when Vanessa sat down at her computer, a flashing envelope caught her eye. "TRICIA CARSON," it announced, "YOU ARE INVITED."
Vanessa's pulse quickened as she clicked on the envelope. Immediately, a small square of high-sheen paper dropped into the slot below the printer. Vanessa picked it up. Her face split into a huge grin as she read the message. She had won!
Across the hall, Michael Decker received a similar message. "How would you like to move into the Executive Sector? Peres Reno needs you!" Finally! Michael felt a keen sense of arrival wash over him. For so long he'd wondered if staying on after most of the others had left was really such a good idea; now here was proof that maybe the decision had been worthwhile after all. He heard Vanessa's excited squeal, and wondered if she had gotten a miraculous invitation as well.
"Daddy!" she cried, and he heard her run to the dining room.
Michael strode after her. By the time he reached the dining room, Vanessa was seated at the table, a paper clutched in one hand while the other massaged the toes she had stubbed on a cleaning droid again. Her eyes sparkled.
"What is it, honey?" he asked.
She waved the paper in his face. "I won! An all-expenses-paid trip to the main campus in Reno! There's some secretarial position open, and I'm one of the prospects they are considering hiring!"
Michael took the invitation and read it carefully.
"It's addressed to Tricia Carson," he noted.
"So?" Vanessa bobbed her head, "That's still me; oh Daddy—" she finally saw his dubious expression. Her mood dimmed slightly. "Should—should I refuse?" She had never been very good at guessing her father's feelings, even when she did pay attention.
Michael waved his hand. "Oh no, that sounds like a great idea. In fact," he showed her the message he had received on the glass tablet, "I just got promoted to a position in the Executive Sector as well."
"We're going together?" Vanessa grasped her father's hand excitedly.
"It looks that way."
"Let's both accept, then!" She immediately went to the kitchen computer and brought up the message from her screen. She hit the "Accept" button for confirmation. A further message appeared.
"Thank you for your response. A private limousine is on its way from the Peres Motorpool to carry you to your destination. Peres Corporation: The Name To Trust For Instant Gratification And Complete Satisfaction!"
"A private limo!" Vanessa breathed.
Michael confirmed his acceptance of the promotion. He, too, received a message.
"Thank you for your response. Please accept this free, All-Access Bus pass for the Peres Transport Line. Redeemable at any time within 48 hours. Peres Corporation: The Name To Trust For Instant Gratification And Complete Satisfaction!"
Vanessa frowned when she saw it. "You're not coming with me?"
Michael shook his head, "I guess not."
"But—" Vanessa dropped into the armchair. Her chin trembled. "How will I know what to do?"
Michael laid fatherly hands on her shoulders. "Vanessa," he said, "I am sure you'll have plenty of people to tell you where to go and what to do." He kissed her forehead. "And I'm positive they'll all love you."
Vanessa was slow to be convinced. She toyed with a lock of her hair as she asked, "Why did we decide to stay here in the first place?"
"You mean instead of going back to St. Louis with the others?"
Michael chuckled, "You were barely a year old then, I never imagined you'd care much why we stayed. Haven't you had a good life here in Paristown?"
"Oh, no," Vanessa retracted her query quickly, "I mean, it's been fine, and I don't care, really. I just—well," she sighed, "I've just been wondering lately, that's all."
Michael patted his daughter's head. "Sometimes I wonder about that too honey; but God works in mysterious ways, eh?"
Vanessa shrugged. "I guess."
Michael slapped his knee, "Tell you what: let's enjoy ourselves till we leave. We have, what, a day and a half together? Let's make the most of it. What do you say?"
"What should we do?" Vanessa asked.
Michael's eyes twinkled. "Let's go to the beach for the day. How does that sound? We can leave as soon as we're ready today, spend all day Wednesday at the beach, and come back that night in time to catch our rides in the morning."
Vanessa clapped her hands, "Oh, that sounds like a great idea!"
An hour later, Vanessa and Michael rode the public bus out to a privatized strip of beach on the coast of California. Paristown residents could relax under large cabanas and stroll in the cool surf.
Vanessa kicked back in her red bikini and filmy sarong, just beyond the shade of the cover. Michael settled down with an entertainment console.
Vanessa turned to her dad.
"Why do you suppose they sent those?"
