Shopping beyond the Ionosphere.
May 5, 2657
The FarOut Mall is 603 miles above Earth. It’s located in the 16-A Octagonal of the InterCosmic Manor 2599 (the year it was completed). The Off-Earth Living Pod (LP) is two miles long, two miles wide and three hundred feet deep, taking twenty-one years to complete. Shaped like an octagon, the frame is built of lunarium, the hardest and lightest metal known to man, mined deep below the surface of the moon. The ore was smelted, refined and the frame was shaped in the Galactic Forge 2412. The surface is covered with a golden skin of polyalymel, a combination of high density plastic from Earth, malleable alloys and elements from Mars. It has the ability to absorb and store light, providing all the power the manor needs. Sand, immense heat and pressure have been added to the compound to create the nine hundred and fifty-seven transparent glass panels through which its populace can view the stars, other Pods and Earth. Each of its thirty levels is divided into eight sections called an Octagonal. Each floor has 20 bulk elevators and 78 HTDs - human transmission depositories.
InterCosmic Manor 2599, informally referred to as “Mac99” in reference to the original pioneer of living Off-Earth in self-sustaining Pods in the twenty third century, Macintosh Fairweather , is home to over 80 thousand people. More than nine hundred of them tend the gardens and the forest on level four, unofficially referred to as the ‘feed and breathe’ level. Hundreds more tend the animals on level three, or manage the silage and fodder or control the enormous stores. Another seven thousand inhabitants work on levels one and two which are devoted to the power plants, the waste center, water control, ventilation, heating, maintenance, computer and communications center, robot and probe repair, janitorial, the recycling complex, the air transport garages, emergency response department and the morgue. The shipping and receiving docks for goods traded with Earth, Jupiter, Venus, Moon stations and the other satellites occupy their own Octagonal on levels one and two.
The owner and the extremely wealthy occupy enormous, extravagant suites on level thirty. They, their robots and their appointed staff are the only ones allowed at that level. Even the HTDs are programmed to detect designated biological signatures from each person’s Mac99 implant that they receive when arriving or are born here. Refusing the implant is not an option. LPs beyond the 200 mile ISB or International Space Boundary are responsible for their own safety, their own laws. Of the 263 LPs circling the earth, only two are hostile. Both orbit at miles 450 and 455 respectively, in the Scatter Zone between miles 445 and 465, where LP 2290 was destroyed by an asteroid. There are very few rules there, every vice you can conceive and slavery is legal. The owners and their mercenaries are ruthless; people do as they are told. The rogue LPs are officially called LV2477 and LV2501 but the populace refer to them as LV1 and LV2. Only one other LP orbits in this zone, the former InterCosmic PRT(prison/rehab/termination)2344,. It revolves the over populated Earth mostly uninhabited, a floating rusting hulk.
On Mac99 manufacturing takes up levels 14 and 15. Level 16 is dedicated solely to education. Security headquarters, the armory, admin, governmental offices, entertainment facilities, a worship hub, and hospital are all on level 17, as is the shopping center. One Octagonal is solely devoted to trade. The ethnic food franchises are in main entrance. The second hub is where the larger franchises are located, SpaceMart, Future Shop and Fong’s Hardware taking up half the floor area. Beyond that there are boutiques and specialty shops.
On the coveted outer wall the shops face Earth. Each boutique offers full transparent panels where guests can view the ever changing sky as they browse or shop. Luxuriously appointed, only the wealthiest of store owners can afford the lease. Alexander’s Fine Jewellery is one such occupant. It is situated in the very center of the outer perimeter with the entrance facing the fine dining concourse, the upscale cafes where the moneyed take their lunch. The varied cuisine emits pleasant aromas of spices and rare herbs. People of every possible nationality roam the hallways, searching for baubles or necessities. If the buying patrons venture this deep into the shopping mecca, the only common denominator would be wealth. Yet, dreamers and the regular drifters roam the halls.
