Chapter 7

Carlton knew the perfect place.  A hip counter-culture coffee shop with an independent label brand.  The kind of place where poets and students hang out.  To Carlton the coffee had a very slightly burnt taste, like they were trying too hard to be cool, but it was cool because it was local.  Carlton liked it.  It was in downtown Salt Lake City, an hour away, but Carlton lived near there and it turned out, Rachel did too.  This was the place where, in his daydreams, he had gotten down on one knee and asked this woman to marry him many times.

Rachel was a constant bubble of questions about the computer, Salt City, and Carlton’s life.  She kept it up quite easily which was fortunate, because if the conversation was left up to Carlton it would probably been a few nervous murmurs.  Carlton felt like a kid again.  They laughed about old times, old friends, and 10 years of lonely life evaporated out of Carlton’s mind.

She would not stop asking about the computer.  Every time the conversation strayed to some childhood event, Rachel steered back to Carlton’s computer at the library.  It wasn’t so bad, Carlton got to explain how it worked, and how he had developed the systems that ran it. Let’s not forget that he was the genius who had revolutionized computing. Even though, however, the revolution had turned out to be a minor blip in the march of progress. He felt self-conscious and he checked over his shoulder more than once.

Carlton had rehearsed conversations like this one, with Rachel, in his daydreams.  He had played out his scene in a way in which he was completely prepared, composed, in charge, and directing the action. Now that he was speaking with her for real it was strange, not like he had thought at all. He was nervous, disconnected, and frequently exposed, unaccustomed to any scrutiny or expectation of accountability, suddenly being scrutinized and held accountable. He had imagined her gazing at him with big school girl eyes like a star-struck kid.  Not so.  Here was a mature woman who was not going to take any crap, and was certainly not going to swallow Carlton’s usual line of bull.  Yet she kept on asking questions, and he kept on answering them.

At times his answers became deeply technical and he was afraid he was boring her. Rachel, however, did not seem to have have any difficulty grasping the details.  Rather, she was quite familiar with the back story of how the blood-based computer system came about.  She knew about some of the recent breakthroughs and developments too. After a while he relaxed. It was delightful that all the time he talked he could gaze into her face. It was too much to be true. Not only was she sitting here with him, but he actually had an excuse to look at her, and looking at her was what he wanted more than a dying man in a desert wanted a glass of water.  It was the face of his dreams, both awake and asleep, but now it was not a girl in his memory, but a woman in his presence.  It was a far more beautiful face than his imagination had dreamed of, it was a woman, not a kid, there were lines and a seriousness that was startling, but there was a girl in there too and at times if emerged with a flourish. The best part of it was that she kept on smiling, listening and asking questions.

As time ticked by Carlton noticed that the coffee shop had emptied out.  They were getting irritated looks from the Barista, who clearly wanted to be elsewhere.  Carlton tried once or twice to wrap up the conversation and move on, out of a weird sense of wanting to do the Barista a favor and let him close up the shop, but Rachel was a lively stream of questions and comments so he gave up. They talked and laughed. Carlton felt himself falling in love, for real, not in an imaginary way. Yet he could already feel the pain of another failure, it brooded at the edge of his thought. He lived the emotions of the whole cycle of acceptance, trust then dismissal and being crushed. But this was Rachel. He would go through all of it for her, that was his dream come true.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Advertisements

Chapter 6

“Rachel?” The woman of his dreams was standing before him.  He would have fled if she wasn’t holding him.

“Yes,” she smiled some more, then let him go.  She checked her outfit in a professional way then turned to her two companions at the circulation desk. She gave a dismissive wave to say get back to work.  She looked back at Carlton smiling, “Carlton, wow, I mean, it’s been a long time. How are you?“

“Rachel.”  Carlton reached to shake her had and looked into her eyes.  “It’s really good to see you.“  Rachel blushed slightly and looked away.  He held her hand for a moment, until she shook free.  She focused on the computer terminal.  “Are you finished?  I mean, we have to have this thing turned on and running before the folks come in.”

