Back in February I weighed 285, which quite frankly is too much, even though my doctor said “You carry it so well, no one notices.” I weighed 14.25 percent of a ton, way too much as far as I wanted even if no one noticed.
This morning I weighed 250. I figured I was due some sort of celebration.
Which brings us to Laphroaig, a damn nice Islay Single Malt Whisky. Please notice I didn’t use whiskey (the American spelling). Our liquor cabinet is rather small and can only hold six or seven bottles. Unfortunately, I like every bottle in there; I’m an occasional alcoholic. Currently, our choices are:
Two Tequilas, Cazadores Añejo and Hornitos Añejo
Five Scotch Whiskies, the previously mentioned Laphroaig; The Glenlivit 18 year-old (Speyside); Oban 14 year-old (Highland); Talisker 10 year-old (the only whisky distilled on the Isle of Skye); and, Glenmorangie 10 year-old (Highland)
One Canadian Whisky, MacNaughton
And, one Irish Whisky, Bushmills
The new story is coming along, slowly. I’m currently on Chapter 2. I’ve been on Chapter 2 for the past month or so. The block tires me.
Here’s the start, just to get you salivating for more. As an introduction, the story starts somewhere around 800,000 to 900,000 years in the future. Things are different.
“Damn!” twelve-year-old Carlos spat softly as he adjusted the coverlet mechanism for the lower bunk. He looked up at the unmade-up top bunk which was to be his bunk from now on. With a soft voice, he spat out another “damn.” The bed making mechanism buzzed, asking permission to make up the top bunk.
“Whatever,” Carlos said. He was tall for his age, head taller than all the other boys in his class. He was skinnier, too. It was as if he was being stretched out from the top of his tousled orange-red hair down to his twelve toes. According to what he learned in his lessons, the persistent twelve toe mutation became the dominant trait one hundred thousand years after leaving orbit around Terra. Having bright red hair wasn’t noticed because everyone on Hercules had red hair.
Today a new spoky was coming to live with them forcing Carlos to give up the bottom bunk. What bothered him most was the previous spoky, Stat, had just turned eighteen a month ago and he was gone within a week, leaving the lower bunk to Carlos, who relished the territory as his own. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how things went if you were renting the bunk to a spoky. There were families all around the rim with children from the spokes sleeping in the bottom bunk. Papa said we’re getting seventy-five credits a month to provide our new spoky room and board. They’d done it before and they would do it again.
Papa said it was because of the physiology of those who lived in the spokes, whatever that meant. Papa said boys, and girls, had to come down to ensure they wouldn’t die earlier than normal due to unaltered genes. Most spokys had the wrong genome sequence for a long life and other normal extended aging issues. If the boys and girls had their genes altered by living through adolescence rim-ward, they would be eligible for a job on the new spokes, which were beginning to come online. Also, Papa didn’t call this spoky a spoky. Papa said the spoky’s name was Stefan. What kind of name was that? It certainly didn’t sound like a boy’s name, at least not a rim-ward boy.
“Carlos? Is that you swearing, again?” Mama called out from the utility room. Today was laundry day for clothes; tomorrow she’d do the linens. After over several hundred thousand years in space someone still had to do the laundry. There were bots, but the household bots were too expensive for a farm family.
Carlos looked around the room. There wasn’t anyone else, so it must be him. “No, Mama,” he lied.
“You’re not too old for me to take you across my knee and give you a swat or three,” Mama said. She was middle-aged, about ninety, but didn’t look a day over twenty. Her light red hair was trimmed close to her scalp like nearly all farm females. She’d probably live another hundred years or so before having to choose electro-mechanical immortality (transferring her necessary body parts including the brain into a bot body), opting for molecular disintegration to supplement the ship’s fragile organic/inorganic molecular balance, or just letting the government decide what use she could provide.
“Carlos, you should get up to the terminal to meet Stefan,” Mama said loudly from the utility room. “Carlos?”
“Yes, Mama,” he whined, as he got up from the bunk that would never be his and walked out the door. It’d serve the spoky if he was late. Maybe he’d go back to his spoke where he lived, but, no, that wouldn’t be the case. Carlos knew the spoky had a map to their compound if Carlos wasn’t there to bring him home. Plus, the authorities would be very interested in a spoky standing outside the omnibus terminal as if he was waiting for someone to pick him up.
