Archive for TJ

Healing Hands

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2012 by javedbabar

Sophie was feeling unsettled. There were crises at work, family members demanding money, her landlord had given her one month’s notice, and she was about to hit forty and was still single. Left on the shelf. Many of her friends were single too, but at least they’d had a go, married, and failed. Some had wonderful children as awards for trying.

Why hadn’t she ever taken the plunge? There had been opportunities. Maybe she had been too fussy when younger.

“Will you marry me?” Adam had asked her, long ago, at Blackwater Lake. Her response was to run off. It’s right to not settle for second best, but what she’d then thought of as second best, was upon reflection first best, and those who had later won her heart turned out to be last worst.

She wandered across the park after work. The sky was glowing like there were two suns setting, golden and purple. TJ, the Lucerne Valley Hotel’s receptionist, said, “Welcome back.” She was a daily customer. She’d been there at lunchtime for a beer and burger, but now wanted something more and stronger.

The manager had found a clever way of getting around The Authority’s prohibition on cheap drinks. He promoted Happy Hour as a heritage event, harkening back to its nautical origins. There were wrestling, boxing, singing and drinking bouts, often all together. It was a barrel of laughs.

A buxom wench like Sophie was well appreciated aboard HMS Hotel Bar. Its sailors bought her endless rounds, and she was constantly engaged in jigs and reels. She danced with a small, dark guy with a great body. He didn’t talk much. He was either drunk or shy. He had a bright face which seemed to shine everywhere, and Sophie didn’t want to be without its glow. At the end of a reel, she grabbed his hand and pulled him outside. They smooched a little and then she asked him to walk her home.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Is that a good idea?”

“What kind of man are you?” she said. “Not a gentleman at all. I should have made you walk the plank!”

“Okay, I’ll walk you home,” he said immediately. Nobody likes to be called a barbarian.

When they reached her home, Sophie opened the door and pulled him in. He made an unconvincing attempt to resist and then gave up. He was not much heavier than Sophie but with extra muscle instead of extra curves. He leaned back on the sofa.

Sophie played some ambient tunes and pulled him up to dance. Despite the music being unsuitable for nautical antics, she forced her guest to engage in further jigs and reels. He was a really good dancer and somehow made them work.

His moves were great, jumping, skipping and twirling around the lounge. Her body pulled along with his, her heart was in tune with his, their hands joined together, and now their lips…

“Ouch!” she said, breaking off and pulling away. “Your hands are so hot!” She looked at them. They seemed to be glowing.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Maybe I should go now.”

“No, wait.” She didn’t know why she said it. There was something about him, about his hands. He looked at them in shock too. They were glowing faintly, golden purple.

He looked up at her and said, “I am from a family of healers going back to Pharaonic Egypt. I thought the gift had passed me by. My grandmother said that it would come to me when I met the one I must heal.”

Sophie’s head now reeled.

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Deep Cleaning

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2012 by javedbabar

The annual deep clean was planned for March 21st. It always fell upon or around the Spring Equinox. Dust had been building up all winter, with bugs scuttling, and mice cuddling, in the hidden corners of the Lucerne Valley Hotel. It was time to blast away cobwebs and welcome in the sun.

Thoroughly cleaning a fifty room, hundred year old hotel was a big job, too much for the regular housekeepers. The solution was to close the hotel for the day and bring in an external crew called LDC: Lucerne Deep Clean. They must be cost-effective, thought TJ, otherwise the Lifetime GM, Mr Kazantzakis, would not have employed them. In spring LDC vans were everywhere, but what they did for the rest of the year was anyone’s guess.

TJ saw twenty people in orange jumpsuits milling around in the dark car park, before a stocky, blonde haired woman entered the hotel and said, “Hello, I am Lucinda Smart, project manager for LDC. We are contracted to clean your building today between six a.m. and six p.m. I make it exactly six a.m. now. Shall we begin?”

“Hi, I’m TJ, the night-receptionist. I’m only on for another hour, but I can get you started.” TJ had met her last year too, but she didn’t seem to remember. She probably met many night-receptionists.

