CH. 55 «Job #7»

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Alright, so I’ve got a line on a gig that might prove to be more of a steady one. I can’t make any claims that it’ll be any less odd a job…it actually to be a wacky one. Let’s just see what it’s like to be a Census Taker on Mars.

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I just had to sit in a hot classroom with a dusgusting cross-section of Mars’ degenerate population… I’m sure all part of the employment examination I just aced. If I don’t get the job after everything I’ve been through today…

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I missed a call last night, but my voicemail app transcribed the message and sent it to my comm in the form of a text. I’d taken down the number then and anxiously waited all morning for the time to call. I figured sometime after 9; knowing it was a government job but wasn’t affiliated with any other branch, they may not have to start at 6 AM or other obscure hour. It was important to get it in before lunch, too, so 11 would become the other end of my range. I sat ready, preparing myself for a few minutes past 10 in the morning when I would call in. I remembered hearing something about an interview over vidcall, and I wanted to present myself the best I could for the call. I actually took a shower this morning.

At quarter ‘til 10 AM, I swiveled open my texti, thumbed the wheel over to start the camera, and set it up on the table. It stood up with the imager and the view-finder screen facing me. With a nervous sigh, I hit the call button and found the contact to reach the Martian branch of the Bureau in Nuport.

Within one ring the other line patched in and a middle-aged woman appeared. One of those requisite awkward moments set in as both of us stared at each other in an initial limbo, not sure if the other was coming in all the way or not, and not sure if we wanted to say anything yet. She had raven hair that ended somewhere around the edge of the screen, and features that made me think she was Callitian, though her antennae pretty much guaranteed she was Martian. She still squinted at me with narrow green eyes.

Finally, I spoke up. “Hello?” I cleared my throat.

“Hel-hello?” she asked, I wasn’t actually sure if she was getting me now.

I continued, glancing over at my workstation to read over the copy of the message transcript forwarded to my inbox as I spoke, “Yes, hi. My name is Klay Lane, I’m responding to a call I got last night about my application, and I was given a record number to refer to,” I maintained a mostly calm tone and expression.

“Yes, please,” she responded, looking down at a keyboard or similar input pad off screen. She typed it in stiffly as I read it off to her, and then turned back to me, letting a little emotion slip finally as she said “I’m sorry, but could I have you hold on the line for just a minute?” She furrowed her eyebrows and puckered her lips slightly in the expression of pity or apology.

“Yes, of course,” I replied shrugging, still unsure of my fate in all this matter. I waited, even more anxious now, staring at the U.T. Census Bureau logo on a red background. It toned every eight nanos or so to let me know I hadn’t been bumped.

I remained connected for another two minutes before the lady at the census office came back on. She resettled into her chair, seeming to get herself ready for what was coming next and locked her gaze on her imager. “Alright,” she began, switching between glancing at me and looking at a screen with a long monologue displayed on. “So, Klay. You filled out applications and took our assessment test to become an enumerator for the Martian branch of the U.T. Census. Are you still interested in this position with us?”

“Yes, yes of course.”

She immediately livened up, relieved to not have me reject and hang up on her. Her accent became more apparent now that she wasn’t speaking in single syllables, she had more of a personality and seemed less like a vidcall answerbot. Although, this new saccharine attitude seemed just as synthetic. There was just something about her smile; it lasted too long to be genuine each time.

The Martian lady asked me a whole series of questions, which she read verbatim off a prompter app, or from something similar that I couldn’t see, pertaining to my ability to perform the duties. Was I available at these random hours? Would I have any problems using the PDA and other materials provided to each enumerator? Did I have transportation available and no issue getting into difficult to reach addresses? Would I have any problem asking personal questions to people of different races and customs? All seemingly simply questions to answer, but it really made me think about the strange, invasive profession I was about to walk in to. Also, how at other times of my life I may have not been able to give all the right answers.

She asked me finally if I’d be able to attend training seminars at some random date towards the end of the month, where I know I would be receiving personal, 14 hour extended versions of what she’d just subjected to me to over the vidcall interview I answered yes to again.

“Alright then, Klay, we’re almost done here,” she sounded cheesy. “I’m finished with all of my questions, but are there any that you have for us?”

I glanced over anything I’d written on the notepad open beside me on my desktop. “WHERES MY MONEY” was scribled in all caps on top, but I devided not to ask about pay.

I nodded, “Of course not, go on,” and let her proceed.
She cleared her throat and conjured up some flare “Congratulations, Klay, You have been accepted to become a Census Enumerator for the Martian territory of Amazonia.” I half expected fanfare to play.

Regadless I felt like a game show winner for a moment, but I kind of figured that’s where this was going with this from the beginning of the interview process. She continued “You will be notified 10 days prior to training and informed of the date and location, be sure to bring two forms of ID,” she said without her previous compassion, her forehead knotted in resolve, but probably still part of her shtick.

