Authors: Jake Bible
Copyright 2014 by Jake Bible
Every night I relive the same dream.
Coming home from the Control Wars, I walk through the door to my kids running at me, calling to me, their faces freshly washed, and hair still wet from the bath. I kneel and take them into my arms- Jenna, Penny, Carlos, Maude. The pajamas they wear are warm and fuzzy and I can feel the flannel pressing against the six days of stubble that grows on my cheek.
They laugh and giggle, their hands running up and down my arms, pressing to my chest, making sure I’m actually there.
Then she comes around the corner, a halo of light framing that auburn hair of hers. I smile. She smiles. We know the worst is over and everything will be okay.
Then she coughs…
Genetic Special Operations Forces (GenSOF) Lieutenant Courier Class Alton “Ton” Lane lurches from his bed, staggering about his quarters, desperate to reach the toilet, the incinerator, or anything other than the floor.
He doesn’t make it.
Halfway across the room Ton falls to his knees, retches, retches, retches, vomits. Long strands of pink slime spew from between his lips, the remnants of last night’s meal. He hunches over, his hands planted on the cold metal floor, careful not to get in the sick, and takes a few deep breaths.
“Worm?” Ton asks.
“Yes, Lieutenant Lane?” the robotic voice replies in his left ear.
“Did you do that?”
“Yes, Lieutenant Lane,” the voice replies.
“Please don’t do that again,” Ton orders as he gets to his feet and stumbles into the galley
section of his quarters. “That’s not how I want to wake up my first morning of leave.”
“I am sorry,
Lieutenant Lane, but your blood alcohol level was above acceptable norms,” the voice responds. “Expelling the contents of your stomach was required. As is the nutritional shake I have provided for you.”
A small section of the galley wall slides up, showing a tall glass of thick, green liquid.
“Required? Why?” Ton asks.
“There are various disturbances across the city,
Lieutenant,” the voice says. “Protocol requires me to waken all GenSOF operators and have them ready for duty if called.”
“Right,” Ton says, taking several breaths. Then he sees the glass being offered. “Green breakfast?”
“Yes, Lieutenant Lane,” the voice says. “Your electrolytes are dangerously low, as well as iron, calcium, and magnesium. This will replenish those. I have also increased your adrenaline levels to counteract the effects of the alcohol. Please note this does not mean you are sober, only functional should you need to be.”
“I’m on leave for the next three days, Worm,” Ton sighs as he picks up the glass. “I have zero intention of spending those days sober, let alone functional.”
The voice, GenSOF Courier Squad Zebra’s Artificial Intelligence Support Personality (AiSP), doesn’t respond. Ton waits for a second then plugs his nose and downs the green drink. It’s only slightly better than the vomit taste it replaces.
“While your allotment of alcohol is above civilian rations,
Lieutenant,” the AiSP, which the squad calls Worm, explains, “you are not allowed to overindulge. Each amount is carefully calculated to keep the bacterial cultures in your digestive tract at optimal levels.”
“There’s nothing optimal about being woken up to
puke, Worm,” Ton responds as he finishes the drink and tosses the glass into the incinerator bin. A quick flash and it’s vaporized, its bacterially contaminated molecules gathered for recycling.
Ton walks slowly from the kitchen and taps the wall. A metal chair slides free, as well as a small dining table. He slumps into the chair and rests his head in his hands.
“How about instead of making me puke, you do something about this headache, okay?” Ton asks.
“The alcohol has already occupied your pain receptors,” Worm says. “The addition of an analgesic would not be prudent.”
“That is not physically possible, Lieutenant Lane, as I continue to remind you.”
Ton smiles at their inside joke, even though he’s the only one between the two of them that gets it.
It takes a few minutes before Ton is up to standing, but he finally pushes away from the table and steps to the far wall of his quarters.
“View screen,” he commands and the wall turns transparent, showing him the bright, glittering nightline of Caldicott City. “Let’s see this disturbance.”
