Future PerfectBy Ika
Page 1 of 5
I look at my watch. It says nine twenty-five, and I think Oh God, I'm still alive.
I light my tab, pull the smoke in, open my lungs. The lovely chemicals rinse my brain clear and clean again. I remember to drop my shoulders, almost-painful. The lifer girls are talking quietly, laughing less quietly. Oh you are awful. What are you eating tonight? Where did you get that shirt? Oh you wouldn't. Oh you were right. Oh no he shouldn't talk to you like that. Oh I'd have done the same. Oh do you like it? Their eyes flick over walls, posters, me, with the same lack of curiosity. The seams of their shirts or tunics fall precisely straight down their sides and their hair falls to their shoulders, so smooth it shines, straight to the ears and then in little smooth waves, each hair curling in the same direction to the same degree.
And they say cloning's banned.
I'm labour pool. This week my job is in Morsa. They're a mining corp with extensive interests in various planets, the names of which I forget as soon as I've copied them out. There's been some tech fuck-up: I don't know the details, but what it means is that the numbers that have to go into the forms are too long to fit in the number of boxes on the forms. That means that the computers can't either fill the forms in or read the forms once they've been filled in. That means they've had to get me in from labour pool to fill the forms in with a pen. I guess there's someone else from labour pool in another department reading the forms and putting them into a computer. It couldn't be more pointless. It's like an insult.
The noise widening out of the opening door warns me something is going on, but still I nearly fall over the boxes stacked in the lobby. I grab something to steady myself. The something turns out (as it pushes me away onto the floor) to be a trooper.
I reorient myself as I stand up. Today there are two main and separate rows. One: a woman trying to move into Vizna's partment; Vizna refusing to leave because she hasn't been notified of the shuffle and doesn't know where she's moving to Two: troopers moving the furniture out of the lobby; Barra and Jod having a go at them.
"No, of course I damn well don't - hello Della - but where are my children supposed to sleep, you stupid bloody...Can you believe this, Della?"
"Of course I can. I'll miss you."
"I'm not going anywhere!"
"Of course you're not."
Vizna's face is a map of her four children, her shitty life. The other woman's face mirrors hers. The troopers' faces are vizored; they mirror us.
"What's going on?" I say, moving to row number two.
"Just go to your partment, please."
"I can't get in my partment, there's a couch against the door. Why are you taking this furniture away?"
"Just don't you fucking start," he mutters. Louder: "Right. I'm going to say this once more, loud and slow, and I will not repeat it again. This space, as you all know perfectly fucking well, is not designated social and it is unsafe to obstruct the exit routes. All right? Now just let me do my job and clear this junk away, and pay your fines like good little citizens and I won't have to start getting physical with anyone."
"I've told you," says Jod, "it's not our responsibility, it belongs to Sten Fegredo and it's going to be moved to his new partment next week."
"Yeah? Well, tell him from us we've done him a favour. This piece of crap isn't worth the moval fees." He kicks the couch, which sways for a second and then sags in on itself down the middle as if to protect itself. I nod regretfully. He's right, as it goes: it strains credulity that anyone would pay good credits to get that pile of green creaks across the level.
The troopers cart the couch out of the main door.
"Bastards," Jod says cheerfully. "Do you want to come in for a drink?"
I shake my head. "I'm tired, Jod, thanks. See you later, maybe?"
"Yeah," he says. "Bring your own cushion."
I've done around a thousand jobs. I've hated all of them.
Nineteen exactly. The music starts, the room shrinks to the size of my vizscreen. I take a sip of tea, a breath of smoke. On the screen, Space Command headquarters. Pursuit ships form and break formation and form up again, shooting; cruisers explode. I settle into it.
I light my tab, pull the smoke in, open my lungs.
Lona walks in when I'm on my third drag, gives a little aren't-we-naughty smile, sits at right angles to me, lights up.
"You're labour pool, aren't you? What's your name?"
"Della," I say, resenting her.
