The above image was made with stable diffusion using the prompt 'The Historical Society Metaverse.'
Abandoned neighborhoods like Harlen's became abandoned initially for legal reasons. All of the States had passed rules decades ago forbidding foreign investors from doing anything with their properties without physically occupying them. Most of these investors ultimately ended up using their properties as backing for exotic financial instruments while ignoring the physical places completely.
Harlen's State allowed the unfit to resettle these zones, and supplied utilities to them if an inspection revealed suitable infrastructure. There was no path to actual property ownership for Harlen, but being a registered resident gave him the right to occupy the property in perpetuity. He could even open a business there if he could somehow get the City to permit it.
Harlen was thinking about this instead of listening to Brian the social worker go on and on about civic responsibility.
"I'm unfit and you're telling me to go vote," said Harlen, once he'd heard enough. "You know history. When since the end of the Twentieth Century has voting even mattered? It's all just different monkeys taking turns in the same space suit. Turtles all the way down. If it doesn't matter for normal people, how much less does it matter for the unfit? Can't you see the problem?"
"That's a strong perspective," said Brian, carefully neutral. "But it's my job to help you integrate into society. You can still contribute something despite your Qualification."
"I want to study but no program will accept me," said Harlen.
"Perhaps you can intern at a museum," said Brian. "Or the Historical Society. Or even the Planetarium. I can make inquiries for you."
"Okay, check the Historical Society," said Harlen. "I guess interning might be better than sitting around here puffing GRIN all day."
"Is that what you've been doing?" asked Brian.
"No, I've mostly been working on the house and learning how hemp is turned into plastics," said Harlen. "It's not as complicated as you might think."
"I see," said Brian. "Well, I'll look into the internship and keep you updated. Would you like me to also send you information on the dangers of drug use?"
"No, I was just kidding about the GRIN," said Harlen. "I don't smoke much, and when I do, it's actual plants, not the genetically engineered stuff."
The Historical Society, it turned out, was an entirely online affair with its own museum in the Public Metaverse. It had a board of directors, but its everyday operations were all the responsibility of one person. Susan Frin, an aging historian who was eager to have someone begin taking over her Metaverse tours. The job sounded pretty boring to Harlen, but it came with a computer and VR interface, which he'd never be able to afford otherwise.
When the devices were first delivered, Harlen looked them over and couldn't believe his luck. They were state-of-the-art, and now they were his. After exploring the museum for two weeks, Susan had him begin giving tours of the war rooms, which were the museum's most popular exhibits. The first war it considered was the Civil War. Then there were World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, plus exhibits on Central America and North Africa.
Harlen was familiar with all of this, but the museum's visitors were usually drawn to the more recent Twenty-First Century conflicts. The Currency War. The Water War. The Bot War. While Harlen knew something about these conflicts, he didn't know enough to field random questions about them. And no tourist would be happy with answers to their questions limited to the generic comments of a history AI.
So Harlen learned as he went and studied intently in his free time. Over their regular meals together, he told Silver all about what he was learning. One day, when Harlen was telling her all about the Currency War, she stopped him. "Hold on," she said. "In school we were taught that BRICS nations started the War by attacking the Five Eyes. And the War ended when the Jala landed their flying saucers and brokered a peace. But you're saying the whole thing was staged? And everyone bought it?"
"Yes, it was staged," said Harlen. "Five Eyes countries like the US knew all along that the resource-based economy favored by the BRICS was the only way forward for the global economy. They just couldn't admit it without causing public panic and losing face diplomatically. The Jala weren't involved in any of this. They basically came here on vacation, like some of the other extraterrestrial species we've seen since. But their presence made it easier for the Five Eyes to come off like they were listening to higher forces by halting the aggression."
"Crazy," said Silver. "I always wondered why the Jala didn't stop the Water War and the Bot War too."
"Ahh, technically they did stop the Water War by sharing their molecular sieve technology," said Harlen. "That made the cost of clean water trivially low, essentially equal to the cost of transporting it. But that same sharing spirit made the Bot War much worse by giving the whole world exotic materials and energy sources that were built into combat robots."
"I don't know what I'd do without Jala batteries," said Silver. "Did you know they used to make batteries out of lithium, and lead before that? Aluminum micro-structures make so much more sense. Same goes for their fusion plasma and their quantum harvesters. I can't believe we used to burn trees or whatever to make electricity for everyone."
"Have you ever seen one?" asked Harlen. "A Jala?"
"No, but a Motherling came to my school once," said Silver. "She told us how important we all were to her planet, because they observe us and learn from our mistakes."
"What I wouldn't give to move to the planet Mother," said Harlen. "I bet they wouldn't care about my Qualification."
"I don't know," said Silver. "I think I'd rather go to Rio. Or maybe Addis. Somewhere where things are actually happening."
"Ever think about going anyway?" asked Harlen. "Finding a way to smuggle yourself in?"
"Maybe, but then what?" asked Silver. "My only money is stuck on a State-issued card. How much good would that do me in Rio?"
"There must be some kind of black market for payment cards," said Harlen. "If we found something valuable to trade, it might be worth a try."
"What's worth a lot in Rio but commonplace here?" asked Silver.
"I'll look into it," said Harlen. "That is, if we're both going."
"Let's do it," said Silver, grabbing Harlen's hand instinctively.
Read my novels:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is available as a web book on IPFS and as a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt.
- The Paradise Anomaly is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Psychic Avalanche is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- One Man Embassy is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Flying Saucer Shenanigans is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Rainbow Lullaby is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- The Ostermann Method is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Blue Dragon Mississippi is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
See my NFTs:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt that goes with my book by the same name.
- History and the Machine is a 20 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on my series of oil paintings of interesting people from history.
- Artifacts of Mind Control is a 15 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on declassified CIA documents from the MKULTRA program.