DAWN Kalenda was taking her 15-year-old daughter Zizzella to school in her electric car. As she exited the garage she heard the beep of her pay-per-km meter start recording. It didn’t matter very much because the first few kilometres were not that expensive; it was only when drivers went more than ten kilometres that the cost per km ramped up. Thus long-distance travel was prohibitively costly except for the wealthy, who of course were insulated from such privations of the masses. (It had been kilometres instead of miles for many years now in Britain following an edict from the Brussels dictatorship, Britain having rejoined the EU in 2026 when Sir Keir Starmer was prime minister.)
Immediately after turning into the road Dawn found she was blocked by four police cars, blue lights flashing and headlamps blazing, outside her neighbour’s house. She wondered why and then she realised: the neighbour had posted a comment on Twitter (the stupid rename X hadn’t lasted long) saying that a man had shouted at her. The hate crime police had swooped like vultures. Eventually a policeperson (daren’t call them policemen or policewomen these days: misgendering had been a criminal offence for many years) in an orange hi-vis jacket waved her through.
Zizzella had been born a boy, of course, but in the early 2020s the 0.1 per cent of the population who were transgender had, through social media, created a so-called mass movement which the government, ever sensitive to and willing to base policy on vociferous minorities while ignoring the commonsense bulk of the population, had enabled to become a major force in the nation. So she had had puberty blockers, genital conversion and breast implants. The side effects of the ongoing medication were terrible mood swings and poor sleep patterns which the doctors said were part of the process and would eventually clear up.
Like many of her peers, Zizzy couldn’t read, write or do simple arithmetic, but it didn’t matter because she received constant audible notifications and alerts on her Bezosphone, which enabled her to watch pictorial content and talk to friends ad nauseam.
As they approached the school gate Dawn wondered what the two lessons would be today. Yesterday it had been how to recognise a non-binary person by sight and how to catch insects for your next meal. Zizzy clutched her tin lunch box containing cockroach sandwiches in gluten-free bread. Plastics had long disappeared with the end of fossil fuels, and Dawn hated the tin boxes because they were difficult to clean, especially with water being rationed so severely. She had marvelled when her grandparents had told her that in the seventies they’d never heard of gluten intolerance, whereas now at least 30 per cent of the population suffered from it.
Zizzy released her seatbelt and climbed out of the car. She bent slightly and touched her upper left arm against the device that read the microchip implanted in it. There was a click and the two-metre high steel school gate opened. Zizzy slipped in and it closed behind her with a loud clunk.
Dawn was a single mother, of course, like most of the women with children. She was married when Crispin (now Zizzella) was born but divorce had become so easy. An army of divorce lawyers had sprung up who, for a hefty fee, would produce a one-page ‘Marriage Wind-Up’ document which, when given to the spouse, ended the marriage.
Dawn turned for home. Getting out of the car in the garage, she plugged it in to her home charger. Luckily it was turning into a sunny day so her roof solar panels would charge her wall-mounted battery. Her small car was six years old now and its battery performance had started to drop, but she couldn’t afford a replacement and she knew she’d only get scrap value for a trade-in because nobody bought a secondhand car to drive any more. She entered her semi-detached house and put the kettle on for an instant coffee. Half-kilowatt kettles took ages to boil, but that was the maximum rating allowed by the dictator in Brussels. This was a German, and she had three more years of her dictatorship to run before it automatically switched to the other of the two, a French person.
Dawn had a quick vape while waiting for the kettle and switched on the kitchen TV for the hourly weather forecast. Knowledge of the weather had become so important since it controlled all electric power. The next day’s forecast was cloudy, and since renewables would fail as usual to provide enough power for the country, her smart meter would probably switch off her power for most of the day. Her car battery was only half charged, so if she visited her mother next day her car would not have enough power to collect Zizzy from school. Would she mind walking home for once?
Dawn picked up her daughter from school and tried to engage her in conversation in spite of monosyllabic replies. Once home Zizzy plonked herself down in front of the TV, splitting her gaze between her smartphone and surfing the TV channels. Dawn came in and took over the remote without much optimism that there would be something decent to watch amid the endless repeats, puerile soaps and people being humiliated on reality shows. She heard a plop and a whirr at the front door as the Tesco drone delivered her food order. She retrieved the box and opened it in the kitchen. She was shocked to see that the packs inside were much smaller than last time. She checked the enclosed till receipt: same price. What more economies could she make to keep food on the table in the face of these constant stealth price hikes?
Feeling defeated, Dawn sat down and resumed reading the book she had downloaded on to her tablet. After a minute the screen went blank: she’d forgotten to charge it. She plugged it in hoping it would get a bit of charge, said goodnight to her daughter, who grunted in reply, and went to bed. There was still a bit of afternoon daylight so she could avoid turning on the lights to give her house and car batteries the best chance. Candles had disappeared after fossil fuels finished because they were made from paraffin wax. She had a wash in tepid water and as she settled into bed she thought about the days ahead: how much electricity she would get and what she would do. She guessed she would muddle through as usual and hoped for a warm dry summer ahead.
For this was life in 2046 unless you were part of the wealthy elite.