“What’s gotten into you?” Mama asked as Carlos walked into the utility room. “I thought you wanted a new brother.”
“He won’t be my brother,” Carlos spat. “The last one wasn’t and this one won’t be either. None of them will be my brother.”
“He’ll be just like a brother, for the next seven or eight years, you’ll probably be leaving with him,” Mama said with her warm smile that always, always melted Carlos’s young heart. She pulled him into a hug and held him tight to her breast. “But, you’ll always be my favorite child. Now get out of here and up to the terminal.”
“Yes, Mama,” Carlos said softly.
* * * * * * * *
Carlos climbed the ladder on the pilot’s side of the family cruiser (it was a standard model with two bucket seats up front and two rows of fold down bench seats in the back). When it was new it sported warm orange color with black accents and a slight rumble of its double exhaust pipes. Now, well, it was worn and gurgled, but the farm mechanical bots kept it in reliable condition. He took a deep breath and started entering his personal id code, trip authorization codes both standard and special for this trip, and moved the drive lever to auto.
The cruiser hummed to life as its thrusters began to overcome the rim’s artificial gravity. After the cruiser deciphered their destination, the virtual landing gear dissolved into nothingness. Settling into the pilot’s seat Carlos tried to relax for the thirty-three kilometer ride to town. As there was so little traffic this early in the morning, the cruiser had no trouble hooking onto the county byway. The entertainment console offered light rock, but Carlos was in the mood for something else so he turned the dial all the way to heavy metal. Additionally, he turned the red switch implant in the back of his head to the nap setting. He looked forward to a bit of quiet time before he had to be at the terminal. Plus, this trip wasn’t an emergency which meant not going over the speed limit. Carlos figured he would arrive about the same time as the omnibus from the sixth spoke.
The family cruiser shook a little when it arrived at the terminal parking lot. Carlos looked out the cruiser’s side window and saw an older omnibus come to a stop in front of the terminal. Carlos saw an empty parking space and switched the controls to manual. Although he had been driving only a few months, Carlos thought he could maneuver into the parking spot. Unfortunately the cruiser knew this wasn’t a time or place for a driving lesson, so it switched itself back to auto and locked the pilot control switch. After the landing gear settled onto the pavement, Carlos nervously looked around to see if anyone had seen him, but there was nothing other than two cleanup bots perpetually sweeping windblown sand from the sidewalk.
As Carlos climbed out of the cruiser he watched a tall, slender boy step down from the omnibus. The boy gave the driver his ticket and the driver pulled out the boy’s luggage from one of the storage bins. They said something Carlos couldn’t hear and then the boy looked around the terminal until his eyes met Carlos’s.
Walking over to the sidewalk where the other boy waited and as the distance between them diminished, Carlos’s eye orbit implants clicked as points of recognition were cross-referenced against Stefan’s image planted Carlos’s brain. Once they were sufficiently in agreement, a faint tone was transmitted directly into the boy’s brain. “You must be Stefan,” Carlos said with a hint of disgust.
“Hi, that makes you Carlos,” Stefan said with a faint smile. “Can you help me with my luggage? With the two of us, we should be able to get it done in one trip.”
“Sure,” Carlos mumbled, not wanting their similarities to be noticed by anyone in town. So, it was true that he looked like a spoky. Stefan looked exactly like him down to the freckles on his cheeks.
* * * * * * * *
Carlos was not in the mood to talk on the return trip, he and Stefan had eight years to have a conversation. So he turned the red sleep switch to the nap position and tried to find a comfortable position in the pilot’s seat.
Stefan was too busy checking out his new home to realize Carlos was getting comfortable to go to sleep. The first thing he noticed was there weren’t a lot of buildings near the omnibus terminal. He remembered reading in one of the brochures that Farm Support Village Six Up was small, but, in truth, there weren’t enough buildings to make up what he thought would be a small village. When they hooked onto the county byway there were a lot of housing habitats surrounded by high fences. In fact, the fencing walled the byway from all the habitats and the small farms with large dark brown animals feeding in some of the pastures. When he queried the onboard terminal it told him they were beefalos, something he had only seen on the menu planner at home; which made him weep a little at the thought of being back in the Spoke 6 eating a beefalo steak sandwich.
The fields that didn’t have beefalos were planted with nearly every grain or vegetable known to man. About five kilometers out of the village orchards of fruit and nut trees came into view. He wondered what was being raised on the farm that was to be his home for the next eight years.
