“It’s been on all the screens, Murray. Where have you been?”
Murray chewed the remnants of another uninspiring lunch.
“Sometimes I wonder about you,” Bernard continued, “Do you turn off your Explique?”
“This Explique has not been turned off in 32 days, 14 hours, six minutes and 45 seconds,” responded Murray’s Explique.
Murray finished chewing and took a large swallow of water.
Bernard Checks shook his head with his trademark hint of derision. “You need to keep up with these things. These are historic times we live in. At long last each of us will contribute to the fullest extent possible.”
“I guess I thought we already did,” responded Murray as he raised another square of meat meal toward his lips.
“Really? You thought the creativity of our leadership was exhausted?” quipped Bernard.
Murray maintained a blank stare as he chewed.
“Well, I for one am glad we’ve uncovered the last remaining dodge of the social slacker,” continued Bernard, “Do you know the damage that can occur with one of those storms?”
Murray started to respond with food in his mouth inspiring another derisive glance from his companion. When he’d finally swallowed, he wiped his mouth.
“How again can we be blamed for the storms?” asked Murray, nearly wincing from the aggressive response he expected.
“Surely you don’t doubt the rationale?” Bernard snapped.
“No, I’m not doubting it, I’m just not sure I understand it,” Murray responded.
“It’s the butterfly effect. How could it be clearer than that?” Bernard barked.
Murray stared for a moment, then retrieved his fork. As he raised another bite, his face screwed up in a mixture of confusion and doubt. “But you don’t have to have a butterfly, right?”
Bernard dropped his fork on his plate hoping it would create more sound than it did. He looked at Murray for a moment, then rolled his eyes upward. “What are you talking about?”
“You said it was the butterfly effect,” responded Murray around the food now mushing in his mouth.
“The butterfly effect is a well known theory about how small things like butterflies can cause changes in the weather. You’ve heard that before,” snapped Bernard.
“Oh, yes, I suppose I have,” responded Murray.
“Yes, of course you have,” Bernard asserted, “And you know how small a butterfly is so, if something that small can cause a cyclone…”
“Butterflies cause cyclones?” interrupted Murray.
“In theory, of course they do.”
“But only in theory?” Murray asked.
“What about this are you not understanding?” Bernard asked abruptly, “The theory exists to explain how it can happen. If the theory is right then butterflies can cause cyclones or worse.”
“Worse than cyclones?”
“In theory, anything is possible,” answered Bernard.
Murray reached into his pocket to retrieve a toothpick. He began rooting around near the back of his mouth.
“You are the only person I know who can get meat meal stuck in your teeth,” Bernard said, again shaking his head.
“So, what do butterflies have to do with sneezing,” asked Murray out of the corner of his mouth.
Bernard looked away in disgust, “Must you?”
“Explique, how many people get meat meal caught in their teeth?” Murray asked.
“Mr. Checks is correct: there is no entry for meat meal being caught in teeth,” responded Murray’s Explique.
Bernard’s patience waned anew, “Butterflies have nothing to do with sneezing. But if a butterfly wing can cause a cyclone…”
“Or worse,” interjected Murray again from the corner of his mouth.
“Or worse, then surely a sneeze can do even more damage,” continued Bernard, “a human sneeze can travel over 200 kilometers per hour. The air displacement alone could account for any number of atmospheric events. Humans are indeed a blight on this globe.”
Murray extracted the toothpick and placed it on his plate. He took a last drink from his glass and stood. Bernard pushed away from the table as well and rose, straightening his shirt in the process.
“A blight,” Bernard continued, “But no longer without direct consequence. The last human tax. Every other human damage is already being compensated for. Now, finally, sneezing. This is a joyous occasion.”
Murray turned toward the door without comment. Bernard followed, a satisfied grin spread across his face. Murray opened the door and held it for his companion. As the two stepped out into the light of day, Bernard began down the sidewalk while Murray lagged behind, his brow furrowed as he considered Bernard’s comments.
Nearly to the corner, Bernard turned toward Murray. His satisfaction quickly dissipated when he realized how far behind Murray had fallen. “What’s the matter?”
Murray shuttered as if awoken from his thoughts. “The last thing?”
“Yes, absolutely the last human activity that has yet to be taxed,” replied Bernard.
“What about nail clippings?” Murray asked as he hurried to catch up.
“That was covered long ago as an addendum to the earliest secretions legislation,” answered Bernard confidently, “You should study up on your history. ‘Secretions, Excrement, and Discharge’ covered sloughed skin, cuticles and sinus mucus as well as discarded hair follicles. It was landmark legislation. Very thorough.”
As they started across the intersection, Murray remained unconvinced. “Snoring?”
“Really?” responded Bernard, “You’ve been paying taxes for snoring as long as I’ve known you.”
Murray stopped as he reached the curb. “Have I?”
“Murray Steele’s aspiration tax includes a monthly three credit contribution for noise pollution,” responded Murray’s Explique.
Murray glanced at Explique on his wrist and then looked toward Bernard who had again begun to distance himself. Murray tried hurriedly to catch up. “Reading?” he blurted out?
“I told you, sneezing is the last,” Bernard called over his shoulder, “Reading was covered under the Leisure Tax of 2033.”
Murray slowed again, deflated. He watched Bernard hurry along. In a matter of minutes, Bernard reached their office building and was swallowed up in the mass of people returning from lunch. Murray reflected briefly on the teeming crowd before starting again after his friend.