Out for Falling Prices"
by David M. Fitzpatrick
“Bob!” Laurie hollered from
downstairs. “Are you ready?”
Bob Peters rubbed his fingers on
his temples, trying to will the throbbing pain away. If only she’d
turn the volume down on that mouth of hers, it wouldn’t hurt so
badly. Well, that wasn’t true; but it would be nice if she’d shut
up, anyway. Of course, he certainly couldn’t tell her anything like
that. It wasn’t his place or his right.
“I’m coming,” he called down, and
his own voice sent a horde of tiny demons with hammers through his
skull, pounding away. He was ready to do anything to relieve the
pain—and almost anything to not have to live under her control all
But that was a fantasy. At least
she could do something about his headache. He got up off his
antigrav bed and reached for his Blue Sox baseball cap, teetering
and almost falling over. He snugged the cap on his head, and it felt
like a steel band trying to keep his skull from exploding. The cap
was the only personal belonging he actually owned—it had come with
him from the farm in Antarctica a few years ago.
He took a step and dizzy nausea
overwhelmed him, and he grabbed at the wall for support even as the
autodoor sensed his presence and slid silently open. He closed his
eyes and willed the pain away. It would all be over soon, he knew.
Just a quick flight to World-Mart, and Laurie would make sure he was
cured of this brain-screaming agony.
Like a movie zombie, his steps
jerking and halting, he made his way to the motion stairs and let
them glide him down to the first floor. Laurie was waiting in the
dining room, woven-gold purse over her shoulder, arms crossed,
glaring at him. Her hair was pink and yellow this week, exaggerated
curls frozen in stiff corkscrew spirals about her head.
“I don’t know if you understand how
this marriage thing works, but you’re supposed to do everything on
my schedule,” she said. “While you’re taking care of the headache, I
want to get my nails done. I’m sick of these red claws.” She waggled
the long, curled talons, painted as bright a red as the blood they’d
“I’m sorry,” Bob said. “It’s just
that my head really hurts.”
“Well, I hope all this takes is
medication. You know how I hate to waste money.”
In minutes, they were airborne and
supersonic, the hovercar leaving the mountain range behind them. He
watched through the glass dome as they flew, at the hundreds of
mountaintop skyscrapers spiking skyward as far north and south as he
could see. The one that housed their apartment was a comparatively
small forty-story affair; others were twice that or more. After
neutralizing plate tectonics, humans had been able to build anywhere
without worry—and mountaintops allowed some of the best views in the
world. It was just one more advance that made life better, Bob knew.
Just like the advancements in medicine.
Laurie let the autopilot cruise
them toward Plexopolis as she jacked the music up way too loud,
adding to his misery. Then she talked even louder to be heard over
the noise. She prattled on about the latest gossip at work, mostly.
“So Monday, during our flight to
our Moon office, Barry Martin actually touched Linda’s thigh,” she
said. “And Linda sat there, acting like she didn’t notice, but we
all saw. Twenty minutes in that shuttle, and he never moved his hand
until we landed. And he kept moving his finger on her leg—just
barely, but noticeable. Can you believe that?”
“No,” he said, the obedient, expected answer. His eyes hurt, too,
feeling as if they were bulging out of their sockets with every thud
of his heart—like twin battering rams were smashing against them,
trying to pop them out of his head.
She rambled on about a secretary on
the Moon who was screwing the company’s Chief Theological Officer,
and the Mars shuttle pilot who was caught with his hand in his
pants. The stories were all so exciting to Laurie, but even if Bob’s
head wasn’t threatening to explode, he couldn’t have cared less.
With his headache, it was all the more deplorable.
“Are you listening to me?” she
He really hadn’t been. “I—I’m
sorry… this headache is just killing me.”
“You know, besides my sexual needs,
I have you around so I can talk about my job and my life and
anything else I want to share with someone,” she said, a scornful
look on her face that was turning pouty as she crossed her arms and
let her lower lip creep out. “You can at least do your job as my
husband, you know.”
You can at least give me a break
today, he thought. Maybe I haven’t made this clear, you
selfish wench, but my head is about to fall off!
Of course, he didn’t say that. “I’m
trying, Laurie. I mean, this really hurts.”
Her brow creased and her demeanor
softened the tiniest bit. “So this really is a bad headache, huh?”
“I’ve never had one like it.”
“Okay, sweetie,” she said, smiling,
reaching out to pat his knee, “it’ll be all better soon. You can get
anything at World-Mart, you know. Get anything, fix anything, take
care of any problem. That’s why I love the place. World-Mart has
almost never disappointed me.”
“Well, I’ve had a few glitches, but
they always make good on it. That’s a company that knows how to
treat customers. If I ever lose my job with Solar Projects, maybe I
could work for them.” She laughed aloud at her own joke. “You know,
I even bought this very hovercar at World-Mart. Cost just a million.
Anywhere else would have charged a million-three. Sure, I’ve had a
few problems with it, but the antigravs have never failed, and the
upkeep hasn’t cost me even close to the three hundred thousand I
She kept talking, but luckily it
was just a few more minutes before the hovercar landed in the
parking tower adjacent to the local World-Mart. The store’s
footprint was nearly five acres, sporting ten floors of merchandise
and services. It was a small one for the retail chain; most were
twice that size.
“World-Mart just broke its own
record, you know,” Laurie said as she sprang out of the car. “That
new store in Manhattan City is the biggest yet. Thirty stories with
a ten-acre base. Maybe I’ll check it out next weekend. If your
headache is gone and you’re a good husband, maybe you can come
That wasn’t Bob’s idea of a good
time. Fleetingly, he wondered if he might get lucky and still have
Inside, the store was like any
other World-Mart: countless departments full of every conceivable
thing anyone could want, and ten times that amount of inconceivable
things nobody would anyone would ever want. Yet someone always
wanted one of those inconceivable things, which is why World-Mart
was the global retail leader with over three thousand locations. And
there were thousands of shoppers enjoying this location; Bob and
Laurie had entered on the Toy Department level, and the place was
mobbed by screaming children demanding toys and parents frantically
stuffing their carts full. Bob noticed the single floordroid in
charge of customer service in the Toy Department, answering myriad
“It’s busier than usual,” Laurie
said. “People must be getting an early jump on Arbor Day gifts.
Their sale trees aren’t as big as the ones you can buy at stores in
South America, but they’re way cheaper.”
The noise was overwhelming. “I have
to get down to the Service Level,” he said, holding his hands to the
sides of his head...
* * * * * *
World-Mart is a full-service center,
all right, and Bob isn't there for medicine. He needs brain surgery to get
rid of this headache.
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