Aphelion Issue 239, Volume 23
May 2019
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Flash Fiction
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One Hundred Percent

by Denis Winston Brum

“Fifteen seconds left for the Eastern Express to arrive.” The synthesized voice invades the laziness of Rafaela. Drag from the bench to the pulsing orange stripe which borders the boarding area. Seven o'clock in the morning. Only the automatics provide noise, leaving a soft trail of lavender while shaking up through the empty station doing the cleaning and maintenance. The pneumatic noise of deceleration announces the little busy transport. Rafaela chooses a window seat. The Express starts slowly. Accelerates to its standard speed when it reaches the surface. The air conditioning keeps the environment unchanged. Rafaela peeped the sky. The filter for protection against ultraviolet radiation prevents her from having a clear view of the day outside. She imagines a beautiful, wild and warm January morning is rising, as her grandmother used to tell her when she was a girl. The fast transport crosses over abandoned streets. Only robot vehicles carry loads on the pavement now. The Express reduces its speed to the next stop.

“Commerce Station”. Nobody goes down. A priest stumbles into the vehicle seconds before the doors close. He holds his Holo Bible against his chest. Enables a projection command. Instantly the fury of the apocalypse comes in the hallway of the Express. His fervent anger floats in an ocean of alcohol: “Repent! Repent! The end is coming!” His cries are struggling to overcome the breaking of the sixth seal. It is ignored. The transport leaves. The smooth movement is enough to pull him off his balance. Crumbles on the Holo Bible. A red blood moon dissolves into the air. The priest cannot get up. Crawls across the floor. Nobody helps him.

“Eastern Production Station”. The system announces. All vehicle doors are opened. Rafaela walks towards the track. With a quick leap, she is sliding forty miles per hour. In the opposite lane, a woman firmly squeezes the hand of her son while she censures him by jumping between lanes. On the walls of the ducts, the billboard displays show a different message every five seconds, designing its audio and visual chaos over Rafaela. In less than a minute she jumps in front of the complex. Performs bio identification. A side service entry opens. Goes to the thirty boring minutes of bath and decontamination.

She crosses the corridor of the facility dressed up with her immaculate white suit. The intense activity in all sectors catch her eyes. Executives accelerate business in administrative, commercial, logistics units and their subdivisions. Across the aisle, genetic engineers work permanently in the Research Unit. In Extra Human it is pedagogical time: the experimental take part in various knowledge games oriented by holo teachers. And then, the incubator.

At the end of the hall, after the side entrance to the Refectory, there are double doors of the Reprocessing Unit, the only part of the complex which is not built in transparent aluminum.

Rafaela accesses the decontamination cabin of the Incubator. She’s developed this additional safety measure. In the previous semester, inexplicably, measles’ crossed those doors and decimated a dozen people before the epidemic was perceived. Rafaela redoubled precautions. Decontamination, filtering and cooling have become even stricter. She reviews the report from the night shift while she waits. The smart cleanser developed according to her project updated continuously running periodic scans through the environment, searching and alerting to possible new threats. The green light let her go. Accesses to her workstation. The sensor reports in vibrant orange numbers: thirty-eight degrees in the Incubator. The watchful eye of Rafaela makes checking the screens instrumentation. Drives the zoom to stroll through the nursery hermetically sealed beyond her station. The rosy face of a baby fills the monitor. Health stabilized. Appearance enviable. Just like the other 999. No surprises. Her plan was allowing transactions to happen smoothly as the babies' breathing. Her ambition now was to reduce the rejection rate to zero. This would mean to achieve one hundred percent efficiency. And she would take care of it, to achieve perfection.

She works a couple of hours planning the activities for the rest of the day: balancing feeding individually, adds a low dose of vitamin C in drug program, program the variety and duration of leisure activities from teaching holo nannies, adds a component of aloe vera at the hygiene gel.

She leans back in her chair. Look up the babies. She dreams, “One hundred percent...”.

The possibility makes Rafaela feel inflated with pride and euphoria. She had promised it to herself when Shimamoto, that grumpy old man who thought he knew everything, got retired from his post in the Incubator. Impossible, he said. Always answered with callous disregard her ideas. Now it was her turn. Shimamoto was wrong. Was overcome. And she would prove it. Despised 91.6%, a record of the old talkative man. Rafaela wanted every damn one hundred percent, as she had always said to be possible.

The Refectory is almost empty when she comes. Rafaela occupies a seat which extends from the long table divided by a wide service duct. “Make your order.” The system asks.

The menu lights up on the table. She studies the options: Vegetables Soup, Mashed Potatoes, Baked Asparagus, Carrots soufflé, Soy Protein, reprocessed steak, rice, cucumber salad and three kinds of juice: Lemon, Orange and Grape. Rafaela slides her finger over the soup vegetables and lemon juice.

