Landscape woke up the next morning to natural sunlight streaming onto her bed from the east-facing window in her upstairs single. Well, not her single any more, since she had agreed to not even try to retain it. Why did Chance not want her to have a single?
Even though Landscape had been in this exact room for two straight months, it had nothing in the way of personal touches that made it hers. The closest thing was probably the window itself — Landscape had turned off the screen that shuttered it and swung it out of the way so she could look at the Farm’s real yard, instead of just being able to turn the view to anything she desired — including the camera above that window, so it yielded almost exactly the same view, at least in the daytime. At night, of course, the camera’s night vision gave a lot more rich a view than the glass window did, if less “accurate.”
She laid in bed and stared up at the ceiling, squeezing her sheets in her balled fists, resisting a sudden urge to cry.
Where did that come from?
She got up and put on her clean white coveralls. She gathered up yesterday’s dirty clothes, put her meager collection of possessions into her backpack, pulled the cardboard tube containing the Watterson out from under her bed, and went down the hall to the capsule room, turning at the door to wish a farewell to the plain white room. Goodbye, my friend.
Why did the image of a dark-colored ball gown come into her head just now? Whatever.
There were a half-dozen empty capsules in the girls’ room, so she got to choose low or high. All the capsules at middle height were taken. She put her possessions and painting into an empty drawer and considered the option. Either was equally awkward for her, so she tended to make this sort of decision on how she thought her fat ass would look as she waddled her way into her bed. Head height, or bending way, way over? She sighed. Down low is probably less obvious.
She flipped the label on the bottom capsule on the far end from the green “open” sign to the red “occupied,” and threw her sheet and pillow into the tube.
Well, there was nothing hard about moving. It was being at the destination that sucked.
Three months before Landscape came to live at the farm, her dad had looked healthier than he had in years. He had been a big bear of a man, six feet tall and pushing three hundred pounds a couple of years before. He was technically obese, but he walked miles every day, even before the decline, when Americans never walked more than a hundred meters unless it was crossing an oversized parking lot from an unfortunate spot availability. He had a healthy shock of unruly silver-white hair that he kept cut short enough that on other people it couldn’t help but be neat and even, but on him was just a happy collection of cowlicks. Everybody called him “Pops.” Everyone except Leslie, who called him “Pop.”
Pops was a fixer. The world was full of handy machines, from laundrybots to stations to the makers that printed all the plastic parts that kept all the other machines running. These machines were great, and took care of the hundreds of jobs that people used to spend their lives doing, better and more efficiently than people could. And if there’s one thing machines can always be counted on for, it’s breaking down.
Before the decline, if a machine broke down, you just bought a new one and thew the old one away. Why not? Who cared how many kilowatt-hours it took to ship an appliance from rural China to Atlanta? Energy was almost free. Who cared how many kilowatt-hours it took to dig a hole to mine the tons of iron ore, or process them into steel for the frame, or to stamp all the parts? Energy was almost free.
When energy started becoming harder to come by, people became less likely to replace their broken machines with new ones. They wanted to repair them, but skilled repairmen were rare and valuable. Worse, the parts were often proprietary and were so expensive that even a tiny part could cost more than the hours of labor it took to figure out what was broken, remove, and replace it.
3d printers changed a lot of that. Annoyed customers posted the models for useful parts to the net, and a couple of court cases affirmed their right to repair their own stuff, and not be completely dependent on the original manufacturer to supply all the parts. As the ability to make the parts spread on the net, so did the knowledge about how to diagnose and fix all sorts of problems.
Just because the knowledge was on the net did not mean that every owner of a machine could fix it, and that’s where Pops came in. He was known around Portland as an affordable and dependable fixer who could make your broken machine go again.
“Before you were born, I’d been on call for emergencies, and I’d dash out to fix bots at all hours,” he told little Leslie. ”I had to raise my fees again and again to keep a little free time for myself, but still I was working far too much.” He always hugged her at this point in his story. ”Once you came I stopped letting people tell me what to do and when. I travel the streets, banging on doors. I help people who need help and don’t know where to turn. It may not pay as well as some things, but some things are more important than a few extra kiwis.” At this point he’d always look meaningfully at Leslie, so she knew that important thing was her.
She never minded that Pops would sometimes come home late, smelling like alcohol. He always let her know if he wasn’t going to make it home at all.
When he started to lose weight, everybody complimented him on his healthy new glow. His knees hurt less, and he found it easier to get up in the morning. His energy level didn’t go up, but it was pretty high to start with, so that was no surprise.
In the dozen or so times over his life that he had dedicated himself to losing weight, he had been in a constant state of hunger. Yes, the pounds came off, but it was hard for him to summon the energy for his long walks, and he was grouchy to his customers and friends. Eventually he gave up. He frequently told people, “I’d rather be a jolly fat man than a skinny son-of-a-bitch.”
Now Pops ate the same foods he always had, perhaps with a little less energy. This time it was easy, effortless. The pounds came off, but he was never ravenous. He sometimes got full before cleaning his plate, which was always kind of a surprise. He wondered if something had changed in his diet or activities to let him lose weight with so little effort. He couldn’t think of anything, but he didn’t try too hard — gift horses and all that.
The occasional stomach ache was easy to ignore, and certainly not worth mentioning to anybody else. The compliments at his slimmer physique made his self esteem even higher, and he spread his enthusiasm for life to everyone he met. Nobody mentioned that his rosy complexion had turned a little orange, or maybe they didn’t notice.
Leslie started to worry about him when he she heard him vomiting in the apartment’s tiny bathroom one night. ”Are you OK?”
“Fine, fine,” he said. ”Go back to bed.”
The next day he’d looked tired, and old, and his skin seemed kind of yellow. ”You should stay home today,” she told him.
“Oh, I’m fine,” he told her. But he stayed home nonetheless, vomiting another two times that day. He knew he should eat, but he just didn’t feel like it. ”I’ll run over to Portland General in the morning if I don’t feel better.”
In the morning he hadn’t felt like running. Leslie had wanted to call an ambulance. Pops said he could walk, but he compromised on a RedVan. She went with him, and hung out and held his hand as they prodded and poked him and took blood and urine and stool samples, feeding them into the analyzers for the machines to diagnose.
At last they were invited into a tiny office to hear the results. The docs looking at the readouts looked grim. ”The tests suggest that you may have pancreatic cancer,” they told Pops.
“That sounds bad,” he said with a grin. ”How sure is it?”
“It’s not certain. We’ll run some more tests to be sure. With luck it’ll be a misdiagnosis.”
Leslie did her own research on the net that evening when they got home. It was almost never a misdiagnosis. The scans confirmed that it was Stage 4, and had metastasized and spread throughout his system. They gave him drugs to deal with the nausea and jaundice. They explained his options. They could do surgery, but it wouldn’t help at all. They could do chemo and radiation, and it might help. A little. For a while. Pops said he’d think about it, and he went home, and he and Leslie did some quick research on the net.
The next day he talked to the docs again. Again they started explaining his options. Pops interrupted them, cutting to the chase. ”I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
The younger doctor opened his mouth a couple of times as if he’d thought of something to say, but he finally closed it. The older one looked him in the eye, judging Pops to be a man who didn’t deserve false hope. ”Yes,” he said.
“Damn,” said Pops.
Leslie started to cry.