“Mom, I want a Ray Vang,” said Peoria, who was dressed stylishly for a nine-year-old, her butter-yellow belt and scarf accenting her hazelnut-yellow hair, muted cocoa-brown shirt and maple-bleached pants.
“You’re too young for a thousand-dollar holo-ring,” replied her mother.
“You have one,” pouted Peoria. Martina Maciel reckoned she may have brought this on herself. Her clothes and hair matched her daughter’s, a real constrast to the store’s interior, which consisted mostly of slick silvery lines and curves, adorned by Facrogle’s holo-scrolls on every blank patch of wall. Martina turned her gaze to one of Applokia’s display cases.“How about one of these?”
“Mom, give me a break, those are way too pìhuà nerdy.”
Martina felt a pang of nostalgia for the part of Peoria’s childhood where she doted on everything her mother said. She wondered how soon Peoria would ask her Mom to go away when her friends came around.
Martina and her husband John were tall, tan, and athletic. Martina had lost track of John and their three-year-old, Drigo, until she heard “I have to go potty!”
Martina sauntered over to the next aisle. “John, do you want me to…?”
“I got it,” he smiled.
Martina bent down and kissed Drigo’s forehead. “Mommy is so proud of you for asking in advance, but you don’t have to ask quite that loudly.”
Drigo replied loudly, “But I have to go potty!”
John smiled wanly as the he led their son out of the Applokia store. Just as well, Martina thought. Because she and John were somewhat famous, it was best, in public spaces, to avoid attention by keeping apart. Or perhaps Martina’s relief came from the feeling of getting “out of diapers,” as the saying went.
Well, Martina thought, with Peoria acting like a little lady, and Drigo no longer a baby, couldn’t she now get back to the sort of work she really liked to do – soldiering? Or was John right that she was looking for any excuse to avoid the family?
No, Martina thought, she’d paid her mommy dues. Maybe she wasn’t the world’s most nurturing mother, but she’d make up for that by raising them with the same high standards her own mother had imposed.
One of the Facrogle scrolls said: Democracy ceases to exist when you take away from those who work and give to those who do not.
Martina noticed whispers from the store’s other patrons. “Is that…?” “It is!” “She’s not so hot in real life,” that sort of thing. Though the lookie-loos tried to be clandestine, Martina could tell by the way their thumbs tapped their rings that they were taking pictures of her. Martina thought, no big deal; holos and vids of me and Peo going around the worlds. After the usual ads, a Facrogle scroll said: A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything that you have – Jefferson
Martina saw someone making a little too much of a movie, and ushered her daughter out of the store. It’s not like there wasn’t another Applokia shop within easy walking distance. Each of the Big 12 had at least six outlets in this mall. Upon close inspection, there was a stultifying sameness to the store presentations: Uniparney, Airboeck, Dupowme, Twiya, Applokia, Wazgretco, Facrogle, Uniparney…repeat. Not for the first time, Martina wondered why one of them, let’s say Airboeck, didn’t decorate its eight mall outlets with eight different themes; perhaps a Wild West in one, a Russian onion-dome in another, an Asian pagoda in another? It would have been a lot more fun, as well as holistic, like the everything-ness of a Bollywood poster. Martina knew without having to ask that someone must have judged such a strategy to be low-percentage. She knew next to nothing about sales and marketing, but she was an expert on percentages.
“Mom, can I get Aunt Julia my own gift for her birthday?”
With my money, Martina thought. “Is there anything in particular you…?”
“Yeah, I bet she’d like something in here.” Peoria led her mother into one of the few outlets with a more idiosyncratic appearance. For a moment, Martina thought Peo had selected one of the few off-brands allowed in the mall with the Big 12. Then she remembered that Wazgretco had to vary its store appearances a bit, since its monopoly was simply based on stuff. This shop resembled an old-timey library, each wall a series of bookcases bursting with quirky, one-of-a-kind merchandise.
This was Wazgretco’s The Great Person store, formerly The Great Man store until some customers complained. Martina had mixed feelings about Peoria’s attraction to the merch, which was mostly toys, clothes, puzzles, soaps, and tchotchkes with historical figures on them: Confucius, Plato, Caesar, Avicenna, Al-Khwarizmi, Leonardo, Darwin, Einstein, Booker, et al. On the one hand, Martina loved that Peoria had taken an early interest in intellectual life. On the other hand, well…
“Mommy,” Peoria finally asked, “Where are the girls?” Yes, thought Martina. She didn’t have to look like an over-bearing mom by bringing it up.
“I don’t know, Peo,” Martina said, affecting her sunniest tone. “Let’s ask whoever’s working.” Seeing them coming to her cash register, the plain, plump Wazgretco customer representative narrowed her eyes.
“Go ahead, honey,” Martina said, “Ask the nice woman what you asked me.”
Peoria arched an eyebrow at her mother like she was half-crazy. “Where are the girls?”
“Thank you for asking.” The Wazgretco rep was obviously ready. “If you look around you’ll see how well we staff the distaff. There’s Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Eva Perón, Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto…”
“You have any that weren’t killed way before their time?” Martina interrupted.
“Of course.” The rep cleared her throat. “Is there any particular sort of product you might like to purchase?” They looked blank for a moment. “I’m sure I can show you shirts that feature Ayn Rand, Margaret Thatcher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Malia Obama, Soo-Jeong Ahn…”
“What percentage of your merch features women?”
