Friday, January 18, 2013

Fiction: Solid - Chapter 2

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

"Solid" - Chapter 2

Note:  Today's post is Chapter 2 of an original serialized sci-fi story I'm writing just for you, dear reader.  Chapter 1 appeared (scroll down) on Jan. 8. 


Nick entered the tower he called home after a retina scan and an automated message softly greeted him as the thick glass door slid silently aside.

"Welcome home, Nick Casteel."

Nick strode through a common area that had the feel and look and even the air of a cool temperate forest.  The air inside DynaCorp Tower was more humid and cool than outside.  This was accomplished by having an actual forest contained in the vast atrium which spired high above where sunlight dazzled through the now transparent changable glass and dappled through the broad leaves of the upper canopy and down through pines and then to the child walking the well groomed pathways through moss and fern.

In the elevator he stood on what appeared to be nothing.  This elevator was of the like of the Space Tower, which transported things from Earth to space in the Pacific.  Its floor was substantial only to the proportion of the object it carried and the cargo was whisked mechanically along a carbon strand to the 33rd floor.

A related technology was used in "moving" public sidewalks.  It wasn't the actual sidewalk that moved.  Rather, it was the person's feet interacting with the field, or sidewalk, that made the things solid and pulled the person along a stream of electrons according to thier individual gait in the direction they wished to travel.  The holographic sidewalk, for example, could look like anything at all: water, sand, a concrete sidewalk, and was generally designed in public to facilitate a kind of human familiarity.

In the same way, keyboards were built for a while with the comforting click of the typewriter, despite no longer having mechanical keys that struck the paper as it rolled by on old machines.  It made computer keyboards feel right.

Many things were done for nostalgic comfort, these days.  The idea of school as a place where the youth go to be educated was, itself, anachronistic.  Schools had merged and merged and merged again, growing larger and more impersonal over the years.  Without the backing of industry, the schools would collapse.  Still, people felt like they needed school - almost symbolically - even though the youth could just as easily be taught lessons at home. But people felt comfortable with their offspring "going to school" even if they could not put their finger on why.  Corporations could better control the lesson plans in a centralized school, too, and it provided a kind of fabric to society where, say, DynaCorp developed and benefitted from a certain culture supported by its approved educational system. In a generation or two, the concept of school might disappear from the culture except for DynaCorp's needs.

When public "moving" walkways were first tested, those traversing them would look down at the glow around their feet and inevitably fall, disoriented.  By adding holographic technology, some even reproduced the sound of footfalls, of a sidewalk passing beneath your feet, people naturally fell into their normal rhythms and, voila! the era of public transit changed forever.  You could "walk" to school at a sprinter's pace just by leaning forward as if to run.

Nick appeared to float upwards on footprints of neon blue to the 33rd floor.  He moved into the hallway and leaned forward and sailed toward his apartment.

From the rather pedestrian looking hallway - It looked like any old fashioned luxury hotel hallway might look except there were fewer doors along it. - Nick touched his door and it vanished.  He stepped inside and it reappeared behind him and his mother got a Ping at work that her son was home.

The place was a large open living space with a panorama view of the L.A. heat outside, 104 today- fairly cool with the ocean breeze- and the bay.  Nick touched the wall with one finger and the window changed its tint, dimming the outside world.  He flopped on a sofa, kicking off his shoes.

Lying there, the dark haired, dark eyed boy was puzzled.  He'd done something wrong in the history lesson today and it didn't work out.  Nick had never lost a battle re-enactment in history or modern warfare class.  Never.  And he thought he had repeated all of the steps that the South California Police had carried out in the actual civil war.  The result should have been a resounding victory, just as had happened 50 years ago.

But something hadn't worked out.  First there was this troubling uprising in Encino. Though a small and unexpected setback, it prevented SCP from sealing off dissident fighters and ceded control of key water resources.  A series of coordinated but small skirmishes followed that forced him to pull out of the area as the dissidents consolidated control and a well defended battle front emerged.

