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Hearing Aids, Drones, and UNSOZIAL

The year is 2039. Facebook and Twitter have been taken over by the UN to preserve global peace and rebranded as UNSOZIAL. The acronym was unfortunate but perhaps sadly accurate.

The following is a serialized novel set in the year 2039. Wayne, the protagonist, is comfortably warehoused in a state-owned late-stage senior facility where his aged but fertile synapses work out all the changes his nearly 100 years have witnessed.

In Part Four, we join Wayne at his ‘Level-9’ old folks home. Being a curious old coot, Wayne is curious why a drone with four young folk has to come to visit and why.


2039: Part Four

All his life, Wayne has been resourceful, mentally agile, and self-sufficient like the prickly Saguaro cactus. It too always found just enough water in the parched desert of Arizona and Northwest Mexico. It could be 118 degrees Fahrenheit and there the saguaro would stand all straight and green and coolly wave to passing motorists sometimes with multiple arms. That would make Wayne smile not, that he needed the help. He could relate to the friendly self-sufficient character of a saguaro. Many were hundreds, if not a thousand years old or more.

Wayne’s sunny disposition would piss some off. Some of his neighbors saw life as serious and only hard. When they observed the saguaro up close, they saw the nasty little needle-like prickles designed to draw blood if attacked. Their natural disposition put a frown on their face. It too stretched from their eyes to their mouth. Some of them lived to be old despite thinking they were going to die young.

It was only natural that some commotion at the front entrance would tweak the attention of Wayne. Curious Wayne can be found at every commotion. He lives in a concrete three-story Level 9 senior housing project with a hundred or so well-seasoned souls. Another building, an exact copy, is being constructed immediately behind and is a source of great entertainment for Wayne.

In his productive years, Wayne was a builder. An old-fashioned home builder who used hammers and nails and physical brawn. 'Deckster' is what everyone on his construction crew called him. Seventy years ago, a twenty-eight-year-old Deckster was always up at 4:30 am. He'd bound out of bed, slide across the carpet scratchin his butt cheeks, find the shower handle, and never wait long enough for the water to warm up. He'd wake up when the cold water hit his face.

No breakfast except on Fridays when he'd meet up with his boys at Village Inn. He'd be the first to roll up with his old Chevy half-ton having just warmed up. The 'Folgers' coffee, weak but served by the gallon, would warm him and the crew up. Thank God the job site had a porta-potty.

Wayne marvels at how things are built now. He retired in 2009, and now thirty years later, it's a 3d printed world. Gone are the nails and the two by sixes and the loud saws and the endless stream of cursing in both English and Spanish. All the dust and grit and organized chaos have been replaced by a large robotic concrete '3d printer' neatly laying down row after row of thick concrete rolls until the walls are three stories tall. The 'printer' is an engineering marvel of hydraulics and computers and arms that swing and conveyors and springs and wires and nozzles and a special concoction of a hybrid concrete that oozes from a spout like thick cream cheese. Wayne is mesmerized by seeing walls go up without seeing a single man working. Occasionally he'd observe an engineer scramble like Spiderman over the equipment when something had gone wrong. Mostly men engineers, he noted. But he did spot an athletic-looking woman climb over the printing beast on all fours once. 'Shapely,' he thought still capable of admiring the female form.

But this morning, Wayne's attention is drawn to the front of his ‘Level 9’ building. A large four-bladed drone has just landed kicking up some sand and leaves before four young adults emerge each dressed in black. With the drone completely shut down, a small satellite dish automatically emerges from the top and scans the skies before locking into a position nearly straight up. "Ahh, a mother ship," Wayne muses to himself. "It's communicating with a distant satellite." Wayne spends a few minutes thinking of another change he's witnessed in his long life. Everything is connected to everything wirelessly. Even he is. The pacemaker likely rusting in his chest was installed nearly twenty years ago. It's communicating with some device that will notify someone if his heart skips a beat or quits completely. Or at least that is how it is supposed to work. Wayne doesn't think it has ever worked. There have been times, he's certain, that his heart did miss a beat. But there were no sirens or flashing lights or nurses that ever showed up.

Several years ago, while at the clinic for a routine exam, a nurse mumbled something about inserting an identification device just under his skin. He protested, but she had already made the small incision and had just turned up the sedation. The clinics had all sorts of ways to sedate a patient. It made patient care more efficient and safer, they claimed. Back home, Wayne researched these devices and found out that it was now mandatory for every citizen to have an embedded chip inserted into the body. Wayne wasn't a fan. He was 'old-school' when it came to things like his personal privacy. He saw no reason to be tagged like a wild animal so others might follow his every move.

