Episode One ♦ Forecast

Luis rested in his ergonomic chair watching as the pro forma financial statements closed. His workspace was uncluttered even though he had three wall panels on which to display data. He thought, “NABCo System logoff Luis Antas.”

The North American Banking Company System returned the response thought, “NABCo System logging off Luis Antas at 17:07. Goodbye.” The panels of Luis’ workspace changed from his preferred Caribbean blue to black: the entrance to the smallish, door-less room illuminated.

Luis grabbed a lightweight, weatherproof jacket from a storage cupboard to the right of the entrance, slipped it on, and left only the chair in view of any passersby. He navigated a quiet corridor lined with similar workspaces, some still in use, before passing into the departmental lobby. Workers from higher floors and other companies made room in the elevator: they descended sixty-three floors and exited the building.

It was a pleasant walk though there was a bit of a chill in the air and the sky hung heavy with dark clouds. He joined the thousands of other office workers making their way to various transit stations. The Unity Plaza Station was a relaxed five minutes away. He elected to use the stairs to descend to the lower platform that served the northbound Flower Line.

The platform was bright, clean, and full of patient commuters. Luis examined the current mural of fresh winter snows giving way to the exuberant colors of springtime as it traveled the length of the station’s walls then turned white again. He thought, “Status Willem.”

His Informateur returned the thought, “Willem is at the Hartfield Central Library. His status is unavailable.”

“Leave message, ‘Lunch tomorrow? You set time.’ End.”

“Message left.”

“Weather forecast for this evening in Roseville.”

“The weather report for Roseville is brought to you by McStarMart, your one-stop shop for anything you need, when you need it, made as you like it. McStarMart, now open in the Grand Concourse of Roseville Station.

“The weather in Roseville will be clear tonight with an occasional light breeze, south to southwest. Temperature at 1800 hours will be twenty degrees falling to an overnight low of fourteen. Sunset will be at 1806 and twenty-three seconds. Tomorrow…”

The message terminated when Luis thought, “Message stop. Play La damnation de Faust, first act, by the Lyric Opera, Letiffa Smithson conducting.”

A moment later the melody played by symphonic strings was joined by a melancholy tenor contemplating nature. The words might be incomprehensible, but even in the Perfect Age the emotion of the music stirred him.

As peasants began singing joyfully the “Ronde des paysans,” Luis felt the press of wind as the train glided into the station. The waiting crowd made room for those alighting to slip past before entering the open doors. Luis shuffled down the aisle, all the seats taken, and found a bit of wall to lean against. He closed his eyes and settled in for the twenty minute, 125 kilometer ride.

The music dimmed and he understood, “Approaching Roseville Station in one minute. Thirty-three credits will be deducted from your account when you leave the station.” The music returned.

Exiting the train, he opted for the nearest stairwell then strode down the Grand Concourse ignoring the shops and restaurants. Luis passed the Local Produce Market before he reached the station doors. Outside it seemed too dark and a gale blew rain sideways under the walkway lamps.

“Current conditions.”

“Current conditions at the southeast entrance to Roseville Station Grand Concourse are clear skies, wind calm, temperature…”

Luis shook off the erroneous information, turned, and glanced at the beautiful local produce for sale. If only there were space to prepare food in his apartment!

“Continue music.”

He crossed the concourse, climbed another flight of stairs, and walked down the platform for trams to the southeast quadrant. The crowd was heavier than normal – no doubt owing to the weather. He had to queue for the third tram before he was able to board.

The tram whisked its passengers from the station to highrise to sports center to towerblock, each separated by wide expanses of meadows and parkland. Luis was unable to concentrate on the music as he stared out the window at the rain-battered ball fields and a wind-tossed faux Asiatic garden. How could the Informateur be so wrong?

Rolling along its elevated track, the tram slowed into the station in the second story lobby of his building. He crossed the platform to the lift and rode with a few other residents, exiting on the thirty-fifth floor. Turning left, he walked down the extended, immaculate, featureless corridor. On his right side a door slid open revealing his warm, lit room. He entered the space and the door slid shut. Outside the storm obscured the rays of a setting sun.

To his left along the eggshell-white wall was a single bed elevated above a turquoise sofa which opened into a full-sized futon. Both were well-lit. Between this unit and the glass wall that opposed the door was a two-meter-square space where an assortment of houseplants grew. Each container received water and nutrients from supply tubes that ran under the window and behind a large, wood-grained shelving unit and cabinet which took up the entire wall to his right.

