…The lines stretched all the way from the terminals, snaked passed the new customers coming in, until the queues approached the wing of the building that was originally built for home and gardening items—faded murals of idyllic suburbia seemed to be left as an insult from glory days of Society. Ritch was jarred out of his wist as one of the store supervisors tersely told him he was holding up the line! Ritch apologized and dutifully stepped up about ten feet and stood on the next assigned place-marker; his plastic basket of small groceries dangling in one of his hands…
Ritch adjusted his facemask; it was getting sweaty within during his errand-runs on that day. The line moved again, and a bit faster than Ritch anticipated. That was good. He still had to go to work on the second shift—
“Heard about those camps,” a man directly behind Ritch asked. He was standing on the adjacent place-marker, dressed much like most people there: jeans, sensible shoes, and a basic shirt…and facemasks. The other man’s eyes betrayed the fact that he was the one whom had asked Ritch the question. For his eyes were on the new-comers to the multiplexed super-store.
“Yeah,” Ritch finally responded after the whole line moved, yet, again. “I was watching some guy on social net ranting on about one of them…I think he was in the Denver area.”
“You sound like you’re skeptical about them,” the stranger observed.
A small shrug from the fifty-something Ritch. This time he shifted his upper-body to get a look at the man. “Well, you know how these conspiracy theories always pop up when things go to shit in politics.”
“Were Nazi concentration camps and the Japanese internment camps in the US conspiracy theories, too?”
Ritch froze for a couple of seconds after that comment. The line moved again…
Ritch nodded to himself before speaking through his mask. “Ok…valid point. By the way; Ritch…”
“Paulo,” he responded through his mask, the slightest of a tilt of Paulo’s head; his eyes staying mostly on the new-comers’ line.
“You know,” Ritch finally said after a lull, “I saw a couple of headlines about these supposed camps in addition to this guy I told you about out of Denver…I don’t know, Paulo. I have to admit, I’m not following those kinds of stories that closely, but it seems like the government is just trying to keep those with the most severe cases quarantined from the greater population! Is that so bad?”
The line moved again, and this time, Ritch was getting closer to the checkout terminals.
“It is when the government forces you to go there against your will.” This time Paulo’s attention was on Ritch.
“But what about people like you and me? Don’t we have a right not to be exposed?”
This time it was Ritch with the valid point and Paulo nodding his head. “We do…but forcibly removing American citizens out of their homes with the National Guard, Ritch…?”
Even during uncertain times, whether political or societal in nature, Ritch was the type of person to always try to stay level-headed about controversies. But even he could not give a readied answer to Paulo’s point about America’s domestic Guard being used for such policies.
Ritch finally made it up to the self-check out terminals. This was where artificial intelligence took over for the human supervisors. Ahead were several checkout kiosks, some with shoppers still using them, others becoming vacant.
Front and center, directing the pedestrian traffic, was a towering Kiosk—standing about seven feet. The tall, dark machine was fitted with all sorts of screens for displaying words and graphics to direct pedestrians, so the monitors were cylindrical to maximize a 360-degree view. Just as so many other Kiosks, it was also a communications tool for federal and local government officials to keep track of pedestrian telemetry—who was ill, who was conducting criminal acts, who was on a terrorist or criminal watch list... Corporations also used these hired guns, but commercial in nature.
These Kiosks, collectively referred to as the Shepherd, were everywhere! Especially cities of any size throughout the world. Some considered them to be the “living monuments,” as a result of the Great Pandemic of 2020. Apparently, back then, humans had trouble disciplining themselves to quarantine or maintaining proper hygiene, hence the eventual use of the Kiosks to regulate humans when they were out in the public-sphere. The problem for some citizens of the world was, after governments throughout the globe finally got control of the pandemic, the Shepherd became a permanent part of life. In fact, several decades later the Kiosks’ population seemed to grow at a faster rate after the pandemic than the human population did…
Needless to say, this birthed a myriad of conspiracy theories amongst humans of the famous Singularity-themed urban legends. Of some plot by some cabal to either replace humans as the dominate species on Earth, or, at best, to shepherd them! The rumors and modern lore would sound ridiculous but for one point: Up until the days of Ritch’s generation, no one—none of the governments throughout the world, nor any of the corporations, nor universities…no one knew who began to build the Kiosks decades ago! Basically, during the Great Pandemic of 2020 government entities began receiving shipments of the devices, with, apparently no return address or fake ones. Ritch’s generation speculated that things on Earth were so desperate, with all the deaths from the pandemic, that the governing officials did not even bother to probe deeply into whomever it was that constructed them.
And the implementation of the Shepherd worked. When a desperate population receives gifts from a source that helps its society, often, questions are not asked…
After the Kiosk at the super-store gave Ritch, Paulo, and a few others the permission to check out, Ritch, Paulo, and the other customers quickly dispersed to vacant terminals and conducted their payments and left the store.