Thursday, April 15, 2010

Friday Fiction for April 16, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Shelley over at The Veil Thins, where you’ll find MckLinky and more stories for your weekend. Hey, it’s one of the best deals in entertainment, which might be very important if you had to send a bunch of money to the IRS this week.

Some fifteen to twenty years ago, I wrote a short story set in a not-so-distant future. If this story was ever saved on a computer, it would have been on a 5.25” floppy (when was the last time you had a working 5.25" drive?), but it’s just as likely the story was typed on the old 1905 Underwood typewriter, and has since long been lost. I decided to give it a complete rewrite, and feature the first part this week.

Maelstrom’s Eye

By Rick Higginson

He floated weightless, hovering partially through the bulkhead hatchway. Slowly, carefully, he connected the various plugs that would integrate the next section of the station into the previous assembly. The work was not especially difficult, but with the thick gloves of the protective suit, it would be easy to misalign a plug, and possibly damage it.

He took hold of a larger power plug, turning it to the proper orientation for the matching receptacle. He pressed it into place, and was surprised by sudden flashing lights. “What the-” he thought. “None of these circuits are supposed to be live yet.”

Before he could contact the construction coordinator and inquire about the discrepancy, his legs were pinned by a crushing force. He tried to twist to see what had happened, but could not bend sufficiently in the heavy suit. Alarms were sounding in his helmet, and he reached below his hips to feel for the obstacle.

The hatchway! The bulkheads were programmed to immediately shut if vacuum were detected on either side, and the live plug must have provided the power to the hatchway actuators.

Other workers moved into view. Voices came through his helmet communicator, and one swore before yelling, “Get that hatchway open!”

“No!” Another yelled right back. “The hatch is the only thing keeping him alive. The pressure is keeping the damaged legs of the suit sealed, and if we open it now, the vacuum’ll kill him.”

“I can’t feel my feet,” he muttered. His eyes refused to focus, and the compartment seemed to be getting dark…

He woke up, gasping and sweating in his bed, the way he always woke up from the nightmare. It had been five years, and while the dreams of his last day as a productive worker had decreased, they still hadn’t gone away.

“Time,” he said.

“Five thirty-two A.M.,” the computer responded.

He sat up. Random rays of the sunrise poked through gaps in the curtains and illuminated motes of dust floating through the air. “Lights, medium soft,” he said, and the computer brought up a pleasant level of lighting in the room.

Grabbing his clothes, he walked to the bathroom. Like he did every morning, he paused at the full-length mirror and sighed. The prosthetic legs looked high tech and impressive, but unlike the cybernetics of science fiction, they didn’t make him fast or powerful. They simply restored basic mobility. His weren’t even pretty – those with sufficient wealth could get prosthetics specially designed to look just like their natural limbs, but those were out of his price range.

He spent the day as he spent most of his days when the weather was good, tending the large garden that filled most of his back yard. The tomato plants were doing well, but it was a constant battle to keep the hornworms from devouring the leaves. He worked his way down the rows of produce, dropping the ugly green pests into a large bucket, while plucking the fast sprouting weeds with a long grabber.

He made it to the far corner of the garden by early afternoon, and stopped by the fence to mop the sweat from his face with a faded bandana. With the bucket of weeds and worms in one hand, and the bandana in his other, he started back for the house.

The right leg went forward one step, and then started beeping.

“No,” he moaned. “Just five minutes more, come on.”

The depleted batteries were as unresponsive to his pleading as they always were, and he leaned back against the fence. They would recharge in time from the built-in generators that converted femoral artery blood flow into electricity, but it wouldn’t be quick.

It was a bit over an hour until the back door opened. “Mr. Anders? Are you out here?”

“Back here, Celia,” he yelled.

She ran to the back fence. “Oh, no. You didn’t run your legs down again, did you?”

“I thought I had enough juice left to get back inside,” he said. “I forgot that I woke up early this morning.”

“How long have you been out here?”

“Maybe an hour or so.”

“You’re lucky my afternoon class got cancelled, or you could have been out here a lot longer,” she said. “You really should start carrying a phone with you.”

“Yeah, probably, but I hate the stupid thing. The only calls I ever get on it are from people wanting to sell me something.”

She took the bucket and grabber from him. “I’ll put these up by the house, and be back in a minute with the porta-pack.” Hefting the bucket, she added, “You could have set this down, you know.”

“No, I could have dropped it, and risked it tipping over and letting all the worms go back to my plants.”

“There are other ways to take care of worms,” she said over her shoulder as she walked to the house.

“Yeah, but you know I prefer the low-tech means.”

She returned carrying the pale yellow porta-pack, and looped its strap over his head and across his shoulder, before attaching the power cable to the connector on his artificial thigh.

His legs responded, and he stood upright. “Much better,” he said.

“You go straight to the house, and get yourself hooked up to the external charger,” she said. “Have you even had lunch yet?”

“That’s where I was heading when the batteries died.”

She rattled off something in Spanish, which sounded suspiciously like she was chewing him out some more. “I don’t know what you’re going to do when I graduate college, and move on to a full-time job.”

He shrugged. “I guess I’ll just have to call the agency and hire someone else.”

“Like the last person the agency sent? The one that was stealing from you? You’d be better off calling my church and finding out if they have another student willing to work for what you can afford to pay.”

“I’m still trying to figure out why you’re willing to work for what I can afford to pay.”

She laughed pleasantly. “Because you’re almost right across the street from Papa’s house, you don’t mind adjusting my schedule every semester to accommodate my classes, and you don’t expect me to do anything that Papa would kill you for.”

“Well, he is kind of scary. I’ve seen him sitting out on the front porch in the evenings, and he doesn’t exactly give me friendly looks.”

“Maybe you should come over and meet him some evening, and then maybe you would both understand each other better.”

“I’m fine, just spending my evenings alone.”

“You’ve lived in this neighborhood for three years, and I don’t think you know any of your neighbors. What will you do when I’m not around, and you need help?”

“I’ll manage. I always have.”

She stopped him at the door. “No, you won’t. One of these days, something is going to happen that you can’t manage on your own, and you’re going to need someone. I think it would be good for you to come over and have dinner with my family tonight.”

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Bring tomatoes,” she said. “Papa loves fresh tomatoes, and that way, you won’t be imposing, you’ll be contributing.”

to be continued...


Sharlyn Guthrie said...

Some days I feel like my legs run out of juice. Wish I could recharge them LOL! This is fun to read.

Sara Harricharan said...

Oooh, to be continued?! I wanna know what happens! I really like Celia, quirky and the touch of spanish in a college student...well, yeah. I love that detail right now. lolz. (and dust motes...always wondered what you were supposed to call those things). ^_^

Catrina Bradley said...

I love that your imagination is multi-faceted. Once again, you've created a strange setting with characters who act like real people. Good stuff--looking forward to part two - "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." :)

Bear said...

Very realistic. I especially liked the detail about only the wealthier people being able to afford more natural looking legs. That did a lot to create a very strong believability (if "believability" is actually a word).

Rita Garcia said...

I knew before I read your story I was in for a treat. Love your creative imagination! Blessings, Rita