Welcome to...well, this.
Welcome to my Blog. I hope That I don't dissapoint you. Here is a science fiction story that I wrote several years ago. It's still rough, but I like it anyway.
BY Christopher Burgis
Vod Scrothnic, better known as “Vodder” to his friends, not that he had any, walked quickly through the ever-present sandstorm. Neither the recycled goggles over his eyes nor the duct tape covered triangular respirator over his face could stop the fine silica from penetration. He stopped and attempted to adjust the ill fitting protective appliances to no avail, and continued on in minor agony as the sandpaper like grit lodged between the rubberized fittings and his skin, rubbing his face raw with every step. The company town of outpost 223 was nothing more than a single street, lined with prefabricated plastifoam Quonset huts which were at least 40 years old and brushed to a shiny gloss by the incessant blowing sand. The street went North to South; North to outpost 222 and South to outpost 224 and the latitudinal service road that ran east to West. Although he had never seen these places, visibility even in a truck was never more that 40 feet even in calm weather, he knew they were there and that they were just as desolate and unforgiving as his home, 223. Vod continued south past the refueling station, pausing to give an unanswered wave to a tanker crew dropping a load of H2O off in the bunker submerged below the shed. Walking faster, he intentionally avoided the commissary and the line formed outside for entry, as there were several people to whom he owed money and wished not to see again for some time. To his left he passed one of the two servibars in 223, but it was the expensive one with a real human Bartender and real name-brand off-world booze. He owed money there too so he continued past without a second glance
The day had started off worse than most, the nightmares about his dad yelling ‘remember’ and pointing. He had trouble remembering the dreams except for that one phrase. He had put it out of his mind and decided to go out. Today was his birthday, he was 36, and as he had done on his previous 10 birthdays, he was making his annual pilgrimage to the DISPS, the Dupont Inter Space Postal Service, to check his mail. He turned and faced his penultimate destination of the day, and entered. The vac chamber wasn’t working, he hadn’t remembered it ever working, and he pushed through to the cloudy interior of the mail facility, walking quickly to his mailbox. Opening his box with the seldom-used passkey, he withdrew a surprisingly large bundle of postage. Not wanting to waste more time than necessary, he pocketed the mail and exited the facility. Back out on the street, Vod headed south again to his final destination, the Auto Servibar. The glowing neon lights, many nonfunctional and others flashing off and on signaling their approaching demise, gave the façade an alien look. Anywhere else in the universe it would just look shabby. Vod Entered the Vac chamber, this one was functioning and waited while the atmosphere was cleansed of most of the vile grit that piggybacked in with him.
The chamber opened into a seedy dark room. Unlike most of the other prefabricated structures, the designers had attempted to give this unit the feel of a real bar and had failed magnificently. Other than the smell of old booze and cigarettes, it was bar like only in that it actually did have stools (fixed to the floor), old calendars with half naked women (one actually predated his arrival), and it did sell alcohol. The bar was empty, as he expected it to be. It was the middle of first shift, and this was strictly a second shift establishment. Most of last night customers were busily sleeping off last nights revelry with only several hours left before they woke bleary eyed to another day of drudgery. As it was his birthday, Vod was allowed to take the day, but unpaid of course, and was looked down upon by his shift supervisor for doing so. Screw that guy, he thought. He slowly removed his goggles and respirator. Small grains of sand and silica washed down like liquid where he sat. Massaging the calluses on his face from years of wearing the gear, he flinched when he accidentally rubbed a piece of grit into a new raw patch by his nose. Over the bar was a pristine 3Vfield emitter. It was a wonderful piece of technology, state of the art even, but it had only worked for one day before some of the conductive silica had gotten into the works and it crapped out in a brilliant flash and puff of smoke. Next to the 3V was a decent color Plasma, maybe 50 years old, which had been on so long that the image of the ever-present news announcers’ head was permanently burned into the pixels. Vod glanced down at the servitender and then back to the screen. The talking head, some blonde 20 something void, was going on about some kind of construction on Mars;
“…The Gates consortium is far ahead of Dupont United Technologies in its bid to complete the Mars based C-Mass launch facility. Legal issues regarding property ownership however may still hinder Gates’ completion of the project before the Dupont scheduled completion date..”
