"I was out of town for the last week. How did it happen?" asked Edgar Cooping.
"Harry was shot," began Sonia Cthulhu sadly.
"By an idiot teenybopper with a plastic gun he built using a 3-D printer!" angrily added her husband, H.P. Cthulhu.
"They had to operate immediately. Soon after the first operation, the doctors told us he had contracted gram-negative bacteria. They weren't sure if he contracted it from a contaminated bullet or in the hospital. I thought it would be quickly cured by antibiotics," continued Sonia.
"As soon as I heard it was gram-negative bacteria, I knew it was trouble. We've abused antibiotics so much, especially in farm animals, that some gram-negative bacteria cannot be killed by current antibiotics," interjected H.P. "The doctors told me that the reason we do not have any more super-drugs is because the pharmaceutical companies do not make nearly as much money on them as they do with cholesterol, erectile-dysfunction, and other drugs which patients take on an ongoing basis. Antibiotics are only used for ten days or so, so the profit margin is much lower."
"And then Harry developed sepsis," continued Sonia.
"I always thought it was called septicemia," added H.P.
"Which started shutting down his internal organs. Oh, his poor little legs: they were all black, dark red, and blue -- and swollen. We were here when he died this morning. Our little Houdini has performed his last trick," concluded Sonia.
Sonia went partially limp for a few seconds, but both H.P and Edgar took hold of her arms and walked her to a chair.
"Have you thought about the arrangements?" asked Virginia Cooping, Edgar's wife.
"No, not a bit. Up until this morning I would have wagered everything I own that antibiotics would save the day. What are we returning to, the Dark Ages, when bacteria killed millions?" pondered H.P.
"What happened to the boy who shot Harry?" asked Edgar.
"It's not the justice I would have chosen, but the first shot he fired went into our dear Harry. But the second shot blew up the gun, shredding his hand and tearing into his eyes and face, blinding him," said H.P as he grimly smiled.
"What did he shoot Harry for?" asked Virginia.
Sonia sobbed a little. "The junior thug thought Harry was gay. But he wasn't! Remember not that long ago he would stuff a towel into the back of his waistband, pretending it was his tail? He was always being creative."
"I asked him point-blank one day if he was gay, followed by our assurances that it was okay if he was. He just laughed and said he liked to try different things," continued H.P. " I think he would have been a musician or a writer."
"Remember when the Williams tried to coerce us into changing his gender, even going so far as to accuse us of child abuse? I got really angry with them," asked Sonia.
"Yeah, they wanted us to start hormone treatments. No way was I going to do that for a growing child. I told them that Harry could choose any path in life he wanted, but his body was going to finish growing first," answered H.P. "I mean, there are good reasons why we have pediatricians and hospitals dedicated to children's needs. Their bodies are entirely different. Hormone treatments for children would be tantamount to experimentation."
"Did you drive here?" asked Edgar, changing the subject.
"No, we took a drone taxi," replied H.P.
"Yeah, us too. How about we share one and get you two home so you can think about what you want to do?" offered Edgar.
"That's probably a good idea," answered H.P. as he looked at his pale wife.
Edgar took out his smartphone and started the drone taxi app, entering the number of passengers and other relevant data. He didn't need to enter a credit card or other form of payment because his phone was his financial manager, as it was for most people.
"Okay, it's all set. It should be waiting for us when we get downstairs," offered Edgar.
They all walked downstairs to the main entrance. Waiting outside was their drone taxi, essentially a box with windows on three sides, a door on one side, and a propeller on each of the four top corners to supply lift. Like all drones, there was no driver. This generation was the last to have a human operating it via remote control, as all newer ones were automated.
All four entered the taxi and it immediately took off.
"Did you hear about the crash between taxi and delivery vehicle drones?" asked H.P. softly so as to not disturb his wife.
"Yeah, a BigWoman automated delivery vehicle left its package on someone's doorstep and then took off vertically right into the bottom of an automated taxi. Both vehicles crashed hard and everyone in the taxi and a pedestrian walking beneath it died. BigWoman's CEO Oligarch Devoid Ofpity is using the usual libertarian ploy that the delivery vehicle division is based in India and therefore immune to domestic lawsuits," answered Edgar.
"And did you hear about the thefts of homes? Not items from homes, entire homes! Authorities aren't sharing the particulars, but it appears that some people have just vanished, with their homes and bank accounts being stolen. Authorities believe that once the homes are stolen, the thieves sell them for less than market value to the people who post those "I buy houses" signs on street signs. Those secondary buyers always get stuck with the aftermath, losing their entire investment, so greedy they acquiesce to the thieves' requirement of no title insurance and a fast closing. The money is wired to an intermediary bank in the U.S. and then to a bank in Russia where clawbacks are impossible. Some computer security professionals believe that the Russian government has made a deal with the cyber-thieves, called Partnerkas. As long as they do not steal from Russian interests, they will not be bothered and might even be assisted if it coincides with current government policy," continued H.P.
"Okay, here we are," announced Edgar.
"Sonia, are you okay now? Do you want some help getting in?" asked Virginia.
"I'm okay now. I just want to lie down for a few minutes," answered Sonia.
"If you guys need anything, give us a call, okay?" added Edgar.
"Okay, thanks," answered H.P. as he and Sonia exited the taxi. After they had walked twelve feet from the vehicle, it took off again with the Coopings.
Virginia took out her smartphone and checked her email. "Look, I have an email, 'Demon with a glass penis,' from FaceResale."
