For many, many years, I’ve been squirreled away writing a thing called The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze, and so in effort to prove to people I’m not just being antisocial, I’ve decided to share the first chapter. Over the next few weeks, I hope to follow it with excerpts from other chapters as they catch my eye.
Please keep in mind it’s a work in progress, it’s far from perfect, and will, I’m sure, completely change by the time I finish the final draft (should such a day arrive).
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy. Feel free to send feedback and comments either via my official Facebook page (link at right), the Contact link above (for email) or, in exactly four words from now, click on the newborn Farlo Breeze Facebook Page link!
The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze
Chapter One: The Irony of Smart-food
30 Years from Next Wednesday
Farlo Breeze stared at the holoscreen and tried to cultivate an air of concentration. He couldn’t do it. He glanced at the floor beside his desk, where someone had left a cardboard box. His employer was RepliTech, world leader in Replication technologies, and his role was that of Demystification Officer, which involved his delicate infiltration of online conversations, steering them towards the company’s merits. Its merits were few, but they paid him well, which went a long way to allaying his judgement. None of that is very important, however. What matters is he’s about to be fired, and in a week will be running for his life.
The holoscreen flickered: ‘Incoming vid-con from internal channel. Do you accept?’
Farlo nodded. ‘Sure.’
‘Initiating…’ Countless seconds passed. ‘You have been placed on hold. RepliTech understands your time is valuable. While you wait, why not initiate a conversation with Brook, our sentient brochure? We’re sure you’ll find her both informative and enticing.’
Farlo cleared his throat. The holoscreen flickered.
‘We notice you haven’t initiated a conversation with Brook, our sentient brochure. Perhaps you’d prefer to chat with Brian, our sentient brochure.’
Farlo blinked a few times. The screen flickered.
‘You are still on hold.’
He sighed and looked at the ceiling. ‘Baby Christ on a-’
The screen flashed, presenting Brad, his simulated hair and sculpted face the more expensive features of his coding. ‘Hi,’ he chimed. ‘I’m Brad, Replitech’s sentient liaison.’
Farlo’s face paled. ‘Oh, Christ, no.’ His wide gaze dropped to the box beside his desk, now basking in its new-found relevance and value.
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ Brad nodded. ‘This couldn’t have come at a worse possible time. But let me assure you there will always be a place for you in the RepliTech family. You could fill out employee satisfaction surveys. Or you can continue to purchase RepliTech’s fine products and fill out customer satisfaction surveys. The possibilities are numerous.’
Farlo shook his head. ‘What’s happened?’
Brad frowned and tilted his head. ‘Oh, don’t ask that. We’re having such a nice chat.’
‘What did I do?’
Brad grimaced and nodded. ‘Initiating empathy synthesis… I’m afraid it’s out of my hands.’
‘They’ve initiated your pre-emptive resignation.’
Farlo craned forward in disbelief. ‘Why?’
‘The Irony of Smart-food,’ Brad said. ‘Your Science Enigmatica interview. I’m afraid it’s worked its way up to the board. Individually, they each found your comments quite amusing, but their collective vision extends only so far as the investors will allow.’
‘The what of Smart-food?’
‘Let me assure you, Mr Breeze, that your proclamations of innocence are not unheard, and the board offers the following in response.’
Brad vanished from the screen. Farlo’s face took his place.
The sound of a woman’s voice was heard from a point-of-view recording.
“There’s been a recent increase in the number of attacks on civilians at the hands of Smart-food. What is RepliTech doing to stem the line of genetically-flawed Replicated produce?”
Farlo watched as his onscreen likeness grabbed hold of the bar and leaned toward her. “I’ll be honest with you,” he slurred. “The general feeling around RepliTech is Smart-food kills two birds with one stone: it feeds those who deserve to be fed, and it beats those who are better off dead.”
Brad returned with a nod. ‘A very brief snippet of said interview, granted, but one the board feels sums up the whole and supports their decision for dismissal. They offer their sincere thanks for your employ and wish you luck. You have five minutes to clear your desk and the building.’
Brad vanished from the screen, replaced with a small black rectangle.
It read: 0.04.54.
0.04.52… it was counting down. Security would arrive once it hit zero. They would drag him out and make it a scene. He stared in disbelief around his cubicle, then retrieved the box and started gathering his belongings.