Oohboy, a mass launcher, wow big news. Utter rubbish! Vod thought to himself and turned back to the servitender.
Vod had a love hate relationship with the servitender. It was actually more hate hate, but that didn’t matter much anyway, it was only a machine, it couldn’t hate back so where was the fun in that? Vod had a little game he played against the servitender. He would sit stock-still and silent to avoid the motion and decibel detectors and time how long it took the machines virtual recognition circuits to determine the landscape of the bar had changed to include a patron. Once he had gotten almost to second shift, nearly two hours, before he gave in and had to harumpf several times to get its attention. Another time he had spent four hours trying to fool the machine before a repair mechanic had arrived and explained it was out of service and what kind of idiot are you that you didn’t figure that out? Looking down the bar at the servitender, Vod was a little surprised to see that it had been upgraded, and as he turned his head for a better look, a red ball tracked across its spherical carapace and stopped upon meeting his gaze. The glossy silver gray sphere glided down the bar on its tracks and stopped in front of him.
“Salutations on your annuity employee Scrothnick, how may this unit serve?”
Vod realized this wasn’t a repair or an upgrade, this was a new servitender. The speech circuits were very advanced compared to the old squawk box it had replace. He was intrigued and amused, a new challenge!
“Yes, er, hi, thanks, um my birthday, yeah…”
“Congratulatory Salutations, how may this unit serve?”
“Are you new?”
“This unit is a Gates 5600 Chipset service unit housed in a Honda SB 6000 multifunction…”
“Yeah, ok, but are you new?”
“That is affirmative, this unit was installed and activated for service on..”
“OK already yer new, I get it! Gimme a Vodka, no Ice”
“Be advised of new rules, no ice means double measure. Double measure equates to double price and double count towards maximum monthly allotment. Shall this unit proceed with Vodka no Ice.”
“Crap, you gotta be kidding, it’s just a single with no ice, how could that be a damn double?”
“Be advised that this setrvitender is programmed not to respond to profanity or intimidation. Further warning shall result in report to police.”
“Yeah yeah, Ok, whatever just give me the da.. the drink.”
“This unit complies.”
He definitely didn’t need this nonsense. Twelve units of booze a month per Dupont contract terms, six if it was a double, well it’s my birthday, better make it count. The old servitender had a blind spot when it came to no Ice, but it never threatened to call the cops on him before. Someone must have gotten wise to the scam. Damn! Now this new unit was not only finicky with the juice, it was basically a cop with a liquor spout. The servitender returned with his drink and glided away silently.
Raising his glass, Vod toasted no one in particular and half sang an old Twencent lyric
“I got get out of this place, if it’s the last thing I ever doo..” He placed the glass down, then picked it back up and held it out to the machine.
“Yo, hey bud, don’t go nowhere, I’m a thirsty birthday boy here, fillerup!”
Again the servitender silently deposited the vodka, removed the used glass and moved away. Vod was beginning to miss the old servitender, at least he could engage its’ reasoning chip with circular logic problems and make the machine shudder before it shutdown and performed an auto re-start. No not this one. “Oh well.”
Vod was holding up his glass, a little less steadily now after two more rounds, and motioning to the servitender.
“Employee Scrothnic, you have achieved your allotment, this unit cannot serve any more.”
“Aw, ‘cmon pal, it’s my birthday, you do know what that means don’t you, give a guy a break, just one more huh pal, whatcha say?”
The Machine stopped, it’s red eye fixed on Vod. Vod in turn remained still and smiled a wide toothy grin at the servitender. They stared at one another for several long tense seconds.
“This unit shall serve one vodka no ice beyond allotment in honor of annuity, no more shall be served after.”
“Thanks pal, you’ve got a heart of pure silicon you do, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”
Vod put the bonus drink to his lips for a final shot and thought better of it, perhaps he would sip this last one, and he set it down. Looking around he tapped his hands on the bar and squirmed, fidgeting. Vod wasn’t a smoker, it would have taken away from his vice allotment for booze anyway, and he was a poor fidgeter. Tapping his pockets as if he had forgotten something, he felt the bulky postage and drew it out. Every year he went to the mailbox, and every year he came away with nothing more than the obligatory company birthday card, some advertising leaflets, and usually a notice from some off-world bill collector looking to collect on debts he had incurred as a younger man in another life on earth. The bundle was secured by a red rubber band that snapped and stung him when he attempted to remove it, spilling the pile onto the bar, his lap and the floor.
