This is the first 2,000 words of a backburner novel. Yes, I’m letting you see a portion of one of my novels. Crazy, isn’t it?
This one was written in shades of Vonnegut, with highlights done in Bester and Ballard.
I’m not going to tell you anything else about this novel, other than its near future, Ulysses is in it, and there are portions of it that I laugh maniacally at when I consider that I wrote them (none of what you see here though).
When the unusual sound first echoed through his flat, Waldo Peterson waved it off as the typical background noise of the GoodeLife Sector #34821 Residential Building. He gave it a nanosecond of consideration before continuing his absorption of culture through the MultiFeed his thick and sweaty bulk was attached to. The brief halt gave his body a moment to readjust itself in the Ulysses Mark II Tranzend Lounger, and with the readjustment came a release of built-up gas from his bowels and a few deep cracks from his joints.
When the same sound – a staccato rapping against a hard surface – increased in volume and continued, Waldo shut off the MultiFeed and sat up from the lounger, his FeedGoggles reflecting the blue of the Disconnection indicator. His appearance was vaguely insectoid, the tubes and wireless receiver antennae completing the alien look.
Fear struck him and sweat began to bead on pale and hairless skin.
“What is that?” he shouted out to his empty flat. “What’s that noise?”
Waldo ripped the FeedGoggles from his head, and quickly scanned the room in a panic. It took a moment for his eyes to readjust to real life after a 72-hour session connected to the MultiFeed.
“Hello?” he shouted, his voice cracking.
The rapping continued, and exceeding it in tempo was his heartbeat. With a great struggle against gravity, Waldo extricated himself from the Lounger and the Waste and Syntho Tubes and managed to stand for three seconds. Then he fell to the ground, his legs forgetting how to handle the weight of a human – made even more difficult by the daily increase in Waldo’s mass.
He managed to lift himself from the ground and his panic increased. Whatever was in his flat, he would not be able to defend himself from it.
“Jesus God! What is that noise?! Someone help me!” he screamed. Beyond the rapping, he could hear the sounds of the thousand or so other flat tenants also absorbed in the MultiFeed. There was little chance anyone would hear him scream during this peak time. Most of the best feeds were online at the moment. If the source of the demon noise were to set upon him, no one would hear his death rattle, his final agonizing scream.
He felt his heart pounding against his chest. His adrenaline kicked in and pushed him to face the source, no matter what the cost. If he were going to die, he would meet it on his feet, not strapped into a Tranzend Lounger watching Japanese Reality feeds.
He trekked through his living room, following the sound. He hadn’t been in this part of his flat in weeks and it smelled stale despite its pristine condition.
“My God … it’s the door,” he realized. A thousand scenarios fired like salvos in his head. Anarchists, evil robots, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Republicans, punk kids, Reformers, Endtimers, Rebooters, Freeminders, a hundred other groups whose purpose it was to oppose the GoodeLife society he was a part of, and the way of life that made it so appealing.
The knocking stopped.
“Mr. Peterson?” a voice asked behind the door.
The door to his flat opened. How could it have opened? There were locks, safeguards, security protocols. It must be his death!
Only the maintenance robots could open his door without authorization, only …
A man peeked his head around the door. He looked nice – clean cut with a pleasant smile, middle-aged, neatly trimmed beard.
“Mr. Peterson,” the man said again. “I’m with the LRC. I’m here to repair your MultiFeed.”
LRC? Waldo had heard of the Labor Replacement Corps, but he had never seen a Lurker in person.
“The LRC?” Waldo whispered timidly, the words sounding strange coming out of his mouth.
“That’s right, Mr. Peterson,” the man said politely, still smiling. “My name is Edward.”
“The robots …?” Waldo questioned.
“The number of repair jobs currently in the system exceeds the number of AI technicians currently available. To keep our level of service at a pleasing level to customers like you, Ulysses Corporation has recruited the LRC to help relieve the workload.”
Edward smiled again, apparently he had given the speech many times before.
Waldo vaguely nodded his understanding.
“Now, Mr. Peterson,” Edward said, closing the door as he backed into the hallway. “If you’d like to put some clothes on, you can let me know when I can come in and service your MultiFeed.”
Waldo gasped, suddenly realizing his nakedness. The last human he had seen was his uncle who visited every few months, the last visit being six months previous. The door shut and Waldo quickly grabbed what he called his “Receiving Robe” which he kept on a hook by the door. He hastily wrapped it around his naked obesity, noting that he would need a larger robe soon due to his increasing size.
“Come in,” Waldo said aloud to the door.
Edward entered completely this time and carried with him a small portable NodePad and a mechanic’s toolbox. He paused a moment just inside the door and looked around.
“This is a very nice flat you have here, Mr. Peterson,” he remarked. “Very tidy and well-maintained.”
Waldo was caught off guard. All flats were pretty much the same in the GoodeLife sectors. He had never considered his home to have endearing individual qualities beyond what might be found in every other home.
“Th-thank you,” Waldo replied.
Edward moved purposefully into the rest of the flat with his equipment.
“You’d be surprised how many GoodeLifers let their lives go straight to hell,” he said as he kneeled down by the Data Core of the Multifeed. “I mean take this guy that lives next door to you. Wilson, right?”
Waldo had no idea who lived next to him, but nodded his head quick enough to jiggle his second chin.
“Now there’s a man who is abusing the system. We live in an amazing age, you and I. Every man, woman, and child on the planet has the right and privilege of the basics. Nice flats, running water, Synthofood, 24-hour entertainment … hell, it took the global governments half a century just to agree what constituted the ‘Good Life’ and here it is, just given to you. Yes, this is a golden age of man, indeed.”
With a metallic clang, Edward popped open the maintenance panel and began sorting through the mass of wires it held.