"Maybe it's not a good idea to click on that one," proposed Edgar.
"Oh my god, you're so paranoid! Wait, it's telling me I need to verify security measures for FaceResale. Let's see, date of birth, SSN, address, oh, it wants to add retina scanning to my account just like we have at home," she declared breathlessly.
"Remember, we agreed that the retina scan would only be used for our townhome -- nowhere else?" he chided.
"Oh my god, you're so paranoid! This generation of the gspotPhone has a camera which can also obtain high-quality close-up images. I'll just hold it in front of my eye. There! All done!" she continued.
"See, we made it home without any incident!" she declared.
They exited the drone taxi. When they had moved twelve feet away from it, it took off and flew to its next destination. They walked to the doorway of their townhome.
She placed her chin in the chin-rest of their security system and allowed the retina scanner to map her eyeball. The status light remained red. She repeated the process, but the light remained red.
"What's going on here?" she demanded.
"Let me try it," he offered.
He placed his chin in the chin-rest and allowed the retina scanner to map his eyeball. The status light changed from red to green. As he pushed the door open, the light immediately changed back to red.
"It's never done that before," he declared.
As soon as they closed the door, she checked her phone for the latest email. "Look, I have an email for a party!"
He looked at the graphic on her phone. "Swing until dawn!" was written under a stylized depiction of a man and a woman dancing a tango.
"It starts at 8:00 PM. And it's free to members of the homeowner's association. Sounds like it was designed for us!" she declared.
* * * * *
At 7:00 PM the Coopings' wall-television came on. The stylized dancing depiction from the email was on the screen. An announcer's voice was explaining how much fun the event would be and that they needed to get moving now or they would miss it.
"That sounds just like Ilya Kurchatov!" announced Virginia.
"That is a character on a television program as played by a British actor," explained Edgar.
"Whatever! Sounds Russian to me," she countered. "Let's go!"
They gathered their phones, wallets, and other essential belongings and walked out the door. As soon as the door closed behind them, the television switched off.
He called for a drone taxi using his phone. Almost immediately one arrived and landed.
"That's the fastest taxi service I have ever seen!" he declared.
They got in and the taxi flew toward the coast. As it started to land, she looked at her husband and said, "I always wondered what the multistory barge on the pier was. Party town!"
They exited the taxi. If they had turned to watch it, they would have seen it lurch from side-to-side, with the suspension being dropped first on one side and then the other, as if it was a drunken dancer. It did not fly away until the two had walked to the entrance of the barge
At the barge, they saw a large video display with the same stylized dancing depiction they saw before. As they walked towards it, it went blank and then displayed "Your room number is 2640 Grand Concourse."
They walked into the hallway and saw that "Grand Concourse" was the pretentious name for a wide hallway running the length of the barge. There was no one to be seen in the hallway.
He looked at her and said, "Let's get out of here. This place is a morgue."
"Let's at least look at the room," she countered.
They walked down the hallway to #2640.
"I just realized we have no room key," he said.
"A chin rest ... maybe," she wondered. She placed her chin on the chin rest and allowed the retina scanner to map her eyeball. The room door opened.
I'm not sure whether I should be impressed or worried," he admitted.
They walked into the room. The door shut behind them.
"Looks like standard Las Vegas fare: king-size bed, decent bathroom, and not much else. Let's go," he repeated. He tried to open the door, but the electronic lock would not unlock the door. "What's up with this?" he asked.
"We are having some technical problems with the door locks. We expect to have the problem resolved shortly. Thank you for your patience," a disembodied voice proclaimed.
"That sounds just like the Russian back home!" she declared.
"I think you're right, it does! Now what do we do?" he queried.
"Well, you always say I'm only good for one thing!" she announced as she removed her shirt.
* * * * *
They were getting dressed after killing time in the time-honored tradition of men and women everywhere. A four-note chime sounded and then the disembodied voice proclaimed: "Our technical problem has been solved. The doors are working again. 'Swing until dawn' will now commence."
They walked back toward the main entrance until they heard some music. It sounded unfamiliar, like Eastern European polkas mixed with new-age rhythms. The music was coming from a room with that now familiar stylized dancing depiction being displayed on video monitors on both sides of the doors. They walked inside.
As they walked in with him on the left and her on the right, they could see no one at all. A muffled thudding noise sounded from their left. They both turned to look at what caused the noise. He heard a strange swishing / chopping noise behind him and turned around quickly. As he turned, he saw Virginia's arms flying in the air -- with each arm in three pieces -- and blood spraying everywhere. As his mouth opened in horror, he heard her starting to scream. Then for the first time he noticed the two muscular men swinging swords just a little beefier than Japanese samurai ones seen in American movies. Both men were dressed in colors exactly matching those of the walls, making them difficult to see.
Just as her scream became ear-shattering, the man on the left lifted his blade and swung it at her neck, severing her head in one motion. Her head moved to the side of the rest of her body and quickly fell to the ground.
As her now-silenced scream echoed throughout the room, he moved one foot in front of the other in an attempt to fight the two men, but he found his balance strangely affected. He looked down and saw that his arms had been severed the same as Virginia. Two more men had been standing behind him in wait.
He felt vertigo as he had never felt it before and realized that his head was now moving to the side of his now headless torso.
The very last experience in his life was hearing the chimes calling for the next couple.
© Copyright Pete Prunskunas, 2015-2018. All rights reserved.