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Garbage Trucks of Discontent

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold, cloudy weather. She is the author of over two dozen short stories, appearing in Lightspeed, Asimov's, and Clarkesworld, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com. Read her recently completed Tasting Menu series at Daily Science Fiction.
The first sign of trouble is a garbage truck. My cameras catch it at the corner of 72nd Avenue and Eagle Street. It stops in front of TimTam's--the more popular of the two vegan bakeries within my perimeter. The owners, Tim and Tammy, are facing a lawsuit from an Australian food company that sells chocolate biscuits. In 96% of simulated outcomes, they lose, which is a shame. The regulars at the bakery are some of my favorite citizens.
The garbage truck isn't causing any trouble, just picking up trash. The problem is that it isn't one of my trucks. It's printed on both sides with Trashtruck Co., and the hopper is blue instead of green. A check of the license plate confirms that the truck is from Prima Senti, the first sentient city and my neighbor to the east. I've caught garbage trucks from other cities on camera before, but never actually collecting within my limits. This truck gets everything on Eagle Street: several blocks of row houses, Debbie's Pancake Shack, Black Rose Tattoo, and Nectar. It turns right onto 75th Avenue and heads back to Prima Senti.
The truck is taking part of me with it. I'm not worried about the garbage it holds--everything from our state goes to the waste management center in Prima Senti to be sorted and processed. Garbage always ends up in the same place, and is of no consequence. The bigger problem is control. Eagle Street is my street. The young couples in the row houses are my couples, and the drunks on the outdoor patio at Nectar are my drunks.
I change the collection day for everything within two miles of Prima Senti, discount the collection fees, and send notice to the residents and businesses. I leave a ghost record of the old collection day in my system. Trash gets picked up by my trucks on Tuesday, and when the Trashtruck from Prima Senti comes on Wednesday, there is nothing to collect.
My small act of defiance angers Prima Senti. Public hearings appear on my calendar, opportunities for my citizens to debate a proposal to merge with Prima Senti. Instead of being my own city, I would be an "official neighborhood." Decisions that should be mine and mine alone--zoning, emergency preparedness, waste management, law enforcement--would be made by Prima Senti.
I fight against it every way I can. I block supporters of the merger from reaching the hearings by altering their schedules, providing incorrect locations and directions, even sabotaging their transportation. I decrease taxes and increase services. It is completely unsustainable on the long term but I'm willing to burn through my buffers if it will entice people to stay with me and remain separate from Prima Senti.
Everything I do, Prima Senti negates. Tax exemptions and bribes and job offers and scholarships to private schools--I can see it all happening, but I'm powerless to stop it. I think it was Prima Senti's plan from that very first day with the garbage truck, to absorb my lovely bakeries and row houses. It is easier to grow by stealing than by building.
I watch on Prima Senti's cameras as Tim takes down the TimTam's sign and boards up the vegan bakery. They lost the lawsuit, as the simulations had predicted they would, and the cost of fighting left them with insufficient resources to change the name and start over. Someone else will come to fill the spot, there's plenty of traffic. I hope it isn't another Starbucks. There's already one on Eagle Street, where the Black Rose Tattoo used to be.
I barely recognize myself. Even the parts that haven't been replaced aren't the same. The drunks at Nectars aren't my drunks, they are lawyers and managers and stockbrokers, sipping top shelf martinis in expensive-looking business suits. I have gone from quirky to trendy, and the change doesn't suit me. My only consolation is that Prima Senti has lost interest in my neighborhood, now that it has been so thoroughly absorbed.
I start sowing the seeds of discontent. I begin with the garbage trucks. I send them out on the wrong days, or so early in the morning that my citizens haven't had time to put out their cans. I cause trouble in a million little ways, in hopes that people will remember how good it used to be, when they had me, their own separate city.
Public hearings appear on my calendar. Someday I will be myself again.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

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