Future Imperfect

Freddy Kingdom is a twentieth century woman living in the wrong millennium. She’s sitting in the last great sports car ever built, stuck in traffic on the world’s biggest roundabout. And she’s in the WRONG LANE…  Warning: Sexual scenes, bad language, dodgy sci fi. 18+

Freddy Kingdom was stuck in traffic. This was an unusual occurrence. Freddy prided herself on being able to READ traffic, as far into the distance as possible, and make the appropriate split-second decisions to keep herself moving and passing as many vehicles as possible.
But she’d stuffed up. One moment’s reverie, one nanosecond’s lack of attention, and traffic had swallowed her.
Here she was, stuck in the world’s biggest roundabout. What’s more, she was stuck in the WRONG LANE.
Freddy groaned and thumped the steering wheel, and put on her indicator without much hope. The cars and maxibuses in front of her had stopped completely, which indicated either a breakdown or a fender-bender. An electric motor scooter, one of which she’d owned herself until last week, swept down the middle lane with a triumphant squeak of its low decibel horn. She switched off the motor, and the snarly sound of the Porfer ceased.
She’d bought the used Porfer, the revoltingly-named final effort at internal combustion by the Porsche/Ferrari merger back in the late twenties, last Thursday. It was wickedly fast due to the massive, ecologically sound turbo attached to the super-economic four cylinder engine, but what could you do with 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds acceleration in this traffic? Freddy was damned if she knew, but she loved the car. She’d wanted one ever since she was a child, and had seen the unbelievably sexist adverts that still apparently worked: “Porfer – for the man on the move.” “Porfer – you don’t need to prove you’re a man.” Yup, Freddy was of the firm opinion that women could drive fast cars too. After all, women didn’t have dicks so the notion of a car as a penis enhancer was bullshit. She’d heard the Porfer was a bitch to drive, with a clutch that needed legs of iron to depress it, and a tendency, because of its antiquated rear wheel drive and rear mounted engine, to spin out on corners. It sounded like the perfect challenge. The bit about the clutch was true and she hadn’t had the chance yet to try its cornering abilities at speed. The fact that fossil fuel was almost extinct and frighteningly expensive made it no car for the twenty first century, which is why she’d got it at a bargain price. Five hundred dollars bought the car, but it cost over two thousand to fill the capacious tank.
All around her people sat in little solar-electric cars, as like as flies. Most of them had been produced locally when Ford Australia and Holden merged in the 2030s. The fearsome competition between Ford and Holden before the merger meant that neither company was willing to let the other put its name first, and they’d settled on mixing up the letters in Ford and Holden to make an anagram. So Norfheld cars, silent, boring and with a maximum speed of 90 km/h, were created.
Freddy turned down the sound on the old-fashioned mini-disc player and reflected on herself and the century she shouldn’t have been born in.
Freddy – Frederique Ursula Kingdom, who was never referred to by her initials – was conceived in 1999 but born in 2020. She was the product of two brilliant genetic engineering scientists who’d wanted a child but not right now, thanks, we’re busy eradicating the cancer gene. They’d cryogenically frozen their precious embryo but they had died before it could be implanted in Freddy’s mother, who’d planned to get pregnant in her fifties or sixties; she knew such things would be safe and commonplace by then.
Freddy’s parents had met at a research facility in the 90s, when they were both in their thirties. Her father was already married but when her mother started talking chromosomes to him he fell head over heels. Other scientists called him brilliant. The newspapers called him Australian Science’s Leading Light and even The World’s Foremost Genetics Expert. His wife called him an unfaithful bastard, divorced him and kept the house and the yappy little fluffy white dog he’d always hated.
Putting aside marriage as well as children, Freddy’s parents worked busily. Their little embryo sat frozen in time while they worked on the cancer gene (Fixed!) then turned their attention firstly to inherited heart and circulation problems and then to myopia, which was a personal crusade as they were both short-sighted as hell. By 2018 they knew they were on a winner or two. They decided, at that point, to take a couple of months off, get married and go on a real honeymoon in what would turn out to be the next century’s Titanic, the low orbit aeroplane. Once the wedding ceremony was over (which Freddy apparently attended in a dry ice canister) they had the foresight to make their wills. The wills gave details for Freddy’s birth in the event that her mother died. Freddy would be developed to birth in an artificial womb in the year 2020 and her mother’s sister – or her children in the event of death – would raise her. It was a wise move. The low orbit aeroplane, on its maiden flight from Australia to the US, experienced unexpected electrical problems on reentry and crashed into the Pacific. The rear section of the craft was still in one piece when divers retrieved it soon after the crash. The craft had fallen from the sky so swiftly passengers were found with food still in their mouths or sitting on the loos. Freddy’s parents, at the time of the crash, had been engaged in the delights of the super-quickie five-mile-high club.
