Terms and Conditions
It was a cold October day and it had been raining for almost ten hours already. Walking to work had left Melanie soaked at her desk all morning, so she ordered food despite knowing there was barely enough in her bank account for the luxury. Walking home had been worse as if somehow the sky had managed to save a little in reserve just to spite her.
She peeled off her sopping wet clothes and slipped into the oversized bathrobe she’d kept it after a particularly bad breakup. Not that it mattered now. She wished she could go back to the days when a crappy boyfriend or girlfriend was her worst problem.
Now most of her friends were seriously talking about leaving the country. Some already had. She didn’t hear from the ones who went to Berlin very much, but they seemed happy. The ones who’d fled to London hadn’t had such a good time. After Brexit, the hard one, not the vote where the old guard of England sold off the new generation, but the echo from around the world when everything stopped, that had been bad. One friend of hers had been on a tourist visa when the airlines were grounded. She’d been harassed by the home office for over a year, in and out of detentions while they tried to decide what to do with accidental immigrants that they couldn’t arrange themselves enough to transport back to their homelands. Last she’d heard she was living in a camp outside Manchester.
It sounded terrible, but the US was just as bad. The camps in the US were still mostly immigrants, but there were always rumors that there would be more. Newspapers hadn’t even really covered much of it. They were too busy running stories about the latest corporate mergers. Yahoo was absorbed into Oath, which expanded to eclipse its parent brand, then became Oath-Warner, then bought Universal for the pocket change of 11 billion dollars just because some executive liked the name Oath-Universal because it sounded “like the future”. Media companies bought defense contractors. Telecoms bought agribusiness. Disney Watermelon appeared in the grocery store, and it wasn’t just a branding deal. Monsanto Medical offices popped up all over the country.
She got used to hitting accept on new Terms and Conditions after each merger. It’s not like anyone reads them. Sometimes she just wanted to watch a movie.
The government, too, was mostly being disassembled and sold off. Health and Human Services was run by Amazon. They weren’t the worst, at least not if you had Prime.
Bain Management and Military Services was running the campaign on the border with Mexico. So many people fleeing the climate crisis, and it had escalated.
Amazon Refuge was particularly jarring, the product Bezos had built for cheap housing in the wastelands of climate change, rented by the person and the hour. Some of her friends were living out there, in the Eastern Washington refuge. She wasn’t sure what they did for a living anymore. There was some sort of NDA you accepted to move in.
She flipped through shows and movies. Netflix had somehow kept its name though all of this. The opiate of the masses, she supposed. It was the one constant, and she had to admit, the familiarity was nice. She found an old favorite. Might as well watch something comforting today. She hit play.
The terms and conditions screen popped up. Five pages of text she couldn’t really read on the TV screen. She hit Accept.
Her phone lit up.
Message from Nadine.
“Hey, don’t accept the new Netflix T&C. There’s some weird shit in there.”
“Crap, I just did. What kind of stuff?”
“Shit, hon, get out of there. Five pages of legalese that basically means they own you.”
It had to be a joke, right? She was just trying to watch a movie. She shot back “Yeah right.”
“You remember how the Justice Department got auctioned off last month?”
“Yeah, I heard. Not sure how, with how little news I watch. But I heard.”
“They were the last stop. They just shut it down. There’s no more law out there except contracts and the terms and conditions. The libertarian fanboys just got their wish and they’re not going to like it.”
Nadine was always hyperbolic, but these days it was hard to be wrong being hyperbolic.
There was a knock at the door. The pit in her stomach opened up. It was probably nothing.
She peeked out. Two men were standing on her porch. They were wearing some kind of uniform. Black pants and black boots, and oversize black hoodies with “Netflix HR” emblazoned on the front. It looked like they were armed. Not that they needed to be, they were twice her size. Shit.
The knock came again.
“Ms. Melanie Thorpe. We know you’re in there. We show you agreeing to the new terms and conditions at 8:17pm.”
She glanced at her phone. It read 8:21pm. Four minutes. Shit.
“Four minutes and they were at my door” she texted Nadine.
“That’s fast. Wow. They’re getting better at this. When they had this in beta, they took over an hour. Still relying on surprise and compliance though. Be right there. Put on your shoes and stay put for two. Their policies say they have to wait five minutes before escalating. You probably have three.”
Melanie hurriedly tied her shoes. She was still wearing the bathrobe.
“Okay, now go out your back door and hop the fence” texted Nadine.
“I’m in a bathrobe.” she texted back.
“Well then climb careful” texted Nadine.
The fence was slippery, the wood pregnant with the unending rain. She managed to get her whole self over the fence without the bathrobe coming loose. She retied it and checked her phone.
“Good. Come to the front of that house. There’s a van.” texted Nadine.
She heard a crunching noise that sounded like her front door. She could hear the men saying something about her. She ran around the house. She had no idea who lived there, even though they’d probably been neighbors for the better part of a decade. The van was there, and she opened the door.
“Let’s get you out of the country. It’s not safe anymore.” said Nadine from the front seat. “I know some people at Alphabet Border Services. I think I can call in a favor and get you into BC.”
“Where am I going to live?” said Melanie.
“We’ll have to figure that out” said Nadine.
“I think there’s a Refuge in BC. I have Prime…” said Melanie.
“No way. Have you read their terms and conditions?!”