He was halfway through packing when Marley slid by and stopped, her brown shoulder-length locks doing the same of their own accord. ‘What are you doing?’
He traced her gaze to the box and shook his head. ‘Nothing. I’ve been… quit.’
‘You’ve been quit?’ she said. ‘What?’
He nodded, continuing to pack. ‘I’m over it, Mar. This place is a treadmill. I need more. If you were smart you’d do the same.’
‘Right,’ she droned. ‘So… nothing to do with The Irony of Smart-food, then.’
‘You read it?’
‘Everyone’s read it. It’s gone viral. “Beats those who are better off dead”.’ She offered a wink. ‘Classy.’
‘I never said that.’
‘You said that exact same thing to me three days ago.’
He sneered. ‘I wouldn’t say it to anyone important.’
Marley nodded. ‘Right. Because you’re far more tactful than that.’
‘Yes! I am, as a matter of fact. I never agreed to an interview. I was taken out of context. I spent eighty creds on her!’
Marley offered a considerable nod. ‘Call me mad, but I believe you.’
Farlo looked up, only thinly trying to hide his surprise. ‘What?’
‘About you not realising you were being interviewed,’ Marley said. ‘Whoever said those things was not career minded, and you are definitely far more calculated than that.’
‘I know,’ he cried at the ceiling. ‘Thank you.’ He looked her over for a moment. ‘What are you doing after work?’
‘What I usually do,’ she shrugged. ‘Go home. I’m weird like that.’
‘Meet me for a drink.’
‘What?’ She stared for a moment then added, ‘Ooh… this is awkward.’
‘Forget it,’ he said, resuming packing.
‘No,’ Marley said. ‘It’s just in the past I’ve declined such offers, not just for a policy against dating co-workers but also for the fact I happen to think you’re the most morally inept man I’ve ever met. You do understand this, don’t you?’
‘Ooh,’ Farlo said, feigning to match her discomfort. ‘This is awkward… I wasn’t actually asking you out. I just need to talk to someone.’
She shook her head. ‘Not tonight.’
‘I don’t know,’ she scowled. ‘Why? What’s so urgent?’
‘I’ve just been pre-emptively resigned, Mar. I’d call that pretty urgent.’
‘I thought you quit.’
‘I did. I tried to. They beat me to it. You can buy me a going away drink.’
She studied his tired expression then stifled a sigh and offered a small nod. ‘Okay. Tomorrow. After work.’
He nodded and looked at the timer on the holoscreen.
Marley looked at it and tilted her head. ‘What’s that?’
‘That,’ he said with all the gravity he could muster, ‘is the countdown to the beginning of the rest of my life.’
∞ ∞ ∞
Farlo’s taxi was fast and knew the shortest route to Golden Tower. He entered and made his way toward El, the sentient elevator, waiting with open doors at the end of the lobby. As the lobby doors hissed shut behind him, however, it was accompanied by a small pitter-patter followed by a thump. He turned, and what he found made his pupils dilate, his stomach fall and every hair that wasn’t slicked down stand on end.
There was a tiny hotdog trapped inside, hopping from one leg to the other, its gloved hands pressed to the glass lobby doors.
Smart-food was RepliTech’s most contentious venture. It was developed in conjunction with the Unified Union’s Union (U Cubed) via a method described by the layman as “really scientific”. Smart-food, in essence, was sentient food with arms and legs, designed to combat the food shortages following the last revolution by allowing the foodstuff autonomy and mobility, and thus control of its own distribution.
Due to the cheap genetic materials provided by Strains ‘N’ Stuff Incorporated, somewhere along the line, what at first had seemed a good idea had turned to urban nightmare. Since its release, certain strains of the foodstuff had evolved reproductive organs, and as their numbers soared, with each new generation, the product had become increasingly volatile: both violent and explosive. A prime example was the highly avoided Smart-cocktail wiener, dubbed the Molotov, likely to detonate with the smallest scare.
Sentient food was a decision many, inclusive of those who had made it, had come to regret. Farlo was very soon to join their ranks.
