LLOYD GYPSUM stared at his wrinkled face in the bathroom mirror. Every crack, every line had a story. His soft blue eyes stared back at his, buried under the weight of his bushy eyebrows. He ran his hand through his salt and pepper hair trying to understand another night of such little, petty sleep and another strange injury on his scalp.
Petty. That’s what his nights had felt like as of late. Before each bout with his bed, Lloyd Gypsum could feel a pull; something in the sky beckoning him. Overly eager to steal the calmness and comfort he had fought so hard to reach throughout the day. Last night he swore it was Jupiter hanging so proudly in the sky. Lloyd Gypsum felt the tremendous weight of the gas giant trampling and ruining every attempt to close his eyes and rest his body.
Lloyd finished brushing his teeth and moped out of the bathroom. Every blink he managed to execute felt heavier than the last. His slippered feet dragged across the cold linoleum in his kitchen.
Lloyd now stood before his Smeg fridge, forcing his arms into the action of preparing breakfast.
Finally sitting down at his small table, Lloyd began to enjoy his eggs, bacon, and coffee. The delivery bot had dropped off the morning’s infopape and Lloyd was nose deep in it. The articles all refreshed each time they were edited by the contributing reporter back at the infopape office. Lloyd hated that.
After Lloyd stared blankly around his small two-bedroom house before gruffly exhaling and deciding there was nothing left for him to do here. He briefly tried his hand at answering the ancient and tired question of ‘how could I let this happen?’ but he gave up after the first thing he was mentally confronted with were the words of the Intake Agreement he signed prior to moving in.
The Agreement was long and deep, but given enough time anyone could read and easily understand it. The document itself fettered out things from housing lot size to law compliance. One key requirement the document held was that all who signed it were then required to maintain and eat daily from an object deemed most necessary for life in a Senior City, a honey hive. Presently, Lloyd moped over to the his precious honey hive which sat on a beautifully hand-carved and lacquered table accented by gold leaf, just below and to the left of his framed personal copy of the Intake Agreement. The apiary construct rested gleefully on the table, his own being unique to him and yet at the same time commonplace throughout the city, was bright and lively; it seemed to beckon Lloyd to itself every morning.
As the population had aged, the honey hive system for vitamin and nutrient supplementation became the vanguard for fighting the effects specific to the veterans who needed to live in Senior Cities, which is more or less what §43.7 of the Intake Agreement stated.
The honey hive itself was an elaborate flower arrangement with its own microhive of microbees that produced fresh honeycomb which was enlarged, through a process based on the Kiir Principle, in a chamber built into the base of the flower arrangement. Lloyd, as with every other resident in Everdale, chose the flowers himself: towering phalaenopsis blume orchids, ornate passionflowers and several rotund anemone blossoms.
Each and every morning a new loaf of honeycomb waited for him in its chamber. Lloyd opened the small drawer of the honey chamber and plucked the waiting morsel. The waxy sweetness filled his mouth and the delectable pollen enchanted his nose. As hard as every night had been as of late, every morning was made well worth the struggle by what was now in Lloyd’s mouth.
His morning trip to the garden of earthly delights over, Lloyd now chose to head over to the senior center. He hesitated upon climbing into his pickup truck, questioning if he was too tired to be driving. Once he had decided that life couldn’t possibly get any worse, he turned the key and scuttled over to the center.
“Mornin’ Lloyd!” An eager-looking RN-bot greeted him.
“Hello there…” He searched the machine for a nametag.
“Oh you can call me Ross, I’m new here.” The flat-panel screen that served as a face projected a smile and rolled on, focused on whatever task it was currently entangled with.
“‘Ross.’” Lloyd said aloud, continuing his entrance. Once fully inside, he scanned the room, looking for any new faces. Like every other day spent here, there were none.
Already bored, Lloyd decided to go to the virtual shooting range and shoot skeet for a couple hours.
About halfway through his session, another shooter joined him.
“Hi there Lloyd.” It was Stanley. Stanley was an old black man, very much endeared to Lloyd through their joint experiences in the war.
“Oh great,” Lloyd said. “Came to lower my score didn’t ya?” He jibed.
“Man, I sure could if I wanted to. Say, did you have another fall?” Stanley asked with concern, pointing to the bandage on Lloyd’s head.
Lowering his gun, Lloyd said, “Oh this? Apparently so. Second one this week. Pull!” He took a shot.
“That’s very odd. Have you been to the doctor’s yet?”
“Oh, no.” Lloyd responded resolutely. “I’ve stopped going there since I came in with salmonella and they tried to tell me it was gas. Those quacks can eat it for all I care. Pull!” He took another shot.
Putting down his virtual howitzer, Stanley walked over into Lloyd’s stall. “Hey man, you really should have that looked at. If you keep falling like that, it should be at least a little worrisome. Think about your family.”