With his walker setting the course and a serious leg gimp acting like a governor, curious Wayne makes his way toward the drone. The gimp is a result of Wayne sticking a sixteen-penny nail into his knee while nailing down a roof many years ago. The pneumatic nailer stuck it all the way through shattering everything. Took a boom truck to get him down. His perpetual smile took on a severe grimace as he swung from side to side with blood dripping from the bottom of the nail. Thank God for anesthesia. Wayne has no recollection of the nail coming out. It surprised him to know that it was taken out with sterile stainless steel nail pulling pliers. "Hell, I could have done that himself," he mumbles to the surgeon when told of his recovery prognosis.

If anything, curious Wayne wanted to get a better look at this sleek new 'twirly' bird. He's seen many of them but Wayne loves anything that flies except mosquitos. He used to pilot small airplanes himself. It might also let him know why these folks are visiting. He stops just as the four young folks are about to pass him headed towards the front entrance of his building.

"Hey folks, where you all from?" he asks as they briskly walk towards the entrance. Only one of the four turns around and slows to answer.

"We're from U.N.S.O.Z.I.A.L," he spells it out as if it's an acronym. "We're here to record an interview with a resident."

"I'm sorry, but you're from where?" Wayne asks again. He had forgotten to turn his hearing aids up this morning. "Hearing aid full volume," Wayne tries to whisper. His hearing aids are voice-activated. They start to squeal.

"I'm sorry?" The young man from UNSOZIAL asks a bit perplexed.

"Hearing aid down," commands Wayne to his hearing aids to get rid of the squeal.

Seriously confused and thinking he might be talking to someone not entirely there in a mental sense, the young man shrugs and begins to turn back to his group.

"Volume down, damn it," commands Wayne as he becomes more and more irritated with his hearing aids. The young man turns around to look at Wayne again. Wayne sees the young man's lips move and can tell that he's asking a question but can't hear him. "Volume up you stupid bastard," Wayne yells at his hearing aids not realizing yelling doesn't matter to hearing aids but will be heard by all nearby. Now all four of the UNSOZIAL team turn around to look at Wayne as if he were a complete lunatic. Did he just call their associate a 'bastard?' It possibly fits their stereotypes of what an ole fart is. Finally, the young man says, "Buzz-of you old buzzard," and rejoins the others. Wayne hears that perfectly.

Angry with his voice-controlled hearing aids, Wayne watches the four walk to the front entrance each toting black equipment bags. His smile returns when he considers the other 'lunatics' they'll encounter once inside.

Just then, Wayne notices a UNSOZIAL black van roll up and park. If anything, Wayne is a persistent curious man who once again has a smile on his face now that he's talked his hearing aids into hearing. "Excuse me sir, but I'm curious as to what UNSOZIAL is?"

"Oh, no problem. We're from the UN's social media agency, UNSOZIAL. We're the largest social media entity in the world. I'm sure you've heard of us, right?"

"I'm not sure. Are you the folks who took over Facebook?"

The young fella smirks and looks away. "In a way, yes. We took over those companies a few years back," he turns and quickly walks to catch up with his group. Wayne remembers the day the UN assumed control of nearly all the social media companies. The value of his stock portfolio took a big hit. The Facebook and Twitter stock he owned suddenly became nearly worthless.

Wayne continues his journey to where the drone is parked. It too is black and has an official UN insignia and in small white letters warns of consequences of tampering with a UN-owned vehicle. "One-hundred-thousand dollars if tampered with," Wayne mumbles to himself. "Interesting." That's exactly how much it costs if you destroy a Saguaro cactus without a permit.

The four-seat drone is parked on a circular pad created for just such a visitor. Around the pad are drab brown patches of desert stones with a large rock and flower beds in bloom with benches for the residents to enjoy on warm winter days. Large and very old Saguaro cactus litter the landscape as far as the eyes can see.

Saguaros are a valued and protected plant species in part because many are so old. The deserts of Arizona don't get much rain which is why most visitors come in the Winter. The Arizona winter is mild and mostly dry. Sometimes, families of the residents come to visit using privately-owned drones, but most still arrive the old-fashioned way; by automatic self-driving cars and vans. Wayne calls them Ticky’s.

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