Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Take an early look at Mark Venturini's "Future Perfect"! Part of "Colony Zero Series O"

Colony Zero Ransom Origin Story
Future Perfect
Mark Venturini

Lieutenant Christopher Ransom pushed the long kayak paddle into the murky brown water, keeping the boat’s line in the center of the narrow creek. Stroke left, stroke right. The paddle blades slipped easily into the water with hardly a ripple.
The afternoon sun cut through the high wooded gorge and fell on Chris’s face. Trees and rock cliffs passed by as the swift current carried him downstream. It all felt good. Too much time behind walls and closed doors, kid, he thought.
He gave a thumb’s up to his cousin, Tim Hargon, paddling next to him in his slick twelve-foot boat. This was living. This was peace.
They skirted a fallen tree in the creek, rounded a bend. The distant rumbling of water churning over rocks greeted them. “The river’s singing to us,” Tim called. “Shall we dance with her?”
“Rock ‘n roll!” Chris answered.
A wall of roiling brown waves came into view. Chris’s heart raced as he snuggled low into his kayak and hooked his knees under the padded braces. Taking the lead, he leaned forward and dug his paddle hard into the water, keeping his boat’s line true.
His boat bounced off a boulder and slid over a rock ledge. Waves of cold water shot over the prow and against the spray skirt. The boat plummeted through a narrow channel between two partially submerged boulders. He landed at the base of the fall and turned hard right to angle between a huge boulder and a protruding log in the middle of the flow. He hugged the rock, but still caught the end of the log.
The boat rolled. The pressure of the rushing water bent Chris in half, pinning him between the boulder and boat deck. He tried twisting out of the cockpit, but his legs were wedged inside his kayak. His lungs and heart started to pound for oxygen.
Silence. The crushing pressure lifted. The surging water and boulder vanished.
Artificial light replaced sunlight. Chris and his boat lay sideways in barely five inches of calm water. He pulled the spray skirt handle and wriggled from the boat. He removed his goggles and pulled down the thin simulation-suit hood from his head.
Tim left his kayak floating on the far side of the simpool and splashed through the ankle-deep water. “Chris! You okay? Chris! I stopped the sim!”
Chris gulped fresh air, trying to calm his racing heart. He gave a thumbs-up. The sim-induced pain had disappeared, but he knew he’d be stiff and bruised for a few days.
Tim knelt next to Chris. “That’s the last time we suspend all safety protocols, bud.” He pulled down his own hood and partially unzipped his simsuit. “You’re getting too old for the extreme Level 5 stuff, ya know.”
Chris smiled and pulled off his gloves. “Right, twenty-five is absolutely ancient. Last time I checked, you’re older than me, cuz.”
Tim stood and offered a hand. “Well, you’re getting married next year. I’m sure Paulette wants you around for that.”
The computer’s monotone voice echoed across the cavernous chamber, “You have forty-five minutes remaining on the sim. Do you wish to continue? There are no refunds for ending partway through.”
Tim eyed Chris with a raised eyebrow. Chris shook his head, still trying to calm his breathing and heart. The sim was the most realistic he’d ever experienced. “I’m done for today.”
They pulled their kayaks from the pool and left them for the bots to store. In the locker room, Chris lingered under the hot shower, letting the steam and nearly scalding water loosen the knots in his shoulders and neck. Tim was already dressed in his white shirt and suit pants when Chris headed back to his locker.
Tim could dress in a burlap sack and still look impeccable. He made a final adjustment to his tie and donned his suit jacket. “Sim shake you up?”
Chris shrugged. “I guess I am getting too cautious in my old age.”
“Maybe it’s called getting hitched and all that responsibility stuff.”
Chris slipped into his Relocation Ministry uniform and tucked his pant legs into his boots. “You’re probably right. Marriage is a huge responsibility.”
“That’s why I don’t understand why you want to re-up with the Relocation Ministry. Four years is a long time. Anything could happen.”
Chris frowned, shouldered his duffle bag, and silently walked past Tim. They had been through “the RM talk” several times before. He remained silent as they walked to the elevator. The doors materialized and they started to rise through the fifteen stories to ground level.
Chris and Tim had grown up together. Chris thought of Tim more as a brother than a cousin, but Tim’s arguments about not re-upping had never persuaded Chris. Similarly, Chris’s resolution had never deterred Tim.
Chris stared at the flashing floor numbers when Tim started on his talking points again. “You already had one tour on the lunar base before you met Paulette, cuz. You’ve done your duty.”
The elevator slowed and then stopped. The doors vanished. “The RM is doing a good work, Tim,” Chris said as patiently as he could. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”
“Yes, all the Colony Zero work you do, cleansing society of undesirables. Hurrah and all that good stuff,” Tim quipped.
They crossed the foyer filled with a sim-generated garden scene set in eternal summer, past floating couches and gel-massage chairs.
“Thank you for visiting Sim Universe, Lieutenant Ransom and Mr. Hargon,” the tanned and stunningly beautiful female bot said from the welcome desk. “We look forward to seeing you again soon.”
Chris put on his uniform cap as they stepped outside onto the crowded sidewalk cloaked in shadows. Behind them, the door dissolved into an image of a trellised archway in the midst of a garden. Metal and glass towers rose two hundred stories or more around them, blocking all but noonday sunlight from touching the pavement. Sims of flowering gardens and trees masked the lower floors of all the towers, creating an illusion of open space.
Tim’s hover was already parked in front of the Sim Universe building. He turned to Chris. “I’d like to talk with you about coming to work for me.”
How many times did Chris have to say it? He glanced up at the hovers crisscrossing along the wide hoverlanes stacked between the towers. “You know I have no desire to become a desk jockey at the Worldwide Ministry of Health.”
“What if I told you I was leaving the WMOH?”
Chris raised his eyebrows. What would cause Tim to leave such a cushy job? “Really doesn’t matter where,” he replied. “I’d work as a grunt guard at one of the penal farms before I took a fulltime office job.”
Tim’s lips curled into a smile. “What if there were no more penal farms?”

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