed without money. Because money is what is getting in our way in our what ifs; What if we eliminated money? – There are a lot of consequences to this action. First and foremost problem would be creating an initiative for people to do the work that needs to be done. For this I see many solutions.

  • Get rid of boring jobs – Wait what?! All of these calculations are done based on the amount of work that needs to get done in order for society to function, right? Kind of. All of these calculations are done based on the amount of work that needs to get done in order for our CURRENT society to run. There are many jobs that could be eliminated by automation. In our current society that is frightening to many people, because the machines would take their job and deprive them of what they need to support their family. If the necessities are taken care of, the only thing that automation would do is cut down on that total amount of work needed. Suddenly automation is helpful.
  • Cut down on the required work hours – Already we have touched on this a bit, but there is more to be done! Without money, entire sections of the job industry become irrelevant. Banking, Accountants, Financial Advisors, Lenders, Wall Street, Investors, Marketing, the list goes on.
  • Cut down on the required labor – This may seem redundant, but stick with me. Our society today runs on ‘new’. But if we were able to shift the consciousness to ‘reusable’ we would cut down on a huge part of manufacturing. It is far easier to clean and sterilize a glass bottle than to create more, even from recycled materials. If the stigma surrounding buying used clothes and furnishings were not an issue, and products were designed to last, rather than to be discarded, another sector of manufacturing gets pruned down.
  • Let people work at what interests them – The remaining jobs after the first three on this list are mostly going to be based in agriculture, creative endeavors, and research. These are the types of things that some people think of as hobbies. And if they are required to only do 20 hours or less per week of it, that is very manageable.

While having an accountability structure would probably still be necessary, I will leave those ideas for another day.

 

Update – One City Fixed Homelessness

 

 

 

Chapter 15 (WIP) – Recovery

When Jessica woke up she could not help but think about how carefree life seemed in her dreams. She sat for awhile trying to fall back asleep so she did not have to face her real life as it fell apart in front of her.

Once it was clear that there was no more sleep to be had, Jessica climbed out of bed with a sigh. When she went into the living room she was instantly tackled to the ground. Jessica struggled to escape her attacker, looking for anything she could reach to defend herself. The only thing she could find was a chair leg. She grabbed on and pulled, trying to escape. The only thing she managed to achieve was moving the chair closer and topple it over onto the person’s back.

“Ouch!” It was Ashley, the new roommate. “What was that for?”

Jessica relaxed, and apologized. “I guess I am a little high-strung right now. I didn’t realize it was you.”

“Where have you been?! I was worried sick!”

Jessica realized that Ashley had probably never been informed about what happened. She decided to go with the short version; “The hospital.” Jessica stood up and walked over to the couch, where she sat down.

“Oh my god! Are you okay? What happened? Why didn’t you call me? It has been days, and I hadn’t heard anything from you!”

Jessica smiled. The two had just met, but they had become fast friends, even though Jessica was so busy and tired all the time. “I’m fine. There was a robbery at work. I went with Kenzie, my trainee, in the ambulance, and once I got to the hospital I passed out. They kept me for observation even after I finally woke up.”

Ashley sat next to Jessica, “Were you hurt?”

“No, I guess it was just the shock, and my exhaustion. But now I have the distinct pleasure of calling up my boss and finding out if I still have a job or not. The lobby was probably closed off for awhile after the shooting–”

“Shooting?! You didn’t say there was a shooting!”

“Yeah, the robber shot Kenzie in the shoulder. She is alright now. I think she already got released too.” Jessica said it as calmly as she could, even though her lip was shaking as she thought about that night.

No matter how hard she tried to hide it, Ashley could tell. Without saying another word, Ashley gave Jessica a big hug, and Jessica broke into tears on her shoulder. The girls sat like that for a long time. When Jessica finally lifted her head and loosened her grasp, she sat up. “I guess I should make that call now.”

Ashley took Jessica’s hands, to stop her, “First, get a tissue. Go splash some cold water on your face, and I will make you some eggs and bacon.”