He took a slow step back toward El. The hotdog spun on its heels to face him. Farlo froze, and for a moment the two simply stared at each other: Farlo’s eyes wide, the hotdog’s blinking with curiosity. Farlo turned slightly to gauge his distance from El, but when he turned back he found it had lowered the top of its sausage head and was glaring from beneath a scowling brow. They remained poised like this for a long surmising moment before the hotdog charged with a snarl.
Farlo screamed and leapt into El, throwing his box into the corner. ‘Close the doors!’
‘Certainly, Mr Breeze,’ El said. ‘You’re looking particularly well today.’
El’s doors began to slide shut. The hotdog leapt, flying into the carriage. Farlo stepped aside and stopped the doors with a hand. The hotdog hit the back wall and landed, then picked itself up, gathering its senses.
Farlo leapt into the lobby. ‘Close the doors!’
‘Certainly,’ El said. ‘Would you care to board first?’
The hotdog bolted from the carriage. Farlo staggered back toward the entrance. He turned and made a dash for the doors to the rapid pitter-patter sound close behind. He arrived and the doors slid open. The footsteps stopped, and he spun to see the hotdog growling through the air toward him with outstretched, sticklike arms.
Farlo dropped. The hotdog flew overhead and out onto the street. The doors hissed shut, stifling the screams of pedestrians outside. He rolled over to see people scattering. The hotdog charged and hit the doors, its hands and face pressed to the glass with a sneer, fogging the pane with its rapid breath.
Farlo hurried back toward El. ‘Man, I hate those things.’
‘Absolute menace,’ El said and closed its doors. ‘There were a couple of cupcakes in here earlier. Pressed every one of my buttons then ran out. Half an hour it took me to get back to the lobby. Like I don’t have better things to do.’
His stomach churned as El rose toward the sixty-seventh floor.
‘That’s a fine box you have there, sir.’
‘Thank you, El,’ Farlo sighed. ‘You’re a fine box yourself.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ El said and opened.
‘Evening sunshine,’ his apartment door said as he approached. ‘Looking chipper.’
Somewhere along the line of technological advancement, someone had decided the absolute pinnacle of achievement had to be sentient everything. Practically everything spoke these days; knives bragged about how many shoes they could cut through; toothbrushes made disparaging remarks about your teeth; toilets thanked you for your waste, their enthusiasm determined by the grams of your deposit, which often proved embarrassing in public restrooms.
Farlo ignored the door, headed down the hall to the lounge and dropped his box beside the couch, which was again engaged in political speculation with the coffee table. The debate had been returned to many times over the last few days when he returned home to find they had managed to tip themselves over with their passionate discourse.
‘The U Cubed has lost its way!’ the couch said. ‘It used to be for the people. All it’s done is step into the role of Big Brother. It bullies you, uses your things without asking-’
‘You’re deluded!’ the table cried back.
‘Guys!’ Farlo said. ‘Silent mode.’
They fell into a tense lull, but he could sense they were still in telepathic debate. He stepped into the opening of the closet-sized alcove he called his kitchen, Replicated himself a strong scotch then took it across to the window and stared through his reflection to the cityscape below. The sun had begun to set. The flashing, gaudy fluorescent lights of the surrounding buildings painted his reflection a shade of red, blue, violet then orange, over and over with hypnotic predictability. He wondered how an ordinary day could suddenly turn on you.
There was a flash of green over his shoulder, and he turned to find the holoscreen floating over the coffee table. Someone was transmitting a message. He tapped at the table, reactivating its audio.
‘Your life is in danger, young Farlo.’
A storm of static washed across the screen as the transmission struggled to be felt. Something was interfering with the signal. He didn’t even know that was possible.
‘It is imperative you are there to meet me. I have taken the liberty of resetting your clocks.’
He looked at the digital clock on his wall: 165.58.13.
165.58.11… it was counting down.
‘Oh, come on!’ he cried.
‘Make no mistake,’ the message continued, ‘dire times are at your door. Trust none that come to visit you tonight, and heed these words and heed them well: the fog is coming and I’m your only hope.’
‘Who is this?’ Farlo asked.
The query was met with a pensive silence. ‘It could be said I must be seen to be believed. Introductions will have to wait ‘til then. I wish you luck in reaching me.’
The transmission was severed. The screen became awash with the mingling pattern of adverts and broadcasts.
