Vanish Effect: Chapter 2

Vanessa Huggins

Living in the north west end of Ottawa, Vanessa Huggins was used to its strong trilingual presence, with English almost being a minority. With Quebec being its own sovereign country, she had a hard time understanding why the French language still had such a large presence. Walking down a pedestrian avenue, she noticed all the large signs which displayed their business type in English, French and Mandarin.

It was a ridiculous sight, but mandated by the city. Signs were almost larger than the establishments they were advertising.

It was lunch time for Vanessa, and having just picked up her daughter from daycare, it was also her most precious time of the day: mother/daughter time.

Each Monday, she would pick up her daughter, and they would try out a different restaurant. It was Sarah’s turn to pick, and being four, she always picked the same place: McDonald’s. This time though, she chose one five blocks away that specialized in serving healthier choices. It was odd for her to not pick one with the jumbo happy meals, but it made Vanessa feel good that her daughter was attempting to be more healthy. She wondered it it was her own influences, or the nutrition education at daycare.

Vanessa had felt that she was getting a little heavier herself, and so was happy for the change. It was difficult for the two of them to push through the crowds returning to work, as the street was filled with quickly emptying restaurants. Picking up her daughter, and carrying her through the masses, she took them quickly made it to the one restaurant whose exterior needed no translation or languages, McDonald’s with its golden arches.

As she entered the establishment, the vending machines sprang to life with announcements of the available specials, and with health information. The whole decor was very calming, and the seats were large and clean. It was unlike most of the McDonald’s restaurants that Vanessa had visited. Sarah immediately started pressing buttons, ordering herself a tofu and seaweed salad with mandarin oranges and a large purified, filtered water. The bill for her meal alone would be equivalent to Vanessa’s pay for two hours, but it was worth it to see her daughter so excited over healthy food. She wondered what the actual eating experience would be like, and so she held off on ordering something for herself.

“Aren’t you going to get anything, mommy?” Sarah asked while grabbing her tray of food.

Sitting comfortably in the large bench lounges, Vanessa shook her head. “I’ll just take whatever you don’t want.”

Grabbing her fork and pushing it through the tofu, seaweed, lettuce, and other vegetables, and then taking a large bite, Sarah didn’t look too disappointed with her choice. “It tastes funny.”

“Funny bad or funny good?”

Sarah smiled slightly, “Different.”

Vanessa took a bit of her food, and was pleased. It tasted rather good to her, though high quality, rich food almost always did. “If you don’t want it, I’ll eat it.”

“No, its mine!”

Taking her fork back from her mother, Sarah dove in and ate a few more bites. She finished two-thirds of her meal rather quickly, and then passed it over to her mother, and opened her drink. The glass bottle gave her trouble, and after trying to strong arm it, she let Vanessa help to open it, and took a big drink.

The cost of the water alone was nearly half of the meal. Clean, fresh, natural water had become fairly rare, even in Canada, and so reclaimed moisture from the air was one of the main sources of clean water, and it wasn’t cheap.

Finishing the meal, Sarah quickly placed the waste in the reclamation bin, and pulled her mother out of the restaurant and back in to the city walkways. It was still relatively quiet. Most people were busy working either in an office, factory, or at home.

Patrols of police officers approached, making one of their regular grid pattern sweeps of the city, and everyone began moving aside to let them through. For most people, it was like muscle memory, standing aside quickly. Sarah, however, stepped in front of one of the patrols and the police stopped in their tracks.

One of the officers took out his pistol, looking down at the little girl. From beneath the dark face armor came the deep, booming voice of what had to have been the senior officer, “move!”

Startled, Sarah froze like a deer in the headlights, but thinking quickly, her mother jumped in and pulled her out of the way. The police contingency quickly focused in ahead of them, and started to move.

Vanessa exhaled deeply.

“I think it is time we head home sweetheart. Mommy has had enough fun for today.”

Sarah looked up to her mother, and her face tightened. She was forcing back tears, but was able to keep them from surging, and nodded slightly.

