It may have been a sizzling hot Fried Day here in the Sacramento area, but it's also a Free Fiction Friday! And so I have a story for you (written by your's truly). I consider it an atom punk story even though it may be lightly so. Which is okay, because it causes a big portion of the story to reflect more where our own timeline is going which is one of the most important things of science fiction--to show where society may be in the future. If you aren't familiar with the atom punk subgenre of sci fi, then check out my earlier post here. If you get tired of hearing me talk, then a person who is really an expert on the subgenre is Philip Reeve who has a great article on it and so you might want to check that out.
About the formatting of my story's text: I copied the story from a file that I had formatted for submission to a magazine. Even though I changed the font from Courier to New Times Roman so it would reflect the style of the blog more, other manuscript style formatting may be in there. Some of that formatting may be underlined text as opposed to italicised text. That's because standard formatting for emphasised words in manuscripts for submissions, especially for fiction, is underlining. Also there are some pound symbols ("hash" symbols as they're referred to for social media linking) between paragraphs to represent breaks or lapses in time.
As some of you may have realised I write according to British spelling (e.g. "realise" as opposed to the American "realize"). You won't find that in this story. I changed the spelling to American because I'm more likely to submit the piece to American publications as much as I prefer British spelling. I truly believe British English is the more correct English. Part of that reason is the most obvious (or at least it should be obvious, except to those pea brains who loafed off back in their high school history classes and never grew up): English originated in England. Now as far as it being the more correct version, that's just my personal opinion. I'm not even British. In fact, I'm not even of British ancestry (I'm Mexican and Portuguese, but born here in the U.S. of course). But I love British culture. I'm not getting into other reasons why I prefer British English over American. If you want to know more why, then ask me in the comments box below and I'll be more than happy to explain.
I hope you enjoy this story. Please let me know what you think, including what could be improved. You won't hurt my feelings; you would actually be helping me. Come on now! Not even the top best-selling authors are perfect! Not even the Noble Prize winning ones are, for that matter.
Until next time . . .
“How many credits have I worked?” asked Albert McArthur as he hopelessly stared at Kariith’s digital body that was sealed inside the giant vacuum tube.
“Five hundred,” said the metallic voice of UConet.
Shit, Albert thought. He didn’t dare not say it out loud. UCoNet sees everything, Albert always remembered as did everybody of both Earth and the known universe.
The Interplanetary Computer Network was everywhere. Albert scowled back, “Really?”
The Interplanetary Computer Network was everywhere. Albert scowled back, “Really?”
“Affirmative,” UCoNet said. But Albert knew he didn’t need to confirm the super computer network’s answer. UCoNet was the Supreme Machine. Although Albert knew UCoNet’s answer was truth, he couldn’t believe it. Kariith was only a life size holograph sealed inside a glass tube. Sealed inside like his own anger and resentment for UCoNet was sealed inside his own body.
“Break is over,” commanded UCoNet. “Return to your work station, please.”
Albert laid his hand on one of Kariith’s brown legs, or at least on the glass in front. He would’ve laid it on her cheek, but the tube was suspended too high to reach that part. The height only reminded him of how her 6-foot Aoelian body would tower over his 5- foot-10 Earth one when they would embrace. Then, glancing back at the tube, amongst the row of other tubes of naked digital bodies that seemed to stretch away into infinity, he walked to the door. It slid open and he exited the Debtors’ Vault and entered the corridor leading to the Production Floor.
As Albert passed the transportal, UCoNet said, “You are late.” So he stepped into the transportal and pressed the button labeled “Production.” He had wanted to walk so he could pass Kariith’s packages of holographic dolls modeled off of her. But Stock was two chambers away from Production.
Seventy-five years, and only 500 credits, he thought to himself as he materialized under the transportal onto Production. He dragged his feet back to his station, eyes downcast in futile anger. What else could he do but work his credits? He had to pay to keep his extended life going just so he could buy back Kariith’s.
He pressed the button that turned on the huge round-cornered screen that revealed his sketches for the new products for UCoNet. He touched the thumb print for the potato maker. The image of the device was in the likeness of a six inch potato, covered with buttons in the form of “eyes”. He finger-dragged the image’s top layer to reveal the sketched circuits, transistors and wires. Those were complete but he needed to make the atomizer. The atomizer made the vegetable that legend said used to grow in the ground, but was now grown with DNA stored in one of the Network’s banks. He turned to his co-worker. “Simon, did your ed-program ever teach you how to make DNA atomizers?”
