Despite being plugged-in overnight the tuk has only recharged to 70%. The battery pod must be going, and the electric motor has seen better days. This may be the new age of durability, improvisation, making do and mending with the implementation of planned obsolescence now an offence punishable by Rehabilitation; but the simple things in life such as travelling can still be a source of unexpected frustration. I ask my scroll's autosist to look-up the price and availability of a replacement pod as well as searching for the cheapest garage to fit it. Then leaving that to stew I set off for a second day on the beat with Nate.
Today we'd be able to do what we'd wanted to do yesterday, before Dance Together! overran. Our first stop is to report on the opening of a new Korean restaurant and community centre. Actually this is a paid-for by the restaurant, but we can justify it as reflecting the changing demographic of the Fed since the resumption and rapid conclusion of the Korean War. Coming as it did with the Gulf already in flames and much of Israel contaminated we really thought, as our great-grandparents did during the Cuban missile crisis, that this could be The End. It seems bizarre that events so recent and horrific can become anesthetised so quickly: Ever-present yet dulled and pushed to the back of the mind.
I sit down with Mr Park and his family. He's been lucky; both in escaping from the peninsula and in doing reasonably well in the Fed, along with thousands of others who thought it worth travelling so far and undergoing a three-month quarantine at their own expense once they arrived here to begin a new life. Many of them have lent their expertise to the renascent industrial and electronics sectors while others, especially locally, found their skills in demand in restarting the local marine industries. There's so much more I could ask him, but the idea is to keep it positive and upbeat.
The Koreans are a proud, resilient, dignified people who have put up with far more than we can possibly imagine. Give it time and there may yet be some astonishing recollections of those extraordinary moments in history; yet I sense it will be a long time before the collective grief of the diaspora has healed enough to be able to express in words the obvious sadness in their eyes. The immediate numbing shock may have passed, but the wounds deeper within will take longer to mend.
Mouths still stinging from some spicy kimchi, we whirr along the road to our next assignment. At both bike and tuk repairers I stop at along the way I'm told there's a shortage of battery pods. These days I'm not surprised to hear it; there's usually a shortage of something or other. It's the times of course. Sorry, there's no news on when we might get some more in... It really pisses me off to think there is probably a warehouse full of them in India or even Brum, where they assemble the imported tuk kits, but not here and now when they are needed. I'm offered a special deal on a re-gel or an exchange pod but I'm not that desperate yet.
Then we go on to a background piece on the decline of the eastern European community, with the young heading to the polar regions or the new boom towns of the Wild East of Siberia. Where there's methane hydrate to be extracted there's money, and there are few reasons why they'd want to stay here.
Puttering back to Media House I pass a group of people manually cleaning the gutters and sweeping the road; though the road appears to be clean enough anyway. They are Credders; trying to garner themselves the Community Credits that are required to be spent, along with money, to obtain many 'luxury' goods and services.
ComCred was the brainchild of one of the many demented right-wing think tanks which existed before the Crises. With no visible means of funding they existed to act as a sock puppet and sounding board for the more extreme elements in government to express their wilder fantasies, yet not to have their lunatic ideas attributed to them.
The original idea was to side step the human rights laws blocking the policies which in effect turned unemployed people into state property; to be conscripted on to degrading workfare schemes or directed to move at the whim of the authorities to areas where it was deemed they may have a better chance of finding suitable work matching their skills. Several times legal challenges to the measures using the Human Rights Act, or the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010 were successful; only to have the government determined to enforce its bullying will sneak retrospective legislation through parliament in late-night sittings to legitimise the measures.
In due course their furtive attempts to undermine the fundamental human right not to be starved into a form of community bondage were ruled unlawful by the European Court. Defiantly the government refused to concede defeat, but tried again to stretch the law to suit its ends and exhaust the resources of those attempting to resist it. While they were at it they tried to increase the term of the thralldoms from weeks and months to years: Someone who was unemployed and innocent of any offence faced doing more unpaid punishment work than a convicted minor criminal who had been given a community sentence. Not only that, but in addition to having to do a full week's work they had to prove they had been conducting full and active jobseeking activities as well or risk having their benefit cut.
After only a few short months of relative freedom in which to recover the unfortunate claimants faced going through the whole process again; despite the fact the schemes actually proved to be counterproductive as they destroyed employment rather than created it. Not that the government would allow facts to get in the way of ideology; it continued this perverse game of legal ping-pong regardless of all the more pressing issues demanding its attention, such was the obsession of the ruling class in enforcing their will upon those they mistakenly deemed to be idle from choice.
By the time those measures were incontrovertibly struck down for the final time by the European Court of Human Rights and remained unlawful as part of the agreed distancing of the Federation from the EU, unemployment and poverty had reached unimaginable proportions. Those who had previously been so vociferously supportive of the government's drive to conscript others into forced labour were themselves the most surprisedly indignant when; as part of the massive post-Crises state organised reconstruction of the economy and society in general, the Transitional Council made the embryonic 'voluntary' ComCred scheme universally applicable to the entire population whether they were unemployed or working. By then most people were in some way directly or indirectly reliant on the state for some or all of their income so there was little room for evading the obligation.
ComCred is 'earned' by performing various types of unpaid community work, and more often these days the sort of work which used to be paid, and is essential for the provision of state services. The definition of 'community' has been stretched over time so the private sector can benefit from this source of state-supplied labour. Beyond the basic cred grant, any supplemental credit needed must be worked for or bought. ComCred is unequally distributed with those on higher incomes granted a higher basic credit allowance. Those wealthy enough can buy off this government ransom on their bodies and time, but the poor, on whom the system weighs most heavily, have no option but to comply and fulfil their duties. Like money ComCred can also be eroded by inflation, with each budget bringing a readjustment to how much cred is required for a purchase. Each year one must strive that little bit harder to merit life's little luxuries or permitted sins. ComCred is as it was designed to be; a very regressive form of covert serfdom and rationing.
Further along the road I realise why the street is looking so clean. There, busy brushing away and poking rods into drains, is another squad of credders getting their fluorescent overalls grimy! This is going to make my day, and James'; if there is one thing that really annoys us both it's the utter incompetence of the Consensus, and this sort of thing being just the latest and most blatant example: He loves to collect irrefutable video evidence of it.
"Nate, get ready to 'cord this!"
I turn off at the next side road, and using my local knowledge pick a route running parallel to the main road, and ahead of the cred gang. Then, acting like just another tuk I turn back on to the road facing them.
"Roll it Nate!"
Unnoticed we cruise past the first credders at the 30kph limit, then 400 metres further down the road within sight of the first, Nate frames the second group.
It feels good to get some juicy copy in the bag, but we won't use it just yet. If we did make an issue of it now the local Community Credit Administration would just shrug it off, claiming it wasn't a wasted duplication of effort but a two-stage cleaning process. Instead we'll add it to the archive of similar stories, just waiting for James to decide the moment is right to launch his political campaign. There's supposed to be an election scheduled for next May. Perhaps they may even hold it this time rather than ask the Regent to invoke another term extension clause.