It might seem like government is now completely absent. But for all that free-market absolutists might claim otherwise, governments have one feature that is pretty fundamentally useful to private entities wanting to siphon more money ever upwards: governments are unparalleled at providing a bureaucratic process of channeling citizens’ money into private hands in a way that seems both legitimate and necessary. People pay their taxes–in a transaction that is long-understood and widely-accepted–those taxes are paid in subsidies to the private companies running “public” services, and then people pay again to use the services on a per-use basis, or graciously accept a “free” service paid-for by advertising, data resale, or other indirect remuneration.

In Thom’s home country, decades before his time, it had been declared by the soft-drink-sponsored ruling party that there was no excuse for any of the last vestiges of directly state-run education to remain in place, ruined and inadequate as they were (ground-down over decades by chronic and deliberate underfunding, this was the outcome that had long been wished for by the private sector). Phizzy Phructose Presents the Enhanced Education Act of Yummy Year 41 was introduced, and the age band for statutory education was shrunk massively to shorten most people’s schooling to just a couple of years. Any remaning restrictions on child working were waved away. Any “school” that taught anything but basic menial work skills was shut down.

Thom’s education–which might be better characterised as “training”–was of average quality for the time, but that’s not saying much. What’s more, poorly-designed psychometric profiling by the vaunted-but-now-bankrupt Bright Futures Algorithmic Career Advice Company put him into a training stream that focused upon dangerous, low-paid, space-based work, despite his many fears and anxieties around working in space. That left him with not much choice but to pursue the kind of jobs that landed with him in the courier company that was bought out by REZQ.

Sat in a “school uniform” that was used as advertising space to anyone that would buy it, every day of his short school life was focused upon watching training videos about how many boxes you should be able to pack in an hour (a lot), how you should compose and behave yourself at work (do as much work as you can, don’t be lazy, make sure you snitch on underperforming coworkers) and constant new advice on how much Phizzy Phructose you should buy and drink (also a lot).

At least he sort-of learned to read–after all, if you can’t read, how do you read the adverts?