Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Wrote this one for an SFNovelists Short Story Contest in 1998. The theme was "What will life be like 50 years from now?" I thought of the impact technology had and how we simply accepted its presence with us, and added the notion that our problems would be pretty much the same. (I came in second.)


            “Call ExpoCore 6, please.”
            The room softened the lighting, hiding the man’s fatigue lines. The screen coalesced on the near wall, a youthful face winking into view.
            “ExpoCore. How may?”
            “Good day. You have my app under review. Jacken Beniter. 553-967-396-884.”
            The youthful man looked down, apparently reviewing a datascreen. “Yes, we have that here. App denied, held for further consideration.”
            “What does that mean?” asked Jacken, his voice devoid of energy.
            The youthful face pretended not to be nonplussed. “That you’ve been exxed for the next deepflights.”
            “Why, damn it?” The room deleted the last two words.
            “Why? You are obviously not qualified. No offense.”
            Jacken heard “Why? Not qualified,” the man’s image seamlessly reconfigured to match the words.
            “But I’m a 94th percentile!”
            The face smiled softly. “I’ve got lumbs of 98s and 99s just marshing up my desk. We don’t get down to 94s until the real shit slices.”
            “Yeah. I know,” said Jacken morosely, his tone arriving confidently. “Good-bye,” he said, waving his hand while the room added an eerily positive “Thank you”.
            A soft chair slid on its magtracs arriving precisely under Jacken as he flopped back. The room altered the lighting, slowly adding luster.
            “Where’s Junibel?” asked the man.
            “Connected, crossnet,” said the room.
            “Coffee’s ready,” said the pot.
            The room released a mild pheromone, then changed it to a slighter baser form. And waited.


            The woman was young and pretty. She’d never noticed either trait. “I must speak to Coordinator Rand-engTri. It concerns my outposting.”
            The beveled eyes of the New Former stared back, deliberately blinkless. He'd learned it intimidated. “If I were to piss on Rand-engTri’s schedule every time someone said ‘It’s urgent’, I’d be back on the Moon in nanos, thingy.”
            Junibel clenched her fist, the room raising the image from full body to full face for impact. “When he finds out you didn’t connect me, you’ll be on the Moon in nanos, freak.” The last word arrived as “dearie”, lips and everything.
            The New Former made two decisions: He’d connect the prissy little scuz and he'd go back for fangs. Intimidation was the fuel he would really jazz thingys with from now on.
            The connection was made, a pulsebeat of time. The Coordinator sat at his desk, massive shoulders and iron-gray hair over a child-like face. New Fad. Some added wrinkles that spelled their name when read in a mirror.
            “Junibel. Very persistent. How did you get past Lickme 2-2?”
            Junibel frowned at the name. Fucking freak. The room adjusted the temperature, downward, and added a vasorelaxer to the oatmeal. “Threat of the Moon if he didn’t connect me. The usual.”
            Rand-engTri laughed. “Worked this time. How may?”
            Junibel chewed her lower lip, a curiously pretty gesture that had lost all meaning. “I’m pregnant.”
            “Happiness always! Full select?”
            “Of course. Medium term.”
            Rand-engTri nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard that’s best. Short-termers go nozzy sometimes and full-termers are just pain freaks. Have it lopped and you’ll be ready to travel.”
            Junibel reacted as if stung, but her image remained composed. “That’s just it, Coordinator. I want to carryout this baby.”
            Rand-engTri’s face went sour. “On a midterm? You’re due here in three weeks standard and the baby won’t be born until, what, November standard?”
            “Yes,” Junibel nodded, as the room raised the temp and gently warmed water for tea.
            “That’s almost three months past your assignment date. Unacceptable. Get it lopped or get another post. You barely made this one,” he added snidely as the connection winked off.
            The full message came through. The options were already known, and the tone would certainly help decide, so it all came through.
            Junibel walked to her daycouch as it came towards her silently, slipping into it with a despondent cast to her shoulders. “Breakfast?” asked the room.
            “A little. I’m not hungry.” The room refrained from answering, placing oatmeal and tea within reach.


