Quailty Control

This story is based in the far future and could be classified as science fiction, but this is merely the setting for our story. I am going to tell you the tale of one of the unluckiest guys in all of the explored solar system. This tale is not some Dystopian ‘after earth is destroyed what if’ story where a bunch of lone survivors try to get by, or some sort of Utopian ‘all of society is now perfect, but there is some sort of annoyance disturbing it’ tale. Were going to deal with realities if at all possible. Just a future where people do everyday normal things like mow their lawns, have backyard barbecues, and commute to work in those flying cars they kept promising society since the 1950’s–you know normal stuff!

I am still waiting for my flying car by the way and I am beginning to get a little impatient. Well, anyhow let’s get on with this story!

Rick was as normal as they get. He was a hard worker full time at the A.I. factory putting in his usual 24 hours a week assembling quantum circuits for the animal division that built avatars for home computer processing units. Units which act as remote controlled artificial pets on the home world and exhibit animals in zoos and nature preserves off world. It was monotonous work really, grab a metal brain out of the bin, poke at it in certain spots with a couple of needles to activate or shunt the neural pathways, and set it on the conveyor to be mated with a skeleton. Day in and day out Rick did this job to the best of his abilities the full 4 days a week. You had to be very careful where you poked sometimes when probing those little brains and manipulating the network of wiring and processors because little things could go wrong like blowing a hole through the conveyor belt along the way to skeletal mating from a destabilized power source. Those little brains could be like a grenade sometimes.

Rick was more skilled than that, he never had any such incident occur during one of his shifts. There was the time recently he had probed one of those little metal brains slightly deeper than usual and sent a defective brain to skeletal mating that damaged a custom designed wild zebra slated for transport to a Martian zoo. The zoo’s central artificial intelligence unit didn’t have it classified properly in the control room as a zebra and assigned it to the dolphin tank where it just sank to the bottom. Since it wasn’t fitted for water tightness electrocuted one of the service avatars handling the exhibit.

It happens from time to time. Another of ricks co-workers made the same mistake for a custom avatar going to that same zoo just ten years earlier when a polar bear was assigned as a service avatar instead of sent to the cave exhibit. The zoo tolerated that error and saw it as a novelty after the fright wore off seeing a bear dressed in a green jump suit pushing a broom running around free in the zoo rather than being kept in an enclosure. No one actually noticed the error for an entire week before the incident when some poor old lady filled her adult diaper as it walked by one morning emptying the trash bins. That bear eventually became a star attraction for the Martian zoo drawing in the crowds to see the unusual avatar and eventually the mechanical bear became its mascot–it was unfortunate that was the same service avatar that was electrocuted by the zebra in the dolphin tank. Since the first incident with the bear there had been a quality control system put in place by the factory of zero tolerance for error. A brain explodes you’re fired, an avatar out in the field goes haywire you’re fired–Ricks co worker lucked out on that rule since it was not implemented until after his bear incident. The incident did set company policy from that point on, but since it was after the fact Ricks co-worker was safe as long as no error remotely like it happened again–he got one free pass and he has not made the same mistake since, nor any other for that matter.

Even if the bear incident had proven positive after the initial shock wore off but the corporate office vowed that though it turned out okay such mistakes would not be tolerated twice. Unfortunately for Rick the pink slip came in the day after the incident on mars that destroyed the zoo’s best attraction which locals and regular zoo patrons eventually decided to officially adopt as an official Martian citizen and name “Pete”. He had ten minutes to leave the factory and 24 hours to vacate Io and head for the employment agency on Titan to seek reassignment.

“Dang it! 15 years down the friggin toilet!”,Rick loudly grumbled as he exited the building.

He calmed down a bit as he walked to the carrier and drove back to the dormitory to gather his belongings and ready himself for the trip.

The outer orbit of Saturn was going to take a few months this time of decade since it and its moon Titan was nearly to the other side of the sun from the position of Jupiter, but stops could be made along the way at Mars and Venus which were along the planned trajectory. Of course Rick was a little uneasy about stopping on the red planet where his actions were responsible for the destruction of one of its most beloved tourist attractions.

Ships could travel space faster and get to their destinations in days rather than weeks if necessary for short term visitors unconcerned with long term adaptation but special ferries were still slower out of necessity for human adaptation to changing gravitational fields and built like grand low budget roach motels. With ion drives pushing them through the solar system for weeks at a time slowly adjusting the on board gravitational fields to meet the destinations requirements adapted for the long term travelers who spent years on one world then going on to the next. It could be like a prison and occasionally it got to some folks who would attempt to open an airlock and space themselves. Not much luxury either you got a room with a bed a chemical disinfection stall and a waterless toilet with built in laser guided bidet–toilet paper was a luxury all those rich people on Earth got. Rick heard the loudest scream coming from the neighboring apartment to his around mid trip.

