A Visit to the 21st Century
by Joe Vadalma
Table of Contents|
Part 3 appears
in this issue.
* * *
Obsidian took a deep breath as he left the mental institution. Perhaps he was stuck in the twenty-first century, but at least he was free. He found a pharmacy and bought a bottle of antiseptic spray which he sprayed on his palm where Doctor Rudolph had touched him. He also filled the prescription. Doctor Dee had told him about a man who would buy such pharmaceuticals for cash. This put a few dollars in his pocket, enough to rent a cheap furnished one-room apartment.
He purchased a newspaper and looked through the want ads for employment. (Again, it was Doctor Dee that told him about working and how to find employment.) Getting around the city was difficult at first, until he learned about the city buses. He slowly overcame his fear of the subway, although he refused to venture into one during rush hour.
He had a problem as far as employment went, however. None of his experiences in the thirty-first century applied to the types of employment offered in the newspaper. He knew how to navigate a flivacar, but there were no flivacars. He’d once taken a course in repairing ocuportangstroms, but they didn’t exist either. His artistic ability in holographics could not be used until holographics were invented. The ads were for accountants, nurses, short-order cooks, handymen, and computer programmers. None of which he had a clue as to how to do. Finally, he spotted an ad for an automobile salesperson. He looked up salesperson in the paperback dictionary he bought. I can do that, he thought.
The next day, he donned the suit that the institution had given him, including the colorful rag that went around his neck and went to the dealership needing sales people. At first, he simply walked around in the showroom, not knowing how to start. An attractive well-endowed woman approached him. “May I help you? I can get quite a deal on that Toyota Sinata you were looking at.”
“Thank you. I’m here about the salesperson task.”
A look of disappointment came over her face. She jerked her thumb at a doorway. “You’ll have to see the manager if your looking for a job.” She walked away, smiling at an elderly man gazing at a sports car.
Obsidian went into the manager’s office. The manager was heavyset and baldheaded. He wore a striped suit with the jacket removed. His desk was piled with brochures and other papers. He rose. “What can I do for you?”
“I wish to become employed by you.”
“As what? We’ve got enough mechanics right now.”
“As a salesperson.” Obsidian showed him the ad.
“Really?” The manager eyed Obsidian up and down. “You’ll need a better a suit.”
“I’ll thumb... I mean purchase one as soon as I get enough credits... I mean dollars.”
“You talk funny. Any experience in sales?”
“Oh yes,” Obsidian lied.
“Well... uh... things.”
The manager chuckled. “You’d better learn to lie better than that if you want to get into sales. Although you’ve got no experience, I need someone now. So I’ll give you a chance. You can start right away. Here fill out this employment form.” He slid a questionnaire and a pen to Obsidian. “You can do it right here. I’m going to lunch.”
Obsidian had no trouble filling out the form except for a couple of questions. He made up stuff about his past employment, hoping that what he put down was not too ridiculous from a twenty-first century view point. One question stumped him though. It asked him for his social security number. He didn’t have a clue as to what to put in there, so he left it blank, hoping that it was not important.
When the manager returned, he didn’t even look at the form, simply threw it into an in-basket. “Okay. You’re on the payroll. Now let’s see whether you can perform. See that couple over there. I want you to sell them a minivan, the most expensive on the lot. They look like they’re loaded. Talk to the lady mostly. Tell her all about the van’s beautiful finish, how she’ll be the envy of the neighborhood.
“The man will offer you a price. Look horrified, shake your head and tell him that we couldn’t possibly sell it as low as that. Dicker a while. Every time he comes up with a higher price, tell him you’ll have to speak to the manager. Come in here and pretend that we’re discussing the price. Then you go out again and tell him that he’s being unreasonable.
“Keep doing that until you get him to agree to a price five hundred dollars under the sticker price. After you start doing the paperwork, ask him if he wants our five-year-drive train warranty. You’ve got to use your persuasive powers to make him say yes. Okay, that’s all you need to do. If you don’t make the sale, you don’t make the cut.”
Obsidian was nervous. He knew he had to make the sale. He hoped he’d remember the manager’s complicated instructions. Otherwise, he didn’t know how he would live in the twenty-first century. He approached the couple, who were looking over a modestly priced sedan. “Goodnight, ladies and germs. May I help you?”
The man eyed Obsidian in a peculiar manner. “Yeah. How much is this sedan?”