“I think we know what we’re doing. Are all fifty rooms open? Good. We will follow the usual procedure: dust, polish, hoover, wash, recycle, trash, check.”

“DPHWRTC – very catchy,” said TJ, and then wished he hadn’t.

She looked at him blankly, and then smiled. “Are there any rooms that require special attention? We can start on those first.”

“Yes there are.” He scanned the booking sheet and marked some room numbers. “These were in use during the scientists’ convention, and seem like they were shaken about. I don’t know how else to describe their state. And this one,” he couldn’t help blushing, “was used for my stag party last week. The less said about that the better.”

His friends had given him the choice of being entertained by male or female strippers, both wearing lipstick and leathers. When he chose the female, they vetoed his decision. They said it was good training for marriage. After that they brought in a donkey, and he chose not to remember the rest. However he did wonder how they got it up there.

Lucinda said, “Well, let’s hope there’s not too much of a mess. Our process is the same as always but the intensity is different. We won’t be cleaning as deeply as before, and in fact, we will soon be changing our name to LSD: Lucerne Supply Duties.”

TJ was surprised. That was a good acronym, but did they really wish to be associated with psychotropic drugs? All he could say was, “Why is that?”

“The Authority has complained that we make things too clean. It conflicts with their Health and Safety policy. Over-sanitization reduces natural resistance to infection. Also, on a practical level, dust just comes back again, so why try too hard? They also make an aesthetic argument; having no stains seems characterless, and no mess gives an institutional feel. So we will only be shallow cleaning today. We will be done in two hours.”

“But you said you would be working from six to six.”

“Oh yes, we will charge you for twelve hours, but only work for two. You will benefit from this more advanced process.”

TJ had never heard such hokey reasoning in his professional life, and he protested. Lucinda Smart pulled a gun out of her pocket, and said, “Look, I’ve cleared all this with your boss, Mr Kazantzakis. We will leave supplies in each room as we clean. It is an additional income stream for both parties. Now please let us get on with the job.”

Stag Party

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2012 by javedbabar

TJ didn’t have to wait for complaints from guests. He heard the noise for himself from the lobby. It must be the people who had booked out the second floor. He tried calling their rooms but there was no answer, and the woman who had booked the rooms didn’t answer her cell phone either; she probably couldn’t hear it. TJ had no choice but to go up himself.

The Lucerne Valley Hotel was often rowdy, but only in the bar area. There was a strict noise policy for the rooms, especially after ten p.m. He tried to recall the guests’ appearance, but realized they had checked in before his shift started, and none had been down since. He wondered what were they doing up there. He was about to find out.

Deep house music filled the corridor, causing the mirrors to shake. It stopped suddenly when he knocked on the door. Why did people always do that? As if that made them less guilty or changed anything.

A flash of white light blinded him when the door opened. Before he knew what was happening, he was pulled in, whirled around, and captured in a net. The music began blasting again and he was dragged into the centre of the room.

TJ was glad that he was 20% android. A full human would have been scared and probably fainted or peed himself. He had at worst blown a few transistors, which were easily replaced.

He heard shouts and shrieks, and felt the voices were familiar. Their frequency and amplitude were known to him. He steadied his perception and looked between the holes in the net. The first person he saw was Mr Kazantzakis, the hotel’s Lifetime GM.

TJ was scared. The LGM was fearsome in business, and had killed at least one person for threatening the hotel’s welfare, but what had TJ done? He was a reliable worker, clocking up four years of service, with never any complaints.

Mr Kazantzakis said, “Ha! You didn’t think you could get away with it that easily, did you?” TJ wondered what he meant. It was true that he helped himself to a drink from the USM (Universal Spirits Machine) most nights, but what was the cost of that to the hotel? A few cents per night. Surely it wasn’t that.

Through the net TJ saw a dozen of his best friends, some from Lucerne and others from the city. Then it dawned on him and he began smiling. Mr Kazantzakis said, “Ah! You know now. Your friends tell me you are getting married next month and are not having a stag night. You have refused and ignored their invites. So they have decided to come to you.”

He turned to TJ’s friends and said, “Gentleman, I will leave you now. Lucerne Valley Hotel is pleased to host this important ritual for our staff member. You have permission to do whatever you want. He’s all yours. Goodnight.”

