She was chopping carrots when the call came through on Portal.
Portal was part of the PURL software she’d had installed the previous fall. It was port-URL software, and the name was creepy. Skype was an okay name, even fun, and V-booth wasn’t bad, just obvious. But Portal – that had reminded her of something that led you to a different time, or place. Or let something step through from another world, and into yours. Thing was, Portal had problems, and cut out a lot, and didn’t work half of the time.
She stopped chopping and walked out of the kitchen, leaving a pot of water coming to boil on the stove.
In the next room, the PC sat on the desk. Even if the PC was off, Portal kept running. She plucked a remote handset from its cradle and said, “Hello?” without bothering to check the caller ID.
“This is Tom Wolfe with Recovery Ident.”
She quickly glanced into the kitchen, a knee-jerk reaction, and looked at her waste management system. The compactor was working, the disposal had been fixed, and all the returnables and recyclables sat in their containers. She said, “Yes?”
“We’ve found two plastic bottles, soda bottles, on Community Lane. The purchase code identifies them as Ensidro.”
She stood still, holding the phone to her ear with one hand, realizing she still held the knife in the other. She looked at the front door, there in the small room with her. Then she closed her eyes.
“Okay…” she said.
“Mrs. Ensidro,” Wolfe continued, “I have here that this is your third recovery ident.”
She sighed, and a little current of fear went through her. To hell with that man, she thought. The one they all called “Mr. Clean.” In office for a year now, the economy stable, the war over, all attention had turned at last to the Green Planet. Mr. Clean’s administration had gone whole hog over the Waste Management and Retrieval Plan.
It didn’t even have a catchy acronym, she thought. Like the presidency itself, since Clean had stepped into office people had been calling it the POUSA, or “office of the pussy.” Clean was slim, even skinny, with feminine hands and a wry grin. If he was the face of the Green Movement, she often thought, then she hated the Green Movement.
“Okay,” she said again, trying to remember the Plan details. “What does that mean?” She smirked, alone in the house.
“As you know, Mrs. Ensidro, before President Battaglia’s Waste Management and Retrieval Plan, most U.S. citizens had little to no idea about the ramifications of their waste production. Since the administration has taken measures to contain, minimize, and retrieve waste, we have slowly begun to turn around the grim fate of the planet.”
She closed her eyes again. Wolfe sounded like he was reading from a pamphlet. Or, more likely, he’d memorized it. The big proponents were Green Bible thumpers. They were liberals, they were conservatives. Battaglia – Mr. Clean – had found a way to keep almost everyone happy. Big Corporations had been placated with unprecedented liberties. It had begun with corporate voting power, and continued with enormous tax breaks for participating companies. It was the law, but, as ever, there were huge incentives for keeping with the law for those who could easily afford to break it. Everybody else…well, there was nothing new under the sun. If you couldn’t afford to break the law, you were out of luck.
She thought of her own copy of the Green Bible, probably in one of the bottom desk drawers in the den, and she listened to Wolfe.
“We are seeing immense improvements in landfill reduction, and in the pollution of our lakes and rivers. But in order to keep this positive trend going, Mrs. Ensidro, we have to take all violations seriously.”
“Jesus, it’s two plastic bottles,” she said. She couldn’t help herself.
“We have to take all violations seriously, Mrs. Ensidro,” Wolfe repeated. “It’s the aggregate effect, you understand. Two bottles for you, two bottles for the next household; it adds up. You-”
“They’re probably my son’s,” she said. “You know, he’s a skateboarder. He’s a teenager. He was probably out with his friends and set the bottles down and they forgot they were there. Why are they still making plastic bottles, anyway? Isn’t that a huge oversight? Why not go after the soda and drink companies? Get them to deliver kegs, or something. I’ve got several stainless steel containers right-”
“-in my kitchen. It just doesn’t make any sense.” She was getting angry. She gripped the knife. “I can’t be responsible for everything my family does. I’ve got two kids, a boy and a girl. I’ve got a husband. The stores, they all still sell bottled drinks. The aluminum is gone, yippy yay. But the bottles remain. Because it’s big money, right? Bottle manufacturers, and the chemicals they coat the plastic with. Haven’t there been huge recalls? Isn’t bottled water the scourge of the 21st Century?”
“Mrs. Ensidro,” said Wolfe, with irritating calmness, “I understand all of that. These things will work out in time. For now, it is a violation of the-”
“A violation. A violation. You make me sound like some sort of criminal…”
“Well, it is a criminal offense, Mrs. Ensidro.”
“What? A misdemeanor? A felony? You going to take me to jail? I’m making dinner for chrissakes, for my family.”
“Mrs. Ensidro, please calm down. Compliance officers have been dispatched to your home to…”
She lost the last part of what Wolfe was saying as her heart started to race. She remembered that – compliance officers. There had been an uproar in the beginning of the Plan about how it would overtax the local police departments, and the State was not going willing play ball, either. Battaglia, with his lissome hands and lopsided grin, had said he’d already created a special group who would handle enforcement. It was a faction of the military created just for the Plan. With no war, he’d had plenty of bodies to put in place. Serious bodies, too, real soldiers, she’d read, and not the type to just phone in the job, but some of whom had been in Afghanistan, who had cleared houses and spent days avoiding RPGs.
“I’m preparing dinner,” was all she could say. She stared into the kitchen.
A second or two passed. She said into the Portal phone, “Hello?”
Nothing. She hadn’t just missed what Wolfe was saying due to her own addled mind – the connection had been lost.
“Goddammit,” she said, and slammed the phone back down in its cradle.
There was a knock at the door.
“Mrs. Ensidro?” A muffled voice. The door was just there, next to the desk and the PC. Another knock. “Mrs. Ensidro, Waste Management and Retrieval Compliance Officers. Please open up.”
She started to back away. Behind her, the pot of water on the stove was coming to boil, and the air above it was filling with steam.
She was making dinner for God’s sake. How could this be happening? What were they going to do – issue her a ticket? She didn’t think so. Mr. Clean was nuts. Everybody knew it. With his light colored suits and his girly hands and that fucking little grin on his face. Things had gone wrong – really wrong – in the country since the war had ended and the economy recovered. There was too much time for things. Too much idle time.
They would take her to jail. Johnny would come home with his skateboard to find the home empty. Missy, off to college, would get a phone call that Mommy had gone up river. Her husband would finish the days work and find no wife keeping house.
She heard a muffled voice say, “Okay.”
She stopped backing up.
A second later, the door crashed open. Three men in suits barged into the room, two of them holding onto a small, black bullram. Their heads were swiveling as they looked for her. It didn’t take long to see where she was, and the one not holding the bullram came at her.
She thrust the knife out, squinching her eyes shut. She felt it make contact with something, and there was a horrible moment when she felt it sink in to something.
A voice cried out, and second later there was a firm crack along the side of her head, and Mrs. Ensidro went down to the kitchen floor.
They sat in a common room, a TV playing in one corner.
There was a report about the Waste Management and Retrieval Plan. A pretty newscaster was talking about the continued improvements of landscape and water systems thanks to the Plan.
A fellow inmate in orange fatigues came over to where Mrs. Ensidro sat at a table, alone. The inmate, Carla, flopped a book down in front of Ensidro.
She looked down and saw what it was. The Green Bible.
Carla cackled and moved away. “Don’t stick me, lady,” she said.