A baby’s cry rises above the gossip and stray chatter that fill the open areas causing people pause. Babies are rare. The mother, her escorts and personal defense droid follow her to an open park-like seating area in the next establishment, Vittorio’s Gardens. Joe Average cannot afford the protection and usually opts for sterilization. Dreaded creatures called virkon-eptiles, are carnivorous and prefer humans, especially their young. It is only preceding this interruption that patrons eye the golden droids hovering abundantly around the ceilings. One is stationary in front of every HTD which are busy today transporting shoppers. Every defbot can react within a millisecond of sight, sound or smell of a virkon-eptile, destroying the worm like parasite instantaneously with a powerful laser blast. There is no hesitation from the droid, no matter what or who comes between the dreaded monster and the laser; it will be vaporized as well.
There has not been a sighting for over a year within Old Mack, until last week in Loading Bay 14 on Level 2. It was assumed it ate the driver only minutes before docking his water transport. It took two lasers 1/100th of a second to simultaneously detect and destroy it. Nothing remained except a small gathering of gray ash. Virkon-eptiles grew from dormant bacteria captured on an astronaut’s clothing when the mining of Asteroid Pliney took place last century, his name was Dismas Virkon. Exposed to high CO2 levels and water, the beings that evolved are reptilian, they can think and are able to manipulate their own DNA to replicate anything organic it comes in contact with. It can perform this function for only a short time, thirty minutes or less needing ten to twelve hours to regenerate. Scientists from the InterCosmic Lab2424 are making terrific headway at being able to duplicate this unique ability by experimenting on both dead and live specimens. All but a small cache of virkon-eptiles have been eradicated. Only those alive are corralled on Prison 2344; they live off the human detritus from LV1 & LV2. Some of them escape. They are extremely fast. Sometimes LPs experience power malfunctions shutting down most defense systems. If a virkon-eptile is hiding, lying in wait, it is this moment it will feed. There was an outage on Mac99 yesterday.
That was why Alexander’s Fine Jewellery is having a PLS – Personal Laser System - installed. During the blackout Mac99’s emergency power went to where it was most needed, especially the HTDs and weapons on the top four floors. The general power was interrupted for only two minutes but 65% of the LP remained weaponless for that short time. That was too long when beings that could eat three humans in ninety seconds might be present.
Gracia Moeller, nee Alexander, does not want to experience such fear like she did when they experienced the outage before closing time yesterday. Every unit went to immediate lock-down. Doors shut whether you were in or out or in between. Everyone was scrambling for a place to hide, knocking over the chairs, sliding and bunching up her antique carpets, tipping her Moon Drop display with several of the rare crystals shattering. People beating at her glass doors that she was unable to open broke her heart. She shakes her thick auburn hair out of her face as she tries to forget about last night and concentrate on serving her guest. Handing a gaily colored gift bag with the Alexander A in gold foil gracing the outer flap, to a young man distinguished by his spindly frame and bushy eyebrows, she says,
“Thank you for your business Mr. Dubrowski. This is a moment neither you nor your dear friend Candace will ever forget. Please bring her in sometime so we can meet her.”
‘Thank you for helping me pick out that beautiful ring, I know she’s going to love it.”
Blushing and grinning he waves as he hastens to leave, already late on his lunch break from the Orbital Control Center where he monitors the propulsion systems in the eighth sector.
Gracia waves back before surveying her premises. Beside her the PLS Installer, a bent- over middle aged man, terribly bowlegged and much too serious, is sliding a black box into a cubicle he shaped under the serving area that centers the premises. The work station is within the twelve foot circle. The base is uncommon red pine harvested from underwater fifty years after the flooding of the lower mountains in Canada when a large portion of the Arctic polar cap melted rapidly in the twenty third century. Crafted into a perfect circle, the lacquered wood supports a thin 30 inch horizontal panel where the clients are served. The total surface of the counter is a layer of durable, touch and voice sensitive, extreme-tech plasma. The overall screen shows a replica of the circles of Saturn. The point of sale or POS system can be anywhere they are standing.
