The More Things Stay the Same
by Roderick D. Turner
There's no accounting for people. Predict as we may, the best we can do
is guess how humankind will react. And in spite of dire expectations,
the citizen of 2028 is more balanced by far than his counterpart of
forty years ago. Technology has flourished, reached into every aspect
of life right down to our electronic bedroom props, but it has not
taken over. The old adage holds true: the more things change, the more
they stay the same.
For The Modern Globe on WorldNet 344, this is Addeas D at 157.225.8975.99130 logging off.
Thanks Addeas. Some of us are pretty cool about the new world, but
you know those remarks wouldn't sit too well with my uncle H. His
auto-intruder system malfunctioned last month, and locked him into his
bedroom for three hours with the energy suppressor on full. Peacemakers
finally broke in and got him out, but he's been on the couch with a
silly grin on his face ever since he got home from the hospital.
Anyway, on to bigger and better things. Today in an isolated part of the Tasmanian Protectorate there was a crash--
I turned it off. Sometimes having a miniature net image superimposed
on your vision makes it hard to concentrate on your surroundings. I
slid the bifocal viewing monocle into its slot beside my left ear, and
took a good look round. Almost at my interchange, and I hadn't set the
proximity alarm. A few more seconds and I'd have cruised right past. So
much for trying to keep up with world affairs.
There was a loud whirring noise and one of those crazy lane-hoppers
whizzed across my nose and onto the exit ramp ahead of me. My car
lurched as the emergency braking system took hold. I felt the crash
webbing tighten across my chest and shoulders, and grunted with the
pressure. By the time my car had corrected its course and resumed
normal ramp speed, there was no sign of the maniac. I shook my fist
"They'll catch you one of these days. See if they don't."
I thought for a moment. "Bloody great example of technology changing
nothing," I muttered. "Automated highways, and we still have idiots
that override the system and cause accidents."
The warning tone sounded and I took the wheel. The car dropped its
speed to rural 50 and turned control over to me. I let the roadway
brake for me as the light ahead turned red. Traffic lights. They were
almost unchanged in the past forty years, so far as I knew. Slim line
design, directional flat panel display, low power LED lamps; but still
the same colours, and the same meanings.
That editorial had me thinking, all right. What had it been, twelve
years? I couldn't remember now. Might even have been thirteen years
since we moved to this neighbourhood, following my job with TechniCoke.
Penny had been--let's see, twenty-four was it? OK, so that meant
"Pick up the pace, Reggie." I pushed my foot down and the car moved
ahead through the green light. I had Penny do the voice-over for the
car computer last year. I found it easier to take reprimands and
reminders from her than that Spanish woman with the sickly sweet
"Thanks, Penny," I said. "I'll pay attention from here on."
So I did. But it was hard not to let my mind wander a little. My day
had become so routine, my activities so technology-assisted that there
was precious little call for active participation any more.
"Time for a change," I muttered as I swung into my driveway. Then I
opened the door and--well, it wasn't my driveway after all. My house
was there, next door. I took a quick glance along the street. It looked
the same. The three oak trees, one across from the postal pickup, the
second shading the network distribution box three houses along, the
third--wait, three houses down? But I could have sworn….
"Hi Reg. Dropping in for a visit?"
I turned to see Andrea, our neighbour, standing on her front
doorstep. She'd dyed her hair blue-blond since I last saw her, and
maybe she was using some of that new anti-aging cream. And her
figure--she looked fantastic.
"Sorry Andy," I said. My throat had gone suddenly dry, and my voice
came out husky. "Kind of missed my turn. I listened to--" I cleared my
throat, but it didn't help "--to an editorial on the way home. I guess
it got me distracted." I paused, a little uncertain. But I said it
anyway. "You look great."
"Thanks." She gave me a wicked smile. "Come in for a drink. Penny
won't be home for another hour, and Henry's on the prowl somewhere. You
look like you need a boost."
Unless I'd lost all sense of sexual pursuit there was lust in her
eyes. I was getting hot under the collar and I was still standing
beside the car. I looked down at my watch in an effort to distract
myself. Four thirty! What did she mean, Penny wouldn't be home for an
hour? She could be here any minute. I reached for the car door just as
Andrea put a hand on my arm. I wilted like a lettuce on a tropical
"I've got everything ready," she whispered.
I could feel the warm moistness of her breath on my ear. My body was
tingling from the inside out. "I just realized," I said, my voice
breaking like an adolescent choirboy's, "Penny said she'd be back early
today. I'd better go." I tugged weakly at my tie. It had turned stuffy
out there on the street, and the sweat was beading on my forehead. For
some reason the rest of me had the chills. Maybe it was only hot from
my shoulders up.