            “Family,” said Jacken and the walls flexed, slid and shifted until a great room emerged, Junibel on her daycouch sipping tea. Jacken’s chiseled jaw was unshaven and his wavy hair was delightfully touseled. Junibel noticed none of it. She never did.
            “ExpoCore 6 turned me down. ‘Too many 98s and 99s’ is what the shiteater said! It’s the same everywhere!”
            Junibel waited for the slowdown, noticing the smells: A quick one, meant to keep communication from becoming a shouting match. It worked, as always. Jacken sat down, the chair shifting shape to allow him more space.
            “I’m sorry to hear that. Rand-engTri told me to have the baby lopped and get my butt over there or I’ll have to find another job.”
            Another call, the third, was rerouted to Refuse Management. The room created another loop, to Traffic Control. Vehicle reports were more interesting.
            Jacken’s strong hands covered his face, went up into his hair and then into flying action. “We can’t go on like this! We have to get a bigger mod.”
            Junibel sipped her tea, noticing the change in smells. She wondered briefly why Jacken never noticed it. She never wondered why she accepted her smells so easily. “This is a fine mod, Jacken, and it will do until we outpost or click on with a worldcorp.”
            Jacken stood up, furniture sliding away, walls dropping in density. Bacon began frying and the news was flashed to his palm. “This is a bachelor mod! It wasn’t meant for a family!” The smells changed, a distant humming underlying the morning rustles and Junibel guessed six seconds. It took four. “What options do you have?” asked Jacken, standing loosely against a denser wall.
            “If Rand-engTri is serious, then I have to find another outpost. But I’m only a 96th percentile, and with child I’d drop at least three pips for a year standard. I could return to GammaCorp, but their research is buggy with government funds and they’d do the mindscan. You know what happened last time.”
            He did, and he realized that he feared that more than failing her. It gave him a new view of the situation, and the room filed the sequence under “Review”.
            “Coffee reheating,” said the pot.
            “Office,” said Jacken, then added to her, “Do you mind?”
            “No,” she said, “We both think better that way.”
            The room flexed and shifted, panels appearing and fading, furnishings recast for attention. Jacken lost his pajama bottoms, muscular legs peeping briefly while business slacks, tapered to ankle and bright red, made their appearance. He grabbed a similarly-colored shirt from the overhead magtrac as Junibel’s nightie shifted to translucent, revealing a perfect figure as yet unmarked by child, then hidden by dress, bright yellow and green, with flared skirt and six dangling ribbons. Their shoes arrived and were slipped on. The center console was ready, the two thinscreens glowing in pale blue.
            “Wait, cherry,” said Jacken and flicked his right hand in a quick rotating gesture. The news flashed on between his hands and he quickly flicked holopages until he reached the mods. “Here, help me look,” he said and Junibel felt the warm tingle in her palm that the surgeon said would go away but never did.
            They searched. Jacken clapped his palms together needlessly, startling Junibel. “Nothing! Too expensive!”
            “Coffee’s ready,” said the pot.
            “Serve,” said Jacken harshly. The cup, with steaming black coffee, coalesced out of the console. Jacken sipped carefully, inhaling deeply, as Junibel flicked her wrist.
            “You’re right, tiger,” knowing he needed to hear it. “But we still have options.”
            “Like what? I can’t get off here and you can’t stay. There’s no halfway point between here and Fan-ji Station.”
            “True,” she replied, “but we don’t have to think of it as a physical halfway point. What about removing obstacles?”
            The room added wavesounds to the hum, blocked a call and recorded the surge within Junibel.
            “Do you mean the baby?” asked Jacken, trying to hide hope.
            “No! You know I want to carryout! How can you even think that?” gritted Junibel, surprised at the pain she felt.
            Jacken blushed, an uncommon sight. “You’re right. I didn’t mean it that way. But just for argument’s sake, would it be so bad to have it l-- incubated to term and then we go to Fan-Ji?”
            “Yes it would be!” Junibel breathed deeply, the scent of warm jasmine tickling her nose. She inhaled again, then said, “We’re bummed. No funds. And without Fan-Ji, we’ll be roaming the dirtside in a month. You know it, I know it, so what are we going to do about it?”
            The room lowered the lighting, focusing ambient light on the couple. Another cup coalesced on the console with mint tea, slightly sweet. The last funds etranned from their account for rent.
            “It’ll take me at least three months to be upped a couple of pips,” said Jacken. “I’m not one of those pluperfect freaks.”
            “Like our son?” said Junibel, smiling softly to take the sting out of her reproach.
            Jacken reached out to place a hand on Junibel’s firm abdomen. “Yeah, like Broneiri,” he said, smiling openly for the first time.
            “Hasquith,” corrected Junibel, and they laughed.
            The room blocked the call, then let it through. The widescreen flared on. “...ficient funds you have been rescheduled for upping to the next session, beginning September 7th standard. Please confirm your slot within 24 hours standard. Use your app number, full name and gencode for confirmation. Thank you.”
            Jacken sat frozen. “September?”
            Junibel smelled the changes, heard the waves silencing and knew this was the crucial moment. “Tiger? Tiger! We’ll make it! We’ll find a way!”
            The console warped, shrunk, bringing them within hug’s reach. “Get it lopped,” he said dully. “It’s the only way.”
            Junibel recoiled, felt the room dancing around her, shifting stimuli and conquered her anger through eden knows what gift. She embraced Jacken with all her might, struggling to give him what only she could, strength, and fighting for the life she wanted so much to have. “I will carryout and we will all be well. I need you to believe that.” Her voice softened, then broke. “Please.”
            Jacken struggled no less, then heaved a deep sob and hugged her back. “I’ll believe it,” he said, “I will. Carry him out and I’ll do everything I can for him and you and me.” His manner faltered, and the room felt the power between them. And then the room went away.
            Junibel felt her heart pound faster, the thudding almost drum-like. Jacken? “Jacken?”
            “Something’s wrong.”
            He held her at arm’s length, peering into her eyes. “What? What is it?”
            From all around them, a tinny weak voice said, “Mommy? Daddy? I’m here...”
            And the third mind emerged. Forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Read Free E-Books

Just use this handy app: ">Gil C. Schmidt At Work