All posts by Troim Kryzl

Participant Season 1

Evil? Campetition? No, not really, not in any serious way, in my humble option. Evil, that’s guys wanting to shoot you, for no better reason than you being there, unarmed, and them needing to boost their collective fighter ego. Evil, that’s police threatening to break your fingers, for trying to report mafia boys threatening to break your legs for not paying up. That’s evil. Campetition isn’t.

Won’t deny a certain embarrassment, especially around the video of me abysmally failing a delivery task that looks so simple on screen. Some of that footage is still circulating on social media, after all this time. Just the other day a four-year old pointed at me on the bus and went ‘man no know bike ride, man no know bike ride!’. His mom must have seen it too, she tried so hard not to laugh that she ended up with a hiccup. Nice lady, very nice lady, still regret we didn’t talk.

Embarrassing, yes, having been on Campetition is embarrassing. But the show only inflicts very minor humiliation. As a refugee, you quickly learn to endure much worse, day in, day out.

In my old life, as a professional, even the idea of participating in a contest to prove my ability to work as a delivery biker would of course have been anathema. You don’t think about this kind of career option, right? But when the casting crew shows up at your refugee camp and you haven’t eaten or slept properly for months, one week in a proper hotel, with breakfast, lunch and dinner, clean sheets and warm showers, sounds like an improbably good opportunity. And that’s before starting to hope to win, and get that fabulous one-year-visa, with work permit.

I didn’t even last through week one. Far too old and clanky, not fit enough, physically. I was the first in a long line of archetypical Campetition losers, only there for the laughs. With hindsight, an ice cube would have better odds at lasting in an oven than me in that show.

But, guess what, even the most embarrassing failure can bring about opportunity. Months after the show, and my subsequent relocation from Lesbos to Turkey under what they call the New Refugee Deal, a nice sounding name for a horrible dead end, I was contacted by the Red Crescent. One of my former foreign clients, from back home in Herat, had seen the footage of me crashing my bike and spilling my pizza boxes under the effect of the fire hose.

He recognized me, worried I might have been seriously injured, called his Member of Congress, another veteran, and got me onto a medical evacuation list. Next stop Ramstein air base in Germany, and new embarrassment, because my bruises had long healed. Except for a little diarrhoea, curtesy of the filthy water at the New Deal camp, I was as healthy as a refugee can be. They discharged me from the hospital on the same day, but allowed me to stay on base, for the time being.

Currently, I review Pashto social media post for the military intelligence guys, and translate whatever hints at terrorism plots targeting the US. Based on this job, and the free on base housing that comes with it, the Germans issued me with an identity card. It has to be renewed every twelve months, but overall, I’m living refugee paradise.

Do you really thing Campetition would have handed over my contact details if I had reason to rubbish them? Yes, that’s how it works.

Junior Casting Manager

Yes, pretty new in the job, still counting in months, if you know what I mean. Used to assist casting for toothpaste miracle testimonials. So much easier, ethically. But try looking at six toothy grins per minute, three angles each, for eight hours a day, twelve in emergency recruitment mode, for more than a year… Just try it, before blaming me.

Campetition is evil, ok, not arguing with that statement. But that’s just your normal, globalisation-does-this-to-people-all-the-time variant of evil, ok? It’s actually far more honest than my old job. Teeth don’t grow bigger and more even through brushing, right? See what I mean? Advertising is one big storytelling hoax. Whereas in Campetition, people do win. Very few people, as in two, ok. They don’t win much, from our point of view, sure. We’ve already got the passport, the wealthy parents, the education, you name it…

Your parents aren’t wealthy? Cool! Mine are, and they expect me to earn a living, for all the studying they sponsored.

Anyway, yes, Campetition is evil. Like the pole dancing task for the girls. We use it in casting, to weed out the shy ones. That’s really, really bad. No one should be forced to pole dance. But now listen to this: They never even complain. None of the girls. Never.

We’ve of course got an agony aunt, official title stage intimacy counsellor. the agony aunt, she’s present at all times, not just for the sexy scenes. Ours is a clean stage and backstage, we won’t feature in no #metoo scenario. And guess what? The lady in question is bored stiff, because none of the girls talk to her. Full blown bore out candidate, the poor shrinkess, and crying on my shoulder about it.

The girls, they see the dresses they are supposed to wear, very revealing dresses, very tight. Are they going ‘Eek, rampant sexism, down with male chauvinism’? Nope. They go all happy happy wild.

