Author: Scott Porter
It was a harsh but beautiful land. Larry stood on the ridge overlooking Homestead Valley. All around him were the bare, fantastically weathered shapes of the Gyrating Mountains. But on the slopes below, vineyards were showing early clusters of grapes, and across the sweep of the valley floor, fields of barley and wheat shimmered in the sun. His irrigation systems had played a part in making all this possible. This year the settlement would not only survive, it would put down roots and prosper.
Someone screamed behind him. “Hookbeaks!” It was Tamara, his beautiful wife. A great, leather-winged beast was swooping down upon her. She swung a rake and sent it tumbling across the yard. Bright flashes erupted all around. Hookbeaks were not the worst thing this planet had. Everyone kept a blaster handy.
Larry drew his and fired in one smooth, well-practiced motion. A hit. “Wait a minute,” he said, looking at the blaster. “How do we charge these things? I mean, this model needs ten-kilowatt hours to charge, and we don’t even have a power station yet. This doesn’t make sense.”
“Good work, Engineer Cooke. You got the reactor’s cooling system back online just in time.”
“Just doing my job, sir.” Larry knew a space station captain was a busy man and didn’t have time for chit-chat. He excused himself and started back for his quarters. Thirty-six hours he had been working. His beautiful wife Tamara, and their two girls would be waiting for him. He passed a portal window that showed a thousand stars etched on the blackness of space, with the sun—from this vantage point of the asteroid belt—only a little larger than the rest. He walked on, but something was bothering him. He pictured the station in his mind. Wait a minute. The station’s spin was oriented to the ecliptic plane. If he was walking on the outer ring, the sun should be below his feet. How could it be in the portal window?
Pod C109 dinged. Jolene punched it up on her screen. Cooke, Larry was rejecting his simulation again. She logged it and authorized the AI to create a new sim for him. Not that he deserved it, the crank.
Jolene hated being on watch. It was only one month out of twelve, but it was so lonely being a podkeeper. She longed to get back to her pod, and her own sweet, simulated life.
The sleeper ship was only ten years into its thousand-year journey. The travelers’ bodies were in fine shape, their physical decay nearly at a standstill. But their minds, even slowed down so the dreams of one REM cycle stretched for weeks, were more delicate things.
So, the AI had the perfect life-dream for everyone, tailored to each person’s experience, and government-approved for all aspects of social adjustment and personal satisfaction. Of course, there were always a few who were hard to please. Who couldn’t just go with it.
The AI’s answer came back. Rejected? The AI was giving up on him? Cutting him loose? Poor Mr. Cooke! A thousand years trapped with his own thoughts!
“Life stinks.” That was the message on the bulletin board as Larry ran past. The sewage treatment plant was failing again. The city never updated anything. No cities did. Everyone was just waiting to abandon earth. And he would be home late again. And Tammy would gripe at him again.
Real life is just too realistic. For everybody . . . almost. In the quiet and dark of the pod, Larry’s face broke into a slow-slow-motion smile.
That’s a fine, new spin on a classic slice-if-life.
Bloody Hookbeaks!, the bane of my existence. I really liked what you did here, Scott. A cool little flash of fiction.