Turning a page in the magazine, Martha looked up to glance around at the others waiting in the lobby. The sound of dizzying muzak resonated around the off-white walls. She was nervous, but she had no reason to be. She was going to help a lot of people.
Across the room there was a small child in his motherâ€™s lap, toying with some plastic contraption. Martha’s smile made him shy and the mother looked up from her morning paper.
“Hello,” she said. It was something Martha hadnâ€™t expected, not in such a paranoid society.
“Hi. Sorry, I was just admiring your beautiful child.” Martha’s smile remained; it hid her awkward feelings.
“Oh it’s all right,â€ the woman replied. She stroked the childâ€™s stark blonde hair. â€œThank you for the compliment. The doctors worked really hard for him,”
“I can tell! Did you use Y-coding or the new Double-Helix method?”
The mother smiled brilliantly. “So you know your science, huh? You must be in here for the same thing.”
Martha nervously twisted her fingers around the armrests and looked down. “Actually, no… I’m here to donate. Wha-what about you?”
The woman pushed her brows together and started to bounce the child in her lap to keep it busy. “Us? Well, I know it’s stupid but… blood donation. You know, just in case.”
“Well, even though they clone the stuff doesn’t mean it’s perfect, right? Heh.” Marthaâ€™s nervousness was starting to shine through. But her words seemed to put the woman at ease.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. So, you as well? Blood donation?”
Martha could feel the room getting smaller. She straightened and cleared her throat, trying to buy precious seconds for the nervousness to fade and the pressure to go away. But the knot in her stomach only grew. She looked up, like a broken doll. “I, uhm…”
Blinking, the blonde mother murmured, “I suppose it’s none of my businessâ€””
“Oh, no! Iâ€”it’s just I’m doing the new thing. You know…” Martha let out a long sigh. She hoping that would be enough to hint her to the truth.
The child-toting woman eyes widened. She gave Martha a slow nod as if the weight of the situation had been made clear. “That’s… very noble of you. Do you have the insurance for the… uhm medication afterwards?” Martha could tell the woman was off-set by her decision to come here. She had to remember that somewhere, someone would benefit.
“Yeah, they promised that as long as I took the medication everything would be normal. Hah, I doubt I could really ever lose my humor anyways. Heh.” But the woman wasn’t laughing, just looking mournfully at Martha.
“Martha Finnegan?” The nurse called out from the opened door. Thank God for that, Martha thought. She stood up and waved to the woman and her boy, following the nurse into the hallway and eventually into the second room to the left. Her palms were sweating now. She was starting to have second thoughts.
“How are we this morning?” The nurse pulled the cloth off of the device as Martha sat on the paper-covered bedding in the examination room.
Martha swallowed a lump in her throat. “Fine.”
“Good. Now I need you to just relax, the Doctor will be in shortly to do the extraction.” The nurse smiled and put a hand on Marthaâ€™s before she left the room. Martha was a wreck. She put her head into her hands and breathed deeply. Trying to relieve the pressure, she opened her eyes and lifted her head. Right in front of her was an informational poster: Soul Drive – Help others less fortunate than you. Please donate today.
Martha relaxed deeply for the first time sheâ€™d gotten there. She knew her donation would really make a difference.
“They’re shutting down another museum?” Michael groaned as he turned the page over. “Who do these guys think they are? There’s like, what… two museums in the world left?”
Michael’s co-worker slowly raised his head above the cubicle and cocked a brow. “Mike, do you ever listen to what you say? Let it go, man and save up like everyone else.”
Michael Wiseman had a reason to be grumpy: he was the only one left in his family for the next four hundred years. That and the $2.50 wage he was making as a network engineer. “Sal, you just don’t get it. Every day they are making this era more and more stupid. This year seriously sucks, and it ain’t going to get better.” He went back to typing, watching the unhindered ping flashing by on the screen.
The mailman passed by a few moments later, looking tired as hell. His eyes were droopy and he was panting like he’d been running all over the place. Go figure. “Mail… whew… for, uh, Sir Michael Wiseman?”
Michael snatched the preserved letter before the postal worker could do any more damage to his pride. “Thank you very much, Jim. Don’t you have the rest of the East Coast to get to?” Jim skittered off to catch his plane with a mumbled insult.
Michael lounged back in his computer chair and opened the letter carefully. Sal came over with a cup of coffee and watched him read.
“Why do your parents always make your name goofy and shit when they send you mail?”
“I have no clue,” Michael said, giving a sidelong glare. “They say that unless they label it as royalty in Victorian England, it never gets anywhere.” Sal rolled his eyes and sipped his brew, while Micheal carefully handled the centuries old paper. “It’s not that I don’t like reading it, Sal. See? My dad is telling me he’ll send me Jack the Ripper’s knife. Normally I’d have been excited, but we all know there’s like a thousand of them around today, probably the same one. Who wants to buy a knife that’s so common like that?” He shoved the letter into his desk drawer.
“Mike, listen…. you should just chill. The Time Company is going to have a new sale on the 1920’s. You could just quit here, pack up and go if you wanted. Your parents would even still be around by then.” Sal’s brows were furrowed with rarely-showed genuine concern watching his friend and only co-worker’s frustration.