Just yesterday one asked me ‘Madam, any chance I can keep this robe?’. ‘Madam’! Never was I so embarrassed before, really didn’t know where to look. And the so-called robe, it was more negligee than dress, revealing lots matching underwear, all laces.

I told the girl to please call me Beo, and never ever madam again, and asked her if her mom wouldn’t be aghast, at seeing her in this kind of undress-dress. And guess what happens? She laughs, pulls out her phone and shows me her Instagram. Turns out she has a gig as a dessous model, for her mom, who sells sexy wear.

Meaning to say, it’s all a question of perspective.

If they get to keep the dresses? Of course not, we’re one a budget. Meaning the girls always have to dress before makeup, and they get de-makeupped before they can change back into their own clothes. Always feel sorry for them, when I see them shivering and rubbing their bare arms to feel warmer. We really should provide them with towels, bathrobes, something to keep them warmer, I think. Will say this, once I make senior casting manager.

I really do need the money, you know? Don’t we all? Just saying.

Task Author 5

You’re asking me if if feel bad about this job? Really, honestly? You need to ask?! Man, you might have a problem, just saying. Of course I do feel asshole. That show, that’s exploitation, that is. Full blown, no holds barred, maximum warp exploitation. The worst of the worst, full stop.

And no free will involved, on the merch side, guarantee you that. Just imagine yourself riding a bicycle against the kind of rain we simulate by targeting the merch with a water canon. That monster, real proper police hardware, mind you, that monster is normally used for crowd control like after football matches. Totally not like the shower in your bathroom, hits you like some damned pile of bricks. If your free will suggests it might be a nice way to spend prime time cycling against this kind of water wall, you’re more ready for the shrink farm than even me. And competing with a Campetition task author in that segment takes a lot, dearie…

Merch? Well, the dudes and gals. The fodder for the machine. Those you perform my tasks. In the politely polished words of our liar in chief, otherwise known as The Anchor, with a capital T and A, otherwise he gets you sacked, our dear participants. For us staffers who keep the machine running, season in, season out, the dudes and gals are merch. Merch, as in merchandise, dummy.

We get fresh merch at the start of the season. We bet on how far they go, how long they take to break. Oh yes, we do bet, too. Not on the platform, that’s off limits. The old fashioned way, with Jenny from makeup collecting the money and keeping it safe until payday.

Oh yes, this one lie is truth. Even we Campetition staff, as inside the machine as one can get, even we don’t know the winners in advance. Like everyone else, we can see who might have what it takes, and who only got in to entertain the audience by failing afap. But there’s always more winner potential merch than winning slots. Always.

Afap? Never heard? As funny as possible. Highest possible afap factor, of a task-merch combination, with zero risk of the merch getting killed, serious no-no on prime time, that’s what I have to come up with. Remember me the next time you lol, will you?

Teaser Pleaser

To share or not to share? Waso feels an all too familiar awkwardness welling up. Talking to people, still one of her least favourites activities. This is Sam, she reminds herself. Harmless. Harmless! The most harmless of males she ever met. ‚Certified one thousand percent gay‘, as he puts it.

No problem talking to Sam. And she really needs to check, what happens with someone who doesn‘t know. Kicking herself into action, Waso goes, just loudly enough to get noticed on the adjoining deck chair: „Sam? Question?“ 

One of the good things about Sam is his predictability. He immediately looks up from his tablet, and smiles at her. Without complicating the situation by talking. Waso gets the chance to take a deep breath, to fortify her resolve, and utter her question as prepared:

„Would you mind looking at this? It’s for the virtual dog project. Just a blob right now, but you can kind of engage with it. Wanna try?“

As Waso had hoped, Sam takes the phone she‘s handing over, without complicating the quest by demanding additional information. He‘s that kind of person, always curious, always ready to engage with something new. Not prone to outbursts of hard to deal with babble.

Waso can’t see what’s displayed on the screen from this angle, but she doesn’t need to. Sam is looking at a light blue blob on a dark blue background. Not much, certainly not exciting. He‘s still smiling, though, a bit of a default mode with him.

Waso suddenly becomes aware Sam might not be the perfect test subject. Not grumpy enough. But he’s available, and she can handle him. That‘s far more important than stupid scientific notions of representativity. She’ll have to deal with the bias at some point, but not now.

Sam emits a slight giggle. His ear-to-ear grin suggests something is happening on that screen, and that it’s funny, definitely not unpleasant. Waso would love to get close enough to see the action, but physical proximity, that’s so no-no. Even with Sam, there are limits.

