by Patrick Spatz
Copyright 2017 Patrick Spatz
Distributed by Smashword
Albert Franks knew that it was dangerous to take too many baths, but he loved them. When he was young he used to do showers, but the numbers of people slipping in showers had been too high and now they were illegal. Usually the warm water and the gentle movement relaxed him, but for some reason it wasn’t working today.
At last Albert decided that the best way he could relax would be to take a nice long walk. He took up an insulated plastic rod and pushed an insulated plastic button that was well out of reach of his bath tub. “End bath please,” he ordered in a clear voice.
There was a gurgling sound as the water began to drain from around Albert. A female voice issued from the speaker set in the ceiling. “Bath is now draining sir, Please remember to use the handrails when exiting the tub.”
Albert reached out for a blue robe after drying himself in a blast of warm air that came from one of the padded walls. Then he looked up at a mirror set in the side of the doorway, which had no door. He could see clearly into the hallway through the mirror. “Bess, the corner mirror didn’t fog up at all this time.”
“Yes sir, all corner mirrors in this house are now fully up to safety codes as outline in Vision for Home Safety,” answered the voice from above.
“Thank you Bess. You did a very good job on catching that before we were cited.”
“Thank you Sir,” replied the computer.
Albert studied himself in a 2nd full length bathroom mirror. He was of medium height and build, good looking, but not overly so. “Normal,” thought Albert with a good deal of satisfaction. “Now I’ve decided to go for a walk this afternoon.”
“Very good, sir,” replied Bess. “Your walking gear is in closet #2 in the main bedroom. Don’t forget to put on your vital signs monitor before leaving the bathroom.”
Albert did not thank Bess this time. If one thanked a household computer for every reminder it gave you in a day there would be time for nothing else. He just picked up the small box and strapped it onto his chest.
Albert’s large bedroom was mostly done in green, with a large picture window which was tinted light blue. Through the window the sun shone on the perfect day for a walk. Albert smiled at the day and then turned away from the window and opened one of his closets. Inside the closet were a number of full body suits, helmets and shoes.
Albert would have preferred a really light suit as it had the look of a warm day outside. But there was still no way to make light suits highly fire resistant, so of course there were none on the market. He settled for the white suit with the yellow and black trim. It was easy then to pick out the matching walking helmet, knee pads, elbow guards, and shoes, but he had to stop and think again over his choice of goggles. At last he decided on one with a yellow-gold tint and then the same color of elastic band.
Outside, the warm spring air greeted Albert’s lungs as he took his first deep breath. He stopped to listen to the birds singing happily from beyond the safety netting that surrounded his porch. Then he moved on, strapping himself into a small chair which moved on an electrically powered belt. The chair took him gently down a half a dozen steps to deposit him on the public sidewalk. A yellow flashing light and ringing bell warned other walkers that he was approaching.
Albert picked the walking lane running west towards the ocean. He carefully looked both ways before stepping over to the right side of the walk. He was careful to be sure that his radio beacon was active; so that a safety team could find him should he fail to return on schedule. From over the top of the walkway’s hand railing, Albert could see spring had come full force to the nearby park. In the middle of one lawn a garden robot was busy at some task or other. The large flashing yellow light on top said it was in fact active, but it would not come close enough to the walkway in daylight for anyone to accidentally walk into it, or for that matter determine just what it was it was doing.
Up ahead Albert saw a pink walking suit he thought he recognized. He could not be sure, however, as it was too far away to read the name printed on the back of the suit. Albert would have liked to run and catch up with her, but jogging without a safety-robot over head was against the law. Though it seemed a little embarrassing to draw attention to himself, Albert decided to shout.
Jenna turned slowly at hearing her name, looked back, and then waved. “Is that you, Albert? Come on ahead. I’ll wait.”
Albert decided to risk a faster walk; there was after all some leeway in the safety-robot law. He wished that he was meeting Jenna inside where he could see her hair. She had the most beautiful gold hair Albert had ever seen, and she wore it the full three and one half inches the law would allow. Of course all of her hair would be tucked up safely inside her helmet while she was outside. “Jenna, I haven’t seen you in awhile. How have you been?” He asked as soon as he was close enough.