“Sure, you’re all set.”  He regained his composure.  She nudged passed him and stood at the terminal, hit the power switch and waited. Carlton smelled perfume, fabric softener and woman.  A pump began humming, then a trickle as fluid coursed through the fine tubing that Carlton had installed.  Beneath the monitor was conduit box that Carlton had not put the cover on.  It was possible to see some of the internal working of the computer.  There were clear plastic tubes connected to the motherboard, and red liquid crept along them, flowing into the terminal.

“Is it real blood?” she asked Carlton quietly.

“Oh no,” he said dismissively, trying to cover a lie.  “Well, parts of it were once.”  He knew that she did not believe him so he tried to remake his answer.  “It’s a souped up blend, the red blood cells are real, and the platelets and stuff.  But it’s mixed with a special plasma-like fluid that works as a coolant and lubricant.”

“Plasma-like?”

“Well, err plasma.  From volunteers.”  He wished she would stop.

“Volunteers?”

“Of course,” he frowned beginning to get irritated.  “He should be ready.”

Ruth leaned in close to him and whispered, “Are you sure she’s a he?”

“Oh yes,” he nodded emphatically, “He’s a he all right, just you wait.”

Ruth straightened up and addressed the console, “Can you hear me?”

There was a slight hiss that drew into a ragged wheeze, like the labored breath of a dying man.  It coughed, and seemed to clear it’s throat.

“Yes,” came a man’s voice from the console, “I can hear you.”

“Hello, my name is Rachel Robbins, I will be your programmer.  We are in the records section of the municipal library in Salt City, Utah.  Have you accessed your primary commands?”

“Yes,” the voice strengthened and had a deep resonance.

“See!” Carlton mouthed.

Rachel began a sequence of checks with the machine.  Carlton began to clean up his tools ready to leave.  He still couldn’t believe it.  Rachel Robbins, after all this time.  And wearing a skirt.  The glasses were gone, but it was Rachel Robbins.  Who would have thought.

As he made for the door, Rachel called to him.

“Wait, I only have a few left,” she indicated her clipboard, “Can you hang on for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Carlton smiled.  Sure he could wait around for a few minutes, for the woman who had occupied his daydreams for years.

When Rachel finished it was quite a bit later, but she was cheerful when she at last turned her attention fully to Carlton.

“I ’d really like to talk about the computer, but I’m hungry, need a cup of coffee, and you probably do too?” she raised her eyebrows emphatically.

This was getting better and better.  Now he was about to get to go sit down in a Café with this women.

“You must be a genius, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”

“Great, where’s a good place to go, I’m new in town.”

Save

Save

Chapter 5

“Excuse me,” said a voice from above the skirt, out of Carlton’s view.

“Yes Ma’am,” he replied.

“Hi,” her voice was edgy, slightly irritated. “How much longer is this going to take?” The feet, in pumps with a small heel, were shifting around.  He sighed.  His neck was stiff and hurt from craning so long, so he lowered his head to the floor before answering.

“Ma’am,” he began, “I wish I was done now so I could get up and take a look at you.”  The words were out before he thought what he was saying.  He winced, expecting a kick.

She chuckled, “I can’t believe you said that,” she relaxed a little, and then walked off.

As she turned Carlton caught a glimpse of a faint circular scar in the back of her right knee.  His heart skipped a beat.  He remembered something similar on Rachel Robbin’s leg, something that he had put there.

They had been on a school field trip to a nearby farm when they were about 12 or 13 years old.  It was close to the end of the trip, all the kids were playing King of the Castle on a big haystack.  Carlton had stayed close to Rachel all day, who played along, being friendly and eating her lunch with Carlton.  He was infatuated with her.

During the game in the haystack Carlton had been King, defending his position and throwing the other kids down as they tried to take his place.  He lost his balance and fell, crashing into two other kids as he went down and he wound up in a heap of bodies. There were legs and arms all over the place.  He got kneed in the head and elbowed in the ribs.  In a fit of exuberance grabbed a leg and bit into the flesh behind the knee.  There was a scream, and he received a powerful kick in the face.  It had been Rachel, and after that she didn’t speak to him again.

