The Sliding Queen of Canterbury by Christopher Flowers

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SUMMARY: Advertising is inescapable. For Holcomb, a man reeling from an early morning collision on a remote highway, this is a lesson learned the hard way.

Holcomb had trouble recalling specifics, but he remembered that the past had, in fact, existed.

When it surfaced in his mind, brooding and patient as a crocodile concealed by the murk, he was inclined to think that it had always been awash with soothing blues and dramatic violets—glimpsed in perfectly symmetrical fragments—as he now saw everything else in the world.

He stood at the edge of the soybean field and marveled at its efficiency. The plants hugged the ground in narrow rows that stretched toward the dark horizon, like green fingers searching for the pulse of the Earth

In the distance, Holcomb saw the mantis claws of a harvester stabbing the ground in the moonlight. Swirling plumes of burgundy dust rose in an ethereal haze. The harvester tossed the plants in parabolic arcs as it inched forward, providing just enough height and velocity for the uprooted flora to land flatly in the steel container that trailed the bulk of the machine.

His left ear twitched. Interlink signals entered his temporal lobe and moved unobstructed through the occipital and parietal before settling like ball bearings in his corpus callosum. Involuntarily, he began grinning.

"Rescue crews are on the way," the sterile voice of his regulator reminded him. "Please, remain calm. Consider the ice cream."

His tongue went limp.

Vanilla, chocolate, Rocky Road, Pralines ‘n Cream: his stomach grumbled and he resisted the manufactured notion that he was hungry.

Ironically, it was his gut that told him that he was sick of ice cream. He would never openly admit this, though, because he was exceedingly grateful for his current position as Lead Taster.

"Consider," his regulator said in a firmer voice, the synthetic pang less noticeable, "the ice cream."

Glistening images of soft serve overcame the rebellious tendencies of his neurons, and he lowered himself into the undergrowth that lined the shoulder of scenic US 441. The smell of melting plastic—the burning wreckage of his car, which had been slowly reduced to nothing more than whistling Polyethylene, tried to communicate with his regulator. The automobile tried vainly to inform the fourth generation processor wedged just beneath Holcomb's scalp that his car was on fire; it tried to remind the precisely positioned transistors that it was no longer a finely crafted biodiesel three-wheel.

Instead, its signals were overridden by manifestations of healthy men in white coats smiling courteously. With outstretched arms, they swooned over that which humanity had come to covet like nothing else—Country Fresh ® Synthetic Dairy Products. This pleased Holcomb, and the translucent image of the outside world before him quickly melted.

"One taste, and you'll agree" the soda shop clerk declared cheerily, "Country Fresh can't be beat."

Holcomb jolted in his place among the weeds and pulled his knees close to his chest. His lips trembled as his regulator reminded him of the nearest Country Fresh distributor.

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