Chapter 2 - Samantha - Three Weeks Ago


“I’ve heard enough Samantha. Do you ever see headlines of ‘Pod Complex Loses Power And Shuts Down VR’ in the news? No? Because it doesn’t happen.  Stop fear mongering and do your job.  Keep the lights on.” Said my professional master, Helga Trompswitch.

I stared at the ground and breathed the stale air through my gaping mouth. She was serious, wasn’t she? I cleared my throat and tried to be as helpful as possible.

“I understand Ma’am, it must surely be my fault that we have reached this position and I am very sorry to have burdened you with these mundane problems. If you could please approve the parts and labor I submitted to you last week I’m sure I can...“ Helga cut me off.

“That’s enough! Don’t try to blame me for your own shortcomings.  Fix our power like any competent solar technician in this city and keep our pod running before I have you replaced.” She said as she shined one of her many gold bracelets. “Jose, take a note, start interviewing for new solar technicians.”

“Any other issues people?” Helga said as her hologram glared at the rest of the holographic people projected into my small apartment. The holograms of the Pod complex’s administrative staff took up the majority of my small apartment’s living room. I counted myself lucky I couldn’t smell Helga, she probably reeked of rancid oil. The assumption of her odor made me feel better even though holograms were odorless. I was unlikely to ever find out, she did not deign to meet with her staff in person.

Mark the Waste Manager and Jose the Building Manager swallowed and nodded their heads no. I was the only one foolish enough to believe Helga would help or care about impending catastrophes.

“Good. Do your jobs. Bye.” Her projection mimed pushing a button on the table and disappeared.

“Mark, Jose, do you have any resources to spare? There is no way I can repair the damaged solar panels, batteries, and subsystems and manufacture the required parts myself before residents start getting kicked out of VR.  It will be 2034 all over again. Guys, this is serious, can you please help?” I wrung my hands as I looked at coworkers.

“I’m sorry Samantha I really am but I have no idea how to help.  My people don’t know those systems and I’m dealing with my own potential collapses.” Mark said. “The waste collection tubes from each apartment’s VR capsule are aging rapidly and have to be replaced. That’s ten thousand tubes in just the main building.  On top of that, Helga the Cruel hasn’t authorized any overtime.  If we don’t have buildings that reek of feces in the next week I’ll count it a miracle.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” Jose said, squeezing his hair, well on his way to his usual handful of hair. His words come out at a rapid clip.

“Helga has me spending all my time preparing a report for the Pod shareholders. The report must show ‘amazing’ profits for this quarter. If it were up to me I would use those profits to fund replacement equipment. But it is not. Building manager means spreadsheet jockey. She even had me sell our fleet of repair robots and replace them with untrained workers from below. Cheaper than repairing the bots she says! Cheaper now sure but who is going to place themselves here when they see urchins scrubbing floors?”

Jose pulled on his hair with one hand as he pointed at us with the other. “Mark my words, our scores will drop and we’ll get buried in the rankings of pod complexes.  We’ll have to drop prices to show up at the top of any ranking and then where will we be?  Managers of a low-rent Chicago pod that is one step away from being taken over by the city and turned into a welfare pod.”

I shivered at the thought of losing our pod to the city’s welfare system.  Not only would we be out of a job, but the building would quickly fall into a permanent state of semi-operation. The city made sure its building were habitable, not pleasant. On the other hand, whoever runs the city’s pod complexes must have been more competent than Helga, they hadn’t run out of power or hired human sanitation workers.

“Sorry guys, I’ll try to figure it out. Good luck on your own Helga induced dramas.”  I mimed pressing an off button and the holograms disappeared. My head dropped into my hands.

A chiming sounded through my auditory implant and I saw a notification icon in my vision. “Answer”

A slight smile dragged my lips upwards. My boyfriend Robert’s blue eyes and messy blond hair snapped to life.

“Hey, Sam, ready to go? Our reservation at La’Rouge is in forty minutes, let’s not start on a bad foot again by being late...”

“Yes, I’ll be there, but there’s bad news. Helga is demanding improvements and there is just no way for me to get it done without working double shifts for the whole next month. We can talk more about it at dinner but, ugh. She is so crazy! She thinks just because it isn’t in the news it can’t happen -- running out of power can totally happen and if she’d just give me the people and resources I need I can fix every problem with the solar array on the building.  Whether that’s the solar glass modules, solar panels on the roof, conversion units, whatever.”

