“It was those luddites,” Heldeb grumbled. “They’ve got themselves some new old-fashioned contraption. An impossibly loud one.”
These remarks were directed toward a nebrium-plated breakfast droid, which, detecting Heldeb’s frustration, extended two shiny pseudopods to rub his temples.
“Gich is a forward-thinking planet,” Heldeb continued. “We have the greatest scientists in the Dabalrlaba Sector. Our technology is envied throughout outer space.” He stared into the breakfast droid’s optical sensor. “I heard a joke the other day: What does an unemployed Gicher get his grandmother for her 250th birthday?”
The breakfast droid stared back.
“A bathode co-deprocessor!”
Heldeb forced a stifled chuckle. The droid did not react. Heldeb coughed, frowned, sighed.
“I know, it’s an unfair stereotype. But the point is valid: There’s no place for luddites in Gicher culture. Those women would be happier on Hed, living in the jungle, hunting raptorshives for dinner. Down here they’re just a nuisance.”
The breakfast droid, sensing that its duties would be somewhat protracted on this particular morning, began to extrude an additional sausage link.
“I sound like an old fogey, don’t I? So quick to decry the luddism of youth. I’m sure I would have been as excited as they are about that antique robot when I was their age. Of course, when I was their age, that robot wouldn’t have been an antique.”
Heldeb accepted the sausage and took a tiny bite. His distant look, his zestless chewing, the dilation of his pupils and his dual heartrates: The breakfast droid recorded all these data, analyzed and synthesized them, and concluded that it was necessary to brew 71% of a cup of coffee.
“I guess…” Heldeb set his fork on the plate. His eyes lit up. The breakfast droid executed a quick recalculation. He gritted his teeth, picked up his fork. He sighed. He set his fork down again. The droid emitted an inaudible screech.
“That’s what it is. Those girls just remind me of how old I am. They remind me of how lame I was, when I was their age. And they have each other.”
Now Heldeb looked up, across the room, at a framed holocameo, covered with a black veil and draped by red Himmerian lilies. The lilies had been dusted with solid malgesite: They would never pale, never wilt. The holocameo would last forever, too, but in recent years Heldeb rarely lifted the black veil.
The breakfast droid decided to print an extra coffee cup, just in case. Heldeb turned toward the window. The luddites’ habi-dome was a refracted congeries of shimmering shapes. It would be unrecognizable to anyone who didn’t have to look at it every day.
“Maybe I’m the one who should move,” said Heldeb. “Maybe, if things were different, I could be a different person. Maybe I could be happier.”
The breakfast droid absorbed these thoughts in silence. Heldeb sipped his coffee. It was perfect.
“Thanks, breakfast droid,” he said.
There was no need for the droid to respond, and it did not.