Needlessly cryptic I know. Some serious worry began brooding over whether or not the following instructions would arrive with a note saying ‘for your eyes only’ or ‘this message will self-destruct’ or something else drenched in espionage.

“Alright, that sounds great. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity with the Martian Census,” I said, realizing I was mimicking her plastic routine. She double-checked my contact details to make sure I would be on the list, and bid me a commercial rehearsed farewell, blinking out of my texti’s tiny screen.

I was rather excited to have a new job to look forward to in some undisclosed amount of time, and felt rather productive and relieved that I’d gotten that done before 10 like I’d planned to. I looked forward to the rest of my day with stars and dollar signs in my eyes.

Unfortunately, there’s a good portion I won’t be able to report to you about the job. I’m not going to be able to divulge personal information about the individuals I see on a daily basis for your entertainment, that’s not where this is going; this doesn’t just become the ‘Klay Lane – Census Enumerator Story’ over night. It would be unlawful for me to discuss any information given to me in trust of the Martian Census Bureau, and punishable by hefty fines and lengthy jail time, so I won’t really be able to tell you much more than what I have already.

Oh, and that I’ll be making a lot of credits for a little while. But it might be the last little while before I move back to Earth so it will probably be my last occupation on Mars. I could find another odd job to fill the gaps of this one though, assuming it affords me any free time to do so.

Who knows if there won’t be another exciting installment of the Job Odyssey taking place here on Martian soil.

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PREV: CH. 54 «Job #5»

PREV: CH. 54 «Job #5»

NEXT: CH. 56 «Scavengers of Space, Martian Day-Workers, and Me»

NEXT: CH. 56 «Scavengers of Space, Martian Day-Workers, and Me»






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The Zenith Bros. are shooting a wedding today and have hired me as a second…er..well theres two of them…so I guess I’m the Third Shooter. I don’t know if I’ll be able to use any of the shots in my portfolio (or if I’ll even want to) but this will be some great practical hands-on experience with image taking.

The families getting married are should I say? Religious? Puritanical? Boring? It’s a dry wedding-no booze. I thought I might not be able to handle all the merriment and matrimony without any alcohol. But Mrs. Zenith proved to be a champ, having thought to pack a bottle of vodka and jug of orange juice in her rover to share with us. She’s, like, the perfect mother to this family.

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CH. 54 «Job #5»

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The person on the other end of the line was confused but resolute. “I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number..” he said in some sort of Saturnian accent.

“I understand, sorry again to have bothered you. Have a grea-” I started, before he leaned forward to close his connection, and my attempt at politesse was cut off. Slightly frustrated to stare at a blank call screen, I hit my own End button and set the headset on the desk. “There’s another failure to launch.”

Spruce Zenith and his twin brother, Sylvan glanced up from their terminals. They were near identical, except for the places where time had treated them differently. A wrinkle here that the other didn’t have, or a scar there his brother never got. The little things would tip you off that they didn’t share the exact same face, but you could still tell they were made up of the same genetic sequence.

I imagine when they were younger, in days they still hailed as child teli stars and models, the difference was near imperceptible–only if you were the agent-mother that launched their career into the business of entertainment would you know them well enough to tell them apart. The biggest exterior difference now is how they wear their hair; Sylvan always trimmed short, and Spruce’s a little on the shaggy side.

“Well you can’t win them all,” Sylvan said, only glancing up from his workstation for a nano before returning focus on whatever scheduling or billing to which he’d been previously attending.

Gerund’s father, Spruce, wheeled around in his chair. He turned to whine “C’mon, Klay. Give us another one, real quick, I want him to hear your whole spiel before he has to go.” His brother, Sylvan, didn’t need to examine what I prepared to say. He hadn’t been interested the entire past half-hour Spruce had been eking a demonstration out of me.

“Huh? Yeah,” he gave a noncommittal answer to something he may have not entirely heard. I took it as the best signal I could get, and dial the addy for the next customer.

Thankfully, the tone rang until the answering program took over; a recorded voice apologizing for not being able to answer, and ensuring he’d get back to me after I’d left my long winded offer to discount the total if he would book with us  to update his headshots.

Spruce wheeled away from his computer, encouragingly saying “Well it sounded good to me, Klay. What do you think of that, Sylvan, does that sound fine?” he was trying to reengage his brother, who wanted nothing more than make the numbers work.

“Yeah, it all sounds good,” he responded mechanically. He paused a moment and considered his evaluation. “I’d just remember to mention the copy we give on disc, too. And I’ve noticed your voice goes a little higher when you make a call, but it doesn’t need to,” he added.

“Ah, well thanks, that’s actually very constructive.. Ok, so go low,” I replied and contemplated how to remember to incorporate this into the conversation with the next person I’d have to call. “Alright, so next..”