Carlton concluded that the woman who had just spoken to him could be Rachel Robbins.  His heart beat faster, his hands started sweating, his mouth became dry and he came close to panic.  What if it were Rachel?  This was a terrifying prospect, but so was the possibility that he was getting himself worked up for no reason, and it was some other woman who wore skirts and had a bite mark.

The next moments were torturous as Carlton snapped tight the last tube clamps, checked seals, replaced panel covers and collected his tools and trash.  He got ready to get up and meet the lady, whoever she was.  It involved having to wriggle out from under the counter in a rather undignified way.  Then he was out and on shaky legs he stood up.

He looked around to see where the woman was.  She was close by, her back to him, and he checked her out, head to toe and back again.  Twice.  It was a skirt all right.  Neat, straight down to her knees.  The upper body was in a matching suit jacket.  There was a flow of long hair straight down from a center parting to a point between her shoulder blades.  It moved as she moved, and caught gleams of the sun from the skylight.  Carlton got lost in the beauty of the moment enjoying the play of light on the silky hair.

He was staring at her with his mouth open when she turned around.  She recognized him and her countenance brightened.  Remembering Carlton’s silly remark from under the counter she narrowed her eyes and said, “I should have known.”

Carlton stammered a response, then she gave a girlish laugh and ran the few steps between them, catching him in an embrace.  She smiled and said, “Is that really you, Carlton Feathers?” then she winked at him, “Close your mouth sweetie.”

Save

Save

Chapter 4

The United States is not really united at all.  The Eastern States of America is run by Washington DC.  The Western States of America now has it’s capital in Dallas, Texas, another major city that has become a giant-sized version of Venice. The Independent Republic of California is now, well, independent. There is only one President, and only one White House. The relationship of all these pieces is being worked out.  The United States, if it could be called that, is limping along, far past its peak of world prominence.

That was fine with Carlton.  He paid attention to the news coming out of Europe and the Asia-Pacific zone, but he was happy to be left alone in a peaceful little spot here in the heartland of The Western States of America. This was one of the few places where there was stability.  Owning a home and having a job were still possible.  It was feasible that a soul could spend their days being bored silly.

Salt City had been a work in progress for twenty years.  Directly west of Antelope Island, Utah, it was built on an island of rock in the midst of the Great Salt Lake.  You take I-80 west out of Salt Lake City, and the turn off is just after Burmester, before you get to Skull Valley.  The domes were built first, their geometrical perfection was a masterpiece of engineering that had taken years to complete.  Once the framework was constructed the domes were sealed with glass and plastic and a system of environmental controls installed.  This did everything from opening the windows to misting the air, providing an exquisitely comfortable environment.

People had been living here all that time engineering and building, but it was very exclusive.  Of the millions of Americans that were displaced or living in very poor conditions, only a select few had been invited to be part of the population of Salt City.  It was intended to be a model, a prototype of the way in which all people would one day be living.

No one believed that hype any more.  The decline in the economy and lawlessness in places made it unlikely that there would be any more dome cities. The once powerful streak of American idealism was on the verge of being snuffed out by the spasms of a tortured earth.

Yet there was at least a small ray of hope.  For the time being, at least, the people of Salt City could set aside the darkness that brooded on the fringe of their consciousness and have a big celebration.  Now it was going to be official.  The dedication of the city was today.

Carlton was installing the computer system in the Salt City Municipal Library, and working up a sweat trying to finish in time.  He was on his back on the floor beneath a terminal in the circulation desk of the main lobby.  His head and shoulders were crammed into the space under the counter when a pair of shapely legs stood beside him. Carlton considered them carefully. Two finely sculpted calves were there beside him, hanging out the bottom of a pencil skirt. Carlton’s work momentarily forgotten, he followed the shape of those calves down to feet in simple black pumps.

Carlton had been holding his breath and biting his tongue in concentration, worming his fingers into the underside of the terminal, but now he gently released the breath in a steady stream.  A skirt.  Most of the skirts he had ever seen had been clothing the body of a girl he went to high school history with. The girl with the red eyeglasses.