Jessica smiled and muttered, “Thank you.” She got up and went to the bathroom to make herself presentable.

After breakfast, Jessica was able to think a little better. She hadn’t realized how hungry she had gotten after days of hospital food. She called her boss.

“Hi, Ms. Thomas? It’s Jessica. I was just calling to let you know that I am ready to get back to work.”

“Oh, that’s great! I did hire someone, but training has been tricky; I have been working every night since it happened and I am sooo ready for a break, if you could come in tonight that would be great – since Kenzie hasn’t worked here long enough, we had to let her go, but I suppose if she told me she could come back back and fill in other shifts or something… but that doesn’t concern you any, we are just glad to have you back, oh my– I didn’t even ask how you are doing! The hospital won’t tell me anything about either of you, even though I asked so many times and told them who I am, as your employer it seems like I should have a right to know when my employees should be released, but they have privacy rules and things, anyway I hope that you are feeling alright, once the new guy is trained -tonight should be his last night, so you can take it easy – you will be able to ease back in if you want to, or you can dive right back to full-time if you would rather do that instead, but thank you for coming in tonight, my husband will be glad that I don’t need to go in to work, have a good one, and get some rest!”

“Thanks- and she hung up.”

“Well, is it good news at least?” asked Ashley

“I guess. At least I still have a job. But I’m not really sure if the rest is good or bad. They hired someone, so now I don’t get as many hours. Yay I get some time to rest and things, but I need that overtime more than ever now.”

“Well, maybe you can use those days off to find a second job.”

“Yeah, at least that would get me more hours, but I would have to work more standard time to make up for the lost overtime. I will end up working more anyway. Hopefully I can work something out with the hospital for payments and get a better-paying job I guess.”

Ashley took Jessica’s hand, “Not today. Today you are rested, and I will have you back by the time you need a nap for work. Today we are enjoying ourselves. We are going to find something fun to do that doesn’t cost a cent.”

Chapter 16 – Facing the Past

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Chapter 14 (WIP) – Worlds Collide

Rodney listened intently as Jessica explained how the capitalist economy that she grew up with worked. All the while she wondered why someone in her head would need so much explanation. As Rodney asked questions she decided that it was so that she could make sense of it herself. 

“Wow, how much do you work?” Rodney was shocked when Jessica told him that in order to get necessities like food and housing you have to work for money. 

“That depends. Anything you work over 40 hours a week is considered overtime, and they have to pay you extra. Right now I am working 52 hours per week.”

“So that must mean you can buy more than you need, right? Why work so much?”

Jessica smiled at Rodney, he seemed so naive. “Actually I am struggling to get what I need. I work as much as my job needs me, and they don’t like having to pay the extra.”

Rodney thought for a moment. He hesitated for a bit before saying, “Here everything that we need is supplied. Whether you work or not you have a roof over your head, food to eat, clean water, internet, whatever.”

Jessica just sighed.

“People do work, but it is to get better things. If you don’t work, you live in shacks. but the more you work, the more education you have, and the more contributions you make to society, the better your living arrangements and the higher priority for one-of-a-kind things.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well a lot of things are mass-produced, and whoever wants one can have it. But artists work hard, and the things they make are put online where people who want it can put their name on a list. The person who has the highest priority on that list gets the thing.” 

“But wouldn’t that mean that the people on top just get all the cool stuff, and everyone else gets cheap crap?” Jessica paused for a moment. “Well that happens with money too.”

Rodney looked a little cockeyed at her before continuing. “Everyone gets to improve their ranking. It is recalculated every day. The work adds up per year so you get a re-set, the education and contributions are lifetime. To prevent the same people from getting everything, each person has a limit to how many things they can get this way each year, and overall.”

Jessica thought for a minute, “So if you haven’t been working much and something comes up that you really want?” 