“Eh, I don’t know… I heard that they have that anti-alcohol law there. No wonder it’s going on sale.”Sal’s smile became smug as he went back to his desk in that otherwise empty office area. “Hey man, there’s only about ten thousand of us out there and I know a lot of them will take the sale.”
Grumbling issued from the other side of the cubicle. “And what about you? You going, Mr. Optimist?”
Sal pulled up his paycheck on-screen, grimacing as he read the total of “$50.42” for two weeks work. “Me? I’m saving up for The Renaissance, and according to the recent pay decrease–”
“Shit! I hate this fucking population-to-pay budget ratio!” The voice rang out in anger on the other side of the cubicle wall.
Sal just sat back and shook his head, “Yep. This year sucks.”
“Damn, we’re in a tight spot!”
Simon had never seen a more troublesome mentor in all of his training. He just sat wide-eyed with two suitcases in his arms, stuffed behind a pile of debris from their bridge-port fight, his legs poking out. Simon’s maverick mentor Alabaster Jones was firing a X347 over the cover at the raining ion flames of the entire Solar Flare drug cartel of New San Diego. Simon began to wonder just how a simple trip to the baggage claim at the space-port had gotten him into this situation.
“Frag! I’m out of juice! This fight needs to get dirtier. Hey, Squire! Squire!” A beefy hand slapped poor Simon on the back of his head, making him blink.
“Yes?” He narrowed his eyes up at the flamboyant eye of the storm.
“Pay attention, kid!” he said as another ion blast disintegrated dust just beyond them on another pillar of concrete. “I need that Microsoft Assault 4 from the blue case. And on the double!” Simon hurriedly unsnapped the case and tugged out the green-hued sleek, rifle-like weapon and handed it up to Jones. Jones snagged the gun and began blasting. A flare of red issued from the muzzle of the plasma weapon, shading them both.
“Jesus!” Jones ducked back behind the cover and shoved the gun at Simon, “I said A4! Not P1! I just sank a hole the size of a football field in the bridge!” Simon began to apologize but Jones just grabbed the blue steel weapon from the case and loaded it, his back hugging the rubble.
“Hm. Wonder if that bridge will hold. Kid, better grab the Smith and Wesson Auto-Fletch. We might be making a run.”
Simon had the balls to slam the blue case shut and tug the gray one up on top. “What in God’s name did you do to piss these guys off?” He tugged the dull gray weapon, relatively small in comparison, from the case. Easily gripped in one hand, the multi-barreled flchette would serve him well while Jones continued to lay waste to armies with the A4.
“What?” Jones winced as the loud roar of the Assault 4 plugged them good. The smart-shells were doing their job: getting rid of the cars they were using for cover. He yelled down at Simon. “Oh, well suffice to say, kid, you shouldn’t sleep with any woman you meet at a smuggling bar! Well, that and steal cargo.” More rumbling from the weapon of choice, and Jones looked satisfied, “Yeah, that should buy us some time.”
He switched out the smart-shell with a concentrated ray-beam complete with microwave sequencing. Sneaking a peak back over the cover, he grumbled and looked to Simon. He was sitting with a gun in his lap and a look of complete frustration and comedic anger on his face. “Kid… I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but… looks like they brought a Sony Atomizer, ’75 model. And, well… they’re aiming it at the structure.”
Simon sneered and mockingly aimed the flchette at Jones before his shaky hand fell back to his lap. Jones only poured salt onto the wound.
“I hope you can swim, kid.”
“Did you hear about the breakout on the southside?” Alison twisted her head around to watch Misty pulling off her decontamination helmet, which emitted a soft suction sound as her head popped out of the air-tight seal.
“What? I couldn’t hear you through this. You know I hate it when you do that.” Misty shook out her brown hair and went to sit at the kitchen bar, taking a deep breath, breathing in the viral air. She felt it take effect as her hands lay palm-flat on the surface, feeling the sticky texture of the unwashed counter top.
“I said, did you hear about the breakout? The Government is all over it. They brought a tankard of Influenza.” Alison said it matter-of-factly, but in reality she was scared of whatever would take a tankard of Influenza to get rid of. Her hands fidgeted in her lap as she looked at the dull glow of the television.
Misty was getting used to her new disease. She bit her lip as she tried to pour herself some bacteria, her breath a bit broken by the viruses running through her system. “S-so what did they say about us? What about East Town? Are there any left?”
“Antibiotics? No. They found a case of Vioxx and two or three instances of Prozac, but nothing to be scared of, hon.”
Misty was relaxed now, allowing her body to give way, and she just smiled at the knowledge that outside was going to be safe soon. Her fingers tugged the cup of soiled water towards her and she sipped it, tasting the tangy, bitter fluid.
She sighed at the taste and opened her clear blue eyes. “You need to get some more Flu tonight. We’re all out and you know how I hate going to work without Flu. I get all shaky and shit…”
Alison was paying attention to the sore on her arm where the flesh-eating virus had been working, and she picked at it once or twice. She was barely able to hear that Misty had spoken, she was so transfixed. “Huh? Yeah, yeah… look, I’m trying to save up to get us some new Pox. You know the news said that Pox is curing Zantac and Antibiotics on the East coast. I wanna try it out.”
Misty coughed and then felt her lungs get tight. It was a good sign. “Okay, I’ll see what I can find on my way to work tomorrow.”