Vanish Effect: Chapter 3

Jonathan Briggs

Once the work day was done, Jonathan usually didn’t have much left to do other than to entertain himself, but today he had a family social event that he couldn’t ignore. His sister Vanessa had told him that interacting via a life feed video camera and a display at the event wasn’t good enough. She had told him that if he didn’t come, she’d break his legs. He laughed, thinking about his reply, “And then I couldn’t come…” He knew he shouldn’t have said it, and she knew he was going to at least make an appearance.

Laughing lightly, he changed his shoes, recharged the fuel cell in his ICD, and grabbing a snack bar, rushed out the door. It would take only five minutes to get to his mother’s place if he was able to grab the express line, but a full thirty minutes if he missed it. Rushing downstairs, Jonathan went quickly through the underground to get to the local station for express routes. He arrived in time, and was notified of the charge for riding the express train. It was a bit expensive to use, but the time savings, and lack of a large crowd, were worth it in Jonathan’s mind.

The train was a sealed vacuum tube maglev affair that only stopped at four stations through the city. His building was one, and his mother’s was the last.

He hadn’t seen his niece in almost a year. The last time he’d visited his sister and her child was after her husband died. Samuel Huggins, a construction worker on the new eighty-five story River View towers, had died due to an automated assembly tool not functioning properly and in effect, crushing him under the weight of the floor it was putting in place. There was now a small bronze memorial plaque affixed to the far wall of the front entrance and security checkpoint. The accident was the only blemish on one of the biggest, near-automated building projects, and was used by political figures as another reason why humans shouldn’t be physically involved in the building process.

As the transport pulled in, the ends of the station closed, the tube opened up, and a strong breeze rushed past Jonathan as the pressure equalized. The doors opened, and a few people got off and went to wait by the exit points. A light flashed, letting him know that he was safe to board. He quickly took a seat and strapped himself in. The doors closed, the tube closed, and a red light inside the train car blinked.

The acceleration was unreal as the magnetically levitated train soon reached its travelling speed of nearly eight hundred kilometers per hour. It maintained this speed for two minutes before slowing down for what would be the last stop before it got to the far end of the city. Despite the distance from his apartment to his mother’s being around fifty kilometers, it felt only like a few blocks away, and the gravitational force from the train’s quick acceleration was exhilarating.

It was hard for him to imagine that the trains used in the city were slow compared to the long run tracks that went from province to province across Canada. He had heard that some of those maglev trains were able to reach speeds of nearly eighteen hundred kilometers per hour, which was over the speed of sound and over two times the speed his own train had reached in his quick jaunt.

Arriving at his mother’s place, he was met by his sister. He barely recognized her at first, and was a little taken back by the weight she had gained. He wondered to himself if she had been depressed. Jonathan knew that when his father died, his mother had been given an extra allowance on her food intake without too much concern, but that was only a temporary exception given to those in bereavement.

A small girl popped her head around her mom’s legs and peered up at him. Jonathan looked down at Sarah. “How are you doing? You’ve grown a lot in the last year.”

Vanessa looked as though she was going to cry. Her eyes began to tear up as she grabbed her brother in a strong hug. “How have you been little brother?”

Sarah smiled and wrapped her arms around Jonathan’s leg. “Did you bring me a present?” she said, in the cute, but annoying way children do when they want something.

Taken back by the bold statement, he responded calmly, “I didn’t know I was supposed to. Is it your birthday?”

Stepping in, Vanessa responded to her daughter, “This visit isn’t about you, and it is definitely not about presents. It is about family, and us all spending time together.” She glanced at Jonathan, still looking as though she was on the cusp of crying. “Because it has been far too long since we all got together.”

She and Sarah stepped aside, and he almost rushed the door to get past them. Being overly sentimental about family wasn’t a trait that Jonathan had inherited.

Vanessa Huggins

Seeing her brother was a happy surprise. She had felt her family drift apart over the weeks, months, and now years since her husband’s death. He was really the glue that had held everyone together, as he organized events and handled all the details that she felt far too overwhelmed to manage.

As Jonathan pushed his way in, Vanessa held her emotions in check, trying to go over her own internal to-do list regarding this event. It was difficult for her, but she promised herself that she wouldn’t get overly emotional.

Bringing her daughter into the living room where everyone had gathered, she took note of the empty carafe sitting on the coffee table. Grabbing it and heading into the kitchen, she took a deep breath. “I can do this…”

Vanessa filled the container and with her free hand, grabbed a few more bottled beverages for people to drink at their leisure. She wanted everything to be perfect, in hopes that they’d all come together more often, and feel more like a family. Her mother was getting up in years, and hadn’t the finances to afford the premium level of healthcare that would see her live another two or three dozen years. It was likely that she’d only be around for a few more years, and that made Vanessa feel inadequate. How could she keep the family together once both the strong leader, her deceased husband, and the matriarch of the family, her mother, both passed away?

