Jesk took a deep breath of the fragrant breeze. It smelled of nature, of unspoiled forests. He sighed and continued the call to tie up loose ends.
“That means that the Margeson Contact is complete and watertight, right?” Jesk asked, seemingly to the air.
A crow flew down, landed a few feet in front of him. It turned its head and watched him for a minute with a shiny eye, cawed and flew off.
“Yes sir,” his assistant and lawyer Merl’s voice came from came from slightly to the left and in front, towards the meadow and slightly downhill.
“Good. I left the office early today. Lock it all up on your way out.” A vulture was making lazy circles in the cloudless sky, but was soon gone.
“Yes sir. Have a good weekend.” A deer walked into the meadow near were the voice was coming from.
Jesk leaned back in his chair and only half paid attention to the pleasant landscape around him.
Ignoring Jesk, the deer moved deeper into the field. Beyond the meadow the shadow of a deeper forest has half guessed in the green haze and perhaps even some higher hills off in the far distance. Facing forward, the trees grew a little thicker to the right, away from the little glen, and sloped downhill away from him, where it was possible to make out distant tall mountains through the trees. To the right the ground sloped down even more to a small, fast flowing brook only a dozen feet from where Jesk was sitting. It seemed the ideal spot for trout, with a tree shading the bend in the stream. Although the sun was bright, it was a perfect 72 degrees with just a hint of a fresh breeze. The deer continued to graze in the field to his left while a red tailed hawk flew overhead.
Jesk leaned back even more and half dozed. A fly could be heard buzzing by him, but he ignored it, letting the noise fade into the background as he relaxed and let the week melt away.
A large bump jolted Jesk. He jerked up, suddenly wide awake.
For a brief second the woods disappeared and the grime and dirt of a rundown section of town surrounded him. It was quick, and the trees and fields were back before any real details could be made out beyond the dingy grey and a feeling of squalor. But it was long enough.
“What was that?” His voice was sharp.
“Sorry, sir,” a disembodied voice said. “We are in heavy construction zone, and, by your orders, moving at over triple the posted speed limit. There was an extremely large hole that was unavoidable.” Something was wrong with the voice, but Jesk was too upset to pinpoint it. All he knew is that it was more annoying than usual.
“This car is supposed to be smooth all of the time. Always means always! Make a note. Sue GM for two million for disturbing my peace. I’m sure I’ll have months of therapy because of it.”
Jesk leaned back again. He watched as the deer walked in front of him and tried to relax, but the bump had ruined his mood and he just couldn’t recapture that feeling of release he had sought.
Ugly customers and their demands entered his mind. That’s why he had the relaxation simulation, damn it, to keep that type of thing out! And the damn government official wouldn’t take a bribe. Jesk had to double the idiot’s boss’ bribe so he would fire him.
Most of it had to do with the stupid Covington plant. Maybe he should sell it, even if it did make him almost a billion a year. So what if it alone produced over a third of the carbon dioxide that the entire country was allows to produce by the treaty? Damn communist Europeans hated America and wanted to destroy him.
He tried to watch the deer, but now he was distracted. The stupid car. If it had been as smooth as advertised he would be nice and relaxed instead of wound up tight. He did not want to bring his problems home for the wekend, and her they were, sitting right in his lap.
“Sir, we are at the property entrance. Shall I take down the display?” He was right, the voice sounded off, weird. Was there an accent? He was sure there was.
“Yes, after we enter the gate, as usual.” He made sure his voice was a low growl. Perhaps the stupid car would get the hint.
The forested scene faded, leaving the entire universe a dull white. The white began to clear and the real outside world made its presence known, or at least that small part of the outside world that was Jesk’s estate. High walls and tall trees blocked out most of the surrounding land, and what there was he could easily ignore.
“Outside temperature, 27 degrees.” Yes, the voice had a slight English accent, that cultured “classical radio station” voice that he hated so much. That was the first thing he changed, even before he left the dealership.
“Stop that damn commie talk and tell me the real temperature in American!” Jesk’s voice was over loud and his face red.