Simon looked from his screen. “It was never in the curriculum. Nobody makes them because they’re already made.”
Albert swung his chair into his monitor, glass shattering everywhere.
“McArthur! What is the reason for this unproductive action?” UCoNet’s metallic voice demanded from one of his hidden mouths.
Albert waited to catch his breath before answering, thinking of an explanation. He never reacted like this before. “Sorry, UCoNet. I ran into some problems with my project. I’m supporting my parents, too.” His parents were financially secure. He couldn’t tell UCoNet who he was really supporting. UCoNet was both Kariith’s creditor and sentencing judge besides former manager. And now Albert made himself a debtor to that manager. The monitor would cost him a quarter of the credits he had worked to buy Kariith’s existence back. Not only that, but UCoNet would probably suspect him more than ever of being un-UCoNet.
UCoNet said, “Apology accepted with 75 labor credits for the monitor.”
Teeth gritted, Albert said, “Yes, sir.” He pressed the “Maintenance” button for the robot janitor.
UCoNet hadn’t told them everything in computer and UCoNet history. Albert had been contemplating over his screen about where the hell he was going to find a model for the atomiser. He couldn’t use any of the Store’s; they were too many credits. One time, he asked UCoNet if he could borrow blue prints but UCoNet said it was against the Rules and that he knew it. Since that day, he knew UCoNet suspected him of being un-UCoNet, a traitor to free enterprise. It seemed UCoNet watched him more closely ever since. Albert had been burning out looking at the Reference banks to see if there was anything that talked about atomizors’ anatomy. But now he knew the library banks did not make such information available; such information was a key to all real creation. To create similar to UCoNet’s centuries-dead creators, a person needed to pay credits. Albert could never understand why anyone had to pay for their act of creativity. Creativity was a natural act.
“Why do you come up with such hard projects, Al?” Simon asked.
Albert exhaled deeply. “First of all, because I’m tired of making things based on templates. I was better off composing security code. Second of all, I need the extra credits.”
“She’s gone, Al,” said Simon. “Just let it go. She was nothing, is nothing. Nothing but a burden to society.”
Albert snapped, “She was everything, Simon! Everything to me.”
Simon, shaking his head, said, “How can she be anything to you, Albert? She’s only a design, a design to be turned into little girls’ dolls.”
Albert wished he had his doll with him even more than Simon who was not only his co-worker but best friend. Even more, he wished for the simple fact that Kariith still existed.
Simon continued as he punched input into his design, “She’s a mere character of fiction now. She’s only code and pixels.”
“I know she is,” shouted Albert.
“McArthur,” warned UCoNet.
More quietly, Albert said, “I know, Simon! But she doesn’t have to be.”
Simon looked up from his screen while continuing inputting and said, in a slightly higher volume, “But you’re wearing yourself away trying to work extra hours to bring her back, Al.” Albert had gone days without sleep, even without food in some cases. “You’re going to end up like her, nothing, because like her you won’t be able to keep up with your own labor credits.”
“I am nothing, Simon. I’m nothing without her. She’s the only girl I could ever relate to, not like all these other ones made from the template of Earth’s culture.”
“What about Jiirth? She’s Aeolian.”
“That’s just the problem! She’s Earth’s Aeolian!”
“What do you mean?”
“Simon, do you think real Aeolians act like that? So passive and silent like this planet’s movies and news media portrays them?”
Simon stared at Albert for several seconds. Finally, he said, “Yeah. The Supreme Machine doesn’t lie.”
“Well then why didn’t Kariith act that way?”
“Kariith was a deviant, Al. She wasn’t like everyone else.”
“Because she was smart enough not to be. All the native Earth girls, the Earth-born Aeolian girls and ones of other alien ethnicities are so superficial and boring. There’s no challenge in them, no energy.”
“Energy? No energy? They like going dancing, going on the hikes you like to go on. What was in this chick? She was so homebound.”
“She was not homebound. We went to movies and sporting games.”
“You guys only went to those flat screen films and her brother’s soccer games. That’s a kid’s game. They don’t even use robots.”
“They’re high school,” corrected Albert, “not college or pro.”
Simon shook his head saying “Whatever. But this girl was living her mommy and daddy’s life too much.”
“Kariith loved her father. That’s why she paid for his life extension. It’s in her people’s culture.”
“That was on Aeolus. She didn’t know how to get with it on Earth. And she was born here, wasn’t she?”