Pushing her feelings deep into her gut, she took another deep breath, and putting on a fake smile, returned to the living room.

“So Jon, how has work been?” Vanessa asked.

Staring at his mother, Jonathan replied in something close to a monotone, “There are good days, and there are bad ones. It depends on what I need to get done.”

“You still working in the same position?”

Immediately, the tone of the conversation changed. Jonathan felt on the defensive, and while he was passionate about his work, his feelings of underutilization also led to a strong sense of frustration. All of this emotion was then aimed at his sister. “I’ll have you know that without me the whole company would fall apart. It isn’t like they could find another person that could do what I do as fast as I am able to do it. I know that building better than anyone.”

Vanessa shuddered slightly. She hadn’t meant to hit a nerve, and was quick to respond to try to quell the storm of emotions flowing from her brother, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I am sure you are doing an amazing job. I was just trying to make conversation.”

Adjusting in her seat, she carried on, “I’m still doing much of the same as well. The union where I work has very strict mandates about promoting people. I’ll have to wait until someone either gets approved to have a child, or ends up dying. Neither of which seem likely to happen any time soon.”

Jonathan seemed to relax. Vanessa had hoped that trying to even out their positions would make him less confrontational, and it seemed to work as he began to smile slightly. “At least we both have a job, still,” he said. “I hear the economy is getting so bad they’ve started making double doctorates repair the pedestrian path cleaners.”

“I heard that it’s so bad, they are thinking of replacing all of the Police servicemen with computers and cameras.”

Both of them began to laugh, while Sarah just looked up in confusion and wonderment. Wanting to join in, she added, “I hear there are no jobs for anyone, so they are going to make mommies teach.”

The young girl’s excitement only fed their laughter, and even Vanessa’s mom joined in with a little giggle. Her mother was usually devoid of much noticeable emotion, and so her grin alone brought tears to Vanessa’s eyes.

Donald Southland

Each new day of work came with a whole slew of business meetings. Viewing his schedule, he felt overwhelmed by the end to end meetings that would take up his entire Wednesday.

As his assistant handed him a memory card that included all the relevant information he’d require for the day, Donald glared at him. “A full day of meetings on a Wednesday? Remind me why I shouldn’t just fire you and find someone that understands that in the middle of the week, I shouldn’t be logged to attend eight back to back meetings?”

Donald knew his assistant was doing his best, and that more than half of the meetings he was to partake in were with people from other countries.

“Well, sir, as you know, today is one of the only international travel days this month, so my choices were fairly limited.” Trying to put a smile upon his face, the assistant continued, “Besides, you’ll be happy to know that you’ve been booked to do another public relations circuit this month.”

Donald hated doing public relations campaigns. They usually booked him on television shows hosted by women who didn’t entirely understand the contradiction that made Donald who he was.

The sarcasm dripped off his voice. “Really? That should be so much fun. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go in my place?” It was hard to organize travel papers, so Donald knew his assistant probably had never been outside of the province. He noticed a gleam of excitement in the young man’s face, and remarked, “That was sarcasm. You can go now.”

“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” Turning quickly on the balls of his feet, the assistant rushed out of the room so quickly that the curtains danced in the windows.

Taking a drink, Donald looked over the meeting list. It contained the names of a bunch of groups marketing their products or services. When Donald first started working, he’d enjoyed listening to the various pitches by companies, and much of his wealth was based on the profit made from financing companies with new and innovative projects, but these days, he felt less fulfilled. Most presentations now were just for products that were evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. He felt like he’d seen everything.

However, looking out into the sea of desks, Donald was still proud of all he had built, despite the lack of interest in the way his day was going to unfold.

Eric, a close friend and co-worker, tapped on the door as he walked by. “Meeting time man.”

Rising from his chair, Donald muttered to himself, “Here we go.”

Just beyond the other side of the open office space, the introductions had already started. Donald had included a variety of executives from his company in the meeting, deciding this would give him the dual benefit of having other opinions while reducing the need for him to truly concentrate on the presentation.

Nodding to his staff, he took his place as everyone seated themselves. “So, what have you come to talk to us about today?” he asked, plastering a fake smile on his face.

Richard Jones

Waking up, Richard heard a knock at the door. Stumbling from his reclining chair, he called out into the early morning twilight, “Who is it?”
At first there was no answer. Richard reminded himself that the person on the other side of the door probably wasn’t used to having to call out to identify himself. Most doors could read information from the perspective visitor and display it to those living inside.

Eventually a small nervous voice called out, “I am from MaintCore. I was sent to deliver your task list for today, as well as your travel papers and credits.”

