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Abala placed his hands in his pocket as he stepped out of his apartment, locking the door behind him. He couldn't remember the last time he was out this late. It may have been when he had to chase down some kids who took tomatoes from his home’s windowsill garden, or during another chase when the chain to his scooter was cut, but even that was still PM late in the evening, not AM, which it was currently. When he walked out of his house it was 1:17 in the morning. Abala felt double-tired, not just from the extra shifts he was putting into work at the church, but also exhausted because of who he was outside for this evening. Inside, just feet away, was his 8-month-old daughter, giving weak but powerful hunger cries, the sound was all that he needed to gather the courage to head into the early morning. It was dark and quiet, but he didn’t feel alone, especially not at this hour. It wasn't the cold that bothered him, it was the danger. The world changed quickly for him and others years ago, starting when Abala was a teenager. What seemed to be a normal, if not enjoyable existence overnight became difficult, if not a grind. With domestic oil and gas production being shut down, or companies moving overseas due to critics and lack of investment, the government took over the industry with the promise of reliable energy for the people. What seemed like a sigh of relief from a much-needed Goliath of price gouging and unfair environmental standards, slowly turned into a harsh reality not many people were ready to live. Life became astonishingly expensive suddenly, resources got scarce, and then it became dangerous.

It was three years ago when the Special Allowance Petrol was enacted. This required refineries to distribute the majority of the diesel and gasoline to government, medical, and law enforcement divisions. Through this SAP, those with internal combustion engines, couldn’t afford or source any gasoline to fuel up their cars, forcing many to sell, but as the gasoline supply dwindled, many cars remained skeletons in driveways and on the street, as what good was a car without any fuel. The post office was the first to close and was combined with the police stations. If there were any parcels for people to pick up, they had to trek down to the nearest parcel/police kiosk, where people would scan their government-issued ID number, after it was correlated with their environmental standing determining if you owed any fines for the climate crisis reserve, either you paid a fine for living above your carbon allocation, or were able to grab your package and begin your journey with a target under your arm back to your home. After more time passed, law enforcement officers were next on the totem pole who would feel the realities of this. Ceasing patrols to save on costs and resources, police would only patrol on calls that were deemed a) requiring police intervention and b) in close enough proximity to the station that it made economic sense for them to arrive at the scene.

Cars became a luxury that many couldn’t afford, the ones that ran on gasoline had to be refurbished with whatever equipment or materials that would keep the machine running. So it wasn’t uncommon to see a car sputtering down the road with different shades of exterior and one could only guess how many parts were tapped and wired together to give it some more time. With the shipments of raw materials casing to a halt, electric vehicles could only be afforded by the affluents of society and politicians. Most people reverted to electric scooters that needed the same refurbed scooters with random electronic parts to keep the battery charged and the scooter operational. Abala was of average middle-class status, one lucky enough to not only hold a job performing repairs around the church, but he was able to afford an electric scooter, one that would allow him to waive around the rubble and rusted out skeletons of vehicles from a time not that long before.

Any trips to gather supplies or go to your job had to be done during the day, as gangs of scavengers- often bored and without jobs, or just hungry to charge their phone would wreak havoc to any unsuspecting victim not knowing where to go. Forcing their targets to hand over anything they could trade for some energy credits, or even forcing people to fork over their allotted energy credits. Not a good situation to be in. There were certain parts of the community you could go, and certain parts you should avoid.

Abala knew where to go and where not to go. Unfortunately, he had to go where he knew he shouldn’t go. Crossing the dangerous landscape, with shadows lurking around the dimly lit corners was a necessity to get his 8-month-old hungry daughter food for the night. The child was hungry and would not make it through the night without a full belly. Already showing signs of weakness and fatigue, the baby spat up the remaining amount of breast milk she drank just an hour ago. He was low on his Federal Energy Credits so he couldn't take his scooter, he needed that to get to the church to keep his job to provide food for himself, and his family. He briefly grinned as he imagined swinging through the community with a scooter and his daughter strapped to the handlebars. An impractical vehicle now that he was a dad.

At the church is where he met Susan and Bob who just lost a child due to an unusual warm summer. Without the luxury of an AC unit running, there was little they could do but watch as the child became dehydrated and eventually gave up. Susan and Bob would do what they could to help others and began to sell their breast milk that she would painfully still produce. Something that was common among people as the government contract for formula usually went to the lowest bidder, and since it was the lowest bidder and was awarded the work, it was the only competition to stay afloat. Without the government contract, the other companies would have to shut their doors. A fatal nail in the coffin his country began to see years ago.

This caused suffering in quality and frankly the safety of the product. Sure there were complaints and lawsuits from the sick and parents of deceased children. But the government did what they always did, they issued a few fines, blamed the BRICS Nations and their unfairness for putting the country in this predicament, and the people moved on, after all, what other option did they have?

So black markets began to pop up for goods that the government wouldn’t and couldn’t supply. Breast Milk was one of these markets. The market prices were whatever the seller requested, as one simply couldn't go to the store to grab some milk, or formula that was safe for their child. Since the energy scarcity, basic industries had to shudder their doors as there wasn't enough reliable power to keep them going. This led to the scarcity of resources, and since the blockade with the new BRICS Nations, everything from energy to materials, to rare earth minerals ceased. A society that seemed to be stuck in the mud, if not set back in the middle ages time in a future setting. As things began to get pricier and the rich were to blame, people began to get tired or bored, much like the scavenging gangs, and began to riot. Burning their own cities as a last-minute cry for someone to step in and intervene. First, it was the energy bills increasing over time, until the government stepped in and subsidized the struggle. Then it was the layoffs after costs began to climb and profits began to shrink. Shortly after were the lines at the stores to grab the silliest thing of the week. This is what it must have been like when people were queuing up from the pandemic. Weekly newsletters on what shortages were to expect was the common reason for lines at stores these days. Everything from actual milk, flour, sugar, matches, oven lighter fluid, to propane would spread in the paper to shortages, so people would spend what Consumable Funds they had in their government coupon account on these shortages, often reselling them on another black market for a higher cost.

Hearing his daughter having another fit inside snapped him back to his current situation. He had an extremely dangerous journey ahead on foot. Whatever individuals he did encounter at that time were surely out to cause harm. But this was a fear he had to bluntly face, as the hunger cries and whimpers from his daughter would be far worse to endure. The only thing he carried was an empty backpack. He didn't bring his phone as it was useless other than to call his wife, who would only tell him that Lauren needed the milk at whatever cost. His energy account was drained as there was another baby in the parish who had a mother who was having difficulties producing milk. So due to market demand, he had to transfer his energy credits to Susan, leaving him not much to charge his scooter. Another cry shook him awake and he began his journey, his only hope to return to the cry that filled his heart with so much helplessness.

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