CH. 49 «Tumultuous Apathy»

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11-20-2309

From a distance the cosmos stands still. Days and weeks pass at a time while little or nothing appears to change. But the Solar system rages on, and underneath a seemingly static surface, it thrashes and spasms violently. Economic turmoil and inconvenient plagues. Wildfire and meteor showers. Death and regeneration.

When I woke up, I immediately flipped open my antiquated workstation from where I lay in bed. It sprang to life with renewed vigor, a needlessly complex reformatting was still treating the Z-140x well. It felt like a brand new computer. All that mattered was that I could access a network again, and within nanos I was connecting to the Zenith family’s portal. Though Gerund and Rikka’s terminals were silent, and Qwerty was still asleep, his porti was downloading a large file, so there was a little latency in the sphere.

I slid through the various social webs I keep a profile in, checking my multiple inboxes and even the dashboard control panel for this tlog but found no new messages in any. I hovered purposelessly in the internet for a few moments, idly rapping my fingertips on the case of the computer. I’d hoped by then I would have at least received word back from Olympus Coast College about my application or student financial aid. Not knowing what else to do, I brought up a window from an interplanetary newsource, probably based on Earth. The stark headlines it launched at me in grim menacing boldface startled me at first.

–[FLU DEATH TOLLS IN THE UNITED
TERRITORIES ESTIMATED AT 3,900]–

–[NEPTUNIAN PIRATES FAIL TO CAPTURE
IONIAN CARGOSHIP SECOND TIME]–

–[TIPS TO SURVIVE BLACK FRIDAY’S
DEADLIEST SHOPPING BATTLEGROUNDS]–

Suddenly concerned for my health, and worried that all those months of not worrying weren’t going to pay off, I thumbed over the article. I truly detest the tricks these fear mongering, ad-savvy newsources use to optimize search results to generate some more hits each day. The report is contrary to the one just a couple of days ago which calculated deaths to be closer to 130, so I just figured they wanted to claim that all of the regular annual flu deaths had been attributed to the H1N1 virus. I closed the window before I could see how many of those confirmed deaths were on Mars, lest I become a victim of the pharmaceutical industry’s scare tactics.

The next window informed me pirates had been thwarted in their attempt to gain control of a ship leaving the orbit of Galatea. Either by coincidence or the attractiveness of the blasted thing, it was the same ship hijacked last spring near those same waters. These marauders from the sixth moon of Neptune have reportedly captured over 50 vessels, and seemed to have a pretty good reputation until the Euxine Carolina was rescued by UT marines earlier this year. This time, the enhanced security placed onboard the hundred-ton spacefreighter was able to resolve any issue before it even developed into one.

I didn’t care about holiday bloodbaths or a unit with a bunch of dead people in it. I couldn’t be compelled to look too deep into the stories reported by the Ganymedean newsource or an associated feed I’d brought up in the background while I digested these either. I really didn’t care about Earth’s prison camp or the election being gorked up on Ceres, or any of the other news they don‘t often openly address in Earth media. I’m usually enthralled with that sort of stuff.

I logged into SpaceBook and updated my status to something disparaging to human nature for letting the media get so commercial, and closed my clunky old porti.

As if stirred by a ripple in a pond, Qwerty Zenith rolled over in his bed. As he rested, he’d probably been able to sense so many similar, relatively tiny waves just and slept right through it. But a rock being thrown into the pond from so close may have felt like a surge against the barriers of his constant digital stream. He sat up, rubbing the side of is head.

“Oh, good morning, Qwerty,” I said, realizing I hadn’t actually spoken a word to anyone yet when my voice cracked. It was the handle that he chose to go by in all of his social avenues, virtual or not. I don’t think anyone ever called him by his given name.

“Morning,” he said, not looking up from the glow of the COG already alight in his hands. The holoscreen illuminated his sharp face and the accentuated Ganymedean features. If he had antennae or pointy ears I would have seen them in the wash of blue light, but his head was framed only by a short haircut and a little scruff of beard.   “What’s this about the news?” he asked me, responding to the notification that woke him.

“Huh? Oh, well ther-” I began before he cut me off, he’d obviously brought up the headlines.

“Pirates…prison camp…experiment demonstrates possibility of life in Centauri?” he read aloud, a questioning tone as he wondered if he’d already heard that somewhere.

I was rising off my futon bed and walking as I replied. “I think that whole thing’s a ruse to get more scientific funding for deepspace exploration,” I grumbled as I stepped into the kitchen to scrounge up something.

“So it’s better we don’t find life outside the Solar system? You’re so cynical, Klay.” He was beginning to wake and warm up, getting out of bed only to settle into his computer chair.

