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Before and After the Party

by Rudi Dornemann

Clara said she would do the final tidying herself. The apartment's cleaning cycle wouldn't finish before six, and that left less than an hour to decorate before the guests arrived.

The living room sang a chime of agreement; dust mice scuttled back into the baseboards.

While Clara cleared coffee table clutter, previewed panoramas on the walls, and pushed chairs into configurations that opened the floor for dancing without blocking easy passage to and from the kitchen, the local sun belched a wave of X-rays.

Some radiation made it through the city shield, but microscopic machines in Clara's blood repaired the damage almost as quickly as it occurred, re-knitting DNA and patching leaky cell membranes. She put her feet up on the hassock for a minute, drank a lemonade the kitchen gave her, then realized it was later than she thought, and jumped up to change clothes.

The apartment was ready in time -- so was Clara -- and the party was a great success. Richard was there, and Mary Maddox. The McClellans, the Spenders, the Rosseters -- they were all there.

No one noticed when, sometime after ten, another storm of X-rays overwhelmed the shield and outstripped the nanomachines' ability to heal. Clara just had time to feel a wave of nausea before relays clicked in the walls and everyone was loaded up to their virtual backups in computers miles underground.

Radiation baked the city and seared the dying bodies of its inhabitants. (Clara lay in the doorway to the kitchen, one hand extended toward Richard.) The little mouse robots were busy all night with the ashes.

At dawn, when all the levels were safe and green, tiny machines wafted through the city like smoke, rebuilding from memory everything right where it should be. Relays clicked and everyone was loaded back into new-built bodies.

Clara woke and stretched, watching dust drift through a blade of sunlight that came in past the curtain, dust which, the morning before, had been her eyes. She got up, and asked the house to buy her flowers. The house chimed in answer.

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