Albert froze his electric-blue-eyed stare on Simon. Simon didn’t understand alien cultures. He was too damn Earth-centric like all the other Earth natives, including Albert’s parents. Al answered, “They were her parents, Simon. It is a sacred duty for those people to lay down their lives for their immediate family when they can’t take care of themselves. It’s almost second nature to them. And she wanted to do it.”
“Well see? Those people are superstitious, so primitive.”
“They are religious,” grunted Albert. “They have fully established religions like Earthlings have almost all of history.”
“Too established, Al. This is post-22nd century Earth, not 21st.”
“Well if they’re ‘too’ established then they can’t be primitive or superstitious!”
However, Albert was afraid his co-worker was right. When did any of his own family say a rosary, read the Bible or pray over a meal outside weekly mass? The only time he saw rituals of any religion performed outside the houses of worship were in the ancient films he loved watching since a kid. The Aeolian religions were so different from Earth’s, so much more natural. Like Kariith.
“But still, Al, they are so impractical. It’s an everyman-for-himself world today. It’s the only way to survive.”
Albert said, “And she was for herself. That’s why I liked her.”
“She wasn’t for herself if she had to stop and pitch in for her father.”
“Aside from that, Simon!”
“And she put off her marriage to you for her father. She didn’t love you.”
“She did love me by the standards of her culture. And I can love her even more because she thought about her father before me! Now we both need to get to work before UCoNet yells at us for being incompetants.”
Simon shrugged. “Suit yourself, but it’s your life energy, not to mention labour credits.”
Albert said, “They are and so I’ll use them the way I want. It’s everyman for himself.”
Albert materialized into the Department of Post-Engineering and said to the robot secretary at the counter, “I have to see an Engineer, it’s an emergency!”
The metallic secretary said in an electronic, feminine voice, “What is the nature of the emergency, please?”
Albert said, “I just came across a terrorist scheme involving the shutdown of UCoNet. The schemers know where the main power switch is located!”
The secretary burst laughing. “No need to be alarmed, sir. You just came across some ignorant delinquents.”
“How do you know that?” scowled Albert.
“Because a power switch for UCoNet has been obsolete for the past two centuries. It was uninstalled completely once the Turing Equalization Act went into effect. Only UCoNet’s sub-units have power switches. So you can go home feeling comfortable that there will be no terrorist attack or assassination of our Net!”
Albert’s training and history lessons of UCoNet never said anything about the Net’s main power switch going obsolete. He walked slowly and quietly back to the transportal. Although UCoNet never laughed, Albert felt the Super Computer Network’s mockery through the secretary’s own laughter echoing in his mind. The secretary had called him an ignorant delinquent. But he knew she was right. He was the “terrorist.” The scheme was his. He had hoped his false alert would lead him to the main power switch’s location.
Albert would not make the credits needed to purchase Kariith’s existence before he grew old. He would have to steal it for both his and her good. He only half existed without her. They had admitted to each other that they were one soul. Stealing Kariith’s existence back would not only be the sacred thing to do but also the natural one. Nobody should have to pay for love.
That night in his bedroom, Albert pressed the activation button of his computer. The UCoNet logo faded on—a white, gridded globe encircled by three white rings against a blue background. Below the image, in slanted display font, was UCoNet’s name. Albert typed in a search for the major sub-units of UCoNet. The computer revealed over a billion. He never knew the known universe to be that big, but then he had never been off Earth. He knew there was no way he was going to shut off a billion or more machines before UCoNet would find out that he was going to re-birth Kariith back into existence. Albert could not do that even if he did have enough labor credits to travel.
After typing an inquiry for the control unit his Store received power from, he clicked on the sub-unit’s Anatomy in the Education menu. Although part of the curriculum of UCoNet history, the free anatomy studies were abridged. As he suspected, the entrance area to the CPU chamber was missing from the blue abstract labyrinthine map of the sub-unit. He would have to pay and use the VR version of the Anatomy. It would bring him pretty close to creditless. But what would it matter? He would annihilate himself from existence. At least as far as UCoNet would know. Or maybe not know. He would do the same to Kariith. Albert could make the entry key code; he made skeleton keys at his previous job. He also made encryptions there. They were used for organic and non-organic items transatomicized between locations. Albert had made the encryptions for almost all living things—vegetation and animals. One of the few exceptions were people. Until now.
Albert inputted his credit information, rose and walked to the living room where the transportal waited.
