Charles Hunter took a last look at the white walls and empty rooms of his authentic 20th century five room ranch style replica. He stepped through the door and closed it quietly, but it echoed like a crash of doom. He was listening to that door close for the last time. His old life was over, a life which had once been so full, and so perfect, that he no longer wanted to live without it. Happy voices, love, and sharing, were all far behind him. They died when Delilah died. Irretrievable, unbearable, unforgettable.
So much of Delilah had filled the house. The house and the memories of her, were inseparable. So to end his misery he was now getting rid of his cherished house. Delilah deserved to be remembered, and she would be until his dying days, but he needed to endure his pointless life or end it.
With a shuddering sigh Charles turned and walked across the lawn to sit on the lush green grass, his grass. He had pampered that lawn for so long, so lovingly. Few people actually remembered how to grow things, it had taken him months of trial and error to coax his lawn into life. The water alone had cost him a fortune. It was the last remaining real lawn on the block. The others had gone to synthetic grass which grew once and froze at the perfect height, flexible and realistic forever even though they were clinically dead.
Charles stood and walked to the neighborhood com center. He plugged his card into the taxi call box and waited until it verified his transaction. Charles heard the hiss of an air propelled hover board approaching from the east end of the street. There were no real streets, of course, it was an old word which held little meaning in a flying society.
He watched a neighbor kid float up the plasticrete walkway. The small boy waved on the way by. Charles waved in return. He realized sadly that he didn’t know the boy’s name. Delilah would, she knew everyone.
Charles glanced back at his home and saw that the preassigned holographic “for sale” sign had already sprung up from the tiny projector planted in his lawn.
“You greedy bastards!” he hissed under his breath. The house was no longer his, it became their property the moment he stepped off the lawn. Oh well, that was the past, now he must look toward the future.
The high pitched whine of an air car drew his attention to the west. He looked up at the checkered taxi and waved. The taxi settled on the lawn, obliterating the holographic sign for a moment. The side swung up and Charles stepped in. He was alone in the craft, which wasn’t surprising. He didn’t expect a live driver, they only came with limos. The taxi lifted off the ground and the sign reappeared as Charles watched, with his hand on the window, as if saying goodbye to his old house.
“Where too?” the dashboard suddenly asked.
“Raybeam, huh? Very well, it’s your brain.
“Your voice sounds familiar, who is this?” Charles began showing some signs of life.
“Operator 487, out of Northeastern. Patrick Reque. I’ve driven for you before, I recognize your pin number. With several million addresses to remember, my job requires a photographic memory.”
“Got time to chat?”
“Sure, I only have two other cabs on line right now. What’s up?”
“Have you had many drops at Raybeam?”
“Me? Hell no. Most of their clientele are old timers, 21st century defrosts with no job skills and no rights. They go right from cryonics to the RERE building in black trucks. I’ve never seen a volunteer from the general populace.”
“Why should you object? It’s not too different from what you do.”
“Yeah it is, Pal, very different. For one thing I don’t go into a tank for years on end, I take this remote gear off and go home at night. For another,” the voice turned disgusted, “they don’t shove those tubes up my ass and down my throat. I take normal breaks, just like everybody else. It’s different, pal, believe me.”
“Yeah, I guess it is. But the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.”
“If you say so. Say Charlie, there are a few openings here at Checkered, I could put a word in for you if you want.”
“No, but thanks. I want to escape, I’ve opted for remote exploration.”
“ReEx, huh? Ok, you’re here. But keep my offer in mind. Operating a plastic dolly on another planet won’t fix anything.”
“I will remember your offer and thanks again. Take an extra something off my account, I won’t be needing it for a few years.” “Well in that case, I will, thanks.”
Charles stepped out and looked at the mile-high building disappearing into the clouds overhead. He knew there would be a series of transmission dishes at the top of that tower, just beneath the lower reaches of space. The dishes had originally been used for teleportation stations. Teleportation had been a new 22nd century fad which ended only five years before. Half the world, including Charles and his new bride, had taken a trip in a teleporter, just to say they’d used one.
The technical aspects of teleportation had been a closely-guarded secret until one day a Terminalist, known as a hacker in the 20th century, who was also an electrical engineer, broke into the IB&C files and downloaded a secret set of teleporter schematics. He found that teleportation was based on the principle of destroying the original person at the point of origin and recreating an exact duplicate at the destination point. He passed the word that teleportation meant murder. Sure, a copy showed up at the destination point, but the original man or woman was destroyed by the beam. Since the electrical engineer recently took a ride in the teleporter, he had IB&C prosecuted for his own murder. Eventually, he won. The resulting uproar had put IB&C out of business and their shareholders in debt forever.