“Well, madam, I really don’t know the percentage…”
“Madam?” Martina tried to make light, though she suspected she sounded strained. “How do you know I’m not ‘Ms.’?”
The rep’s lips pursed. “I know who you are, Mrs. Maciel.”
“Ah,” said Martina, thinking to change tactics. “In that case, can you see why my daughter might be confused?” Peoria and the customer representative both looked confused.
“Well, I think she might not like being used as a prop.” The rep continued, “We don’t feature living people on our merch, Madam.”
Martina let her ring project a small holo into her hand. Her feed showed the shop’s video feed going viral and people upvoting the lady’s aside about the prop. Martina looked up and asked, “Aren’t all of these things you sell props? Perhaps I’m asking…when will women get their props?” Instantly downvoted online.
“Ahem,” the rep replied in a forced-pleasant tone. “You’re saying you want us to turn more women into objects?”
“I see…that today isn’t the first day you’ve heard from someone like me.”
“Oh, you mean an urban who looks down on us rurals?”
Martina flushed. “Look, I just want to be able to teach my daughter that she can be anything she wants to be.”
“Who’s stopping you?”
“You! Bad enough the other stores blare out emaciated young princesses. Then I come in here, with all these historical figures, and maybe five percent are women.”
“Look, Mrs. Maciel, I’m as educated as you are. Women may have only accounted for five percent of major, individual-driven historical changes.” Martina scoffed loudly, peering down slightly to watch her news feed. “Look at me, Mrs. Maciel. I’m not saying it’s fair or right. Realistically, women have rarely had the same opportunities, and I thank your family for helping to change that. But in this store we have to present life as it was, not how we wish it was. Imagine a military museum that was forced to give equal time to male and female heroes throughout history. Wouldn’t one side of that museum be a lot fuller, and the other a lot of filler?” Instantly upvoted.
“Mom, you don’t have to win everything,” said a voice. Her daughter knew her too well. “I’ll get Aunt Julia’s gift somewhere else.”
“We’re going, honey,” replied Martina. As Peoria stepped to the door, Martina leaned in to the customer rep. “Didn’t you ever want to be something…more than this?”
“My parents were miners for Binto, quite unlike yours. This is a step up for me. Besides…well, I kind of live vicariously through you.” Her laughter disarmed Martina. “Really. I do mean it, actually.”
Martina was caught off-guard. “Why me? I haven’t done anything particularly memorable, have I?”
“No, but you want to. That’ll be a great day.” Okay, the Wazgretco lady had won this viral vid.
The rep might have known her better than her own daughter. Martina didn’t want to win everything; she just wanted her life to matter, enough that she be remembered for helping people or her planet somehow, like the heroes and heroines on the store’s merch. Martina’s biggest frustration was that she had no idea how to make that happen, but she knew it wasn’t by sitting at home playing mommy..
Leaving the Great Person Store, Martina gave Peoria money for an ice cream. While Peoria waited in line, Martina sat in one of the cushy chairs of the McPepsanto Food Court and reflected that all of the mall’s Facrogle holo-scrolls were only showing two sets of messages. Sponsors must have paid extra to make sure no other message was scrolling. One series of statements was from General Rhodes and his allies: Wake up and smell the tyranny and A liberal is someone who spends someone else’s money, like that.
The other series of messages was from the Aquinasians: Those who are in a position of strength have a responsibility to protect the weak and The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How, Martina wondered, did the Aquinas movement still command such support? Had to be money outside the Big 12, probably from an Earth government. If Martina didn’t know the telltale fonts, she might have conflated the scrolls: slogans like Dare to speak truth to power and Ignored facts do not cease to exist could and did come from both Rhodesians and Aquinasians.
“Mom, can we see what Dad’s doing?” Peoria said, licking her ice cream cone. The chocolate drip covered half of the cone’s McPepsanto logo.
Martina and Peoria made their way to the middle of the mall, where their balcony overlooked the toddler area four floors down. Martina saw Drigo down there playing, and John chatting with some other 30ish thin blonde woman. She tapped her ring, and a holo of John appeared in front of her face. The man in the holo said, “Could this be…the love of my life?”
“Could be,” Martina answered. “I mean, if someone else isn’t currently filling the position.” Peering down at the play space, Martina saw that the other blonde had turned to help her own child.
“I suppose I could check with personnel.”
“Or with your new girlfriend. I see you.”
“You think I hadn’t seen you?” He laughed. He waved up to her, four floors above him.
“Should I take it as a compliment that this woman looks like me, or should…”
“Mommy!” Peoria interrupted. “Does Dad have a new girlfriend?”
“Peo, darling, Mommy and Daddy are joking.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Sorry, darling. It’s like when…like last week when you snuck up on Daddy with the McPopscorn.”
On her tippy-toes, Peoria peered over the balcony’s rail. “Like that guy?”
Martina looked away from the holo and down into the play space. She saw a stranger running toward her husband. He carried a jar of some kind of translucent liquid. Martina felt an arctic chill run down her spine.
“JOHN!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “DRIGO!!!”
John dived toward their son at the moment the strange man yelled “FREE MARS!” and threw the jar to the floor. The boom of the shockwave shattered glass windows as Martina threw herself onto her daughter.