Authors: Robert Walton
Series Editor Barry N. Malzberg
“Vienna Station” by Robert Walton is the co-winner of the 2011 RosettaBooks’s The Galaxy Project writing contest. The contest was judged by Robert Silverberg, David Drake and Barry N. Malzberg.
Judge David Drake says of “Vienna Station”:
For me, the definitive
story was one which took a current trend and spun it in wildly magnified fashion into the near future. These stories could be as bleak as Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons” or as mild as “Mezzerow Loves Company” by Floyd L Wallace.
This story, “Vienna Station” by Robert Walton, falls nicely into the middle range occupied by the Pohl/Kornbluth collaboration “Gladiator-at-Law”. Its imagined future is as gritty and brutal as one could ask but the focus is on hopeful struggle and (at least short term) triumph. Engaging characters, well-realized settings, and the intelligence which had to underly every
story made “Vienna Station” a real pleasure for me to read.
Copyright © 2011 Robert Walton
Jacket illustration copyright © 2011 by Jill Bauman
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795323003
Rules are rules. Anti-terrorist security rules are the most stringent of all, especially so on a space station. I am mindful of their necessity as I unfasten the velcro closures on my jumpsuit. The thin, pale blue garment falls about my ankles. I automatically glance at the mirror before me. My profession calls for both strength and flexibility. Form must follow function, so my upper body muscles are well defined and my thighs are well muscled. I poke experimentally at my stomach. Is there a bit of tummy beginning to appear? Possibly.
A blue light flashes on the bulkhead above the entrance port. I sigh. This is no time to admire one’s girlish figure. I sigh again and brush back my hair. Long hair is the very devil in null gravity. Swirling like kelp in an ocean current, mine has gathered in a chestnut nimbus around face. I step through the last detector between the airlock exit and me. A horn suddenly hoots above me. A red light flashes. A robotic voice sounds over the ongoing horn, “Entry denied!”
I look toward an audio pickup and say, “Obviously. Can you tell me why?”
“Entry denied. Unauthorized electronics have been detected.”
I shake my head. “That’s not too helpful.”
“Unauthorized data processing system has been detected.”
“Oh,” I look down and regard my gold and amethyst nipple pendant. “You mean my perkey?”
“Yes, Ms. Tamez.”
“I’d like to keep it.”
“That is not possible.”
I take a deep breath. “Look, I’m a musician. I was hired to perform here. Most of my repertoire is stored in my perkey’s data system. My ability to perform will be adversely affected if I don’t have it. Can’t you inspect it or something to make sure it’s not some sort of terrorist device?”
“That is not possible.”
I fold my arms across my chest. “I need to speak to a human supervisor.”
“One moment, please.”
I tap my foot with impatience. A very slight humming noise sends a shiver down my spine. I whirl and look behind me. I see walls, conduits, nothing out of the ordinary, but that shiver stays with me. I feel like I’m being watched.
A human voice sounds over the speaker, “Ms Tamez?”
I turn back toward the airlock entrance. “Yes?”
“What seems to be the problem?”
Mustering what patience I have left, I speak levelly, “I’d like to keep my personal data system, my perkey. I’m a musician and I need it.”
The voice on the speaker also speaks with restraint,” You will not be required to play from memory or to perform interactively with our computer systems. Retention of your perkey is, therefore, not necessary to successful completion of your duties here. Deposit the perkey in the slot to your left. It will be stored and kept quite safe until you leave Vienna Station.”
I sigh again and squeeze my right earlobe. I disengage the powered down perkey from my right nipple and reluctantly consign it to the slot labled “valuables.
Various sensors hum and whir. A green light replaces the red. Incongruously, a muffled giggle sounds from behind me. I turn in time to see a narrow a communications screen become opaque.
My skin flushes pink with rage and shame. I snatch up the jumpsuit, plunge into it, slap the velcro closures shut and fling open the entrance hatch. The heavy hatch crashes against a shock absorber. I storm into the open chamber.
“Hey, take it easy on the equipment.” A plump man with dark brown skin and thinning hair motions to me from a desk cubicle to my right.
I turn on him, “Is it part of entrance security procedure to allow the local pervert a look at incoming employees?”
“What are you talking about?”
I take a deep breath. “Someone was getting an eyeful through a communications screen while I was standing around in my birthday suit.”
The crewman spreads his hands. “Damn. Sorry about that. This kind of thing hasn’t happened before.”
I snarl, “You liar.”
He looks down. “You can file a formal complaint if you wish.”
I consider this. I’m ten minutes into the most important job of my career, a job I underwent extensive auditions and screening to acquire. Should I embark on a sexual harassment proceeding?
I should, but I say, “Tell me where my quarters are.”
My quarters are about as bleak as I expected them to be. The personal cubicle is meter high, a meter wide and three meters long. It was designed for sleeping and electronic hibernation. Music videos, vid-games, movies, performance pieces—the entire range of vicarious entertainments is available to me along with appropriate drugs. I’m out of luck if I want to throw a cocktail party. I decide that I need to practice.
Rehearsal room 440-2 is surprisingly pleasant. High cream-colored walls glow with pale, golden light. The simulated oak chairs and music stands pick up the gold and deepen it. A bronze statue of a young girl playing a violin breaks the light into graceful curves. She seems to float above the room’s entrance, held aloft by an impossibly narrow arc of clear crystal.
So much for the good news. I look glumly down at the stark gray neck of an electronic cello. I have spent half an hour adjusting its specs to those of my real cello back on Earth. It’s very close now, almost exactly the same. Almost.
