Fiction Drama Science Fiction

Susan thought she heard her name being called as she briskly walked down the street. Thick condensation was coming from a gap in her mask that was covering her mouth and nose. It was very cold this Saint Paul Monday morning. Single digits and dropping was what the weather man said. Susan heard her name being called “Susan… wait up!” Susan smiled under mask as it was her best friend Angie who worked at Friends Fidelity Insurance with her. Angie was running in her wolfish looking mukluk boots. No dainty tap, tap, tap of girlish flats was to be heard. It was more like plop, plop, plop. Angie was out of breath and Susan feared Angie would have an asthma attack as Angie struggled to catch her breath under her double layered masks but she was okay.

            Maintaining six feet apart Susan and Angie reached the first entry to Friends Fidelity Insurance. Only one person at a time could enter but luckily there was heat blowing outside the building around the doors for employees waiting their turn. The heater also kept the ice from freezing on the walk in front of the building. After all it was an insurance company. One wouldn’t want anyone slipping and falling. Susan went first into what was nicknamed “the casket” as it was the size for one person and had some almost heavenly features one could say. Susan stepped to the small enclosure. First she had to provide identification and medical vital signs. She raised her hand and held her palm in front of the metallic rectangle in front of her. She was careful not to touch it. A blue light in a small circle in the center of the rectangle blinked quickly retrieving her personal data and taking her vital signs from a microscopic chip in her hand. This chip was issued from the company but Susan wanted one that would synch with her gadgets and her bank but these were expensive.

            Next she had to remove her outer garments such as her coat, hat, scarf, gloves and shoes and put them into a locker with her name on it that slid in front of her as soon as the chip was scanned. She shut the door of the locker and a bright light flared. The door shut and the door to another larger room opened. In this room were booths each with a disposal mid-length lab type coat. Susan always wore a full piece body suit with leggings as it was more comfortable under the lab coat. Angie went to a booth six feet away from Susan when she got out of “the casket”. Before Susan and Angie put on their lab coats they had to be disinfected, sanitized.

            Above them was a RD UVC System. It is the only UV system on the market that measures, records and reports the UVC lethal dosage delivered to each part of an area targeted for disinfection. No estimates. No guesswork. It expels just the right UV disinfection, every time. When Susan first started working there she thought that the system was going to spray a mist down on her and she didn’t like the thought of that. Then she learned that what she was going to receive was a 90 second burst of Ultra Violet UV light. This system combated harmful pathogens including the Tiara-20 virus with the most advanced UV system. The Friendly Fidelity Insurance Company was proud of its 5% employee fatalities because it was among the lowest of some of the other companies in the area rates of employee loss due to the Tiara-20 virus.

Susan knew that the low loss rate was that they only had a handful of seniors, those classified in the age of their fifties. After all this was retirement age and the median age at the company was people in their early thirties, middle ages. Life expectancy had increased a little with the new vaccines over the past couple of years but now in the year 2070 it was barely above the age of sixty. Not only did the pandemic viruses of the 2021 have variants after a number of years it was capable of affecting longevity of humans through DNA adaptation. The Earth’s population had sank to about half of what it was in the 2020s and that is why Susan’s company also sold complete funeral packages as well as life insurance. Business was booming.

After Susan and Angie donned their lab coats they squirmed their feet into the disposable anti-electromagnetic booties.  These kept static electricity from picking up foreign particles from the floor. They both centered their self on the standing pad in the center of the booth. Their weight on the pad signaled the RD UVC unit to initialize its process. Holding their arms up and out to their sides the RD unit came on from all sides and from the top and bottom and beamed UV light on them for precisely 90 seconds. The time it took to kill pathogens. The UV light returned to normal lighting and the door opened on the other side of the UV booth into the office where muffled speaking tones were heard in all directions. Susan looked across the expanse of the office floor. The ceiling was covered with RD UVC units. Each cubicle was a crystalline clear plastic enclosed cubicle. So clear that when Susan first began to work at the company she walked into the clear plastic several times.

Susan’s cubicle like other employee’s cubicle was sparse. There was a thin small table and a chair. There were no electronic devices or gadgets that could be seen. Susan would do her work on a highly advanced WIFi interfaced with her Holographic Office system 2070. Paper documents, files, posters, writing implements had all disappeared from the office of today due to their possible pathogen carrying surfaces. In fact Susan never learned to use pencils and pens in grade school. They had tap tips on their fingers for touching their computers. By High school pens and pencils had been outlawed in public and touch screen was being switched out to the holographic computers.

