The device was humming, so they knew they just had to hit the button.
“Good morning! How are we today?”
The hologram was always a nice touch, thought Mildred. She and her partner made sure to get the most interactive features on the device. They had set up the appointment over a year ago and were not going to miss the set up for the price they paid.
“Oh, uh, WE ARE WELL!”
“George, again, you really do not have to raise your voice and yell.”
“Oh, sorry.” He was still the same man that she responded to and pair bonded with after their rhythms matched. That was many years ago and he still made the same mistakes. Oh, George.
“It is all right, Ms. Walcott. Many people still need time to adjust to this system. It will happen.”
“Yes, yes…” She was nervous and so was her partner. They just had different ways of responding to what was rather unpleasant.
“Let me explain the process.” The woman’s face disappeared and a chart appeared above their device.
“Over the last fifty years, many clients have complained that the next step towards fulfillment was a long and tedious process that consumed too much time; time that could be better spent preparing room for the next generation of users…”
Mildred sat back in her hoverchair and sighed. This was a prepared speech. She had heard about this from some of the contacts she had in the company. She also knew that she would have to let the whole story play out before she could get to the point. At least George was entertained (his readings on his scanlist were off the charts).
“And that is how The Solution was developed. After fifty years of failures, betrayals, certain legal problems and mistakes, we have developed away to gain a second chance at a better life.”
Here it comes, thought Mildred. They were about to hear their tag line again.
“The Solution is your resolution to evolution.”
A bit wordy, she thought, but still…
“Just a question.”
The hologram returned to the young lady. Did she even have a name in their system?
“I am here to answer all enquiries.”
“Yes, um…” George always did this. His hesitations could be quite charming. Is that how he became such a success? Is that how they bonded after their first summation and union? Mildred wondered about this and waited for his query.
“Yes. Um…the process. Is it at all painful?”
The woman in the hologram frowned. She seemed genuinely concerned about the question. She also seemed confused by it.
“Yes. There are rumours that…when you go through this, it can cause pain in test subjects and those who are not ready for the process…”
The woman smiled again. “You are referring to the Lowler Incident.”
Mildred paid attention to that one. She knew that it was an issue that had almost shut down the company. It had almost destroyed the whole process and left a lot of people without work or a chance to get out of their time units.
She focused on the young lady. George did not say a word.
“The Lowler Incident…was an example of one of those unfortunate moments that can occur when precautions are not taken and patience is ignored. As I mentioned before, we had some earlier difficulties with the process and have made sure that such incidents do not take place again. All precautions have been noted.”
“Yes, um, I see…just needed to ask.” George’s readings were calm again.
“So, are there any other questions?”
Mildred and George were both silent.
“Okay. We will begin.”
The hologram winked out. The machine stopped humming.
The Walcotts waited.
That was George, but she could hear it directly inside her head now. Mildred opened her eyes and looked around.
“Millie…are you okay?”
It was her partner; her co-unit; her…husband?
Husband…the word suddenly appeared in her head and she liked it. Husband. That was the term she could use now.
“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?”
“I CAN HEAR YOU FINE, IDIOT! STOP SHOUTING!”
It was a new experience for both of them. The loud voices were usually processed through their synapses and then digested telepathically through…what was the name of that device. Mildred realized that she could not remember the name of the device.
“Fine, fine. This is all very new. We made it.” George swept his hand around the room.
It was the same room, only this time with a bed, no televisual screens to be seen, or hovering chairs and sense-monitoring equipment.
It was a real room. They were both on a real bed with real sheets, carpets on the floor, paintings and a mirror on the walls, side tables, a wardrobe, and…her George.
“We made it.”
“Yes, we did, silly Millie. I knew we would.”
“But you did have your doubts, Georgie.”
“You asked about Lowler.”
He had a beautiful frown. “I think, um, they all ask about it, if they are going to do this…with that much of a cost…”
“Yes, of course. And that was the right thing to do.”
“Of course.” George stood up and walked over to the mirror. “And look at this.”
It was the first time she saw her reflection. And the rumours were true: they were…aged.
Mildred could not help but look at her body and her clothes (that’s what they were called, right?). For one of the aged ones, she did look…attractive? Yes, why not? Attractive. And George? The hair and the clothes looked very…attractive on him, too. It was never a priority before, but now…
“Millie? You are staring.”
“So are you.”
“Cannot help myself.”
And then they embraced.
It was a good kiss, for their very first one. All that warmth and moisture was something that they would have to get used to if they were going to continue like this.
“Let’s go outside.”
Mildred looked at him. “Outside?”
George was pointing out the window.
“Shouldn’t we wait to process…? Sorry, I am not sure what I wanted to say.”
George kissed her on the forehead. “Millie, we have waited this long, sacrificed so much to make it here. We should not worry about processes or pain. We should enjoy ourselves.”
He took her hand. He had warmth and strength in his grip.
And they did. And that was when they learned why the Lowler Incident was still talked about by people on the other side.
Conversion to physical forms had a higher success rate than in the past, but there was always the chance that there could be side effects if the applicants could not wait the standard one-day period before leaving their homes.
To be fair, George and Millie had no clocks in their room, and they did not consider looking for one as they stepped outside and looked at their neighbourhood.
Onlookers described the mutations as slow and very painful to watch. No one wanted to guess how the two forms felt.
After the clean up and a search of the home, authorities decided that there would be no more transfers from one form to the other again. Their home was soon shuttered and declared off-limits to tourists and all citizens who did not want to be fined.
But that was not enough.
Several transfers that attempted to pass were declared illegal and the system would not be shut down for several years. But the Walcotts would not be forgotten. Schoolchildren memorized the date of The Great Stoppage. Monuments were created as a reminder of what they wanted to forget. T-shirts and other souvenirs quickly became rarities and highly in demand.
The Solution also shut down, not understanding why no more transfers were being accepted.
The young lady, soon to be accepted as head of marketing, was quickly dismissed.
The population absorbed the information and kept their readings at an acceptable level.