I peered into the window with the short contact info to find the next person I needed to solicit, and used the program open in another window that gave me access to the data base of all the Zenith brothers’ clients for the past 9 years. I cross-referenced the last name to find the next individual who hadn’t gotten their picture taken in over a year and whomever didn’t have the standard contact addresses online to be reached in the mass messaging. I had to send all those emails last week.

Two rings later and the error noise sounded, accompanied on screen by the logo of the service provider that still owned the number which the selected contact no longer did. A recorded electronic voice informed me what I already figured, I clicked off before it could tell me to hang up.

Without a word of gripe or funny remark or approval seeking glance to the peanut gallery, I looked up the info for the next client I’d try to reach. It resulted similarly, though this time it was the familiar image of my own comm company’s logo facing me, and a different mechanical woman’s voice telling me to try my call again. I held back a grumble of dissatisfaction and punched in the next number.

After five rings—just when I was beginning to feel doubtful I’d ever get a positive vidcall and some real face-to-face with a client—the connection actually verified and the receiving party blinked in. It caught me off guard.

A young guy with pointy ears, dark hair and antennae was on the other end of the line, seating himself in front of his screen and adjusting a headset, he concentrated when he spoke directly into the viewer, asking “Hello?”

“Hi there, is this the right number to reach…” I glanced down at the window with the extended contact info for the name of the person in the family who had used a credit card. It took me a moment to find my place.

“Hello?” he continued, peering closer as if searching for something in his screen. “Hello? Is anyone there?” He reached forward to adjust something off-screen.

“Yes, hello, is thi-” I raised my voice before being stopped suddenly.

“Oh sorry, no one here is available to take your call right now,” the outgoing message continued, the guy sympathetically addressing the camera now. “Please leave your name, number and a shor-” I pressed the pound key on the worn-out callbox that sat on the desk of the studio, and skipped to where I’d leave another message. I made sure to speak in a lower tone this time, and of course, to mention the proof disc included at no extra cost. Then, not even sure if they would receive this message today or ever, I wished them a wonderful day.

I set down the headset, glared at my bosses, saying “I hate every mother gorker who thinks that’s a funny way to take a message,” and leaned in to make a few notes on the client in one of the windows I was keeping open.

Sylvan was sitting back in his chair, crossing his fingers reflectively, he’d apparently finished what he was doing and tuned in somewhere halfway through the call. “That sounds pretty good.. pretty good. Now do it a hundred more times,” he said with a chuckle, but that sort of sounded-funny-but-is-still-a-very-serious-remark laugh.

I cleared my throat as I picked up the headset again. “Right, right,” I mumbled, figuring as much.

I knew it would be forever before I ever found any positive results, I was stuck all the way back in entries from the year 2304–I wasn’t out of high school, let alone even living on Mars back then. Nobody for about another three years had a chance of still being in the business. But still I trudged on through the years of boys who’d hit puberty and a growth-spurt, and girls who just simply grew out it. Kids who’d gotten older and gone to college by now. Or they could have found something to spend daddy’s credits on… who knows?

It might be a while before I make enough credits for the twins to see any cut of it myself, but if I can be any help to my benefactors and find them more work, its worth a shot or two. Or a hundred.

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PREV: CH. 53 «Second Job»

PREV: CH. 53 «Second Job»

NEXT: CH. 55 «Job #7»

NEXT: CH. 55 «Job #7»

CH. 53 «Second Job»

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The sun was orange today and radiated its glow through the tint of pink skies from directly overhead. As I sauntered through the parking lot of a cookie cuter Caspian Company community, passing by the stereotypical directory map and those weird little trash cans, all affixed with their own dispensers of pet waste bags, I rooted through my pockets to pull out my texti. Well, I still call it a texti; it was little more than a glamorous pocket watch these days, though it was a time piece that could still be used as a calculator or to play rudimentary video games. I could see that it was five ‘til noon by the hour displayed on the outside of the small plastic communicator. I quickly stuffed it in my pocket and stepped up onto the crimson painted curb. If I didn’t hurry up, I’d be late for work.

I ran into Gerund’s apartment with just enough time to get ready. I’d barely be able to get my workstation set up, jacked into it’s alternating-current umbilical, and initiate the grueling start-up sequence before I had to be at work, but I sighed and took a nano to breathe in an aging chair by the front hatch. Technically, I didn’t actually have to begin working immediately.

Even if there were scheduled hours or deadlines I’d have to start and finish by, there still wouldn’t be any need to get my elastic in a bunch. Telecommuting can be a pain, but the job’s really no further than my fingertips are now. I was only hastening myself so I could get an extra hour in before I’d have to retrieve my best friend from class. But seeing as I could only log up to 20 hours each week, I definitely saw no rush in getting to work on the hours I’d reserved to toil away today. so I made myself some tea and scavenged the ashtray for a nice butt.