So Freddy had grown up with her aunt and cousins. In a way she resented the selfishness of her parents, freezing her for years and planning to have her when they were almost pensioners and bound to die anyway, but on the other hand she loved them for the preparations they’d made for her and for the genes she’d inherited: she’d ended up on the tall side, reasonably slim, with dark hair, brown eyes that actually worked, skin that tanned relatively easily, and heaps of brains. School had been a breeze for her. The electronic learning methods (and, she had to admit, the illegal knowledge-retention and accelerated learning drugs she’d gobbled) had meant Freddy was years ahead of most children her age by the time she was thirteen. She’d gone to uni early and had emerged with a couple of degrees by the time she was twenty one. Determined to carry on her parents’ work, she’d been keenly snapped up by the massive US research house Sinden Technologies Inc, which unfortunately was known as STInc to one and all who worked for it. At the age of 25, she was now one of STInc’s leading genetic engineers in its major Australian facility and paid an absolute fortune.
And she was bored stiff.
Bored stiff with isolating genes so that rich bastards could ensure their offspring had straight teeth, blue eyes, long legs and a great singing voice. She wanted to cure genetic diseases but most of them, by now, had been fixed. STInc had promised her all kinds of diseases but had given her work she could have done when she was twelve. And there still wasn’t a cure for the common cold!
Bored stiff with a world where genetics had advanced to the point where cows didn’t – couldn’t – fart any more and the ozone layer was looking healthier by the year.
Bored stiff with vegetables that didn’t go off even if you left them in the sun for a couple of months.
Bored stiff with ultra-safe, emission-free cars that had joysticks instead of steering wheels and no real gearbox, just a gutless go-pedal that cut off if you tried to go over 90.
Bored stiff with computers that were so bloody smartarsed that if you paused for longer than five seconds when dictating to them they prompted you with kitsch comments like “Cat got your tongue?” or “Wake up, I’m still waiting!” and started to write your stuff themselves. This usually meant hours editing as computers couldn’t think for themselves….they just rehashed some of the data you’d given them over the past few days whether it made sense or not. You could end up with a sentence like “A typical DNA strand consists of one tin of baked beans, tomatoes, toilet paper, and fat-free corn chips.”
Bored stiff with the whole environmentally-friendly, genetically-enhanced, revoltingly healthy twenty first century, in fact.
* * *
The traffic was still snarled up, even after a three hour doze. Freddy had seen videos and lasers of Sydney in the 90s, when cars actually moved along the roads and you could even live some distance from where you worked. These days you either got a job near home or moved near to your work. Unless you caught public transport, of which there was so much that it actually CAUSED many of the traffic headaches. One hitch with the trains and you may as well unpack the sleeping bag. Ditto the maxibuses. It was quicker to walk.
Stretching and rubbing her eyes, Freddy sadly realised she was a true product of the twentieth century. She’d always scorned the people her age who’d had embryonic genetic enhancement to their tempers back in the twenties, when it was not only fashionable but government assisted in an effort to curb crime. THEY stayed calm in traffic jams, placidly listening to digital radio, tapping away on their PCs or doing an electronic crossword. Freddy wanted to smell pollution. She wanted to lie on the beach wearing very little without being told by a Beach Officer to cover up for her own health unless she wanted to risk a fine. She wanted to go to a restaurant and eat a bloody great t-bone steak without being looked on as a pariah. She wanted to smoke a wildly expensive black-market cigarette without copping a ten-year jail term. Most of all, she wanted to find a man who held the same views as she did. Maybe she’d find one on some isolated, pathetically primitive island in the Pacific… but she’d have to get out of the traffic jam first!
The roundabout Freddy was caught in, the R7, was currently the world’s largest. There had been an attempt to have Great Britain’s M25 declared the largest, but that had fallen through on the grounds that it wasn’t really a roundabout. Earlier in the century, soon after the US takeover, Sydney had set about revising its traffic flow with the result now that nothing really flowed at all. You had wonderful motorways that turned into parking lots when they hit normal roads. Even an attempt to decentralise the city itself hadn’t worked, with the result that Castle Hill and Campbelltown were the new CBDs and had all the traffic problems of the old one, which had been turned into the biggest pedestrian mall in the southern hemisphere.