“Oh, I couldn’t sell you that ground vehicle. Come, let me show that beautiful purple van over there.”
“What? It’s the ugliest thing I ever saw. Besides, we don’t need a van.”
Obsidian turned to the woman. “Surely, a vibrant, energetic woman like you must have to carry equipment for your many hobbies. The van is much roomier. And besides you’ll be the envy of your neighbors.”
She replied, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to look at it. George?”
Her husband grumbled, but allowed Obsidian to bring them over by the van. Since Obsidian had not a clue as to what to show off about the car, he pointed out the plush seats, the height above the ground and other irrelevancies, meanwhile praising the woman every chance he got. Finally, the couple whispered together. The husband asked, “How much?”
“How much what?”
“The price, stupid. What’s the price?”
Obsidian quoted the sticker price.
“Are you kidding?” The man offered a price two thousand dollars lower.
Obsidian went through the whole routine as the manager had told him. They finally agreed on a price five hundred dollars below sticker. He even got them to take the extended warranty, which added five hundred dollars to the cost. After the couple left, the manager came over and congratulated him. “Fine job. I thought we’d never sell that ugly purple van.”
It appeared that Obsidian had a talent for selling used cars and did well. He became friendly with Carla, the salesperson who was the first employee he met when he applied for the job. He was very attracted to her, but had no idea what the courting rituals of the twenty-first century were. In his own time, he would’ve contacted a woman he liked over the comm network and asked her to have virtual sex with him. He supposed that in the past there were preliminaries to go through first. He’d vaguely recalled something called marriage that people did in the past before having virtual sex.
One day, he got his courage up. “Carla, will you marry me?”
She slapped him on the arm. “Always kidding around, Obssie. I’ve noticed you eyeing me. Is this your obtuse way of asking for a date?”
Obsidian wasn’t sure what a date was. He pictured some sort of fruit, but didn’t think that was what she meant. Nonetheless, he said, “Yes. May I have a date?”
“Sure, I’m free Friday night. What time?”
“Okay.” She handed him a card on which she had written her address and phone number.
Obsidian was in a quandary. He needed to know what to do on a date. He asked one of the other salesman. “What? Oh, you’re going out with Carla. Well, she’s pretty easy. Just take her to an expensive restaurant and then dancing. If she likes you, she’ll invite you into her apartment.”
* * *
By this time, Obsidian had overcome his fear of taxis. He hired one to bring Carla to the Chez Swank. He was quite surprised and pleased that she wore a gown that displayed much of the bare flesh of her upper body. Upon the advise of the car salesman that he’d consulted, he ordered a bottle of wine and tipped the waiter lavishly. Dinner conversation centered around the foolish customers at the car dealership, since it was the only thing Obsidian felt safe discussing.
Afterwards he took her to a disco. When they entered, they were greeted by thunderously loud music and were assaulted on all sides by the lively crowd. Obsidian though he would faint from the proximity of so many bodies. Nonetheless, he braved it out. At first he worried about the dancing, but soon discovered that all there was to dancing was jerking his body around in weird configurations.
At the end of evening, he took Carla to her door and kissed her lightly on the cheek as he had learned in the time travel class.
“Oh Obssie, you’re such a gentleman. I had a great time.” She grabbed him around the neck and kissed him on the lips. To his horror, her tongue went into his mouth. He almost gagged. She pulled away. “What’s the matter baby?”
“I... uh... choked on...”
“Come inside. I’ll get you some water.”
She opened the door, and they went in. Carla headed toward the kitchen.
Obsidian was happy. Since she had invited him into her apartment, apparently she liked him. He wondered whether he should broach the subject of virtual sex. She sauntered out of the kitchen and handed him a glass of water, which he drank down. “Would you like something stronger?” she asked.
“Yes.” He figured that she’d bring back that exotic drink called cola that he’d taken a liking to since he’d been living in the twenty-first century.
“Have a seat. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
Obsidian sat on the sofa. He noticed a box with a glass front. He assumed that it was a primitive holovision. “Holovision, power up.”
Nothing happened. Either it was out of order or Carla used some other command to turn it on. He picked up a magazine from the coffee table with a picture of a pretty female on the cover and read the titles of the articles, Fifteen Ways to Please a Man, What to Do at That Time of the Month, Sex Secrets That Will Thrill Him. This is what I need, he thought. It must tell all about the courting rituals of these twenty-first centurians.