Patting her daughter on her head, Vanessa felt a surge of pride. As they headed back to their flat, there were no more surprises or meaningful events. Vanessa was glad that nothing horrible had happened to ruin their day. There was always so much going on in the city, and with so many people in such close quarters, there were accidental deaths, murders, and various other issues cropping up daily. Since she’d had her daughter, she had become more focused on avoiding such problems, but also realized that being a shut-in wouldn’t be advantageous for her little girl.

Placing her keys on a tray near her front entrance, she walked into her galley kitchen and got herself a drink of BTW, the latest daily vitamin enhanced drink. Vanessa had three cases in her tiny apartment – she could see the longer name, “Better Than Water,” along the side of one of them – because it was one fifth the price of bottled water.

Her daughter ran right to the ten-inch message board on the wall that began streaming news and information on messages that had come in while they were out.

“Mom! The mail is here!” Her small squeals of excitement grated on Vanessa’s ears as she walked over to join her daughter.

“Yes, hun. Thank you.”

“Is there anything for me?”

“Well, you’d have to let me at the message board for me to check that, wouldn’t you?”

“Can I check?” Sarah reached up to press the button, but was still several inches from being tall enough. The board was stationed closer to the eye level of an average adult. She strained her fingers, stood upon her tip toes, but still couldn’t reach the button to display the mail.

Grabbing her with both arms, Vanessa lifted her daughter up off the ground and brought the board to her eye level. “Go ahead.”

Sarah eagerly pressed the button, and messages began to fly through the air. She giggled as one of her avatars flew across the screen letting her know that she now had another lesson to complete on her computer, and that she was rated to be a ninety-seven percent quality child at daycare. The rating was a quality score based on various factors, but to Vanessa it also meant that her bill for daycare would be seven percent cheaper this month.

“You are doing really great at daycare. Mommy is really proud of you. Keep this up, and I’ll buy you a new outfit for Julip.”

Sarah turned her head and displayed her pearly white teeth in a huge grin. Jumping down from her mother’s arms, she went into the living room, and pulled out her portable terminal, already looking through the options for possible purchase.
Julip was Sarah’s avatar, a digital friend who interacted with her and helped to monitor and teach her. Equipping one’s avatar with clothing, items, and other upgrades was something that had become very popular, even to those at a very young age. Vanessa wasn’t very interested in the whole thing for herself, but the cost of an outfit was far less than the full tuition price of daycare if her daughter fell below the ninety percent level, and much better than having to find another daycare if her daughter feel below eighty percent.

Donald Southland

Being a businessman was all Donald had ever wanted to be, and he was one of the most successful businessmen he knew. He had risen to the top of Eco Enterprises in four short years. His education had been nothing stellar, but he’d been an apprentice to Jeremy Branson, a wealthy industrialist and the owner of the Virgin network of companies. From telecommunications to space travel, Donald had gained experience in a multitude of different arenas, so he’d quickly been taken in by the largest “green” company and given an obscene amount of money for his contributions. The media attention alone had been seen as very valuable for Eco Enterprises, as Jeremy Branson was one of only a few business owners who took on apprentices.

He enjoyed his job, even more so when the office emptied out at the end of the day and he had complete silence on the floor. His one thousand square foot office echoed each and every noise from the main, open floor area. He’d considered getting soundproofing put in to block out the noises, but he knew that public opinion would be against him if he did. There hadn’t been a truly ecological soundproofing material invented yet.

With his glasses on, the augmented reality system kicked in, and Donald could see various streams of information as well as interact with them. He grabbed invisible blocks of info from the air and manipulated them as he needed to. The company was doing well, and it Donald had directed all the efforts that had led it to its recent success. His achievements allowed him to live in excess, a lifestyle he greatly enjoyed. From his unheard of large office with his own water dispensing unit, to his multimillion dollar sports car, to his downtown three acre lot, with a freehold home, he wanted for nothing.