“My family…” Lloyd said, now lowering his gun. “Stan, if my family cared, they’d come and visit me. Instead of just sitting around waiting for me to die.”
Stanley patted Lloyd on the back and returned to his own stall to resume his shooting session when Lloyd spoke up again.
“You ever… no. Never mind. I feel crazy even thinking it.” Lloyd shook his head and took another shot.
“What were you gonna say, Lloyd? One man’s crazy is another man’s genius.”
“Well, Stan, do you ever feel… a pull? Late at night?”
“Lloyd, I haven’t felt a pull at any time since Charlotte died.”
“Ha ha, Stan. I’m serious. I think that’s why I can’t sleep. I try to get in bed, but I just feel this tugging. Then I look out the window and turn on the star map and voila, the first star I see is really another planet. Jupiter or Venus or Saturn or even Luna. I feel it, Stan. I feel ‘em pulling on me.”
“Whatever you say Lloyd.”
“Told ya it was crazy talk.” Lloyd lowered his gun a bit. “But Stan, I can’t let it go. It’s every night now. And when I do get to sleep, my dreams are so mundane. So boring.”
“Like I’m mowing the lawn, or running simple errands, reading in a library. Things that old people do.”
“Have you looked in a mirror Lloyd? I mean, we are the senior center. Maybe when you’re dreaming you’re just yearning for activities that you can’t do now, due to your insomnia.”
Lloyd simply grunted and resumed taking shots. Stanley Hillis shook his head and hoisted up his howitzer into firing position. He next spun the dial-a-gun and chose his personal favorite, an AK-47, and began spraying the ‘clay’ targets wildly as they came at him.
When Lloyd had tired of shooting −he was on a 128 shot dead-eye hit streak− he went for a stroll just outside the Senior Center. The Center itself was centrally located in this small city of five hundred. The senior community was large and active, but just not active enough for someone like Lloyd Gypsum.
He, like most other seniors here, was a veteran of The Third Opium War, fought mainly in the Pacific and South China Sea. The war effort spanned three years and cost many their independence, leading to the proliferation of these small Senior Cities, as they were called. These towns sprang up along the western coast of the American Territories after the war and were built with differing themes, depending on the makeup of their residents. There were cowboy-themed cities, South and East Asian, Vaudeville, Depression era, and Golden Age themes. Lloyd happened to live in a Golden Age-themed city: the cars, the houses, the foods, everything except certain racial and technological nuances were rooted in 1950s America.
The Third Opium War saw the deployment of weaponized psychological warfare on the battlefield. Through the use sub-sonic vibrations, soldiers were driven insane and often attacked their own bases and ships, initially giving the Allied Asian Powers the upper hand.
The tide of the war changed when weather manipulation was employed by those in opposition to the Asian Allied Powers’ plan to flood the narcoplant market with opium-derived hybrids designed with 100% lifetime addiction in mind.
Entire legions and bases were erased in minutes with category five hurricanes serving as soldiers in certain battles. After the war, it was revealed that all participants had been affected in one way or another by the widespread usage of sub-sonic psychosis inducing weapons, leading to an immediate ban. Once the news got out, the Lyssop-Milves Act was approved and made housing and care for those involved readily available. The act also served as a brief economic boost by creating jobs for those in the construction field. Not long after order had been restored were there several dozen Senior Cities well under construction.
Lloyd walked around the senior center, saying hello to and acknowledging others who had fought alongside him. He gradually, casually, made his way over to a woman several years his junior. Every day Lloyd came and talked to this lovely silver-haired English woman who had also fought, just in a different theater.
“Hi there, Liz. Might I say you are looking particularly ravishing today?”
“Oh stop,” she replied, blushing at his advance. Today she wore a bright blue 1960s stewardess’ uniform.
Elizabeth Camden always chose to dress in different service uniforms, a side effect of the sub-sonic weaponry.
“Well if you aren’t doing anything tonight…”
“Let me stop you right there Lloyd, tonight I simply must reorganize my thimble collection. Very important. Perhaps some other time?” She was currently polishing a three-thousand-piece set of teaspoons.
“Fine. Another time then. Take care Liz.” Lloyd smiled and moved on. He had asked her out every single night for the past couple of months, and she always politely declined, citing an object or several that required immediate attention. There were a few times they actually did get to talk, though.
One of those times, Liz had revealed her role in the war.
“I was a field translator for the Fifth Floating Armored Division in the South China Sea.”
“Oh, so you actually saw some action?”
“Yes, I did. I was on an ELF (extremely low frequency) boat that was tasked with disrupting the psychosis signals being broadcast from Macau. We sailed from Luzon and despite the resistors we had in place, our captain succumbed to the psychosis and drove us deep into enemy waters. We were nearly run aground when a bombing run swept through, destroying the broadcasting equipment on shore, freeing the captain. Unfortunately he had already killed or maimed everyone on the captain’s deck and we had to put him down.”