Rachel Robbins, the girl that he could never forget.  Now he was completely distracted.  While contemplating the elegance of the curves and the fine skin he let his mind wander back to his youth.  His first crush had been the girl who wore the red eyeglasses and skirts.   He daydreamed about that girl.  He had loved her in secret all those far off days of high school.

“Wow, nice legs,” Carlton murmured quietly, shook his head, and re-applied himself to finishing his task, packing away the bundles of wires and tubing.

Save

Save

Save

Chapter 3

The drive to undertake this great endeavor had come from a century of the American continent being and torn by one natural disaster after another.  People fled the battered coastal regions of the United States.  Sea level had risen about ten meters.  Florida was practically gone, and what was left was an alligator and snake infested swamp that was put through a blender every year by hurricanes.  The whole East Coast had changed so much that in places it was miles inland of its former position.

Land subsidence in New Orleans, Louisiana and along the Mississippi river allowed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to flood a wide area of the Mid-west.  Now an inland sea, up to 100 miles wide in places, stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to St. Louis, Missouri.  There are no bridges anywhere along this stretch.  Ferries and aircraft are the only options for travel between the eastern and western parts of the south-eastern USA.

In the west, The Independent Republic of California is a massively overcrowded island archipelago off the New West Coast.  The San Andreas fault had split wide open during a period of repeated massive earthquakes. Everything from the fault line westward reared up and toppled into the ocean.  The Pacific ocean had rushed into the widening gap and what was left above sea level were a chain of mountainous islands from San Francisco in the North, to Malibu in the South. They are moving westward at the rate of ten meters per year and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.  The islands are separated from the New West Coast by a sound that is over 1000 feet deep in places.  The only really good consequence of this was the amount of beach front property along the West Coast has quadrupled.

The environment is so fractured in so many places that much infrastructure and industry has collapsed.  Changes and upheavals are so common that the normal and orderly functioning of society is impossible.  Peoples’ lives are disrupted so often that they live as semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers.  Albeit quite well-to-do hunter gatherers with cell phones and off-road vehicles.   Either that or they are enlisted in the armed forces, the Police, or in the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  FEMA is now the largest Government Agency both in terms of scope of mission, proportion of the Gross Domestic Product consumed, and sheer numbers of employees. FEMA encompasses the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and the Interior.  It manages the Environmental Protection Agency, which is convenient, since it also manages the strategically vital oil and gas industries.  Oil and gas production is heavily militarized. Providentially, thanks to the effort of a President long since passed into history, the US Government happens to be the largest producer of solar energy cells in the world.

Real estate is at a premium since so much land has been lost or destroyed.  What is left is critical for use in agricultural production, but bands of roving nomads, and gangs of desperadoes mean that the farms to have to be run as fortified and well defended plantations.

The computers do not like it at all.  Of course it is OK for solar-powered laptops, smart phones and such utilitarian devices as humans like to play with, but the big mainframes can not abide the frequent electrical and network outages.  Not to mention the roving packs of semi-wild humans that will smash them up just to strip out the copper wiring.  All the big mainframes want to be in Salt City.

Save

Chapter 2

Carlton was listening to the radio while he worked, and at that particular time he was in the Municipal Library of Salt City, Utah. Not Salt Lake City, that was an hour’s drive away, but Salt City, a fabulous new feat of architectural brilliance.

Not long from now but still a ways away the sustainability movement completed its greatest ever achievement: A city-sized municipal infrastructure that was completely self-sufficient for energy, water and food.  It was called Salt City, and it was made up of geodesic domes built in the salt flats not far from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Each dome was one mile in diameter, towering half a mile into the sky.  They were in a hexagonal arrangement, the central one sat somewhat higher than the others.  It was a gleaming structure that shone brilliantly in the vast white plain of the desert.  The city had been designed and built by the same American idealism that had made the atomic bomb and put men and women on Mars.