The R7 was several kilometres in diameter and slightly north of Terrey Hills, where STInc had its headquarters. Freddy was trying to go to St Ives, where she lived in the house her parents had left her in what had once been the snobbiest suburb in Sydney but had now become the preferred stop-off point for New Zealanders seeking a cheap place to live. The Porfer, however, was firmly ensconced in the lane that said “Northern Beaches, Central Coast Causeway, and Northern Suburbs (Newcastle, Cessnock, Port Macquarie)”.
You could probably blame the traffic problems on the US, Freddy thought. California had become a car-free state several years before and Californian car freaks had either moved to Arizona or Australia, two places which still had relatively open roads. Australia had become the fifty fourth state in the twenties, shortly after Great Britain had become, kicking and screaming, the fifty second and Canada, protesting in two languages, the fifty third. It was, she supposed, marginally better than being part of Japan, which was the other option open to the government. At least with the US you had no real language problems…except the mainlanders were insisting Australians used American spelling. The US, for all its riches, was stuffed as Freddy was concerned. Any country that could claim its most loved president of the twenty first century to be Michael Jackson, and elect him not once but TWICE, was totally buggered. He had wanted his monkey – his bloody MONKEY, mind you! – sworn in as VP and with the support of the Animals for Government Movement got his way. So Binki the monkey had passed 21 new bills during his career and was deliberating whether to give in to the Texan separatists when he finally went to the great jungle in the sky. And now New York aimed to have a bigger roundabout than the R7. Good luck to New York! It could have all the problems of a twelve lane parking lot!
Freddy had had enough – there had to be a better life than this! It was hot outside, revoltingly hot. It was always sunny in the daytime and cool and rainy at night because the weather was now managed that way. Sunny days charged up all those billions of solar panels on cars and houses. Rainy nights watered the gardens and filled rainwater tanks, cutting down on precious water usage.
Almost a kilometre in front, cars started to edge cautiously forward.
Freddy’s heart leaped in hope. If she was enough of a bully she could start to nose her way left. She started the Porfer. Her foot slipped off the Clutch of Steel and the Porfer, fastest and lastest internal combustion sports car, accelerated straight into the car in front.
And that’s how she met Jack.
* * *
Jack Bond’s biggest relief in life was that his parents hadn’t called him James instead of Jack. Seventy four James Bond™ movies had been made to date, including forty seven with an interactive ending, and it was just his luck, he LOOKED like James Bond™. And he hadn’t even been genetically altered.
He was sitting in his Norfheld Deluxe Solar Plus Demi-Cabriolet Mini on the R7, transmitting a report to STInc on his car PC, when something struck him with the force of an elephant with gastro enteritis taking a crap on his rear bumper. There was only one thing it could be – that gorgeous bright red Porfer with the tinted windscreen that he’d been admiring in the rearview.
“Shit!” Jack saved his work, shut off the PC and prepared for a battle. Only pricks drove Porfers. Big pricks with little pricks, come to that. Jack might look like James Bond, but he was no action hero. He was a self-confessed wimp. Jack’s motto was “Never walk away from a fight when you can run.”
Jack took a deep breath, opened the car door, grabbed the nearest thing to hand as a means of warding off attack, and jumped out shouting, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He looked belatedly at his hand and realised he’d grabbed a six pack of toilet rolls out of his shopping. “Shit!” he said again, and almost slunk back into the Norfheld.
The door of the Porfer opened and Jack grabbed the loo rolls even tighter. He let his breath out with a loud sigh of relief when he saw Freddy’s legs emerge, followed by her body and finally her rather embarrassed face.
Jack’s first thought was: Shit, girls don’t drive Porfers. Then he thought: Shit, she’s beautiful! Then: Shit, it’s Freddy Kingdom! Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!
“Shit!” blurted Jack.
“Is that all you can say?” said Freddy. “Shit? Look, I’m terribly sorry, my foot slipped off the clutch. Is the damage very bad?”
Stupid question, thought both Jack and Freddy, looking at the totalled rear end of Jack’s car. Norfhelds were constructed of a fibreglass shell which shattered into dust when given a bloody good thump. Freddy peered through to the metal bones beneath the Norfheld’s skin.
