One More Chance – a Science Fiction Short Story

Jason always tensed when Samuel’s hands were around his neck.

He was standing in front of the window, his body rigid while Samuel worked, his fingers dangling idly as he stared out at the city. In moments, Samuel will have finished tying his tie, and then all that would be left was his blazer by the door and he’d be on his way to see his ex-wife for a date. Lorie and he hadn’t talked since they split up three years ago and she went to write travel e-books in Asia, leaving him in New York. He found himself thinking that a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt anything.

“It’s been too long, Samuel. Much too long. I’m not even going to know what to say.”

Samuel nodded, and a comfortable snugness tugged at Jason’s neck as the tie tightened. An older model of helper robot, he could recognize speech and move his head, but he lacked the ability to speak himself. He had inherited it from his uncle while he was still dating Lorie. “Helper robots are only in 85% of American homes now, as good a time as any to join the rest of the world,” she had said with the easy smile she used to flash, back when she still thought his anachronistic ways were endearing. Lorie’s robot helped her shower, cook, even write – it was enough that Samuel tied his tie and swept his floor. He had to admit he looked a lot less sloppy these days.

“Sometimes I feel like you’re my only friend Samuel,” Jason sighed. “But I wish you were better at conversation.”

Jason knew Samuel was shaking his head, but was distracted by the cascade of purples and deep reds outside his apartment. New York was full of skyscrapers, but huge modern spacescrapers crowded out the landscape, rendering views of the horizon hard to come by. He had lived in a large place near ground level with Lorie where she could entertain and store her ever changing collection of electronic trinkets, but when they divorced he took his mahogany table and ancient four poster and crammed them into this tiny one bedroom. Located on the fortieth floor of a lucky old skyscraper that still had a glimpse of the western sky, it was the biggest place he could afford on a professor’s salary that had a view.

Then the beeping started. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP-

“Samuel, alarm off,” Jason commanded, wincing. When the beeping didn’t stop, he put his hands on his ears “OFF!” The beeping stopped.

“Good heavens, do I need to get your ears checked or something, Samuel?” Jason said, shaking his head. Samuel nodded. Jason sighed. As the alarm had indicated, he didn’t have time for this. “Samuel, mirror,” he said, adding a moment later, “MIR-ROR.” After a quick nod, Samuel’s torso changed from a dull coarse gray to a reflective shining silver. A tall, thin man dressed in a white button down shirt, khaki pants and golden-bronze tie stared back at him. He had thick brown hair, though not quite so much of it as he used to, and thin gold-rimmed glasses framed small hazel eyes. He bit his lip for a moment. “Well, here goes, Samuel,” he said, stepping away from the window. “Fetch my blazer, will you?”

Shrugging into a pressed blue blazer a moment later, he crossed the length of his apartment in four steps and paused by the door. “Wish me luck, Samuel?” Samuel nodded, and then Jason was in the hallway and the door was creaking shut behind him.

After a few minutes spent shaking his head at what passed for modern elevator jazz, he exited his building onto the street. Jason loved walking and thought it was healthy, and joined the other walkers who thronged the sidewalks while cars sped along the narrow street. Ten years ago, nobody walked, and thin six-wheeled scooters had competed for space with the pedestrians and cars alike. Twenty-five years ago there were no scooters, but it had been trendy to take the subway instead. Now it seemed like walking was back in style. “I’m not behind, I’m just waiting for the trends to catch up with me,” he had told Samuel as he selected his outfit. He had no taste for the bright-and-tight fashion of the day. Ties and blazers weren’t in style now, but he had no doubt they would be again if he was patient enough.

He arrived at The Lucky Dragon after a few minutes and swiped a card at the host’s stand. TABLE 7C, FOR 2, 7:30 flashed on a display over the stand, and he was gestured into the main room. As he was seated, a server – a human server as advertised, Jason noted – asked him if he was ready to order. Although it was past 7:30 and the service he was sure to be slow with the human servers, Jason preferred to wait and sent him away.

The music playing in the restaurant was mostly instrumental versions of classics, but every now and then a pop song found its way into the mix so that the trendy crowd would feel welcome too. Jason took in the atmosphere, letting the happy chatter of the couples seated at the tables around him fade into a comforting dull roar. At the front of the restaurant there was a bar, and middle aged men in suits that were just a little too bright for his taste crowded around it, along with a woman dressed in a plain white shirt and jeans. He resisted the urge to straighten his tie – Lorie had always claimed he just messed it up, and he wanted his Windsor knot robot-tight when she arrived – and found himself drumming his fingers and thinking about the past.

By 8:12 the happy chatter had turned sour in his ears, as had his hopes for the night. He should have been prepared for this from Lorie, ever flaky, and he shook his head at himself. He taught history for its dependability, for the way it remained interesting but never changed, and Lorie had always been someone who could be doing anything at any time. He tried not to think of Lyndsay, who had been his last serious girlfriend before Lorie. Lyndsay had possessed the best of Lorie’s energy without losing the reliability he needed in a partner… but it was no use going back down that road. Jason sighed and got up to head to the bar. It may as well not be a completely wasted night.

The bar had become more crowded, but he pulled up a stool with a back that was far too small, and took a seat between a man in a two-shades-too-bright blue suit and the woman in the white shirt. As he ordered two fingers of scotch, neat, the girl looked him up and down. She was young, maybe twenty-eight, and her white t-shirt was fitted and her jeans were whitewashed in the front only. She wasn’t smiling, but her eyes indicated approval.

“I love your clothes,” she said, “They rock.”

Hipster, Jason decided. He smiled thinly. “They’re vintage.”

“You’ve got style, man,” she replied.

Jason nodded. She stared at his pants for a few seconds with an amused expression, and Jason wondered what was taking his scotch so long.

“You know your pocket is glowing though, right?” She said eventually. “Kinda ruins it.”

A message on his cell card. He hadn’t checked anytime in the last few hours, hadn’t even thought of it – how could he be so stupid? Keeping his face stiff, Jason nodded again, thinking of Samuel. He looked at the girl for a moment and then spun out of his chair. Unsteady, he headed to the door. The girl shook her head. When his drink arrived, she took it and downed it in one gulp, watching him go.

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