Gracia has her hands upon her shapely hips, jewels sparkling from several well-manicured fingers. Her silk jacket is tucked neatly behind them. She regards her number one sales person, Aisha regale one of their regular patrons to the joys of owning a four carat Martian cyntonium, the largest available Off-Earth. Her part time worker, Cristofer, is rearranging her Moon Drop display, adding new pieces to replace the broken ones. Michelle her manager is helping a young couple select their wedding bands. There are two other patrons in the store, “just looking”. The Installer is replacing his tools in the small cloth bag he brought in with him. Wiping his hands on a faded blue cloth he turns to Gracia.
“Everything is ready to go Ms. Moeller.”
He hands her two pulse pistols, the latest in fashion weaponry as well as two stylish holsters that are chameleonized to change color with whatever outfit they may be wearing. One is custom built to fit in her hand only, programmed to recognize the ID signal from her implant only, the trigger activated by her nerve impulses only. The other is for her manager. With a long face that expresses little joy for his work, the installer adds as if by rote.
“These will be charged tomorrow by one of our guns specialists. He or she will be explaining the usage, the dangers, the responsibilities, the laws, the licensing and the deadliness of these weapons. I urge extreme caution, always. I hope you never have to use them. There are holders for these in the console I just installed, where they will remain at night to hold their charge. Did you have any questions before I leave?”
Gracia eyes the large letters emblazoned on the chest of his coveralls, BOB. Thinking that the letters are his name, she says,
“So the guns are harmless now Bob?”
Scrunching his brow with a questioning look he replies,
“Name’s Ralph and yeah, you couldn’t kill a mars-bugg with these.”
What Ralph had no way of knowing is that the apprentice armorer, in her zealous approach to her new responsibilities did indeed charge these weapons. Not understanding the flag in the work orders, the “gunrat”, as they were referred to in the armory, loaded a full force to each one in her work station. In a parlance from the twentieth century, that still defines a deadly readiness –they are, locked and loaded.
Placing the paraphernalia on the counter top, Gracia turns to him with her hand out adding a smile.
“Oops, sorry Ralph.” She points her finger at the letters on his chest, “I thought…well anyway, thank you for the nice work. Please come back and visit again, bring the Mrs.…”
She is interrupted by the distinct sound of sharp heels clicking on the hard stoneoleum in the hallway. She stops shaking Ralph’s hand standing motionless with her ear cocked towards the sound. A frown crosses her pretty face, the dimples more pronounced. Ralph bug eyes at her sudden hesitation, deciding he should leave. Releasing her hand he hastens away.
“Good day to you Ms. Moeller.”
Gracia is ignoring him, all thoughts of the installer vanished, all thoughts of the loaded weapons eliminated. Pursing her lips, rubbing her hands in anticipation, she realizes from the gait of the approaching clackety-clack it is that damn Mrs. Abernathy. The woman will not quit. Turning to Michelle who has heard the announcement as well, they nod in confirmation. They already planned what to do when the bothersome shopper turned up.
Agnes Abernathy is not as wealthy as she pretends to be. Inheriting a suite of rooms on the 27th level from her fourth husband is difficult to maintain when the slime left everything else to his mistress. Using the last of the currency her father bequeathed her, the botcredits are going quickly. She has the annoying habit of buying expensive jewels and returning them after she wears them to some social function that the rich dally in. Her relentless pursuit of spouse #5, in her mind, requires being seen at all the ‘right’ places, as well as being seen in the latest and richest baubles. Even after the passing of centuries, the advancement in sciences, the ease of living, some things never change.
The latest acquisition was a pair of earrings. Flawless 1.4 carat shycetic gems from Phobos, the largest moon of Mars. Only 3000 carats were mined before the operation was deserted as being too costly with fewer gems being discovered. Light that is captured in them returns to the beholder’s eyes as a dazzling spectrum of strong colors. They are very hard to find. Making them even more valuable is that they are they only precious stone to have a scent, emitting an aroma that can only be depicted as floral. The stones adapt to each human’s chemistry to evoke a unique perfume. Highly sought after, they are very expensive. Mrs. Abernathy purchased them on Friday. She will want to return them today.