As the sun set, two men in suits entered his office, one of them pushing a small cart, and the other holding two large bottles. It was supper time. Glancing at the bottom corner of his display, Donald realized that it was already eight in the evening. Time had flown by as he’d worked away approving reports, checking engineering specifications, giving orders to factories around the world, and slightly adjusting the orbits of a series of satellites.

The taller of the two men bowed slightly while Donald took off his glasses. “Sir, we’ve brought you a hamburger and mashed potatoes for supper, with beef gravy.” Both men solemnly positioned themselves closer to his large desk.

Donald’s mouth began salivating. His daily meals set him back more than the monthly food bill of a family of four, but they were well worth it. He was one of only five people in the entire city who could have real cow meat, not grown muscle tissue from a lab, or “meat” made from soy and chemicals. The mashed potatoes were also a delicacy that few could afford, as genetic engineering potato products led to issues with the crop, and only a few areas of the world were able to continue growing the vegetable.

The warm, smoky aroma of the cooked meat wafted around him, setting off a strong hunger pang. “I am definitely ready to eat.”

Both men marched forward and placed the food on Donald’s desk. They laid it out with precision and, placing a ceramic goblet on the desk, the shorter of the two men pulled two bottles out and placed them beside it. One was a thin bottle of red wine, aged over fifty years, taken from Donald’s private stock, while the other was a dark lager beer that he had shipped in from Denmark. After Donald had pointed at the beer, the taller gentleman popped the top and slowly poured the beverage into the cup.

Donald noticed that both men averted their eyes from both him, and from his meal. Other than when serving him, they had probably never seen real hamburger meat, nor drunk an imported beer. Living in excess didn’t mean sharing the wealth, and he sent them away.

Once alone, he unveiled his eight ounce burger, and three fists worth of mashed potatoes, alongside the small dish of gravy. He’d heard his grandfather talk at length about eating such meals at fast food locations, before red meat products had been replaced in most of the world, thanks to the spread of various farm diseases that had contaminated the meat. Donald didn’t have to worry about contamination, though, as the cows he got his meat from were isolated on an island somewhere in Asia, and were pampered. He also thought it wise to keep only a small colony of thirty, and selectively breed them. The upkeep on his personal beef production was more expensive than the maintenance of the office building where he had his main offices, but he continually reminded himself of not only the good he was doing in the world with his renewable energy projects, but also the value of his life and continued contributions.

Richard Jones

Cleaning his great grandfather’s pistol, Richard enjoyed thinking about the past. He still wasn’t comfortable with technology, and had spent extra to have his home fitted with what he considered a “normal” door, as well as removing all of the OLED displays from his apartment. It had been a long and difficult series of modifications, but it made him feel more like he was living in the cottage that he’d had to sell a few years ago, without always having something buzzing, beeping or blinking at him.

The owner of the building hadn’t been too impressed with the changes, but Richard made a deal to trade his repair skills for the turning of a blind eye. Richard was a skilled technician and well known as one of the few people in charge of maintaining the parliament museum, a set of buildings in the old downtown core that used to be used for various government functions. Today the buildings were not only a reminder of days gone by, but constituted a well-trafficked museum that focused on the creation of Canada, its government, and the various people, both political and otherwise, who had made the country what it was today.

Grabbing a pad of paper, Richard checked his task list for the day. It included going downtown to fix some pipes in an office tower. The tower required his services because Richard was one of the few people trained in classic plumbing and knows the comparisons of the top water softeners. Very few buildings having water distribution systems, and even fewer still using copper pipes like the one today. The building had been renovated, but the old pipes were kept and changed over to the BTW fluid product that was now piped into nearly every home for a nominal monthly fee.

Grabbing his glasses and overcoat, Richard cracked his fingers and opened his door. Turning around to lock it with a small metal key, he smiled. He knew his grandfather, a man who had raised him after his own father’s death when he was only four years old, would be proud of his anti-technology stance.

In the ever accelerating world of technology, he was viewed as a dinosaur and a technophobe, but the forty year old man liked to think of himself as a bit of an eccentric, and reflected that technology hadn’t brought very much good to the average person’s daily life.

