2 – Now that he was growing
Now that he was growing into his own man, Salm needed to gravitate around other people, mostly his friends in high school, which was mainly why he did not relish being away from school for long periods. Salm’s mother would dismiss his concern as a tendency to readily panic. When you were younger, she would say, you were always quick to catch up on your studies. A few moments of reviewing your schoolbooks here and there, you always did fine. How much more these days when they have the entire curricula all bundled up on the Uniweb? Surely, you can still keep up with your lessons on the Net. All you need is the hotel’s refrigerator set.
His mother would probably understand if he told her that he was not worried about the school lessons, since this arrangement was in truth being encouraged at the University in order to extensively test the newly-installed Uniwebsity Learning Program, but Salm was a sensitive young man and he did not want his mother to know that, more than anything else, he was anxious about his corporeal presence in his Literature class because of a girl named Anis. He liked his mother best when she was pre-occupied for hours with the kitchen’s microwave oven, better than when she was doting on him.
Salm was feeling particularly bad today because the schoolyear had just ended, he received his report card with some not too desirable grades, and Anis was going on a summer vacation far, far away. Maybe it might not be bad if his father took him on one of his trips too. But his father was himself thousands of miles away from home. Salm, his mother called up from the kitchen, it is about time to talk to your Dad now. He especially wants to see your report card today. He would be at the Shanghai office by now.
Salm went into the reading room, settled into his father’s favorite chair, briefly searched for the right button on his father’s desk, and powered up the Wall. The lacquered brown wall, five meters in front of him, turned pitch-black. He pressed his right thumb on the scanner’s glass embedded on the right corner of the desk, and for a while waited for the hourglass icon to disappear from the wall. When it came back with an ‘Unauthorized’ message box, he took out a handkerchief and carefully wiped clean the scanner’s glass surface. Why can’t they, he thought, devise a foolproof glitch-free system? He then pressed his thumb again, and this time, the Wall lighted up into a large Qualia Inc. logo. The logo was a big gently swirling question mark, a colorful blob that constantly changed its hues at each twist and turn, floating against a backdrop of deep, probing black. In a moment, a white boxed query emerged from a dark corner asking for a password and a purpose. For a while, Salm felt disoriented when he could not locate the keyboard on his father’s desk, and then remembered that his father liked to tuck the keyboard into the center drawer whenever he went out of town. Of course, there was also the microphone, but Salm had a lot of problems with that in the past, more than with the scanner. Salm pulled out the keyboard and punched in his personal agent’s password and the command LOCATE as his purpose. He fidgeted with a couple more input boxes on the screen. Then the entire wall lighted up into a crisp, steely-silver room with a matching, long silver table running across it. The straight edges and neat surfaces of the room were only broken by a terse sprinkling of small bamboo plants sprouting from tall, curved ceramics at the far corners of the room.
Where are the Chinese? Salm asked his father while trying to sound cheerful. Salm’s father was sitting at one end of the table, not exactly in the center of Salm’s view, which made him more uncomfortable, considering that he had an unbalanced report card to show his father. The meeting is not going to start for another fifteen minutes, son, his father was looking smart in his black suit as he stood up and walked towards Salm. Your mother told me last night that you have some interesting figures to show me.
Salm walked up to the right end of the Wall, and inserted his report card into a narrow orifice on the wall. His father reached out for it while staring him in the eye. Salm noted that he was now almost as tall as his father was. Unless the Wall was not giving him an accurate picture. When his report card came out again from the aperture, it made a whoosh and a thump that startled him. Relief came when his father smiled at him, This does not look as bad as I thought, son. You will however have to do better in Language and Literature next semester. If this will serve to motivate you: The Word is very mighty, son. You will have to give it more respect and more attention. Do you know that a lot of our problems now on the TriNet are due to our deficiencies in the understanding of languages? Sometimes, it is like pushing around a square wheel for most of the developments we want to roll out, and I hope that someday, you can contribute to this effort. That will be a proud day for both of us.
Salm was thankful when the first Chinese entered the room. Otherwise, his father could go on and on pontificating on his vision of a wired world.
Other parts, here:
© Said Sadain, Jr. 1999