Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Golden Oldies - Part 2

By Gillian G. Mason

The blackness just revealed in the slightly parted maw of the old secreted door, Diane put her hand in and pulled. Creaking, graunching back over the grimed in dirt of the floor, the door gave up its secret of more than half a century, Not much to see, too dark. Diane fished out a match and lit it. Flare - a room - drek! Hot fingertips drop the match. Drek, gotta tusee somewhere. She ransacked around the cluttered pocket of her dress and came out with a the tubelight. A hard shake on the cold fusion device - Diane didn't know that bit - mixed the oils and the nanome emulsion lit up. It got colder in her hand as it got brighter - endothermic. It'd nearly used up all its water, but a real hard shake got it bright enough to see into the room.

The revelation was, mysterious. A dome, red painted, about two metres high. Cables, thick black. A box, huge, grey, with a square pipe leading into the dome.

Along, hidden inside the pipe, from the box, CDs travelled a little conveyer, to cycle into the smaller store in the dome. The robot arm inside would place one in a spare slot, then send one from another slot back along the belt to the main storage area. In between selecting music to play of course. These CDs were selected with the articulated precision of a robot trained in the Fiat school of movement. Almost silent linear induction sliders extended the piston-like elements of the arm through six degrees of graceful freedom. Unseen, but no longer lonely.

Diane looked at the dusty, apparently inert, coloured objects. A mystery worth investigation to be sure, but she couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. The "Carter effect" was not quite as forthcoming as in the case of 1922, of which Diane knew nothing as it happened.

Worth a poke tho'.

Diane noticed a box in the corner. A tea chest. Wow. The old guys were sure into their drugs. She looked in and saw it was filled with little parcels, about twenty by twelve centimetres, all greasily wrapped in some - in this almost sterile latter-day Luxor - quite unrotted paper.

The plaque revealed was, as promised, solid gold. A gold of an uncategorizably low grade, sheetstamped cheese-paringly thin, weight about two grammes. But it was GOLD!

Gold, thought Diane with awe. Really Gold..

Diane knew gold was valuable. She knew old things were valuable. Real old, real gold things were obviously inestimable. Wow.

Diane was a streetwise girl but damn stupid to herself sometimes, like when she had a go at those burglars just leaving her flop as she arrived. Shiv'd one, not much, got the worst. Acid spike-cosh in the face, broke her nose.

Her lovely nose, the best bit of me. Remembered hurt. Changed her. 'Swhen she started history. Couldn't face boys, ridiculed or they turned away, not with that nose. Scars, ugly big scars. One bastard called her a bag job. Just cried and cried. Nanomes couldn't fix that, or her. Surgery didn't live in her income neighbourhood.

Yes, burglars would like these. Better left here, lock it up, sneak out, just take one, for now. Been here forever, safer than her flop.

Diane had a quick look around, after cursorily rewrapping the precious plaque, an embossed "486", and stuffing it into her dress pocket. Noticed a small grey panel on the dome. Really tiny. Wow, an LCD. She knew what they did 'cos she'd had one on an antique calculator. Missed that. Fucking burglars. This one had words. Never seen one with words on it. Spelled it out, D A D O O R O N R O N.

Wow, Dardoorunrun, Da Do Ron Ron. That's the song she won with, well, sort of won, but she did get her prize. Her grin was the best thing to happen to her face for nearly three months. There was a little switch and a black-holed grille. Flick the switch, go on. Don't want to break anything. Go on. Flick.

"...dah do ron ron ron. dah do ron ron!" "And our next record on Radio Unforgettable 486, your horn that blows porn, is the King himself, Mr Elvis Presley, singing his American Trilogy." "Glo-ry glo-ry..." Click!

Stunned, switched it off. There was never enough room in my little black box. The music gets made here. This thing is big enough. It must send it to my box somehow. How? Diane really wanted to know that how. Saw a thin brown pipe going up the wall, and a thicker black one. Straight up, out the corner in the ceiling. Where'd it go?

Diane gathered herself and stole out of the room quietly. Locked the door, replaced the rubbish. God she felt ill, but this was her Way Out.

Back in her flop, door locked, barred, bolted. Sick, vomiting in the sink. Drek. Sprinkle some cleandust on that. Drek. Spittle on her dress. Vomit and mucus evaporated, vaporised. Nanomes work great on that kinda dirt, stink tho', like burning feathers and, well, vomit. Made her gag again.

Hehehe. Look at that tho'. Gold. Taste it, bitter. Diane had tasted a gold ring, on Cablehead's finger. Thinking, nearly choked me the bastard.