“Well I’m a little depressed,” She admitted.
“Oh,” Albert said worriedly. “What happened?”
“Shall we go sit down?” Jenna motioned toward one of the nearby park benches which were at the end of its own little trail. They started walking together and Jenna went on with her story. “Do you remember that blue nightshirt I used to like so much? Well I guess you never did see it, but I’ve told you about it.”
“You took it out and showed it to me once,” Albert reminded her.
“Oh that’s right I did. Well anyway they say a second rat just got cancer from that kind of fabric.“Jenna sat down on the bench and patted the plastic beside her where she wanted Albert to sit.
As he joined her, Albert asked in his most sympathetic voice. “So they recalled it?”
“No. There’s going to be another million tests. You know, just to be sure.” She took a deep sigh and looked away and up at one of the white clouds high above them. “They banned anyone from wearing them until after the tests.”
They lapsed into silence. Albert tried hard to think of something more to say. He desperately wanted to talk to her. Once they had planned on getting married. But their psychological tests had shown that there was a risk that they might prove damaging to each other’s mental health in the long term. So of course the license had been refused.
As the silence dragged on, his attention began to wander. He could make out the distant sound of a subway running underneath them. Looking behind them, he could see that they were only 100 feet away from one of the gratings that covered a subway’s air vent and its emergency escape opening. It was a hole over 30 feet across, and going anywhere near one was strictly forbidden. When Albert had been a boy, the rules had not been so strict and he had once stood alone next to one for almost an hour. He still shuddered when he remembered the speed and force of the trains as they whizzed by below.
Suddenly, Albert became aware of the sound of a siren coming toward them. He looked up to see a safety control air car coming toward them. For a panicked moment he wondered if they knew what he was thinking. But that was ridiculous; mind monitoring had been soundly defeated in the last election. No, they were headed for the subway vent. Albert couldn’t believe that there had been a rail accident. Everyone agreed that these days that was impossible. Yet the first safety air car was now being joined by a second. And even more amazing, the door like grid work covering the vent was opening to give access to the tracks below.
Albert heard shouting from behind him. As he looked around, he saw people running towards the unusual sight. At once, he realized that that could only mean that the safety patrol must be so busy, that minor violations might well be overlooked. Albert experienced a struggle between responsibility and desire. Albert realized that this was a chance that might never come again. For a moment longer he fought with his guilt, the moment seemed a life time. Then giving in completely, he jumped the railing onto the forbidden grass.
Albert was not alone in seeing his chance to break the rules. Everywhere, people were running out onto the lawn towards the scene of the unexpected. Albert, like the rest, stopped when he reached the second set of railings which surrounded the shaft. For a moment, he thought of jumping this too. But an all too real fear of falling in, backed up by a sense of public duty won out this time, and he decided he would stay where he was.
Air patrol craft often had mirrors on their underside so that the foot patrol could see what the air patrol saw. From the air craft’s vantage point Albert could see all the way down to the tracks a 100 feet below. About a quarter of the way down, a man held on to one of the many ladders which ran from the top of the train tunnel. Somehow the man had also gotten a line strung across the top of the shaft, to this he had attach a rope. He had run this rope down to himself. With a shock, Albert realized that except for a belt, the man was naked.
Already there were three safety officers hooked to lines and climbing down one of the other ladders. Another officer had activated a loudspeaker inside one of the air-cars. “YOU WILL BE ALL RIGHT SIR. JUST STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND WE WILL BE RIGHT DOWN TO YOU.”
“Oh my God! Is he trying to kill himself?” With a start, Albert realized that Jenna had also come across the forbidden green and was now standing at his side. She had been talking to him for some time, but he had not noticed.
“I don’t know,” he replied, “but I think so.” He whispered.
“I can hear the train coming!” Gasped Jenna.
Albert could not have looked away even if he had tried. It was like the scene below held him prisoner. As the noise of the oncoming subway grew louder, the action of the officers trying to reach the naked man grew almost frantic. One officer actually went down three rungs without clipping on his second safety line. Above the air-car went so far as to say. “PLEASE STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” It was all for nothing. As the noise reached its peak the man jumped.
