The six-inch holographic flight attendant appeared in front of his viewing screen. “Welcome to Liberty Transport. We hope the elevator journey from the surface and your wait at Liberty Station were enjoyable, and you’re rested and ready for the next stage of your trip. I understand that the jet stream was overactive today, and some of the ‘vators bounced around a bit and stopped a few times. I’m happy to report that there’s no wind in space and the rest of your trip will be smooth and silent all the way to the moon. We should be at Hayek Station in about 11 hours.
In response to customer feedback we recently dropped our safety lecture, since 99 percent of our passengers report that they don’t listen to it.” A few passengers laughed and cheered. “So, if you’re curious about safety, or anything else, please direct your pod to the screen in front of you. Here at Liberty Transport we have one overriding rule: Don’t transgress.” More passengers clapped and whistled. “What does that mean? It means you can do anything here at Liberty as long as you don’t harm anyone or their property. That’s the rule on all Liberty transports and off-earth Liberty properties. We hope that someday it will be the same everywhere on earth, but that’s another story. When you purchased your ticket you chose your section based on your needs and preferences, and we hope you’re happy with your contract. If you find your contract not to be of your liking please let us know as soon as possible, and we’ll see if a seat is available in another section.
There are two attendants in this section. We will try to stay out of your way as much as possible. Think of us as necessary evils, here to help you. We have two main jobs: To arbitrate disputes and help in case of an emergency. Since 90 percent of you are already members of the Liberty Alliance we usually don’t have much to do, but we’re here if you need us. Please direct your pod to Liberty Alliance for more information. Thank you for transporting with us.”
Earl leaned over to the young man next to him and said, “Do you have any idea what the hell that was about? I’ve never heard anything like that on an airplane or spaceship in all my years. I’ve taken Europa to the L2 station five times and they gave the normal safety speech: What to do if we’re boarded, if we lose pressure, solar flares, that kind of stuff.” Even though Earl was 150 years old, he had massive shoulders and pectorals that bulged out of his tight sweater. His face was taut from numerous lifts and augments, but he looked good for a living example of first generation life extension science. In sharp contrast to his other features, he had chosen to keep his white hair, an attempt to project an aura of wisdom and authority.
The young man next to him looked to be about 25, Earl thought, with no obvious signs of augments or transplants. He wore the standard uniform of a young US techie: Form-fitting sole boots, a simple beige cloak, and a black skullcap. He was thin but muscular, the perfect body for gaming. The young man smiled and replied, “Your first time on a Liberty ship? It takes some getting used to Liberty ideas if you’ve been living in the EU or Africa, really even for most people in the metro US. Am I right about the EU? By the way, my name is Murray.”
“Nice to meet you Murray, I’m Earl. Yeah, I live in EU, near the Alps. I usually fly Europa, but I was hiking in the Mojave Desert. So, I figured I’d jump on a ship from there. I’m going to see my daughter.” They shook hands. Murray pulled his hand back quickly, winced, and stretched his fingers to relieve the pain. “Sorry about that,” Earl continued, “I’m still getting used to this dosage.”
“That’s OK, quite a grip. Yeah, this all must seem a little strange for someone who lived through the rebellion, especially if you’re not jacked into the social engineering updates. But really, it all works pretty well here. Just take her at her word. This is no-frills transport; the only thing they provide is safety and comfort for you and your stuff. That’s it. Of course, it all depends on which section you sit in. Here in 33 it’s pretty much a free-for-all. They don’t care if we walk around naked or take tons of soma. Literally. I’ve done both, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Of course, by ‘no-frills’ I mean what Liberty offers directly. They have tons of vendors roaming the aisles who sell just about everything you could want. They have some great deals on zero-g products. I got myself a perfect sphere last time. It’s great for gaming.”
Earl shook his head. “I should have gone with Europa. This company sounds like a bunch of zealots.” He looked out the window at the blackness of space. It probably wasn’t a real window, he thought, just a projection from a camera. The view looked right, deep black with a few points of light, but he’d heard that they added more stars so it would look like space in the movies.
Murray pointed at Earl’s screen, mounted in the back of the seat in front of him. “If you want to watch any flat movies I have the whole IMDB collection in my pod. It updated right before we boarded. I just made you a user for this flight, and I’ve got skin flicks, even some in holo-d, if you’re up for it.”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll just read for now.”