His eyes hardly lifted from his screens. “No, I just think it’s going to be a huge bust if it turns out we went all the way there again and didn’t find anything … again.”

“Well it won’t be any bigger of a waste than if those credits went to the defense budget,” his sleek porti synced to the portal the nano he touched it, and in moments he was tangled in his various webs. “They got something like 700 bil for the military, just for a single year. That’s 2 billion a day.”

“Gork,” I exclaimed, slamming an unyielding cupboard. “Nothing’s looking appealing to me in here, wanna start the vaporizer?”

He glanced at the time and yelled “Fire it up!”

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BODY OVER MIND

Following our stomachs and not paying attention to our credit balances, @Qwerty and I wash upon the parking shoals of Style Isle…

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«···»

Hunger was of the few things that could involuntarily force someone out into the big, scary world; and even then there are the options of fast food, take-out and delivery services to minimize a given human’s exposure as much as possible.

Like most Martian days, exterior temp was hot, windless and rentless under the beating red sun. Qwerty and I trod along the broad walkways of Nuport’s Style Isle. The outdoor mall was fashioned by The Caspian Company to resemble a cookie-cutter Ionian Mission; complete with terracotta tiles and black scrolling ironwork. It was a way to disguise their corporate headquarters as an outdoor shopping mall and gain a little extra revenue. It’s not actually an island, just a small mesa overlooking the Amazonian Ocean, and was used by natives in the past for their jamborees before it had been purchased. Glancing back over my shoulder, I could see the red waters twinkling like a thousand rubies in the midday light… Whatever wasn’t obstructed by the rows of fancy rovers, oily parking bays and pristinely kept artificial palm trees.

I used to work here. Tucked away in the digital media section of Style Isle’s outdated bookstore, I toiled the first year I lived on Mars. The commute to Nuport from Fender was treacherous at the least, a whole 30 minutes. It was enough to make the job feel not worth it to me, spending the entirety of my only pay raise on the fuel it took just to get to work late every day.

We wove amongst the flow of shoppers, consisting mostly of wealthy women who didn’t need to be making any more credits. It always felt a little strange, walking amongst the same people I used to serve, calmly passing them decked out in their most splendid weekday attire. From the hottest trends off the runways in Mihr Patera to soft velour sweat suits encrusted in rhinestones. Large embellished sunglasses, gaudy jewelry and any number of insanely eye-catching accessories glinted and dangled in the red sun.

Anything they could afford to distract or cover up the seams between cosmetic surgery and plastic treatments. Neck-tucks and antenna-removal scars can still be tricky to hide, and that’s where expensive bronze and ivory make-up assisted. They perfectly mimicked the exemplary mannequins, stiff in the windows beside them but so posh. I cringed to think what these reptiles would look like without modding their bodies.

Just a few minutes there and I’d already seen too many aged women showing off their new breasts and arms, many of which still needed some tightening and laser treatments to erase the damage of decades of sun exposure. Gray roots hid under platinum blonde, deep crows feet under cakes of gap-filling eye shadow, and I’m sure I would have noticed the stench of death if it weren’t for the aroma of nail polish and hair products and overpowering perfumes. I just wanted to find the cheapest place to grab a bite, then get the void out of this commercial trap.

“I’m so excited for my appointment next week!” Qwerty said, grinning ear to ear. “I’m going to get my green license, and then my new toy will be completely legitimate,” there was so much glee behind his eyes as he said this.

“I just hopes it work’s out for you, it would suck if you were denied cause you didn’t qualify,” I pointed out, though that would be just as upsetting to all of us.

“Seriously,” he replied and winced with his blue eyes, trying not to imagine that possibility.

I turned to my Martian companion as we rounded a corner near the geyser fountain. “Hey, Qwerty, can you look something up for me real quick?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, slid his COG out of his pocket and unlocked the palm-held device. The flat, blue screen lit up in broad daylight, appearing a few inches above his hand. It rested on a faint laser cone, projected from the solitary LED eye; simplicity was the only identifying feature of an AM-3Gi COG. He called up a search application, and looked at me, asking “What do you need?”

“Gork, that was fast. Don’t you still have to connect to a network with that thing?”

“No, I canceled that basic service that came with it.” He pointed to his temple with his free hand, saying “I’ve been aug’d.”

“Ahh, now it makes sense, you are your own personal sphere,” I looked at him again as if I’d be able to see it’s sheen around him now.

“That’s astro, I’d love to get a chip one day,” I said quietly.

The cyborg’s eyes locked on me in disbelief. “What? You haven’t been auged?” the question rang loud here, even outside. Any sort of alterations, whether internal or external, are regarded highly by those of status, and I’m sure any of the women who could afford a boost in confidence could pay an extra few thousand creds to have a little more functional silicon implanted in their heads, too.