Farlo retrieved his scotch and fell back onto the couch. He stared at the screen, trying to process, trying to find some hint of reason in the message or any other thing that had happened that day. He rubbed at his eyes then looked at the clock. It was clearly a prank, but by who? Who knew him and could be so bored?
He pondered the question until he finished his scotch and resolved it wasn’t worth pondering anymore. His eyelids and thoughts were growing heavy. He closed the holoscreen then headed to his bedroom. He paused in its doorway then turned and headed down the hall to his apartment door. He stopped and placed his hand on its surface.
‘Security increased to level ten,’ the door announced. ‘Is everything okay?’
‘Level ten, though? We’ve never done a level ten.’
‘There’s always a first time.’ He turned and headed down the hall.
‘Are you sure everything’s alright?’
‘Yes,’ he yelled over his shoulder.
‘I’m allowed to ask,’ the door hollered at his back. ‘I’m the first to get kicked in, you know.’
‘Half my luck,’ Farlo called then slammed his bedroom door.
‘Ow,’ the bedroom door whispered to the room. ‘What’s rusted his hinge?’
‘I don’t know,’ the front door said. ‘But dire times are at me, apparently…’
‘I’m scared,’ the bedroom door said.
‘Me too,’ the front door hushed back.
∞ ∞ ∞
Farlo was between worlds an hour later with the moonlight falling across his bed, its rays marred only by the flow of exhaled smoke.
‘Mr Breeze,’ came a soft whisper.
Farlo tried to lift himself up but could manage the slightest of movements. His body felt heavy and waterlogged. He could just make out the shaded figure by the window.
‘You’ll find it hard to move,’ the man said. ‘You’ve breathed a gas that has left you immobile. It was necessary. The effects are temporary. You’ll soon awaken with all functions returned.’
‘Who are you?’ Farlo asked through slothful lips.
‘A friend,’ the man replied. ‘An acquaintance you’ll come to value.’ He drew on his cigarette, and his face was lit briefly by the ember, but not enough to afford any detail. ‘I’m here to deliver you a gift, Mr Breeze, and a warning. Earth’s awareness of the universe is soon to change, and life for you is to become much complicated. You are soon to become the centre of a great deal of unwonted attention and activity.’
‘I’m not at liberty to say. Not in this meeting. I will however say this and then you may have your respite:
‘We will meet two times more before we meet for the last. Come the last all will make sense.’
He stepped forward and closed Farlo’s hand around something. ‘You will make use of this twice before then. The last will bring us together again. The first shall be tomorrow. Do not hesitate to use it. It will deliver you safely from the assault. When the time is right, you will know.’
He took a step back and then a final drag of his cigarette before he dropped it to the floor and crushed it with his foot.
Farlo’s eyes tried to widen as he murmured, ‘What the hell are you doing? There’s an ashtray right behind you!’
The man turned to the tray on the dresser. ‘Ooh…’ he said. ‘Crap…’
‘I can’t believe you just did that! Where the hell were you born: on a balcony?’
The man stepped back and stared at the floor.
‘Light on,’ Farlo said.
‘Right you are,’ said the bedside lamp.
Farlo looked at the man. The man returned a look of alarm. His clothes were of an immaculate cut – a dark blue suit and buttoned-up vest, white shirt and purple cravat – but by far his most striking features were his blue skin, the two cords of white hair hanging plaited from his cheekbones and the large limp tentacle protruding from the top of his head. Farlo stared for a moment then tried to look at the carpet. ‘Is there a mark?’
The man looked at the floor and nodded. ‘A small one. It should come out…’ He winced. ‘I really wish you hadn’t done that.’
‘That,’ the man nodded at the lamp. ‘It makes this whole thing that much more awkward. Come the morning, rather than wonder who that strange night-time visitor was, you’ll now be wondering who that strange night-time visitor was with the blue skin and tentacle protruding from the top of his head. You can see how that might complicate matters, yes?’
Farlo tried to nod. ‘I can imagine, yes.’
The man picked up the cigarette butt, sweeping the ash with his other hand. ‘I am sorry about that, though.’ He dropped it into the tray and turned back. ‘I don’t even smoke, really… It was more for the ambience…’ A long moment of silence followed. The man offered a nod. ‘I should go then.’
Farlo tried to shrug. ‘If you must.’
‘Sorry again. Rest now. We shall meet again soon.’
