A Home World Like Roy
by C. J. Simpson
|part 4 of 5|
Old stuck-in-the-mud Roy is not willing to allow the parasitic Bugs to invade his body. What might it take to change his mind?
Susan and I are walking along an immaculate corridor, away from my room of the last six weeks. The doctor walks ahead of us, seeing us to a cab.
We reach the large double doors leading to the world outside. They slide open as we approach and I feel the crisp autumn air on my face. It feels good. I’ve been indoors for far too long. The coolness on my skin fortifies the feeling I have that this is a new start for me.
“I’ll go and find a taxi,” Susan says and walks off in the direction of the road, leaving me standing alone with the doctor. I watch her go and feel a warm glow deep in my chest; not a feeling to worry about, I should add.
Despite my condition, it’s been the best six weeks of my life. I’ve seen Susan every day.
“You’re a very lucky man, Roy,” Dr Collins says, and I nod slowly in agreement. “Susan’s quite beautiful. She’s very devoted to you. I’m sure she’ll make a very good nurse.”
I look at the squat concrete hospital over his shoulder, as though I have forgotten something. I promise myself that I will never see this place again.
“So, Roy, remember if there’s anything you need from us, anything you feel the bugs are not managing to do for you, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Well, if they’re still setting up their systems inside you and should anything happen and they can’t help — although it is unlikely — remember I’m at the other end of a phone.”
“I’m sure there’ll be no problems.”
“I’m sure there won’t.”
I face the road which runs through the hospital grounds. Other than Susie, I see no other person moving around. The hospital is deserted. This is as clear a display as any of the good the bugs can do. I should feel humble, but perhaps it’s too soon for me to feel in such a way towards the bugs.
“Well, I’ll leave you here, Mr Jones. Susan must have walked to the main road to hail a cab. Best of luck to you and I’ll see you in a few weeks’ time.”
The doctor walks away leaving me alone.
Confused, I walk towards Susan who is only a few hundred yards from me looking intently up the road.
I suspect the young doctor has trouble with his eyesight.
* * *
It took some time, but Susan managed to hail a cab. I watched on with growing annoyance as two taxis rudely drove past her, ignoring her as though she wasn’t there.
We are sat in the back of the cab now; Susan has linked my arm and leans in against me. “What are you thinking about?” Susan asks me.
“Oh, nothing,” I say.
The taxi zooms up the freeway on ramp. On the road above the traffic slows as each vehicle’s AI unit takes control, allowing room for our cab to join the queue.
“I’m thinking about all the things we’re going to do when you’re better,” she says and squeezes my hand. “I think we should go on a long cruise, around the Mediterranean.”
“Sounds great,” I say. The thought of a cruise, never appealing to me before, is suddenly alluring.
“So, where are you staying tonight?” I ask.
“I’ve rented an apartment near to you.”
“Do you want to stay at my apartment?”
“Oh, Roy, I’d love to, but... Well, it’s too soon.”
I laugh. “Don’t be silly Susie. I’ve known you for over a year now. I think plenty of time has passed, don’t you?”
“I don’t mean that,” Susan says tugging at my arm with hers playfully, “I mean you need more time. Too much excitement isn’t good for your poor ticker.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on us doing much except watch an old film.”
“OK to the film, but I’ll head off home when it’s over.”
“We’ve got the rest of our lives together, Roy. That’s a long time.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Hey, either of you two heard the news?” the taxi driver asks. His urgent glances in the rear view mirror as he drove forewarned me that he wanted to speak to us.
“No,” I reply.
“I just heard it on the radio. The bugs’ computers have a virus. It’s causing all kinds of problems.”
Susan gasps at my side, and I look at her, surprised; surely the news isn’t all that bad.
I say, “I’m sure nothing will come of it,” more to her than to the driver.
“Yeah, I reckon you’re right,” the driver says. “But they’ve got the usual doom-and-gloom brigade on the radio, predicting the end of the world; the usual type of crap.”
I laugh along with the driver. Susan holds my arm, squeezing it tight, as though the mere act reassures her I remain by her side. “Don’t worry,” I whisper into her ear.
The driver says: “So some model’s face’ll sag and the King of England’ll need to evacuate his own bowels for once; but other than that I can’t see what worse could happen.”
I laugh, happily and loudly. I’m glad to be out of the hospital.
* * *
The S-press-rail is always empty at this time of day, which I suppose is one benefit of being retired; the ability to travel around on public transport alone and undisturbed during the daytime makes these infrequent trips more tolerable.
It’s my first time out on my own since I was released. I’ve felt noticeably better every day since, and although Susan was against the idea, I thought I’d take a trip around the city on the S-press rail to see the sights and hear the sounds.
I sit on the long seat, which travels the length of the carriage unbroken along my side. No other person is within earshot of me.
The long hollow, cylindrical carriage travels smoothly and silently along its monorail, through the heart of the city, cutting across roads and rising up into the city’s skyline. High office blocks tower up either side of the S-press-rail’s single track: the uniform modern mixed with the random ancient. Every few minutes a static electrical noise can be heard coming through the carriage’s floor, as the carriage passes a gap in the inductors below. As I look along the carriage’s length, the end disappears as we corner; the whole length of the carriage flexes snakelike.