“Outside temperature, 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Vehicle stopped. Doors unlocked. Prepare to disembark.” The accent had changed, but was still off.
“Prepare to what?” His teeth were clenched and the last word exploded out of him.
“Prepare to exit the automobile.” The voice sounded American again.
“Change my previous command and make it ‘sue GM for 10 million!’ I don’t take lip from my employees and I certainly won’t take it from my devices!”
“Yes, sir. We regret any discomfort we have caused.” The soothing tone of the car only made Jesk angrier.
“Were you programmed by some idiot elitist in their damn ivory tower?”
“No sir. Language preference was reset at 3:30 PM today, four and a half minutes ago, during the latest software update. It was an important security patch. Your preferences have been reloaded from the cloud. Prepare to exit, sir.”
The wall of the vehicle slide back and a ramp extended to the ground. Jesk got out of the “car” and walked towards the house. His shoulders were slunched, he was leaning forward slightly and his face was still red. He didn’t even notice the car park itself in the alcove.
“Hey!” a voice rang out. Jesk turned towards the voice. His face cleared a little as a German Shepherd ran to greet him. “You’re home! You’re home! Happy! Happy! You’re home!” The dog said as he jumped up on Jesk.
“Down Rex, Down.” He laughed involuntarily, forgetting the tension of the car ride, as the dog tried to lick his face. “Good boy. Did Mother feed you?”
“No… no… uhm…. Well… uhm…”
“She did, didn’t she?” Jesk stopped petting the dog-plus and put his arms across his chest. He frowned.
The dog put his tail between his legs. “Yes.”
“Good boy, Rex.” The dog-plus’ tail began to wag again. Jesk threw him a treat.
“Thank you! Oh! A smell! Squirrel? A smell! Bye!” Rex ran off.
Jesk’s childhood dog had been Rex. Using memories, old photos and breeder’s records, the company My Best Friend found a genetic mix that was close in appearance and temperament to his favorite pet. After that it was just the typical “Dog-plus” enhanced intelligence and limited speech ability, though Jesk thought that Rex spoke better than any other Dog-plus he had ever seen. Everything he had was better, damn it, so Rex must be. Rex cost more than half of the population made in their entire lifetime, more than Merl would make in the next 10 years, but it was exactly what Jesk wanted.
Not that he was reliving his childhood. Banish the thought.
Jesk hated nostalgia. That was for people who had too much time on their hands, that didn’t work hard enough; all of the nameless rabble that he didn’t have to see as he zipped by with the screens shutting him off from the world, the people that deserved their puny little lives, people who could live in some fantasy world of a rose-tinted past. But he lived for now! It was just that he had occasionally thought of his one true childhood friend, Rex. A work colleague had mentioned My Best Friend and the high end Dog-plus market. It was the prestige purchase of the year, everyone who was anyone had one, and now he had Rex again.
Jesk took a step towards the house, looked over his shoulder where he heard Rex yelling and froze.
For a moment, through the bare winter trees, he had seen the outer world. Not much, a bit of grey, but enough.
Why did the stupid trees still lose their leaves? It was called “winter”, but it was nothing like it used to be. It went below freezing only a handful of times in the winter and was just as often in the upper 70s and even touching the 80s as the it was in the teens or 20s. It didn’t make sense to Jesk. He had been planning on changing all of the trees for tropical trees, like Dartus had done, but Thara had said that she liked the fall colors. Maybe he still should change them. Who did Thara think she was anyway?
“Are you coming in, sir?” the front door asked.
“Yes, open up.”
His enhanced Dog-plus completely forgotten, Jesk entered the house. If this were a typical weekend, he wouldn’t think of Rex again until when he arrived home after work on Monday.
“Hi Honey, how was your day?” Thara gave him a kiss on the cheek and smiled. Although she was 32, 27 years younger than Jesk, she looked like a typical 18 year old. As long as she continued to receive her treatments, she always would. Jesk would make sure she did, at least until he tired of her. If she had to be in the house, she had to at least look good.
Jesk frown. Well, usually she looked good, but today she looked plain. He shook his head. A dozen experts made sure Thara was gorgeous. He knew it was just the day getting to him.