Named after the founder of the city, and inventor of the process that drives the Static Reactor Shield, Caldicott City is home to more than a million citizens of the Clean Nation- a network of sterile and shielded cities that dot the landscape of the Sicklands. Rainier, MorganTown, Oasis, Beachside, Peaksville, Borland City- just some of the other Clean Nation cities erected before, during, and after the Unseen Wars.
Ton watches as hover cars zip across the sky, their blue-white
skids illuminating everything around them. One bearing the GenSOF insignia speeds past his screen, only feet from his quarters. If the view screen were a true window, instead of a digital facsimile, he would have been able to reach out and run his fingers along the gold embossed words. But windows can become breaches, and after all that was lost and won during the Unseen Wars, breaches cannot be allowed.
Each Clean City boasts the ability to keep its citizens safe from the antibiotic resistant bacteria known as the Strains. But since human beings are symbiotic hosts to billions of microorganisms, complete eradication of all bacteria is not possible. Humanity lives in a dangerous balance between health and all out disease.
“Worm?” Ton asks. “I’d hardly call that a disturbance. Looks more like a parade.”
“There has not been a sanctioned parade in exactly six years, three months, and fourteen days,
Lieutenant, due to the risk of bacterial contamination with large crowds,” Worm replies. “What you are seeing is a general protest.”
“I’m guessing by the alert they don’t have their permits in order?”
“No, Lieutenant,” Worm replies.
“Any news on what they are protesting?”
“I am sorry, Lieutenant, but again the answer is no,” Worm states. “No news on the open channels. I will search internal communications to see if there has been anything reported.”
“You do that,” Ton frowns. “From the glow of all the StatShields, I’d guess close to a thousand are down there.”
StatShields- the Clean Nation citizens’ technological defense against the spread of bacteria. A full body, thin layer of static electricity that sterilizes all molecules before they pass on to the wearer.
reaches out and presses his hand against the view screen, shifting the angle and focus of the view. With a few swipes, he has increased the magnification so it is as if he is floating only a few feet above the massing crowd, not a hundred stories up.
“Shit,” Ton grumbles. “That’s not a protest. That’s a riot.”
A small window flashes to life in the top left corner of the screen.
“Hey, LT,” Sergeant Milo Kailua nods. “You watching this crap?”
“What are they pissed about now?” Ton asks.
With the dark featured face filling the whole screen, Ton can’t see Milo shrug, but he knows the man well enough to guess that’s exactly what he’s doing.
“Wages, rations, housing, free movement credits,” Milo says. “Pick a reason, any reason, LT. Could be one, could be all.”
Ton sighs and closes the
street view with a swipe of his hand, but leaves the window of Milo’s face up.
“How’s my girl doing?” Ton asks.
“Loving life,” Milo smiles. “I just took all three bug hounds down to the treadmills. We got a couple miles in and now they’re crashed out on the floor. Tequila is snoring by my feet while your Snorts is wedged against the door, waiting for your ass to come pick her up.”
“Three?” Ton asks.
“Gorge is here too,” Milo says. “I guess Blaze got lucky last night. Said he may not be back for her until later. No worries, more the merrier, I say. Not like I have any humans to talk to other than Zebra squad’s sorry asses. You want me to bring Snorts to ya?”
“No, no, I’m on my way. Let me grab a sonic first and then I’ll be right there,” Ton replies, stretching, yawning then scratching at the hair on his chest that pokes out from the low neck of his beige tank top. “Ten minutes?”
“No hurries, no worries, LT,” Milo grins. “I’ve got a new book on my IRIS, so I’m good.”
“Cool. Thanks, Milo,” Ton says then swipes the window closed.
Rolling his neck, he takes a deep breath as the vertebrae pop, and walks over to the wall by his bed. He waves his hand across a sensor and the bed withdraws into the wall, being replaced by a large cylinder made of tight mesh. Stripping off his tank top and boxers, Ton steps into the cylinder and waits for the mesh to conform to his body.