Apparently the neighbors laser guided bidet malfunctioned and gave its occupant an instant mild sun burn to the cheeks singeing every hair on their back side. Rick stepped out of his room to head for the cafeteria for breakfast just in time to watch his neighbor walking bow legged toward the infirmary with his waist wrapped in a bed sheet, quietly moaning and cussing under his breath. Rick chuckled a little trying not to get too close for his neighbor to hear as he headed for the nearest exit connecting to the mess deck. You could still smell the smoke and burnt body hair for an entire week through the corridor–Rick thought for sure somebody else on Io was going to be taking a trip like his very soon. Those toilets were manufactured in a plant owned by a sister corporation which enforced the same kinds of policies.

Other than the bidet incident with his neighbor the journey was going pretty well so far. Ricks apprehensions concerning his stop over on Mars went away as the days drew closer to the stop over on the planet, he didn’t think much about the zoo at all by the time. Even doubting those irrational thoughts of his that during his stop over he would be greeted by an angry mob of season ticket holding zoo goers covered in the iron rich martian dust, wearing bib overalls, carrying pitch forks and burning his effigy outside the space terminal parking lot shouting,”There he is! That’s the guy who killed our beloved Pete the polar bear! Get him!”

Any such irrational guilt had subsided as the giant space roach motel prepared for its beam guided landing which would take about two days from alignment to touch down. The stop over would last about a week before refueling and lift off for Venus giving all the passengers a short time to stretch their legs. Unfortunately Rick would be delayed an extra month. As he stepped off the vessel he was snatched, manhandled and escorted directly to a customs cell and served with a summons to appear in the Martian capitol for a civil suit over the damages to the planets star attraction–for which his former corporation on Io had shifted the blame entirely to him. Customs released him from the terminal assigned him a personal carrier for the duration of his stay on the planet and told him exactly where he would be staying for the duration of the trial, his defense was going to cost him roughly half of his life savings earned during his time on Io but the best he could get for that was an orangutan with a degree from Harvard Law on Earth–an ape which just barely passed the solar system bar exam.

Unfortunately Harvard lost its luster, esteem and prestige over a thousand years ago and has been pumping out Ambulance vessel chasers ever since–everyone knew the best lawyers were the chimps and baboons with degrees from Venus State University, Harvard became the party school of the solar system. The good simian lawyers were hard to pay for, luckily this orangutan was cheap–dirt cheap. Okay, I’ll be honest! His credentials are questionable and Rick picked him up outside the hardware store near Olympus Mons, but he is licensed to practice law on the planet so they are very lenient about available legal representation. You take what you can get.

The trial lasted two days and by some miracle Ricks primate council managed to talk the judge down to 3 weeks community service–he was relieved that he was not going to have to pay through the nose for the damages to the bear or wind up working off his punishment for 3 years in a Martian iron mine. Unfortunately it was at the zoo where the incident that started this whole mess happened. For the three weeks his worst nightmare kind of came true, it wasn’t farmers with pitchforks and torches of course but little kids who had heard the news that the bear killer was working at the zoo. Every day at random moments Rick would hear shouting when he was cleaning cages or loading trash,”There he is! That’s the guy who killed Pete!” immediately followed by a pummeling with rotten cabbages and cucumbers the kids snuck past the security gate.

Surprisingly though the zoo did its best business in decades with Rick as the new attraction and kept him on for another week with some pay until the next flying roach motel was ready for takeoff. The trajectories had changed of course and this time his planned trip to Titan was going to make its second stop over on Earth instead. He went back to the space terminal and checked in with customs, Rick was really worn out from the constant cabbage pummeling and the officials at the customs gate didn’t even recognize him. The experience had aged Rick about a decade in a single month.

“Well, it looks as if your papers are in order sir, we sincerely hope you enjoyed your visit to the red planet and will come again someday!” ,the guard said with a genuine smile obviously not remembering man handling Rick nearly a month ago at the very same gate.

“What? You son of a..!” ,Rick said angrily back at the official remembering every detail of the man who jerked him around and sat him in the customs cell.

The uniformed guard still clueless as to who he was and not quite hearing the whole thing spoke back, “Beg pardon sir?”

Getting his wits about him Rick stuttered out, “Oh nothing, nothing! I was just cursing out my um….. taxi driver. Yeah that’s it! I think I gave him the wrong bill as a um….. tip.”

“Oh my! So sorry to hear that, I’m sure the rest of your stay was still a pleasant one sir, enjoy your trip!” ,the guard shouted back as Rick quickly headed for the motel airlock thus avoiding further unpleasantness.