“Set window to view out only.” The change was imperceptible where Luis stood, but he knew it was impossible for anyone to see inside his unit. Luis opened a cupboard door, undid his fly, and released the fruity, vitamin juice he drank that afternoon into the goblet-sized urinal. Thus relieved, he remained in position as soap dripped then water streamed from a nozzle just above the receptacle. He washed, rinsed, and a blast of warm air dried his various appendages.

Luis closed the door to the comfort closet as he took a step to the left and opened another. His clothing was neatly arranged: shirts and jackets hanging on top, pants and shorts neatly folded on the middle shelf, a drawer for socks and odds-and-ends, and below that a shelf for footwear. He removed his work clothes, dropped them into a chute at the very bottom of the wardrobe, and dressed in heavier, taupe, canvas slacks and one of his old, blue and white, rugby jerseys. A large, black number ‘five’ had been appliquéd on the back.

Closing that door, he examined the shelves to the left. Books were the one luxury he allowed himself in this impeccable, paperless world. Extremely rare and even more expensive, Luis enjoyed the sensation of turning well-used pages and the look of the black letters on the yellowing paper. Sure, he could interact with any existing piece of literature on the Informateur choosing from a wide assortment of synthesized voices to read to him or simply by sensing the words in his mind; but he preferred the shear pleasure of reading the way people did centuries ago.

Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – the corners were rounded, the grayish-brown cover was well-worn with only a touch of gilding left in the thinnest parts of the embossed letters – had cost him almost a week’s salary. He turned towards the door. A bookmark guided him to the eleventh stanza of chapter five. Luis read of Tatyana’s dream unphased by the door sliding open, the lights dimming, and the door slipping shut behind him. He read of snow and a great bear as he strolled down the corridor and waited for the elevator. Stepping inside and thinking “public dining room,” the doors closed. The elevator glided downward.

Luis did not look up as the doors opened and two other men his age entered the lift. Their privacy interrupted, the three rode silently to the floor above the tram station. “After you,” one of the strangers offered.

“No, please, after you.” Luis held out an open hand, smiled, but just glanced at them not wishing to lose his place. He followed them out of the elevator, finished the stanza, closed the book, and looked around the room. Unable to spot any familiar faces in the crowd, he approached an unoccupied food preparation window.

“Tuscan chicken,” he started thinking, “with spinach pasta, grilled vegetable anti-pasto, and a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.” This was a meal that Willem had prepared one summer evening in his little place in the city. While Luis knew tonight’s formatted dinner could never compare with the real thing, the nutritionally balanced, low-fat food product would remind him of that meal he had enjoyed with his best friend last year.

The window closed and a couple minutes later reopened to reveal a tray with a linen napkin, stainless flatware, the food served on china, and the wine in sommelier-style piece of stemware. “Seventeen credits will be deducted from your account. Buon appetito!

He carried the tray across the room until he found an empty table with two chairs on either side. He removed his table setting and food from the tray, arranged it on the table with the book just above the plate, set the tray on one chair, and sat in the other. “Set noise level to low.” The numerous conversations surrounding him became imperceptible. He opened the book to where he had left off, took a sip of wine enjoying the dry, full-bodied taste, and started reading again. The poetry was more engaging than the food.

As he finished his meal, he understood, “Neighbor Nakajima Toshiro approaching.”

“Set noise level to conversation.”

He stood up, palm extended in greeting. “It’s been a while, how are you Nakajima-san?”

“Very well. Was away on business. Some of us are going to the comet viewing tonight, and since you seem to be on your own, I was wondering if you would like to join us.”

“With the weather what it is, I was thinking of going to the observation deck upstairs.”

“Yes. That would be pleasant, but local officials from De Authoriteit are hosting an invitation-only dinner. Do you know not any members of the building council?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“We are going to catch the tram in about fifteen minutes. Please to join us.”

“Let me clean up here and grab a jacket. I’ll see you on the platform.”

“Yes. See you shortly.”

Luis queried the Informateur, “Status Hale and Hearty Comet viewing in Roseville.”

“Hale and Hearty Comet viewing festival in Roseville Plaza to begin in twenty-five minutes. De Authoriteit encourages all able-bodied citizens to attend and reminds employers this is an officially sanctioned observance. Festivities include…”

“Weather forecast for Roseville Plaza in twenty-five minutes.”

“In twenty-five minutes the weather in Roseville Plaza will be: skies clear, temperature nineteen degrees, wind calm with slight occasional breeze from the southwest.”

Luis looked across the room and out a window. The rain beat against the panes of glass. He shook his head as he placed the dirty dishes on the tray. His book under his arm, he walked towards a cleaning station.

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