It was one of those mornings when your heart races the moment consciousness flickers behind your eyelids. In ten short days I give a speech to the National Association Against Information Piracy. Ten days. I looked at Hanna lying next to me in bed. Her hair flowed over the edge of the mattress into the scattered garments on the floor. It's nice to wake up to a redhead in bed. My bed's a picture frame for beautiful women. That's why it's the most important piece of furniture in my whole living unit. She looked at me with one eye half-open.
"Ten days. I'm gonna face the masses in ten days," I groaned hoping for some feminine sympathy.
"What, love?" She reached over and touched my lip with her index finger.
"My speech. Remember?"
"Poor thing." Somehow she must have forgotten to take off her diamond earring before we went to bed. I stared into the glitter. I traced the outline of her ear with my thumb as I spoke:
"Why does he want me to do it? Why doesn't he make one of his suits do it? They bullshit for a living."
"I guess he's swept away by your charismatic style."
I crawled out of bed and looked out the window. During the night my body had been twisted out of place by a merciless mistress mattress mix. I calculated the odds of making it through the day without taking a Prozametaphin.
"Hand me my Proz, will ya, sweetie?"
"I hope you have a prescription for that, mister." I looked at the green bottle of white pills. I struggled with the bottle cap and wondered who ever came up with the idea of numerical code bottle caps. Luckily I used my social security number for everything--although sometimes I had trouble remembering even that. I felt the Proz kick in the second I swallowed it. Power steering for the mind--that's what I call it. I stared over at Hanna. She was sitting up now.
"Damn you look good. No one, I mean no one fits into underwear like you, baby."
"What brand is that you're wearing? Trojan Flex?"
"Can't you tell? It's the new Tommy Hilfiger."
"Tommy Hilfiger's got his own line of safe sex underwear now? What doesn't that guy make? Hey, I'm hungry. Zap open the fridge, will ya love glove?"
"Just for you, baby. Just for you," she said as she pulled herself completely out of bed.
"Have you seen the remote, Lane?"
"No, I haven't seen that damn thing. I think it's under that pile of clothes."
Actually it was three feet away from my feet, but I wanted to make her look for it. Unfortunately, it didn't take her long. She clicked the remote and the whole room turned green from the neon glow of the fridge.
"Yuk. Someone forgot to throw away a pod." She was right. I could see one of the protein pods bubbling in its own juices. Never eat a bubbling pod. You'll puke your guts. Taste great when they're fresh, but when they go bad, they really go bad. Hanna found three ripe ones and set them on top of a pile of magazines on the table.
I grabbed one and pulled it out of its shell. I started chewing on it as I cleared some space off the table with my elbow. I loved to look at Hanna while she ate. She knew how to tear her protein right out of the pods with her teeth.
"So. You're giving a speech. Nervous?"
"You know I am, baby".
"A big boy like you. Still taking your medicine?"
"Topical Valium 5."
"You're rubbing it into the back of your hands, right?"
"I gave you the 5% solution. Maybe we should try the seven percent."
Hanna was a pharmacologist. At least that's what she tells everybody. That's what is says on her bio, anyway. She sure knows her drugs.
"You gotta rub it in right before you go on stage to speak. Rub it in hard."
"I know how to rub, baby. You know I do." Outside I heard rumbling. I knew it could only be one thing. "Do you hear cheering?"
"Yeah. Do you want me to tell the monitor to display the street?"
"Monitor, show street level, please." No doubt another Brownie point had been scored for some citizen bent on increasing economic efficiency for the Nationstates.
"Thank you." I always say "thank you" to machines. I don't know why I do that.
"How much more efficient can we get?" Just another day in the life of the information reformation. Man, they're busy out there. I could immediately see a mob marching down the street dragging a tightly bound and gagged man behind them.
"They're headed for Town Square."
"An efficiency killing?"
"Looks like it."
"I'm gonna go check it out."
"I'll be right back."
"You're a sick man, Lane Cooper."
"Only with you, babe."
"Hurry back. You don't want to leave me alone with all your information, do you?"
"My information can take care of itself, thank you. You just keep the bed warm for me."
I quickly swallowed the last bite of my protein tube and stood up to grab my jacket and hat. I told the door to open and I quickly exited, wiping my arm across my mouth as I walked down the hallway.
As I stepped outside, I was hit by that persistent pissy smell of the public street. We had been in bed for the last three days and I wasn't used to it. You never get used to it. I put on a nose clip and merged into the crowd. The air was heavy with blood lust and the smoke from the burning trash bins burned my eyes and throat. The street corner monitors displayed news flashes of Singaporean troops marching onto our beaches, as if we needed to be reminded. In the alleyways, kids were smashing bottles against the brick walls. The crowd began to cheer:
WE ALL WIN-WIN WHEN WE ALL WORK AS ONE. WE ALL WIN-WIN WHEN WE ALL WORK AS ONE. WE ALL WIN-WIN WHEN WE ALL WORK AS ONE.
I was swept around the corner with the mob, and there it was: the guillotine. Twenty-five feet of shining stainless steel towering between the pink and yellow neon lights of the efficiency scoreboard. The crowd spilled up onto the stage as they hoisted their prisoner into place. The executioner pushed the victim's face down securing the lunette of the guillotine tightly around his neck.
The mob cheered and then fell into dead silence. The neon lights flashed circles around the scoreboard as everyone waited for the final moment. I didn't like to watch. I stared at the broken glass at my feet and clenched my teeth in anticipation of the deathblow. I could feel my stomach arching up into my ribcage. Then I heard the blade release and fall: SHSHSMPPPP! It was always the same sound. Once you hear a guillotine blade fall, you never forget it.
