Lottery fever has become part of our culture. Almost everyone buys an occasional lottery ticket or two. I know that I do. The weekly forty-four state megamilllion game pays out dollars of cold hard cash every week. But what if there is something more valuable that everyone would want to win or steal if they could? What would it be? In the near future with global warming raising the sea level to cover more of the worlds landmass, forcing the population into closer and closer quarters, it just might be a little more elbow room.
El Pasello: The parade.
It was a the first of April. Annie Kline bought ninety more lottery tickets.
Looking at the pieces of film that she had purchased with nearly half of her monthly salary almost took her breath away. April fool she thought to herself. Annie entered the newly acquired numbers from the tickets into her cellipod’s memory, slipping the flimsies one by one into her oversize purse. She moved away from a lottery ticket selector toward the store exit, behind a brawny young laborer in a muscle shirt and in front of an elderly gentleman wearing a bush hat.
In her mind’s eye Annie visualized herself alone on a vacant beach, away from the teaming crowds of Sidney; away from the crush of humanity that was festering on Earth, sipping a tall, cool drink. All alone, she dreamed. “Ah,” Annie sighed to herself. “Space.”
“Glad to see that you’re out of the complex,” Mick called out when he saw her. “You don’t need another day in that stuffy room.”
Tall, craggy faced with thinning, curly blond hair Mick Edwards was Annie’s managing editor at the Australian version of the World Star. Twenty-four years her senior, Mick was, from time to time, her love interest. To make sure that Annie’s life was less of a hassle than other staffers who wrote for the daily tabloid, Mick took it upon himself to keep an eye on her. It was that concern which led him to Annie’s condominium; then to the corner convenient store to look for her. Mick knew she wouldn’t be in a neighborhood eatery because of the overwhelming crowds of people during the lunch hour. He was even mildly surprised that he found her exiting an eclectic group of Hispanics, Eurasians, and native Australians locked in a body to body, front to back, cue at the Lotería Cosmico El Gordo self-serve selectors.
“Yes, it’s pretty stuffy in here,” Annie affirmed, nodding her head.
She had misunderstood Mick’s comment through the sound of the crowd working the automatic lottery machines behind her. She waved. To reach her side Mick moved through the bustling group of lottery players and past two, who looked to him like a Middle Eastern version of Laurel and Hardy, watching Annie close her purse.
“No silly,” Mick reworked his greeting, “I said it’s great to see you out and about. What the hell are you doing here?”
Annie gestured at the other lottery players. “Trying to act like a native,” she replied.
Mick looked at her expressing the question again with a bit of a mordant twist to his face.”I mean doing what?” he asked
“All right then, buying,” she volunteered. Tossing her purse strap over her shoulder, Annie took Mick’s hand moving with him toward the convenient store’s exit.
As they left the convenient, Mick pointed to the World Star tabloids in the autovend. “You shouldn’t have to wait in line, Annie… You’re a celebrity,” he teased.
“Some celebrity,” Annie snickered. “And what are you doing here?”
“Well,” Mick said, “to get you out of here. Someplace a little less crowded.”
“Uh, huh,” she replied.
“Now just where do you expect to get seated for lunch at this hour?”
“This way,” Mick directed. He headed Annie out into the street.
“And… Just where are we off to?” Annie asked.
Mick avoided an immediate answer. “Now don’t waste time signing autographs,” he joked,“just follow along, my dear.” Mick shoved through the street people making just enough room for him and Annie to pass. “Can’t have anyone say that I left my protégé starving at midday.”
They merged into the noonday throng. On the street in the push of the crowd, people would often wrinkle their brows trying to put a name to the petite, five foot-two, freckle faced redhead, passing by. “Say, aren’t you….um…” they would often say to her expecting a response. These awkward recognitions were due, in part, to full color holoprints at the top of the Star’s travel section each week. Smiling, red hair unfurled, inundated with travel brochures, Annie was always pictured there in a playful pose. The smile on her face betrayed the absurd irony of the portrayal. It was satire. The Federation regulated all international movement; no one holidayed anymore. For the masses travel was vicarious. Travel meant watching celebrity jaunts on holovision or looking at animated holoprint excursions on the pages of the Star.
Annie had joined World Star Corporate in New York as a junior staffer right out of college. By the time she was twenty-three she managed to pull herself up to section editor. The past nine years, Annie had been the travel editor of the Sidney edition of the Star.
Perhaps it was Annie’s sheer determination that drew Mick to her. He knew she had fought to get the assignment in Australia because it was still the one place on Earth with a bit of breathing room. With close to four hundred billion people worldwide struggling to manage on barely a hundred million square kilometers of land, Australia had become a new home to much of the excess population. This was mostly by default, in direct proportion to the melting ice caps and rising seas, when other world states were overrun by sheer numbers.
