The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your refreshed and relaxed host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the ninth installment.
Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds
And now, the story continues:
THE AUTOMATIC MARLBORO - SECTION III
There's a gazebo on Michael's Hill. If you sit on the roof you can see clear across campus, from the southern Marineris cliffs all the way to the broad and glittering shores of the Future Sea.
That's what I'm doing: sitting on the roof.
From way up here the boundaries of the old domes are obvious in the architecture below. When you're in the streets it all seems to blend, but from above the transitions are abrupt. Move your head -- one blink takes you from pioneer days to the modern era. Low Earthish structures on one side, soaring towers on the other. Tradition and ambition.
It's really weird how small and short-lived people are, and how big our lives seem when we're in their trenches. Overwhelming, our mammal trivia.
The election's coming to a head so there are colourful signs everywhere I look. I've been too busy losing all my dignity and friends and purpose to bother choosing a party to vote for.
But I do have to make a choice. An important one.
It shouldn't even be a choice, but it is. Professor Cuthbertson's expecting it. My heart starts to hammer as I let myself down from the gazebo roof and drop onto the lawn. I can't put it off any longer.
As instructed, we have laid waste to our budget. Our staff allocation has been dropped to two. I've submitted my report. Now the professor will see me in person so he can authorize my recommendation and make it official.
Pulse will get the axe.
I'm shaking as I cross the quad. Change is difficult. But I'm making things better. Air has a lot of good points. She's looking ahead. She's responsible. Why does it feel so awful? I know I'll never be able to look him in the eye again.
But I have to put the project first. That's not really something I can do anything about, technically.
Pulse is holding us back.
I am a total anus.
Professor Logos Cuthbertson is uncharacteristically mobile. He's jamming data wafers and viewing plates into boxes, stacking the boxes on his desk and labeling them illegibly. His broad forehead glistens with sweat. He doesn't look at me but that isn't unusual. To his boxes he says, "Marlboro Siemens. Yes?"
"I came about the, um, budget review."
"Forget about it. Whatever you recommended has been authorized. Do you have a car?"
I blink. "What? No."
"Get yourself a car. Pack your things. Get out of Huo Hsing. You've seen the results."
I shrink back out of the professor's way as he bustles around the cramped office, eyes searching the shelves. "What results?" I ask...
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