“Oops,” she said faintly. She stole a glimpse at the Porfer. While it too had a fibreglass body the medium-impact-absorbing bumpers had taken the entire brunt of the shunt. “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”
Around them traffic had started to edge forward at a snail’s pace. Behind the Porfer Norfhelds, Toydas, Nissabishis and other cars were politely sounding their anti-noise-pollution low decibel horns.
Jack sneaked a look at Freddy. He’d never seen her close up before. His work at STInc was in the agricultural division and he was currently trying to get transferred from crops (boring) to animals (marginally less boring but he was determined to secretly figure out a way to give cows back their farts). He’d admired Freddy from a distance and also on his PC, where he’d set up her 3D ID picture to smile at him from the top right hand corner. The ID photo didn’t do her justice, didn’t capture the way sunlight sparkled on her long, wavy black hair, or the look of concentration on her face and the little frown between her eyebrows, or the few freckles that were scattered along the bridge of her long, straight nose. Or – moving downwards – her great tits. Freddy Kingdom was the unrequited love of Jack’s life. He got a hardon just reading her research papers. Even the one on inherited constipation. He’d been plucking up the courage to meet her and ask her out for the last six months. And all he could say was “Shit”. Great move, Jack thought, terrific pick up line. She’ll fall for that one. Any brilliant scientist would.
“We’d better try and move your car,” Freddy suggested finally. “Up onto the grass. It’ll be midnight before the police get here. Luckily we’re in the right hand lane.”
“Shit, yes,” said Jack, and mentally groaned. “Er… I’m Jack Bond, by the way. I’ve seen you around STInc. I’m in crops.” He held out his hand.
Freddy turned her attention from the cars and really looked at Jack for the first time. “Freddy Kingdom, human diseases,” she said faintly, leaving her hand in his for a lot longer than was necessary. Heavens, he was good looking, just her type. How had she missed him? Crops was the answer. It was the dullest section in STInc and she rarely visited it. He didn’t LOOK boring though. But there was only one way to find out. “Can I give you a lift anywhere? It’s the least I can do.”
Bingo! Thought Jack. “Great! Anywhere with you, I mean, anywhere will do. How about a drink?”
Freddy nodded. “The pubs’ll be packed. Would you like to come back to my place?” she said before she realised it.
Jack nodded dumbly. They stood holding hands in the middle of the R7 until six calm but slightly anxious motorists helped them lift the Norfheld onto the grass.
Jack pulled the five-point harness as tight as he could. It had taken all of ten seconds to convince him he was in the car with a female reincarnation of Fangio. She had simply switched on, put on her indicator, waited for a millisecond’s gap in traffic and gunned it. They made it across all twelve lanes just in time for the St Ives turnoff. Jack guessed there’d be at least eleven motorists left on the roundabout with uncomfortably warm brown trousers.
Freddy weaved in and out between cars and buses. The Porfer was a big, wide car compared to most on the road. Ferrari had insisted on the width, which made it a bastard to park at the supermall.
Finally they reached Freddy’s street. Jack opened his eyes without realising he’d had them jammed shut.
She suddenly stopped the car in the middle of the road. “What are you do- shit!” yelled Jack.
Freddy stamped on the juice and the Porfer almost took flight. Jack watched the speedo readout reach one hundred in the time it took him to take a breath, and thought fleetingly that the rumour was true….all Porfer drivers WERE pricks, male or female.
Freddy brought the car to a halt with millimetres to spare between it and the garage door.
“Sorry,” she said, looking at Jack’s white face, “but it’s the only place I can do it. Living in a cul-de-sac means there’s no traffic. I have to let off steam somehow. I mean, what’s the use in having a fast car if you can’t use it? Drink?”
Jack eased himself out of the harness, realising he’d missed becoming a brown trousers wearer by sheer willpower. “Love one. But can I use your toilet first?”
* * *
Freddy wasn’t sure later who’d made the first move. She remembered taking one sip of the violently strong gin and tonic she’d made and then somehow she was kissing Jack and he was kissing her. Was it before or after he’d said his aim at STInc was to give cows back their farts? As a pickup line to a depressed scientist living in the wrong millennium it was a winner. She’d heard enough of “Let’s make green-eyed, olive skinned male children together” and “Do you want to help me genetically eradicate halitosis?”
They left a trail of clothing across the living room floor and tumbled happily onto Freddy’s big bed.
“Heavens,” said Freddy, eyeing Jack’s dick hungrily. “Is it enhanced or real?”