The irritable noise of her approach is hushed when she turns into the store to walk upon antique hemp rugs woven by hand in the 24th century by weavers from the “Double LP” (Love & Peace Living Pod 2401). Agnes Abernathy is doomly clad in this season’s colors, black and blood red. Only her pink hat covering short silver locks softens her somber presence. Her face and hands are dyed a silver slightly darker than her hair which is quite the rage for those that visit Earth frequently. For some unexplainable reason many rich men find it attractive. Holding a matching pink clutch in one silver hand, she swings a small tote with the recognizable A upon it. When she reaches the counter where Gracia is standing she moues as she waves the bag in the air before setting it upon the sales area.
“I’m sorry Gracia but these just won’t do, there is too much blue in their dispersion and it clashes horribly with my wardrobe. I’m afraid I’ll have to return them my dear.”
Gracia is trying very much to be nice, it is ingrained in her from her ancestors to show their clients respect but this has got to come to an end. With a smile that might freeze butter, she says,
“I’m afraid not Mrs. Abernathy. Did you not read the notice on your communicator when you purchased them? They are not returnable. It states very clearly on your notification?”
Abernathy steps back in astonishment at the boldness of Gracia’s delivery. Her immediate thought is the five hundred thousand botcredits the jewels represent. Currency she cannot afford to be without. Indignation takes precedence over kindness as she replies coldly,
“I care little of what is posted on my “communicator” as you call it. I’m much too busy to trifle over mere receipts of payment. I purchase many items here Ms. Moeller”
The speech is more formal. In her guest’s hesitation Gracia speaks up.
“You indeed make many purchases Mrs. Abernathy but you return everything.”
Gracia cannot contain herself any longer. She does not run a rental shop. One hand akimbo, the other with an accusing finger pointing at her client’s grey pallor made pinkish by the boiling blood within.
“I’m wise to you Mrs. Abernathy, you wear the purchases to one of your calendar events and then return them but not always this soon. Of course we do not move in the same groupings, I did however, see you at the Spatial Charity Experience. Those very earrings caused quite a sensation amongst the hundreds that attended. I searched for the owner, knowing you had the only ones aboard the Manor. I’m sorry, but you own those now. Now if you please, I would appreciate it if you would leave.”
Almost sorry she said it Gracia softens somewhat. Agnes Abernathy does not. In a loud voice so that everyone can hear, she exclaims her disappointment, the way she is being treated. More angrily she goes on about her distaste for anything she purchased, her demands for the return of the earrings. Gracia cannot calm her down. She has a sudden hate for this woman that continues to harangue her. Everyone in the store is still. The two “lookers” decide to leave. Patrons in the restaurants across the way have paused in their dining to listen. There is no stopping the dirge of anger that passes through Abernathy’s mouth. When the language begins to turn profane, Gracia decides it is time to summon security. When she reaches down to the console she spies the pulse pistols. Picking up the one that is hers, the molded weapon slides easily into her grip. The sleek weapon is the most advanced available. It takes fifty thousand nanoseconds to respond to Moeller’s ID. Wishing it was loaded she points it at the yelling woman in a mocking gesture, even though it is illegal to use it on human beings.
Abernathy knows what is in Moeller’s hand and immediately shuts up, backing several steps from the serving area. Gracia thinks the weapon is sterile. Nerve impulses to the sensitive tellium surface of the trigger tells it to fire. A beat of pure energy is released to consume the first obstacle in its path which in this case is Mrs. Abernathy. Like a black hole, the woman implodes, every iota of her being is consumed within seconds.
Gracia Moeller cannot believe what she has done. Her voice is a shocked whisper.
Watch next week when guest author Mitzi Szereto from the United Kingdom shares some of her awesome writing.