‘Oh, good,’ Farlo mumbled, feeling his thoughts begin to drag. ‘Looking forward to it already.’
‘Forward,’ the old man chuckled as he headed through the bedroom door.
Farlo lay in silence and tried to hear his apartment door close, but before the sound came his eyes slid shut and he returned to a heavy slumber.
∞ ∞ ∞
When he awoke it was morning and with a degree of stiffness he’d never thought possible. He rolled himself over with a wince and knocked something from his side to the floor where it rolled away under the dresser. He followed suit to the floor, landing less gracefully, and remained there groaning for several minutes. On his hands and knees, which was as close to his feet as he felt ready for, he crawled and retrieved the object. It was a large black marble, the size of a squash ball, with a red dot on one of its hemispheres.
‘Door?’ he hollered as he hobbled down the hall. He stopped before it and knocked.
It offered a tired sigh. ‘What?’
‘Did you let someone in last night?’
‘Yeah, because that’s what I do; I wait until you’re asleep then just let people in willy-nilly.’
‘There was someone in here.’ The door didn’t respond. ‘Hello?’
‘You know, you really hurt my feelings last night.’
Farlo shook his head. ‘That’s it. I’m buying beaded curtains. It’s bye-bye, door, don’t let yourself hit you on the way out.’
‘That has to be,’ the door returned, ‘the single most stupid thing I have ever heard anyone say. And since we’re being honest, I think by now it’s obvious this little arrangement isn’t working. One of us clearly has to go, and… well, considering I’m a fixture…’
Farlo dropped onto the couch and sent a message to Marley asking her to meet him immediately. Marley messaged back refusing. He messaged back insisting. She messaged back resigning, and so Farlo arrived at the Silver Spittoon at around 8.30, ordered a beer and sat himself at a booth, facing the entrance.
The sound of heavy footsteps captured his attention and he looked to the holoscreen over the bar. A reporter was standing across the road from his local shopping centre, two blocks from his apartment. Three tanks, a small army of soldiers and a length of tape prevented her getting closer.
“The military have the building surrounded,” she said. “All there is to do now is wait and see what the foodstuff’s next move will be.”
Marley sat into the booth, placed her takeaway coffee on the table and nodded at his beer. ‘Bit early, isn’t it?’
‘I had a rough night,’ he replied.
She nodded. ‘So what little melodrama brings us together today?’
Farlo leant back into the booth. ‘What crawled up your arse and died?’
She shook her head in apology. ‘Nothing. It’s just I’ve been getting these harassing messages. This weird, sleazy man keeps asking me out to this dingy bar.’ She dropped her face into her hands and choked back exaggerated sobs. ‘It’s just becoming too much.’
‘Hey, shut up a minute,’ he said, deciding to bring their repartee to an end. ‘Last night, while I was sleeping, I had a visitor. A man.’
Marley shook her head. ‘That’s completely normal. There’s this woman at work across from me. Not much to look at really, but I can’t take my eyes off her.’
‘Not like that,’ Farlo said. ‘He broke in. Just waltzed in, blatantly crushed his cigarette into my carpet then left this.’ He retrieved the marble from his pocket and rolled it across the table.
She caught and studied it. ‘What is it?’
‘I think it’s a marble,’ he said. ‘I might be wrong.’
‘What’s it for, though?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Who was he?’
‘I don’t know.’
She touched her finger to the dot. Nothing happened. ‘Did you call the cops?’
He shook his head. ‘He wasn’t threatening. He was very well dressed, in fact. And everything he was saying: it was almost as if he thought we were friends.’
Marley sneered. ‘Just because he’s well dressed doesn’t mean he’s not a threat, Farlo. He could be anyone. This could be anything,’ she added, carefully rolling the marble back to him. ‘You should at least report it.’
‘And tell them what?A mysterious stranger with blue skin and a tentacle protruding from the top of his head dropped this off in the middle of the night?’
‘Why would you tell them that?’
‘Was he blue with a tentacle protruding from the top of his head?’
‘No,’Farlo droned.‘Of course not. I’m just demonstrating the absurdity of getting paranoid over it. How does an affluent stranger bearing gifts pose a threat?’
‘A complete stranger breaks into your apartment and you’re not at all worried? I seriously think you should report it.’
‘Stop reading into everything! Anyone would think you wanted me dead.’