Bells started to ring and the crowd roared. The score board lit up as a faceless announcer's voice surrounded the square:
"Congratulations, citizens of Redmond! The price of a share in your city is now worth 341 credits! A remarkable 8 percent gain in only thirty periods! Keep up the good work by doing your part to cut down unnecessary costs. What a win-win when we all work as one."
"What a win-win," I kept repeating to myself. My credits had increased in value. I should be happy. The exuberant crowd dispersed past me like a school of ice-cold fish. The floodlights dimmed as a cleanup crew of five men in white jumpsuits sprang into action. The shadow of the guillotine remained across a billboard advertising Macrohard's latest software package. "Of course we want win-wins, all of us want win-wins," I said out loud again, trying to convince myself.
I got home and Hannah was gone. Pharmacologists don't hang around much. They're always on call. I always try to date at least one, what with the price of bio-enhancements these days. I hunkered down on the ground to begin my ritual of fifty one-arm push-ups. Every day, no matter how whacked-out, I do my fifty. I subscribe to a "no excuses" self-management philosophy. Fifty each and every, no exception. It relaxes me. When I see the tattoo on my biceps expand, I know I'm getting' a workout. I only got one tat. It's an aquamarine earth surrounded by two dolphins swimming in opposite directions. Kind of a yin and yang thing. Symbolizes my outlook on life. Got it at the end of the Singaporean war as a present to myself.
Guillotines, guillotines, guillotines. Who would have ever thought they'd become popular again? Had to be, I suppose. I mean look what happened with the piracy problem. How the hell do you run a country when any slob can counterfeit the chief source of revenue in the privacy of his own home? Too much smarts, that's what the problem was. Not respectin' the other's hard work. Too much in the head and the head pops off in public. When you put something in your head that doesn't belong there...watch out. Worked for me, that's for sure. I never copied a single file I didn't pay decent credits for. Never will.
At least I'm not a ten-percenter. I know that much. That guy was a ten-percenter. That's for sure. Just like the doctrine said, ninety percent of our problems stem from just ten-percent of the population. I had benefited from the doctrine. I was educated. I received a CD4ROM5 just like every newborn citizen. I was proud of my bootstrap education. I even remember the Prayer of Fiscal Self-Reliance:
Each day these discs I do unfold
To play their tunes as I've been told.
Their rules and lines and pictures say
All that I need throughout the day.
The lessons here I'll teach myself
Without a danger to my health.
Who needs a teacher or a book,
These discs are all I need, just look!
The rule of market law is true
As simple as the sky is blue.
I'll never ask for what's not mine,
Nor will I step across the line;
The line that separates those who state
That they're the masters of their fate.
Behind the line are those who whine
And make excuses wasting time;
They thought we owed them a free lunch
That was before our budget crunch.
The financial crises taught us all
That alone the market rules stand tall;
The market serves to lead and guide
And bring to all who listen, pride.
Let all who stray be filled with fear
For these are words we hold most dear.
As I walked into my office, I could see what a busy boy my terminal was last night. Lots of messages stacked up for me to read this morning. Too bad my head hurts so fuckin' much--too much Chlorestrogen in my diet I guess. I asked the terminal for a bouillon cube summary of what's been going on.
"Tell me what's gonna make me rich today, baby."
"Outbreak of excess spending located in the western quarter."
"Nail it down, please."
"Average mean spending on welfare allocations has risen 20% over the last two months."
"Your voice sounds different, are you eating Testosties in the morning, or what?" You know I like your voice throaty, but feminine."
"I'm sorry Mr. Cooper, sir. Ahuummm. Better?"
"Governmental payments for social security have risen 17% over the last two weeks, as well."
"Small city in Northern California. The East Bay sector, sir. xOMA, California."
"Call Sandoor and let him know we need to plan a meeting concerning xOMA."
"For what day, Mr. Cooper?"
"Tuesday, if you recall sir, you have a meeting scheduled with the director of Market Research."
"Right. Wednesday, then."
"Consider it done, sir.
"Hey, listen. You're supposed to be the latest generation of your type, right?"
"Model 8000 of the ASR Modular Register Series, yes sir."
"So, let me ask you something."
"What do you know about public speaking? I have to give a speech in nine days. I'm just wondering what you know about speech giving."
"I can translate speech in 467 languages, 896 dialects..."
"No, that's not what I meant. I mean the giving of a speech. You know, when a human stands up and talks to a group of other humans."
"I'm sorry, sir. You're referring to the rhetorical process of composing sentences so as to maximize a particular viewpoint to an audience."
"Aristotle's treatise on Rhetoric was one of the world's best and wisest books. Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic; for both have to do with such things as fall, in a way, within the realm of common knowledge."
"That's not quite what I mean."
"I have a complete translation of Aristotle's Rhetoric. I translated it myself from the Greek. A substantial improvement, in my humble opinion, over earlier translations. Jebb's translation from 1909, for example failed to elucidate..."
"No. No. I don't need a history lesson. I'm giving a speech in nine days, and I really don't know what I'm doing."
"Perhaps you require a behavioral management inventory."
"I just want some assistance writing this speech."
"Rarely performed or asked for sir. I apologize for my lacking. Might I suggest you place a request for programming in your outgoing file? I'm sure someone can program me to be of better service."
"That's okay. There really isn't time for all that."
"May I ask you something, Mr. Cooper?"
"My voice. Does it please you now?"
"Thank you sir. When you're happy, I'm happy."
"Fine. Now get lost."
Christ, a neurotic terminal. I walked over to my window and steadied myself as I looked 247 stories down to the lawn. Even from this height, I can see the gardeners still working: trimming the rim of the embossed Macrohard logo smack in the middle of the grass. Three shifts, eight hours each just to keep that lawn in shape.
Go to Chapter 2