Mick escorted her several blocks, down the teaming sidewalk, across the congested street to a somewhat unoccupied alley. Glancing back to make sure that the two Muslims, who had been ogling Annie’s purse at the convenient store, were not following them he led her down the narrow alleyway.
Annie found herself facing a dreary looking storefront entryway. The walk-in’s window glass covered over with layers of archaic, weather-worn bullfight posters and grubby, turn of the century tauromachy handbills.
“O.K. boss man, you saved me from the street crowd… Where are we?” she asked.
“Bull? You’re kidding!”
Mick laughed and Annie smiled back at him. If Annie had one singular look about her it was her captivating smile. She had employed it successfully, on the Star’s corporate management team in New York, to make her pitch for the position in Sidney. And with it, Annie forced herself into outgoing activities, even though she had a mild case of enochlophobia. Though her phobia made her appear timid, she was strong willed, quick to anger and equally as impatient.
“Let’s go inside and find out.” Mick said. He continued to chuckle as he opened the gated door of the Bull for her.
“Welcome back, Mr. Mick.” A Hispanic looking maitre’d materialized out of the shadowy background to greet them. “Your usual table sir?”
“Yes, thank you, Rojos,” Mick responded.
Within the dimly lit estaminet soft guitar music played above the murmur of the habitués seated about a heptagonal room. It took a moment for Annie’s eyes to adjust to the dim light. She could see a dozen marble topped tables in the Bull and the outline of an ornate bar in the opaque background. The room held the sparsest lunch gathering she had seen since her arrival in Australia. All but four of the tables were empty and only five of the high backed stools at the bar were occupied. A Jericho guitarist sat on a small stage near one corner of the heptagon. The other six corners held statuary set on ornate pedestals, illuminated subtly from below, depicting the six stages of a bullfight, from the beginning El Pasello, the grand prade to the La Estocada finally`, the moment of truth.
“We’ve known each other for almost ten years, Mick, and we’ve never been to this place. It looks almost deserted,” Annie whispered.“How does he know you?”
Mick imitated Annie’s hushed church voice. “I’m a member,” he said softly.
“Oh!”Annie said, resuming her normal voice.
“Bull has a limited number of members,” Mick explained. “It’s my court of last resort, a thinking place outside the office, my, uh… private sanctum, where I bring folks who are having problems. Today we’re here to talk about your….”
“No need, Mick,” Annie interrupted before he could go on. “I’m taking care of that myself.”
“With fifty credit a bump lottery tickets?”
With a flourish, Rojos seated them at the table. “Jeanneta will be your serveoid today,” he announced as he placed a flashing menuegram in the center of the table. The maitre’d left them to study the Bull’s holographic luncheon exhibits. Jeanneta, the serveoid, arrived promptly tableside and posed ready to take an order.
Annie and Mick were studying the dinner selections when the maitre’d reappeared, with a cocktail list, to suggest an aperitif and to advise Mick that the Lotería Cosmico El Gordo draw was about to begin.
“The El Gordo quarterly will be out at 2430 Federation time,” Rojos announced. “Would you like a view?”
“Well,” Mick grumbled, “There doesn’t seem to be a way we can avoid it is there, Annie? Sure, bring us a holo.”
Maybe they could just enjoy lunch together Annie thought to herself. If Mick was entertained he might not start in about her personal life again. Annie offered Mick her best smile. In response to Rojos beverage solicitation she gave Mick her drink choice, just loud enough so that the waiting serveoid would hear. “I’ll have a Bramble, Mick,” she said.
Mick turned to place the order with Jeanneta. “A Bramble for the lady and the usual for me,” he said, “with blue cheese olives.”
The serveoid retreated out of sight, in the direction of the Bull service bar.
Mick turned back to face Annie, putting on his serious face, with a hint of a smile. “Now lady, let’s discuss your pons asinorum,” he said.
“Nothing,” she responded.
“Now cut the crap, that’s not what I hear,” Mick countered. “Where did I find you today?”
“Damn it Annie, I mean, doing what?” Mick asked. He stopped smiling. “You’re almost a week behind on you layouts. I haven’t seen you on a cellipod for two days. The gossip around the comcubes is that you’re tossing all your plascash credits at the El Gordo. Then, when I find you, you’re in the middle of a frenzied crowd. Doing what?”
“Buying!” Annie answered. “You mean to tell me that you don’t buy your share?” She was beginning to show traces of irritation on her freckled face. “You know fucking well, Mick! Almost everyone buys… Almost everyone wants to leave these damn crowds… Almost everyone wants their own damn space.”
Espacio:Space Appeared in print in Pulp Empire issue #7 Heroes and Heretics and now appears in ifs IMAGINE FANTASY SCIENCE FICTION.