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The Markets of Moul
You can buy almost anything in the markets of Moul. Anything you can think of can be coded and assembled by intelligent nano-robots in a matter of minutes. Stores are little more than 3-D printers with AI brains. You type in your shopping list and wait for the bots to assemble it. Organic or inorganic, it doesn’t matter. You want a cucumber, you get a cucumber; you want a sporty new spacer? If you can afford it, the bots will make it for you.
You can get almost anything, but nobody said it was free.
There are a few things you cannot buy. If you want a bomb or a gun, sorry no can do. It’s all in the programming— no weapons of any kind. You can probably get a sword or a knife but nothing designed to harm a lot of people. You want poison gas or a bio-weapon, you’ll have to make it yourself.
That’s not to say that I’m in the market for anything like that. I’m just here to do my grocery shopping. I’m here for the basics—bread, milk, cheese, veggies and wine. Stuff like that. I make my rounds as usual. My mother taught me how to shop. Not all the stalls have the same programs and the bread from one stall is different than bread from another. Some bread we like better. You have to know which vendor has the stuff you like. It’s called shopping. It’s how it always was when markets were analogue and food was assembled by artisans and displayed on shelves. These days it is all just sterile booths with corporate banners. Nano-bots can assemble anything but there are a million ways to make cheese and no two taste alike.
I approach my favorite cheese maker and feed a few credits into the slot. The machine whirrs and the food screen pops up. I scroll down the list of cheeses and make my selection. My family likes a soft, crumbly goat-like cheese. They have feta on the menu. There are, of course, no longer any goats involved in the making of this cheese but the final product is a pretty close facsimile or so I’m told. I never tasted the real thing but grandmother did and she says it’s fine. I click on the feta button and the machine goes to work. a billion nano-bots begin synthesizing the molecules of calcium and whatever else make up the components of sheep’s milk. Don’t ask me about the subtleties of organic chemistry. I’m just a consumer like a billion others. Everyone needs to eat and this is the most efficient way to feed the multitudes. The machine whirrs and the bots deliver. A neatly packaged lump of cheese falls from the output slot. I put it in my bag and proceed to the next item on my list—bread.
We have tried a dozen different bread makers but still are not satisfied. We like a dense bread with a crispy crust. Whole grain but with a soft texture. None of the makers we have tried are quite right. Today i will try maker R/127. Our neighbor recommended it. I pull up the bread screen, slip in my coins and click on seeded whole grain. The machine whirrs and a few seconds later I am pleasantly surprised to see a warm, seedy bread arrive. It looks crusty and delicious, I reach in to take a taste of the heel but I had forgotten to ask for the bread to be sliced. No matter, if it’s good, we’ll manage.
Everything goes smoothly for the next several items on my list—wine, butter, eggs—but when I get to the last item, the vegetables, I run into a problem. Mother was very clear that I use vendor R/1227 for our vegetables so I seek it out. R/1227 is an antiquated machine, one of the market originals. Maybe it is because the machine and its recipes are old that it makes the carrots and salad greens that mother likes. I find the machine in a dark corner of the great market hall.
I type in my list and deposit my coins but the screen merely blinks and then freezes. I pound on the keyboard but it is obvious that the thing has crashed. Not only has the machine crashed it has swallowed my money. This is unacceptable. My family is not rich, we struggle for every credit and I am not about to simply shrug and walk away. I search for a help button but this vendor is an older model and does not have a call help button. I stand there fuming. What to do? The only alternative is to flag down one of the service robots who patrol the aisles of the cavernous market hall. These robots are not very sophisticated. Their main function is to keep the individual stalls supplied with raw materials, the chemicals the nano-bots use to make the goods customers like me buy.
I see a service bot a couple of rows away. It is unloading a sack of what looks like carbon into the back of one of the machines. I jump up and down, wave my arms and shout trying to attract its attention. The dumb machine ignores me. It finishes pouring in the black powder and turns left to go back to the warehouse for another load. It will pass within a few feet of my position. I need to stop it and get it to understand my problem. I move to stand in front of it. It is an ugly utilitarian contraption on treads, squat and ungainly. It stops short before running me over. It tries several times to get around me but I stay directly in its path. “Please move,” it finally says.
“I need help,” I respond.
“What is the problem?” it says in its parody of a human voice.
“The vegetable machine on aisle D number 226 has crashed. Can you summon a human to help me?”
“I have little contact with humans. I can sound a general alarm. Are you in any danger?”
“I am in danger of loosing 20 credits,” I sigh. I feel my eyes fill with tears and am ashamed to display such human weakness before a dumb machine. The service robot is not moved by my emotions. It stands there mutely searching it’s data base for a response. Finally asking, “Are you in any phys-ic-al danger? I cannot sound an alarm unless you are in phys-ic-al danger.” The way it said physical made me want to bash it with a rock.
“I am not in any physical danger. I simply need assistance. The vegetable machine has crashed after taking my money. Do you understand? Money?” After a few minutes of silence it is obvious that the service robot does not understand the problem. Finally, out of desperation, I say, “Okay, I am in physical danger.” Almost immediately an alarm goes off, lights flash and and half a dozen blue clad security robots rush in my direction, weapons drawn. They encircle me searching for my attacker. All they find is the bewildered service bot whom they drag away unceremoniously. I try to explain that the service bot was only trying to help but their protocol does not allow for complex explanations. I am told the penalty for false alarms, which is severe, so I stop protesting the service bot’s innocence. My groceries are confiscated as evidence and I am led away.
I am escorted to a security office where I am cross examined by a security robot in red. He does not want to hear about anything except the attack. I am forced to fabricate a story about feeling threatened by the service robot and screaming when it reached for my shopping bag. This seemed to satisfy the robot inspector who assured me the culprit would be disassembled and it’s parts recycled. The market was sorry for the inconvenience. My groceries would be returned and, in addition, I would be given a gift certificate worth 60 credits which was considerably more than I lost in the vegetable machine.
All in all it was a successful day at the market. My parents were thrilled with the extra credits. I was happy to have avoided being penalized for making a false alarm. I felt sorry for the poor service robot who I falsely accused but then again it was malfunctioning machines that caused the problem in the first place. Maybe not that particular machine but they are all connected aren’t they? So I guess you could say that you can get anything you want in the markets of Moul, even justice.
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