Michael switched off the display on the tablet. "Why did who send what?"
Vanessa propped herself on her elbows and fiddled with the seams on her swimsuit. "The promotion from Peres; what do you suppose it means?"
Michael pondered. "Maybe it means better times ahead for Peres. Maybe it means the employees from the old Integra company will have the chance at a better life because one of us finally reached an influential position in the company."
Vanessa let her head hang back. "I just don't know..."
"Vanessa." Her father's voice was sharper now. She looked at him as he frowned at her.
"You listen, now, and you listen good!" He shook a finger at her, "You've gone too far to back away. You can't look back; you can only march forward in the path before you. What have I always said? God helps those who help themselves. If we want Him to work a miracle we can't just sit around and wait for things to happen. We have to make something of the situation, because it's the fate of the company to rise again, and if God tries to get us in and finds us unwilling to seize the day and be successful, well, He'll just throw us aside like last season's fashion and use someone else. Would you want to be known as the Girl God Discarded because she wouldn't do what she was meant to do?"
"No!" Vanessa knew the right answer to that question. "I just—" she huffed and laid back against the chair. She hated when her dad got all "It's your destiny!" like this. "Do you really think this is what God wants us to do?"
Michael shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Within his heart a small voice insisted on reminding him, "If I had done what God wanted me to do, we would not have had to make this choice!" But he never let his daughter see the doubts.
"I would have told you if I thought it wasn't," he countered. “I chose to stay because I knew that the decent job that I have here with Peres would be better than trying to scrape together a living in who-knows-where, Missouri! Peres is on the up-tick, Vanessa!” He nudged his daughter’s shoulder.
She did not appear convinced, “Not so loud, Daddy!”
Michael chuckled, “President Xavier is the herald of a new age, Tricia,” he placed special emphasis on her pseudonym, just to be sure. “There has never been a company in this nation’s history as successful and prosperous as Peres. Trust me, we’ll be fine.” He returned to his vidscreen.
Vanessa sighed and closed her eyes again. Vision of the life they would soon be able to afford danced across her mind’s eye. Perhaps they made the right choice after all.
The next morning, the Deckers returned home and packed small bags of mementoes before leaving, as the invitations had assured them that everything else would be provided in Reno.
Vanessa's limo was first to arrive.
She embraced her father warmly. "I guess I'll see you there," she said.
Michael struggled to restrain the tears as he embraced her. "Oh, if only your mother could see you now," he choked. Father and daughter locked eyes. "This is it," Michael said, "Once you leave this house there won't be anyone to call you Vanessa. You'll be Tricia Carson from now on."
Vanessa gulped, "I know," she sighed.
"Good luck, my girl."
"You too, Daddy."
Michael sighed and boarded the bus for Reno. He saw several other men on board with him, even a few neighbors.
"Hey Mike!" one of them, a dark-haired man a bit younger than Michael, called, and waved him to an open seat next to him. "You got the summons, too? Oh, this is great!"
Michael smiled at the man's enthusiasm. "Thanks, Ferdinand."
The man raised a finger with a twinkle in his aquamarine eyes, "I told you, Mike, call me Ferdy, like everyone else. Say, did they tell you what position you'll fill?"
Mike shook his head, "Just something referring to the skills I have from my old job."
Ferdy casually withdrew a time-release capsule of kopetrine, the modern drug that had replaced many old recreational drugs, since it was cleaner, stronger and more pleasing. He popped it in his mouth as he continued talking.
"What was your old job? What did you do before Peres?"
Mike shrugged, "I was a security technician."
"You know, because sec-tech is usually decades behind regular technology. I would be working on Blue TV's and computers that broke down."
Ferdy almost spit his pill. "Computers? Dag, I didn't know people still used those things!"
Mike shrugged, "Some people couldn't afford the changes in technology, or they didn't want to have to relearn the manipulables, so they call people like me to rig the old system to be able to work with the new."
Ferdy shook his head, "You must be older than you look, Mike; I still can't picture you using an actual computer."
Mike smiled and patted his perm—a new kind of anti-aging appearance modifier that kept the hair looking the exact same color, all the way down to the roots. It was almost like having a natural hairpiece.
"I try," he told his friend, whose eyes had rolled back in their sockets as the kopetrine took effect.