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Service

Service

by Michael Ray

The second person that showed up was carrying a shotgun. He had two
Labs with him and looked like he’d been hunting.  He made eye contact
from the far side of the smoking crater and we both looked down at the
cooling metallic teardrop embedded below us.

The first person returned from taking a leak behind the mound of black
soil that ringed the crater.  She smiled and waved to the hunter.

“Weird, huh?” she said to him.

“Yep,” the hunter said.

“Now, about that coffee,” she said to me and smiled as if we’d know
each other for years, instead of about 12 minutes.  I handed her the
steaming thermos-top, full of my morning ritual.  She blew on it and
sipped.  I don’t generally share with strangers, but this was, I had
to admit, an unusual circumstance.

The hunter moved our way along the mounded rim.  His boots sank deep
into the freshly turned black soil.  “Satellite, you reckon?”

“Probably so,” I said.

“It’s not all broken up though,” the woman said.  She blew on my
coffee and drank some more.

“That’s true,” I said, “and I didn’t see anything on my newsfeeds about it.”

I flipped out my cell again.  Still no service.  Even though we were
in the middle of one of my plowed-under cotton fields, I usually got
great service out here.  The people who owned the field down by the
highway had made a small fortune putting up a cell tower for one of
the telecoms.  It was an eyesore, but it made things easier for me out
here, away from the world.  I put it away, reluctantly.

“We can’t have been the only people to see it,” the woman said and
passed me the cup.

“Got any more of that?” the hunter said as he trudged alongside.

I reached down and picked up the thermos I had planted in the loose
dirt.  I topped off the cup and then handed him the rest in the
steaming thermos.  I took a big sip from the cup and handed it back to
the woman.

“Excuse my germs.”

She laughed and cupped her hands around the warm metal.

“I wish I had service,” I said and flipped out my cell again.  Same result.

“Coffee’s good. Thanks,” the hunter said.  His dogs wagged their way
between us and sniffed at the basket on his hip.  It probably held
ducks from the river.

I nodded to him and frowned at my phone.  “Must be interference from
the satellite.”

His dogs began to whimper and ease down towards the cooling metallic teardrop.

“Come girls,” he commanded, startling the woman, who sloshed a little coffee.

The dogs reluctantly eased back up out of the crater.

“I think I’d like to take a closer look too,” the woman said and
smiled at us.  She handed me the cup and sucked the coffee off her
thumb.  She wiped her hands on her hips and began to ease down the
crater.

“You think that’s a good idea?” the hunter asked, his voice telling us
what he thought of it.

“Might be a bad idea,” I said, looking at my phone again with no success.

“Oh come on guys.  Two men, dogs, and a shotgun.  I’ll be okay.”  She
began to slide down the side of the crater.  I made eye contact with
the hunter.  He screwed up his face and shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m going to try and get some service,” I said.  “Don’t touch it,
obviously.”  I’d probably insulted her intelligence and I did find her
curiosity fun.  But at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, with fields to be disked
and a satellite in the middle of one of them, I was about out of
patience.  I walked towards the highway, towards the tower.  About
fifty yards away I passed through the single file line of trees that
separated their fields from mine.  I began to see a bar blink.  After
another fifty yards, I got my wish.  Service.

My newsfeed boxes were stacked up.  Big media and small were cranking
out stories so fast my inbox numbers rolled like a gas pump as I stood
there.  I hesitated with so many choices.  Then out of habit, I chose
my favorite muckraker.

The headlines made no sense.  There was random violence and riots in
cities across the country, apparently across the world.  People were
swarming through stores, cleaning out all the food.  I searched
“satellite” and got nothing useful.  The newsfeeds slowed to a
trickle.

I found a video from a sketchy website.  The guy claimed that
spacepods had fallen to the ground all over the planet and that the
people who touched them became irrationally violent and hungry and
that the people they attacked became infected too.  Order was breaking
down.

I heard the shotgun boom across the fields.  Once.  Twice.
I started running.