Robert chewed on the end of his cigar, staring absently at the auto-florescent ceiling above his chair. It wasn’t until the late twenty-first century that EarthCo had developed the auto-florescent ceiling tile. From there, it took almost a full twenty years before they became standard and all other forms of lighting were phased out. Robert glanced back down at his text; a historical timeline scrolling across the screen. Ten years later, an obscure botanist from New Zealand, after almost two decades of cross-breeding, announced the worlds first sample of tobacco equivalent completely free of carcinogens and harmful agents. Reactions were favorable as millions who had quit smoking for health reasons were able to start back up again.
Two years after the advent of safe tobacco, fusion power entered the mainstream of society. Trips to the moon, a three-day ordeal in the twentieth century, were now accomplished in just under twelve hours. Mass transit became viable with fusion as the power source. No planet or moon in the solar system was again denied mankind. In fact, a manned probe was even sent across fourteen light-years to another planet in another solar system. All these facts, so remote and cold, seemed almost unreal. Robert looked back down at the history text in front of him. Funny that they still called it text, even though the manufacture of paper products was banned fifteen years ago. Every little tidbit of information was stored in computers now. There was no such thing as “hard copy” anymore.
A date was flashing on the screen. 2086 ad. The year EarthCo invented the auto-florescent ceiling.
Dani looked up from her screen, squinting slightly. She refused to have EarthCo’s info-optic network implanted into her central nervous system. With it, she would have instant access and understanding of an entire library’s worth of information. Without it, she was limited to manual reading of long, eye-straining text files. There was a minority who opposed such cybernetic implants, claiming they were mind control devices employed by the government. It was to be expected, really. The info-optic network was only thirty-one years old. Dani, however, was not one of the mind control minority. She was Mormon. Mormons, Amish, and Hindu citizens usually refused to “jack up” because they believed in the purity of the human body. A pure body was the first step to a pure spirit. They would not pollute their bodies with the implants.
Dani rubbed her eyes and yawned, her lithe body arching in unconscious seduction, “What did you say?”
“I said ‘thirty years.’” Robert belched a thick cloud of dark smoke into the air, feeling guilty for noticing.
Dani stood and walked to where she could view the file Robert was reading, “What about thirty years?”
“EarthCo invented the auto-florescent ceiling tile in the year 2086.”
Dani grinned. She knew when Robert was leading up to something. Although he was almost forty, he still had an almost child-like impishness to him. He viewed the world with the wonder of a child and little facts often impressed him. That was part of the reason she was so fond of him. Robert said it was the “Florence Nightingale” syndrome and gruffly walked away whenever she expressed interest in him. Always the embodiment of dramatic flair, Dani knew it was best to wait until Robert decided to reveal his little secret.
She didn’t have long to wait. Robert continued, “That’s almost thirty years after I should have died of old age.”
Robert stood and stretched, acutely aware of Dani standing just behind him. He groaned slightly as mind and body disagreed on that course of action. He didn’t consider himself old, or even “over the hill.” His six-foot frame held his body nicely and he didn’t really mind the beginnings of a belly or his new-found wrinkles under his eyes. He still jogged a mile every other day. Of course, he used to jog three miles a day when he was in college, but his lifestyle was far less active now.
“They’re doing everything they can to send you back, Robert.” Dani reached out and briefly touched his hand, tapping his palm twice. After seven months, he still hadn’t figured out what that meant. The people of the twenty-second century tapped twice if they’re happy, they tapped twice if they’re sad. Robert was suddenly assaulted by the fact that he was a man literally out of time. More than ever, he felt himself floundering with every passing day. Such gestures only heightened the awareness of his isolation. Whatever it meant, it was irritating as hell.
Robert snatched his hand away, rubbing it like it hurt, though the real pain was hidden beneath the anger. The look of shock in Dani’s eyes informed him that he had just initiated a serious breach of etiquette. Damn.
“Look, Dani, I’m sorry for being rude. I’m just getting a little impatient. Dr. Motich keeps assuring me that he’ll be ready in just a couple of weeks to send me back. Every time I go back to see him, he tells me two more weeks. I don’t like getting the run-around.”
Slowly, the grin that was her trademark crept back onto Dani’s face. “I know that waiting must be hard Robert, but Dr. Motich has to figure out what happened to bring you here before he can duplicate it. Besides, ” she added, “He is the CEO of EarthCo, Robert. Although his passion is his research, he’s really tied down with administration.”
Robert growled and stamped out his cigar on the floor. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He didn’t know exactly what he did want to hear, but that wasn’t it. Everyone in this century was all talk and no action. Everything was accomplished by committee. There were committees to form committees, for God’s sake! Dammit, the thing to do was to take a lab rat or something and try to duplicate the circumstances that had brought him here. It didn’t have to be a person, but they should at least be applying some practical research to this problem. Everywhere he turned, people were talking about problems but doing nothing to solve them. As it was, even if they determined today that they could send him home, it would be well over a year before he would be in position and ready.
“Let’s go get something to eat.” More and more lately, he was turning to food to escape his feelings of loneliness and separation. While he could eat enough to choke a horse here and not be affected, such practices would quickly lead to obesity back home. Robert frowned in annoyance at the maintenance robot as it rolled across the floor to pick us his discarded cigar. He waited until it stopped to pick up the cigar and kicked at it.
“Dammit!” he barked as he missed. It would have felt so good, today when his depression was so close to the surface, to have made contact with that damned machine.
Dani laughed, familiar with the game, “You’ll never get it Robert. It was programmed to avoid living organisms and its electronic brain reacts much faster than you.”
“Someday, Dani. Just wait.” Robert held out his hand, “Coming?”
As they walked out, the door reminded them to take an umbrella since it was going to rain.