Earl pulled out a book. Murray looked at it and said, “Cool, old school. That must be expensive. Doesn’t it hurt to look at characters against a paper background? I can’t do it for more than a few minutes without fading out.”
“I’ve been reading like this since 2050—I’m used to it.” He removed his leather bookmark and opened Life Extension: Tomorrow’s Tricentarians on the Post-Human World. Earl started reading a passage about the theory that individual human consciousness would lose its will to exist past 200 years, even if the body was willing. They could be right, thought Earl. Even though there was always something new in the world that surprised him, even life’s big events—births, deaths, love, marriage—had lost some of their effect. He started reading again, to get his mind off his depressing thoughts. He had read only a few more paragraphs when he heard the men in the row behind him talking, and put his book down.
One of the men said, “If you want to dream, I have about 500ccs of soma. I can give it to you for 4000 credits.”
“That sounds a little expensive. My dealer in New Anchorage gives it to me for about half that.”
“Well, we’re a long way from New Anchorage. You’ll have trouble getting this on the moon when you first get there. The US is pressuring the Liberty Alliance, and it’s been dry lately. They use US law there, and drugs are illegal without a prescrip, and it’ll take a week to see a doctor.” He held up a clear vial full of shiny black pills. “Look, it’s good stuff. Check it with your pod.”
The second man waved his pod over the pills. It informed him that it contained ID molecules from Agilent labs and that the man sitting next to him had a 99.8% positive rating on UniTrust, with over 43,000 transactions and 22 verified credentials.
“OK, I’ll take it. I need something to get me through these next 12 hours. I can’t afford a massage or a happy ending.”
Earl couldn’t take it anymore. He pressed his touch screen, calling the stewardess. The screen indicated that the call cost him ten credits. He grunted. The young woman arrived a few moments later. She was at least two meters tall, with perfect olive skin, startling blue eyes and a thin, athletic build. She wore a light blue, skin-tight micromesh body suit.
She asked calmly, “Can I help you, Earl?”
“Yes, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but the men behind me are dealing drugs. They might even be exchanging money right now.”
She glanced at them briefly. “Yes, I see they are. But is there a problem? Did they harm you?”
“No, they didn’t harm me physically, but they’re dealing drugs right behind me. I spent most of my life arresting people like them, and there’s no way I’m going to just sit here and let this go on right next to me, even if you people don’t have a problem with it.”
“Universal Common Law is in effect on all Liberty Transports, so they have every right to take or sell any drugs they want. I assure you we’re monitoring their blood pressure, heart rates and adrenal glands at this very moment, so we’ll know if anything’s going to happen long before it affects you.”
Earl took a deep breath and said, “Well, they were talking very loudly. Is there anything you can do about that?”
The stewardess pointed her pod toward a small red light on the wall next to the men. “Their conversation only reached 61 decibels. That’s well below the 85 you agreed to in your ticket contract. Would you like me to ask if you can negotiate a lower noise level for these seats? Or, we can find you a seat in a quieter section.”
“No, I’d prefer to just stay here.”
“Section 12 is a dedicated low-volume, drug and skin-free section. There are lots of open seats. Would you like me to see if I can upgrade you?”
Earl ignored her question. “So you guys are serious? You’re really anarchists? I arrested people like you everyday during the Kyoto Conflicts, anarchists and drug dealers alike.”
“These days most of us call it anarcho-capitalism, but it’s close to anarchy. The rules here on Liberty are clearly defined, and they’re all in the contract you agreed to. You’ll find it’s the way most people think on the moon, and it’s working quite well for us. If you want to stay in this section and you don’t want to initiate any negotiations, there isn’t anything I can do. Will there be anything else?”
“No, apparently there isn’t anything you can do.” Earl stood up, and looked around the cabin. The room looked much like the inside of an airplane he would find on earth, just bigger. Most everything was familiar: The walls and ceiling were an off-white, soft plastic, and there were rows and aisles of plush, faux-leather seats, probably 300 in his section. There were metal racks and plastic bins above the seats, bathrooms, and gaming consoles tucked into several corners. The were also some mysterious plain doors, each marked with a single letter, A, B, C and so on, in the middle of the cabin.
The passengers seemed familiar as well. They were sitting, sleeping, talking, reading and gaming. He had to admit there wasn’t much sign of trouble. These anarchists weren’t black-hooded kids throwing Molotov cocktails or rolling garbage cans down the aisles yelling “Death to capitalism” like in his days as an officer with the WTO Army. Nearly everyone was well dressed and properly groomed, much better than the general public, and he could tell from their faces and bodies that they were able to afford surgeries and life extension cycles.