Before he could read any of the articles, however, Carla appeared. She had changed into a practically transparent diaphanous gown. His eyes bugged out. She had a beautiful body. He wondered whether he should now remove his own garments. She handed him a glass containing an amber liquid and ice and sat extremely close. He took a sip and almost spat it out. It was potent, much stronger than cola. He put it down. Carla took a large swallow of her own drink, laid her glass down and snuggled up to him, which made his skin crawl. Obsidian gazed around the room wondering where the virtual play equipment was located.
Carla said. “Well Obbsie, aren’t you going to kiss me?”
Another kiss, he thought. I thought the twenty-first centurians only did that when greeting each other or parting. Does she want me to leave? He bent down and pressed his lips gently against hers. Again, she grabbed him around the neck, pulled him close and stuck her tongue in his mouth. She also took his hand and placed it on her breast. She began to breathe heavily.
Obsidian realized that she intended that they have sex, real sex, not virtual. The thought rattled him so much, he pulled away and blurted, “Does this mean that we’re married?”
“Oh, Obsidian, don’t tell me that you’re a virgin. That you’ve been saving yourself for marriage. How sweet.” She patted his cheek.
He didn’t know how to reply. Of course, he was not a virgin. He’d had virtual sex with human and android partners quite often. He’d had actual sex with androids. And once with a real woman. But that was quite different. First they undressed completely and stared at each for several minutes before culminating. It had been rather dull actually. What Carla was expecting seemed daring and exciting, to touch and grope and kiss before actual penetration. Yet it repulsed him too, knowing that they’d be touching each other skin to skin for several minutes or longer.
“I’d better leave,” he said.
“Are you sure? I’ll be gentle. Don’t be so old fashioned. We could have a good time.” She gave him a sad look.
“I... I need to find out more about your ways.”
“That’s right. You are from a foreign country. I knew you had an accent. Okay. So long then.” She kissed him gently on the lips. “We could still date. Maybe after a while...”
“Yes. I’d like that. But do we have to go to that horrible dancing place?”
She laughed. “No, of course not.”
* * *
The following Monday when he reported to work, the manager called him to his office. “We’ve run into a glitch with bookkeeping. Apparently you forgot to enter your social security number on your employment form. What is it?”
Obsidian stuttered, “I... I don’t have one.”
“What? Oh I get it. You’re an illegal. I should’ve guessed. Sorry, I’m going to have to let you go. You have the makings of a good salesman, but I don’t want any trouble with the feds.”
Obsidian recalled the men with the dark suits at the police station. “You won’t report me, will you?”
“Naw.” He handed Obsidian an envelope. “Here’s your pay for the time you worked here. Good luck. It’s been nice knowing you.” He held out his hand. Obsidian carefully shook it, touching the manager’s sweaty palms as lightly as possible.
As he walked through the showroom on his way out, Carla asked, “What’s up, Obssie?”
“I’m being let go.”
“How come? You were doing a good job. You made more sales than half the guys here.”
“Oh. So that’s why you kept talking about marriage. You wanted me to marry you so you could stay in this country. I should’ve known by the way you were acting Friday night that something wasn’t right. Don’t bother calling.” She quickly turned and walked away.
Obsidian was hurt and confused. He wondered what was so terrible about being an illegal. It was like having a terrible disease. With slumped shoulders he wandered slowly towards his apartment. After he’d gone a ways, somebody tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up to see Doctor Dee.
“Hello. They finally released you, I see.”
Doctor Dee chuckled. “You haven’t guessed yet. I’m your guide.”
“What are you talking about? What guide?”
“Your guide from TAC. The adventure’s over.”
“Over. You’re taking me back to the thirty-first century?”
“Of course. Was the twenty-first exciting?”
* * *
On the way back to Enceladus, Obsidian stopped by the artificial satellite where Blato lived. He told his friend about his adventures in the twenty-first century.
“I still say that you’re a brave man... even though the trip was simulated.”
Obsidian sighed. “Yes, I am. Y’know, it was so realistic that sometimes I felt as though I was really trapped in the past. If someone ever invents real time travel, I’d volunteer. I’d like to know what the twenty-first century was really like. That simulated danger was exciting and fun.”
Copyright © 2005 by Joe Vadalma
[Author’s note: This story first appeared in SFF World.]