Luckily, her test subject is by now so engaged with what he sees on the screen that he starts mumbling softly, providing Waso with some clues:

“Okaysiedaisy, what’s that now supposed to mean? Smiley face, got it, you want me to smile. I am smiling! What’s that sucking your eyes in like a funnel supposed to mean? You stoned? You want me to get stoned? Ok, ok, ok, I am smiling. I never stopped smiling, see? Boy oh boy, you‘re one jumpy… whatever you are. And here we go eyes to funnel again…“

Whatever Sam sees makes him giggle between sentences. So far, so good. But Waso is starting to worry about intuitivity. If it takes someone as clever as Sam more than – one and a half minutes, as of now, as per her watch – to figure out the next step, she might have made this too hard.

At one minute fifty, Sam suddenly gives himself permission to get it. Holding the phone in his left hand, he pokes his right index at one particular spot on the screen, going, with one more giggle: „No way I poke at your eyes, jumpy, not my way. You can go funnel with those as much and as long as you want, no way. But there should be a nose – right here.“

Whatever happened when he touched the screen makes Sam laugh out loud and pull back quickly, before poking once again at the same spot, and giggling at the effect. Next, he pokes at a different spot, and laughs out loud. And pokes at yet more spots, grinning broadly.

Waso is pleased with herself. Sam is deeply engaged with his new acquaintance, acting as if it was a lifeform. How he looks and pokes at what he by now consistently calls Jumpy, that‘s exactly how humans engage with animals they‘re trying to befriend. Totally unlike coming to grips with a chat- or ro-bot. Sam is playing with Jumpy, like he would play with a puppy. Mission accomplished. Waso catches herself grinning at the rows of empty deckchairs and the pool with the lone swimmer. Normally, she insists on poker facing the world, but now is an exception.

„Oh. Over? Done wrong?! Kaputt?“ Sam looks up from the phone and at her, a little distraught under his customary smile. Waso doesn‘t need to check her watch to shake her head and go, in what she means to sound reassuring: „No problem, not kaputt. Timed circuit breaker. Like the child-proof locks, to force them out of games and back to home work, just set to five minutes instead of five hours.“ Considering the implications of Sam‘s slightly dubitative smile, Waso adds: „No idea how else to stop, too. This felt like the least rude option.“

Sam nods, still holding the phone. Waso considers this a very good sign. Her test subject hopes to get another go, the ultimate reward for any developer.

Empowered, she for once easily finds the words to explain her feat:

„It‘s for the virtual dog, first step, proof of concept. Dogs, they‘re very good at reading moods, from facial expressions. Better than people, even people who are good at it, unlike me. And dogs want people to like them, to engage, they’re very companion animals.

My teaser pleaser blob, it uses basic of-the-shelf facial recognition software, like for checking if online ads work, to identify when you‘re smiling. Teaser pleaser blob‘s target is to make you smile at it and touch it as much as possible, over the course of five minutes.

Next time you activate it, my teaser pleaser blob will recognize you, and hopefully get even better at making you smile and play with it. On the first encounter, it uses tools from a predefined set, like making a smiley face at you, to get you going. Next time, it will start with something that worked on you, personally, and hopefully improve on its first performance.“

Waso doesn’t remember ever having talked that much in one go. She‘s practically in lecture mode. Life really can make one do weird stuff. And it gets even weirder over the next hour, with Sam going all business person to get a patent registered for her. Waso doesn‘t mind. Weird is her second name. She only insists on Jumpy as title of the patent. Sam is better at naming.

No Ant Farm

„You‘re kidding, right? You must be kidding! You can’t do this to patients. How are they going to survive a week at the hospital, with this app around? They don’t want to know! Sometimes, you’re so naive, Nerdie. Or would that be plain old insensitivity?“

She‘s joking, of course. Her face tells him as much. Wrinkles around the eyes = joke. Eyes bulging under heightened brow = anger alert, last chance to avert row. Facial expression consistency, that’s one of the many good things, about companion robots. No ambiguity, none of the messy diversity displayed by conventional humans. He’s still intrigued by her reaction, has to ask:

„What is wrong with transparency, chérie? My app will be telling them what‘s going on. That‘s always good to know, isn’t it? Aren’t we all longing for more information, about our circumstances, to feel in control and stuff, to quote a certain expert?“

He’s proud. Remembering that last bit of psychology, that’s very much unlike his former, socially oblivious self. It was an excellent idea, to integrate a social intelligence unit into her capabilities. Sometimes, this leads to boring lectures, sure. But some of the knowledge she forces onto him is valuable, does actually help him understand what’s going on.