“Real,” replied Jack stiffly. Very stiffly, he thought to himself. “I’m totally unenhanced. My parents couldn’t afford it.”
He was too good to be true! Freddy launched herself at him with the speed and intensity of a heat-seeking missile.
“Fuck!” said Jack breathlessly.
“Yes, please,” said Freddy wickedly, impaling herself on Jack’s dick.
Jack had no choice, really. But then…he didn’t want one.
Hours later, after they’d slept and bonked and slept and bonked and slept again, they woke slowly and hazily, eyeing each other with the slight embarrassment and inquisitiveness of first-time lovers.
“Is it morning?” groaned Freddy sleepily, gazing at Jack’s body under the rumpled sheets and wondering whether either of them had the energy for one more bonk.
“Fraid so. “Would you fancy some real coffee? Black market stuff, loaded with caffeine? There’s some in my briefcase,” Jack mumbled. “I have trouble getting started without a decent cup of java. I don’t suppose you’ve got any bacon? Preferably old-fashioned with a bit of fat …”
Freddy’s eyes snapped open. At that moment she was ready to bear his children the old-fashioned twentieth century way. Sod artificial wombs, she’d go through hell for this man! Freddy Kingdom realised with a shock she’d fallen in love for the first time in her life.
* * *
Two weeks later Freddy sat at her PC. It now had Jack’s ID photo grinning idiotically at her in the top left corner. She was supposed to be ascertaining how big a job it would be to create a physically perfect son for an old, rich, vertically challenged American mainlander with crap eyesight, bad teeth, several generations of obesity, a family history of early male pattern baldness and inherited heart problems. The rich bastard, as Freddy called all such well-paying private clientele, had asked for Freddy by name, although any of Freddy’s staff could have easily done the job. He wanted his son to be tall, slim, have 20/20 vision, strong and preferably straight teeth, a genius IQ and hair that would last through his life. Freddy was tempted to tell him he could achieve the eyes and teeth through surgery and a good orthodontist, but STInc’s motto was “The Customer Is Always Loaded”. Freddy was also supposed to suggest things like “do you want him to be left-handed or right-handed?”
At the moment she wasn’t suggesting anything. She was writing code for fun. When she asked for a 3D image her PC obligingly showed her a chimp’s body with the fat bastard’s bald, myopic head on it. She thought for a moment, tapped in several more lines, grinned and asked for the image again. This time the head had three eyes (each a different colour), no ears and gappy teeth, and the chimp’s body was covered in poodle-curly blonde hair. She tapped her finger twice on the touch-screen and the chimp obligingly blinked its three eyes in sequence – left, middle, right – and scratched its hairy, oversized balls. Freddy grinned.
She heard noises in the corridor outside her office, and her ears went out on stalks when she heard Jack’s voice.
“Bond, it took us thirty years to eradicate farting cows and clear the atmosphere.” That was Eric Mitchell Menzies, The Boss, known to all of STInc Sydney as “EMM”.
“But EMM, cows are exploding! Look at yesterday’s e-news! It’s not bloody fair on them to make them absorb their own methane!”
“The environment comes first, Bond. No farting cows!”
“EMM,” came a plaintive female voice. Freddy recognised Penny Munney, EMM’s research assistant, and started to get the giggles. It was all too coincidental.
“Yes, Penny?”
“E-news just came in. The White House has passed an agricultural bill to allow development of the Superchicken, and another four cows have gone up outside Dubbo.”
“Shit!” Jack. “See, I said about the cows!”
“Get onto Crops, Penny.” EMM. “We’ll have to do more work on the lucerne. And Bond, if I hear one inkling, one tiny rumour that you’re fixing cows to fart, you’re fired. From the entire industry. Nobody wants a scientist who isn’t environmentally friendly.”
Jack swung angrily into Freddy’s office. “Nobody wants a scientist who isn’t environmentally friendly,” he mimicked. “I suppose cows which explode with the force of a nuclear explosion ARE environmentally friendly. Poor bloody things. Chewing their cud one minute, flying particles of flesh the next, all four stomachs to the four winds.” Jack took a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, glanced at the security cameras and thought better of it. “Cheer me up, Freddy darling. What are you up to?”
“Designing the perfect child for a rich mainlander.” She swivelled her screen around to him and Jack grinned.
