Downtime

Downtime

Sometimes two disparate ideas come together. On a bus tour in Barbados, my wife and I rode past a boarded up building that had a sign reading “Move ‘Em Out Service” over the front door. I asked our tour guide what the sign meant and she replied that it was a local practice to hire a service to remove illegal occupants. That slogan rumbled about in the back of my head for several years until one day when I had a convoluted phone conversation with a utility company representative. Coupled with the sign’s slogan, that phone conversation became the framework for a light hearted anthropomorphic fable.

Here’s an excerpt:

1.

Yes, there it was, posted on the top layer of the grimy papers on the Kachhastan mining compounds corner bulletin board. The brownish sign with large red lettering read:

“MOVE ‘EM OUT SERVICE”

Lawanda’s closer inspection revealed the signs message maker as the Ocalando Move ‘Em Out Company L.L.D.  “Vagrants, Trespassers & Squatters Quickly & Expertly Removed,” the advertisement continued. The fine print was dust scrubbed and hard to make out but it did seem to delineate five caveats necessary to ensure that Ocalando would undertake a moving contract for a client. “Service Available On Teteria & Capstanbul,” stood out as a major pieceof necessary information. Finishing up the marketing stance of the sign was the national vicinity address of  the Ocalando company on Capstanbul along with their airflow and groundbound celenumbers and the sales message’s call to action:

“TAKE A CARD       CALL NOW!”

Why hadn’t she noticed it before?  She always took a quick look at the entire array of messages, notes and advertisements on the bulletin board  as she passed by – going to and coming from the mine. She must have perused this montage of local gossip and vendor information at least twice a day for the past year. Yet there it was.  Must just be a scotoma Lawanda reasoned, you only see what you really need to see.

Just an inch less than five feet tall, Lawanda topped the average height for a female of her breed. Born on Aborrah twenty-seven years ago she thought of herself as still attractive and knew that her trim, anserine figure always attracted the longing gazes of younger males at the mining company. She was naturally fastidious, an inborn match for her job as a quality control technician at the mining complex. What could be seen of her comb, through the faceplate of her hazmat suit, was bright pink, signifying that she was single and had not as yet produced progeny.

Below the Ocalando Company’s advertising poster Lawanda found small, dust streaked, oval slips of curling, yellow paper. These pull off business cards repeated the Ocalando Company’s advertising headline along with the local facility location and business telenumbers.  Lawanda knew instinctively that the oval was a subliminal. It had a barely perceptible
embossed outline of Teteria and Capstanbul, to reinforce the takers’ perception that Ocalando serviced the whole of Aborrah’s southern hemisphere.

Her seasonal downtime was coming again in ten days and downtime was important to her. She wasn’t getting any younger, she thought. The Ocalando Move ‘Em Out Company might be just what she needed. Lawanda carefully selecting the cleanest of the oval papers and then tore two of the slips from the bulletin board. She held her breath, unzipped and shoved them into a worn inner pocket. Quickly zipping her dust covered hazmat uniform shut again, Lawanda re-read the ad. Then, taking a cue from the signs call to action, she left the brightly lit corner of the villages’ main intersection to find a groundbound teleprompt to use. Airflow celecalls are just so damn expensive, she reflected, groundbounds were much more economical

It wasn’t fair she thought as her soft, silent steps in the new fallen dust took her away from the corner reading light and onto one of the dimmer side streets. Here I am single, working the dingy besbestos mines of Kachhastan on this dust covered continent of Capstanbul just to survive.  No, it just wasn’t fair.

To keep up the plascash payments on her remodular in the greening city of Auroooria, two thousand miles away in Teteria and set aside a quasi credit or two, Lawanda worked double shifts at the besbestos mine. Sure, she affirmed to herself, the plascash credits were good for a female but two shifts a day left little time for anything, except to worry about a remodular. And the safety of one’s plot and remodular was worry enough.

Was the last brood gone, she wondered. Would her solitary parcel of property in Auroooria be safe without her there to protect it? Even paying off the sheriff’s bangers to look after one’s plot didn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t be snapped up for use by some touristy squatters from the north country. Yep, she imagined, the big, bold bodied ones might be sniffing around herempty remodular right now. Their kind were always coming down to the lower continents warm white sunshines and grabbing up any unprotected remodular they could get their grubby claws on. Big, nasty, six foot tall bullies, she visualized, as her presentiment subsided. The only thing that could alarm these nasty brutes was loud noise. Even old ones, who were often hard of hearing, were deathly afraid of ear shattering noises. Lawanda felt almost helpless, except for the two yellow oval pieces of paper now tucked into her inner, front pocket.

A soft breeze began to blow a mist of orange abrasive about in the warm night air.

Downtime  appears in ifs IMAGINE FANTASY SCIENCE FICTION.