Moving towards the elevator, he saw a few other people who lived on the same floor as him. He nodded or waved, to be polite, but all of them were far too consumed with communicating online, as well as dealing with various technology embedded in their clothing, skin or elsewhere. Richard sometimes wondered if the obsession with technology would be the downfall of culture.

Arriving at the tower, he immediately went to work. He had to take the stairs down because the elevator systems didn’t go to the basement, and the service elevator had long since been taken out to provide extra storage space for each floor. The sub-dermal implant he had received as a child took note of his short burst of exercise, as he dropped three stories below ground. Richard tried to make a conscious effort not to think about the implant, but a recent visit to his doctor had reminded him that he was in the bottom twenty percent for overall health and that if he didn’t work harder on exercise, eating right and drinking more of the so-called “Better Than Water,” he’d only live ten years past one hundred. With a few beads of sweat dripping from his brow, his health was at the forefront of his mind.

The repair didn’t take very long, and soon Richard packed up his gear to head home. The rest of the tasks on his list were located on the other side of town, and his company had forgotten to credit him for transportation across districts. This meant that he could only take on tasks in his area of town, and there was nothing on the docket for today. It was actually a relief for Richard, as he hated being stuck on the public transportation systems.

One time, near his birthday, he had gone to the west end of town to get a special cake made. The Regent Bakery was one of only three places left in Ottawa where you could still get a real birthday cake, made with eggs, flour, milk and other very premium, hard to come by ingredients. Richard treated himself to one each year, despite its costing nearly a whole month’s salary. He had fallen asleep for only a moment, and because he refused to carry an ICD and be part of the wearable Internet crowd, he wasn’t awakened or notified of his lapse in concentration, and had missed his stop. This meant a further thirty minutes on the transport, arriving too late at the bakery, with an extra carbon fee tacked onto his monthly bill.

Heading home, Richard was stopped by a small patrol of security, who asked to see his credentials. Pressing his finger against a display, he watched all of his information come up, and he was waved by. He sometimes felt like he lived in what his grandfather would have called a police state, but Richard tried to keep his head down, and was left alone to go about his business.

Just as he arrived back at his apartment, the owner of the building, Horus, rushed up to him, waving his hand frantically. “Hey Ricky! I need some help with something.”

The young man sometimes seemed to be the complete polar opposite to Richard, as he wore so many devices that flashed and displayed information, it was hard to look him in the face.

“Hi Horus, what seems to be the problem?” Richard said with a slight sigh of exhaustion.

“Well, I don’t know exactly what it is, but it seems all the elevators are skipping floors. If you press more than one floor, it only goes to the highest or lowest in the list, and doesn’t stop between at any other number.” Horus paused for a second to catch his breath before continuing, “Why I keep those pieces of junk installed in this building, I’ll never know.”

One of Horus’ many devices began to beep and whistle at him and, distracted, he began talking to it, “Horus speaking.”

Richard was going to wait patiently, but Horus waved him on, and so Richard could only nod and head towards the elevators. Looking inside, it was easy to see what the problem was. The elevator had been put into service mode, and as such, it would only go on one direct route, without stopping at any other floors. This mode was usually used for moving into and out of the building, and was changed manually to override its normal operation. But because it required actual work to change modes, rather than just simple voice commands, Richard wasn’t surprised that Horus didn’t know what to do.

Switching it back to regular use, Richard popped his head back out into the hallway, and saw Horus yelling at someone. He looked crazy, standing alone in a room yelling at nobody anyone could see, but for most people this had become a common, everyday occurrence. Pressing the button for his floor, Richard was quickly brought to his floor, and back home again.

Unlocking his door, he heard the natural click of a metal cylinder moving into the door, allowing him access. It wasn’t computerized, it didn’t require biometrics, and it didn’t automatically respond to the fact that he was home. It was simple, effective, and in his mind, perfectly engineered. Placing his keys in a dish next to his door, he walked over to his sofa, sat down and sighed deeply.

Under his breath he muttered, “Is this how life should be?”

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