He was about to sit down and read his book again when her saw her: A tastefully augmented young woman, wearing only a pair of very small, red satin shorts and red slippers, walking down the aisle. He rubbed his eyes and looked around to see if anyone else saw her or if it was another reaction from the new dosage. He saw several of the younger men look up from their viewing screens as she passed, then look back down. After she had been walking for a few minutes, smiling, but not speaking or looking at anyone in particular, a man on the other side held up a single finger as she approached. She walked up to him, raised her pod to his eye level, looked at the screen, nodded, then turned and headed for a door marked B, in the middle of the cabin. The man got up and followed her through.
Earl couldn’t take it anymore. He pressed the touch screen again. This time a hologram of the stewardess’s face appeared. “Yes sir, what can I do for you?”
“There’s a topless woman walking around soliciting prostitution. Do you know about this? Oh wait, don’t tell me, I bet you know all about it.”
“Yes sir, we do. If you look through your contract you’ll see that partial nudity and discreet solicitation of sex are allowed in this section. All the details are in the contract. Really, it seems like this might not be the right section for you, sir. I’d be happy to look for a seat in one of the more restricted sections if you would like. There will be a fee to change, but they sound like they might be to your liking.”
“Can I go look at them?”
“Yes, rows 35 to 40 have the most restrictions. As a section 33 passenger you can go to any of the higher-numbered sections at the back of the plane. They just can’t come down to see you.”
“Why not? Sounds a bit like someone in South Korea going to visit North Korea.”
“Yes, it’s a bit like that. We found that the moral sensibilities of the passengers in the upper sections don’t usually mesh with those in the lower sections, so their contract states that they can’t walk down, as we call it.” Her face disappeared.
A few moments later a young man walked down the isle, pushing a food cart displaying plates of pastas, meats, cheeses, vegetarian stir fries and desserts, all rendered perfectly in colored plastics, which even emitted the appropriate smells. Earl’s licked his lips. He asked, “Will you be here for a while?”
“Oh yeah, we’ll be here for the whole trip.”
“And will you be serving everything all the way to the moon?”
“Yeah, almost all of it. We stop making the more complicated entrees a few hours before we land. Just press ‘menu’ on your screen if you want anything.”
Earl powered his pod and read his contract. He was seated in seat 8a, in row 22 of section 33 of the 40-section ship. The contract explained that each passenger’s physical signature was registered, and this allowed him to open the doors to any section of the ship with a higher number. Passengers seated in section 33 could go from 33 up to 40, but the doors wouldn’t open if they tried to go to 32 or lower.
Earl got up and starting walking toward the back of his section. He noticed that the gravity settings were pretty perfect on this ship; he felt only slightly lighter than on earth. He walked by a kid who was playing with his holo-pod. A hologram of an armor-clad knight was projected on top of the holo-pod platform. The knight was holding the decapitated head of some kind of gargoyle or basilisk, shaking the head and a bloody sword at the boy. Earl continued to the back of the section. The door was closed, but it opened automatically as he approached. Section 34 looked nearly the same as 33, so he kept walking until he reached 35. Upon entering, he noticed immediately that seats in 35 were slightly smaller than in 33, and there wasn’t as much ambient light. A food cart slowly worked its way down an aisle, with robot arms holding out trays of food for the passengers. Everyone was eating either a chicken or a vegetable meal, served on square plastic trays, and using a single spork. A quiet but pleasing operatic soundtrack played in the background. The people certainly weren’t as well dressed as in his section, and very few showed signs of augmentation or life extension drugs. He kept walking toward the back, then spotted a man missing an arm. Not a man with a prosthetic, but a man who was missing his arm altogether. He was shaken. He hadn’t expected to see someone so poor on a ship like this. People were talking and a few were chanting prayers, but there certainly wasn’t any open drug dealing or prostitution. He walked all the way to the back. He thought about continuing all the way back to section 44, but he was bored and hungry so he walked back to his seat.
As he reentered 33 he saw the stewardess. “I was just back in 35, I’m not sure I want to move there, it looked like something out of the 21st century. The food didn’t look good, and there were just two meals and no attendants.”
“Some people prefer it that way, especially those with religious restrictions or who grew up under the North Asian Alliance. A lot of governments of the North Asian Alliance buy those seats for their people who are traveling to work camps and retreats.”
To Be Continued…
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED