Lo. With a little free time, I get to loosen up to scrawl down some fiction ideas. This is only part one and I’m not entirely sure where I am going with this. Still, out of my head and into text I guess. Bear with me on the fiction, I’m sure I’ll have something more realistic to say soon. JK
Freelancing during college meant more desk jockey work than anyone would really tolerate. But we knew if we were going to pay our way to get an education out of here, it was good money just boring work.
I split my time between mining for gamers and research. Sometimes I got a gig feeding the info, but my rep on that platform was young, so not a lot came in there and the pay was low for the effort. It would remain so until I scored a few big points to move up. It was all like gaming in one way or another.
I picked up Cassie on the way to the portal. We could all use our own units to work anywhere I guess, but the smoking laws had been repealed, there was a bar and it felt good to be with the others, together alone in front of the screens.
We took the bus to Waterloo and walked in the drizzle to the center. In the books I read at high school, I thought this sort of thing would turn out to be a blue neon dystopia. Exciting. Harrison Ford types running around. But it’s a grey 20th century building with earth saving bare light bulbs and most of the creativity saved for the walls in the toilets.
We grab coffee and take a look across the aisles of self op terminals. Some people have clearly been here for hours already and it’s 8am. The Portal is open 24/7. With most of the work being internationally applicable, there’s no reason anyone needs to be here 9 to 5. I see Kate and her boyfriend Aiden about three rows down and we head over. They look exhausted. Aiden has an overflowing ashtray and a collection of empty energy drink containers around him, Kate has a small mountain of health food bars. They’re both fluent in Chinese and French so they’ve been working between the time zones over night. Without looking up Aiden waves at us and Kate smiles absently in acknowledgement.
Cassie and I settle into the next free terminals and plug in our own headsets. Cassie has designer ear goggles. Some Japanese designer came up with beaded ear covers head set in red. It looks like jewellery from a distance or maybe sparkly earmuffs. My own set is less attractive but cost me a packet. High fidelity audio ear goggles out of Norway. I do odd bits of audio matching for verification, so each little fragment and sound wave needs to end up in my head. I get paranoid about losing them sometimes, so I’m glad they are not too high profile. Rather not have them nicked, I’d lose half my education fund to replace them.
We check in to our demands list. Basically things people want, how much and how long it will take. So you can schedule the next 12 hours.
Cassie swears at her screen.
“No work?” I ask. It’s an in joke. There’s always work, it just depends on how much you want to do it or how much it will pay.
“All mining,” Cassie mutters, cigarette between her lips.
“No translation?” I ask. She speaks German and a little Spanish.
“Not since last week’s snafu.”
I look over, confused.
“You didn’t hear?”
“No, I was out for the Info”
“Huh, Cassie’s taking a bath in the sink I hear”, Aiden butts in hands still moving on his keyboard.
“Shut up desk jockey,” Cassie retorts. “I got a detail wrong. Bath and sink. I was tired and somehow thought that was the right word. It didn’t play out well with the end user. Some hotel brochure. They say it damaged their business prospects so I’m points down on the table.”
We get points for our skills on the what is known as The Table. Most of us are middling. We tend to prefer being social and getting some sleep. The top of the table kids speak about six languages fluently and work around the clock from home. I guess they get the big bucks but what price sanity?
Our points do lead us to work though, agents and clients pick us off and send us items for our demand lists. You lose points, you drop down the table and you get less work. Client reviews can really knock your salary. You just have to hope you don’t get the really pernickety ones.
“Sorry to hear it Cass,” I try condolence, but she shrugs it off.
“No biggie, there’s always mining.”
Tomorrow is around the city somewhere. I’ll need my skates too apparently and they’re sending me a new aerial. The last one got bent yesterday. The nice thing about working info is that they insure your kit. Not you mind, that’s your own problem. The real info gatherers are a bit crazy. They learn and translate and then head into war zones. Live transmitting whatever they can through The Intel’s own satellite. It seems glamorous to some, I’m not sure I could hold my nerve. Or my bladder.
Today though, it’s mining. For me as well as Cassie. I’ll need to get my skates serviced later, so best to jump in now if I am going to miss an hour taking them in.
I log into the games places and pick a few log in details for rich kids on the other side of the time zone. They’ll be sleeping while I improve their scores and they can do more fun stuff in whatever multi-player world they are in. I don’t really get it myself. As part of training I joined a guild and learned to do some digital swashbuckling. But it wasn’t my thing. Now it’s a business. Boring but keeps the coins coming as the parents of these rich kids fund their online rep.
I get into a repetitive pattern and put some music on. To my left I see Aiden stretch and Kate packing her stuff away. They’re done for the morning and headed to bed. I raise a hand and keep working only to be interrupted by Cassie’s cursing again.
She’s stopped mining and is casting the daggers at the door. There’s some sort of kerfuffle happening. Someone has apparently arrived and is worth seeing. “Grade One”, mutters Cassie. She grades the people she thinks of as assholes and this one apparently qualifies as top notch. Now I am curious and slow down on the mining to take a look.
“You didn’t know?” asks Kate.
“Let’s get out before this turns into a total cluster,” says Aiden.
“Oh, you weren’t here yesterday,” nods Kate. “It’s Sterling.” She looks a little flushed. Aiden looks a bit annoyed. He gives her a nudge and they make their way through a growing crowd at the door.
“Sterling?” I ask Cassie. “Who is called Sterling? Is that a screen name?”
Cassie has a storm all over her face. “It was a screen name. He changed his real first name to his screen name. So now he is Sterling Lusthead.”
I start to laugh. “Sterling Lusthead? For real? Jeese, I thought I had a funny name. Lusthead is his real surname though?”
“Yeah, what are you researching him?” Cassie is testy.
“No. Just curious. I’ve never heard of him is all. What does he do?”
“Trades in war.”
“What, like guild trading or something?”
“No dumbass. Real war with real people.”
“He’s a gun runner?” I can tell by Cassie’s face that I am turning dumb into dumber.
“He made a truck load of money trading the key words of war. He runs advertising based on the countries and martyrs, high profile military and the dead.”
The implication takes a moment to settle in. I’d seen people make plenty of money trading on virtual economies before, but usually in 3D environments or things like that. Turning pixel gold into big dollars. I know that before the revolution people used to trade stock in what people called “sin shares” sex, gambling, guns, drugs and alcohol.
“He made a lot of money out of warnography keywords?”
“Yeah. He sold a bunch too. Now he makes money for other people in the same way.”
“So, the kids named in those warnography videos that go viral – their names are his advert words?”
“Yuhuh,” Cassie blows smoke vapour in the direction of Sterling Lusthead. “And now all the kiddies adore him, want a piece of his action or to find a way to break whatever last taboos are left to make money.”
I glance at the inactive avatar on my screen. It’s tapping its foot and leaning on a shovel. There’s work to do.
I look up at the crowd near the door. More kids are crammed in. The overhead display is running a repeat message – “The Portal welcomes Sterling Lusthead. Here for a reading from his latest book “Making you money” and talking to you lucky people!” The message repeats and flashes.
I see the clock flash on my screen. Inactive for five minutes and go back to mining.
I wonder what is left that cannot be traded virtually and look forward to getting out of The Portal with my skates. Suddenly the terminals are closer and the room claustrophobic. I’m glad tomorrow is an info day.
To be continued…