The next evening, Albert materialized into the real CPU of the sub-unit. He slowly stepped out of the transportal. He took a second step. No sound but the hum of the CPU. He had read news reports of criminals stepping into units such as these but the security not sensing them until as many as five paces inward. Sometimes it would be too late—a ray from some shadowed corner would blast them. When he reached the seventh pace, he breathed much easier. The “invisibility” virus, which he had created from pieces of UCoNet’s programs he was authorized to use for his job at the Store and ones of code from his former occupation, worked. It would probably work for Kariith too, which he had copied to the memory tube for her. The unit’s sensory could not detect his presence and so to it and its security system Albert McArthur did not exist. He was not sure if the same held true for the orb itself which controlled that entire unit and everything that it processed and generated to the sector. After all, he had only been a Security program assistant, not a Post-Engineer. But the orb was not the real problem. The real problem: the possibility of Post-Engineers in the vicinity. The invisibility code did not work on human senses. But it wasn’t a time of crisis so it was unlikely any Post-Engineers were patrolling.
He walked more quickly toward the sub-unit’s glowing, red orb. In front of it, on a console, was the power switch. The closer Albert approached, the more he felt like the orb was staring into him. Upon arriving at the console, he slowly reached for the switch. His muscles tightened. His heart pounded. Albert braced himself for the ray that would beam from the orb and burn his hand off. Once his middle finger touched the switch, he pulled. Everything blacked out. He pulled the memory tube from a pocket of his lustrous trousers and opened the door under the console revealing its circuit board in the beam of his pen light. Albert inserted the device into a port. The white code of the file names flashed one by one on the device’s small monitor. When Kaarith’s appeared, Albert yanked out the device, saying, “Fuck! Fuck you, UCoNet!” He nearly threw it at the orb. Kaarith was still in non-existent status. The power shutdown didn’t effect the debtors. The sub-unit was extra secure when it came to the debtor bank. UCoNet didn’t trust his other heads. They were constructed centuries ago by the Engineers when they were autonomous corporations. That was before the Executive Unit was built, the final and ultimate head of UCoNet. Albert would have to go there.
Though he knew UCoNet’s main unit had the same basic layout as his sub-units, it would be far more secure. Far more deadly. He would have to study the VR version like he did with the sub-unit.
When Albert arrived at the transportal he broke out laughing. He just realized, though he hadn’t shouted because of the possibility of Post-Engineers, he had cursed UCoNet out loud. The “invisibility” virus had hid his voice too.
Albert materialized in the VR of UCoNet’s head of heads. “The System’s track unit, where all data is broken down,” introduced the bodiless automated guide as Albert stared awe-struck at the binary numerals, which must have been at least thousands in number, flowing up and down transparent pipes like green radiated water. The guide said, “To go to the next chamber, choose any ‘vein’ you desire by simply walking toward it.” Albert walked toward the nearest one. Though he knew this was the VR bowel of the beast, it was too real looking to be sure he couldn’t easily be digested into mere atoms and then, finally, mere code like his fiancé. That would have defeated his purpose. But what else could he do? It was the only way to find the route to the CPU.
When he reached the transparent tube, he expected to bang into the “glass”. Instead he found himself surrounded by the green flowing binary and shooting up with it. He felt himself flying through the snaking vessel until he deposited into a vast chamber of gray, metal surfaces. The only thing that resembled a passage way was a drape of blue lightning straight ahead. As he passed through the electric “drape” he felt himself dissolve from the feet up, his body breaking up into binary. He assumed it was all VR. Until the dissolution reached his neck. He screamed, “No!” Then he felt his mind scatter into random images, good and bad: images of tranquility and images of forbidden nightmares; the peace of the forest in early spring, the blackness of an abyss at the bottom of an ocean, or at least what looked like an ocean, ready to receive him; the cool snow whiteness of a bed, the knives and spikes of an iron maiden closing on him while a tiger’s jaws did the same, while flames did the same.
His body and mind reassembled.
Albert stood in a transportal and, ahead--a humongous, burning red orb. It looked like the one in the sub-unit, only 10 times larger—50 feet in circumference. It seemed to stare directly at him. It was suspended over a wide shaft from which a fiery glow radiated. The Guide said, “The Eye of UCoNet, where all input becomes a part of his memory and where all action initiates from--like with your own human brain. The Central Processing Unit (or CPU) of UCoNet is Eye and Brain in one. In front of the power pit stands the CPU’s circuit box. All these can only be reached by transportal as opposed to passage or walk-through and only by a top secret password entrusted to Post-Engineers sworn to use it only when all of UCoNet is jeopardized.” Albert smiled. He had finally gripped the power that his manager always had over him. Not only his manager, but the ruler of the known universe, the ruler called UCoNet! He walked toward the “Eye”.