"That's OK, Reg," she said. "Tomorrow's fine. I can wait." She
didn't let it go at that, though. Her hand ran along my arm to my
shoulder, and traced its way down my body, stopping just below my
waist. Just below. Then she turned and walked back up to the house, her
delicate feet leaving slight impressions in the sandy path. I watched
every move like a hawk eyeing its prey. She gave a last flirting glance
back over her shoulder, then went inside and closed the door.
A minute later I finally moved. I gulped noisily and shivered with
pleasure. What had happened to the old neighbourhood? Never, never had
Andrea behaved like this. I couldn't imagine what I would do tomorrow.
She didn't seem likely to take no for an answer, and I couldn't
honestly say that I....
I kicked my foot against the side of the car to shake myself out of
it. That was a mistake. Someone had re-designed the thing to be of much
tougher stuff than I remembered. It didn't even leave a dent. I let out
a yowl of pain, then fell backwards into the driver's seat, drew my
agonized limb in after me, and closed the door. Enough was enough. I
needed to get into my own house and calm down. Something had to help
clear these fiery thoughts of Andrea out of my head.
With a sigh I backed the car quickly onto the road and pulled it in
beside my own house. Somehow I ended up parked at a rakish angle
relative to the curve of the driveway. Maybe coming from the unfamiliar
direction along the street had thrown off my aim.
I hobbled up the path and tripped over a jutting lock stone. With a
graceless twisting lunge I managed to land on my side at the edge of
the lawn, instead of flat on my face on the stone path. My impact was
still jarring, and I grunted as I hit. I rolled over and studied the
villainous chunk of rock. The only piece out of place, about a
centimeter high at one end. All I could think was that some kid had dug
it up and buried a toy car under it. And I'd just had the damned path
re-levelled last week.
I glanced surreptitiously across the street, expecting to see old
Mrs. Forbes peering out between her living room curtains as she usually
did. Another precedent shattered. She was standing on her front steps,
walking stick in hand, squinting at me. It was the first time I'd ever
seen her outside.
"You all right, sonny?" she called.
I waved back. "Just fine, Mrs. Forbes." To demonstrate I heaved
myself upright, more or less, and walked shakily up the steps to the
front door. I turned to signal my thanks, but she wasn't there. I just
caught sight of her disappearing round the corner, her feet flying, her
walking stick tucked neatly under one arm. "Jogging?" I muttered. "Mrs.
Still shaking my head I pushed my key into the lock and pressed my
palm against the security interface. The door beeped its acceptance,
and I gave the key its customary twist with that little pull at the end
to get past the sticky bit. Nothing happened. I pushed and turned,
still nothing. With my foot against the base of the door, I twisted
hard on the handle and tried every combination of tugs, shoves, and
jerks that I could muster. Several painful minutes later, as I rammed
my shoulder into the door for the tenth time, it sprang inwards. I
tumbled through into the front hall, banging my head on the base of the
gargoyle coat rack. Penny must have grown tired of the mermaid one. She
should have warned me.
I plodded down to the kitchen and called up the fridge on the
control screen, then touched the beer icon. The menu came up blank.
"How could we be out?" I said. "I just bought a case yesterday."
I called up the kitchen again and selected the liquor cabinet. Rum,
scotch, and vodka. "Since when do we drink vodka?" Maybe left over from
our last party. I hadn't gone into the liquor cabinet for a long while.
I asked for rum, a double, with--no, there was no orange juice--apple
juice. Sounded foul, but that was all we had. A few seconds later the
brownish liquid appeared in a rather dirty glass in the dispensing
window. I had knocked back half of it before I realized it was sickly
warm. The apple juice must not have been chilled, and there was no ice.
Maybe I was in the wrong house. This was not the way Penny kept the
I downed the rest of the stuff anyway, just in case there was
nothing else and this suddenly vanished on me too. The clock on the
wall said five, but Penny wasn't home. Something was definitely not
right. It was our movie night. She should have picked up the kids from
school and dropped them off at the nanny's for the evening by now. I
called up the com panel on the screen.
"Penny's car," I told it. There was a moment's pause, then "Unable to contact," it said. "Leaving message...."
"Don't bother," I said.
I stalked off along the hall and mounted the stairs two at a time.
At the top I almost tripped. I didn't remember the steps being so far
apart. In the bedroom I opened the closet icon and requested casual
clothes. There were no clean golf shirts, and I had to settle for a
worn-out t-shirt with a RedEye Vodka logo. Foul swill. I didn't recall
ever wearing it before. To match, the computer selected a pair of grey
sweat pants I hadn't seen in years. They hung off me like loose
"Must have lost some weight," I muttered.