After my weekly couriering gig, my second job is rather mundane. I help teach robots that gay isn’t a negative thing… basically. I guess you’d call it opinion analysis, or simply data entry, but my task is to sort through user comments from uScreen, Rippler and Spacebook to isolate keywords and terms used to describe music and artist by denizens of the net. Then I compile the terms—along with their connotations and modernized colloquial meanings—in spreadsheets so they can be fed into a database to program some sort of artificial intelligence or net app. I imagine, whatever it eventually manifests as, it will be used to automatically rate and rank musicians or tracks based on the assortment of things said about them, no matter how inane or seemingly nonsensical the matter may be.

I found the job on Peakslist, a glimmer of hope amongt the dozens of other frustratingly unsuccessful gigs. I guess it pays to respond to an ad within an hour of it being posted. I got word back almost immediately. Not that any of the qualifications were all that demanding, they only required that I liked music, had experience with computers, and had enough time to give them out of my week; all of which I could confidently say I possessed. It hardly seemed that intimidating, but at first I was a little cautious of its legitimacy. Most of my doubts were quelled by the video conference orientation, where I got an idea of who I’d be working under. Everyone was excited to get started as soon as they learned that was all we were doing.

I think it’s pretty easy, too. First you establish what is given as fact as opposed to opinion. After eliminating every bit of this factual information you’re left with the user’s own thought on the matter, which you then have to allocate into different categories based on meaning. For example, if a comment reads something along the lines of “BANDNAME sux” you would place it in the sheet and note it as Negative. If it were to say “ARTISTNAME is so astro!!” you’d note it Positive. Everything in between, remarks with the words “lesbian”, “old”, “Davidian“, etc. had to be lumped into a third category because, whether it’s actually true or not, its still called a Fact, even if most are being used in a derogatory sense anyway.

Two hours tucked away, the third just begun, and already I’d had enough of the human race. At least the scummy, immature inhabitants of the internets that frequent uScreen channels. The kind of stuff said there really shakes your faith in humanity, if it doesn’t just make you feel sick. It’s like everyone became retarded suddenly, checking their common sense at the login screen. They’re just one of the frustrating aspects of this work.

It doesn’t help that humans can’t spell for slag. A lot of common terms become nearly unsearchable when query results become spammed up by people using a word unintentionally. Do you know how many Rippler users spell ‘chic’ instead of ‘chick’? It’s so infuriating I could use another cup of coffee.

About this time I notice a new bubble appeared in the top corner of the interface accompanied by a notification tone ringing softly though this section of the sphere. I didn’t notice it until it seemed like there was slight background music to my typing.

[{Wyseman, I. is Watching}]

My boss! Watching?! A cold shiver runs up my spine, somewhat typically. I may not have a working imager but he’s still reviewing my work and can still see all the progress I made and replay the way I did it. It’s still seems as if he stuck his head in to my work space, very much like having a real boss looming over your shoulder. Or peering into your life. It really didn’t bother me the more I thought about it, it wasn’t like I was doing anything inaccurate. But I still knew everything I did would be monitored. The bubble began blinking.

{[New Message from: Wyseman, I.]}

‘I like what you’re doing. Keep up the good work!’ it expanded to read.

I was partially relieved, of course, but I was still a bit creeped out by the whole thing. Afterwards, I carried on as usual for the rest of the day, but nervous that another bubble would emerge suddenly to say I did something wrong. It never came.

After I finished up my last hour of work, I saw I had about a quarter until I had to pick up Gerund. When I saved and closed I immediately brought up new windows with my social networks and my other inboxes. I saw I had a new message in my main email, and indeed it was from my boss.

“Hey, the big guys and I just wanted to let you know how impressed we were with the variety of results you’re bringing in, and that from now on if you want to, you can work more than the daily cap of four hours and still get paid for it. Keep it up, man!
-Wyseman, I.”

Great! My reward is I get to do more work! I didn’t even know I had a cap at four hours, or that it had to be lifted in someway. Oh well, it’s a neat opportunity I guess. Maybe that means I should try to slip a couple more in after I bring Gerund back home. Or do already I hate internet people enough?

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PREV: CH. 52 «Jobhunt»

PREV: CH. 52 «Jobhunt»

NEXT: CH. 54 «Job #5»

NEXT: CH. 54 «Job #5»

CH. 52 «Jobhunt»

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I spend most of my time sitting in front of a computer. After countless months of hiding out in the net to stave off the daily needs of a more active, or remotely physical lifestyle, I feel its well past due that I made sure I wouldn’t be spending the rest of my life as a cyber refugee. Hunger, boredom and unfulfillment can’t be ignored any longer. Free moments I once had to play a video game or check my inboxes again are now spent trolling employment classifieds and job finders.

Peakslist is an extremely acclaimed tool for such needs; one of the more popular, if not the most widely used, classified services today. It offers localized listings for all the major metropolitan areas across the united territories and has recently extended its services to cities and communities all over the solar system. At peakslist you can locate a place to live, sell your rover, find a job, find love, or just find someone to sleep with. The latter has been the most infamous utilization of the site as of late, but that’s a rant for another transmission.

