Stan stood looking into the washroom mirror. The fluorescent lamps seemed to flicker in time with the drone of the exhaust fans. His eyes bagged, the left sitting only slightly better in its socket than the right. Already, the effects of his latest round of PharmaFacial were wearing off. Even at thirty-one years old, Stan had better skin that most forty year-olds. It was an odd fact, since Stan hadn’t been able to participate in recommended PharmaFacial schedules because of his type 7A allergen status. It had only been four years since PharmaFacial and its generic derivatives had been approved for 7A compliance.
Stan rubbed the left eye socket and grabbed a toothbrush.
“Cold. Level 5” he intoned to the mirror – an oral cue for the computer-regulated plumbing to spew a stream of purified water clean enough to wet the bristles. “Burst. 4.” he followed after a pause for the voicereq to respond.
“Updates pending. Would you like to install now?” queried a neutral, metallic female voice, sounding the red letters that scrolled across the reflection of Stan’s patchy stubble.
Stan nodded an assent, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The antimicrobial coating on the floor tiles always made him uneasy. A solid blue progress bar slide across the mirror, marking the installation of a new batch of code. Stan lowered his brush to receive his four-second burst of level 5 purified water. Once the progress bar had finished painting its three-second tail across the glass, a new window opened center screen.
“Good Day,” began a voice not quite in sync with the pale lips of the androgynous interface avatar. “Before proceeding , we must notify you of some recent changes to your water quality,” the voice continued. On the left side of the mirror, a column of text faded into view. The paragraphs ran up the screen to seemingly disappear into the bag under Stan’s baggy left eye. The voice droned on, interrupting Stan’s focus on the scrolling text. Of course, the font was so small and the scroll rate so fast that it was not humanly possible to read and digest the various legal disclaimers and ordinance compliance figures that required citizen notification.
“Recent data have shown significant increases in protein levels in the Chesapeake watershed. Such levels are typically associated with a Rotofest contamination. The protein levels associated with this Rotofest are not threatening to consumer health. Regardless, containment of foreign protein levels will be managed with standard SECA hunter meds to guarantee safety of the watershed and its various customers. Again, neither the protein levels, nor hunter med dosage levels are significant to pose any problems in allergen levels 1 through low-6. Clinical studies showed reports of potential side effects of SECA strand-9 hunter meds including dry mouth….”
“Mute!” yelled Stan. “Shit!” Stan’s type 7 allergen level meant that his tap water, even at a level 5 purification, was all but lethal to him now. His last experience with a SECA strand-9 hunter had left him virtually comatose for four days. “Acknowledge,” Stan dismissed the myriad safety warnings and disclaimers from the screen.
Stan hung his head and stared at his thumbs as he tightened his grip on the stainless steel sink basin. “What a way to start the day,” he thought. Stan sighed. He looked again at his reflections. Dark eyes stared out at him from a gray face. The reflection look paler now. Whether from the dead lighting of the screen, or the added stress from the Rotofest, Stan didn’t know.
“Cold. Level Pure. Burst. One.” Stan Cringed as he dialed in the request for a quick dose of ultra-pure water. The cost for brushing his teeth this morning would probably add six hours to his already heavy workweek. “BigBoy,” Stan answered the security query of the glass to authorize charging his account.
Deep in the ground below his apartment, Stan imagined the grumbling as the purification cycle surged to life. A small stream of crimson liquid bled like thinned blood from the tap and slowly grew to a hissing jet of boiling red fluid. A few seconds later, the color faded to a rusty yellow as the disinfectant diluted down the drain. Finally, the faucet spat a quick burst of bright green water and then stopped suddenly. Stan held his brush under the tap. Finally, a stream of crystal blue water flowed out onto the nylon bristles. Only too quickly, it stopped.
Stan tore the child protection tab from the tube of paste and lay a line across the ridge of the bristles. He threw the empty packet into the trash and released the foot lever to close the lid of the can. He brought the brush to his mouth hesitantly. While a typical Rotofest was quite deadly and even a small dose of Strand-9 could kill him, water this pure had no protective chemicals whatsoever. It was devoid of meds, contaminants, bacteria , and viruses. If he waited too long before brushing, the microbes in the washroom could infect the water enough to sicken him. But, more unsettling to Stan than the potential danger was the taste of it. Pure, unprotected water always reminded him of a cake with no salt — there was something missing. This water left and unfinished taste in his mouth.