Sometimes an old paper insurance document would come to her for digitization but it first had to be sanitized. Susan hated this part of the job as it took so long and it was manual. Every single page of the document had to be sanitized with UV light. Some of the documents were hundreds of pages if they had detailed funeral plans included.  This was done in another area outside of her cubicle. The company could not risk the number of pathogens that an old document could have been exposed to over the years. However, Susan didn’t mind receiving the hazard pay increase on her paycheck whenever she had to sanitize one of these documents.

Monday, March 8, 2070 was the date floating before her on her holographic computer screen and the first thing on the list directly from her supervisor was to sanitize and digitize the Mr.and Mrs. Noble’s complete file. “Ugh.” Susan thought. Apparently, Mr. Noble senior was ill and the family wanted to have a digitized copy of his life insurance and funeral plans. They wanted to make an addendum and electronically sign as wet signatures were considered unsafe, a disease vector and the Nobles due to their frail ages, late fifties and sixties, no longer left their home.

Susan dutifully, went to the document sanitation room gaining entry by the chip in her hand. She had to wear special goggles in the sanitation room as the UV lights were on almost on continuously because people were using the room. She thought about what a royal pain this was because now she would be required to shower after sanitizing the document with this lovely surgical scrub soap in an area lit up like the 4th of July, no stalls, shower curtains or towels.

Susan found the thick document in her box in the unclean room. She pulled on some latex gloves and took the document into the next room that was considered clean because of the UV lights. The document was yellowed and a little fragile considering it was almost 50 years old. She was pleased to find that the document was not stapled as many were from the 2020s. That cut down the risk of a tear in her gloves. Susan began the tedious process of scanning each page front and back with a hand held UV light. Finally, the document was sanitized but it still needed to be digitized. She was now allowed to take it back to her cubicle. Before picking up the document she scanned her gloved hands with the UV probe. It was just an extra precaution.

She placed the document into a clean box in the wall. She would pick it up on the clean office side after her shower. Susan removed her disposables and threw them in the unclean trash. She removed her own clothing and made sure her name tags were intact and shoved them down the unclean laundry chute. She walked up to the shower and it came on and the two on the side came on as well. Susan would have liked more control in the shower. The medicinal smelling soap was in the first spraying and Susan quickly used her hands to rub it all over her body and through her short hair. The rinse came next. Susan turned around making sure the soap was off of her. She wished they could improve the smell of that soap. Just as she was thinking what fragrance she would make the soap the blowers came on and blew from all directions to dry her body. Susan was glad she had short hair as these blowers tended to blow her hair straight up.

Susan found the clothing she left from last time she had to sanitize a document processed and in her clean box. She quickly pulled them on and a fresh pair of booties and lab coat. She went to the document clean box and picked up the Noble’s sanitized insurance papers. Now she needed to digitize them and get them to her supervisor as soon as possible as her supervisor was having a virtual meeting with the Noble’s this afternoon. Since the use of paper had been banned in most office settings the company had to get leeway from the Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN Act). The company was grandfathered in as the committee of the ESIGN act realized in the case of insurance companies that policies were taken out years ago that it was going to take some time for companies to change over to digitized documentation.

Susan spoke to her computer that she named Addie. There was a microscopic Bluetooth device implanted in Susan’s earlobe that enabled her to talk with her computer, telephone, locks on her apartment, her appliances and she didn’t know what else but there were many other things it would do as well as pull up her own personal tablet. Businesses had to rethink public touch screens as shared surfaces are an infection risk, no matter how often they’re cleaned. Now, even private homes were using less touch screens and using more implants and more advanced voice controlled electronics.

Susan placed the document on the table under Addie. “Addie I need you to scan a document.” Susan stated. A holographic computer display appeared before her. When Susan first began to use holographic computers and gadgets she wasn’t use to the light touch needed and she would punch her finger through the holograph. “Yes Susan I can scan your document.” The good natured computer voice said. A light immediately encompassed the document. Susan liked this mode of the positive attitude that her computer was programmed to portray. It somehow made Susan feel assured. She placed the document under the computer. You may begin the scan Addie. “Susan I must ask you do you need front and back of the pages scanned?” “Yes, Addie and set up the encryption for the ESIGN signatures blocks.” Susan almost forgot to have the computer set up the digital document with the ability to be signed electronically.