“Please wait, your order is being processed.” The screen turns off. Moments later, the duct opens and a tray with two unopened packaging, one square and another one cylindrical, sliding towards her. She opens the square one and the aroma of vegetables soup whets her appetite. Grabs a spoon into the cavity of the plate and try the soup. Hot and tasty. Removes the cylinder cover. Lemon juice cools immediately. She takes a sip of cold juice when cheerful Hayata approaches, carrying his food packaging.

“Would you mind if I had lunch with you?” He smiles.

“It would be great. We can talk meanwhile.” Rafaela invites.

“How are the babies, Rafaela?” Hayata cuts his reprocessed steak and he mixes it to the mashed potato.

“They are perfect, Hayata. How about your unit?”

Hayata swallows a good amount of food: “Well, you know, everything is always very calm in Reprocessing ...”

Rafaela laughs, more for her mood than the joke itself, which she has heard dozens of times before.

“So this time, the Incubator will really achieve one hundred percent?” Hayata takes a sip of grape juice.

Rafaela smiles and, excited, completely forgets her lunch: “I have no more doubts. The configuration of the genetic maps was followed to the letter. The health of babies is perfect. And totally stable. There is no oscillation, or even a weaker individual. And it will remain so. I'm strictly controlling the climate, balancing individual feeding, medication, psychophysical stimuli... Believe me, this time I will prove that one hundred percent is possible.”

“With this enthusiasm, I have no doubts you will achieve it” Hayata agrees with her, chews the end portion of mashed potatoes and steak, checks his watch and stands up. “I only have time to get a coffee and a granola bar before returning to work”.

“It's almost my time too ...” Rafaela illuminates the dessert menu. “See you there, ok?”

Hayata deposited his packaging in the recycling. “Sure”.

Rafaela chooses a soy mousse.


At dusk, when her shift is nearing the end and babies are cared for, Rafaela is sure that everything is fine, perfectly fine. Almost doze resting in her chair. The screen call reports the alert. She wakes up with the institutional smile of Estela, the receptionist. “How are our loved ones today?” said Estela.

“Great!” Rafaela enthuses.

“They are so cute.” The smile of Estela shines.

“Beautiful and healthy.” Rafaela emphasizes.

“I called you because the Monteblanco couple insists on seeing their project.” Estela seems to be concerned.

“Can’t they wait for the child to be a month old?” Rafaela moves very uncomfortable.

“They are already in the complex, darling.” Estela sympathetic smiles.

“This is not the best time to do it ...” Rafaela observes the monitor undecided. “Within a month, he would be much more developed. But I think the customer is always right, isn’t it?”

“Yes!” Estela tries to cheer her up. “Do not worry, your baby will enchant them.”

“I hope so. You can take them in.” Rafaela authorizes.

“Ana is already leading them.”

Rafaela studies the data of the baby. Perfect health, organic development following strictly the design of the genetic map. Cheers up. That was a guaranteed sale.

In bright white robes, there come Ana and the Monteblanco couple.

“Good morning, Rafaela”. Ana displays a bright smile. “These are the Mr. Aguirre and Mrs. Mercedes Monteblanco. This is Dr. Rafaela, our organic development engineer.”

“Welcome to our incubator” Rafaela smiles.

The Monteblancos save smiles. Mercedes seems a little uncomfortable in her costume. Rafaela had already said those visits were dangerous and unnecessary, they could easily pass a holo interactive from the baby to the living room. But Inoshiro, the Commercial Manager of the Unit, argued that to show the infrastructure of the complex impressed the clients and the actual product were more sold.

“You'll see, Rafaela transformed the Incubator into a real dream factory” Ana encourages.

“Let me show you your baby”. Rafaela drives the rotation and the cribs carousel until the number 0027 stands in front of their observation window.

“Here is the boy.” Pride is evident in Rafaela’s voice.

Mercedes’ almost imperceptible smile disappears. “The nose is not so”, the rejection is clear in her voice.

“He is still very young” Ana's smile widens. “This will change, won’t it, Rafaela?”

“Yes. You don’t need to worry, Mrs. Mercedes. The baby is less than one month old, your family traces will be better noticed with time.”

“But this is not the nose of my family. It is very round”. Mercedes insists.

Ana further sweetens the voice: “As Rafaela said, Mrs. Mercedes, when the baby grows, the hereditary traits appear more clearly.”

Mercedes remains silent. Aguirre's gaze wanders fascinated by the instrumentation.

