“Dammit, what do you WANT?!?” Omar yelled. His bark of frustration echoed in the emptiness of his apartment, directed at no one and the whole world at once.
It had been a hard day — the hardest since he had transferred to his new civic service position at the cafeteria. People could be rude when they were hungry, and they could be especially rude when the food they ordered didn’t come out just right. Not that it was Omar’s fault, he was just a server. But he tended to bear the brunt of the customers’ hunger-induced vitriol. He had scored much higher than a food service level on the aptitude test, but only needed a few more credits than Basic Citizen Income provided, and he didn’t particularly enjoy taking classes. Plus, only a crazy person or an Aug would voluntarily join MilSec, especially Foreign Service, which was mostly staffed with felons looking to clear their records. So, even though it had its annoyances, this position was better than trying too hard…and it was certainly a step up from janitorial.
All he wanted to do now was relax, which meant chasing a few drinks with a few more drinks and then jerking off before going to sleep. He’d accomplished the first half of his to-do list, but the second kept being interrupted by pings from his friends across the net. Did the “Do Not Disturb” icon really mean nothing to them? It was mandatory at work, and he’d gotten in the habit of leaving it on during his walk home from the job — partially to decompress and partially out of sheer laziness. His friends knew this, so they ignored the warnings and pinged him anyway. It was annoying. But in all fairness, he was guilty of the same when he really wanted their attention. And at that moment, with his hand wrapped around his rapidly declining boner, Gabby really wanted his attention.
He tucked himself away and answered the call.
“Yes?” He said as she came into view on the stand-alone screen in front of his dilapidated couch.
“Are you okay?” Gabby queried.
“I’m fine, why?”
“Well, I called like five times…”
“I was just getting home from work,” he replied. “I needed a minute…sorry I didn’t answer. What’s up?”
“You get off at nine-thirty…it’s like ten-twenty now. And you’re only, like, three stops away–”
“Gabby, It’s been a hard day, baby,” Omar said with a sigh.
“Are you…do you need to talk?” she asked pensively.
“No, no…just a hard day, okay? What’s going on?”
She looked at him with soft eyes and a face full of concern. “Well, if you need to talk, I’m here…”
“I know, honey,” Omar said with a sigh.
Gabby’s tone brightened forcibly. “Sooooo, have you seen NewsFeed?”
“No? I mean, not since I got home,” he answered. “I know there was some craziness with MK’s trial and all that. Everyone’s been talking about it.”
Just then, another ping appeared from John, his best friend. He’d already pinged three times according to the missed call count, which showed forty-five missed pings. “Hold on, Gabs,” Omar said, flipping over to John’s channel.
“DUDE!” John said. “Please tell me you are watching Cook’s address right now!”
“No, I’m talking with Gabby,” he said.
“You didn’t get the alerts?” John asked. “Wait, I guess not, you’re on DND…dude, you missed it!”
“Corta’s back!” John replied.
“What?!” Omar said. He gestured and turned the connected world back on. He saw that he’d missed a dozen news alerts, and a dozen more messages and call requests from his friends in the fantasy “Top Soldier” league he belonged to.
“Dude, this changes everything!” He exclaimed. “Gimme a minute…I’ll call you back.” He flicked his wrist and the call ended. Gabby reappeared on the screen.
“Hey babe, that was John. He just told me what’s up. I’m gonna catch up and call you back, okay?”
“Uh…okay?” Gabby said. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine, I swear…just give me a few?”
“Okay,” she said. “I love–”
Omar ended the call and immediately began checking the notifications that he missed. “JAQi,” he said, “Play the CookTalk.”
“Absolutely,” JAQi responded. “The entire address, or just the highlights?”
“By popularity? Or chronological?”
“Whatever…just play it, okay?”
A tone sounded through the room. President Cook appeared on the screen, standing in the center of a very large stage that was lit by a single spotlight.
“…You’ve all been asking, and the fine people at Imagen Corporation listened,” President Cook said to his audience. Twenty thousand lucky citizens who had won the audience lottery began clapping enthusiastically. Every CookTalk the President gave came with a level of excitement and anticipation unmatched by any other event, save Marlowe Kana’s active duty Feed. And given the events of the day, the nation was a pot nearly boiling over with expectation.
Except for Omar. Omar was tired. He had wanted to come home, jerk off, and go to sleep. But even he had to admit, any time the President said that he or Imagen had listened to the people of the United American State, something amazing was bound to follow.
“We have been working hard on providing you with the best environments possible. Temperate summers. Lovely autumn breezes. Spring showers. And today, I am thrilled to announce a major breakthrough.”
A massive screen lit up behind him. Fading into view was a scene of the capital city of Indianapolis with the capitol building front and center, encircled by administrative buildings. White particles were falling all around and collecting on the rooftops of the buildings.
The audience burst into astonished applause and cheers.
“Huh, that’s pretty cool…” Omar murmured. “I wonder when that starts? And will we get it here in Atlanta?”
JAQi reacted to Omar’s questions. The footage skipped from the raucous audience reaction to President Cook’s listing of cities that would first receive snow. “–Snow will be available in all seventeen major cities in the United American State, and I am pleased to tell you that it will begin falling this evening.”
The room exploded into applause yet again.
“But don’t go outside looking for it just yet!” Cook said with a chuckle. “I have a few more wonderful things to tell you. For instance, not only will we be introducing snow, but we’ve also been able to replicate lightning and thunder. That’s right, this spring, you will be able to witness actual thunderstorms.”
