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License to Ride - a Short Story
Maria stood beside her mother, growing more eager by the minute. A license to ride! To travel in a car with her friends and possibly drive herself! Freedom!
So she managed the six hour wait by endlessly chatted via voice box link to her friends with anticipation, prancing her legs like a thick ballerina. She was the first of her peers to pass all the simulations and electronic tests. All it took now was the physical exam. They were all living vicariously through her. No 3-D broadcasts, though. It wasn’t allowed, and jamming on those frequencies ensured it.
Her mother said nothing. Her mother never used the modern electronic communication devices, just an emergency beacon. Maria didn’t mind. She had little to say to her mother, and it freed up money in the budget for her own communication device.
Maria was about to make plans of where they’d go after she got her license to drive when she hit a dead zone. She dialed the group call number again four times in fourteen seconds. Her fingers were the most athletic part of her body, after all. Still dead.
Her mother touched her arm. Maria whipped around startled and almost knocked over the person in front of her. “What’d you do that for? You never do that!”
“We’re almost to the counter. The dead zone is deliberate. It protects everyone’s privacy.”
Maria felt a flash of annoyance at being disconnected. Then the anticipation returned. She’d get her picture taken and her eyes checked and all the other biometrics! And because they didn’t have a car, she would be assigned a public car key to drive! Walk up to an unused car, get in with the key, get billed miles to your account! As a student, she’d get it for free to and from school! And if she added in friends, she could debit in their miles for carpooling while taking everyone on errands, gaining social favors and the right to drive all over the place! Popularity was almost here!
“Maria, take the ear piece off. It could interfere with the scan.” Maria frowned at her mother, her round face looking more like a pouting toddler than a cute baby look. “If you want the license, dear, you have to.” She’d do anything for the license. Maria reached up and took the ear piece out. “Voice mike, too.” Maria had to feel around before finding it in a fold of her neck.
Her mother took the gadgets before stepping aside. “Where are you going?” Maria asked.
A different mechanical voice answered. “Step ahead.” There was no “please” like the principals at school. Maria reminded herself it was all for her license. She stepped ahead. Hand on scanner to verify identity? Just like school. The eye checker flipped down from the ceiling. Easy. Hearing check. Expected. Facial photo. Done. Full body scan started. What on Earth for? It swiveled all the way around her before flipping back into the ceiling.
“Body Mass Index rating 39.9. Per the government’s health living initiatives, a license to drive requires a Body Mass Index of 24 or lower. License to drive, denied.”
“You can’t do that! You can’t say I can’t drive because I’m … I’m …” the word was so hard to say, but her anger made her say it, “Fat!”
A hologram of a healthy, indiscriminately interracial and non-gendered person’s face appeared. “Socialized medicine places the burden of caring for the unhealthy on all of us.” The recording had a mild fritz, like it had been hacked and corrected too many times. “The government was found to be in violation of the Constitution when it attempted to mandate exercise.
Healthy living is encouraged by limiting food credits to healthy foods. This resulted in a rise in employment levels to allow individuals to buy their own food choices on the remaining free market. However, it is still the government’s right to deny permission to drive to those whose health requires that they walk.”
Maria wanted to hit the discombobulated hologram delivering the message. Maybe that’s why it was a hologram saying this, not a person. She waddled up to the hologram and stuck her face out as she remembered others doing when bullying her when she was little. It was the most aggressive thing she could think of doing, and she’d seen all the people who did it to her go to jail or for reprogramming. But this was a hologram, not a person. She couldn’t get in trouble for this. Could she? “You can’t discriminate on the basis of physical characteristics,” Maria declared.
“Non-discrimination is law. However, the public interest requirement of maximizing individual health is a greater good. It is good for the person as well as for society.”
“But I passed the tests! And I studied!”
“When your BMI is 24 or lower, you may reapply.”
“What do I do `til then?”
“Walk. It’s good for you and good for the Earth.” The hologram shut down. A mechanical voice signaled for the next person. Maria refused to budget. A wall opened and issued a bulldozer robot. It pushed her to the exiting area. Her mother stayed a brisk ten steps ahead. Maybe her mother didn’t want to seem like they were together.
The robot didn’t stop until they were past the security barricade. Then a crane arm with a magnet picked it up and took it back. Likely to make sure nobody followed it back in to breach security.
“Let’s go home,” her mother said. They walked the fifteen steps to the nearest public car parking space. The two seater she picked wouldn’t open. Her mother walked around to the other two seater available. It opened.
Maria started to walk around to the other car when its doors slammed shut. Maria’s mother walked up to a single seater and tested it. It opened. Maria managed to wedge in. It didn’t close on her; security protocols wouldn’t allow that. But it didn’t bring up the map to pick the destination. It didn’t even turn on. Maria’s mother signaled a dependency vehicle, the kind that took sick people to the hospice and lost kids to the social services compound. It opened for her mother. It closed when Maria approached.
“What does that mean?” Maria wailed. It was as if the cars didn’t like her at all.
“Oh, Maria. If you hadn’t been eating so much last night, you would’ve at least kept the right to ride! Now you can’t be a driver or even a passenger! Now you have to walk.”
“This is insane!” Maria wailed.
“No, it’s the law. I told you not to touch all those donuts and eat so much. Just a little less for a while and you’d have kept the right to at least ride with me!”
“But Mom -!”
“Don’t Mom me! I’ve had to manage my weight to 25.9 because of my age and health for years! Do you know how hard that is! But no, you don’t listen to me. You get to walk home.”
“But what if I can’t?”
“You’ll get picked up by curfew.”
“What happens then?” Maria asked, horrified at the thought. She hardly ever left the house. Curfew was one of those mythical things that only rare adults ever had to face.
“I don’t know. Social services complex, I guess. Healthy initiatives camp, maybe.”
“Oh, no, Buddha, Rama, Obama, no.” The curse words came out before she could stop it. “Not the healthy initiatives camps!”
“Then you better get walking. Maybe call a friend nearby to spend the night, if you can get there before curfew.”
Maria’s mother climbed into a single seater car. It closed smartly and drove away. Her mother didn’t look back. Maybe she didn’t care. Maybe she really thought Maria could walk far enough to make it to someone’s house for a sleepover and this was a good lesson.
She’d call all her friends. She was always good at that. She’d find a place to go. Maria then put her hand up to her ear, her hands dialing the patterns. The feel of her fingers on her ears was disconcerting. The devices. Her mother still had the devices. And there was no way to call her mother to get them back, since she had only an emergency beacon.
Maria sat down on ground to cry. If she was going to get sent to “healthy initiatives” for starvation and abuse, there was no point in taking one step more than she had to go today. It was the only form of rebellion she was capable of any more.
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