Today I’m striking out. I bemoan my lack of success with peakslist in the face of so many who swear by it or claim they owe their life to it. So far, in endless weeks of ineffective job hunting, I’ve found a buyer for a PDA which I ended up having second thoughts about needing, a haircut from a trainee stylist in a fancy salon that I didn’t have to pay for, and an old sofa, free of charge to the first person who could bring a large enough vehicle to pick it up. Nothing close to what I was even looking for.

At first I only applied to jobs I wanted, hoping what I considered to be my multiple qualifications would win me the position. I’ve recently realized I have few many employers would consider tangible. But any of those involving coding in languages I fully understand or graphic design gigs that don’t call for the requisite degree (not currently in my possession) are things of fantasy. It was painful to let go my hopes of working at home from this porti, but only those with practical knowledge of the fields gained from schooling, or years of self-training, are deserving of those dream jobs. Lowering my standards, I began responding to every post I was remotely qualified for, even if I couldn’t see myself ever liking the occupation.

I’ve submitted my resume in hopes of becoming a radio program host, a theatre set designer, a DJ for parties and weddings, a receptionist for a tattoo shop, and a speech and language tutor. I’ve applied to be someone’s personal assistant, net publicist, secretary and intern. I sent in applications to work for a publishing company, as a page in a library and as a legal clerk. I even tried to contact employers about positions in delivery, pool service, data entry, and many other laborious tasks. All to no apparent avail.

No, the only occupation I can still claim to have is that of Image Taker’s Assistant for Zenith Bros. Imaging, and even that’s just an unpaid internship. I was never truly been interested in image taking, not enough to study the subject or pursue a career of any type in it. I never took it as a course in high school, nor ever spent time inhaling noxious developing chemicals in a dark room. Qwerty and I were trying to get jobs at a Martian ski resort and realized the easiest way to work the coolest job at the photo station would require us to beef up my resume with something about taking pictures. Helping out around the studio we took initial steps on the path to becoming a profesional image takers.

It means I’m beefing up my arms to hold a reflector all day. Haven’t gotten to do much with a real image capturer yet…I’m sure all the lessons about theory and composition will come in handy…what? When I want to post an imagegram for myself? I do perform more important tasks than supporting lighting instruments and spinning a fan. Like the weekly courier mission I make for them to south Olympus County. Previously delegated to Gerund, the UMC undergrad found it too hard to fit it into his schedule anymore, and bequeathed the duty to me, though I still share with him the petty cash afforded to me for gas and food. Its the closest thing to an income I maintain. My delivery of discs and proofs to the children’s talent agency can be a lengthy assignment, but far from an arduous one.

All the same, if I wanted to be a delivery boy I could probably do a little better for myself. I’ll continue to scour the list for something a little more lucrative. With my standards set as low as they are now, I should be able to find some simple and demeaning occupation in no time, right? Soon enough I’ll be able to put away three, maybe even four figures each month, but until then I have to keep searching. It’s the most productive thing I could be doing with all the time I spend online. It better start to pay off soon, though.

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PREV: CH. 51 «Are You Patched In?»

PREV: CH. 51 «Are You Patched In?»

NEXT: CH. 53 «Second Job»

NEXT: CH. 53 «Second Job»

CH. 51 «Are You Patched In?»

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Classical music filled Shayne Lynoir’s room. The app left open on her desktop that it was playing from dimmed in its intensity slowly as a strange polyphonic tone began to pulse steadily.


An alert popped up displaying this along with his avatar; a nail-sized still image of his Ionian face, undoubtedly snapped recently when he set up his brand new porti. The window vibrated with each tone pulse every other second. It almost matched the tempo of the classical song still playing at low volume.

I stared at the animated icon bouncing for just a moment before shouting “You’ve got an incoming on screen, Shayne!” I hoped she could hear me in the kitchen where she was making herself a dinner of nearly-instant rice.

“Answer it!” She yelled back over the noise of the gammawave oven.

I got up from my beat-up, old computer and clicked the option to accept the call as I sat down at her desk. The window expanded to fill Shayne’s main screen, and in a nano the blank default was replaced by a young earthling with a mess of long, dark curls drapped over his head. The familiar jovial countenance of Rip Gozo.

“Helllooo!!” he said looming in to the screen and back, waiting a second for a response to come in before saying anything again.

“Hey, what’s up!” I said, waving directly into the camera lens.
“How are you doing?”

“Uhh..I’m well..But who’s there with you?…Can you guys see me?” He asked as he peered deeply into the screen, as if he was trying to make my face out of the black.

“Yeah, you’re coming in 5-by-5 on my end..” I paused when I realized that isn’t something you’d use to describe a laggy feed from a couple hundred-thousand miles away. “Well..not perfect, but you know what I mean.”