The carriage slows, and through the window ahead I can see the platform of a station appear. A yellow and black sign announcing where we are passes by the window too quickly for me to read. Then we are motionless.
There is a gentle hum as the door closest to my seat slides in and open, and a tall man walks in through the door. He wears a large, shiny black plastic Mac and upon his feet he wears a pair of oversized boots, covered in a jigsaw of steel plate. His long black hair is neatly combed straight and down either side of his head and at the back the remainder is formed into a ponytail.
I find his appearance odd; perhaps cynically I view his look as a cry for attention.
I sit looking moodily in his direction, urging him to sit elsewhere, but knowing all the same that he is going to sit right next to me.
He sits, and pulls out what looks like a folded sheet of clean A4 paper, his E-page is bigger than my own. He unfolds the paper and holds it before his eyes, reading it.
As the carriage moves away from the platform, he begins to interact with the now rigid white sheet with his index finger: gesturing, swiping and tapping it.
He laughs and I scowl.
The man says, “Hello, hello. Dead-dice-20-22, can you hear me?” He jabs his index finger into his ear and repeats the line.
A moment of silence and I try and pull my attention from him, but he’s such a big guy and sat so close, with his booming voice, I decide that it won’t be possible to, and so I give up expending the effort.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s off. My bugs are still offline. We’re going to have to rearrange the meet,” the man says and pauses. “Yeah, me too, me too. I’ll speak to you again next week.”
The man taps his E-page, apparently finishing the call, and glances over at me. He catches my eye, I do not look away from him in time, and having decided I have expressed enough interest in his situation he speaks to me: “We’ve had to cancel our latest game-meet.”
I’m not sure what he means. I say, “Oh?”
“Yeah, so I’m going home to meet up with my clan online; play old school.”
I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. He must realise this because he continues: “Me and a bunch of pals meet up once a week to Sim-battle.”
I shrug to demonstrate I am still none the wiser.
He sighs, like a teenager — he is obviously older than this, bugs or no bugs — and continues: “Sim-battle is like old-time online gaming. You know what I mean?”
Here I know what he’s talking about and I nod my head, having spent some time, many, many years ago engaged in such activities.
“Well, like that, we all meet up, in a purpose built warehouse, and play out these battles in person.”
“Like Holo-gaming or virtual reality?” I add, showing him I know something.
“Yes, just like that. But those ways of doing it were very expensive: you needed your own individual super-charged holo-generator and headset, and the place you met needed to be kitted out in all that expensive holo equipment. The member fees alone at such clubs were more than I could afford.
“Since bugs, all you needed was your own colony, and they can warp reality — or at least your perception of it — and create this whole virtual reality, but it was all free. They create the enemies, even allies with real personalities, and communicate with other team members’ colonies so that you all see the same thing.
“It was truly awesome; much better than the virtual reality systems we were using before. It’s like you’re standing there, on an alien planet, zapping aliens.”
“Sounds interesting,” I interject, meaning it. I’d never heard of such a thing before.
“Yeah. Anyway since the bugs’ systems went down last month we haven’t been able to play.”
“Sorry about that,” I say to him.
“Thanks,” he says and looks at the floor, frustrated and sad. “When did your bugs go offline?”
“Oh, they’re still on. They’ve managed to avoid the virus so far.”
“You’re lucky, man. Every one I know has off-lined bugs.”
My mobile phone vibrates in my pocket and so I quickly pull it out. It’s Susan calling.
“Roy, where are you,” she says, panic affecting her voice, as though something terrible has happened.
The man sat next to me looks at my ancient handset from the corner of his eye. His discourteous smirk grates with me. Why, I wonder, do people like him look down on people like me for having obsolete technology?
“I’m on the S-press rail. What’s happened?”
“Roy, your bugs’ computers have the virus. They’re about to go offline.” I feel relief. I thought my apartment may have burnt to the ground.
“Is that all?” I say, but a loud screech emits from my handset before I can say anything further, forcing me to pull my phone from my ear.
I return it and say: “Susie, are you still there?”
“Yes,” she says. I hear her with difficulty as there’s static, and other voices in the background; it sounds as though we have a crossed line. “Get back as... can... ...ot safe... hurry, Roy,” she says before the magnitude of the static increases, obliterating her voice.
I call her name pointlessly into the phone, but it’s no use; she’s gone.
I hold the phone tightly in my hand and look at the blurred stream of buildings fly by the window ahead of me. I wonder if the bugs’ systems could effect my phone network.
“Sounds like you’re having problems,” the man beside me says.
“Yeah, my bugs have just gone offline apparently.”
As I finish my last word, the lights go off in the carriage as it slows to a halt above the city. The S-press rail drops a foot before we hear a loud ‘thunk, thunk’ from below us and the carriage tremors slightly.
The man besides me stands, looks out of the carriage’s window and says: “Great, looks like we’re going to be stuck here a while. Sounds like the safety clamps have engaged.”
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“Looks like the electricity’s been cut.”
I look out over the darkening city, at what should be a patchwork of lit windows and hovering globe streetlights. What we see is the onset of night without artificial light.
“I guess I won’t be playing old school after all,” the man says. “I guess we have a lot more to worry about than computer games.”
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by C. J. Simpson