“Yes Susan. The time allotted for this scan of 366 front and back pages is three minutes and twenty eight seconds.” Addie voiced. The light on the document intensified. Susan watched the light work its way down the stack of papers and back up again. She was amazed that the computer could scan both sides at the same time and separate the pages and correlate them into a complete document. Susan was hoping to become an agent trainee soon. She was a administrative clerk right now. In a way it’s good because she is learning the paperwork required for an insurance and funeral package. Susan reviewed the document on her computer after it was scanned and it was perfect as far as she could see. Susan dictated a short email to her supervisor asking for further instruction on how to handle the sanitized hard copy of the Noble’s insurance documents and she attached the new digital insurance policy and funeral plans.

The small UVC unit in the ceiling of Susan’s cubicle set off a 90 second burst of light. The unit was programmed to do this every two hours throughout the day. Susan added up how long from the time she came until now lunch time it took sanitizing. Out of the first four hours of the day all of them involved some form of sanitation and she only got one assignment completed on her list. Deadlines loomed. Angie met Susan at her cubicle. “Oh my, I can see by the change in your outfit that you had to digitize a hard copy document” Angie somewhat laughed. “Yeah, that was my entire morning. Susan and Angie stood in a line six feet apart from their colleagues’ waiting to step into the outgoing “casket” where they retrieved their coats and shoes from the carousel they had placed them on this morning. They came out into an outer room and put their coats and shoes on.

They hurried to the MCD on the corner. Both of them placed their orders for the typical vegetable based burgers on whole grain bread with their embedded blue tooth micro chips that was synched to their phones. This restaurant had been around since the 20th century someone said. It used to be called MacDonald’s and they served real beef burgers. Beef and milk products had been banned for years now as the viruses had crossed over into cows. Susan had never tasted milk before or ice cream. It sounded like something magical when the elders talked about it. Also MCD used to have a indoors playground for children. Both Susan and Angie thought this was very irresponsible of parents as these things had to be infested with pathogens. Playgrounds had been torn down or turned into art installations long ago.

Their order would be waiting for them when they arrived at MCD. There were no longer front counter employees. When the minimum wage went up many food vendors and restaurants became automated with machines or robots. There was a manager that supervised the machines and maintained them. A kiosk was found purposely for walk up orders but the orders had to be spoken to a computer screen that asked for your order or some people carried special pens to tap the screens to make their selections keeping their hands off the screens. Many establishments touted frequent cleaning or even offer free screen protectors to each user.

Susan and Angie went straight to the counter and saw their numbers displayed on the quaint LED banner above the counter. Susan stated her order number into her Blue Tooth chip embedded in her ear lobe and a metallic arm moved quickly to the counter and softly dropped the bag containing her sandwich in front of her. Angie received her bag and they went into a large lunch room with tables permanently bolted to the floor. They were more than six feet apart. The ceiling also contained some kind of UV system it appeared.  The chairs were an extension of the table and bolted to it and could not be moved. This dissuaded groups from forming around one table. A robot at the end of the row was sanitizing tables.

 Susan and Angie walked the block back to the company. A line of employees in proper social distance stood at the door waiting to go through the Identification portal. Angie over heard a couple of men behind her talking loudly because that was the only way they could be hear each other. “Hey man…How are you doing?” The first man said. The second man said “Not very well…my mother passed last week…uh, she had Tiara-20 and a weak heart. The first man said “I’m sorry to hear that. How old was she?” The second man said with a crack in his voice. ”She was 60 years old…she lived a long life.” “Yeah, yeah…that she did.” said the first man. The second man took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped tears that were running from his eyes onto his mask.

Susan felt a lump in her own throat after overhearing the two men’s conversation and she looked at Angie six feet away and saw the tears in her eyes. Susan remembered reading in her social science book in high school that in the first part of the 21st Century average life expectancy was 78 to 80 years old. Susan wished she could hug Angie as she watched a tear drop from Angie’s eye. The old fear was still there. “Who would be next?”

March 06, 2021 22:34

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