The servitender glided over once more and announced uncharacteristically “Employee Scrothnic, you have dropped something on the floor, do not neglect to collect it before you leave.”
“Yeah ok MUM, thanks allot.” He said in an asinine tone.
Standing up and retreiving his mail from the floor, Vod had a flash of his childhood, of filling out forms with his dad around the kitchen table and putting them all in separate envelopes before they were posted. This was a happy memory, but not one he wanted to have now. He pushed it back into his subconscious from whence it had erupted. He arranged the letters in a stack from smallest, adverts, to largest, probably bills, and began looking through them. The top 4 pieces were indeed adverts, all from the damn company, trying to sell new and improved goggle and respirator rigs at a low price which could be conveniently deducted directly from an employee paycheck. Bastards were just recycling the same gear that never worked when they received the shipment thirty years ago. Pass. He came across several bill collection notices that he immediately threw on the floor unopened. Bastards, get blood from this rock why dontcha. The one good thing about the company is that they never allowed someone else to get your money before they did. Next was the expected company correspondence wishing him a happy birthday. It wasn’t even a real card. The notice was printed on the cheapest onion skin paper and had the generic computer generated signiatures of his supervisor and Dupont himself. Ooh Boy, thanks for nothing. The last part of the stack was a group of six envelopes, all bearing the same logo which he was about to write off as more bill collections when he looked at the postage. US mail with a US Stamp, dated only a month ago, each sent one day after the other. He looked at the return address, a Law Firm in Manhattan, and saw that there was no cellophane window to denote that they had anything to do with past due accounts. Hmm, this is interesting, who the hell are you and what do you want from me?
Vod pushed the non floor bound remnants of the useless mail to the side and arranged the six letter by post date in a stack, the earliest date on the top. He sipped the Vodka pensively, and neatened the corners of the stack, somewhat ill at ease with the mystery in front of him. OK Kids, here goes. He opened the first correspondence, from a Real Estate Title Search Law Firm in Manhattan. Real Estate? He read.
‘Dear Mr. Scrothnic,
I am writing on a matter of great financial impact that requires your immediate response. In 2021, you purchased 1200 units of Mars Corp “Kidshares” sponsored through the Big Cereal Company. This purchase granted you…’
“Mr. Vod Scrothnic?” said a loud muffled voice over his shoulder interrupting his reading.
“Wha, Huh?” Said Vod a little shocked that someone, well anyone would speak to him. Besides his boss no one had spoken to him in nearly a month, and even then it was only ‘Get out of the way!’ or ‘What are you looking at?’
Vod turned and found he looking at an executive. He had only seen company executives three times in his life. The first time was when they had brought his dads remains back from Mars. The executive deposited the small parcel on their doorstep in front of he and his mum in a small plastic bag like so much rubbish, and had handed over a life insurance check, from which the company had removed a startling sum for the return transport. The second time was before his trip outbound from earth. Following in his dads footsteps he had joined the company and some smarmy little groat in a suit has leered at him evilly and said something about how Dupont United Technologies was going to take very special care of him because he was extremely important to the company. The last time he had seen an executive was when he had been driven to 223 by a nervous fellow named Tebbins who said he was dreadfully sorry, but that instead of being posted as an ore exchange accomodator, that Vod was to be posted as a remote machinery operator. When Vod had turned to look in shock, the executive had thrust goggles and respirator in his chest, opened the passenger door, and unceremonially pushed him out the door onto the street of 223. Vod attempted to get back in the car but was overcome by the blowing silica, and barely got his rig on before choking on the deadly grit. Vod hated executives.
Removing his full-face Plexiglas respirator, “Mr. Scrothnic, is that you?” repeated the executive.
“Depends,” replied Vod,”Who’s asking?”
“Yes well, Mr. Scrothnic, I am Mr. Falshot from Corporate headquarters, I have come to speak to you about a very important subject.”
Wow thought Vod, first a New York Law Firm, now this guy, what’s going on? “Well, as it’s my Birthday see, I sure could listen better if I had another drink.” Said Vod tipping up and finishing the remains of his last drink and maximum monthly allotment.