More cheering from the crowd prompted President Cook to smile exuberantly.
“Oooooh, louder rain. Boring,” Omar said. “Skip ahead.”
The footage jumped to the next announcement.
“For the first time since the Reformation, atmosphere generators have gone online west of the Mississippi River. Expansion of residences westward will begin in a few months, and the applications to settle in these new territories will be accepted starting in July. My fellow United Americans, I am pleased to announce the new cities of Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Saint Louis.” Applause filled the room, and a lot of oohing and ahhing could be heard as the plans and projections for the two new cities appeared on the massive screen behind the President. “As some of the more keen-eyed have noticed, we’ve updated the United American State flag with the fourteenth and fifteenth stars. All digital representations have been updated, and the physical cloth flags will begin being mailed to citizens in the coming–”
“Whatever,” Omar said. “It’s not like I can afford to move anytime soon anyway. JAQi, skip to the Corta announcement.”
The footage skipped ahead fifteen minutes. President Cook was gesturing to the right of the stage. Photos of two men in full MilSec dress blues appeared on the massive screen behind him, their names displayed below them: Alexis “Hax” Curtis and Henry “Mad Dog” Cain. A digital banner waved above them bearing the United America’s Next Top Soldier logo. A woman appeared stage-right and strode in the direction of the President, also clad in full MilSec dress uniform. The audience was on their feet, cheering and whistling and clapping. The silhouette of hands and heads partially blocked the view.
“Citizens, I give you Sergeant Sabrina Corta,” Cook said as he took one step to the side and allowed the fully healed Sergeant to take center stage with him. Behind them, the pictures of Cain and Curtis separated, and a third photo appeared between them — that of the Sergeant in full MilSec dress, her name displayed under her photo like the others: Sabrina “Senche” Corta.
The crowd lost its collective mind. Cheering and applause continued to roll despite the awkward looks exchanged between Corta and President Cook. Eventually the commotion subsided enough for the President to begin speaking again.
“Sergeant — or can I call you Sabrina?” He asked.
“Sabrina is fine, sir,” she replied stiffly.
“Well, Sabrina, how are you feeling?”
“I feel like United America’s Next Top Soldier,” she answered.
Every attendee leapt to their feet, and the entire room erupted in even more raucous applause and cheers.
“Ok, JAQi, got it,” Omar said. The din of the cheering audience was silenced as the playback of the footage froze. “Ping John.”
A tone sounded, and John appeared on the screen. “Sup?” He asked.
“Dude…Corta!” Omar yelped.
“I know, right?!”
“Okay, so what are the rules for the fantasy league?” Omar asked. “Does it work like football? Can I just bring her off injured reserve?”
“It happens automatically,” John explained as he bit into an Imagen RealCheez snack chip. “You don’t have to worry about that. Just make sure she’s in the lineup for the next operation and you’re good to go.”
“Okay, got it. What is the next op?”
“Dude, you didn’t watch the address?”
“Just the highlights.”
“The next operation is MK,” John answered. “That’s it. The rules changed. No more contests or head-to-heads. It’s winner takes all. Whoever gets MK wins.”
“Whoa,” Omar said. “Maybe I should go back and watch that then…”
“Nah, it’s just a bunch of bullshit about snow and weather and stuff. They’re pushing an update to JAQi tonight, but who cares. Corta and the new rules for NTS were really the only part that mattered.”
“Cool,” Omar said, “Thanks for the rundown. I gotta ping Gabby real quick.”
“Heh, that’s still a thing?” John asked, lifting the bag of chips to his lips and dumping the dusty remains into his mouth.
“Dude, come on…”
John chewed voraciously through the chip debris. “I don’t get it man,” he said, lips smacking. “But hey, you love her, so whatever…”
“I gotta go,” Omar said.
“Later!” John said, his face blinking from existence on the screen.
“Ping Gabby,” Omar asked of JAQi, who immediately complied.
“Hey,” Gabby responded within a second of the notification appearing on her screen. “What’s up? Everything ok?”
“Yeah,” Omar said. “Caught up on the address. There’s going to be snow? That’s pretty crazy.”
“It’s going to be so beautiful!” She replied. “I’m watching out the window to see it when it starts! You want to come over and watch it with me?”
“Honey,” Omar said, “I’m super tired. Today’s shift nearly killed me. I’m going to crash here in a minute.”
“But…it’s the first ever snow in our lifetimes! In, like, five lifetimes!”
“I know,” Omar said, “But there’ll be more. Right now, I just wanna get some sleep.”
Gabby blinked a few times and shook her head slightly. Her disappointment was clear. “Omar,” she said. “We really need to…I have some things I want to discuss with you…”
“Can we talk about it tomorrow?” Omar said, exasperated. “I’m really not in a place tonight to do anything besides fall into my bed. Hit me up first thing tomorrow, okay? We can talk about whatever’s going on then.”
“I love you,” Omar said rigidly, much in the same way he instructed customers to have a nice day at the cafeteria.
“I…I love you too,” Gabby said reluctantly. Just as she was inhaling to start her next sentence, Omar interjected with a hasty, “good night, sweet dreams!” and dropped the call.
“JAQi,” he said after a short sigh. “Find some porn with actresses that look like Corta.”
A tone sounded. “There are 18,422 videos with actresses that have facial features resembling Sergeant Corta,” JAQi said.
“Well, fire it up!” Omar said, pulling himself back out of his pants and resuming his evening’s plans.