by C. M. Teodorescu
1. Spin happy. S. can not read, but he can recognize the sign. It can be seen everywhere on the walls. Above the entrance to the Great Welfare Institution. Above the counter where he waits in line to get his Food – a brown cube wrapped in plastic. Spin happy. Someone told him once that the sign is in Chinese, but he does not know whether Chinese is a dialect, a religion, a way of life or a Doctrine (in fact, he is not sure about the difference between these four things). What he does know is that if you do not spin, you will not be happy. For now, S. unwraps the cube of Food and bites into it. He chews slowly. The Food is sweet and very good. Food is very good. Food…
His feet are not hurting anymore. He has started to spin. The muscles are tense, his tendons taut. He spins and he is happy. When he feels the need, he takes another bite from the Food. He keeps his eyes closed, and savors the images that come up. A twisting road on gently rolling hills. S. walks with H.E.R. They stop under the shade of a tree. Birds are singing above. A babbling brook can be heard nearby. S. puts his head in H.E.R. lap. S. is happy.
2. A well-trained and doped individual can produce five hundred watts for eight hours. In total, four kilowatt-hour, which allows the continuous operation of a factory machine for this entire time. The Food he receives contains about five thousand kilocalories. In total, the energy produced by the invididual considered is the equivalent of three thousand four hundred forty kilocalories, which gives an efficiency quotient of almost seventy percent. Not to count that the Food is made in proportion of sixty percent of recycled waste.
3. S. rides his bike. He rides and is happy. Or almost happy. The dream is breaking up. He chews the last bites of Food, and watches the timer : just a little more time and the day will be over. He can not dream anymore, the effect of the Food is fading away. It is always harder near the end.
S. always wanted to own a bicycle. Chinese. (Life style? Doctrine?) He also wanted a tricycle, with multiple seats. He could have made more money with it, carting people around, Food packages or other stuff from place to place. And besides, this way he would cycle (truthfully) more happily.
The bell rings. The day has ended. He gets up, extracts the ticket from the Spinning Machine, punches it (otherwise he can not exit the Welfare Institute), and walks out staggering, and feeling a heartburn. Near the exit, Good People on Duty wearing caps are looking at him with close set slanted eyes, tearful, and compassionate.
4. The parents of S. were relatively well-to-do, they had two Cars, but S. had many brothers and sisters. His father loved his daughters, he sold the Car to give them dowry, and the mother loved the first two sons, and she sent them to university (after selling the Car). Nothing remained for S. and his younger brothers. Just like there is no more Food left in the stomach after you are done spinning. Moreover, the parents kicked them out from home, saying that they could not keep them anymore.
So it was that S. ended up spinning happy.
He hoped for a long time that he will win the Golden Pedal – the annual prize for the individual who produced the most kilowatt-hours – but there were twenty thousand others in the city who were hoping the same thing. Then he thought that, every day after he is done spinning, he should go looking for a Job on the street. But this turned out to be impossible, since every time he got up from the Spinning Machine, he was dead tired, and so hungry that he could think of nothing but of sleeping.
5. The Spinning Machine is a devilish contraption in which he lies almost down, the Pedals have a very long ride, and are made such that they exert the foot muscles at the maximum.
S. takes another bite from the Food, chews, swallows. Closes his eyes. He expects to become happy, so he can start to spin. But he doesn’t see anything, doesn’t hear anything, just the heavy breathing of the people spinning around him. He tries to spin without being happy, but it doesn’t work. He concentrates more.
But it is no good.
You can not spin if you are not happy.
And then, for the first time, S. gets up from the Spinning Machine and walks out of the Hall, sneaking under the barrier at the entrance, without being seen by the Good Man on Duty, who is busy at that morning hour reading the newspaper. A Chinese newspaper.
Outside it is drizzling and he is wearing short pants, which show off his strong muscular calves. He walks away from the Welfare Institution and tries to find a place where he can find shelter from rain. He knows that tonight he will not have the ticket, and will not have a place to sleep. But he doesn’t think about it too much now.