There’s not a sliver of real wood in the beast. I can close my eyes and shut out the plastic and the dials, but it doesn’t vibrate through my shoulder, hum through my heart, as my real instrument does.
I launch into Bach, the Courante from Suite No.6 in D. My fingers feel wooden at first. Then the flow of the notes takes me. The instrument, plastic and fiberglass though it is, takes life from the music. I reach the final notes and let my bow rest on the strings for just a moment after the sound fades.
A voice behind me says, “Not too shabby, especially since you’re just off the boat.”
I look over my shoulder. A cheerful young woman smiles “I’m Kelly. I work here too.” She holds out her hand.
I take it. “I’m Dru.”
Kelly squeezes my hand lightly and releases it. “How do you like the fake instrument?”
I shrug. “It’s not that bad. I’ve done studio work with enhanced instruments before. I’ve never worked with holograms, though. They’re strange! I’m a little worried about the concerts.
Kelly shakes her head. “You get used to it. I’m a violinist. If I squint a little, I can pretend the hologram is a real Strad, not just a paradigm. Are you going to play some more?”
“Sure. Would you like more Bach?”
“Okay by me.”
I continue with the Sarabande from the Suite in D, my favorite movement. Bach generates intensity and I easily plunge into the total concentration this music requires. As my last note ripples into silence, an excited shout sounds from behind me.
“Bravo! Bravissimo! That was well played!”
I turn and see a small man with his hands clasped before him as if they were frozen while applauding. His hair is light, frizzy and long. His nose, too, is long. He’s dressed in 18th Century costume, a pale blue satin suit and linen shirt with lace at cuffs and neck. He is young and looks somehow familiar.
He speaks again, “That was very good! Are you one of the festival performers?”
It always takes me a moment to shift from serious concentration to conversation, “Yes, I am.”
He laughs, “Wonderful! So am I!”
His eyes are small, close together and nearly rendered insignificant by his nose. Still, they are curiously dark and magnetic. They also sparkle with glee.
“Oh,” I venture cautiously, “what is your instrument?”
He giggles, “Various instruments, various. Have you been out on the concourse?”
I shake my head. “No, I only just arrived.”
“Well, you must see it. You really must!”
I nod noncommittally. Two violinists have wandered in. A plump young woman over in the corner is inspecting a basset horn and frowning slightly. Kelly is just in front of my music stand. At least I’m not alone with this guy.
He claps his hands and hops toward me. “I know! Come and have coffee with me! Today at three! I’ll reserve a table at the Café Sacher!” He looks at Kelly. “Bring your lovely friend, too!”
I hesitate, “Well, I only just arrived.”
“Wonderful! Coffee at Café Sacher is a perfect introduction to Vienna Station. Please say that you’ll come!”
I glance at Kelly. She inclines her head slightly. I say, “I’ll come.”
The small man leans forward and takes my hand. “Wonderful!” His lips brush my knuckles—moth wings, spider webs drifting on a night-fog. Shivers tumble over each other in their haste to rush down my spine.
He murmurs, “Aufwiedersehen,” and releases my hand. He straightens. His smile catches golden light as he turns and departs.
I shake my head. “You’ll see me again in your dreams, Mr. Moth Lips!”
Kelly smiles sardonically. “That was him, you know.”
I look at her. “Who?”
“Sure, that was Mozart.”
Kelly nods. “Mozart. You seem to have made a good impression on him, too.”
I slowly slump in my chair. Mozart thinks I play beautifully. The new Mozart, that is. He also wants to have coffee with me. I look back at Kelly. “My god! I’ve got to go!”
Kelly grins. “Of course, you do. We both do and we’ve got to find something for you to wear.”
I’m numb. I look down to see if my fingers are still attached to my hands. I mutter, “He thinks I play well.”
Kelly smiles and pats my shoulder. “You do. And you’ll look great in an 18th Century gown, too. There’s a laser dressmaker in the warm-up room. You like purple?”
Kelly nods. “The boss likes purple.”
I nod. “Purple.”
Kelly pats my shoulder again. “Put that away and come with me. It’s almost two now.”
“I feel ridiculous!”
Kelly smiles, “Relax. You look great.”
I glance quickly at the mirror and am again shocked by what I see. Yards and yards of purple and cream satin swirl around me, yet only just manage to conceal my bosom.
Kelly plops a wide, multi-feathered had on my head. “There. That will do it.”
I snort, “It certainly will!” I look at her. Her green and yellow gown seems chaste and sober compared with mine.
She pats my hand. “Quit griping. It’s free. We work here.” She glances at the clock. “Let’s go.”
A long, curving hallway takes us to a modern reception area. Beyond that is the Concourse. We pause.
Kelly chuckles, “Ready?”
I shrug. “I guess so.”
We walk through the doorway and I discover I wasn’t ready at all. I knew beforehand that the Concourse is an 18th Century fantasyland, but I never expected the relentless intensity of the simulation.
Men and women stroll, bow, embrace and kiss on faux cobblestone streets. The women are dressed in gowns with plunging necklines. Their powdered bosoms are slathered with pearls and diamonds. They wear silver wigs done up in pompadours. The men wear brightly colored satin suits with long tails, knickers and silk stockings. Elaborate, puffy white wigs adorn their heads. They also are bejeweled beyond a pirate’s dreams of treasure.
We stroll through this scene, not drably dressed, but by no means conspicuous either. A rank, barnyard odor blasts the various perfumes wafting through the air. Kelly grabs my elbow.
I look down. A pile of round, green, steaming turds awaits my satin covered right foot. I look at Kelly.
“Horses,” she explains.