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PROMISE ME THE MOON AND THE STARS
I work the night shift so it's easier for them to get me.
"Hiya Max. What's up?"
"Not too much, Mark," I say. "Just woke up."
"Oh, shit, sorry--I forgot, the night shift."
"S'okay, hadda get up anyway."
"So what have you been up to lately?" Mark said. It sounded like he was eating something.
"Went to a movie yesterday with Flora."
"Oh yeah! The girl...well, how's it going with her?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. I didn't get any signals, so I didn't..."
"Aw man!' Mark chastised. "Forget that crap, Just Do It!"
My stomach dropped. I had known Mark since third year at college. Five years. But I continued, just to be sure. "What about you? What you been up to?" I tried to sound distracted, casual.
"Aw, not much. We were supposed to go to this restaurant yesterday but then I saw the prices. We went to McDonald's instead. Hey, have you tried the McSoyburger? It's really--"
I slammed the phone down. Bastard. I mean, sloganeering is one thing, but a fucking product endorsement? I brought up his name on the phone and told it to block all future calls.
I thought back to the last time we had lunch. He had picked up the tab. I was surprised--he'd just been laid off. Don't worry about it, your nuts and berries don't cost that much, he said.
That was another thing--there's no way he would have eaten a McSoyburger! He was always veggie bashing, despite the few friends it made him. One in four people didn't eat meat, for Christ's sake, it was a significant demographic‹
That's when it all made sense. He would have stood to make a bundle if he could have pulled it off--a product placement with a member of the target demographic. It would have been worth a lot if he was working for one of the new personal marketing startups. More than our friendship, I guessed, and with a heavy heart I erased him from my speed dial.
I missed Mark. He was, in a way, my only tangible link to the average person on earth. I didn't trust anyone who trusted the corporations. Flora and I had a bitter fight after I told her I couldn't bear another movie about soda pop choices and the young people who make them.
I got involved more deeply with a group of malcontents called the Harmless Cranks that met every week. When the news about AT+T's A Big Step For Mankind campaign reached our stuffed ears--none of us enjoyed infotainment‹we took it hard. But preparations were made.
The AT+T people said that the billion dollars it was donating to the special children fund would spark a billion smiles. They said if they didn't do it, someone else would do it anyway. Murphy Brown, in her straightforward manner, explained that carpet-bombing the moon would actually go a long way in making it habitable for humans.
One of us Harmless Cranks had a job safety testing personal shuttles. They didn't have weapons, unfortunately, but another one of us said quietly that he might be able to jerry-rig some disrupters. We nodded without smiling. It was not exciting, this project, it was numbingly dreadful. But it needed to be done. I agreed to coordinate the first wave. I would not live in a place where night was sponsored by a telecommunications company, its logo glowing yellow-white over all future midnight rendezvous. No.
***My mom gave me the news. It had been tied up in the courts for months and I had hoped the campaign would die a horrible death."Now I know you're upset, dear, but if it wasn't them it'd be Coke or Pepsi or McDonalds or something. Plus, that billion dollars will go a long way. Remember those kids born with cancer?"
"The ones with the parents who worked at the cell phone factory?" I said dully.
"Yes, Sony, I believe. Was it Sony, dear? I can't remember..."
I didn't say anything for a second. Then got up. Looked through the closet for my suitcase. There it was.
"It was the one with the little jingle, 'Forward, forward to the future world!' Yes, well, how has it been at work, dear?"
I scanned the contents of my silvery suitcase, wondering if she got extra money for singing the damn thing. Probably. "Work's been fine. But I've got more healthy concerns now, like protecting the moon from hateful, filthy bloodsuckers."
I snapped the suitcase closed, listening for my mom's reaction. I could hear her breathing. I hefted the suitcase in one hand. Plutonium cells were heavier than they looked!
Slyly, I said, "So I'll leave the phone off the hook so you can register a few more product endorsements, OK?"
"Oh, thank you dear," she said, tittering nervously. "It's just that things have been so tight recently, with the payments doubled up. Microsoft, Microsoft, Microsoft, Micro‹"
My suspicion confirmed, I hung up immediately. I had a sudden, irrational image of Mom stealing the coins from my dead eyes.
For neatness's sake, I blocked her, then erased her from my speed dial. I couldn't remember what her face looked like. Then I pressed the only button left.
The Harmless Cranks.
"George's Carpet Cleaning Service," Romano answered guardedly.
"Max here." I took a breath. "It's tim