by Cory Martinson
“This is pretty good,” Ted announced around a mouthful of casserole. “What is it again?”
“It’s called Tater Tot Hot Dish. I got the recipe from the Historical Cooking Society cookbook,” beamed Ann. She clapped her oven mitts together, very pleased. Her hair was done into a sweeping dome atop her head, tips curling up from the sides of her cheeks. She wore a white cotton apron over a smart red sweater with white lapels. A pearl choker adorned her neck. She glanced at the holoimage above the cooktop and straightened her posture, mimicking Betty Crocker.
Everyone seemed to be getting into the spirit for the Tricentennial of July 4, 2076. Citizens were encouraged to examine and portray an iconic period of American history during the month of July, and Ann had enthusiastically taken part. Ted enjoyed seeing her so happy and decided to play along. For the month of July, their household, dress, diet, and recreation were straight out of the 1950’s.
“It’s one of the more interesting recipes,” Ann continued. “It’s got cow’s meat and two kinds of cow milk products, fungus bits, high-sodium high-fat potato cylinders–“
“I’d really rather not know the specifics. Between eating like this and smoking a pipe this month, I’m going to need a dozen procedures at Medical.”
Ted leaned back in his chair and opened his “Newspaper”, a stack of flimsy folded paper with the events of the previous day printed in just two dimensions. Ted found it novel that people used to live like this. He’d spent the last two days of June instructing the OmniMaker in the garage to print out such oddities as “glasses,” a “mail box” for in front of the house, several odd and uncomfortable items of clothing, a “Jell-O mold,” and the tobacco pipe, for which he’d developed a growing fondness.
“Well, honey,” Ted said, setting down the newspaper and buttoning his special shirt over the white cotton undershirt, “I’m going bowling with the boys.”
This garment was another keeper once the Tricentennial was over. Embroidered with the nickname “Tedster” over the pocket and a 1950 Mercury gasoline-powered car on the back with “Fazio’s Service Station” sweeping across the top in antique script, the bowling shirt was a work of art.
“Sorry, dear, but tonight’s the night the pet salesman is coming by. You need to stay for his pitch,” said Ann, delighting in the lingo.
“That’s cool, dolly. I’ll hang out here,” replied Ted. He’d gone over the terminology several times and felt it was one of his strong suits. Ann giggled in response, and Ted gave her a wink.
The “doorbell” Ted had installed outside sounded. Ted printed a plastic panel to cover the holotouch, leaving in its place a round button set in a rectangular box. Thus far, no-one seemed to know what it was for. And without the cameras, Ted and Ann didn’t even know who was at the—
“Pet salesman!” cried the young male voice from outside.
Ted chomped his pipe between his side teeth and opened the door. A young man stood on the porch, holding two suitcase-sized sample cases with metal corners. He displayed both rows of very nice teeth, and wore a dark blue blazer and slacks, a white shirt with a red tie, and a slate grey fedora cocked at a jaunty angle. The salesman set down one case and shot out a hand in greeting.
“Nice ta meetcha! I’m Simon Anders from Darling Forever pet company!”
“I’m Ted Pearson, and this is my wife Ann,” said Ted, grasping Simon’s hand and giving it two firm pumps. Ann smiled and waved an oven mitt from the kitchen. Ted motioned Simon into the house. “So pleased to see another man of my vintage. And come inside, make yourself at home.”
Simon evidently had done his homework and picked up on the 1950’s theme. Ann popped out from around the corner, now holding an aluminum tray with an arrangement of “chocolate chip cookies” and a pitcher of “lemonade” on it. Ted could tell she was in her glory.
“Have a cookie and something to drink, Mister Anders,” said Ann.
“Please, Mrs. Pearson, call me Simon.”
“Very well, Simon, call me Ann.”
“And call me Ted. Set those cases wherever you like.”
Ted raised his left wrist and glanced down at the “watch” strapped there; a device which just told time without a great deal of accuracy but had a certain charm to it as it ticked away.
“Well, let’s get down to brass tacks here young man,” said Ted, “If we can wrap this up in half an hour I can still get ten frames in down at the Bowl-O-Rama.”
Simon winked and took a knee, unfastening the clasps on the larger of the two cases. Inside was a dog, about 35 centimeters tall, embedded in molded foam. It had scruffy, sandy tan fur with lighter markings on his chest and darker around his eyes, snout and ears. Simon curled a hand under its chest and pulled it free of the padding. He set it neatly on the floor. It appeared to be a lifelike stuffed animal.
“This,” announced Simon, “is the 2077 model Forever Darling Border Terrier. It’s one of twenty-six small dog models offered this year.”
Simon pulled a palm-sized object from another void in the case’s padding.
“You’ll have to excuse the technology, folks. This is a modern-day marvel. Space age, to be sure.” Simon winked again, setting the object on the coffee table. “This is your imprinter and control module. It starts or pauses the dog, allows you to name him or her, and lets you modify parameters as you so desire.”
Ted pulled out his tobacco pouch and tamped a portion into his pipe. “Is this one…working? Err…alive?” he asked.
Ann settled into the love seat across from Ted and pulled up a basket of “knitting” to fiddle with pointlessly. She hadn’t gotten the hang of it.
“Yes sir. His name is Fido, he’s a demo model, and right now he’s on pause. Would you like to see him awake?”
“Oh yes, very much,” said Ann. Ted lit his pipe.
Simon shined his smile and laid his hand on the control device. “Wake up, Fido.”
The dog’s eyes opened, then squinted while he shook himself as if he were wet. He looked briefly at Ted and Ann, then sat and turned his focus to Simon. His mouth opened slightly, revealing little white teeth and a pink tongue in a friendly expression. He barked once, then shuffled his front feet before returning to focus on Simon.
“You can call him if you like,” said Simon.
Ann clapped. “Come here, Fido!”
The dog padded over to her, sniffing. Ann scratched his ears and Fido leaned into her hand, wagging his tail rapidly.
“That sniffing feature is real,” Simon stated, dropping the 1950’s attitude in favor of a precise and scientific tone. “This dog has acute and effective senses throughout the spectrums. Chemical sensors which identify people and events before he can see or hear them, whether he’s in another room or if they’ve been there earlier in the day. He can sense your mood and your health from smell alone. He’s able to diagnose 117 different diseases, can tell you if there’s danger of a fire or electrical problem in your home before it gets out of hand. Even compounds undetectable by human senses like carbon monoxide. In outdoor environments, he can alert you to problematic particulate, chemical, or allergen levels.
Fido licked Ann’s hand. “Oooh, his tongue is wet,” she said.
“The new model comes with some very impressive optical improvements. We’ve upped the resolution and increased the spectrum. Fido now sees everything from U.V. to I.R., and has enhanced capability in low-light conditions. He can tell if you have a fever, and even sense your mood from galvanic skin response and flush level. He has macro down to the nanometer level and long-range vision better than an eagle.”
As Simon continued expounding upon Fido’s technical upgrades, Fido enjoyed Ann’s attention. Ann was back over four decades ago, recalling her one real dog. Rover, a beagle, was her companion as a toddler. He’d taught her that dogs loved ear-scratching. His nose was cold and wet, and he’d been killed by a car before cars were finally outlawed. Then came DMBV, the Domestic Mammal Bubonic Variant, and the choice had to be made: risk the health of all mankind or eliminate living pets. As pet-loving as people claimed to be, the choice was made quickly and carried out with finality. Ann had never had another dog after Rover. And then there were no more dogs…
To be continued…