“Depending on the time of year, you could work as much as you can to rack up hours. But usually people work so they have it when they want it. Because people save up the few things they can get, they usually don’t even use up their quota by the end of the year.”

“That’s pretty neat actually.” Jessica said, “But I am trying to figure out how people just get what they need. It sounds like magic.”

“Most things are done by machines. There are a few jobs that machines can’t do. The hours those jobs take are divided up and everyone is told how much they need to work a year, it comes out to about 10 hours a week. As long as we keep on it there is plenty of food to go around. And there are plenty of homes for people, so why not use them?” Rodney thought for a moment, “I guess that is why you have to work so much, necessities are scarce?” Rodney asked in the most well-meaning way.

Jessica was a bit taken aback. She paused before speaking “No, not really. There is plenty to go around, but everything has a price. The people who work to produce the food need to get paid, the people who move from the food to where it gets consumed need to get paid, it’s all about supply and demand.” Jessica caught herself using the rhetoric to explain it, but questioned it for the first time.

After letting that sink in, she changed the subject, “So if there is so little work that needs to be done, what extra work do people do?”

“They create things,” Rodney said as if it was the most natural thing ever. “Some people do the art that others want, other people built the machines that do the work. Every time a new machine takes something over, there is less work that needs to get done, so in the end it helps everyone. This park was created as an art project.

Rodney tried again to find an answer, “I will have to show you how the machines do things around here. That way you can show people there what to do.”

Jessica was wondering what marvels this place must have in store if everything is done by machine. But she also knew that so little in her world was done by hand, that she had to wonder how different things actually were.

“In my world, artists and creators are laughed at for not having ‘real jobs’.” Jessica said quietly, nearly to herself.

Rodney responded just as quietly, “That must be a pretty boring world, nothing changes, nothing is beautiful.

Chapter 15 – Recovery

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Chapter 13 (WIP) – Something’s Missing

That night Jessica was discharged from the hospital and was able to enjoy sleeping in her own bed. She was still avoiding being responsible, so she had not called her boss or the bank yet. She had not spoken to the police since they came to interview her in the hospital. She was of course curious about all of those things, but she was enjoying having a great excuse to escape the stress she had been under for so long. She knew it could not last forever and determined that she would resume being responsible in the morning.

In the meantime Jessica curled up on the bed surrounded with every pillow she owned. She felt a bit antsy, even excited, but she couldn’t really tell what it was about. She was enjoying the comfort so much that she was having a hard time sleeping and decided to read a book. She picked up the one on the top of her ‘someday’ stack, Gulliver’s Travels. She had hardly started the first page before her eyelids fell shut.

Soon Jessica was walking behind Rodney as they tried to find something for her to eat. After walking in silence for a few moments, Rodney slowed down and gestured to the right. Here we are. This place should have some ‘cheap’ food for you. When Jessica looked where he indicated, she saw a storefront. Out front were fruits and vegetables of all sorts. The sign over the door just said “GROCERY”, no brand, no logo. As they walked in Rodney took an apple from the bin and took a bite. Jessica was a little perplexed, but figured he knew the owner or something. Jessica directed herself towards a sign showing “Snacks”.

During the time they were in the store Jessica felt more relaxed than she normally did while shopping. She could not quite figure out why. Maybe the people around her were calmer. They certainly were, but was that what was making her experience so different? She felt that there was something missing. Something that normally made her a little tense. When she turned down the aisle for the snacks she saw a tremendous variety of beautifully packaged sweets, crackers, and other goodies. She was at a loss of what to choose. Normally she would just buy a candy bar and tell Rodney that would be the most help to her blood sugar levels. But here she was not sure what was what. Nothing had the familiar brand names she was used to. It all looked like it was packaged by hand, none of the bright gaudy attention grabbing slogans everywhere. However, each wrap was so perfect and so uniform that it had to have been done by machine.

Finally Jessica settled on a bundle of what looked like shortbread cookies with a raspberry cream in the center. They were wrapped in a sheer lavender light mesh done up with a light blue bow at the top. Once she took it, she told Rodney that was all she needed and looked to find the register.