What happened next was like nothing Albert had ever seen or could have imagined. Neither Albert, or most likely anyone else in the crowd had ever heard of a bungee-cord. The long elastic cord played out its slack as the man fell. Then it stretched itself out, pulling him gently to a stop. For a moment, he hung there in front of the oncoming train. Then the cord reclaimed some of the fall’s energy pulling the naked man skyward. As the train passed harmlessly beneath, there was the sound of screeching brakes.
As the bungee-cord pulled the man upward it also pulled him to one side. With a loud slap he slammed into the wall. In spite of what must have been a painful hit he was able to catch onto one rung on the ladder. Above all the other noises could be heard the man’s laughter and shouts of, “It worked! Hot damn, it worked!”
“Have you ever seen anything like that before?” Jenna shouted to Albert. Albert turned to answer her but instead his mouth dropped open. She had taken off her helmet and her gold hair was blowing in the wind.
Why had she done that? Maybe she wanted to hear better. Suddenly Albert felt as if he was inside a tomb, he had to get out of his own helmet. He looked around. All the safety officers were busy trying to catch the end of the bungee-cord. It wasn’t working because the naked man was now pushing himself around the shaft in a circle, laughing madly.
Albert drew a deep breath and then took the plunge. He took off his helmet, followed by his tinted goggles. For the first time in his adult life he exposed his eyes to the open air.
For three or four minutes the crazy dance below them went on. Others took off their safety gear, laughing and cheering the naked man on. The man even bounced off the top of the train to avoid being hooked.
Then a new air car arrived. Painted on its side was the pyramid and circle which was the emblem of the International Co-operative Insurance Service. The speaker set in the air car was even louder than that of the Safety Patrol. Its quality was far better too. It sounded as if the announcer was next to each and every person who heard it.
“MISTER MERDOCK, MISTER MERDOCK PLEASE YOU’RE CAUSING YOURSELF A LOT OF TROUBLE.” The air-car was now directly over the shaft. The voice became that of a troubled friend who only wanted to help. “I AM SORRY TO HAVE TO BE THE ONE TO TELL YOU THIS MISTER MERDOCK, BUT I’M AFRAID THAT ALL OF YOUR INSURANCE POLICIES HAVE BEEN CANCELED. BUT I AM SURE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO GET THEM BACK IN A VERY SHORT TIME IF YOU JUST COOPERATE WITH THE SAFETY OFFICERS. YOU KNOW SIR, THAT THEY ARE JUST HERE TO HELP YOU.”
Merdock stopped his mad swinging long enough to make a hand gesture that was so old that Albert could only just remember it from his youth. It was a mistake because one of the officers managed to get a hook fixed onto the end of Merdock’s bungee-cord. Two other officers came to the first one’s aid; soon they were pulling in the slack, slowly reeling in their human fish.
“OFFICER KARSON.” The voice from above spoke again. “WOULDN’T YOU SAY THAT SOME OF THESE PEOPLE ARE A LITTLE TOO CLOSE TO THE GUARD RAIL?”
Suddenly Albert became aware of himself again. Aware of the exposure of his head and eyes he bent down quickly and picked up his helmet and goggles. As he put them on he tried to speak to Jenna. “I think we had better… “His voice trailed off because Jenna was no longer there. With her helmet once again in place, she was headed back across the lawn to the sidewalk.
Quickly replacing his own head gear, Albert set off at a brisk walk for the walkway. He did not quite go in the same direction that Jenna had taken. The rest of the people too were turning their backs on the last useless struggle of a naked man trying to resist being placed into restraints.
As Albert headed home, he was thinking not so much of what the man in the shaft had done, but of the chances he had taken with his own head and body. Could it be that there was some deep seated self hatred still hiding inside of him? He decided that he would call his physician’s office as soon as he got home, maybe even set up an early appointment. Tell the doctor how for just a moment he had lost all sight of personal safety. Oh, he knew he would be fined for upsetting the Doctor’s schedule that much, but mental disease could hurt a person too. One had to remember that it was always safety first.
If you don't like insurance companies you should like this story.