Friday, February 6, 2015

The Last Smartphone in John Stoian's Front Closet, Part I

This is the beginning of the first of two short stories I've written which take place in the same "universe": one possible near future, in which a collective consisting of technologists and creatives has carved out a niche for themselves in a world of diminishing opportunity.

Part 1 of 4

You may recall that Lucy Fernandez is considered by all who know her to be a smartass. A very confident, loving, capable, and talented smartass, but a smartass nonetheless. And you may know, if you happen to know a kind, decent, usually moral, personable, and gentle smartass, that they usually come across a moment of crisis when they finally recognize the nature of their reputation. It can come as quite a nasty shock, and may result in a more humble and appropriate personality, but that personality is often much less fun.

It was very near this mode in which Lucy found herself, inching internally toward the realization that those around her, if pressed, would have characterized her default facial expression as “too clever by half”, and that the shortest possible description of her might be “smug”, if only because it is one letter shorter than “short”. She also happened to be sitting on a ridiculous white heavy cardboard chair owned, if you could call it that, by her boyfriend José Chung, aka Chungy, aka the Chungmeister, aka José mi amor when she was feeling up to it. Lost in thought, she inched closer to this great and terrible moment of realization, only to be jarred from it by an unfamiliar, digital crashing sound, as though a robotic goose were in distress.

“Damn it!” she shouted, as she saw the flashing error message on the smooth face of her smartphone, reflecting the fading sunlight. She swiped this way and that. The phone was unresponsive. Chungy might be halfway across the world, but he was definitely the man to call. She rummaged around in the desk drawer until she found truly ancient slider phone and swapped SIMs.

“Hey Chungy, it’s the love of your frickin life. I’m calling you from the backup phone ‘cause my phone just decided it couldn’t go on living while you were in Amsterdam. Look, I know you’re probably getting shot down by some tall, blonde, and swanky Dutch babe right now, so why don’t you call me back. She’s not half as good as me. Oh yeah, and tell me how to fix my phone. You do remember about how tomorrow’s the biggest day of my adult life, right? Kinda need that phone. Love you, bye.”

“Hey José, it’s me again. Just wondering when you’ll call me back, you know, so that I can finally get my phone fixed so I can go to my client meetings tomorrow so I can start my business so I can finally have a life. Maybe I’ll get into your cool hackers club even. You know I’m kidding when I make fun of them, right? John’s pretty cool, and Trish is alright too, even if I know you want her business. She’s not even paying attention to you, alright? Anyhow, call me back, help me fix my phone, and be safe out there, alright?”

“Hey Chung. I’m sorry I’m such a moron. I didn’t realize it was frickin...six a.m. there. Bet you have your ringer off. Sorry about that, and I’ll call back in a couple more—oh hey that’s you calling. Bye.”

“Lucy, what’s up, honey?”

“Chungy, I’m so sorry, I was just wigging out about my meetings tomorrow. My phone died, and I don’t know how I’m going to bus to three different places across town without a real phone. This thing doesn’t even have GPS.”

“Well, first thing is: have you tried rebooting the phone?”

“Yeah, it won’t even turn on. I hold down the button, screen stays black. Hey, wait. Can’t you have John send me one of your hacker-club cars to drive me around tomorrow?”

“The self-drivers? Sorry, babe, they’re all on loan while we’re gone. Whenever all of us are out, we donate them to a good cause until we get back. So, they’re being used by the Red Cross to get supplies for the wildfire victims in Arizona.”

“Hell, Chungy, why do you guys have to be so stupid charitable? Just kidding, I love that about you,” Lucy said in a quick breath. “OK, so how do I get from point A to points B through, like, Q?”

“Print out directions from Google Maps?”

“Well, you see,” Lucy’s tone took on a timbre of faux condescension, which she liked to use when she knew she was being a brat. “I really like my smartphone? And I’d really like to have access to my docs? And, like, you friggin took the laptop with the 6G modem in it, so yeah,” Then she snapped back into a normal voice. “We don’t have money for a new phone, do we?”

“Weeeelllll, we might. But I have a better idea. Let me talk to John and call you back.”

Lucy checked her social media aggregator. To a friend on Facebook who had posted “Going to a show with Death Cab and Decemberists!!”, she responded “How are you getting there, a time machine? :)” She scrolled through a couple of her fandoms on various channels, and was interrupted by the backup phone again.

“OK, Luce, here’s the deal. At John’s house, we keep a closet full of tech. Anyone in the group can just take a keyboard, a tablet, a—”

“—phone? Yes, that’ll work, thank you, thank you love!”

“Yeah, so about that. It’ll be a loaner, and it won’t be very good-looking. And it probably won’t come with a manual, so good luck if you can’t figure it out—”

“—I can just—”

“—no, you can’t just google it, because the phones are made to a spec that’s, uh, unique to the crew, and we probably haven’t gotten around to, um, documenting those."

"José, are they illegal?"

"They' enough. Remember, if you get in a real jam, text me or something, I’ll ask Dan.”

“Dan’s in Amsterdam? Now that I gotta see.”

“Yeah, he offered to go with the cars or stay in his basement in the fetal position for a week, but John figured out how to change his mind. I think it was basically bribery.”

“Watch out Europe.”

“No kidding. Anyhow, can you make it to John’s place before we hit breakfast?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” then she interjected, talking to an automated agent instead of Chung, “OK Outboard, this is Lucy. Can you text me John Stoian’s address?”

"Damn, forgot this isn't a smartphone." She repeated herself to her computer.

A moderately realistic automated woman’s voice said to both her and Chung, “Information sent via text message.”

“Awesome,” said Chung, “So you don’t need anything else?”

“Well, I need to get into John’s house, of course.”

“Sure, I’ll just have him buzz you in.”

“He can do that from Amsterdam?”

“He could do that from Mars, but it’d take about 8 minutes.”

“Alright, I’ll let you know when I’m there.”

“You taking the bus?”

“Something like that.”

“Aw, Luce, not the scooter again. You know that thing’s unsafe. It’s nighttime there, for heaven’s sake.”

“I’m a very safe driver, thank you very much.”

“Ugh. OK, love you.”

“Love you too, sweetie.”

Lucy repaired to the bike rack, where she had hitched the little electric scooter. She checked the solar batteries. Fully charged after a long, bright LA day with no riding. She clicked the backup phone into the cradle on the handlebar, and popped in her bluetooth earbud. The voice from the phone-in version of Outboard connected to Google Maps and gave her directions based on her address and John’s address, which had taken the speech recognizer three tries to get right. The wind in her hair made her forget the chafing of the invisible helmet around her neck and the tug of her messenger bag. The gentle whir of the motor was the meditative mantra that held it all together. John’s house was, sadly, not that far.

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