IN THE FUTURE
NOBODY HAS TIME TO BLOW UP BALLOONS
The invention of Short-Range Teleportation (SRT), PseudoC (TM) Air and Space Travel (marketed as traveling arbitrarily close to the speed of light, which through a loophole in the newly-developed theory of quantum relativity it technically does), and to a lesser extent nuclear-powered energy drinks (Uraniomax: Live Fast; Die Young) have caused society's already fast pace to accelerate exponentially. Commutes are instantaneous. Internet speeds are uselessly fast. Life in this year of 2219 is demanding and furiousleaving zero time whatsoever for blowing up balloons.
It is in this dark, dystopian world where our story begins. More specifically, in the booming metropolis of Bill, Wyoming. Phil Zombie-Hunter Henderson (whose middle name did not appear on any recent official documents) was employed by Instab'loon Balloon Blowing Up Services Incorporated Inc. (whose CEO insisted that government paperwork is far too confusing these days), and was not happy.
Phil spent his days surrounded by four things. One was a set of two hundred and fifty-six different colors of ribbon on spools the size of toilet paper rolls. One was a pile of freshly shipped un-inflated rubber balloons, in a number of colors that can only be expressed in scientific notation. One was a nozzle extending from the ground which connected to the IBBUSI Inc. helium storage miles below the earth. The last was a number of people whom he was pretty sure were in charge of him, and was very sure were usually angry.
Phil wasn't the indignant type. For a long time the negative feedback did in fact cause him to try harder at work. Phil was a humble young bachelor of 24, and had only taken the job with the hope of it being a temporary fix three years ago when it became necessary, due to the increasingly low demand of his skilled labortying knots in cherry stems with his tongue (the five-year college course was decidedly a regret of his). He didn't like trouble, and was quick to do what he was told if it afforded him some time when his eleven (an estimate) bosses would breathe down somebody else's back. But he had found recently that after tieing countless balloons had caused him to lose most of feeling in the bottom halves of the first three fingers of both his hands and in his tongue, that his patience was reaching a final, immutable limit.
He had always spent time at various jobs he'd had (mostly retail) considering the differing perspectives of the consumer, who was experiencing things primarily for the first time at a store, and the employee, who had had those things bludgeoned into his skull by a rusty bat over the years and years of repetition and boredom. When a new screen pops up on a PIN pad, the consumer reads it and tries to figure out what it means, while the employee tries their very best to blow up the consumer's head with their mind.
While the consumer walks away with a mysterious headache wondering what they'll do next, the employee proceeds to follow the same process for the next 8 hours.
And thus one inevitably is left with an overall pity, despair, or both regarding the human race. Phil often struggled with this. Being an idealist, his assertion was that not every human being on the earth or elsewhere was deprived entirely of common senseHowever, this was a Theory. A scientific Theory, more specifically, in that he didn't believe it possible to actually prove it and instead relied on vague evidence that pointed in that direction, such as the sheer amount of people that existed.
He was certainly right in one aspect of this Theory; there were a LOT of people. Between constantly increasing masculinity and sex in the media (Uraniomax: Get Buff; Get Women), and constantly increasing widespread Catholicism (by the mid-22nd century most forms of birth control had been canonized, however this was overruled at the Shareholder's Council in 2145 when Pope Carl realized that the action had significantly lowered the church's market share), the world's population had quadrupled in a few hundred years. Cities became metropolises, metropolises became pan-metropolitan regions covering entire countries, and Shanghai had literally evolved into a living organism that eats planets. All this in mind, one could feel very small. Very small indeed.
Phil was a few inches taller than the average male, though, and tried very hard to be optimistic when he entered the massive IBBUSI Inc. warehouse. The building was shaped like a gigantic steel circus tent with a large tube dramatically winding from the top point into the ground, and was one of the more interesting features of the Bill Skyline. The floor consisted primarily of one floor of operations with a labyrinth of privacy cubicles (made of transparent plexiglass, for style). Each was equipped with the aforementioned supplies for blowing up balloons. Once it was filled and tied, a balloon would be abruptly released into the air, where it floated into the sloping top of the warehouse. A few hundred feet above a crew of Pushers would direct this balloon and thousands of others slowly into the single pneumatic tube at the apex, where it would be sucked down into the earth to be sorted underground and distributed through a series of tubes (known by employees as "the internet") directly to Samantha Robinson's 6th birthday party.
"I can't do this forever," Phil murmured one day.
"True. Bound to die eventually," said Candice, the girl next to him.