TJ’s friends made him smash plates and cups, saying it signified the end of his adolescent lifestyle and his transition to responsible marital life. They made him wear a French maid’s outfit and dust the room. This was clearing out his old ways. They made him watch a rom com so he could “understand girls,” and sing a Celine Dion song to become “more romantic”. They made him dress as a woman to “enhance empathy,” and call a marriage guidance helpline, so he wouldn’t be shy if he needed to do so again.

There was a knock at the door. Two people entered, a male and a female, both wearing lipstick and leathers.

His friends asked, “Which one do you want to entertain you? And remember we may decide to accept your wish, or to do the opposite.” This would teach him the crucial lesson that sometimes with your wife, whatever you do, you just can’t win.

High Security

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2012 by javedbabar

TJ called the Chief Housekeeper and asked, “Is no one coming over today? I mean to get the daily security data? It is already five a.m. Okay, see you in ten minutes. I will be here.”

You’d think they would know by now, but he had to remind them daily. Maybe six months ago you could skip a day, but these days, no way. The Lucerne Valley Hotel had a reputation to maintain. Their business depended on it.

He was only the night-receptionist, but knew that all must play their part. So much had changed in the industry. He recalled when hotel rooms had mechanical locks, the first time around. Every guest received a key and most guests returned them when checking out, however some keys were lost in town, some taken home by mistake, and some deliberately with the notion of committing future crimes.

The Lifetime GM, Mr Kazantzakis, invested in a new system of key cards. They were coded at reception and opened guests’ doors during their stays. The cards became invalid upon checkout, and were erased and reused.

It was a very good system but as with everything these days, hackers worked out a way to override it. They placed the cards into portable readers and stole their codes. TJ was sorry to say that part-androids like himself were more guilty than most; they had a knack for manipulating technology. There was a spate of free stays and break-ins at the hotel. Something had to be done.

They moved to a fingerprint system which again seemed invincible, but the quality of digital cameras these days was such that eating crisps with your beer became a risky act; one greasy fingerprint was enough to undermine security. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags suffered a similar fate. Hackers found a way to pick up tags’ signals with cell phones, which could then act as keys.

Iris scans were a heavy investment, but Mr Kazantzakis felt they were worth it for Executive floors. They worked well for a month before a rush of laptop thefts from female executives’ rooms. Staff discovered micro-cameras installed behind mirrors in female washrooms. They took sharp shots of women applying their eye shadow and mascara.

People’s wallets, laptops, and identities were being stolen, the latter for months, even years. It was hard these days to prove that you were not you. The hotel tried secret codes, secret information, and security tokens, but these also failed.

A housekeeper mentioned that her grandpa, a Luddite and regular gambler, had suggested a system involving interchangeable mechanical locks. There were fifty guest rooms in the hotel requiring locking. If they placed two rusty old locks, each requiring a good five minutes to open, on each door, and swapped a fifth of them around each day, opportunistic criminals would simply get bored of trying and failing. Each entry attempt would require at least ten minutes of work, with only a two percent of two percent chance of success.

Now there was a sheet of daily security data, saying which locks were to be swapped. This, combined with a password from the lobby, puzzling knots securing items, and fake locks that could be set anywhere in the building, ensured the good reputation of the Lucerne Valley Hotel. It held an unassailable four star security rating.

Happy Hours

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2012 by javedbabar

Mr Kazantzakis, the Lifetime General Manager of the Lucerne Valley Hotel, called TJ into his office. He said, “I have noticed that the bar takings are down again this month. This is the third month in a row. Do you know why?”

TJ was confused. He was only the night-receptionist, so why was Mr Kazantzakis asking him? And then he thought, does he think I am stealing money? An irregular wave of worry crossed his face, and a sheen of sweat appeared upon his forehead and temples.

Mr Kazantzakis must have seen this, and said, “I have asked the barman already. He is good at mixing drinks, but not so good at mixing thoughts. He has no idea why people are buying fewer drinks. They are some of our highest margin items, and that’s why I called you in. I want your input. Have you noticed anything different recently?”