Usually Richard’s boss didn’t enjoy humoring his anti-technology views, requiring him to come to the office at least once a week to pick up information on all of his tasks. Unlocking the door, Richard pulled it open to reveal a young man wearing the company logo. With a look of confusion on his face, he held out various pieces of paper, along with a few pieces of the soy-based polymer that made up his travel papers.
Grabbing them swiftly, Richard looked them over. “Thanks, I appreciate that.”

The young man completed a once over of what Richard was wearing, eyebrows raising at the absence of any technology. “No problem, sir.” Turning to leave, he looked over his shoulder, once more taking a look at Richard, obviously wondering how anyone could live without some form of portable computer.

Looking through the notes, Richard noticed that he had to go across town for an appointment at Eco Enterprises. He was to talk to them about assisting in updating the government buildings downtown, a project that he didn’t completely agree with, but he knew he was the best person to explain the needs of the buildings, both for power consumption and repairs.

Returning to his apartment, he started his morning routine. Jumping into the shower, he filled a small container with cleaning solution and inserted it into one of his brushes. Scrubbing his body clean, he then wiped off the residue with his other brush before drying off. He’d heard stories about people still using water for showering purposes, and wondered how the process would work, and how much waste would be created.

Grabbing his razor, he rotated it over a sharpening stone, and then swept it up and down over a piece of course fabric. With the blade then sharp, he quickly trimmed away the stubble that had grown over the last twenty-four hours. He’d become fairly masterful with a straight blade after doing away with the much easier, more simple disposable razor system he had used as a teenager.

Getting ready for the meeting would take nearly an hour, but Richard felt it was an hour well spent. He took pride in the fact that he dedicated so much time to himself. It gave him a sense of calm and comfort unlike anything else he’d ever experienced.

Finishing his routine, he grabbed a small breakfast from the vending system by the public transportation access terminal, and made his way to the offices owned by Eco Enterprises. It wouldn’t be a long journey, but he knew that the meeting would be long and boring. Once he arrived, he journeyed up to the very top of the building, where the meeting was to be held. As the lift reached the summit he cracked his neck to relieve his frustration.

People scurried around everywhere, everyone looking far too busy, zipping by him far too fast. He couldn’t imagine living each day as though everything was on fire and every second was important.

The board room was long and wide, and after a quick survey, Richard noted that it was larger than his apartment. It was a stunning sight. With over twenty-five chairs, and a large solid table, it made him feel very small.

A man with his hand outstretched entered the room announcing his presence, “Welcome everyone, I hope I haven’t kept you waiting. My name is Donald Southland, and I am the CEO of Eco Enterprises.” He paused for a moment, looking around the room. “I am here to discuss with you all how your companies can work with mine on updating government facilities across this city.”

Donald stood behind his chair. Richard noted how it made him look bigger and stronger than the rest of the people who sat before him, as half his chest rose above the executive style chair at the head of the table.

“Hopefully, you’ve all transferred your proposals to my staff, and they are reviewing them now. I know one of you has a special issue with technology, and if you’ll pass over your proposal, I’ll get someone to take a look at it now.”

Richard slid a file folder across the table containing details regarding the work that he’d done on previous buildings. Everyone turned and looked at him, some in shock, others impatiently. They all had on such perfect, pristine, expensive-looking suits, while he was wearing an older grey suit that had been his staple suit for meetings for nearly a decade.

Donald continued to smile. There was a certain charisma to him that lit up a room, and people quickly shifted their gaze back to him rather than continuing to be appalled by Richard, the “technophobe”.

“Today we will bring the government in line with its people, and prove our country’s resolve to be modern, competitive and ecologically wise. I want to thank you all for coming out here today, and I hope to work with each and every one of you in the coming months.” Donald closed out the meeting much faster than Richard was expecting, and he was taken back by the brevity. It had taken him a while to get to the offices, and it would take him just as long to get home. He quickly became frustrated. Why hadn’t the company just requested that a delivery company bring the proposal?

As others stood up and prepared to leave, Donald took each one by the hand and gave them a hearty handshake. Being the last one in the room, Richard found all of Donald’s attention focused on him. “I have to ask, why were we to come down here at all, if all you wanted were our proposals?”

Donald laughed lightly before responding, “Well, to be honest, I didn’t know I was going to have a full day of meetings to contend with when I asked everyone to come. In twenty minutes, I have to meet with the company accountants to go over budgets for various departments, and that is never a short meeting.” With another laugh, he continued, “Besides, how would you have sent me your proposal otherwise? Physical sheets of data and information don’t fit down a network pipe quite so easily.”

Richard was a little frustrated by the calm, cool attitude of the multi-billionaire. “I just assumed we’d all have a chance to talk and pitch our ideas. Give you a chance to know our respective companies a bit better than just what you see on a proposal.” Not that he minded much, as he hated doing pitches. He was a man made for the trenches, not the office towers.

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