“Let’s get out of here,” Freddy said suddenly, feeling the four sterile walls closing in unbearably. It was an all too common feeling lately. “Let’s just go AWOL for a day or two. Get in the car, find a stretch of road that isn’t too crowded and put the pedal to the metal. I need a break.”
Jack gulped. It was a prospect both beautiful and terrifying, the vision of Freddy and her Porfer let loose on the open road. What the hell, he thought. “Let me grab my stuff. I’ll meet you at the car in five minutes.”
* * *
Freddy filled the tank at Hornsby, wincing as the four figure total was deducted from her savings. The simple act of swinging by her place for an overnight bag had taken two hours. To simplify travelling time and the demands of their exquisite love life, Jack had moved in the week before so at least it didn’t mean another stop.
Jack gobbled three Calm pills surreptitiously and watched Freddy drive with idle detachment. Calm made him so mellow he didn’t care if they crashed and exploded like cows.
Deftly Freddy threaded the Porfer through the Northern Suburbs, which extended to the Hunter Valley. Traffic mysteriously dispersed somewhat at that point, and she was able to take a relatively empty secondary six lane highway west to anywhere.
Freddy surveyed the road ahead with intense satisfaction. There wasn’t even the chance she’d get pulled up by the police, as speeding fines had been abolished five years before. Modern cars – and modern traffic problems – usually made speeding a non-existent proposition. The highway patrol had instead been diverted to catching litterers and other environmentally unfriendly criminals.
The Porfer growled, snarled and purred as Freddy pushed it through the gears. “Porfer – for the woman on the move”, Freddy thought happily.. She reflected her car might have a name which sounded like someone throwing up, but it went like shit off a shovel. Gradually she got used to handling it. Jack grinned lazily as the car swung violently on the first few sharp bends, fat tyres screaming for mercy. Freddy hung onto the steering wheel for grim death and followed her theory of “shove it down a gear and put the boot in”, which seemed to fix the problem.
It was the best drive she’d ever had in her life. Years of driving sports cars in simulators hadn’t quite prepared her for it. Her heartbeat accelerated with the car, and then suddenly she was at one with the Porfer, she’d tamed it, her hands and feet had melded with the last great sports car ever built, and she whipped it heartlessly around corners and made the turbo whine with exertion on the straight. Freddy had no idea where she was going, but she was having a ball getting there.
Even Jack, once his Calm pills had worn off, began to enjoy the drive, letting his body ride with the g-forces. He revised his view about Porfer drivers being pricks. This one, a demonic grin fixed on her face, was abso-bloody-lutely magnificent.
Barrelling around bends at speeds in excess of 180 km/h, they were soon hundreds of kilometres from home. Green, green countryside flew past in a blur. Solar-electric cars were overtaken and left swaying on the road by the Porfer’s buffeting slipstream.
Finally Freddy decelerated, and pulled the car to a halt half a kilometre from a crossroad. She was as near to the middle of nowhere as you could be, with a quarter tank of fuel left. Heat shimmered from the Porfer’s rear end. If the Porfer had been a horse its sides would have been heaving and its head hanging limply between its forelegs.
Freddy and Jack levered themselves out of the car and stretched. Neither of them had been out this far in the country before – they’d been city born and bred and had never considered life outside a metropolis. They usually flew from city to city, domestically and internationally. Freddy had been as far as the manicured outer suburbs of the Hunter Valley Vineyards. Jack had once taken the Extremely Very Fast Train to the snowfields. Seeing country Australia on an interactive VR documentary hadn’t quite prepared them for this vastness, with its endless skies and people-less pastures.
Years of intense desalination and careful weather control had turned a previous desert land into rich agricultural country. Fields of wheat – assuredly genetically enhanced – waved in a gentle breeze to the right, performing a kilometre-long mexican wave. To the left of the road cows grazed in lucerne so green it was painful to look at. On the far side of the cow paddocks gum trees grew in lush profusion.
Freddy took a deep breath, adoring the manure smell and the freshness of the wheat.
“Brilliant!” Jack exclaimed, doing the same. For all his work on crops and now animals, he hadn’t seen the real thing in such an immense, natural state. STInc’s labs and farms were on a much smaller scale and usually located in buildings using an artificial climate.
Hand in hand, they walked along the side of the road and finally found a gap in the cow paddock fence. Freddy’s feet sank shin-deep in lucerne. Jack’s feet sank ankle-deep in cowshit. They grinned at each other, and Jack tried unsuccessfully to wipe his boots.
