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.
Great story, David. I love the pacing, how distant the main character is out there in the world and then closer and closer until, finally, some real human contact at the end. I also love that the force shields are just added to what would otherwise look like our world with tv’s, mobile phones, and grocery stores. And I laughed at “blood-curdling” about a sneeze!
Thanks for your detailed comment. I appreciate it!
Ah, the consumer model. Always with something else you can buy to help with your life…
Sad and savage, especially the unspoken acceptance of a vile norm.
Echoing David, Hari… Just write.
Gen 2 force fields hitting the market soon! Thanks for your comment, Jae.
Great story of the not too distant future. It’s so real that it feels like this happened yesterday. Or tomorrow. Nicely portrayed.
Wow, wonderfully visual work David of a not too far removed from now new world. Crackling bubbles in the supermarket aisles and antiseptic sex in the bedroom. Loved this.
Thank you, Hari! I hope we’ll soon again have your great stories to comment on. You’re missed here!