Copyright © 2014 Toby Bain
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, without permission from the author.
1 – TELUCAN SMALL PRINT
Simon Moore took another long incredulous look at the letter from the Telucan Department of Work. Sniffing back tears of frustration, he crumpled it into a tight ball and lobbed it towards the waste basket. It missed, rebounding onto the laminated floor of his small apartment.
‘What a great start to twenty-two eighteen,’ he groaned, slumping into the sofa. He cast a hand over its cushioned armrest and fished for a half-empty bottle of Swarma Juice. Several comforting gulps later he fell into an intoxicating slumber.
A few hours later Moore awoke. The first thing he spotted was the screwed up letter lying in a bar of dusk light beside the waste bin. It had been delivered by a Telucan mail-bot – an emotionless tin can, who, after confirming Moore’s identity through its facial recognition software, flung the letter at him. Upon recalling its unpleasant contents, each word an indelible stain on his memory, that familiar flood of anger returned.
Moore had migrated to Teluca a month ago. Unlike Earth, his home planet, he’d found the place to his liking. On Earth he’d taken sloth to new heights. Some might say new depths. Simply put, Moore detested working. He had an aversion to waking up before midday and was the kind of person who would take an air-taxi to get to the other side of a busy road.
In his thirty years on Earth he’d managed to avoid doing a day’s labour, living off unemployment credits and artfully exploiting every loophole to actively engage in the one pursuit he had exuberance for: the art of doing nothing while sweetly intoxicated. However, a new policy had come into force on Earth, forcing all unemployed citizens into compulsory labour.
From that moment onwards planet Earth had become hostile territory. Time to move on.
Teluca, however, wasn’t his primary choice of destination. It wasn’t even on his radar until, while queuing at a south London off-licence, he’d overheard a Telucan tourist boasting that the work-less ones on his home planet were paid oodles of free credits.
‘Of course,’ the alien boasted, ‘we don’t have many takers. Unlike you humans we Telucans have no inclination toward slacking.’
That means extra credits for the rest of us, thought Moore, remembering he’d saved just enough to buy a one-way ticket to Teluca. The moment the spaceship touched down he took an air-taxi to the Telucan Department of Work. The suckers gave him an immediate award of two-hundred credits plus a fully-furnished apartment – complete with all the latest interface technology – located in the pleasant Southern Quadrant of the planet.
Four weeks later the catch in this sweet deal was revealed. The Telucan Department of Work did indeed pay oodles of credits, but only to born and bred Telucans. Aliens, as Moore was distastefully labelled in the formal letter, were subject to more stringent rules. According to the screwed up ball of paper on the floor, these rules were all clearly set-out in small-print on all Telucan Department of Work agreements. How unfortunate that Moore considered reading small print to be work in all but name. The letter stated that as Mr Moore had “failed to find work within 28 days of signing the agreement” the department were obliged to find him what they called “suitable forced labour”.
In truth, rather than trawl Teluca looking for work, much of his time was spent cruising the Southern Quadrant for a liquor dealer. He found out two things on his travels: most Telucans spoke English and Swarma Juice – the clear sugary liquid extracted from the Swarma plant – was the strongest legal beverage on the planet. Like an overprotective parent, the dealer warned him that the 85% alcohol drink was rumoured to induce psychedelic hallucinations in non-Telucans. He also warned him that the drink was expensive. He wasn’t wrong. Moore consumed up to seven bottles a week, and at twenty-five credits each, his money and his Swarma Juice were running on empty by the time the gormless mail-bot paid him a visit.
Moore retrieved the letter and smoothed it across the coffee table with a heavy sigh.
He’d been assigned to Teluca Mart. The department, as yet, was unknown. He’d know more after the interview and assessment, both scheduled to begin at 0900 hours – giving him just over twelve hours to prepare. Out of curiosity, he got up and scribed “Teluca Mart” into the screen of the holographic interface suspended on the wall.
The search engine immediately brought up the results for Teluca Mart. The high volume retailer was the largest employer on the planet. It sold everything from holographic pets and virtual reality machines to chocolate bars and pens. Aliens generally began employment in the warehouse, doing heavy lifting. The guidebook for prospective employees included a line that made Moore’s jaw drop: “if you’re hard-working and conscientious then you’ll love it here and we’ll love you.”
‘What a nightmare,’ Moore huffed. ‘And to think, Teluca wasn’t even my first choice. Not by a long chalk.’
His first choice was Gardenia. The small planet was widely accepted as the most habitable planet in the solar system. It was a lush paradise of beaches and forest vegetation, where three suns blazed down on the millions of species of flora and fauna for ten months of the thirteen-month calendar, giving it a consistently warm climate. He’d seen the place on TV, and a few of his mates had been there on holiday prior to the rainy season, when temperatures were somewhat cooler.
Best of all, Gardenia was a place where credits weren’t required. The island had acre upon acre of fruit trees that shed a variety of exotic cargo, and fresh seafood was swept onto the beach each day by the restless blue-green seas. But Gardenia was out of his price range back then, more so now.
Moore re-read the letter, scouring the contents for a get-out clause.
He found none.
As part of his agreement it was forbidden for him to turn down forced labour, as refusal to work meant he’d forfeit his apartment. Then there was the killer bottom line. He’d read it endless times but found his eyes migrating to it again, processing the implications. ‘“Be advised,’” he read with mock enthusiasm, ‘”that in the unfortunate event you break the contract this will be seen as a refusal to obey Telucan law, resulting in a criminal record and sixteen months extreme labour in the outer Asteroid Belt and/or a return to your home planet and a ban from visiting Teluca”’.
Moore shuddered. The words “criminal record” and “extreme labour” triggered punishing images of hardship. Damn Telucans! Because of their slyness and diligence Simon Moore now found himself in a situation no self-respecting slacker could extricate from: he had to go to work.
Still, the news wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t scheduled to start right away. The first few days were usually reserved for training, aka prime slacker time which could be extended through a series of tactics including the classic: I didn’t quite understand that. Please show me again, and again, and again. These delays would allow him time to do some research and find a suitable loophole so he could return to doing what he did best: sitting around his apartment drinking.
The thought of doing any more research that evening brought a powerful lethargy to his body. He snatched the bottle of alcohol from the floor and swigged the remaining dregs. Moore wanted to be in the right state of mind for his first ever day of work.
THIS STORY IS AVAILABLE IN ITS ENTIRETY IN THE KINDLE E-BOOK ‘OUT OF THIS WORLD’.