Rick quietly and quickly paced to the airlock mumbling, “I will enjoy the trip, but I ain’t coming back here! Not unless hell freezes over!” Rick thought about it for a second and continued talking to himself laughing, “Probably shouldn’t say that! The Titan employment office might assign me to Pluto with an extended stop over on Mars again!”.

The Earth stop over was going to be two weeks long in order to align with Jupiter his current flying roach motel was a little better than the last one but still another few weeks of travel he eventually wasn’t in the mood for. By the time the craft reached Earth he was glad to get out and stretch his legs but a little weary of the Earthlings after his experience with the Martians. Thankfully Rick wasn’t greeted by customs in the same manner as he had experienced at the last stop–Earth should be a nice world. Rick imagined himself leaving the space port and being assigned to some tropical beach resort sipping a beer, or log cabin in the woods near a pristine lake to fish to wait out the alignment and refueling–someplace nice and isolated. But Rick would be wrong they sent him to Canada. His imagination was kind of right, he did in fact get both the log cabin and the beach front. Unfortunately for Rick it was in Nova Scotia Canada in the dead middle of winter so if he wanted to sip a beer on the beach or fish he needed a saw and a parka.

The public carriers on Earth were blind flying buses with no windows and a bad sounding PA system relaying the stops. You got on at one stop and hoped like hell you got off where you needed to go–the Earthlings were used to it and adjusted, Rick needed a locals assistance to get where he needed to be. After having been prompted by a helpful local passenger Rick stepped off the bus into the terminal for Nova Scotia ready to head out the terminal door.

Before security guard finished yelling,”Hey mister! Where do you think you are Tahiti?”already too late Rick stepped out the one way door.

When Rick came to he was in the infirmary at the local hospital feeling the lingering effects of a mild frost bite to his fingers and toes he didn’t even remember banging on the one way glass door trying to claw his way back in to the bus station. Or the tears freezing to his cheeks in the middle of that wet cold blizzard then slumping against it thus preventing a quicker rescue. It took the security crew another 10 minutes working from another exit in their snow shoes just to get back around to him, but by then Rick was frozen against the door still panting and whimpering. One thing Io had was plenty of heat. There was never a cold day on a world with constant volcanic activity–15 years living someplace like that and a lifetime never seeing such a thing as snow you won’t get used to it that quickly.

He looked around and spotted the nurse and spoke,”Am I in hell?”

“Oh no sir you are in Canada! Noscot Hospital to be exact. I take it you are not from around here, eh.”,spoken in her Canuck mother tongue gracefully and provocatively suggesting in her feminine tone her interest in Rick.

“I am not even of this planet miss, born Venutian–worked Io”,he replied back still softly in a daze.

The nurse smiled speaking again,”Oh you’re a lucky one then don’t cha know. Never having seen Earth weather I bet, eh”

“Lucky? So far this whole trip has been a friggin nightmare!”,Rick spoke out as he was regaining more of his senses. That nurse was a bombshell–a total knock out. Seeing her face Rick managed to lighten up, might even get a date for the rest of the stop over.

His peace wouldn’t last very long.

The doctor entered the room having heard part of the conversation saying,”Oh you are a lucky one sir, you almost lost both your testicles to that frostbite and your fingers and toes are just fine, but they should sting for a little while.”

“So at least I am alive and in one piece that’s what you are getting at right doc?”,saying and now relaxed Ricks fears nearly vanished.

The doc feeling a little uncomfortable spoke again,”Umm sort of sir, I said you almost lost both your testicles remember?”

Tears welled up in Ricks eyes as he screamed,”What! Oh Christ! I am in hell!” as the nurse rushed over to him she began comforting rick in her ample bosom saying,”Shhhhh, everything will be all right mister, I still think you are a really attractive man. Say now! They’ll be releasing you from the hospital in the morning you’ll be completely healed, eh.”she paused for a second and spoke again,”You and I, we could go out for dinner and then back to my place. How’s that sound?” Rick quieted down and nodded his head in agreement. It wouldn’t be much compensation for losing one of his life long friends but it would be a good distraction if he never ever looked down again.

Things went from bad to worse though just when Rick thought everything had calmed down and was preparing to look forward to the next days consolation the doctor said,” Say there, aren’t you the guy who killed that polar bear on Mars?”

At that moment the nurses eyes lit up like a fire and she dropped Rick to the hospital bed staring into him with such disgust and screamed,”You, YOU, monster! I loved that bear!” she slapped him, then ran off crying.

Rick,”Doc, please do me a favor would you?”

“Of course sir.”the doctor replied.

“Is assisted suicide still legal here?”, Rick said with a groan.