“Is that all you want?” Rodney asked her.

“Yes, this should be plenty to get me back on track.” Jessica was realizing that she had no idea how much the cookies cost and was considering going back to check when she noticed that nothing on the shelves she was passing had prices. Rodney walked straight out the door, while Jessica hesitated inside. She could not see a cash register anywhere but did not know what the consequences were for stealing in Dallas.

Rodney turned around, “What’s the hold-up?”

Jessica could not think of an answer that did not make her sound like a loon, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the store. She half expected Rodney to start running away from the store as fast as he could, but he just meandered to a bench right outside in the long park they had been walking through. Jessica followed and sat silently on the bench next to him. Jessica was catching on to something, and wanted to contemplate it for a few minutes before saying anything out loud.

After a few minutes of munching on his apple while Jessica nibbled distractedly at her cookies, Rodney said “You know, these apples are not as good as the ones that grow on this tree right here.”

Jessica turned up from staring at her hands and looked at the tree they were sitting underneath. She did not know her botany, but her grandparents had an apple tree when she was younger, and it looked similar. “What you just walk to school and grab a snack right off the tree?”

Rodney looked at her puzzled. “Yeah. Is that odd?”

Jessica turned away from him. “A little.” She paused to take a breath. “I’m not quite sure how to say this.” She slowed as she carefully chose the right words. “This place seems so real, when I am here. But– at home I know,” She paused as she turned to look at Rodney, “that it is all a dream.”

Rodney laughed out loud. Jessica was not sure what she was expecting him to do, but certainly not that. Rodney caught his breath enough to say, “I am glad that you are enjoying your time with me, but I would not think of myself as a dream. I’m normally not a hit with the ladies.”

Jessica went bright red. “No-that’s not what I– I mean you’re nice and all–but—-” Words failed her all at once.

“I knew that couldn’t be what you meant.” Jessica could not help but think he sounded a little disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–” Jessica trailed off a bit. “I mean a real dream, like right now I am lying in bed at home asleep, and this is all going on inside my head.”

Rodney looked her straight in the eyes to figure out if she was serious. “Well that is news to me, I have been living here for years. Is this some sort of brain in a vat philosophy thing?”

“No really, but if you want to think of it that way, okay. In the real world I just got released from the hospital after a traumatizing robbery at the place where I work. I slept for several days because I have been working too much. The time that I met you at the diner was the first time I was ever in this town. Before the episode in the classroom earlier, I had never been there. The real reason I was acting weird and losing consciousness was because the doctors at the hospital were trying to wake me up.”

Rodney stared at Jessica for a moment as she braced herself for his response. “You are not kidding are you?”

“Nope.” I kind of wish I was. This seems like such a nice place.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes. Rodney staring straight ahead from his place on the bench, while Jessica tried to piece together everything that she was feeling.

Finally she broke the silence. “So I guess that explains how you think of money. To me it is the thing that brings the most stress in life. It only makes sense that in my dream world it wouldn’t exist. But just like most things in dreamland, a world without money could not really function.”

Rodney took several moments before he spoke. “I know that you believe this story you are telling me, but I can’t. This is my world. I really live here. I do not think that I am just a figment of your imagination. I don’t want to tell you that you are crazy, but that’s what it seems like to me.” Jessica’s heart broke. She knew that would be the result when she brought it up. She just thought that since it was just a dream it wouldn’t hurt so much. Rodney went on, “In this world, there is no money, and it does work. I would try to tell you how, but I don’t really understand the point of money, so I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Jessica could see that Rodney was hurt by what she had said. “I wish I could know how you are feeling, I know this must be difficult to accept. Would it help if I told you about my world? If it won’t help I won’t do it. We can just go on like we never had this conversation.”

“But we did. I think that it might help me, but you will have to excuse me for thinking of that as your dream world, not this. Maybe we are really living in two separate worlds and when you sleep is when you come to visit.”