As he arrived at the box, he reached for the cover. Then he stopped. Could all this “VR” be another one of UCoNet’s conspiracies? He survived the break-down and reassembly. But how did he really know if he was reassembled back to his true self? For all he knew he could be part of the VR. If this was VR. The curriculum never told the students that UCoNet’s power switch had went obsolete, let alone was removed forever. Why would the wider education system tell anyone that this was not really VR? Or that the learner him/herself was VR? There was no other way to be sure. The only thing he was sure of was that there was no way to get Kariith back unless he located the box’s ports and transistors he needed to take out to make a partial planetary power failure. He popped open the cover.
UCoNet’s security didn’t sense him when he materialized into the real CPU chamber. The “invisibility” code worked even in the central unit. This assured Albert more that, after all his years of working for UCoNet, he would for the first time beat UCoNet’s tyranny. He felt a sense of hero-ship for himself, Kariith and her family. He felt himself a hero for all Aeolians which Kariith represented like her entire race represented her. As he walked toward the looming orb, the all-seeing eye of the Network, and saw that it didn’t respond, a sense of accomplishment filled him. For the first time, he felt he made something of his own creation without the commands of UCoNet. He couldn’t help snickering. Albert McArthur, one person, only a product technician, outsmarted the known universe’s ruler who thought he knew everything and that he was above all sentient beings. It was as if Albert outsmarted God himself. He wanted to shout out of victory but didn’t dare. There was that one percent chance that a Post-Engineer was patrolling.
Albert pulled the tube from a pocket as he approached. He crept slower. As the fiery red light bathed over him, he realized more that he was in the real head CPU. The “invisibility” code might not work within a certain range of the Eye of all UCoNet’s eyes. After all, Albert was the first to use it here.
When he arrived at the circuit box, he opened its cover and pulled the appropriate transistors. He inserted the tube. When Kariith’s file appeared he yanked out the tube, grinning. As with the other files that flashed on the tiny monitor before her’s, Kariith’s read as “Existent Status”. In his mind, Albert could see Kariith and the other debtors banging desperately on the glass surfaces of their tubes. He jabbed the transistors back in. As he ran toward the transportal the chamber blacked out. A circle of dim lights from above lit up. Albert knew they were backups. Both the orb and transportal lights remained dead. The shaft under the orb was dark. Albert was baffled. The transistors he pulled were only those of the Store’s unit; only that unit was supposed to black out.
“Stop there assassin,” echoed an electronic voice. UCoNet! thought Al. But when he turned around he discovered a swarm of rocket propelled Officers jetting toward him from the other end of the room, spotlighting him. The “invisibility” code apparently did not work on all of UCoNet’s security system. As Albert raised his hands surrendering, the Officer spotlighting him with the scan light said, “You are suspected of the assassination of the Network.” Then to its fellow Officers it said, “According to UCoNet’s data banks, this citizen does not exist. Yet a bio-presence stands here. Identify yourself, intruder.” Albert realized that, for the guards, the code only worked on his ID records and not his bio-rhythms.
After a second’s confusion, Albert answered, “Simon Ward.” His friend and co-worker’s name was the only one he could think of that wouldn’t give himself away.
The robot guard’s eyes flashed for several seconds. Then it said, “That name registers with another bio-presence not in this vicinity. Identify your true self, assassin. Any more false identification will be cause for your annihilation!” All the Officers’ glass bug-eyes lit up in preparation for a blast. “You have a countdown from five, assassin, in which by zero you will have to identify yourself in order to avoid permanent non-existence.” The robot began the count.
Heart racing, jaw and stomach muscles tightening, Albert tried thinking up a fictitious name. But as he thought of each name it occurred to him that it could belong to an acquaintance long forgotten. The best thing to do was give his real identity. Just as he opened his mouth the light faded from each robot’s eyes. The bullet-shaped Officers fell to the chromium floor like wasps that had been sprayed. Albert couldn’t see any source for the sudden “short circuiting”. Then the area around the CPU vibrated. The floor began to crack. The giant orb shattered. The Ripple Effect.
Albert thought he must have put a transistor in the wrong port. He ran. When he arrived at the transportal, he pounded several codes into the keypad but nothing returned the transport device’s power. Suddenly he felt himself dropping with a chunk of the floor. When it hit the bottom of the next level Al was relieved to find himself in a corridor. As with the level above, only the back-up lighting was on. He ran in the direction of the above portal. He wound through several turns in the passage until a chunk of ceiling caved in.
