CLEANROOM VICES • by S. Hutson Blount

Kurt Gasman hurried home to his wife, eyes on every moving shadow and flicker of light. The whisper of his oversuit distracted him, gave him false clues that he was being watched, maybe followed. He had to cross the Vice District, and that didn’t help. Gasman had filters, and his oversuit was good for another day at least, but why risk it?

The vice district was too well lit to be hidden; all that remained was to stay inconspicuous. The bundle under his arm could have been anything. Wrapped tightly in Impermex, it had a clean cert badge right where everyone could see. There was no reason he should have been stopped. They had better things to do in the Vice District.

Lots of people who’d paid out for an indulgence wanted everyone to know. The slop shops catered to the exhibitionists, too. The lights were for them.

Restaurants lined the walkways and bikeways, big fishbowl-fronted affairs that let those so inclined eat right out where they could be seen. Gasman tried to ignore a family of five sitting in a streetside dome window, gathered around a pizza the size of a billiard table. They’d saved up big, not just for the squandered food, but for what they were doing to it. The kids were taking handfuls and shoveling them in, throwing hot string cheese and sauce, generally making a disaster out of the place. The parents looked on, happy, their faces messy too.

Gasman forced himself to look away, concentrating on remaining calm. The germs! He could imagine them in their billions…

A rail-mounted drone coasted by, above the walkway. He couldn’t see the IR searchlights that lit up his face and clean certs, but he knew the Public Hygiene drone was looking. He didn’t give it any reason to stop him.

The Vice District and its filth were behind him, finally. Gasman stopped at a public fogger, just to be safe. He dipped his hands into the enclosure, let the ethylene oxide mist kill anything on his oversuit gloves. With the booth’s hose, he did the same thing to his disposable overshoes, killing whatever they’d picked up from the filthy, filthy street. He cleaned the outside of the package, as well. It would make appearances even more perfectly normal.

Home, finally. Gasman was glad to see the familiar warm lights of the house. He stepped into the clean lock, stripped away his oversuit, overshoes, and gloves and placed them, inside out, into the incinerator chute. He waited with eyes closed for the UV to do its trick, then walked in his front door.

“Kurt? Is that you?” Karyn’s voice was distant. “I’ll be right out. I missed you!”

“Me too, hon.” Gasman set down his bundle on the dining room table, carefully peeling away the forged clean cert and the yards of tape holding the Impermex shut. The contents hadn’t been too beaten up for all their travels.

“Ooh, what’s that?” Karyn said. She emerged from the bathroom still rubbing in sanitizer gel. “Sunflowers! Do you want to arrange them over the — ” Gasman watched the realization spread over his wife’s features. “What is that smell?” she said.

“Yes, they’re real.” Gasman kept his voice very neutral.

“You’re out of your mind,” Karyn snapped. “What makes you think we can afford a home indulgence at this time of the year?”

Gasman stepped behind her, putting Karyn between him and the raw, natural things lying in their plastic sheets on the table. “I don’t. I didn’t. I didn’t get one, I mean.” He touched his wife’s tightly bound-up hair.

“So you want us to get fined? Arrested?” Karyn didn’t seem to notice the touches. “Oh shit, those things have pollen! We’re probably breathing it now! You are going to get us new house filters.” She crossed her arms, defensively. She backed up against him without meaning to, unwilling to turn away from the biological threat.

“They grow them in manure, you know,” Kurt whispered into Karyn’s ear. “They might have… aphids. Mites. Nematode worms. They might be infested.

Karyn Gasman shuddered. Her breathing deepened. Her eyes widened as she took in the implications of the things in her house.

“They’re filthy,” she said, flushing again.

“Yes,” Kurt said.

“Oh God.”

Kurt inhaled his wife’s perfume. She smelled like rubbing alcohol. “You like?” he asked.

“Pick up those disgusting, filthy flowers,” Karyn said, “and rub them on me!”

They ran off, laughing, to the pristine whiteness of their bedroom, trailing sunflower petals.

S. Hutson Blount is an ex-sailor and full time househusband living in Alameda, California. Yes, with the “nuclear wessels”.

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