The project had been born out of the severe stress on the the American people over the course of decades. The United States had become very unstable in places due to catastrophic natural disasters and migrating populations, so it was decided that a stable, self-contained and highly defensible place was needed to store all of the computing hardware necessary to run the country’s systems. The project had inspired a generation of productivity and economic stimulus and served as the focal point of the Nation’s energy and resources.

It was a real city, though, make no mistake.  It got dirty and lots of things broke and needed to be fixed.  It needed people to get dirty every day to make sure that there was a spotlessly clean environment for all the computers to work in.  It hadn’t taken long for advanced  computers to figured out that the people were the primary source of errors, breakages and dirt.  In all honesty they would have preferred it if there could have been a few nice clean robots to maintain them and perform upgrades. However, it was also well-known that people, especially those that didn’t understand computers, were highly unpredictable, prone to anger and violence, and likely to take the law into their own hands when they saw resources being squandered or unfairly allocated.  When the people got angry they didn’t care how much of a mess they made and they went around breaking everything. The people all needed a place to live, food to eat, basic necessities and occasional luxuries. After all, the computers were, technically, their tools.

In general the computers didn’t complain and they really appreciated the effort that people put in to keep them running.  When all was said and done, people needed computers and computers needed people. Sort of.  At least, for right now.  Some of the best and most advanced computer systems were now located in the gleaming domes of Salt City, for which they were truly appreciative. Carlton specialized in a particular type of computer system which was know for its unique interface.

Save

Biblio’s Blood – Chapter 1

It was an indefinable moment in a dimly remembered future that is neither near nor far away.  A radio chattered to itself distantly, until a blast of fanfare erupted and sent the idle drifts of thought scurrying for cover.  Carlton Feathers, working nearby, heard it and groaned.  The fanfare was accompanied by the cheers of a stadium crowd that was seething with anticipation, just as if the North Carolina Tarheels were in the final of the National Basketball Championship, the leading scorer was at the free throw line, one point down, 1 second on the clock, with a chance to win the game. Then the announcement began:

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please!” he scored the first free throw and the pitch of the excitement rose.  It was as if the whole world was vibrating with the pulse of the crowd.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen, the time of waiting is almost over!” he scored the second shot, won the game, the buzzer rang and the crowd exploded into noise.

It took several moments for the roar to die down enough for him to continue.  “Yes, my friends, the door is about to open on the threshold of the next great step in our journey of human evolution,”  the announcer paused to allow another wave of very loud crowd euphoria,

“That we, as the human species, have ever attempted.” The noise of the crowd was so great again that he was shouting at the top of his lungs.

“Yes, my friends, the time is at hand.” he paused, savouring the moment, building his crescendo,

“We stand,” there was a tremble in his voice now as he was giving it everything he had,

“On the threshold of World Monetary Union!”  His voice carried above the crowd, and it brought the house down.

The insane applause was faded out, and a narrator came on to describe what would happen in the next few days, and to reassure everyone that they were in the best possible hands.  There was nothing in the world to worry about.  Everything was going to be all right.  World Monetary Union was finally here, and there was still one week left for every man, woman and child to get their financial affairs in order, register, and receive their WMU bar code tattoo.

Carlton had groaned when he heard the announcement because it was another reminder that he had not registered yet. There were times when he was a terrible procrastinator, and this was one such situation. He had left it so late to make inquiries about registering that the only appointment he could get was at 8 PM the following Friday. The deadline was 9 PM, so calling it down to the wire was an understatement. Technically it was no more complicated than filing an income tax return, yet for some reason it had become a huge psychological hurdle that he had to jump. Carlton had a problem with filing taxes too.

There was something about the whole system that made him nervous. He didn’t know why but it felt somehow wrong. Carlton had no idea that World Monetary Union and the registration barcode tattoo was linked to the fulfilment of an ancient Biblical prophesy, and he wouldn’t have paid any attention if someone had tried to explain it. To him it was more about loosing control over his money and assets. If anyone had told him that registering and receiving the tattoo would ensure that his soul would burn in hell until judgement day, he would have dismissed them as quaint and offered them a $20 bill.

Save

Advertisements