He hasn’t been out in the city for a long time. He takes refuge under a roof, and eats all the Food at once. Maybe something will happen, maybe he will be able to return to the Hall, and spin to be happy.
But he doesn’t feel anything, even if he closes his eyes.
There was something wrong with today’s Food.
He feels how the energy spreads around his entire body, and without intention he tenses his muscles until they are stretched like steel fibers.
6. A small red Car stops next to him, splattering him with rain water. The driver, a woman, asks him :
“Are you busy?”
“No,” he replies.
The woman looks appreciatively at his legs.
“Come with me,” she says.
S. climbs into the Car. He looks at the woman at the wheel. Beautiful and dressed in expensive clothes. She looks like one of his sisters. The woman takes her feet off the pedals. S. understands. He steps on the pedals in front of his seat and presses down. The Car pulls off with a start.
“Take it easy, until we are out of the city,” says the woman.
S. obeys. He thinks that driving a Small Car is much easier than working at the Spinning Machine without being happy.
The woman drives the Car towards the city limit. The rain stopped. She asks him what is his name. The city is well behind them. S. presses the pedals to the floor, using all the energy he is capable of. The woman jumps in her seat. Of pleasure.
“Ninety kilometers per hour,” she exclaims. “I never drove this fast. What do you do? Do you have Work?” She asks quickly.
“I spin and I am happy at the Welfare Institute.”
“Don’t you want to spin happy for me? I can offer you food, a house, maybe also some pocket money…”
“Of course I want.”
7. The woman lives in the nearby city. Alone. S. steps into her house. She looks at the meter.
“Why don’t you spin some fifty watt-hour. Just enough to grind some coffee and play some music.”
Fifty watt-hour takes S. exactly five minutes.
“All right. You do drink coffee, don’t you?”
S. drinks coffee. With plenty of sugar. It is somewhat better than the Food. Then the woman turns on the music. S. spins a bit more, and then the woman sits next to him. She touches his legs.
“They look as if they are made of steel, she says. He knew it.”
She wraps her arms around his neck. S. holds her in his arms. A beautiful woman. She looks like one of his sisters. He kisses her.
“I will be so happy with you,” she sighs.
S. realizes that he can be happy also without spinning too much.
8. The woman introduced him to all her friends as her fiancée. The woman is very rich. S. ate all sorts of things which are thousand times more tasty than the Food. S. walks with HER in the park, or spins the Car all day long. They drive to the forest, a twisting road on gently rolling hills. They stop the Car under a tree, and hold each other while listening to the sound of a brook (see above) and the birds.
9. All of a sudden a bird opens her beak. He saw it clearly (had he waited for it?). It makes a strident croaking noise. Although numbed with a sensation that everything is previsible, he felt, again, how the sky crashed down on him.
How many times before has he felt this sickening sensation of a receding dream, how many times has he experienced being torn away from a reality he was desperately clinging to?
You know the feeling, right?
What does it feel like, when you die?
He opens the eyes. He sees the timer, a fragment of Food nearby. (Is there anything else to add?) He will not fall asleep on an empty stomach tonight. He chews the Food left over, and swallows it. He extracts the ticket from the Spinning Machine and walks towards the exit. On the way he registers slanted and compassionate eyes. And the sign on the wall, which he can not read, but he can recognize it any time.
Cristian-Mihail Teodorescu was born in Bucharest in 1966. He graduated in 1990 at the University of Bucharest, Department of Physics. In 1990 he earned a PhD in Chemical Physics at the University of Paris Sud, Orsay. Several research positions in France, Germany, and UK. He is currently Research Scientist 1 (eq. of a full Professor) in the National Institute of Materials Physics, Bucharest-Magurele. About 100 scientific papers published, about 700 citations, Hirsch index 16. He started writing science fiction short stories in the early 1980’s, achieved several publications before 1990 and earned the National Prize for Short Story in 1987. He published two short stories collections SF one in 2008 and SF two in 2010, while SF three is currently compiled. Several unpublished novels. Two major Romanian prizes earned in 2010 and 2011. Apart from thar he is President of the Romanian Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, the main non-profit organization centred on science fiction culture in Romania.