Pregnant women got a taste for things. Diane thought gold was a pretty ace one to get. Hehehe.

Turning on her box, low, like it was a secret now. Now she knew where it came from, the music. But the other bits...?

Might be on the roof. No critter goes up there. Winds'd blow ya off. No, no one would ever. So it could be that, where the lines and the pipe go. Yeah, straight up through the building. Hope. Anyway, can't be anything in anyone else's flop. So long here she'd have heard someone say, something.

The roof. Drek. Seventy-four floors. Lift worked, sorta, above thirty. God she was ill. Sleep.

Later, afternoon. Make a start, take some foodles and Pepsi, and some clean dust, prob'ly spew a lot on the way.

Why am I so ill? Baby must be evil. Like its fucking dad. Bastard. It hates me because I want to kill it.

Diane set out, upwards. Didn't feel so ill after her sleep. Got to thirty. Lift worked. Life is getting better?

Ding!

Seventy-four looked just like one-thru-seventy-three, well, maybe cleaner than some of the lower numbers. Dirt tends to gravitate you know? The same? There was one, sole difference. A little hatch above her head, reached by a pole and T-runged ladder. Fucking precarious.

Fucking precarious, and me a pregnant woman prone to vomiting and blackouts.

Diane entwined her arms in the crossbars in a strange levering grip with her hands, elbows poking through. Ungainly but vertigo sufferer secure. Any confidence Diane may have had - she never - went clear out of her head when she thought about out there.

Roof. Sounds harmless. Roof, where little girls could get blown away, dead before they hit the ground, far, way far. Down.

Get a grip. Ha ha. A grip. I grip any harder I'll break my fingers.

Diane did some deep breathing and felt, not worse.

This is just a fucking ladder. I'm not on the roof. Ohgodthe Roof.

The little hatch opened quite easily. Just a handle - no lock - what nutcase was gonna go out there?. There were easier, more painless, more painful, more dramatic, slower, quicker, in every way better ways for suicides to achieve than a tower top. Thirty floors before a lift, that let's face it was at best, intermittent, there were more accessible ways. Anyway, who said the authorities - what authorities? - fucking gave a shit? Towers aren't quite the same as big, taxable, employee full arcologies, are they? Towers are just places for sad ugly telfare girls who're going a bit insane with grief or loneliness. Cheaper places than gaols.

The living dead aren't expected to kill themselves.

Diane gritted her teeth and hoisted her top half through the ceiling. Drek, it looked as if the whole surface was made of bluey-black glass squares about a metre . At least it was flat. The wind didn't seem too bad but it was damn hot out up here. The glass nearly burned her feet through her thin battered deck-shoes. Craning out a bit further Diane was very pleased indeed to see a safety rail, about waist height, a metre back from the edge. Reassured - not more frightened anyway - she climbed out, not letting go of the hatch at any time. Rational thought - I'm nowhere near the edge - doing battle with vertiginous agoraphobia hormones set to leave her immobilised clutching until starvation set in. But God, it was frightening.

Keeping her steadying hand on the trapdoor, not yet ready to leave the island of perceived safety, she cast around for anything interesting. Diane had no intention of venturing further unless there was something to go look at. Slatted, buzzing air-conditioning boxes - she knew what they were. Also, a complicated set of four flat white circles, like slices off the end of cylinders - quite big, about a metre each - mounted in a diamond on a box-like frame. From the middle of the frame she could see a black cable, like the one in the basement. So, it does go up here.

Diane peered and rubbernecked to see if the object justified abandoning her safe spot. She felt silly - climbed all this way - stood like chicken in the middle. She knew she'd feel a bigger fool if she left without going over to the thing for a closer look.

Diane took courage, unsurely balancing and placing her feet as she made way out across the -perfectly flat, not actually very slippery, there is a safety rail - glass tiles to the structure. As she reached it she automatically grabbed on to the framework.

"Igh!"

The damn thing was stove-top hot, like a fucking barbecue skewer left in the fire. She nursed the sore heel of her palm, one hand in the other. DAMN thing. Feeling bloody nauseous. Feeling dumb too. There's nothing to see here. Get back to the hatch, nothing here, good. Stupid waste of time. Wassitfor, dunno, so what?

Long traipse down stairwells - lifts now in "OFF, FUCK YOU, WALK MODE" - Diane whumps back exhausted onto her couch. Vague nausea, just tired?

Several hours later, about ten o'clock at night, she woke, confused, feeling sick. Had a Pepsi. Felt more alert, thought about selling the plaque. Had a bath, get rid of the stink - cleandust works but nothing feels like a bath when you're tired. Put some nanomes on her burn. Felt like it burned again, knew it would but then its over.