The doctor replied,”I’m afraid not sir, but I have a bad feeling there is at least one nurse willing to offer now.”,the doctor paused to clear his throat while laughing,”Sorry about that, I wasn’t too crazy about that bear though, it nearly gave my grand mother a heart attack over ten years ago–I don’t know why those silly Martians kept the dang thing around!”

The two weeks passed while Rick remained hidden in his cabin in the Great White North, then he immediately headed to the terminal with haste. The thought had crossed his mind about spacing himself along route to Titan considering his lousy luck lately, but that though soon faded. Titan was 5 weeks away aboard the flying roach motel, Rick was a little disappointed he didn’t get to make a stop on Venus and visit some of his kin, but hopefully reassignment would be quick and he would get to spend some time on his birth world on the way to dispatch.

The trip was uneventful from Earth to Titan. The world was one giant unemployment office, known as the greatest bureaucracy in the solar system where lines once stretched tens of miles. That was until they finally did away with lines completely the moment it started taking days just to get to the front. Titan officials ruled to change the law assigning guest quarters to all visitors awaiting reassignment in economy modeled suites. Going door to door were roving processing agents, all you had to do was sit, wait, and within a week to two weeks your agent would be with you immediately. Much better than the old line system which eventually led to the death of one woman from apparent old age–a couple of weeks was reasonably immediate and efficient considering the crowds. Rick heard the knock on his neighbors door another half an hour and it would be his turn. As it turned out his neighbor was the guy responsible for the bidet fiasco aboard the first flying roach motel and the assigned agent happened to be the guy with the sun burn in the neighboring dorm room.

Rick was eager for his reassignment but sadly a scuffle had broken out between his now current neighbor and his previous one when the agent recognized him after he heard though the wall,”Hey you’re the guy who built that damn bidet! Come here you!”

All hell broke loose in his neighbors room that day. The two combatants were assigned detention beneath the surface of Mercury for a year–Titan laws could be harsh about violence. They were assigned a shared cell and came out of the whole ordeal eventually happily wedded–one could imagine those boys someday telling their grand kids how the two met and fell in love on a hot prison rock. Another two weeks passed on Titan while the bureaucracy restructured to clean up the paperwork mess caused by the two not so neighborly former neighbors of his who would soon be love birds and Rick was finally on his way with another knock on the door.

“Good morning Rick”,the agent greeted him with a smile as he shook his hand. By now Rick was a little jumpy He had pretty much kept hidden in his suite since the incident with his neighbor and chilled to the bone at the thought of running across any rabid robotic polar bear lovers working as agents here. Luckily Ricks agent was a pleasant little man, who sat down and started going over his paperwork punching numbers into his pad seemingly non threatening until he said the thing that now made Rick almost jump out of his skin.

“Say buddy, aren’t you the guy who killed the polar bear?” and like lightning Rick shot under his bunk fearing the beating of his life–after what happened to the bidet guy who could blame him? Every time the polar bear came up something bad happened, and Ricks response was purely Pavlovian at this point.

The agent let out a hoarse laugh and yelled,”Hey man, it’s all right! I have some good news, you have a choice of assignments and it’s an unlimited time offer.”

Rick poked his head from under the bunk as the agent motioned to him,”Go ahead have a seat and I’ll explain.”

Turns out Ricks work record was impressive enough other than the one incident which got him canned, detained, put on trial, beaten with rotten vegetables, nearly frozen to death and eventually partially castrated. Dozens of corporations across the solar system were very interested in his expertise on avatar brains. A couple of universities were even interested in his work on Io because of past innovations he contributed to his former company in the field. Rick was a pretty smart man in some circles he just never preferred to take those directions enjoying the basic comforts of a hard days work. Also if he so wished he was now eligible for full retirement assigned to his birth world, and the zoo was even impressed and wanted to hire him on back on Mars as a custodial supervisor.

All offers would remain open for his entire lifetime, but at this point retirement someplace on a quiet corner of Venus called to him. The warm tropical lakes, sipping a beer and fishing, no cabbage chucking Martian kids, no angry buxom Earthling nurses, no frostbite, and especially no bears! He was happy to make it to Venus alive and almost in one piece. As he settled into his beach house relaxing on the porch a neighbor walking by waved and approached.

“Hi, the names Jessica.”she said in her sultry Venutian tone, “Say you look familiar, Your name’s not Rick is it?”

“Oh Lord! Yes, I am the guy who killed the Polar bear.”,he said shaking his head shamefully expecting another slap.

She had never been off world though–Jessica was kind and pretty Venutian local around Ricks age but in far better shape,”Oh no! Now nothing like that. I think we went to High school together! It is Rick right?”

“Why yes, mine is Rick. Wait I do know you!”,Rick said with a surprised look.

She smiled back at him and said,”What’s a polar bear?”

He started laughing and smiled back at her grinning wide passed her a beer, and sighed in relief.