“Certainly” replied the man, indicating he wanted to sit next to Vod.
“Sure buddy, feel free, pull up a stool.”
The man sat and waved at the servitender, which responded immediately. “I would like two of whatever this good friend of mine is having, and in fact make it a double double.”
The servitender hesitated only a second before responding “This unit is unable to comply, Employee Scrothnic has exceeded his monthly allotment of vice units by 20%.”
The man looked at Vod, smiled, “Well you have been celebrating, not to worry, I’ll take care of this.” He turned back to the Servitender and stated “Override Vice Allotment, Scrothnic, employee, per Falshot, executive, code zero zero alpha six.” He turned back to Vod and winked.
The red eye on the servitender scanned back and forth between the two once, and then retreated without further comment. The unit glided back momentarily with two double-double vodkas, no ice, and placed them before the seated pair.
“Well Mr. Scrothnic, Happy Birthday, Cheers!” stated Falshot who tipped up his glass and downed the drink.
Vod watched in amusement as the locally manufactured synthetic vodka burned its way down the mans' throat and hit his stomach. Gagging and tears streaming from his eyes he turned to Vod “My god man, is this what passes for vodka at this outpost?”
Giggling, Vod emptied his and placed the glass back on the counter. “Ahh, yup, only the best 223 can manufacture. Whaddya think?”
“We must do something about that.” He motioned to the servitender for another round and turned back to Vod. “Well I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here?”
“You know I never said that I was this Scrothnic guy you’re looking for.”
“Oh you’re him, I recognize your picture from the employee database, and anyway, the servitender said that’s who you are.”
Damn, thought Vod, who by this time was loaded and on the way to the best drunk he’d had in years. “OK pal, You got me, and yer buying, Talk.”
“It’s a very simple matter Mr. Scrothnic, what I have here are some papers which…”
The man continued to talk about some nonsense. What Vod was interested in was the servitender. Instead of staying at its station at the end of the Bar, the Unit was right in front of them, its eye cycling back and forth between them rapidly, as if it was listening. What the heck is this he was thinking when Falshot interrupted him.
“I say, are you listening man? If you sign these documents you will be a comfortably rich man, over a hundred thousand dollars!”
RICH, that got Vod’s attention fast. A Hundred Thousand Dollars, that Really got his attention. “What do you mean?”
It’s just a legal technicality having to do with some er stocks that your late father left in your name that were never dealt with at his death. So if you will just sign here.” Said the executive holding a sheaf of papers and a pen in Vods face.
Vod was confused. He slowly reached and took the proffered bundle and placed them on the bar. Falshot cleared away the remaining envelopes, pulling them towards himself in an almost greedy manner.
He was about to sign when the servitender cut in. “Employee Scrothnic, you have not finished reading your correspondence!” The servitenders arm reached over and slid the pile of mail back to Vod covering the Dupont Documents.
Falshot attempted to block the servitenders arm and grab back the letters when the servitender grabbed his arm and held it firm.
“What are you doing, you’re just a servitender, I order you to shutdown immediately! Falshot code…”
Vod stood back from the stool, shocked at what he was seeing, and disbelieving. “Hey, I don’t know what is going on here, but I’m leaving.”
The red eye of the servitender focused on him and began in a distinctly different and non-robotic voice. “Mr. Scrothnic, remember the Boxtops!”
Vod was jarred to near sobriety by the statement. The Boxtops, yes he remembered. That was his dream, that is what is Dad was yelling at him in the dream. He was four, and he and his dad had spent a summer vacation scrounging for Big Orange Crunchies Boxtops. He remembered the advertising “Big Orange Crunchies, you don’t even need milk, eat’em right out of the box!” And then a picture of a little kid, his arm completely orange to the elbow “Look Ma I’m Orange.”
Yes he had spent the summer with his dad getting as many box tops as he could to send in to the Big Cereal Company for a promotion that would give him acres of land on Mars. They had collected 1200 hundred before the end of the summer. It was the single best memory he had. It was the last summer that he ever saw his dad ever again
“But Wha…” Said Vod, then he remembered the letter.