TJ focussed his thoughts, which caused another wave to cross his face, but this time a steadier one with less splashback. “We have had more men than women coming in, so fewer cocktails sold. But the men have been ordering micro-brews, so we’re increasing sales value.” The wave slowed and disintegrated. “Ah! Some guests have asked if we have a Happy Hour. When I’ve said no, they have gone elsewhere for their evening’s drinking. Come to think of it, there have been quite a few…”

“So you think that holding a Happy Hour would help?”

“Business increased by fifty percent when we tried it before.”

Mr Kazantzakis winced. Yes, it had been a successful promotion, but The Authority had instructed him to end such activities “promoting immoderate consumption” of alcoholic drinks. He had been told to keep prices above the set minimums. No half-price drinks were allowed. Rather than quibble, Mr Kazantzakis had ended the promotion. A man must choose his battles wisely. There must be ways around the ban though.

The LGM liked empowering people. He understood the benefits of creating high-performance, leaderless teams, as long as they did what he wanted, of course. He said, “Okay TJ, please develop a theme and launch a Happy Hour next week.” He saw sweat build upon TJ’s temples. “I am sure you will do a great job.”

TJ didn’t know where to start. He hadn’t been involved in the previous promotion, and it hadn’t continued for long. Half-priced drinks, double-sized drinks, and free food were all banned. What was left?

Happy Hour. Where had the term come from? he wondered. He plugged into the e-library and found it was originally a nautical expression indicating scheduled entertainment. Long periods spent at sea created stress and boredom, which affected sailors’ mental health, and petty frustrations led to fights. To combat these dangers captains arranged weekly bouts of boxing and wrestling, accompanied by drinking and singing. At dusk on Friday nights many ships would be rocking, regardless of sea conditions.

TJ printed posters saying “Avast Ye Landlubbers! Fight, Sing & Drink All Night at HMS Lucy, the Captain’s Hotel”. He wasn’t sure if Mr Kazantzakis would approve of this theme. Maybe it wasn’t an image he wished to promote.

Things went well on the first Friday night. The bar was rowdy, featuring many forms of debauchery, and its captain of chaos seemed to be the LGM. He was stripped to the waist, downing tankards, kissing girls, singing shanties, and trading punches with all comers. When he saw TJ, he began shouting, “You’re fired! You’re fired!”

Was he really saying that TJ was fired?

No he wasn’t.

“You’re tired! You’re tired!” His words were slurred but enthusiastic. “Good job TJ! Take the night off!”

Semi-Automatic

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by javedbabar

When Mr Kazantzakis’ business executive guests became crime targets, his booking agents panicked. They were getting bad press and stopped sending guests.

There was no need to panic though. Mr Kazantzakis was a solution-orientated individual. He wasn’t Lifetime General Manager of the Lucerne Valley Hotel without reason. He hired a team of security guards to keep an eye on guests. The guards were vigilant both inside and outside the building, and accompanied business executives around town.

One of the guards, Russell, asked to see the LGM. He said, “This should be a professional job. Being a security guard is a matter of life and death.”

Lucerne had a serious problem. There were many professional jobs available but few unskilled ones. Everybody wanted a professional job. The hours were shorter, the workload was lighter, the pay was better and you didn’t get dirty or wet. However few people were sufficiently well-qualified or well-connected, or filled the right quotas, and thus eligible for such jobs.

Opportunities for pencil pusher were endless, but hammer hitters were a different matter. The Authority’s Job Upgrade Plan had created an imbalance. Most manual jobs had been automated or abolished. There were very few jobs for unprofessional people.

With almost fifty percent unemployment, civic order had crumbled. The number of armed and ordinary robberies, stealth and aggravated burglaries, bag-snatchings, car-jackings, violent muggings and kidnappings all rose exponentially. A lack of work led to poverty, boredom, stress and anger, and there were rumours of an imminent uprising, which people were calling the Arcadian Spring.

Mr Kazantzakis was the right man for a crisis. Though the business may tilt or even sink partially, he always provided the anchor or ballast required. He was a man you could rely on. Investment cycles were calculated in fifty year terms, and he was the man to ensure long-term returns.

