Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Outage

     [A short story for you today, as I’m still working on the next segment in the Moral Fundamentals series. As the C.S.O. loves to remind me whenever I start to bitch about Long Island, there’s nowhere you can move that doesn’t have its downside. New York has traffic and high taxes. Florida has hurricanes. Oklahoma has tornadoes. California has Californians. So choosing a locale in which to settle is mostly a matter of choosing your poison. -- FWP]

     “How long do you think it will last?”
     She looks more worried than usual.
     David tried his best to sound reassuring. “They seem to be getting shorter, dear. The last one was less than an hour. We probably won’t have that long to wait.”
     Selena’s expression softened microscopically. She continued to light candles. Michael, their nine-month-old son, seemed to be reaching for the bank of little lights from his carrier.
     “I know it’s a little...paranoid of me,” she said after a moment, “but it seems like every time they announce an upgrade we have another outage. You’d almost think they were engineering them into the system.” She met his eyes. “Do you think the system will ever be finished?”
     He smirked. “I doubt it. You know what engineers are like. We love to tinker. Even with stuff that’s already working fine. Sometimes there’s nobody sensible around to stop us.”
     He rose and went to check the meters. The outdoor thermometer read minus thirty-five. The fuel gauge had dropped by forty-five gallons in ten minutes. He congratulated himself on serendipitously having thought to have the tanks topped off the day before...and reminded himself that a thousand gallons was well short of infinite. He turned the thermostat down to fifty-five degrees.
     Better to shiver a bit now than run out of fuel before the outage ends.
     Dad said during the really long one, back in oh-four, his neighborhood was forced to huddle in one house and burn furniture in the fireplace. It was that or freeze to death in the dark. We’ve never had one that bad.
     At least we don’t have electric heat. I can’t imagine how the Tomlinsons will cope.
     Selena lit the last of the candles, returned her igniter wand to the drawer under the coffee table, and turned to check on Michael. The baby appeared to have fallen asleep. She tucked his covers around him with special care and moved to snuggle into her husband’s side. He looped an arm around her.
     “Times like this,” she murmured, “I really miss Virginia.”
     He hugged her gently. “Times like this, so do I. But they needed what I do here, and the cost of living—”
     “I know, I know,” she said. “But were we really so badly off in Blacksburg?”
     “At the moment we decided to move?” he said. “No, of course we weren’t. But the writing was on the wall. The demand for my work was dropping like a rock. Heading for a locale where the demand was high before the bottom could fall out seemed like the smart thing to do. Besides,” he said, “we wanted to start a family, and this way you could be home with Michael.”
     “I guess you’re right.” She grinned wryly at him. In the glow from the candles she appeared wraithlike, a creature of gossamer and wisps. “It’s just...when you called it pioneering, I thought you were joshing me.”
     He hugged her again. “We didn’t have outages like this in Blacksburg, now did we?”
     She chuckled. “Like this? No. It would have caused talk.”
     “Sure would have,” he said. “It’s how our minds work. Something that reliable comes to seem like a guarantee. A God-given right, even. If you lose it, you start looking for someone to sue.”
     “Well,” she said, “at least here, we would know who to sue.”
     He nodded.
     For all the good it would do us. Damned power monopoly.
     He rose to check the gauges again. The outside temperature was stable. The fuel gauge had sunk another forty gallons.
     I could have gone with gas. Maybe I should have. The trucks aren’t going to be making deliveries in this.
     As he made to return to his wife, there came a glimmer of light. It flickered, stabilized, and swiftly rose to normal levels. He glanced at the thermometer. It had begun to rise. Minus thirty-four...thirty-three...thirty, and still rising.
     “Looks like they got it back on line,” Selena said.
     “And only twenty minutes this time,” he said.
     Thank you, Lucifer Systems. And thank You, God.
     He moved to the window, swept the heavy insulating curtains aside, and peered out at the renewed sun. It seemed as bright as it had been before the outage struck, but no brighter.
     Selena moved up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
     “‘Paradise on Proserpina,’ the brochures said,” she murmured. “Expanding economy, low taxes, carefully engineered neighborhoods and living systems. Just a few little gotchas now and then. Like almost freezing to death when the sun goes out.”
     “A few people did freeze to death, back in Dad’s time,” he said. “He mentioned it when I told him we were thinking of moving here.”
     “Didn’t it give you any worries?” she said.
     “Of course it did. But he swore it was safe. Said they had almost all the bugs out of Lucifer. Just a short outage now and then.” He turned and embraced her. “Besides, he said, think of the pay rate for a topflight laser tech.”
     “Should we convert to gas, David?” she said.
     “I was thinking about it,” he said, “but Lucifer Systems owns the gas lines, and the price has been going up. So I think we’ll go multi-fuel. Oil when we have it, gas when we don’t.”
     “There should be a law about that sort of thing,” she said.
     He grinned. “There was a law in Blacksburg. There were plenty of laws. Wasn’t that part of why we moved?”
     She nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”
     Michael awoke and emitted a thin wail. Selena looked over her shoulder at their son.
     “Time to feed him,” she said. She peeled away two layers of fleece and one of wool to bare a breast. A shiver ran through her. “Turn up the thermostat, would you please?”
     “Of course, love.”


     Copyright © 2019 by Francis W. Porretto. All rights reserved worldwide.

UPDATE: Feel free to download The Outage at Smashwords.


HoundOfDoom said...

"California has californians" LOL. Gotta say, you have a point there. We're decamping for Texas. Will miss the weather, but that's about it.

FredLewers said...

@houndofdoom. I live in Texas. I don't know how you vote or what your lifestyle is, or what you would like it to be. But if you want it to be a bit like California but with lower taxes try Austin or San Antonio. Please don't come here and vote for ANYTHING that creates more government oversight or safety nets or the like. We're pretty open to leaving people alone and not trying to rescue the world or the crack ho down the block... There's a reason Texas ain't like California. Don't try to improve things... Just sayin