chapter 88: Hugh talks to Ewoma

== 2064, Evergreen Court Apartments, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Hugh looked at the empty iced coffee cup and crumpled donut bag on the kitchen table and felt a wave of disgust. Skipping a real breakfast and working on the story with Louisa had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now not only was he jittery and on edge but he felt the familiar self-loathing. He took the trash and sorted it in the recycling bins, then thought a moment before pushing it further down, under other materials.

Maybe some real food instead of this sugary crap would help. “Louisa, I’m thinking about grabbing an early lunch – you want in?”

Louisa shook her head silently, intent on the displays in front of her. So. With Selena and Allyson off doing something together, it was just him. Hugh shrugged and grabbed his jacket and then – after brief consideration – a hat. He pulled the hat down low before stepping out of the apartment – Louisa might be right about the rent-a-thugs.

The nearest jitney stop was a block walk. Hugh decided to walk it instead of calling in for a pickup – it would be good for him and might burn off some of the sour lethargy. He looked at the apartments and storefronts as he walked. To say that Aristillus was an urban design failure was an understatement – there was NO design. No regulation, no historic districts, no new urbanism. Nothing. The walls of the tunnels had buildings in every style and no style at all thrown up next to each other. The advertising – both meat-space billboards and in the data tags – was gaudy an unchecked. At least outside of some of the richer residential neighborhoods. There were no libraries, no museums – nothing. Hugh reached the jitney stop saw that he had a four minute wait.

The two restaurants right next to the jitney stop were a good example of the lack of regulation. The coffee shop was set back from the sidewalk and had concrete chess and Go tables out front. And then, right next to it, the sushi place extended five meters further out, ending up right at the sidewalk, and had an entirely different design. Who put a sushi place next to a coffee place? It made no sense. And aesthetically, there was no thematic unity, no design to tie it all together.

That said, it was pretty cool to have June Bug Coffee right down the block from their apartment, and more than once they’d all decided, after a few hours of sitting and drinking coffee, to grab an early dinner at Edo Sushi next door.

A Kasmir jitney pulled up and six passengers got off before the vehicle accelerated away. Four walked away but two nodded to Hugh and settled in to wait for the same Three Apples jitney he was waiting.

Hugh turned his attention back to the June Bug and Edo and shook his head. A better design would have more a lot different – unified signage, some thought to color scheme, a good plan as to what businesses fit together well, access to a well-planned light rail system –

The two other passengers started moving. Hugh turned and saw that the Three Apples jitney had arrived and he turned and got on, swiping his Lunar Escrow and Trade debit card. A moment later the jitney accelerated away from the curb and Hugh reached for one of the grab bars.

He looked out the window as Evergreen Apartments, June Bug, Edo, and all the other neighborhood fixtures disappeared behind him. Actually, come to think of it, the Triangle district where they rented an apartment was pretty decent. It was pure dumb luck, given the lack of oversight, but it was a cool place to live.

Not as cool as the Conveyor Belt district, of course. That’s where HE had wanted to get an apartment. It was just two blocks long by three wide, but it had two nightclubs – with a third and a fourth opening shortly – jam spaces that the local bands performed in, and even a small gallery. VERY hip. Hugh grimaced and looked down at the floor of the jitney as he remembered Louisa’s response to his idea – she’d said that he had “pathetically fallen for the seductive bourgeoisie enticements of a separatist classist regime”. He flushed a little thinking about it.

Hugh tried to put Louisa’s insult out of his mind. Lunch. Lunch would be good. He’d found Benue River, a Nigerian place, through the Cowen wiki, and over the past few weeks it had become one of his new favorites.

Four minutes later he signaled for a stop then hopped off at the restaurant. When he stepped onto the sidewalk he looked at the storefront he was confused for a moment, then realized that the restaurant must have had expanded since he’d last been here.

Hugh walked past the old front door to the new one. With so much construction going on, new people arriving, and new business starting, it was kind of hard to keep track of what was changing in the colony. It was all sort of exciting, really. Of course all that excitement came at a price. With no Burea of Industrial Plannning and no Construction Jobs Preservation Act everyone was free to use robot-assisted labor. Hugh shook his head. It was so simple, and yet these expats were so dense they couldn’t see the truth right in front of their noses: automation meant less employment, which meant lower construction prices, which meant a wasteful amount of construction. Things changed in Aristillus, all the time, for no reason.

Still, he admitted, it WAS sort of exciting.

Hugh pushed through the glass front door. Inside he saw that the stainless steel counter had been extended and moved a few meters, but one thing hadn’t changed: Ewoma was still behind the counter. Louisa had taken a dislike to her, and to the whole restaurant, but Hugh liked her – she was a cute and enthusiastic kid with a huge smile. She should be in school, and not working here, but that was her parent’s fault, not Ewoma’s, so he was always nice to her.