“Not great,” he said. “It was nonstop, mostly just people whining. I guess it soured my mood for the entire day. And then the car acted up on the way home.” He scowled.
“Engine problems? I thought those electric engines never broke down.”
“Of course not. I said it acted up, not broke down. Idiot. It seemed to think that I think of myself as some type of European elitist instead of an American Capitalist, with a capital ‘C’!”
Thara bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Honey. I know how that type of thing always upsets you.”
Jesk didn’t say anything more than a snort as he walked into the living room. A part of his mind resented the woman in his house.
“And by the way, Honey…,” Thara said. His hackles went up. What did she want now?
“Hey Dad, look what Petunia can do!”
“Adi, Mother is still talking to Father. You’ll have to wait just a minute until I am finished.” Jesk always took Adi’s side over Thara, so stopping the child was a somewhat bold move and got Jesk’s attention. He turned towards his wife and let her know that he was listening. “Jesk, Ryk called today.” She drew back a bit, as if she thought she might be hit.
“What did he want? More money, I would expect. Elitist trash.” He shook his head in disgust.
“You know, Honey, he only asked that one time, when Brey was first diagnosed with…”
“I know what she was diagnosed with, you don’t have to remind me every two minutes. Was Ryk asking for more, then? I know we only gave them enough for two months worth of treatments, but he is so proud of his engineering degree. Why doesn’t his college pay for it? It isn’t my responsibility.”
“No, he doesn’t want more money. Brey passed away. She hadn’t had any treatments in over a year and the cancer spread rapidly. I’m sorry.”
Jesk stared at his feet.
“Dad, look what…”
“Later Adi,” he said. His voice was gruff, causing the five year old to back away. He didn’t notice or move.
“I’m sorry,” Thara said. “I know it hurts. I lost a brother.” She paused as if trying to gauge his mood. “Anyway, Ryk wanted us, wanted you, to go to the funeral. It’s tomorrow.”
“I hope you told him no way.”
“I told him that we’ll try.” She came a little closer and put her hands on her hips. “Hell, Jesk, she was your only sister, only sibling. Damn it, more than that, she was your only relative that I ever knew about, her and her son. Now Bil is now your only blood relative. Adi has never even met her cousin…”
“Dad, can you watch Petunia now?”
Jesk turned to his daughter, almost viciously, with a forced, toothy smiled. “Ok, Sweetie, what can Petunia do?”
“OK, Petunia, like I showed you.”
The 150 lb elephant lifted one of the enhanced mice up with her trunk and placed it on her head. She stuck her ears straight out to the sides and her trunk straight out front.
“She looks like Dumbo!” the little said. She clapped her hands together and giggled.
“That’s nice, Dear.” Jesk stared at his feet again. “Over 35 million for the puny pachyderm and all it can do is impressions from stupid cartoons. I know that they are all the rage, but…” He shook his head.
“Honey, she loves Petunia. The little elephant is her constant companion, often her only companion. Too often. Look, she needs more social time. With people. Real people, not computers or automates or robots or even enhanced animals. Perhaps if she met her cousin…”
“Drop it, Thar, we aren’t going.”
“Why not? It will do us all good.”
“Because of them. We’ll be forced to see the rabble and they’ll be forced to see us. They hate us, you know, and blame us for all of their problems. It’s not my fault that they are sick and poor and that the world is trashed. You know darn well that I don’t want to expose Adi to that until she’s at least 12, 15 if possible. Hell, I hope she never sees the outside world.”
“I said drop it.” His voice was hard. “Call me when dinner is ready. And make sure that the stupid robot knows how I like my steak this time.”
This is the first chapter of the story “When the Elephant Bumps the Mouse House” based on the image by Marianne Sopala that was off of Pixabay. This is in responce to D. Wallace Peach’s February Speculative Fiction Prompt.
I am not sure when I will post other chapters. It is possible I will do it all off line and just include it in my next book of short stories. Stay tuned!
(Yes, a bit political. And yet, look at the world and at people’s attitudes. We’ll see where it goes.)