After a while spent contemplating his future he was jostled out of his reverie by the cruiser disengaging from the county byway and turning into the driveway that led up to a cluster of buildings.
“Are we there?” Carlos asked, sleepily.
Stefan looked over at Carlos and said, “Don’t ask me. You’re the one who lives down here.”
Stefan watched how Carlos took control of the cruiser. There were three gates to go through, but none of the gates opened before the previous one closed. After passing through the last gate, the cruiser turned toward a cluster of buildings. Carlos stopped in front of a structure that resembled the domed residential habitats Stefan had seen in his history lesson on the Home Solar System.
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to Mama,” Carlos said before he climbed out of the cruiser. The cruiser lowered until it was only a few centimeters off the ground. “Then we’ll move your stuff inside.”
“Are you sure there isn’t an easier way to get out,” Stefan as he hesitantly climbed over the passenger side railing and down the outside ladder.
“You look like someone who’s never used a ladder,” Carlos said.
“There weren’t that many in Spoke 6,” Stefan said as he followed Carlos up to the door. “Mostly, we had lifts.”
* * * * * * * *
“Your mom is nice,” Stefan said as he grabbed one of the heavier pieces of luggage from the cruiser.
“You’re not the first spoky to stay with us,” Carlos said to let Stefan know he wasn’t special. He wondered what a mom was and if they had one in their habitat.
“Do you have a problem with predators?” Stefan asked, wanting to get this small piece of data safely put away. Actually, he was more than happy to change the subject as he missed his mom a lot. “I read there are predators rim-ward.”
“They stay outside the first fence. It’s electrified,” Carlos said, not to give an answer with too much information. Sure, they stayed outside the fences, but a leopard killed a little girl just about a month ago. The authorities arrested both parents for neglect. The girl should’ve been playing inside the second fence. Plus, the parents hadn’t run any updates for the protection software. The leopard climbed over the electric fence, which for some unknown reason was turned off, killed the little girl, and took her back the over the fences. A rescue team found the little girl’s disemboweled body hidden behind a boulder out past the furthest county predator fence.
Papa said the parents were put into a portable molecular reduction unit in their front yard. Their molecules were dispersed right there, without a trial. Carlos tried to get his mind around all of that, but since he didn’t exactly know anything about molecular reduction units he couldn’t quite see how it all worked.
“What about the blood?” Carlos asked.
“All the molecules are reduced to their atomic components,” Papa answered. “I suppose the water was broken down to hydrogen and oxygen and dispersed in the wind. I have to admit it’s not a good way to go. Have you started studying chemistry or atomic theory yet?”
“No sir,” Carlos answered.
“After supper tonight, how about we take a little look at what’s on the data terminal. Okay?” Papa said.
“I’d like that,” Carlos remembered saying. He liked it when Papa, who was five years older than Mama, took the time to help him whether it had something to do with farming or schooling. Their farm stretched thirty kilometers turn-wise to the edge of the forested hills where weather was generated and wild animals lived. Crosswise, their land ran from Rim-Water to the outside wall. Their habitat compound took up nearly a hectare at the intersection of two secondary county byways. It was a standard model for nearly all farms around the first agriculture section on the bow wheel. From his schooling he knew there were other farm designs on two newer wheels of Hercules.
Carlos wished he could live here forever, but that was impossible. When he achieved majority he had to report for governmental service. He looked at Stefan and wondered where he’d end up.
“Well, that’s not completely true,” Carlos said. “If you don’t set the outer electric fence, leopards might be able to jump the second fence. Then it’s a matter of having your security system to identify the threat, initiating defense systems, and contacting the authorities. Luckily our house computer takes care of everything for us. I wouldn’t worry because you don’t have much meat on your bones.”
“Well, if you hadn’t noticed you look a lot like me,” Stefan said.
“Yeah, do all spokys look alike?” Carlos asked. “How does that work?”
“No, there are some shorter, their hair color might be a shade lighter or darker, or maybe they don’t have twelve toes,” Stefan said. “There aren’t many like that. They’re kept up in the spokes so they don’t transition.”
“I suppose looking like a spoky means my genome was altered before I was born. Maybe I’m destined for spoke work,” Carlos said as he picked up a duffel bag. “What’s it like living in a spoke.”