Raybeam Electronics and Robotic Exploration, or RERE, bought up much of IB&C’s prior assets and now owned this buildings, which had been IB&C’s main headquarters in Southeastern. Charles would soon be hooked into one of those dishes. He glanced wistfully at the departing taxi turning for a flight back to Northeastern. It was tempting. If it weren’t for Delilah…
He entered the huge building and stepped into the lift. The ride up took nearly 20 minutes. The doors opened onto a glass and stainless steel wonderland.
“Can I help you?” a real woman asked.
“I’m Charles O. Hunter, I called last week. I have an appointment with recruiting.”
That started a flood of activity. He was ushered into a higher office and set down in front of a remotely operated screen to fill out computer forms. The first form was a bond of secrecy, the second waived all rights to legal redress. The taxi job began to look better and better as he wadded through the pile of forms flickering on the holographic screen. After three hours the screen went blank and a young man came into the room to escort him out. In three more hours he was stripped and tubes and permanent electrodes were inserted all over his body. In two more hours his eyes were sealed shut and he was lowered into an oxygenated nutrient tank. The tank would be his new home for the next three years. He couldn’t wait, it had been a long day, he was exhausted. The started a countdown, just like the old Nasa films. Charles held his breath until they reached zero.
Charles opened his eyes and looked down at his dusty, silicone plastic body. It had been in storage for a long time, there was a coating of dirt on his muscular synthetic body which would need to be steam cleaned off while he was till numb. He stepped into the sterilizer and waited as his new body was cleansed, inside and out. In a moment the water and steam stopped and he stepped out to see the lightly tanned rubber skin gleaming and new in the pale blue sunlight. He glanced up at the window and saw the edge of a huge blue sun seething overhead. It was a frightening sight, one which would take a lot of getting used too.
Charles searched for appropriate clothing and saw a young woman stand up quickly and hurry from a glass enclosed office.
“Hi, who are you, I wasn’t expecting anybody?”
“Back on Earth, I’m Charles Hunter, a new man. Who are you?” “Eileen Baker. Welcome to the Atlantis project.”
“Thanks, I guess. Couldn’t RERE send me out a new body?”
“No need, these last for a thousand years or more. Your’s is barely two hundred years old and I just overhauled it myself. Besides, teleporting robots cost energy, and energy is money you know.”
“They teleport them?” Charles asked in surprise.
“Sure, that’s why they took over IB&C’s old equipment. Since the teleporters can’t be legally used on humans, they send out robots for remote operation. Didn’t they tell you anything?” “They had me in the tank in less than ten hours. All I know is that I’m supposed to report to the head of the Atlantis project, a Doctor Baker… you’re her,” he said belatedly, shaking her hand. “What are we doing out here anyway?”
“Energy collection and transmission. What’s your specialty?” “Computer programming and operation.”
“Not much use to us, I’m afraid, 21st century computers are so ancient that the principles aren’t even similar. I believe they were mechanical, weren’t they?”
“I’m not a defrost, I’m a volunteer. I’m from the 22nd century.”
“No shi… I mean, I’m happy to meet you. I’m a volunteer too. Until you came along I was the only one. Now I have somebody who I can relate too. Well, by all means, we can certainly use you. Right now I’m trying to puzzle through the alignment and conversion process, that should be right up your alley.”
“I can look,” Charles shrugged and followed her as she started for the front door.
Eileen stopped suddenly and held up her hand. “I have to warn you, Goliath can be very intimidating, prepare yourself for a shock.”
“I’ve seen part of it through the skylight.”
“Not even the same thing. Are you ready?”
“Sure,” Charles impatiently opened the door and was surprised to feel the knob in his hand as realistically as he could feel his own hand. His remote sensors were beginning to wake up.
“Hey, I can feel that.”
“Sure. Your body was desensitized while it was in storage, sometimes it takes a while to get your senses back. Can you smell and taste yet?” she asked as she stepped through the door.
“No not…” Charles stood in stunned silence and hunched his back against the huge mass filling the sky. The blue sun looked so close he felt he could reach out and touch it. He straightened slowly as he watched the solar flares sending tentacles out into space. Some reached for the planet, but never made it. He could see the black swirls on the sun and the swirling, boiling clouds of burning gas churning on the surface.
