A Necessary Intervention

By Zebuline Carter

sfgenreThe old man was resting comfortably on a wooden deck chair in his back yard, eyes closed, enjoying the sunshine, snapshots of old memories, and the buzz of the bees, when a knock on the side gate and a loud voice roused him to full awareness:

“Hello, is that you, Mr Decker?”

Decker blinked twice, took a moment to focus his eyes, found the young face framed with short blond curls peering over the top of the gate. “Oh, hello. Who might you be?” he answered amiably.

“My name is Aimee, I'm a field worker from Consumer Services.” She held out a photo ID tag that hung around her neck.

“I see,” Decker replied absently, although he hadn't really, but she seemed pleasant enough. “What brings you out here today?”

“I assume you are Mr Decker?”

He nodded. But he knew they would have his picture. “The gate is unlocked. You can come through.”

She did so. “Well, Mr Decker, we tried to call you, but you haven't listed your number with us.”

Decker raised an eyebrow. “I would have, as I know you require, but your web page only accepts mobile numbers.” He shrugged. “I only have a landline. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

Reeling from Decker's confessing to not having a mobile phone, she continued: “Mr Decker, Consumer Services has a responsibility to make sure that no one slips in between the cracks. Basically, we exist to make sure that everyone is happy and, where required, properly cared for.” (It was well rehearsed, Decker thought.) “So, when the system red-flagged you as absent from all social media, we became very concerned. Hence my visit today.”

The old man shrugged again. “I really don't follow you. What exactly is the issue?”

“Mr Decker, we're concerned that you're not having any meaningful social interactions. We're aware, of course, that you live here by yourself.” Then, “That is still correct, isn't it?”

“Yes it is,” he answered. “But I'm fine as I am, thank you.” He waved at the greenery surrounding them. “When the weather permits, I get to sit here in my backyard, away from any and every distraction, and just enjoy being by myself. Take this morning for example: I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and there's a certain Rosella that has this truly distinctive call. I've named it — ”

The field worker shook her head, interjected: “Imagine all the friends you could make online. Real ones. You could have so much fun, and learn more about yourself too, with a little feedback from your followers.”

This was becoming tedious, Decker thought...like trying to converse with an answering machine. Aloud he asked, “Such as?”

She chewed on her bottom lip, then brightened. “Well...you might be gay and not even know it! Think of the possibilities! Social media can offer you freedom that you can't possibly have now.” More sternly, she said, “And really, without a cellphone I just don't see how you can survive at all. Just think, right now, you could be sitting there watching a movie or something. Anything would be better than nothing.”

Decker sighed. This was going nowhere. He looked at his garden and marvelled again at the silent dance of the bees as they gathered nectar in the early spring sunlight. He said with concern, “My dear, would you mind terribly if I asked you to switch off your mobile phone: the microwaves from it might upset the bees.” Not to mention me, he thought.

She stiffened. 'Switch off the phone?' That was a clear DOT — a denial of technology, and an obvious danger signal. The gloves were off, now. What was he planning? Out here, alone, and now, possibly mentally deranged — after all, he had no social contact... Mr Decker was no longer just a lonely old man. The space she found herself in suddenly felt much smaller, more alien.

A furtive text, sent with one thumb, as the phone was palmed.

***

Three weeks later in a cell at a Consumer Reorientation Clinic, Decker sat in his chair, refusing to look at the view screen that dominated the facing wall. This was difficult given the chair was bolted to the floor — and the screen, out of reach and protected by heavy security mesh, could not be turned off. Each twenty-four hours it played advertisements, infomercials and nothing else. Elsewhere in the three-by-three metre space, a cartoon drawing of a window showing a stick-figure bird passed for the real thing, as did grimy plastic flowers in a vase firmly affixed to the bedside table.

With a metallic snick, the cell door opened. It was the psych nurse making his morning rounds. “Hello Mr Decker,” the young man said cheerfully. “How did you sleep?”

“Not well at all, in point of fact. The lights — ”

“Oh, come on now, Mr Decker, we've been over this before,” the nurse replied condescendingly. “We can't turn the lights completely off at night. If we did that, we wouldn't be able to keep an eye on you.”

“I didn't have these problems at home.”

The nurse's face hardened. “Well, we could hardly leave you out there all alone in that overgrown wilderness, and it was getting a little difficult to visit with you — ”

“I never asked anyone to.”

“That's really half the point, now, isn't it? Besides, what if you died out there? No one would know.”

I would. The old man thought of Buddy, the staffy-cross that he'd picked up from the pound ten years earlier, now resting peacefully under the daisies at the back fence. “I couldn't think of anything more natural.”

