Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong. His website is http://matthewharrison.hk/.

 

Sold

by Matthew Harrison

 

This was Ron Brewer’s big moment. He had made his fortune, he wanted to spend it, and there through the window of the hover-cruiser was the house of his dreams, brilliant in the afternoon sun.

Ron stopped the cruiser, and opened the door for his wife Tina.

Getting out, Tina blinked at the brightness. The splendid double-fronted house stood in its own landscaped garden; a small fountain played in the center of the pond. “Are you sure, Ron?” she said.

“It’s something I want to do,” Ron said simply. Why did he need to explain everything to her?

“Well, you’ve earned it,” Tina said, in a voice that suggested he hadn’t. And, really, what had Ron done to earn his fortune? A derivatives trader, he’d happened to be in position when someone else’s algorithm went crazy. But what really grieved Tina was that they were spending the money on such an old place.

“Couldn’t we—?” she began. But it was too late. A plump bespectacled estate agent had appeared, literally out of nowhere, and was hailing them.

“Welcome! Welcome!” the agent cried. “Welcome to historic Residence Brewer!” He waved an arm at the house.

Ron let the sight absorb him. It was his grandparents’ old home. In the sunshine the white paint dazzled, mirrored in the pond which was itself circled by a white-pebbled drive. The fountain scattered a fine mist which lent an ethereal quality to the scene. It all shimmered in the light.

Ron felt a lump in his throat. He wiped his eyes.

The estate agent was talking quickly. “Timeshares,” he was saying as he ushered them into the hall, “timeshares are the smart way to do property nowadays. We’ve got a range of slots available, the entire month of November—”

“I don’t want a share,” Ron said quietly.

“Oh, Ron,” Tina said.

“Then there’s perspectives,” the agent hurried on. “We can do you a nice ultraviolet for—let me see” (he consulted his smartwatch) “for the whole summer—no, I have to firm up on August, but definitely two months.”

“Ultraviolet?” Tina exclaimed.

“Oh, you just swap it back into visible light,” the agent explained cheerily. “I believe your husband is an expert in that sort of thing, Mrs. Brewer. Just a small premium, a very liquid market. Or perhaps you prefer infrared?”

Ron stepped into the hallway. The staircase mounted ahead of him, then divided, curving luxuriously away on either side to the landing above. The polished oak floor shone. Even the smell of the place brought back childhood memories. They had kept it well.

“I don’t want perspectives,” he said. His eyes were misting up again. “I want the whole thing.”

The agent frowned. “I tell you what, Mr. Brewer, we could do you an interpolation job. There’s our Regular Experience, sampling reality at fifty-millisecond intervals. With auto-generation in between you feel as if you’re really there, and it’s a very good price.” He laughed. “Beware of imitations!”

“Ronnie, that would be more reasonable,” Tina urged.

“I’ll hold it for you,” the agent went on. “We always advise our clients to try Regular first. There’s some adjustment, you know, for the eyes.” He waved a plump hand across his own face, “But you soon get used to it. Later, you could consider upgrading to Premium. At twenty-millisecond intervals that’s as clear as you want, although it does cost.”

“But treat yourself,” he added generously, “I’m sure your wife would like it.” He glanced at Tina for support.

Tina was watching Ron. She saw that it would be no use. Once Ron had set his heart on something, that was it.

Resignedly, she asked the estate agent, “What would it cost to buy the whole thing?”

“The whole thing?” the agent repeated. It seemed that this was beyond his programming. “The whole thing? We don’t often get calls for that.”

He looked at them from one to the other. “You’re sure you don’t want Regular? I could give you an even better price…”

Tina shook her head.

The agent’s default algorithms took over. “Seriously, the whole thing’s expensive.” He laughed. “You wouldn’t believe how expensive. You see, you’d have to buy out all the other interests. A property like this, it’s not just sitting here. Every attribute is used.”

Tina looked at her husband. “I think we understand that, don’t we, Ron?”

Her husband nodded.

The agent blew out his cheeks. “Well, if you say so. But I want to make it clear. You’d have to pay a premium to break some of the leases that have been granted on this property.” He gestured through the doorway into the lounge. “There are interpolation clients in there, even as we speak. You’d have to buy them all out.”

Ron looked. The lounge with its cream-coloured leather sofas seemed empty, yet although he knew nothing could be seen with the naked eye, he thought he made out a momentary shape, as if of someone walking across the room. Across his room.

“Fine,” he said. “Buy them out.”

As if a switch had been flicked, the agent stopped his patter. He made a gesture; a hologram formed in the hall. To the accompaniment of 3D graphics and light chamber music, the agent took the couple through the various interests in the property—spatial, temporal, sensory, perceptual—and the clients who had leased those interests and at what price.

He showed them the total. It was an extremely large sum. While Tina looked on glumly, Ron called his lawyer to check the details. Then he signed the contract and the risk acknowledgment, and submitted to retinal verification. The money passed out of his bank account, and the deal was done.

“Now,” said the agent, talkative again as he cut the holo, “you have a cooling-off period, during which you can still withdraw—lovely property though it is. We want to make sure you appreciate all the ins and outs.”

He lowered his voice. “We’ve covered the legitimate interests. But there’s also, how shall I put it? the less legitimate interests.”

Tina’s eyes widened. “Squatters?!

The estate agent winced. “We don’t like to use that word, madam. But I’m afraid with a property as desirable as this, there’s inevitably pseudo-resumption, distributed denial of occupancy, that kind of thing. Of course, if you were to be here physically…”

“We’ll be here,” Ron said.

“Splendid!” the agent said. “Well, so long as you’re completely happy with everything. Full disclosure, that’s my motto! Honesty is the best policy.” And he shook hands with the couple.

Then he sped off down the drive, rounded a hedge and there, being out of sight of the house, vanished. The house seemed to waver slightly.

Ron turned to Tina. “We’ve made it, darling. A dream come true.” And dutifully he embraced his wife. But he was having trouble getting the house into focus. It must have been the sun, he thought.

Funnily enough, Tina was finding the house a bit blurry too. But since she was doing her best to congratulate her husband she didn’t think about that.

And though in the end their eyes did get used to it, the most genuine thing about the whole deal turned out to be the money that Ron had paid out of his bank account.

 

Copyright 2014 by Matthew Harrison