“I can’t see you, though. Did you forget to turn your imager on?” He asked, waving his finger at his.

I looked around for telltales or a switch of some sort. “Oh…I don’t think…uh..hold on for a nano,” I turned away from the screen. “Hey, Shayne? Is there a button to turn this thing on?”

“There should be a toggle for it somewhere over here,” Rip suggested from his end, pointing to the left side of his screen.

“I’ll get it.” Rip sighed, probably tapping his feet though another awkward moment of waiting for the conversation to start, knowing he was being watched but couldn’t see by whom. I found what I was looking for without a whole lot of unnecessary clicking. A smaller image of myself expanded from the lower corner of his screen to let me know the feed was going through, and I watched myself sigh in relief “There we go.”

“Oh, Klay! It’s you!?! Well that took you long enough. Noob,” Rip said with a sassy head bob and snap.

“Hey, I’ve never used Patch on an AM before, gimmie a break, everything’s backwards from how you have it,” I protested with a shrug.

“Wow, this is so strange talking to you–You!” he realized, leaning closer into the screen.

“Heh…I think I know what you mean,” I nervously scratched the back of my head. We caught up about the past few months and about our holidays while the scientist finished her culinary experiment in the kitchen. I’m glad she took her time, because it took a while for the embarassment to evaporate.

Maybe I don’t get a chance to use video chatting often enough, but I always find the first few minutes are a bit weird for me, adjusting to looking at the lens when you’re sending, and back at the screen while receiving. I can’t really say I used this capability too often, even when I had the ability to at any time. You probably get used to it.

It would seem face-to-face visual communication became too awkward for many people. What if you were with a friend your caller didn’t approve of? What if you didn’t put your makeup on this morning? What if you don’t want your mom to see you smoking a cigi. What if you were obviously faded? The act of dialing up and communicating with voice only became more commonplace because of it’s convenience. A very weak gesture in comparison to the option for a more life-like interaction no farther than a thumbs reach for anybody, and almost surely a little insulting to the other party involved.

Especially if everyone knows there are better ways to convey everything you mean than through a series of words.

I can’t help but notice everywhere I’m looking. Perhaps the loss of identity and personality is due to this general acceptance of living with the lack of the full spectrum available to us. We’ve been seeking refuge in a world of voice and text and in the anonymity this simulacrum of healthy interaction provides us with. Maybe I’m thinking too deeply into justifications for this, or ways I could not be a terrible person for doing the same. It’s true though, as I am unquestionably guilty of thinking that my words would convey my message enough when my expression could say volumes more.

Shayne returned, joining us with a bowl of her newest creation in hand. “Hey, Rip!” she shouted excitedly.

“What’s up, girl?” he replied with a funky hand gesture.

“Oh not much,” she shrugged. “Same old, you know. Lane here just killed the navi for my crawler.”

I nodded in agreement. “Yep, it’s true. I’m a murderer.” I hadn’t meant to, but I guess I put too much weight on the console when I climbed into the back of her vehicle a half hour ago. I was trying to quickly make room for the classmate she was picking up from the spaceport, and the poor touch screen gizmo never saw it coming.

“Aww, that’s some serious sad sauce there. I’m sorry that happened,” he said with sympathy.

“So am I,” I leaned in to say.

“So am I.” She added with no particular bitterness “Now he needs to replace it by being my GPS.

“…Until I actually afford to replace it,” I finished for her, turning away from the screens to seek a signal of approval on her face.

She chuckled. “Yeah, maybe. But what if I like you telling me where to go better than that robotic, Uranian bitch?”

I straightened my arms like a robot and did my best to imitate the broken cadence of robo-talk. “Booop–Turn left. Then, shut your mouthport, meatbag.”

“You guys are funny,” Rip said while giggling. “You should have seen where I logged some time earlier. It was this channel where anyone could come in and join the conversation, just to watch and text in.”

“Oh yeah? That sounds kinda neat,” I said, scratching my chin ponderously suddenly began entertaining the idea of adding video to my tlog, and thinking it may be nice practicing proper video etiquette.

“It is, but people aren’t easy.” He tugged at his long curls as he continued, “I had a bunch of people petitioned to watch, but most of them immediately wrote ‘Haircut.’ and then closed off their feed.”

“Well that‘s kinda weak,” I rested my hands on my hips. “I guess you should get one if you want more viewers.”

“Hey,” Shayne spoke up in his defense, “I like it.”

“I do too, but its a little bit like…oooh! I know! You should just put it into dreads,” I offered excitedly. Shayne seemed to like the idea, as she began to bring up search results for dreadlocks on the adjacent screen.

“Heh, I was actually thinking about doing it…that, or just shaving it all off,” it didn’t seem he’d made a decision yet from his tone.