“Scrothnic you MUST sign these documents I warn you!” Screamed the executive who then began yelling as the servitender began applying pressure to its grip.
Going back to the bar he ignored the cries of the executive who was struggling to free himself from the grip of the servitender, and took up the letter, reading;
‘Dear Mr. Scrothnic,
I am writing on a matter of great financial impact that requires your immediate response. In 2021, you purchased 1200 units of Mars Corp “Kidshares” sponsored through the Big Cereal Company. This purchase granted you 1200 acres of land on Mars. This land, near vertical mountain range, was offered in exchange for Big Cereal Boxtops, 1200 of which you registered with the Big Cereal Company. Please be advised that this land is now directly in the path of the Gates Consortium C-Mass launch project. On behalf of the Gates consortium I am authorized to offer you 18.6 Million per acre in adjusted dollars for a total buyout of over 22.3 Billion Dollars in a combination of cash and shares…’
He stopped reading and turned to the executive. “You Bastard, who do you think you are?”
The servitender let the squirming executive go, and he backed immediately away from the bar. “I represent the company Mr. Scrothnic, and if you wish to walk out of this bar alive, I recommend you sign our documents. No one disobeys the company, and definitely not some drunk loser like you!”
“My potential client does not have to take this, cease and desist your assault immediately or charges will be brought against both you and Dupont United!” Interrupted the servitender.
Vod and Falshot stared in mute disbelief at the servitender.
“What do you mean? What the bloody hell are you? Your client? You’re a bloody servitender, and a malfunctioning one at that!”
“I am not just a servitender, I am a JAWS, Judge Advocate Worker Servitor. I have been assigned specifically to find and assist Employee Scrothnic, and protect him from your attempt to steal what is rightfully his, what the company failed to get when it killed his father, and from blocking the completion of the Gates C-Mass Launcher.” The red eye tracked to Vod, “Mr. Scrothnic, I cannot represent you any further until you request my services, just say ‘I accept your representation’”
Vod began to repeat what he had just been told to say when Falshot leapt across the space dividing them and lunged to cover Vod’s mouth with his hand.
Vod backed off as the executive fell to the floor, “I accept your representation. Help!”
A high pitched whine began issuing from the unit behind the bar, its eye remained locked on Vod.
The executive rose from the floor and dusted himself off. “You piece of garbage, do you think you will live to see the end of the day?” Falshot drew a small communications device from his pocket, and walking away from Vod, began speaking in a harsh voice to someone on the other end. He ended his call and turned back to Vod, smiling smugly. “Well Mr. Scrothnic, you have about three minutes before my people arrive. If you do not sign this document you will be a dead man.”
Vod did not know what to do. The Lawyer unit was still immobile and issuing its whine. Suddenly from outside there was a loud rush of wind and the telltale sound of turbines from some kind of transport craft.
“Too late Mr. Scrothnic, but no matter, once you are dead, your shares shall fall to the company.”
They both turned to the door as the vac chamber cycled through. The door opened, and the face of the executive fell into a pained grimace.
“Hello, I am Sherry Gates. I’m here to pick up Mr. Scrothnic?”
The executive slumped at the unexpected sight of Humanities richest woman. The play was over.
After a brief firefight, heard but not seen by Ms. Gates, Vod and Falshot on the street outside, a group of heavily armed Gates Security entered the Bar to load them into the waiting transport.
Before he left Vod turned to the servitender/ JAWS; “Will I see you again?”
“Perhaps. I would advise you that you are now potentially one of the richest men in Human Space, you may wish to hire a real Human Lawyer, not a simple AI unit like myself.”
Vod thought for a second, “But I want you, will you be my Lawyer?”
“Yes, as your legal representative this unit is obliged to service your needs unless otherwise directed.”
“Good, then I‘ll see you later um, uh…Hey, what do I call you, I mean what’s your designation other than JAWS?”
“I have no formal designation. As you are my first client I suppose you may call me as you wish. What do you wish to call me?”
“Hmm,” Vod thought a moment, then looked up and snapped his fingers “I got it!”
“Box Tops!”As he walked out escorted by his trillionare host, he swore he could hear his robotic lawyer grumble and say “Box Tops” followed by a high pitched whine. Vod smiled as he clambered up the transport ramp and thought to himself ‘Do AI’s swear?’