“I told you, scary isn’t it? Just remember, your body is not real, you can not be harmed here. If for some reason you are destroyed, you will simply wake up in the tank back on Earth.”
Charles nodded and tried to smile. He liked the look of Eileen in the bluish light which gave her a ghostly tint around her cheeks and hair. Her clothing had changed colors and the roundness of here chest was accented by the blue light and darker shadows which served to outline every luscious curve of her body. She had a small waist and a sexy, prominent ass. It was the kind of ass that men loved, and lusted after. Charles suddenly scoffed at himself, remembering that neither of them was real. As the taxi driver had said, they were plastic dollies.
“Your eyes have been slightly altered to make this bluish light seem more natural to you. A human eye would be nearly blind here, this is similar to the black lights popular in the 20th century.”
“What about sun burn?” Charles asked as he suddenly realized that he was still naked.
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry,” she looked down and giggled. “We’ll get you some clothes. It looks like your body is waking up in more ways than one.”
Charles glanced down and quickly covered himself.
“I didn’t know a robotic body could… respond like that.”
“Oh yeah, we have some very interesting recreation around here. It seems that once people step into a remotely operated body, they drop all inhibitions. They seem to feel that they actually aren’t doing anything, since nobody is really here. It’s a dream state thing. You know, anything goes in a dream.”
Charles nodded, still covering himself. He was very aware of the feeling of his hand on his cock. It was highly sensitive.
“Oh come on Charles, it’s not really your body, you know. Follow me, we’ll get those clothes.”
“It feels real enough to me,” he followed, still covering himself.
“If you want to see some really confused people, you should see the ones who can’t get a same-sex body. There are guys around here who I’d swear are in love with themselves. You were lucky, you got a male body.”
“I wouldn’t mind being a lesbian,” Charles said as he strode along behind her, watching the gentle sway of her ass.
“You and a hundred others. I never saw the attraction, myself. Lesbians don’t have 8 inches of meat between their legs.”
Charles groaned, grabbing himself as he followed.
Charles quickly fell into the routine of things. In the next week he met most of the other two hundred occupants of the Atlantis complex. Some he didn’t like, most were friendly, though a bit strange with their 21st century mentalities. He soon understood what Eileen meant about talking to somebody who understood what she was talking about. He repeatedly heard resentment over the reorganization of the United States, where all interior cities, roads, and private dwellings were destroyed to make room for farm lands. Eastern and Western were constructed and the new mega-complexes were built from one end of both coasts to the other. To Charles this and frequent references to the underground transit tubes were ancient history. The others talked of them as if they were happening now. Charles sought out Eileen most of the time. They got along well and Charles wondered what Eileen’s real body looked like back on Earth. Whenever he asked about it she changed the subject. But he was certainly attracted to her synthetic body. Still, his post-marriage guilt kept him celibate.
Once Charles senses truly awoke he thoroughly enjoyed the experience of remote exploration in more ways than one. There was a scent to the air at the Atlantis project which was thoroughly intoxicating and enjoyable. It was partially from the growing things on the unknown planet, but the trace elements in the air had much to do with it. He took the time to fly, swim, fish, and explore, usually with Eileen at his side. For the first time since Delilah’s death, he truly began go live again.
“Charles, drop that circuit board and follow me. It’s rec time.”
“Eileen, I’m right in the middle of something,” Charles said in exasperation.
“Fuck that. I’ll make it an order, if you like.”
“You would,” he mumbled, dropping the board with a force that made her cringe. “I’m all yours.”
“Yes you are. I have some good news, the zero gravity chamber is now up and working. It’s in Annex 12,” she pointed to the far end of the complex.
“Wonderful. I can lose my breakfast and never leave the ground.”
“You can lose your virginity and easily leave the ground,” she giggled.
“We are going to have a space fuck, and this time I’ll not take no for an answer. Inside, mister,” she shoved him through the door. She tapped on the keypad just inside the door. “Access blocked” began flashing.
“It’s all ours,” she smiled.
“I told you, I used to be married,” he said, reaching for the door.
“And I’m telling you, your post-traumatic stress is caused by your sexual repression. It’s not healthy and I can’t allow it to continue. Fuck me, and that IS an order.”
“And if I don’t?”
“You will be discontinued before nightfall,” she said with finality.
“I’ll be what?”
“You will be turned off and eventually replaced.”