He walked up to the counter. “Hey, Ewoma”.

Ewoma looked at him oddly for a moment, then gave him a smile. Not as enthusiastic as usual, but it was there. She must be having a bad day, he realized, and decided that he’d be extra nice to her.

“What’s new?”

“Well, I saw on the net that you and your friends released a new video. And also that the Earth governments destroyed Gamma’s sattelites again.”

Hugh shifted uncomfortably. “Uh … I meant, What’ve you been up to?”

“We just finished the expansion – I helped lay out the new seating area, and the new catering kitchen.”

Hugh nodded. “It looks good – I like the colors.”

Ewoma smiled curtly. “I picked them. Also, I did some of the tile at the transition. The robots can’t do that yet, because the sub-floor is uneven. You can see it over there.” She pointed.

Hugh looked. “Tile laying? You told me you want to run a business some day – shouldn’t you be studying economics and planning and stuff? You don’t need to get your hands dirty with grunt work.”

Ewoma’s smile faded another notch. “Well, I had fun doing it. I got to work with my dad.” She fixed him with her eyes. “So, what do you want for lunch?”

Jeez. She was in a mood. “Uh – I’ll have fried plantains and the beef-and-spinach stew.”

“We’re out of the stew, but Yinka is making some right now – do you want to wait for a minute?”

“Sure. I probably shouldn’t even be eating the beef, though.”

Ewoma failed to ask the question, so Hugh prompted her. “You know…for the obvious reasons…”

Ewoma sighed. “Why’s that?”

“Sustainability – did you know that it takes sixteen kilos of grain to raise just one kilo of meat? If there’s a quarter of a kilo of beef in the stew, then that could have been enough to feed sixteen people on grain.”

“If you say so – but if there’s enough beef stew to go around, what’s the problem?”

Hugh smiled sadly. Ewoma was homeschooled and she was ignorant of everything she should be learning in Ecology class. It was an opportunity for him to do his good deed for the day, though. “Well, IS there enough meat to go around? Not everyone would say yes. You have to look at the bigger picture.” He paused thoughtfully. “You know, you should consider carrying some vegetarian or vegan stews. More sustainable.”

Ewoma’s smile was almost entirely gone. “We do offer vegetarian stews.” She paused. “You chose the beef.”

Hugh tried to formulate a response, but before he had one Ewoma grabbed a towel and stepped away from the counter, pushing past the big quiet guy who was always manning the fryer and heading to the far end of the counter to buff a refrigerator door.

Hugh came up with a response and followed her. “Hey, Ewoma, wait a second.” She looked over at him. “Here’s the point – there’s only so much land you can grow food on. I’m just saying that maybe we – all of us, as a CULTURE – should think through the moral aspects of how we allocate that land. Maybe less meat and more vegetables are the right way to divide the pie? I mean, I’m not blaming you.” He paused. “And I’m not blaming me either.” He pointed to his tray. “It’s an emergent phenomena – capitalism, the market economy, whatever – that’s pushing us to use up our scarce farm land this way.” Hugh paused, waiting for a response. Ewoma looked at him but said nothing.

Hugh coughed. “They’re not making more farm land, you know.”

Ewoma’s smile was entirely gone now. “They are, actually. We buy beef from Camanez Beef and Pork, and Hector’s expanded his farm tunnels twice already this year.”

Hugh paused. “Ah….oh.” He grinned lopsidedly. “Well, uh… on the bright side, at least I’m eating local, right?”

Ewoma smiled perfunctorily. A bell rang behind her and she turned to the kitchen pass through where a bowl of beef stew had come up. She took the bowl, turned, and put it on Hugh’s tray before turning away again.

Damn it. Damn it.

Hugh picked up his tray and walked to the new section of the restaurant where he found a table facing away from the counter and pulled his hat down a little lower over his face. Then he took out his phone to text to Louisa, Allyson, and Selena. The mood out in street wasn’t all that warm – maybe they should start doing more take-out.

* * *

Ewoma walked into the storage area behind the kitchen, pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialed. “Hey, Mike, it’s Ewoma. From Benue River. The restaurant.”

“Uh huh…well, I’ve got a question. You know in your feed this morning you said there was a bounty for finding that Hugh guy and his friends? Was that serious or what it a joke?”

Ewoma stepped back to let one of the kitchen workers slide past her and grab a box of yams off a shelf. “Why? Because he’s in the restaurant right now.”

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2 Responses to chapter 88: Hugh talks to Ewoma

  1. Max Lybbert says:

    I’m looking forward to the books.

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