Online Always

Author: Lance J. Mushung

I stepped onto the yellow and black transfer disk mounted on the gray deck of Delia Akeley and began bouncing like a child expecting candy. I’d be home in moments.

Mickie, the A.I. half of the crew, said through the speaker mounted on the bulkhead, “You may transfer now.”

“I hope my replacement enjoys the time with you as much as I did.”

“I hope you enjoy Earth of your future.”

Pioneer ships like Akeley traveled at high fractions of light speed to deliver transfer disks to habitable systems. Time dilation would make my six months onboard far longer back home.

In the blink of an eye I stood in the institutional-green disk room on Earth. A wall-sized screen showed a head with pale skin, green eyes, and curly auburn hair under a welcome home banner. It was me when I’d transferred to Akeley.

A holo of a dark-skinned dark-haired woman projected next to me. “Sharon McCrae, welcome. I am Isabel, the administrator of this facility. You have been gone 27 years, 137.52 days.”

I dipped my chin. “Thanks.” I resisted the urge to add it had only felt like six months, a quip Isabel probably heard all too often.

“Your billet is C237. A linker patch is on the desk. Place it on the back of your neck. It will link you to the Planet Wide Mesh and an online assistant will then bring you up-to-date.”

Once in C237, I sat by the desk and picked up a small square blue patch. I pressed it on my neck and closed my eyes. The assistant, an androgynous person with tan skin and close-cropped brown hair, appeared in my mind.

The assistant smiled. “Hello, Sharon. I am Claudia. A major advance in comm is people now have thought-controlled implants that replaced all handheld devices. The linker patch is like a low-fidelity implant. It puts you online with the PWM continuously and you can join the five senses of another person. Joining –.”

I interrupted her. “I can essentially be another person?”

“Yes.”

“Please join me with someone sharing something exciting.”

I bounced up and down on the wooden seat of a raft negotiating a river’s rapids. Excited whoops from other passengers and the roar of water almost deafened me while rocks flew past. Although I savored the smell and taste of the water pelting my face, oncoming motion sickness convinced me to stop.

I said, “Another, please.”

A lovely nude Oriental woman was lying on blue silk sheets. I moved closer.

I yelled, “Exit.”

Claudia reappeared. “You are surprised.”

“That shouldn’t be shared.”

“You interrupted me before I explained anyone can join a person without the permission of that person.”

I remained silent as the unpleasant ramifications sank in.

She broke the silence after several seconds. “Should I continue the briefing?”

“Can I have any privacy?”

“Privacy as you think of it does not exist.”

“Must I have an implant?”

“The government implemented them as a crime control measure. Only an insignificant minority do not have one. Those people are considered lunatic fringe and the government isolates them.”

“Can you get me on another ship?”

“Isabel has an opening on the Daniel Boone in two days. Boone’s current velocity means that six-months ship time is approximately 51 years here.”

“I’ll take her.”

They’d tossed a life jacket to a drowning woman. I yanked off the linker and told myself some sanity would return to Earth in half a century.

8 Comments

  1. dww

    I was half expecting the story to end with two officials congratulating each other on their plan to get experienced disk couriers to re-enlist.

    • ljmush

      That would have been a clever ending. I wish I’d thought of it.

  2. Hari Navarro

    I think the Boone needs to find safe harbour on a new planet. Earth society seems well past its use by date. Cool story 🙂

  3. SimonJM

    And I’d be a stowaway on the Boone … 😉

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