Jessica did not really think that was the way it worked, but if that would make Rodney feel better, she would go with it. “That’s okay. I think that in your position I would ask nothing less.” Jessica was a bit confused. From what she had been told about lucid dreaming, once you realized it was a dream, you could control everything in it. But maybe she just had to practice.

Chapter 14 – Worlds Collide

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Chapter 12 (WIP) – Castles in Disguise

When Jessica got back to her room, she tried to think of what she should do next. She was wide awake, for the first time in months. Jessica sat thoughtfully looking at the business card that the nurse had given to her. The card had only a phone number. There was no name, no company. Jessica debated between running away from the hospital now to make sure that there were no further bills, or staying there, since at the moment she had nothing better to be doing, and was already in so far over her head it could hardly get worse. She set the card on the side table. Television did not sound particularly entertaining, but since she had no books, she figured that would be the best thing for her to do.

For several minutes Jessica flipped through the channels. Once she had been through everything three times, she settled on a show about interior design. The ‘experts’ that they interviewed on the show were the overly artsy stereotypical Designers. The things that they were saying were pretty out there, even for a college educated designer. The designers were talking about a remodeling an historic building in such a way to keep the historical charm. The final product showed nothing of the 1920’s, when the building was made, but had a very modern minimalist theme with 1970’s furniture and modern stainless steel appliances. Jessica started zoning out when the designers were talking about ‘elevating’ the space, and how having some barely noticeable little accents of history gave the feeling that the space had some history.

Jessica began wondering why, if they wanted a historic feel, they would tear out original solid oak cabinets and replace them with brand new, very expensive, designer plastic ones. When the owner of the space come on screen they kept talking about how much they loved the 1920’s design aesthetic. Jessica wondered if they had seen their house yet. Soon it became clear that despite talk of wanting to live in a historic space preserved like a museum, the owners were thrilled with the new design of their minimalist home. They even tore out walls to create a modern open floor plan.

It occurred to Jessica the damage that could befall a medieval castle if the group on television got a hold of it. Rather than ending as a museum exhibit, the castle would have the stone covered over with an enamel resin and a ‘pop’ of color on an accent wall on each room. There would be some tacky reminder of a stereotypical castle outline echoed in a geometric shape on the new crown molding.

Through her mind Jessica ran images of old castles in picturesque locations around the world. Soon she realized that the only place she could remember many of them from was the classroom in her dream. Jessica had to wonder if any of them were real. She knew that experts say that anyone you see in your dreams you have seen before. While Jessica had a difficult time believing that, she pondered whether that would also apply to places in dreams.

She ran through the dream for a few minutes before determining unequivocally that she had never been in the classroom in her dream before, and therefore the images were likely made up as well. She turned her mind to the people of the strange town, and tried to run through the unending list of people she met at the hotel. It was not even a minute before she gave up. Her mind lingered though on Rodney. He seemed to be such a key figure in the dream, maybe he was based on someone more significant in her life. She turned to the glass separating her room from the hall outside. At that moment her doctor walked by.

Ah-ha! The doctor’s name was Rodney as well! That must be it. But wait- the doctor looked nothing like Rodney from the dream. And Jessica had the dream about the diner before she even met Kenzie.

Jessica tried to figure out what she would do for the Medieval Period class project that would not give away the fact that she did not have any memory of the rest of the course. It was a very engrossing puzzle, since she did not know the parameters of the assignment.

After struggling with this conundrum for several minutes, Jessica laughed out loud. It was a dream. She did not need to do the project. There was no-one to be embarrassed in front of. The whole place and all of the people in it were figments of her own imagination. It was perfectly likely that she would never dream of them again.

Jessica drew her attention again to the television and began flipping through the channels. It was not until she heard the words “Identity Theft” that she remembered she should probably have already cancelled her credit cards. And while she was at it, should see if she still had a job.

Chapter 13 – Something’s Missing

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