he podium, a small wonder of modern technology, glowed in artificial light, the only source of light in the dark chamber. The lecturer, one Phagus T. Klack, Ph.D. of Medicine, the Arts, and Home Economics, glowered at his audience. His bushy eyebrows were upturned into a chevron of disgust. A monitor on the podium had his speech hovering in front of his face, but he ignored it, just as he ignored the lone data console to his right, which made him long for the good old days. Sure, he had only been five when the FAsT was developed. FAsT, the Floating Assistant Technology changed the world, and everyone he knew hated it.
Across the campus in a decrepit media lab a man was sighing. His eyes glanced over at the Lecture Hall, and sighed again. Life, he told himself, was a cruel and spiteful thing. He had built the product of a lifetime, no, of a century, and yet, here he was sitting in a chair in a dying under funded building in a dying under funded town in the middle of yesteryear sighing. He sighed again. The legal battle had cost him, his colleagues, his family, his college, his town, even his country their lives, and he was left alone in a world of people.
In another corner of town a lady, aged beyond years, tucked her children into bed, telling them the same thing she had told them every year since after they were born. She told them that their Dad had business to finish, and when he was done, he would return. She knew it was a lie. She knew he couldn’t come back, not only would he not let himself, but she would not let him return, she hated him for what he had done, and wished he had died years ago and saved her and her kids the grief they felt every night.
The man outside the bowling alley had once been a respectable businessman. His income had always come easily, and he was in the right places at the right times, always. He had been only months away from head partner and CEO when his world changed. Now he spent days as a janitor for a bowling alley, and spent nights like these when it didn’t rain begging cash off of wealthy bowlers. He never got even a nickel.
Across the street in the only High-rise in town, a guard sat and watched dead hallways. He enjoyed watching the old archival footage back from when the building had life, and people walked enthusiastically through its halls. He randomly picked a tape, and popped it in; at once two gentlemen came into view in a corner office…
"Mr. Schumaker, I’m Dr. Phillips."
"Oh, yes, take a seat, yes, you’re the gentleman from the college, how are things at the college?" Mr. Schumaker leaned back in his chair.
"Oh, things are doing great… well, as you know, I’ve been placed as head of the newly built media lab…"
Mr. Schumaker interrupted, "Yes, I had heard, my nephew Steve goes to the college, and he is very fond of you Dr. Phillips."
"… Yes, Steve is a great lad with lots of potential, anyway… we’ve got a project running and well, we want to patent it…"
The voices drifted off into nothing as the guard slipped off into sleep.
Elsewhere in town, a small department store, Boodles, was just closing for the night. The owner, a saddened man of a curved stature, was closing up shop in the back. In the front, through the display, a court cable channel showed a small man speaking in German with English subtitles.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, members of the jury, and your honor," it was translated, "I am here to prove without a doubt that the men to my right not only infringed upon my clients rights, but completely stole my client’s work…"
The owner of the store in a roar turned off the television and yelled at the small audience, "You shouldn’t watch such lies!"
Back in the decrepit media lab the man was still there, the lecture hall emptied, he sighed once more, and began hallucinating about the past. He remembered Steve; he remembered Steve’s diagnosis, and when Steve’s spine had finally went out. That week was so firmly implanted into his mind that it he relived everyday…
"I’m sorry John, he has endured way to much stress… that project of yours must be a humdinger, Steve can’t stop talking about it, even in his sleep he babbles on… but, well, the stress has gotten to him and well, his brain is functioning fine, but the seizure… well, his motor skills will never be the same, and his spine has endured too much pain and will probably be hunched for the rest of his life… I’m sorry John, there was nothing I could do."
He stared back at the doctor, a friend from across the campus; "Can I see him?"
"Sure John, it’s the least I can do…"
He was led into the small room full of new equipment from the technology grant given the campus and walked straight towards his protégé, "Steve, Steve, you awake."
"Y-yeah, I think so, unless I am dreaming…?"
He smiled, "No, you’re not dreaming."
"Good. Um, I’m gonna be alright right?"
He remained silent, thinking and then finally replied, "No, not exactly, the doctor says that you- you, uh, well, you’ll be fine, but your motor skills and spine are damaged."
"But, the project!"
He patted Steve on the shoulder, "Don’t worry, I’ll keep a place for you, and Zofburg will take over some of your functions."
Back in the present he sighed once more and stared back out the window.
Mr. Boodle finished closing his shop, he swept the floors quietly to himself remembering the day his father had left him the store.
"Dad, I’m… home."
"Oh Steve, what happened?"
"My… back went out at school."
"Steve, I want you to stop going to school and help me in the store… and… AND THAT’S AN ORDER!"
"No buts Steve, that mad project of yours is not worth your life."
Mr. Boodle made one last movement of his broom and hung it up. He went home, took some pills, fell asleep and never woke up.
His dead hand hit the remote to the television and this is what the dead saw until the transformer blew:
The defense attorney was close to literally shaking, he wiped a bit of sweat off his brow and then announced, "The defense calls Steve Boodle to the stand."
After Steve was sworn in the defense attorney nervously walked towards the stand.
"Steve, when did you start work on the project?"
"Uh… September 9th."
"When did Mr. Zofburg start helping with the project?"
"The following Monday… I think it must have been the… oh… 15th."
The defense attorney merely whispered, "Your witness" before walking back to his table.
"Okay, now, Steve, do you have any evidence to back up your claims?"
The court stenographer worked at the English translation and then displayed it on the monitor.
"Uh… well… that is to say, our proof was on… well, a ham sandwich," a few chuckles, "and well, was… eaten."
"May I be given permission to show the court my clients evidence?"
The Judge grunted, "Go ahead."
The Prosecution brought a dated (and extremely well doctored) Studies Budget from the new Technological University of Liechtenstein. The trial continued through witness after witness and the whole town was cringing in anticipation of the verdict.
"The patent is awarded to Mr. Zofburg."
The camera followed Zofburg out of the courtroom, but if Mr. Boodles were alive he would have remembered what had happened beside the camera as it passed out.
"Honey, I am sorry, the University needs me to straighten some stuff out and I’ll be home in a few months’ time…"
The memories faded, the voices faded.
Dr. Klack finished his essay for the following day, his floating nuisance taking the dictation. He laughed at Dr. Phillips who he knew would be sleeping in the media lab. He laughed at how the media lab had had its budget cut after only a year and a half of operation, yet mostly, he laughed at the University, a dead shell of its former self and he laughed in irony how he was doomed to spend the rest of his career in it. He switched off the Zofburg Industries FAsT system and…
The power station blew up. Transformers around town blew. The media lab went up in flames. Boodle’s department store was torn apart in the resulting riots. The rest of the university land was put up for sale and the people who lived in the town went elsewhere. Reporters would later speculate that the accident was a massive power surge. A dead FAsT system was found with a modified power source. A Dr. Klack was blamed for the accident. Charges were later dropped.
A Mrs. Phillips was the only one at the funeral of her husband, Dr. Phillips’ funeral. Her two sons who barely remembered their father gave eulogies to an audience of one, and then the three of them left town forever.
The town lies as a graveyard and testament. A memorial to many people who had lost former selves. The town that had destroyed many people was destroyed so that the remaining of them could build new lives.