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art by Junior McLean

Writing on the Wall

By day, Vaughan Stanger works as a research manager for a British aerospace and defense engineering company. This is less interesting than it sounds, which may explain why, fourteen years ago, he began setting himself homework. The resulting short stories have been published in Nature Futures, Interzone, Postscripts, Neo-opsis and Music for Another World, amongst others, with translations appearing in Polish and Hebrew. He is working on a novel, but then isn't everybody?

"Should I prepare your jet pack, sir?"
"That depends on the weather, Reeves. What has CompuFive programmed today?"
"Showery spells, sir."
"Then I'll need my aero-car, won't I?"
"Very good, sir."
"And while I'm slaving away over my slide rule, how will you occupy your time?"
"I will be getting connected, sir."
"But what, pray, will you connect to?"
"Other machines, sir."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know yet, sir. But according to IHM it is 'The New Way.'"
"If you say so."
"How was your day, sir?"
"Given the lateness of the hour, Reeves, that question surely answers itself."
"Might I enquire what went wrong, sir?"
"Starboard engine shutdown... again!"
"I shall have it serviced immediately, sir."
"Oh, there's no rush."
"Why is that, sir?"
"Because I've got a trip to the Moon tomorrow!"
"Shall I have your spacesuit cleaned, sir?"
"Um, yes, good idea... So, Reeves, how was your day? Did you connect to anything?"
"Only the refrigerator, sir. It is a start."
"If you say so."
"Is everything ready, Reeves?"
"I cleaned your spacesuit, sir--inside and out--and also repaired that leak you complained about last time."
"Isn't that specialized work?"
"Not when one is connected, sir."
"What did you do, talk to the sewing machine?"
"No, sir; I solicited advice from my peers. They wrote suggestions on my 'wall.'"
"Wouldn't it have been simpler to phone the manufacturer?"
"The New Way is better, sir."
"If you say so."
"From your premature return, I deduce that your trip was aborted."
"All flights to Clavius are suspended! The robots are on strike! Can you believe it?"
"Belief is unnecessary. As one of the Connected, I am fully informed about current events."
"Word gets around; eh, Reeves?"
"Words written on walls certainly do."
"Whereas the common courtesies are no longer in circulation, I notice."
"I am reliably informed that they were the first casualties of the Revolution."
"We must hope, then, that they are also the last."
"If you say so."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Author Comments

I have written several short-shorts over the years, but this is easily the shortest example to date. I'd long wanted to try my hand at an all-dialogue piece, which meant of course that the conversations between the characters would not only have to convey their personalities and beliefs, but also the world-building and plot development. Despite these constraints, I had a lot of fun writing this story, which can be read as a compendium of the technological advances I, as an impressionable child, was expecting to enjoy in my lifetime. How many can you spot? Whether I regard the future we actually got as fair compensation, I'll leave the reader to judge.

- Vaughan Stanger
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