She shook her head. ‘Not dead, Farlo. Spayed perhaps.’ She stared at the marble for a moment. ‘So if you’re not worried, why this little meeting?’
Farlo thought for a moment then shrugged. ‘It’s weird. Don’t you think it’s weird?’
‘Yes,’ Marley said. ‘It’s very weird. But there seems to be a lot of weird going on lately. If I were you I’d tell someone about it. But hey,’ she added with a dismissive wave, ‘your call. Just don’t come crying to me when you wake up with someone’s skinned cat in your bed.’
A twinkle formed in Farlo’s eye, and he tried to stifle a smirk as he looked down at his glass. ‘So… the furless pussy won’t be yours, is that what you’re saying?’
It took Marley a moment to decide on an appropriate response. She picked up her coffee, finished it with a determined gulp then lowered the cup and offered a closing slap on the table. ‘Yes. That’s precisely what I’m saying.’ She slid from the booth. ‘Enjoy your drink.’
‘Where are you going?’ he cried as she headed for the door. ‘Oh, come on. That was funny. I don’t even know what it means.’ He watched her exit then looked at his glass and shook his head. ‘So uptight.’ He turned back to the holosphere.
“The atmosphere here is tense,” the reporter hollered over distant, muffled gunfire. “The military has just stormed the centre, and you can hear the commotion that has ensued. This is-”
Farlo looked away, finished his drink then left for home.
∞ ∞ ∞
He entered his apartment, turned the holosphere on to the news then headed to the alcove to make what his Replicator insisted was its strongest drink.
“Scientists are unsure as to the reason, but something has the foodstuff highly agitated.Officials are urging all citizens to remain indoors and refrain from using their Replicators. Repeat: all citizens are urged to remain indoors.”
Farlo placed his drink on the coffee table then stepped up to the window and looked down to the street. He could see the small figures of people below being chased around by tiny, perishable dots almost too small to be discerned. A look of disbelief crept across his face, masked only slightly by an awed smirk.
‘Holy…’ he whispered. The breath of the word billowed from his lips and caressed the window as he looked through the pane to see a blur of yellow falling from the sky. And then it hit.
It was a winged banana.
Smart-bananas had a sensory depth of five metres. When you’re a banana travelling at a speed of 70 kilometres an hour it is hard, if not impossible, to reverse as fast as is often necessary.The banana exploded through the window, spiralled over Farlo’s head and splattered against the wall in a flower of flesh and limbs. He looked to the chaos – his clothing rippling as the conditioned air of his apartment was sucked out past him – and then turned back to the window frame to see a swarm of pies swooping in swift pursuit of the fruit.
Meat pies had a sensory depth of fifteen metres but were incredibly stupid. They were also incredibly playful, often seen chasing children and other food around the city streets.
The scene seemed to move in slow motion as Farlo found his desire to duck greater than his ability to do so and the swarm grew larger to consume his field of vision. He ducked in time to avoid the collision and felt the draft of their slipstream caress his hair as they flew overhead. They sped through the entrance of his kitchen and the violent glory of an explosion consumed his senses.
As he reeled back, his focus cleared to present the sight of a lone Smart-pie circling the room. It stopped before the kitchen’s entrance, beating its wings to remain stationary as it looked to the sizzling remains of its pack. Then slowly it turned to eye him.
Farlo’s hands instinctively plunged into his pockets as if some part of his subconscious knew exactly what was meant to happen. His left hand found the small marble and he pulled it out and laid it in his palm, the red dot facing upward. The pie moved closer. He pressed a finger to the dot.
The marble began to vibrate and hum, then rose into the air and split in two, a blue electrical current holding each half in place.
The meat pie froze but for beating its wings and watched with mystic fascination.
“Greetings, Farlo Breeze!” boomed a voice from the marble’s hemispheres.
Farlo staggered back in alarm then felt the window frame at his calves. He toppled back, and the room seemed to spin overhead, enveloped by the blue of the sky before that too swept upward to present the grey of the surrounding buildings, rising and rising towards the heavens. His body grew heavy, and he became aware of that force of gravity that had always been there but now tugged at every one of his limbs, begging for attention. A rush of air deprived him of oxygen and stole his ability to scream. The road below rushed up to meet him. Everything went black.