“Wow, I had no idea.”
“Yeah, I was the one that got him. He just kept laughing. Poor bastard.” Liz took a sip of tea from her porcelain cup.
“Is there any more?” Lloyd asked, desperately trying to extend their time together.
“Oh of course there’s more, but my intact collection of Topps baseball cards from the 1980s needs my attention now Lloyd. I’m so sorry.” She hurriedly finished her tea and excused herself from the table. Lloyd stayed for a moment and watched her leave. He finished his tea and paid the bill.
Like waking from a dream, Lloyd shook himself from one of his favorite memories and continued his walk around the center.
Poking his head in and out of different rooms, Lloyd saw all the other vets in their usual locations.
There was Thompson, a blond, big-chested transvestite who lost his marbles while on a submarine. He now loved to teach crochet classes to other seniors. Hamms was a brown-haired Adonis who spent most of his time on the bocce ball courts. The other female seniors always flocked around him when he wasn’t giving lessons. Thad Mixson was a tinkerer. At the Senior Center, Mixson could usually be found in the crafts wing building models and working with his hands. Lloyd usually kept his distant from Thad as his temper typically got the best of him. Why he had taken up a hobby that required such precise detail and rapt attention as precision model making was beyond him.
Ainsworth slept. That’s all he did.
Simpson worked snack time. A mess hall cook in the war, he escaped the major effects of the sub-sonic weapons by surviving in an air pocket after his ship was sunk off the coast of the Paracel islands. He was down there for several days but rescue divers got to him just in time.
Stanley Hillis was Lloyd’s gunner. Lloyd flew cumulous bombing runs to destabilize the weather systems naturally forming over the pacific. The planes were fitted with special silver nitrate canisters and were tasked with sewing storm clouds with chem-trails to sort of force them to erupt with torrential rain. Stanley Hillis manned the massive guns in a fully rotational 360-degree turret that could cover both land-based and aerial targets. Both men also escaped serious effects from the sub-sonic weapons, but both men also knew they were different in some way. For Lloyd, it was the celestial bodies.
During one particular mission, his instrument panel failed after a suspected sub-sonic attack. Flying blind, he piloted back towards the aircraft carrier he and Stanley Hillis launched from. Before he could acknowledge it, it was nighttime. The clearest night sky he and Stanley had ever beheld in their lives now served as their ceiling. The rocketplane coasted smoothly across the sky, no enemy in sight. The two men simply stared upwards, taking in the sights of nebulae and galaxies never before seen by either man. After being engulfed in celestial beauty, daylight returned in the same fashion as it had left, suddenly. Caught off guard, Lloyd had to adjust to the sudden brightness. He finally relocated the carrier and landed safely. When he asked about what happened, none of the other soldiers on the carrier knew what he was talking about. His superiors wrote it off as a fluke, since none of the instruments detected a sub-sonic weapon going off in the area. From that day forward, however, both Lloyd and Stanley knew they had been changed somehow.
Passing a focused, but angry, Stanley in the billiard hall, Lloyd decided to try and take a nap in the common area. Perhaps when he woke something interesting would be happening. He lay down on an empty couch and closed his eyes.
In the background he could hear people chatting, people learning, some people even stealing kisses every now and then.
Lloyd looked out of the large bay windows that lined the front of the Senior Center. he thought. Of the 5000 people living here, about half were former soldiers. That same number of people was up in age now, the war being so long ago. The other half of the population here were transplants and bots. The transplants volunteered to live here: some actually were family members; others were actors hired to provide comfort to those in their autumnal years. The bots do most of the hard labor. For instance, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is almost all bots, save for a few human overseers.
Firefighters, some police (though not really necessary, more for appearance’s sake than actual crime deterrence), even the animals are all bots.
The residents of these safe havens are all aware of who is and who isn’t human. The effects of the sub-sonic weapons were so strong on some that they welcomed the bots and any other help they could get from the government. Pets that can’t die, polite and friendly service folk, helpful police that make you feel safe ‘round the clock; truly a preferred way to spend the last few years of your life after going through the rigors of high-tech warfare.
Lloyd reflected on all this as he watched a DPW crew re-pave Second Avenue just in front of the Senior Center. His eyes finally started to grow heavy; the palpable absence of any interfering heavenly bodies put his mind at rest.
Then, for one brief moment…
A large bearded man came and eagerly swept Lloyd’s feet off the couch.
“H-hello Harold.” Lloyd said, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“What’re ya doin’ man? Sleepin’? Are ya that done with life already? You just sit around, sleepin’ your days away?” his belly wobbled and shook with his obnoxious laughter.
“Yes Harold. I, like my family, am just waiting to die now.”