“Oh yeah,” I crossed my arms, “Pull a Zech, sure, it worked for him. Worked for me, come to think of it–look at my hair.” I leaned in once again for his appraisal of my neatly trimmed ‘do.

“Yeah, it looks good, I can see your face,” he said only partially interested. “Hey, Ms. Lynoir! Look over here, I want to show you something,” he dipped out of sight for a nano, presumably to retrieve something.

“What’s that?” he had her attention quickly.

A large piece of dense herb occluded him from view. “TA-DA!!” he exclaimed, hidden behind it.

“Oooh, that’s nice,” the chemist uttered almost by rote.

Mimicking a voice from a cartoon we used to watch, I asked, “Is it…kush?”

“Pfft! Is it kush?” he repeated dismissively while his attention was turned to breaking it up, then paused to actually consider the question. “..Well, I don’t know…anyway, Shayne, take a hit with me!”

“Uhh.…” she paused to consider how high she already was, but shrugged it off. “Well ok…but out of what?”

“I’m hitting my new steamroller, Atlas,” he announced with authority as he displayed the large, metallic cylinder. “What is your newest gadget?”

She glanced around a nano. “Well, it would probably be…this GB I made! Conveniently right here,” she lifted the makeshift contraption from under her desk into range of the imager. “Wait for me to get ready, we’ll take it together!”

It certainly made it exciting to be getting high with someone over a hundred-million miles away. I’m unsure if it was actually done simultaneously, due to the noticeable lag one gets from sending information from planet to planet, but whatevs. Even with all the difference in time and space, I’m sure everyone was buzzing together.

It could always get better though. We still haven’t perfected a means of far distance communication. I could be wrong though, there may not be anything just so immaculate available to the general public as of yet, but I’m sure with enough money or military connections, one could get a direct satellite-to-satellite wideband. It would feel more instantaneous, with out so much jerkiness and latency. It would be even more like having the person you want to see in the room with you.

“I wish you could be here for the party I’m having in a week, Rip!” The blonde grad student said with palpable sadness.

“It’s gonna be astro!”

“Oh, it would be astro if you could come to,” I added, stooping far enough that the top of my head wasn’t cut off.

“I know!” he squealed, crestfallen. “Too bad I’ll never have enough time away from school and work…or enough for spacefare in any foreseeable future.”

“But you need to be here on Mars, Rip. You belong here,” she continued to plea. “You could live on my couch, like Lane is right now!”

By his reaction didn’t seem too enthusiastic about sofa surfing. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ve got stuff going on here. I can’t leave yet,” he knew one day he’d have to come, it was just a matter of time.

“The offer stands. You’re welcome here and you’ll always have a place to crash on Mars,” she said with a smile.

“You’re too sweet. But that reminds me, I’m tired as void,” he yawned. “I’m going to bed, it’s past four o’clock on Earth. You Martians have a pleasant evening. It was good seeing you, Klay,” he waved bye.

“Bye, Rip!!” Shayne yelled.

“You too, man. Nice seeing your face,” I waved back as he blinked out.

The vidcall ended. The chat window shrunk in size and disappeared. It was eerily quiet for a moment afterward, but the music soon swelled to its original volume.

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PREV: CH. 50 «When You’re Twenty-Two»

PREV: CH. 50 «When You’re Twenty-Two»

NEXT: CH. 52 «Jobhunt»

NEXT: CH. 52 «Jobhunt»

CH. 50 «When You’re Twenty-Two»

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I think I’ve reached a somewhat depressing point in my life. I’m at that age where I believe I should be much further along than I am. It’s one of those shocking, eye-opening things and I don’t know if I want them pried open to see the truth. But I realize that I am falling behind faster than I thought I was.

When you’re twenty-two, it can be a very motivating or discouraging time. You watch all your classmates from high school graduate their respective colleges and universities and move on to the next step of education or into a career. You never notice the time move but through those passing by, leaving you far behind to stare on, only realizing you’re wasting yours away when you’ve seen them disappear. And it’s not just me. I’ve found it a bewildering time of life for everyone I talked to about it.

Qwerty Zenith, mostly Martian but a little bit machine, just turned 22 this year, his birthday exactly 6 months after mine. Already he’d found it a most dynamic episode. He had been living on Eris this past year, striving to get away from home in much the same fashion of my own escape. He’d been much smarter than me about it though, and when he felt his welcome was up he fled from the beaches, volcanoes and roaches, back home to Mars before it was too late. Since returning he’d developed quite a taste for the Fire of Jove, and in effort to do everything better than anyone else, already acquired a legal prescription to use it as medicine. As far as I was concerned, he was living the dream.

Three years ago his older brother, Gerund, the yellow-eyed Martian, was just getting over the break-up of a relationship which had occupied the previous four years of his life. He was still trying to come to terms with the bits of his identity left behind in the aftermath, taking up smoking and other vices he had neglected as integral parts of his personality. He spent most of his time at the Gypsy Den or at the local bars, living off the credits he’d saved from his last job, which he also recently found himself pleasantly liberated from.