The psych nurse shook his head and sighed, eyes half-closed in resignation. He pulled something out of a pocket in his white smock. “Look,” he said, turning his hand over with a magician's flourish to reveal a shiny new cellphone. “I picked this one out for you myself. It does everything. And it won't hurt you, I promise!” Conspiratorially, one eyebrow arched, leaning closer, “It won't cost you a cent, either. Well, not to start with anyway. I signed the upfront charge away on ward expenses, so all you'll have to cover is the ongoing rental plan. This will open up a whole new world for you. It would look good on your case notes, too.” More firmly, he said, “But it's up to you to make the first step, Mr Decker.” The nurse started thumbing and flicking the device's tiny screen. “You like nature and stuff don't you? Look here — Facebook has that stuff.” A frown creased his face. “Hasn't got that many likes, though.” A smile. “Maybe you can change that!” He placed the phone on a bed shelf in the corner of the small cell. “Look, I'm just going to leave this here, and well, maybe you'll decide to have a look.”

Some time later, as the sun was setting, Mr Decker, PhD biochemistry — formerly of Cloverfield Lane, where the bees danced amongst the flowers under the spring sun — stirred. He rose slowly from the chair near the pencilled-in window, shuffled across the confined, softly padded space to the phone.

Hours later, the night staff retrieved the dinner tray with its untouched soft rolls, soup, jelly and unbreakable bowls from the delivery chute next to the door. The following morning, the psych nurse returned carrying the rental-plan paperwork for the smartphone. Distracted by a chirp from his own phone as he palmed the lock, he stepped in a pool of congealed blood as he pushed the heavy door open.

Mr Decker lay dead on his bed, a shard of broken touch screen protruding from a jagged tear in his wrist.

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About The Author

Zebuline Carter

Zeb writes:

Last week, on a whim I submitted some of my own musings to ‘Nuke’, and when I checked back today — my time in my ‘verse, which is plus six years comparative to you — I saw that he had published some of them! I wasn’t even sure the contrived email and attachment would get through, let alone end up published on your internet of things. (BTW — We have nothing quite like your ‘net, but we’ve gone far further into the solar system than you have. Figure that!) Now that I know a connection is possible, I thought I’d tell you a little more about myself and where I’m from. So, from the beginning…

Hi. My name is Zebuline Carter — that’s Zeb for my friends or Zeb-you-leen if you want to get formal — and I’m a forty-two year old former astronaut now working as an administrator at Farside, on Luna. Farside is a research base, where innerscopes are just starting to peel back layers of our sheath of the local multiverse. Because our work is so sensitive to em influences, Farside is situated within a one hundred klom diameter exclusion zone.

In my late teens I earned a double major in aerospace and business but passed over grad school for civilian astronaut training. As a kid I collected coupons from cereal boxes until I had enough for my first telescope, and built scale models of all the commercial shuttles and orbiters. Growing up, I’d always felt slightly out of place, like I was meant to to be somewhere else and part of me already was — until, that is, I had my first trip into low orbit aboard a high-riding intercont-cruiser, or ICC. That was a high-school graduation present from my Uncle Jim, and during the fifteen minutes of freefall I found that other part of myself, grabbed it tight, and never let go since.

Did I also mention I’m 180 cents tall with bobbed chestnut hair? Or that because of heart damage from a bad landing, I’m also marooned in low gravity? But heh, there are now six bases around Luna, supporting a permanent population of around twelve thousand Lunans, and a transient population of several thousand tourists and stopovers returning form the outer system, so it never gets boring and I don’t get lonely. And living in low G means I won’t age or sag as fast, either.

Until next time —

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nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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Coffee With God
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Crossing Mercury
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Hugh's Friend
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Much Needed Boost
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Painting The Future
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The Final Squeeze
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The Fire
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The Prince Scamp — His Wrath
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AntiSF's Narration Team

marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (available now).

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba,

And is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

His stories, covering everything from sci-fi to philosophy, have been published across the globe and links to each can be found at <wordsbydavid.com>

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SF News

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Supanova Adelaide 02/11/2018 till 04/11/2018, Adelaide Showground, John Barrowman & a calvacade of others. <https://www.supanova.com.au/>

Supanova Brisbane 09/11/2018 till 04/11/2018, John Barrowman & a calvacade of others. <https://www.supanova.com.au/>.

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Nullus Anxietas VII: The Australian Discworld Convention — will be held in Melbourne on April 12-14, 2019, and is themed on Going Postal. More information: <https://ausdwcon.org/>.

Continuum 15 Other Worlds (Natcon 58): Continuum 15 is the Australian National SF Convention, to be held in Melbourne on June 7–10. More information and memberships <https://continuum.org.au>. AntipodeanSF will be at Continuum 15 and celebrating Issue 250 of AntiSF!

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