“Worm, how about a gentle rain today, okay?” Ton asks.
“Certainly, Lieutenant,” Worm replies.
The mesh begins to vibrate and Ton sighs as the feeling of a warm, gentle rain caresses his skin, despite there not being a drop of water touching him. Made of a s
ound wave conducting alloy, the sonic is a waterless shower designed to remove any and all unwanted particles, especially bacteria and microbes. The device reduces water consumption while also insuring that no cross contamination can occur in the plumbing system.
“Will you be needing me for the next two minutes,
Lieutenant Lane?” Worm asks. “If not, then I would like to take 120 seconds to perform routine maintenance on your PSC.”
“Everything okay?” Ton asks.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Worm replies. “A software patch has been uploaded to the mainframe and I need to download and install. It will repair the communication glitches the personal satellite chips have been experiencing lately. Control has been worried that individuals’ data has not been updating properly. It is a citywide protocol.”
“Then by all means, download and install,” Ton says. “Wouldn’t want my PSC to glitch and not report my bowel movements to Control.”
“Speaking of, Lieutenant,” Worm says. “You have not voided your bowels this morning. Will you be doing so after your sonic?”
“Let’s keep that one up in the air,” Ton says. “I hate to be too predictable, Worm.”
“Regular bowel movements are key to proper health and wellbeing,” Worm says.
“An impacted colon can be one of the first signs of bacterial imbalance,” Ton says, as if by wrote. “I know the drill, Worm. I’m not impacted or even constipated, just had a liquid diet last night.”
“You have a liquid diet every night, Lieutenant,” Worm responds.
“It’s a figure of speech,” Ton says. “One I’ve explained to you several times.”
“Yes, of course. I will also check my language files, specifically idioms, while performing maintenance.”
“You do that,” Ton says.
“Going offline now, Lieutenant, I will return in 120 seconds precisely.”
“Looking forward to it as always.”
Ton waits a couple seconds. “Worm? You there?” He smiles wide. “Thank God. Two minutes of peace.”
s an AiSP, Worm is just one of thousands of different programs designed to do everything from monitor and support GenSOF squads to cleaning up the Clean Nation city streets. The AiSPs keep everything in check and report all data back to Control, a massive domed facility isolated in the Sicklands where the research war against the Strains is conducted.
A quiet ding sounds and the sonic withdraws from around Ton. He steps out and a drawer slides open, revealing a fresh set of boxers and a tank top. The ones on the floor have been removed to the incinerator automatically. Another drawer slides open and Ton pulls out a pair of black pants and a long sleeved black shirt. He gets dressed and then waits.
“Worm? I need my boots, please.”
There is no response.
“Worm? 120 seconds are up. You there?”
Still no response.
Then a high-pitched noise screeches in his ear, forcing Ton to his knees. It’s gone almost as fast as it arrives, and is replaced by Worm’s voice.
Lieutenant,” Worm says. “The download was problematic. All is well now, though.”
“Except I am partially deaf,” Ton says, getting to his feet as he shakes his head. “That’s another figure of speech, Worm. You don’t have to perform a hearing test.”
“Already done and you do have a 3% loss of aural efficiency, Lieutenant,” Worm responds. “However, I do not scan any permanent damage and you will be back to 100% within the hour.”
“Good to know,” Ton says. “Now how about those boots?”
“Of course,” Worm replies and a drawer slides from the wall over next to the door.
“Thanks,” Ton says as he sli
ps his feet into the boots. They automatically cinch up around his ankles without him having to touch them. He gives the wall a kick with his left foot then his right. “Tighter on the left down by the heel please, Worm.”
The adjustment is made and Ton kicks the wall once more.
Lieutenant,” Worm says. “Will you be leaving your quarters to retrieve Canine Unit Snorts?”
“Yep,” Ton says, waiting by the door. “Open
up so I can go get my bug hound.”
The door slides open and Ton steps into the hallway. The door slides closed behind him and a thick mist fills his quarters, sterilizing every inch of the metal surfaces.