Author: David Henson
I extend my personal force shield to encompass the cart when I get inside the grocery store. Heading for the bread aisle, I push a little too close to a woman. Our shields glow slightly when they graze, and we squeeze past each other like two giant soap bubbles. The woman shoots me a dirty look. I say “Sorry” even though I know she can’t hear me.
I open my portal and pull a loaf of rye into my cart then make my way around the store and down my list till all that’s left are immunity tablets for Martha. I find they’re out of the ones she swears by. There are other brands, but I don’t know which she’d prefer. The aisle is empty so I figure it’s safe to make a quick call and lower my shield. Just as Martha says hello, there’s a blood-curdling sound from the next aisle. A sneeze. I reactivate my shield, which cuts my connection with Martha.
I storm around the endcap, go to the only guy in the aisle, type Jerk on my phone and show him my screen.
He screens back: Apologies. Allergies. Not sick.
Activate your shield, Jerk.
I’m about to screen him an image of the backside of a donkey when I see a burly security guard approaching. I wheel around and head for the checkout.
Once in the car, I lower my shield, call Martha and explain what happened. She gasps when I tell her about the sneeze. I assure her I protected myself in time and tell her I’ll call again from the garage so she can shield-up before I walk in.
… Martha greets me at the door and holds up her phone with an image of lips on the screen. I screen lips back, and we put our phones as close together as our shields allow. Then I go to the UV cabinet, open my portal, and unload the groceries.
We sit back to back, our open portals pointing away from each other, and eat dinner in silence. I think we should start eating in the tv room, where we can see and talk to each other at the same time.
… After I’ve activated the room divider shield, the only one we can afford, we turn off our personal shields. “Hello, Sexy.” Martha’s voice crackles through the hard-wired intercom. She points the remote at the TV.
“Let’s not watch the news tonight,” I say. “Too depressing. Would you mind if we just talk?”
We chat about everything and nothing. Video coms are OK, but being able to see Martha’s face in person — almost in person — as I hear her voice has become one of the great joys of my life.
A couple of hours later, my wife yawns and says she’s going to bed. When we’ve both reactivated our personal shields, I turn off the room divider.
… After Martha finishes in the bathroom, I take my turn then make my way, by the soft glow of my force shield, down the dark hallway. When I get to our bed, Martha pulls back the covers. She’s naked, her body seeming to shimmer within her shield. Her portal is open. I open mine and, with some contorting, we align them as needed. It’s a risk, but one we’re willing to take.
When we’re done. Martha holds her phone to her shield and screens me a heart. I screen one back to her, close my eyes, and try to sleep.