“Were your parents GoodeLifers, Mr. Peterson?” Edward asked.
“Uh … yes. Third Generation,” Waldo answered. “I think.”
Edward stopped his work and smiled up at the GoodeLifer.
“That’s just great, isn’t it?” he beamed. “I mean, you’ve never known anything but the peace and security our grand civilization has been able to provide you.”
With a flourish he twirled a small penlight out of his belt and bit down on it to free his hands, then went back to sorting through the wires. From the corner of his mouth he mumbled, “Tehw mwe aboud yewselb … malvweed?”
Waldo blinked, not understanding. “I’m sorry, what?”
Edward secured a bundle of wires with one hand and with the other pulled the penlight out of his mouth a second. “Are you married? Any kids?”
“Oh!” Waldo exclaimed, chuckling. “Good Lord, no, never.”
“So you’ve got the bachelor package,” Edward replied, nodding enthusiastically. “Now there’s the life – assuming you intend to use it. Take Mr. Wilson next door. All that given to him, and he’s not even a contributor.”
Edward shook his head gravely and began plugging various wires into his NodePad.
Waldo began to tire and scanned the room for a chair he soon realized he did not have. The Lounger was the only seat in the entire flat. He decided against returning to it and leaned heavily against a wall.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Mr. Peterson, what is your contribution?” Edward queried.
Waldo panicked. He knew good and well that he had never contributed a thing since his Age Separation from his parents. He attempted to remember what his Academy-level contribution was but found his mind only able to flash through past episodes of “Killer Finder People Squad Investigations”
“Do you bring something fresh and new?” Edward asked, smiling disarmingly and staring directly at Waldo’s quickly reddening face.
“Oh … uh … no, the thing that I do … uh … is not very new,” he stammered, “just a little thing, that I happen to … bring …”
Jesus God … he was blowing it. This damn laborer had him cornered. The Lurker would probably purposefully screw up his feed because of his old world morals – he must be a damn Rebooter or worse.
“A poet?” Edward asked, his eyes twinkling.
Waldo’s heart burst, the doors of his mind opened as he realized his fortunate rhyming. He ran with it.
“Yes!” he joyfully exclaimed. “I am a poet.”
Edward jumped up so quickly that Waldo started, bumping his head against the wall. Dropping his penlight into the growing pile of wires, Edward pressed a hand to his breast and gesticulated with his free hand while spouting:
“Hedgerimmy flimey poragus!
Cried the thrimdilly gaspaggo flumicus,
Had his flimm taken dammily costicus at heart,
And Rabinifeltillo trabinny plarghed
Like a Glumglimmitimmilful, a frong to be barghed”
Silence followed. Waldo had no idea what to do. For a moment he thought that perhaps the man had just accused him of lying in some language of the Justicars, or cursed him in some foul tongue.
“Well …” Edward finally said, looking a bit disappointed. “It’s not nearly as good as your own work, I’m sure. But I guess that’s why I’m with the LRC and not a poet.”
“No no, it was very good. You should keep working at it,” Waldo offered. His confidence returned a bit as he finally grasped that he was dealing with a simpleton here, a laborer, a man unworthy of the social benefits a contributing member of the GoodeLife Society merits. “With skill like that, why are you a Lurker and not –“
Waldo froze. Lurker was a derogatory term that GoodeLifers used to describe the small unions of manual laborers that Ulysses Corporation used to supplement the robot workforce. The term came from the name of their governing union, LRC, along with the fact that it was a common occurrence to see members of the LRC loitering around the Ulysses Corporation Human Resources division offices, waiting for contracts.
Edward just smiled and continued his work while he explained.
“I’m cursed with needy hands, Mr. Peterson,” he said, expertly running diagnostics on each feed wire in the Core. “I just can’t sit idly and do nothing. Sure, I dabble in the arts and maybe I could find some happiness in choosing the GoodeLife scenario. But, honestly –“
Alarms sounded from the Data Core and lights flashed on his NodePad.
“AHA!” he shouted in triumph. With deft hand movements he cut and spliced several wires from his own toolbox into the Core. In just a few seconds, the alarms stopped and the MultiFeed Activation indicator blinked its green light happily.
“Honestly,” he continued, “it would drive me insane not to be able to work with technology, and I’m not intelligent enough to be a Customizer.”
Waldo nodding knowingly.
“All done. Have a pleasant rest of your day, Mr. Peterson.”
“That quick?” Waldo asked. “What was the problem?”
Edward began packing up his things as he explained. “The fact of the matter is, no matter how good our technology is, it doesn’t last forever. This generation of MultiFeed Data Cores has about a 20-year lifespan before some connections start to go bad. Most of your core has been replaced by the semi-annual maintenance from the robot force, but occasionally we get a batch of faulty wires that need fixing before the regular maintenance schedules. And that’s why the LRC has been called in, there’s a fairly substantial batch of bad wiring that came out in this sector a few years back that are now failing – too many for the robots to handle alone.”
Waldo blankly listened to the man, hoping he would leave soon.
“Go ahead and plug in, Mr. Peterson,” Edward gestured.
Waldo obliged, settling his weight back into his Lounger and placing the FeedGoggles on his head.
“Can you tell a difference?”
“My God … it’s so much more intense and brilliant!” Waldo exclaimed. “I had no idea I was missing this much detail.”
“Try several feeds at once and give the tiered panes a try,” Edward offered. “You should be able to handle as many as sixty feeds at once now.”
Waldo was gone from the real world by then. His bulk was settling back into the Lounger as his hands absently reconnected the Syntho and Waste Tubes.
Edward smiled brightly and let himself out. He typed in a few notes on his NodePad in the hallway of the GoodeLife Flat Sector #34821 and walked next door where he started knocking patiently.