This, in addition to the fact that his bosses specifically referred to the thin plexiglass walls as "privacy cubicles," was something he pondered the rest of the short work day (increasingly strict labor laws following a historic suit against the entire country by a woman who claimed the 40 hour work week caused her emotional damages that she estimated to translate monetarily into "like a million dollars"which she wonreduced the work week to 25 hours). He didn't want to work in that place until he died. He didn't even want to work in that place for the rest of the week. Modern medicine had brought average life expectancy up to around 178 years, so that was a lot longer than he wanted to work there. Or anywhere. There was no hope for retirement in his current situation though. With the exorbitant tuition for a Liberal Arts school in 2213, at the rate he was going he wouldn't pay off his college student loans until he was 138.
"Don't you still owe like seven trillion dollars from student loans?" Candice asked, interrupting Phil's wallowing in despair.
"What? no. Well, six trillion," he said.
On his way home, Phil passed the same comics shop he passed every day. And like most days, he stared at it for a minute as he walked, and considered the fact that he had always meant to go in there. He didn't read comics, but had a vague interest in eventually doing so. There were a lot of things he wanted to do. He told himself he was too busy, but he knew that weekly World of Warcraft raids didn't really count as being "busy," (WoW was still going strong after two centuries of development). He wasn't sure where his time went. He knew there was a world out there that he wanted to explore. He read about it on blogs every day. The only "getting out" he did, actually, was this exact route home from work. He walked past the comic shop, past the 500-floor skyscraper department stores, under the overpass (that's right, flying cars still had yet to be brought to the mass market), around the corner of the electronics shop displaying their new 5D TVs, past the local SRT (Short-Range Teleportation, remember?) station, and up the stairs to his apartment door. His roommate Mike was looking through the fridge.
"Hey, I made mojitos if you want one," he said.
"WhWhy?" said Phil.
"The better question is why you walk home from work every day. You look like you could use a mojito."
"I don't know, I think being tired is supposed to be good for you or something."
"That's stupid. Last chance," he said, picking up a glass and halfheartedly waving it at Phil.
"Aw, you already salted the rim for me..." He looked almost sentimental.
"What? No I didn'tEw," Mike said as he tossed the glass into the open dish washer. "Alright, bye."
"Where are you going?"
"Where are you staying?"
"Here, I guess?"
"Well there you go." He walked out the door.
Phil sort of liked Mike. He was an interesting enough guy. They played games together and basked in their single-ness. He was pretty sure Mike was single.
He came back around 9 o'clock that night. At that point Phil had been thinking for a long time. He didn't touch the TV, he didn't touch his Xbox 1260, or even eat. He just got settled in a couch and started thinking. And when Phil thought, he thought. He thought about his career. He thought about cats. He thought about the number of girls he had spoken with in the past decade and he thought about how he could count that number on one hand. He thought about cats some more, and then he thought about just how few fingers he had on each hand.
"I've gotta quit my job, Mikey," he said, his eyes unwavering from the wall in front of him.
"Don't you still owe like seven trillion dollars from student loans?"
"Six trillion. I'm a smart guy, aren't I? Shouldn't I be using that? I have talents, there are things I could be contributing to the world!"
"You can contribute shut up I'm watching TV to the world," he said, picking up the remote.
As little sense as that made, after Mike said that Phil didn't change much of anything. He stayed miserable for quite a while. But one day, the sky looked a little grayer than usual, the ozone looked a little less nonexistent, the birds were chirping instead of coughing, and Phil was in a good mood. And that was the morning he decided to walk into that comics shop.
It was a wondrous place. Truly wondrous. Everywhere Phil looked, he saw nothing but paper. No screens, no flashing lights, nothing shouting at him about energy and electrolytes and guns and lifting weights. He picked up a comic book and flipped through it, to find that the drawings were entirely two-dimensional. In fact, they weren't even in color.
"How quaint," he said, smiling.
"Isn't it magical?" Said a voice behind him. And before he could turn around, Phil was in love with that voice. He almost shivered as it washed over him like a waterfall of fluffy towels and Aloe Vera. After thatwell, you can fill in the rest, I imagine. She liked him too.
That day Phil quit his job. He walked right to the factory, politely informed the rest of the staff that they, too, should get out while they were still alive, and walked right back out. That was that, there was no turning back. But Phil felt more comfortable about life than he ever had. Things changed that day. Of course that goes without saying, but the changes were slightly more profound than a simple loss of income. Perspective, context. That was what made a difference in the following years. Six trillion dollars wasn't that much in 2219. All things considered, he figured he'd be alright.