Shayne Lynoir recently graduated from a respectable university on Earth with a degree in chemical biology, two fellowships to pay for her continued education, and an acceptance letter to graduate school at the University of Mars: Caspian. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed, spandex-clad Earthling then spent an entire summer drinking from the golden cup on Amalthea. By the time my old high school friend had arrived on Mars she had an entirely new outlook and zeal for life, as well as a new favorite pastime. She felt like moving here was one of the best decisions she’d ever made, and in the short while she’d been at UMC, Shayne had already made a ton of new friends, found a band, and requisitioned her sexuality a few times.

When Nymh Amp was this age, she had just given birth to her half-Saturnian, half-Martian daughter, Rei, and motherhood was foreign and strange. As she yearned to find ways of expressing herself as an individual she realized that she was in a topsy-turvy relationship and may be suffering from post partum depression. She resisted doing things that would indelibly identify her as a mother in an attempt to return her life to how it was before. She resumed partying at night and drinking, even during breast-feeding. She wanted to get out of it all, or at least into a more honest life with a more honest companion, at whatever cost.

My own mother, Linn, was my age in the year 2277 and at that point she had been living in Chesapeake all her life. When her best friend, Zan, moved to Earth’s southern hemisphere and left her with an empty apartment and a series of dead end jobs, mom realized she wasn‘t really connected to anything in the north. She wanted a change more than anything, and since everyone seemed to need to live somewhere new, she figured Why not? She packed up that summer and moved down to Tekesida to live with her missing roommate.

Sunshine City was a breezy coastal refuge from the Tekesidan humidity, but even then it offered very little harbor from the moisture of the south. There were mosquitoes even worse than those spawned in the swamps near DT, as well as giant, flying cockroaches and many other creepy critters that sent her scrambling for safety on chairs and tabletops. One time she was scared so bad, Zan’s lovi, a local policeman, had to shoot a snake dead before my mother would descend from her perch on the kitchen counter.

Ironically, the only thing they didn’t fear were the giant alligators populating the canals that passed behind their unit and wove through the neighborhoods, like so many winding aquatic roads. She and the roommates would feed them marshmallows from a dock suspended just a few inches from their partial-exposed heads, and watched them basking on the earthen banks on the other side, never acknowledging the scaly beasts were capable of climbing the same shore into their own backyard.

The year after he would have finished high school, Keret Lane began working for the fire department. My father had walked into city hall with the intention of working on an ambulance, but it was required to be experienced as a firefighter first, and as he was just looking to be civil servant to avoid deployment, any job would do. By ‘77 he had completed the required schooling to work as a paramedic, as well as taken a side job as a plumber.

When dad was my age in 2278 he had finally been assigned to his own ambulance and just moved into a new, less squalid unit on the west end of Alexandria. He hardly spent any time in it though, posted full watches at the fire station most of the week and working out at the gym 6 or 5 days of the week. When he’d joined the department he’d had a weak physique, not too dissimilar from mine now, and he needed to bulk up so the job couldn’t severely beat him up anymore. If dad had any time off he used it to surf off the outer banks of Carolina.

He said as far as municipal jobs go, it wasn’t too weak. Not quite the thing for people who have issues with authority figures or getting out of bed, but otherwise it was an exciting, and all together satisfying job. It felt good to help, and it gave him plenty of opportunities to do so. It also gave him perspective on life and taught him about what was really important to survival. Later in his career these experiences made it difficult for my father not to laugh in his customers’ faces while they complained that not being able to swim in their anti-gravity pool was a situation of life and death.

If you were me, you wouldn’t have a satisfying job or be fulfilling the necessary education requirements to get one. You wouldn’t be scurrying to hide from little creatures or trying in earnest to raise one. You wouldn’t be anywhere near reaching what you think of as the Martian Dream or close to achieving any of the other simple dreams you’ve set for yourself. You wouldn’t be very excited about the world changing all about you. You’d be sitting at home wondering what went wrong with your life. You’d be going to shows and feeling ten years older than everyone else around you. You’d be desperately scrapping through social networks to keep old contacts instead of reaching out to find new friends. And you’d be trying to start anew on Mars for the third or fourth time, hoping the fates would treat you a little better this time. You’d be wishing you were hitting a bowl, or cleaning swimming pools, or hitchhiking across the solar system right now. You’d be wishing that you wouldn’t have to wake up to the same violently vulgar drosslag every morning.

It doesn’t matter what planet you‘re from, I think you’d be wishing you were anyone but you, if you were twenty-two.

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PREV: CH. 49 «Tumultuous Apathy»

PREV: CH. 49 «Tumultuous Apathy»

NEXT: CH. 51 «Are You Patched In?»

NEXT: CH. 51 «Are You Patched In?»

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