Mr Kazantzakis said to Russell, “But it is not a skilled job. That’s what elevates a task, the level of training and experience. Anyone could walk into this hotel, I could give them a uniform, and they’d be a security guard, and….”

“You are wrong, Mr Kazantzakis,” said Russell. The LGM was stunned. Nobody ever interrupted him.

“I am following a timeless warrior tradition. In ancient Greece there was Achilles, in India there was Arjuna, in China, Lu Tung-Pin, and in Scandinavia, Beowulf. In the Middle Ages there were archers, bowmen and palace guards, all elite soldiers guarding the king. During the American Revolution, marksmen picked off British officers, helping to win battles. In Napoleonic wars, infantry soldiers learnt how to use the Baker rifle, which was slower to load but very accurate. In modern warfare, specialists take Annual Personal Weapons Tests, and must score above 85% of maximum score. They scout and delay the enemy in close combat. They put their lives on the line. Do you not think we deserve to be called professionals?

“What will you do if I don’t promote you? Will you leave?”

Russell pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and laid it on the table. “I will kill you.”

Mr Kazantzakis liked his style. This was a man he could count on in a crisis. He said, “I am not sure if I can change the job spec to professional, but let’s say semi-professional.”

Lifetime GM

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by javedbabar

Because he worked the nightshift, TJ hadn’t seen much of Mr Kazantzakis, who was either in his office or remained in his room. Mr Kazantzakis had run the Lucerne Valley Hotel for twenty years and was scheduled to continue for twenty more. The hospitality industry realized the value of loyalty and required senior employees to commit for life.

Mr Kazantzakis’ title was Lifetime General Manager, but it would be more appropriate to say Working Lifetime General Manager. His contract expired when he hit sixty-five. TJ had once asked him what happened after that.

It was the only time that Mr Kazantzakis had avoided a question. He had turned away from TJ and wiped something from his eye, his snow white hair shook a little, and when he turned back his moustache was wet. TJ never again asked him about his future.

Mr Kazantzakis was a hospitality services professional. He was responsible for all areas of the business – revenue and costs, marketing and sales, effective planning, delegating, coordinating, staffing, organizing, decision making, and other day-to-day operations. He had ultimate authority over the hotel and reported directly to its owner. Mr Kazantzakis managed the management team, created and enforced business objectives, oversaw projects and renovations, and handled emergencies and other issues involving guests, employees, the facility, the media, local government and suppliers. His contract also stated that he had “Many Additional Duties”, whose acronym was MAD.

In his time working there, TJ had only disturbed the LGM four times during the night.

The first time was when a group of friends had booked out the second floor. They had a very noisy party and many guests complained to reception. TJ went up three times to ask them to keep the noise down, but to no avail. He had no choice but to wake Mr Karantzakis. The LGM went up to the second floor, saw that people were having good clean fun, and instead of closing down the party, invited all the other guests along. He said, “You are up now anyway, so you may as well enjoy yourselves.”

The second time was when TJ had double-booked the entire hotel. Four buses pulled in simultaneously and two hundred people poured into the reception area, wanting their rooms. TJ panicked and called the LGM, who sized up the guests, chatted to a few, and declared that this would be a Swinging Sixties weekend, with two couples in every room. It was a good way for people to make new friends; how good was entirely up to them. There were no requests for refunds.

The third time was when police were searching for a murder suspect. A witness said that earlier that night, she had seen the victim entering the Lucerne Valley Hotel. The police wanted to question every guest there. The LGM turned the procedure into a Whodunnit? game for the guests, and loaned the police inspector his chequered jacket and pipe “to look like Sherlock Holmes”. He asked TJ to play Watson.

The fourth time was when a guest slipped in a puddle of beer that he had himself spilt moments earlier, and threatened to sue the hotel. The LGM took the man into his office and that guest was never seen again. Later that night the LGM asked TJ to remove a heavy wet bag from his office, and gave him a packet containing $10,000, which he said was for “Inhospitality services.”

The next morning at 6a.m. TJ heard heavy footsteps coming down the main stairwell. He was tempted to say, “Good morning, Deathtime GM.”