“I'll show a growth projection”. Rafaela makes a holograph of a boy appears in the middle of the room. “We are seeing your baby at age twelve.” Mercedes remains silent. After a moment, Rafaela alter the image. “Now the boy is twenty-one years old.”

The index finger of Mercedes crosses the face of the image: “The nose is still round. That's not what I asked.”

Ana takes a desperate look to Rafaela. Holography disappears. “Let's see” She tries to maintain serenity. “We were given the DNA profiles of you, your parents and your brothers. It was ordered brown hair like your sister, with the wick lighter at the ends like your mother, your father's aquiline nose, lips like yours, to correct a hereditary hearing impairment from the family of Mr. Aguirre ...”

“I know what was asked.” Mercedes stops.

“The genetic recombination was designed in such specifications”.

“The nose is wrong.” Mercedes insists.

“The nose may appear rounded at this stage of development, but as we saw in the projection ...”

“Projections can be manipulated.” Mercedes shake her head. “I have holos of my father when he was a baby, teen, young. The nose is not so.”

The automatic notice that the feeding at five thirty p.m. will be administered echoes in environment. Rafaela tries to argue: “Mrs. Mercedes, I can assure you that we would never manipulate an image to trick you. The projection you saw was made ​​from the DNA profile of baby 0027, developed exactly according to your specifications.”

“Just do not.” Mercedes replies. “This was not the nose that I asked!”

“You must allow time for the baby to develop. So, you will see that his features will be defined. Including the nose!” Rafaela start to get angry.

Ana pours her sweetness on the high tone of voice: “Mrs. Mercedes ... Mr. Aguirre ... Would you like to have some coffee, tea, a champagne? We can serve you in the living room and there, comfortably, seeking a way to resolve this issue.”

“No, thank you. I just want the baby I ordered. And I can’t see it.” Mercedes keeps stucked with her opinion.

Ana’s defeated eyes read Mercedes’ disappointment and Rafaela’s fury. Trapped, she yields: “So I will take you to our business manager. There you will certainly find a solution that pleases you ... maybe we can start developing a new project.”

“Certainly. Because this one does not suit me and we will not pay for it!” Mercedes gives her back to the baby.

Trying to fix her smile, Ana leads the Monteblanco couple into the hallway. Abandoned, desolate, Rafaela contemplates 0027. She rubs her face. Shimamoto‘s short and hoarse laughter echoes in her head. It seemed impossible to achieve one hundred percent in the Incubator. Mercedes’ obsession was irrational. There was nothing wrong with the project, but she saw him distorted by the lens of her own insecurities. To rationalize was useless. Losing battle. Project rejected.

Rafaela writes a brief description of the reason for rejection in 0027’s file. Rate it: imperfect. The data is processed. Baby 0027 plays lifting his foot. Automatically, the feeding and medication terminals connected to the cradle are disconnected. A transparent sheet projects from the side. The cradle is hermetically sealed. The domestic supply, a mixture of oxygen and anesthetic, activates. The carousel rotates. Leads 0027 to the back of the room. The baby is keenly interested in the sudden change in his routine. However, before he reaches the bottom of the nursery, the sparkle in his eyes gives place to an increasing drowsiness. A section of wall slides to reveal a pipe. 0027’s eyes blink slowly. The carousel leads the cradle to slide down the pipeline. The baby is sleeping peacefully. Rafaela, then program the coordinates of the reprocessing unit. “Goodbye, one hundred percent”. The wall is closed.

Rafaela still works for half an hour. Feels the weight of frustration. Desires to go home, take a relaxing multimassage, cook some spaghetti and fall into bed. Verifies all readings one last time. Program activities for the night. In tired steps she heads to the locker room. Undergoes a further decontamination procedure. Dress up to leave.

Crosses the portch at the entrance of the complex, under the large brushed steel plate which is spelled laser: "Vargas - Kobayashi Institute of Human Technology. The life you wish. "

Accelerates the walk. Do not want to lose her Express. The busy Hayata calls her attention when she is preparing to go on the track: “Congratulations Rafaela! Very healthy specimen!” Rafaela agrees with a nod and jump on the track. Escape unwanted dialogue. Below it, a robot vehicle moves smoothly down the abandoned street towards the Reprocessing Unit underground entrance. The large silver lettering on the vehicle side reflects the last light of dusk, "Reprocessing Food Vargas - Kobayashi. The taste you know."


© 2018 Denis Winston Brum

Bio: Denis Winston Brum developed his writing skills working in the advertising business. He published the children’s book “As Férias das Fadas”, the Young-Adult book “As Quatro Linhas” and the adult book “Redemoinhos”, all in paperback. Denis Winston Brum also released the adult e-Book “Adiós Pampa Mía”.

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