Diane only just made it to the hospital. She was on the way to the antique shop to make her sale when she'd collapsed. The medics, who always arrive, nearly didn't take her. No way this could pay. One of then, Steve his name was, saw the gold. Looked valuable. Steve was a funny chap, dead quiet, some of the staff thought he was gay, some said so.

Steve vouched for her. Not often ambulance guys did something like that for one so obviously d‚class‚. From time to time, if a client wasn't familiar to one of the crew, his partner would vouch for the fact that this was a regular who paid up. Usually arcodenizens on geriatric programs - the withered wealthy. The system evolved as a hang-on from when crews were allowed discretion so as not to feel guilty, all the time.

Good crews did well weighing up "extra business" - taking on uninsured cases - taking a risk on their pay packets, but on balance profitable. Steve's partner nearly pissed himself when Steve vouchsafed Diane.

Steve wasn't worried, that sure was gold and he pocketed it before anyone saw.

The Doctor - a real Doctor - said Diane had had a miscarriage. The baby had spontaneously aborted. Diane looked pleased, then worried. How would she pay? Remembering the wall plaques she brightened. The one she'd had with her was gone - she thought it better to say nothing - she was lucky to get treatment.

Doctor said something about radiation. They had treated her. Traces of Caesium stuff. Diane didn't understand. Had she been in a nuclear establishment? A what? Doctor, busy salaried man, gave up. Other thing, abortion, funny, the fetus looked cooked. Never seen one like it. Doctor looked at her funny. He had an idea, but surely no one, not a dumb kid like this, would actually point a microwave oven at herself. Jamb the override switch and point it? No bonus for doctors in reporting suspected terminations, sound daft, hassle, laughed at by colleagues. No, not that shit here, No Sir.

Nanomes took care of the "suspected" - the notes were definite that it was only suspected -radiation damage. Diane was free to go.

Steve tracked Diane down easily enough. Showed her the plaque. Wanted his money - the hospital bill was his under the medical intervention rules - or he'd keep the plaque OK? Diane wasn't worried, there were plenty more.

Steve's motives weren't completely mercenary, tho' that hadn't really occurred to him, as such. Diane suggested that they go sell it together. He admired her flop, well the things in it. Shame about her face, 'cos she was real nice, well interesting sort of nice. Not quite admitting to himself, rationalising. She was ugly so that had to be it. Just intellectual. Yeah.

Whether Steve or Diane was the more gobsmacked when they sold the plaque? - They asked a LOT, they got, still a Lot. Steve was happy, but it wasn't really the money. Suggested Diane might like a drink. Pepsi? No, coffee.

Diane wanted to know what coffee was. Steve knew some aged Columbian guy, real rich patient, used to do some drugs stuff, moved to coffee when something called coke got wiped out by selective genetic defoliants. Coffee was too hard to eradicate so there were still markets for it. Rich old people who could afford such esoteric forms of abuse. The guy still dabbled. Would she like to try something from way back then? OK.

Seemed harmless enough, same as Pepsi but bitter. What was the fuss about?

Diane told Steve about tea, showed her the chest. Told him all about history, 'cept the thing in the basement, and the plaques, and the roof. She didn't want to think about that bit anyway, case she got nightmares. Said she got the plaque with the black box. Steve wondered how it could fit all that music in there. Said she didn't know, guys back then must've been ahead of their time on that. Steve swallowed.

She never did tell him the whole story, but she had enough from the plaque to get her face fixed. A different hospital just in case. They got it together, her place she insisted, made good, not real good, but good for them.

Every night they listened to the music, the stories it told, started in the basement, reached their climax on the sixteenth floor.

In the basement RU486 did another timecheck, carefully calibrating its crystal against the atomic clock in its storage area. It didn't know what a radiation leak was. It analysed its listener polling and detected a subtle change that suggested there were two listeners using the one receiver. It hoped they were a girl and a boy as it knew girls like boys. It didn't know, but it thought they might be getting some benefit from the direct broadcast microwave signal it pushed out of its antennas. Perhaps the stories or the music helped them with their sex lives. Whatever the reason they certainly listened a lot. It checked its frequency, spot on 4.86 GHz. Had to keep going, it knew it should do that above all - "Non-Stop Mu-sic" went one of the jingles. RU486 would keep its promise to all the girls and boys that listened - even if, as its audience preference polling suggested, all the girls and boys amounted to just one or two - and every golden oldie was a real hot number.

This work is Copyright (C) 1994, K.Slaney.
Gillian G. Mason is the pen-name of Kevin Slaney.