She nods. "How do you get in? Tram?"
"Oh weren't they awful today?"
She falls silent for a bit, glancing uneasily at me, then away. I wish she wasn't here.
"Do you think?" I ask.
"Oh definitely," Lona says, waving her cigarette for emphasis. The smoke trails her hand. "Didn't you see the way he looked at her, right at the end of the episode?"
"Hmmm," I say.
"Vinanna's a healthy young woman," she says seriously. "She hasn't had anyone in her life since Devid."
"But she's married to Space Command."
"Oh so she says. But it's not the same, is it? Anyway, the sparks that were flying between them!"
"They were arguing," I point out.
"Oh but that just shows how much they can get to each other," she says and sighs. "My sister and her husband were just the same when they met."
I'm filling in forms. I have no idea what they say, they're encrypted. The girl beside me is on the comm.
Yes I love you. You'd better not... Promise? Yes, I'll do it in my refresh break. Promise you won't? Last time you... Do you? I love you too. About seventeen. No, not today. All right, I'll see you then.
She breaks the link. Men, she says, smiling past me, past this room. More trouble than they're worth. Yes, I agree, not smiling.
This will be where my life will have changed. Eleven-five. I lean against the wall and suck in the first drag. The space is about five feet square, a little awkward channel between two buildings. It narrows perceptibly when someone else comes out. Big bloke, all shoulders and hair. He stands against the opposite wall, shakes a cigarette out of his packet, pats at his pockets for a bit.
"Have you got a light?" His accent surprises me. I pass him a lighter. He lights his tab, passes it back.
"I haven't seen you here before," he says.
He nods. "What's your name?"
"Della," I say, resenting him.
"I'm Roj Blake," he says.
I'm so pleased to know that. Because all I have in my head is slots for forenames I'll never use again.
"So where have you travelled from?"
"Level four." I keep my voice as flat as possible.
"Oh," he says. "The trams that way are awful, aren't they?" And my total incredulity must be on my face, because he adds: "I have some friends on that level. Have you ever been to the Three Arrows?"
"No." And I'm not going with you.
"How are you enjoying it here?" he asks.
"It's fine." There is a sort of placidity about him that I am finding very irritating: as if he has always been standing in this two-foot square between high walls, and always would be, as if all places were alike to him, just a backdrop for his presence and his tickly-brown voice. I feel boxed in with him, all the more because he doesn't seem to notice that this space is far too small for him: his elbow brushes the wall every time he raises his hand to his mouth. I feel bullied.
Nineteen exactly. The music starts. I curl further onto myself. On the screen Major Vinanna's arm goes back in a precise arc, her muscles tense, she throws the grenade. Rebels cry out, stagger, fall. She jumps back from the smoke. She's so good at this, like an athlete. It fascinates me.
Her colonel bollocks her, but he smiles at her in an off-the-record way as she leaves his office. She smiles to herself and the whole screen, the whole room, my life, fills with light.
There's a knock at my door. I ignore it, stitch myself further into the viz (Section Leader Mortane has been posted to the Outer Worlds; his girlfriend is crying). The second knock pulls me out, back into the room. I get off the bed, sighing.
"Oh. Hello, Jod."
He pokes his head round the door, sees the cases, grins sympathetically and says: "Us too. This weekend, right?"
"Yep," I say, smiling back but hanging on to the door.
"Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. Where are they shuffling you to?"
"One-Mu. We had three months in Seventeen-Q a year or so back, though, it was okay. I remember it because the furniture was better than usual. The bookscreens had lots of memory."
"The woman before Vizna was from the one-greeks. She said it was a pit, but that was years ago. And it might have been a different end from Mu. I don't remember."
On the viz something explodes. I look round to see what it was. Jod's eyes follow mine. "Shit," he says, "sorry, Della, I forgot it was that time. I'll leave you to it. Do you want to go for a drink tomorrow, down the block?"
"That'd be nice."
"All right. Enjoy your viz. Knock for us tomorrow night."
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