“Shit,” he shouted. The rubble was 20 feet high. He hauled out some of the debris and found a tiny opening. He tried squeezing through but got stuck. He had to reach Kariith before the Ripple did. Before a Post-Engineer did. Grunting, he heaved himself full force until he stumbled out the other side. Pain flamed through his left knee and calf. [What does a fractured leg/knee bone feel like?] He knew he fractured a bone, but it was secondary to him at the moment.
Limping, he looked for another transportal. He breathed easier when one came into view. He punched in the destination code to the store. Nothing happened. Not until then did he realize debris was falling around him and that whole side rumbling. He had been so intent on pulling through the crack in the blockage that it hadn’t occur to him that the Ripple caught up with him. Albert punched the key pad again--with his fist. After regaining control of his emotions, he turned into one of the other passages hoping to find another transportal.
Soon, he came to a huge gash in the wall. It looked out into a 100 foot-wide, white corridor where crowds of panicking people ran in either direction as ominous sirens screamed. The Freeway. The exterior walls of the dying UCoNet were crumbling to reveal other avenues of the Freeway. It may be easier to find a transportal out there. However, he knew they would be filled with people trying to escape regardless of the overhead speakers warning everybody to not use the transportals but to use the walk-throughs instead.
In all his 316 years he never had to use an emergency walk-through or the Freeway. But the emergency walk-throughs only lead to the planet’s surface. Out there, there were no automatic transporters of any kind. There hadn’t been since the world atomic war (also known as World War III) that occurred centuries ago when the United States and Soviet Union, two powerful countries when separate nations existed, wiped out the entire earth’s surface with robot missiles.
Albert ran as fast as his fractured leg would allow. He had to beat the Ripple to a transportal. He passed several dead ones, hardly noticing the partly transported bodies laying within or just outside some of them. However, he did notice the stampede of bio-engineered cattle heading in his direction. He noticed it only a few seconds after slamming to the chromium floor from his leg giving out. He began rolling out of the way. But then, just as one of the 20 foot beasts trampled within a couple feet of him, he heaved himself up with his good leg and both hands and grabbed onto the animal’s neck fur. Albert climbed to the nape and tumbled his way toward the herd’s outer edge. He missed the back of one of the outer edge bulls. But he clung to the fur on its side and climbed up. When the stampede reached within about 15 feet of the next live transportal, he let himself fall outward. He crawled to the transportal and punched in the destination.
When he materialized, the Store was already empty of his co-workers. All was dark. He limped to the Vault. When he got there all the tubes were empty. Including Kariith’s. “Sir, you need to leave now,” a voice warned from behind him. “The place is going to collapse anytime.”
Albert turned around to discover a Post-Engineer in blue uniform complete with UCoNet logo badge and military cap. Al said, “The Debtor Files, where are they?”
“Gone. They went out with UCoNet’s memory,” said the Post-Engineer.
Albert said, “Where did they move them to?”
“Nobody moved them anywhere. Somehow UCoNet interpreted a strange virus as a program to delete all his memory and that included the debtor files.”
A shock of despair shot up through Albert. Kariith was gone completely. She never existed and never would. Later generations of her family would never believe she was a real person even if her family of today would pass down stories about her. UCoNet and his faithful clergy under him, the Post-Engineers, were the keepers of truth.
Albert almost didn’t hear the Post-Engineer shout, “Sir! Didn’t you hear me? We have to go now!”
“I’m going,” Albert muttered, as he limped toward the door that lead out of the Vault, the Post-Engineer at his heels. As they passed the transportal in the corridor, Albert thrust himself into it.
“No, not the transportal,” barked the Post-Engineer. Albert punched in his next destination.
His parents had already fled by the time he materialized inside the quarters. Most of the furniture and other valuables were gone. But the walls and ceiling were still intact. With a quick breath of relief, he limped to his room, more slowly to conserve his energy. They had salvaged many of his things as well but left his “Kariith” doll. Just what he expected. Albert grabbed it. He hugged it, bursting with tears. His parents could never understand why a grown man like himself had ever wanted to keep a doll. They had accepted that Kariith was “irresponsible” for her debt, that she was no good for him and that to purchase a doll modeled off of her was total childishness. But now he realized it wasn’t a doll.
Nearly paralized with emotion, Albert dragged himself to the transportal clinging the template, clinging Kariith, to his breast. By the time he reached it, his tears stopped flowing. He punched in the code for the Store and then the one for Production.