“Well, first thing you might notice there aren’t any trees. There isn’t any living thing except for people, Stefan said. “Then there’s the overabundance of doors and passage ways. You can get lost if you don’t have a location implant. You do have one, right? Here look at the back of my head. It’s the blue knob.”
“Oh, yeah, the blue knob,” said Carlos. Actually he couldn’t remember paying all that much attention to the switches, plug-ins, and knobs. There simply was too many to worry about. Papa or Mama usually hooked him up to the computer after dinner and told him to call one of them when the fuzzy feeling stopped. “Could you look?”
“Bend down a little,” Stefan said. “Damn, you have a lot of plug-ins, but you also have the blue switch and a red one and a yellow one, too. How do you keep track of all of them?”
“Better not say damn anymore,” Carlos said. “Mama doesn’t like people who swear. I know the blue is for locating my position on the ship. The red one is for sleep or keeping me awake. The yellow one is for entertainment.”
“Is Mama what you call your mother?” Stefan asked.
“I suppose mom is what you call yours. You can ask Mama how she wants to be called. I’m pretty sure the other one from the spokes decided to call her Mama. I know for certain they’ve raised more children than just me and they’ve all been boys. We don’t have a room for a female spoky.”
“Like me? You can call me a spoky if you want. It’s what we call ourselves sometimes. What do you call yourselves?”
“By our names, mostly,” Carlos answered. “Given the chance, a bully will call you something derogatory. You being new, you should expect something like “shit for brains” or if you’re lucky they’ll just call you “bean pole”. That’s what they call me sometimes or spoky.”
“I used to be a bully,” Stefan whispered.
“How’d you get here?” Carlos asked. “I thought spokys had to pass a bunch of tests to ensure they were safe to live on a farm.”
“They altered my genome and modified my life-force software,” Stefan softly said. “Every time I think about doing something inappropriate, the programs stop me. It’s not a pretty sight.”
“Oh,” Carlos said, unsure he’d said too much. “Is that why you’re whispering?”
“Yeah,” Stefan said softly. “The calming program is doing that. I’ll need to lie down for a little bit. Could you show me to your room? I think I can carry this bag. Can you get the other one? Oh, damn! I’m going to drop out now.”
Carlos watched Stefan slowly crumple to the ground and after a few seconds began to quiver all over. He knelt beside Stephan and placed a finger on Stefan’s forearm. The muscles quivered to an unknown rhythm. He stared at the boy’s face and saw a small trickle of saliva coming out of the corner of Stefan’s mouth.
“What’s going on?” Carlos’s Papa asked. He came over and knelt beside Carlos. “Was he going to harm you?”
“No, we were talking about which bag to carry inside. That’s all,” Carlos said. “Do you know about this?”
“He should be back in a few minutes,” Papa said. “We were warned about this. I think we’ll need to hook him up to the systems module to adjust his response to stress. Why don’t you take his bags in to the laundry room? I’ll stay with him. Go on, I’ll watch him.”
Carlos’s Papa watched Stefan’s body quiver as the seizure seemingly continued uncontrollably. There was little that could be done outside so he stood up and bent down to pick up the boy that looked so much like his own son. So, it was true. Other than the seizures and bullying, Stefan was truly Carlos’s twin. The boy definitely needed a reboot, which meant going online to file an incident report, then waiting for permission to do a remote hook up for a systematic lookup across all servers, which could take all night.
* * * * * * * *
Clara, Carlos’s mama, watched her husband, Jorge, carry Stefan into the sitting room and lay the boy on the sofa. She could of sworn the boy sighed as her husband attempted to give the Stefan some degree of comfort.
“He’ll need a full hookup,” Jorge said. “Get on the terminal and start an incident report. They’ll want a report as soon as possible.”
“He looks so much like Carlos,” Clara said as she sat in the side chair.
“You know that’s what happens with twins,” Jorge said. “Damn! He doesn’t have enough jacks. You’ll need to append the incident report. He’s missing M1, all of the Ks, and D3. We won’t be able to do a reboot without those jacks. What were those people doing with him? Didn’t they know he needed to be hospitalized to get those plugs installed as he got older? Now, he’ll be lucky if a portable surgery team will be dispatched way out here. If they won’t come out, we’ll have to take him to the city for surgery. I’d better give him an injection.
“You have the rice harvest coming up; I’ll have to take him,” Clara said. “It’d be best if I took Carlos with me, that is if they can’t, or won’t, come out here.”