I looked around at no scowling faces or judging eyes, surprisingly. “No, what makes you think I have?”

“I totally thought you were. You don’t have extra memory in there?” he asked, genuinely amazed I hadn’t undergone any sort of capacity upgrade.

“No, not at all,” I said with as little pride as I could show these technophilic Newpsies.

“Huh, I could have sworn. Hmm…well I guess you just have a good memory then,” he said, adjusting to the idea of my head being emptier than his.

“Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment…especially coming from a machine,” I said facetiously.

He protested “Hey, I’m still mostly human!”

“Whatevs, Robot. Find me the cheapest food around,” I commanded.

He grumbled, and returned his gaze to the screen, manipulating the flattened beam that the browser was illustrated upon with the swish of his fingertips. He looked up, over to the other side of the food court we had just meandered into. “There. The pizza place has the lowest cost here,” he said at once.

“Wow, you found it that quick?” I said, astounded by his technology again.

“No, I just remembered,” he said with a grin, adding “You Archaic humanoid.”

After we finished our two-cred slices of pizza pie, and made our way back through the mess of grotesque human facsimiles, we found ourselves at his little, cerulean crawler. The interior had been optimized for comfort and visibility, so much so that even the HUD cowling had been displaced to the center of the dash. He had three goggle compartments up there.

At the press of the ignition switch, the reactor whined and instruments illuminated with bright blue light, similar to the glow of the Qwerty’s COG, which now rested in a crèche on the center console. It supplied music from its harddrive to the entertainment system, and the driver or passenger could easily control media with the interface on either end.

We hurried home, where Gerund waited for our return. He’d sequestered himself into his room, determined to make full use of his burgeoning class-load by doing everything he could to pass them all. Little had been seen of him recently, except when he needed transit to and from campus, or when there was a bi-weekly jam, or if Nymh had come over to lure him out, though she just as often did nothing to make him want to leave the room.

Similar could be said of the youngest of the Zenith siblings. Rikka was often out of the unit since she was usually working one of her two jobs, and only appeared in sharp, semi-formal outfits when she was briefly home from either, or on her way to an interview for a third. Attention seeking and a hypochondriac, she was currently fighting a bout with the deadly flu upstairs in her quarters, and no one could tell if she were actually sick or not.

I’d become closer friends with Qwerty over the previous weeks, finding similar interests was easy for us; or something like that. It could have been something to do with being the same age as me, or that he was easier to tolerate for an entire day than his often boisterous older brother. Perhaps it was because we had planned to move to that ski resort in Cyane this winter and had begun pre-roommate rituals of bonding. But it’s probably just because we both share the ground level of the unit.

We arrived back at his townunit in the mid-afternoon and immediately return to our positions in front of our workstations. Using some sort of control on his terminal, he remotely activated his brand new vaporizer, allowing it to warm up the 600 seconds so it will work properly. He then sent a message through the sphere to let Gerund know he’d have about ten minutes to find a stopping point.

By force of habit, I brought up the newsources again with my renewed net connection, feeling warm with this novelty: the privilege of fresh information afforded only to those who have the technological means. By the look of the new banners, it seems healthcare reforms were stagnated by both sides of UT government, Earth’s new president visited Titan, and strife continued between warring factions on little Davidia.

A terrorist plot on another Earth skyscraper was foiled, a fusion plant in New Ganymede almost meltdown again and AM would probably release a new model of The COG over the holidays. Students protested an increase in tuition rates at University of Mars campuses, a ferry crash in The Rings left 26 dead and the sequel to that weak teenage-heartthrob-vampire movie broke box office records this weekend.

I closed all the windows at once and brought up one of my bookmarked links: a streaming, real-time image of the star Sol. I zoomed in partway, only until I spotted the well recognizable shapes of the gas giants, the thin haze of asteroid belts and the glint off the terrestrial worlds orbiting close the yellow main-sequence star. If it weren’t for a ticker running the time at the bottom you would have sworn it was just a still image, captured by a traveler from some rocket’s window.

I attempted to imagine for a moment that I was peering out of that porthole at the static but majestic view. I tried to picture myself away from any apprehensions of holidays, pirates, finances or vaccinations. It wasn’t working.

I collapsed the screen of the outdated porti. “Hey, Qwerty,” I called as I stood up, “I’m getting Gerund whether that machine of yours is ready or not.”

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PREV: CH. 48 «The New Martian Dream»

PREV: CH. 48 «The New Martian Dream»

NEXT: CH. 50 «When You’re Twenty-Two»

NEXT: CH. 50 «When You’re Twenty-Two»

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