Nick had, during history class, lost all of Southern California.  Being one of the top kids in his cohort in military science, he was not used to failure.

He'd been green flagged at age 12 for the military section of DynaCorp, where both his parents held high positions, his mother in systems management and his father in aerospace at the Space Tower, so his path was set.  But this failure today unsettled him.  Perhaps Kaira would have an opinion.

Kaira Casteel emerged through the wall across the room beyond Nick's stocking feet which protruded off the end of the sofa.  Tall and slender with black, unadorned hair, she was the picture of efficiency.  She wore an expensive black skirt and suit jacket set of wool and silk with a blouse of white cotton beneath.  A kind of clothing you couldn't wear outside but that was comfortable, even elegant, in a climate controlled living/work space.  The lines were simple, straight, efficient.

"The staff will have dinner up soon," she said, but Nick was inside his own head, staring up at the ceiling.

Kaira had her own difficulties today unkinking a balky supply chain from the DynaCorp farms to the city.  Produce flowed well from farms in Hawaii to the Pacific tower, but here, in SoCal, up to a quarter of the company's best genetically modified crops could vanish along the supply chain into the black market.

The Mestizos who operated the farms took a certain cut as per custom.  The problem there was the sale of the GMOs to outsiders.  DynaCorp was jealous to keep its bioengineering in-house and using well-paid local bosses could only control so much trading.  And security resources were spread thin already.  So a certain amount of loss was considered overhead, the cost of doing business.

But other factors included delivery thefts and even hostile raids from the EarthFirsters to the north.  There was a pretty heavy concentration of bio-activists in the NoCal Province and the local authorities there, if they weren't directly supportive, turned a blind eye.  But the radicals didn't even want the food.  They wanted to destroy the food, believing it contaminated the environment and even subtly changed those who ate it.

The end result of this was most readily felt in shortages in the city and, sometimes, a lack of diversity at dinner time.

A soft tone sounded and a Latina servant entered the suite with a large tray that she quietly put on a table and withdrew.

Nick joined Kaira at the table as they quietly took their plates and utensils from the tray.  Kaira studied Nick.

"What's on your mind?"

Nick didn't want to disappoint Kaira with a poor mark in school.  Moreover, Nick didn't want to go over his own failing.  It was not something he was comfortble with.  Success always came second nature to him.

"I messed up a battle plan today," he'd decided to tell her.  "It didn't make sense.  I don't know what I did wrong."

Kaira tapped the table top and flicked through a couple screens.  Nick uncovered some baked chicken product, boneless, skinless, but tasty and juicy, along with some green beans, some mashed potato product and gravy.  Some soy milk.

"Tell me about it.  You know you have to do your best every time," Kaira said matter of factly.

"I was doing the SoCal Civil War in a history module and I covered Francis' every step.  But it didn't work," Nick's brow furrowed and he spit out, "I missed something.  Chaves surprised me."

"You know the material?" asked Kaira.

"Back of my hand," Nick nodded.

"Have an off day?"

"No!" snapped Nick.

Kaira had had an off day herself and decided to back off.

"Well, Nick, sometimes you can get a glitch in a program and it doesn't act right.  Happens sometimes to me and it can show up in strange outcomes."

The history programs had always been consistent and Nick had never failed to achieve his objectives.  Kaira was saying there was some rare error in the program and Nick couldn't think of anything better.

"I don't see any bad marks today," said Kaira, looking over Nick's data stream which flowed from LA #17 to the surface of the dinner table.  Nick brightened.  There had to be a mistake, then.  It wasn't his fault.

"Glitch in the program," Nick mumbled.

"Looks that way.  They crop up.  Software gets corrupted.  Servers need replaced."  And she saw Nick relaxing about it, which suited her just fine.  She'd had her own problems today.

"Thanks, Kaira," said Nick to his mother.

"Just a glitch in the system, Nick," said Kaira to her son.

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