I slowed down as I realized I had been waving my arms and pointing like a madwoman.

“Sorry, you probably weren’t expecting that.”

“Unfortunately, I kind of was.” He said with a slightly sad smile. “How about I meet you at the restaurant so you have a little while to compose yourself? Let's push it back 45 minutes.”

“Sure Robert, I’ll see you then,” I said, ending our conversation with an air kiss.

Oh well, at least I can have one last night of fun before I go into crazy work mode.

I jumped in the mister, a recent invention that was slowly replacing the old fashioned water glutton showers. Instead of drenching you in running water, a hot mist is sprayed over your body for under thirty seconds, followed by jets of air that push the mist off of you from top to bottom. The first few cycles had some cleaning agents but after that, they are pure water. The cycle repeated until you pressed a button signifying you were clean enough. I waited a long time before pushing the button.

I stepped out of the mister, wiped down my diminutive frame and looked in the mirror as I completed my post-mist routine. My unruly brown hair was plastered against my skull and neck but didn’t make it down to my back. I brushed it out and sprayed some styling gel to decrease the mad engineer look that I’m known for. I dot my neck and wrists with the yummiest perfume known to woman and begin the laborious process of applying makeup.  Even with all the modern marvels, a girl just can’t get automatic makeup.

I picked out my only black slinky dress and a pair of heels to complete my hopefully sexy outfit...Why was I questioning myself so much? Of course, it’s sexy.  Helga might have been destroying me professionally but I’d be damned if she was going to cut me down personally too.

Determined to make something of the night, I opened my apartment door, walked to the elevator and pressed the button to head to the ground floor.  Much of my building was upgraded to survive in modern times, but as was the case in many structures, it just did not make economic sense to rip out the massive elevator shafts of the early twenty-first century.

I said, “Summon an Uber, destination La’Rouge.” Walking through the marble-floored lobby, I waved at Harry the lobby bot and opened the glass front doors. I carefully walked across the empty sidewalk to bend into the back seat of the Uber. The Uber navigated its way through the streets, communicating with its silicon and steel brethren.

I arrived at La’Rouge on time and walked through the brass-edged door held open by the maitre d'. I smiled and asked him, “Is my companion Robert seated yet?”

“No Madame, but please follow me to your table.”

I sat at the table and started to plan my next month. If I woke up at 6 am, I could focus exclusively on repairing any connectivity issues within the solar array for three hours. Roughly twenty percent of our production woes were simply broken connections from a window or roof panel to our main batteries. Then at 9 am I could have a quick breakfast, and switch focus to repairing broken panels.  Whether the receptors or inverters were broken would mean the difference between my ability to fix them or not.  I could potentially open the inverters and repair any damaged electronics or mechanical parts by hand, but if the receptors were broken, I was screwed.

I couldn’t manufacture a solar receiving window in the buildings maintenance workshop or a rooftop panel.  Not only was our printer not capable of such a complex print, but it had no chemical capabilities whatsoever.

That spoke for the entire morning. Sneak a lunch in there somewhere.

Around 3 pm I should probably change focus to the battery bank. It consisted of a massive network of small lithium batteries. They were responsible for storing any energy converted during the day for use at night and in the early morning of the next day.  If any battery failed, the array had to make sure no energy was wasted being sent to a failed battery.  If too many batteries failed, then there was no place to store the energy the panels had captured.

Then I could grab a quick dinner and get back to work around 6 pm, working on data and systems analysis, identifying any new problems, prioritizing existing problems and analyzing if my repairs made any noticeable difference.

The whole system still worked, but so many panels and batteries had issues that I doubted it would last the month. Maybe, just maybe if I worked from 6 am to 10 pm for the next month I could get enough done to meet Helga’s ridiculous demands but it was no sure thing.

I focused my eyes and realized it had been quite some time since I sat down. I frowned and mentally queried the time. I had daydreamed for at least twenty minutes. I tried to put a message through to Robert but all I got back was a message:

You are not allowed to contact this user.

I just sat there. I heard of this message and read it was possible, but never saw it myself.

He dumped me.  He stood me up and dumped me via message block. I saw red through the gathering moisture in my eyes. I stood up with clenched fists and ran out the door.


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