“How long, do you think, before the city gets this far?” Freddy mused.
“Ages,” Jack replied, still furiously wiping his boots on the lucerne. “They can’t encroach too much on farmland. You need farms to feed the people. Okay, so we grow hydroponic vegetables in massive skyscraper eco-farms, but you can’t really do that with wheat. And livestock realistically need this kind of space to stay healthy.”
Freddy was struck by the second strongest impulse she’d ever had in her life (the strongest was jumping into bed with Jack). “We could transmit in every day,” Freddy said wistfully, “STInc wouldn’t want to lose us. They’d let us work remotely, especially you, now you’re on animals. You could do proper field testing. And designing revoltingly perfect children wouldn’t be so bad if I could walk outside and see all this every so often. We wouldn’t have to work for STInc forever… just until we could sustain ourselves. We could just afford it if I sell the place in Sydney. I could go shopping electronically. Out here you wouldn’t need designer clothes.”
She sat down, staining her Chanel jeans green. When luxury goods manufacturers like Chanel and Gucci tried to overexpand both their product lines and their outlets earlier in the century, they glutted the market. Suddenly everyone was buying designer stuff. With the new exchange rate they could afford it. Chains like K-Mart had been squeezed out and had now become exclusive. Freddy, when she wanted to show off, dressed in her K-Mart suit and used a K-Mart carrier bag instead of her usual cheap Louis Vuitton sac.
“Freddy! You’re not thinking of moving out here?” Scenic as it was, Jack, used to walking a block or two to a cafe or pub, was horrified.
“It smells different, Jack. A kind of twentieth-century smell. Real and unsterile. Cowshit and the exhaust from my car. And look, lots and lots of roads. What have I been missing?”
“Flies?” Jack suggested, brushing three from his face.
Freddy ignored him. She closed her eyes and turned her face to the sun, smiling blissfully. “Out here you could sunbake and not get caught. Hell, you could SMOKE and not get caught.”
That was true. Jack furtively looked around him. Not a cop in sight. Not another human being in sight, come to that. He drew out his pack of $500 ciggies, gave one to Freddy and lit up. They lay in the field risking ten years’ imprisonment and blew smoke rings at the sky.
“You could grow your own tobacco,” he said, joining in the game.
“You could breed cows that fart… and who would know?” said Freddy with careful nonchalance, dropping her baited hook in front of Jack’s nose. His eyes widened.
“We’d have to hide them from inspectors,” he said slowly. He realised Freddy wasn’t playing a game after all. She was serious. Could he give up the city to work in the country, breaking the law with banned baccy and bum-burping bovines? “I’ll do you a deal, Freddy Kingdom. Where do you think the next petrol station is?”
Freddy sat up and looked around vaguely. “Damned if I know, my darling. Who cares?”
“I do.” Jack stood up, pulled Freddy to her feet and kissed her slowly and passionately. When she’d melted against him, moaning and grabbing at his jeans, he said, “Here’s the deal.”
Freddy reluctantly straightened up.
“We’ve got a quarter of a tank of gas left,” Jack said steadily. “If you can get us to a gas station without running out of fuel, we make a new start somewhere out here. If you run out, we somehow get back to Sydney and go back to our normal lives.”
Freddy kissed him. “I love you, Jack Bond.”
“I love you, Freddy Kingdom.” He held her tight. Freddy and farting cows. It could be a great life, and he supposed there were always e-cafes he could log into. Besides, the way Freddy drove the city wasn’t far if they wanted to visit. They walked – or in Jack’s case squelched – back to the car.
“Those are good odds, you know,” Freddy said thoughtfully. “There are more gas stations out here than in town. Some farmers are still using internal combustion cars and vehicles.”
“Ah, but which way’s the nearest town?” Jack wiped his feet one more time and harnessed himself in.
Freddy slipped behind the wheel and shrugged. She was the best reader of roads and traffic in the known universe, but the Porfer’s ancient electronic map system didn’t extend this far out of Sydney, and she had to rely totally on instinct. She hadn’t even been reading the road signs – hell, she’d been going too fast TO read them! She was, for the first time in her life, temporarily geographically embarrassed. The crossroads sat in front of her, inscrutable, unreadable. The tarmac seemed to go on forever, shimmering in the sun.
Freddy crossed her fingers and held the wheel. She started the Porfer, gunned the engine, and floored it.
The end
© Copyright 1998 Caroline Sully
Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly prohibited


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