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Idealog fiction: Wipe

A technology-driven world in which medical procedures replace prisons. A man - and a region - trying to keep up. And the struggle to remember it all.

Jim Mead was a simple man.

Then again, most folks in Cannon Beach were a fairly simple lot. Jim was fine with that, really.

Maybe people were simple because there just wasn’t that much to do to get into trouble. Down at Mo’s, he’d heard the stories from the people who could remember such things about how it used to be a jumping-off point to Vanport and the other offshore cities. But the parking lots and ferry terminals and heliports had long fallen into disuse, making way for affordable housing, then luxury apartments for the well-to-do desiring a simpler existence back when it was trendy, then abandoned to succumb to the ravages of time. Things were simple because the glory days were long past.

Even Mo’s used to be a fancy place, Jim was told. All he’d ever known it as was the neighbourhood bar, where the only time it wasn’t half-empty was if the Blazers were playing the Storm in the playoffs. The last time he saw anything newer than a ’69 Tesla in the parking lot was roughly the last time Lauren Drexler & Co. had a chance of anything beyond the second round.

Maybe people were simple because there just wasn’t that much to do to get into trouble.

Jim’s car wasn’t exactly the newest, either. Not that he cared. He wasn’t much of a car person. The red ’66 Toyota didn’t even have auto-drive. In Portland, you had to have a license to drive yourself. But this was the Coast. Only an hour and a half away, but it might as well be another planet. Other than the odd automated logging truck (and even those were becoming rarer with the artificial wood plants popping up all over the place) or bus full of overseas tourists who apparently had a weird fascination with semi-urban decay and were down for a few hours from the crumbling hyperloop station, what was there to crash into?

Maybe the roundabout at Hemlock and 1st, Jim thought. He was whipping up espressos at Annabelle’s the other day and heard some people talking about it. From what he’d heard, somebody who must’ve wanted to try real driving clipped it, and when the police used their override to stop her discovered she’d been drinking. The poor woman had three years wiped.

Wiped. What a weird concept. The humane solution to overcrowded prisons, making way for more schools and housing and complying with the Supreme Court ruling time and time again that imprisonment fell under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment.” He couldn’t remember all he’d learned in history about it, but Jim remembered enough that it was a contentious issue when it was first developed for some reason or another.

Origins aside, everyone knew how it worked. Those drug education classes in elementary school were good for something. Break the law, get arrested, get convicted, and have certain… recollections wiped proportionate to the crime. The more severe the sentence, the more information wiped. Jim had seen the procedure depicted enough in movies: they strapped you down, hooked you up to an IV, put you under, and that was that – though he had a feeling it was somewhat less dramatic than Hollywood’s portrayal.

Not that he personally knew too many people who’d been wiped. One of his co-workers at Annabelle’s had supposedly gotten six months, but he’d never asked her about it. He was old-fashioned that way: never ask the people you work with about their personal lives. Asking about other people’s business could only lead to trouble, his father had always said.

It was a typically drizzly winter day, with clouds of mist hugging the ground like those fish called remoras clinging to a shark. Other parts of the world may have been running out of water and other parts may have been getting washed away by too much of it, but things on the Coast never seemed to change.

Wiped. What a weird concept. The humane solution to overcrowded prisons, making way for more schools and housing and complying with the Supreme Court ruling time and time again that imprisonment fell under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Not that Jim minded. When you still lived in the same place you grew up in, you kind of got used to things.

That was another thing Jim didn’t mind. Why would he? Life was pretty easy, relatively speaking. Sure, things could be better, but wasn’t that true for everyone? Besides, ever since the UBI was adopted, it wasn’t like he’d starve in a gutter like used to happen to people. And even the UBI had already been a thing long before Jim was born, at least from what he remembered in school.

“Hungry. Hungry. Hungry.”

Jim snapped out of it. Kiwi’s monotone “voice” was incessant. Was he capable of thinking of anything else?

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you, pal.”

There Jim was again, talking to a horse.

Kiwi was probably a smart guy. But the EquiChat didn’t seem capable of conveying anything other than the most basic of thoughts. Clearly, the tech still had some ways to go. Duh, he was hungry. It was freaking dinner time, after all. Sunsets usually suggested as such, no matter how much they set the sky aflame.

Jim pressed his thumb to the pad. As always, the gate opened automatically with a quiet click as Kiwi stepped back. At least he was well-trained. Yesenia had done a good job with him.

“Hungry.”

Kiwi followed behind like a dog, clouds of vapour rising with each snort from his damp nostrils and mud sloshing with each hooved footfall. Jim’s gait was just as shambling. It had been a long day.

There Jim was again, talking to a horse.

The wet barn door groaned mightily as it, too, opened with the push of a thumb to a pad. Icy tendrils wrapping around his fingers, Jim was at least thankful the days of grabbing a cold metal handle and flinging the thing open with all your might were ancient history.

The musty barn smell was overpowering. Yet even that was an afterthought to the deafening roar of the rain hitting the high roof with countless thuds that echoed among the rafters in a great maelstrom of sound.

Kiwi’s stall door opened just like the barn. The screen inside had already flickered to life for what Jim just assumed was his favourite show. So, too, had the heaters switched on.

“Happy.”

A thick fog enveloped the slick road – at least from the parts Jim could see through his high-beams. Not that he was worried. There was nothing he knew better than the roads.

Still drizzling. Jim had forgotten the last time it was a clear night. Maybe a couple of months ago?

Veering left through sharp curve, little jets of water shot out from behind the Toyota. He remembered the girl who thought driving on a first date was weird. He never saw her again.

The fog appeared to be thickening. Then again, the Coast Range was almost always shrouded in the stuff. Wasn’t that why the movie studios were always filming here? Or at least used to. That movies weren’t shot on the Coast anymore was a frequent topic of conversation at Mo’s.

Wipers emitting a rubbery screeching sound with each rapid movement across the windshield, Jim fiddled with the radio. That was another testament to the Toyota’s ancientness: no voice command capability. At least the frequencies still went straight to the earbuds.

His hand was already down there, so Jim flipped on the heat. That was better. Mo’s would…

The shadow appeared too quickly. A sudden lurch and sound like thunder as the world exploded. Then, blackness.

The trial was quick. As soon as it was over, Jim was led out of the courtroom to a small room that resembled a doctor’s office, painted bright and with a medical chair in the centre and a nearly floor-to-ceiling window at the far end. He thought of nothing as he was sat down in the chair and had antiseptic rubbed in the crook of his arm before he was hooked to an IV. It only stung a little.

He stared out the window at the gently rolling waves of the Pacific, wincing as warm liquid began flowing.

Jim Mead was a simple man.

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