I threw myself on the bed and propped myself against the wall using
a couple of extra pillows. We had always been short pillows. "Good for
you Penny. We needed these."
I settled back and stretched out my legs, closing my eyes for a few
moments to try and calm myself. "OK. Let's just relax, and maybe
everything will straighten itself out." I was not optimistic. Ever
since my drive home I'd felt like a foreigner in my own surroundings,
like I didn't belong there at all. "Worldnet," I said at last.
The wall screen came alive, showing a wild rocky coast with waves
crashing in from the ocean. I was about to request a channel change
when a smooth female voice broke in.
This is the site of the landing, the
remote south-east corner of the Tasmanian Protectorate. You can see the
capsule floating about a kilometre off shore, and we will have an
overhead visual in a few moments. Our point reporter says it has
markings of intelligent origin scrawled across one face, and that there
is an obvious window on the upper side. Our scientific personnel
believe it to be a space module, possibly of alien origin.
The screen said 'TAPED' on the bottom right corner: this was old
news, maybe as much as a few hours. I strained my eyes to see the
capsule she was talking about. All I could make out were waves and
whitecaps. Then for a brief moment I thought I caught a glimpse....
The screen suddenly changed to show an unstable view from directly
above the object. Whatever was down there had a sleek flat shape that
resembled a squashed bullet, with an elongated section across the upper
side that could have been a window panel. There were markings. They
looked like hieroglyphic symbols, the ones that were on the walls of
the pyramids and ancient Egyptian tombs. I remembered seeing similar
ones when I'd gone to the King Tut exhibit a few months back. The
figures were just the same. Stick people. How could this be alien? But
then, how could it have come from ancient Egypt?
The capsule, or whatever it was, bobbed smoothly on the surface,
riding the wave crests like a surfboard, as if it had been designed for
just such a purpose. I opened my mouth to ask for the time stamp on the
recording, then it dropped wide with amazement. The capsule had
vanished. It had not sunk, floated away, been submerged, or flown off.
It had simply disappeared.
The face of Worldnet 279 reporter Jack Binney appeared, against the
familiar network news backdrop. They had returned to live broadcast.
This report had the world gripped with
wild expectation when it came in this afternoon from Tasmania. Alien
landings and UFO's have always been a big seller when it comes to
hoaxes. We now believe that the reporters that made the recordings did
so only to create worldwide sensation. Many major news networks bought
the story, but most like ours have not paid yet. Our contacts have not
been able to trace the source of the recording, or the reporters
themselves. In spite of the mysterious circumstances, we are officially
authorized to state our channel's opinion on this story. An impressive
but unconfirmed hoax, with a most surprising ending.
Back here on this side of the globe, we
have widespread reports of a new illness that began sweeping the
country this afternoon. Thousands of people have swamped hospitals
complaining of confusion, lapses of memory, and disorientation. The
symptoms may be summed up by this statement from one sufferer....
A middle-aged man dressed in neat business garb stood blinking into
the camera. The hospital emergency room behind him was crowded with
people noisily demanding attention.
It's like the world changed, in subtle
ways, but I didn't. Things are like they were, but not the same. Ever
since I heard about that alien landing hoax, everything's different.
I--can't explain it.
Jack Binney was back, a look of mild amusement on his face. Medical
officials state that in almost all cases there appears to be no
physical cause for the so-called 'hoax' syndrome. Although unable to
explain such widespread mass-hallucination, they assure us that there
is no cause for alarm. Time marches on. Some of us simply can't deal
In other news ...
The screen flashed blue briefly to indicate a caller at the door.
Penny must be home. "Off," I said eagerly, and bounded from the bed. It
would be so good to see a familiar face after all the strange
happenings. I was down the stairs in moments, taking care to judge the
depth of each step. With a bound I raced to the door and disengaged the
latch mechanism. I threw it wide, then froze.
The face was thick with makeup, the hair sprayed and held in a
squashed and hideous bun, speared with a hairpin. The body, short and
dumpy, sagging with fat. Oh God! Not Penny. Never Penny.
"Hi Reg," Penny's voice said. "I'm home."
© 2013 Roderick D. Turner
Bio: In the author's words, "I like writing stories, and am
particularly pleased when I find I enjoy what I have written. That is
the best part of writing - you are after all most often your only
audience. Second best is when you start writing about a character and
they take over, almost literally writing the story themselves. Then you
read it through and the characters surprise even you. Several of my
stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently 'Court Dresser' in July 2013. For more of my material, both prose and other media, visit www.rodentraft.com."
E-mail: Roderick D. Turner
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.