“Oh c’mon now Lloyd, I’m just pullin’ yer chain. Say, it’s not that mess about the ‘planetary pull’ again is it?” Harold said, jabbing Lloyd in the side.
“All right, ya got me.” Lloyd said, putting his hands up. “Just because you think it’s all hokum and nonsense doesn’t explain my lack of sleep.” Lloyd stared at Harold, trying his best to demonstrate how tried he really was.
“Haha OK, I’ll stop. For now. Whatcha been up to lately anyhow?” Harold leaned back to gain access to a pouch he had strapped to his side. In it was a mixture of pipe-tobacco and hashish, which he generously stuffed into a bulls-horn pipe that had now appeared in his other hand. Lighting the pipe, he exhaled a large cloud of sweet, enticing smoke into the air around him.
“That’s some blend you got there, Harold.”
“Custom grown and cured on my property. Want some?” Harold offered the large pipe to Lloyd. Harold was a botanist during the war; he had served on the USS Gregor Mendel as chief of the agro division. Harold knew plants and their husbandry better than anyone in the service. In fact, it was Harold’s strain of aggressive and poison-gas-emitting phlox that played a key role in defeating a large swath of enemy forces.
“Sure, might even help me sleep.” Lloyd took a long drag on the pipe, letting the smoke fill his soul. “Again Harold, an excellent blend,” Lloyd eked out in between coughs. “And in answer to your question, nothing. Ever since this insomnia took full hold of me, I haven’t really had the energy to get anything done.” Lloyd felt the warm blanket Harold’s blend created settle on his shoulders.
“Yeah, sleeplessness will do that to ya. Hey, if yer not doin’ anything at the moment, wanna go and grab a bite? It’s after one…”
Lloyd had stopped listening to Harold and was focused on Liz. She walked elegantly across the common area over to the ladies’ restroom.
Why can’t I stop looking? Lloyd asked himself. Was it the way her hair had turned silver over the years? Was it her penchant for service uniforms that flattered her figure? Lloyd drank her in with silent gusto. Every step, every sway of her hips…
“…sound good? Hey, you listenin’?” Harold hit Lloyd on the side again.
“Yeah, yeah I’m listening. C’mon, let’s go to Ethel’s.”
“Ethel’s? What’s the occasion?”
“I just like to have a decent meal every now and then.”
Harold laughed and helped Lloyd get up from the couch. Together the two left the center and walked the three blocks over to Ethel’s Eatery, the only good place in town.
The door chimed as the pair entered. The cafe was large and almost entirely comprised of booths for dining. After a time at their table, a buxom redhead waitress in a short skirt came gliding over on roller skates with their order. The pair ate and caught up with the various mundane tasks they had been up to.
From Ethel’s the pair sauntered over to Harold’s barbershop. Lloyd was a little overdue for his tri-weekly haircut; this of course on purpose due to the recent gash on the back of his head.
“Say Lloyd, did you have another fall?” Harold said after getting Lloyd settled in his chair. In the corner, the grizzled Mort Simpson sat cross-legged, his nose buried in a magazine.
“Wouldn’t ya know it? I was out in the garage working on my mower when I must’ve stood up too fast and I gashed it on the corner of my work bench.” Lloyd lied. In reality, he had no idea where that or any of the other injuries he had been acquiring as of late had come from.
“You gotta pay more attention Lloyd. A man your age can’t take too many more bumps and bruises. Now how’d ya like it today?”
“A man my age, huh? You know I’m 8 months younger than you Harry.” Lloyd said with a chuckle. “I’ll take it how I always get it, but do be careful of my ‘war wound,’” Lloyd jibed.
Mort Simpson took a break from the gallery of brunette screen stars in the Hollywood rag he was reading and spoke up. “Hey fellas, I’m thinkin’ of gettin’ away this weekend.”
“Oh yeah?” Harold responded.
“Yeah. Through correspondence I learned that an old flame of mine, pre-war, is holed up in another Senior City, Vacaville, about an hour from here. I’m going to hire a car and drive out there on Saturday mornin’. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds like someone won’t be missin’ them magazines this weekend.” Harold said with a wink.
“I don’t know about that Harry. Simpson there isn’t exactly known for his charm.” Lloyd chimed in.
“Aw, to hell with both of ya!” Mort Simpson tore a page from an infopape, crumpled it up and hurled it at the laughing pair.
“Whoa there tiger, don’t wanna tire yerself out for your conquest tomorrow!” Harold, his belly quaking with laughter, said.
“Oh don’t worry about that Harry, your Missus keeps me plenty energized.” Mort hurled another crumpled ball at Harold.
“At least she’s keepin’ satisfied in this town!” Harold replied. The whole shop was in an uproar now.
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Not much happened here in the Senior City of Everdale. That’s the way the weary residents here liked it.