She’s laughing now, and shaking her head. Looks cool, with her long braids.

That‘s another upgrade he doesn’t regret. The standard model comes with short, no nonsense hair, and a very basic wardrobe. Three days in, he had had enough of being reminded of his bad old school uniform days. He bought her a set of six sexy wigs, and a closet full of 2030 style velvety dresses in bright colors. An excellent idea. Looking at her now cheers him up, even if she lectures him about stuff he’s fine not caring about. And here it comes, her next lecture:

„Well done, Nerdie, well remembered, you‘re such an excellent pupil. Yes, people often do like to know stuff. Yes, understanding makes them feel like being in control. But, Nerdie Sweetie, often is not always. Let’s look at this together, shall we, to find out why your perfectly well intentioned app will be perfectly unwelcome in the real world…“

He does love being praised. If only her tone was slightly less condescending. Mental note to have another go at the advanced settings manual, to find out if there‘s a way to fine tune her advice mode. All fine and good, to learn, but preferably without being made to feel like an idiot.

„… If I‘m not mistaken, your reasoning went like this: ‚Patients in a private hospital room can‘t see how many other patients there are on the ward, or what the nurses are doing. Not seeing any action makes them assume there isn‘t any, which creates resentment. Fit the nurses with tags, create a map of the ward, show how the nurses are rushing around, ambiance improved…‘“

He can‘t help nod his agreement, strongly. Hearing her spell out his app concept makes it sounds even more convincing than his own, less structured musings. This is one hell of a good idea, and should be worth a nice pile of cash. He can practically feel the efficiency improvements. How the patients with less than urgent needs will wait for a nurse to be nearby, to call her. This alone should save one FTE* per year per ward easy. His idea is a winner!

„… Will readily admit this sounds promising, at first hear. Patients, and perhaps even the wider general public, like everybody in the area who funds the hospital through their taxes, and is bored enough to feel like watching, would be able to see how hard and fast the nurses are working. No more prejudices, about endless coffee breaks in staff rooms, no more public sector bashing…“

That’s it, exactly, that‘s how he envisages this to work. It‘s such a splendid idea.

„…  Nerdie Sweetie, would you please stop nodding? I‘m starting to worry about your neck. Thank you! Yes, you came up with a pleasant little fairy tale. Ward transparency app, as entertaining as an ant farm, and a much bigger thrill to watch. Nurse and doctor dots, different colors, of course, rushing around the map, from patient to patient. The patients in their beds, why not have them fade, each time they ring the bell, until they get cared for? 24/7 action, for free. The nurses are guaranteed to like the idea, no problem getting them to accept those tags.

We agreed on no nodding, Nerdie Sweetie, need I remind you? Thank you!

Now to the interesting part: Why is this app never going to happen? Not because of staff resistance. Their unions might object, because that’s what they’re there for, it’s their role, but the overwhelming majority of the actual staff would love to prove they’re worth their wages, and more.

And that’s our first problem, Nerdie Sweetie. If your app proves, and beyond reasonable doubt, that hospital staff work hard, how the hell are we supposed to keep paying them so badly, without feeling awkward? No good feelings that way. Especially for extremely well paid office dwellers who’d never hesitate to perform some holiday research at the desk because they’re convinced everybody else is having their moment of on the job slacking, too.

But it gets worse, Nerdie Sweetie, much worse.

How the hell are patients going to survive all the stress and hardship that comes with a disease that needs to be treated in a hospital, if they can’t rage about lazy staff?

Their anger about the bad luck that got them there needs to go somewhere. You need something, to complain about, to visiting relatives, and for the benefit of your own aggrieved self.

Fuming about incompetence is still a possibility, if you take away the laziness presumption, but that way lies an awful lot of mental hazard. If incompetence, you might get worse, and even die. Who‘d want to think about that? Exactly, zero takers. Laziness, on the other hand, will cause some suffering that can be moaned about, but mostly none of the lethal kind…“

She has got a point. Again. Her tone needs adjustement, definitely, he has to find and recalibrate those settings. But what she says sounds very much like the lack of rationality that will forever confuse him, and complicate his dealings with fellow conventional humans.

They often don’t want to know.

He’s one of them, but sometimes he feels closer to her.

He could aske her how come, but…

*FTE Definition: The Full Time Equivalent is a measure that allows the company to calculate the equivalent number of full-time employees it would have on a given period of time

Colitis Generosa

“Salf, hurry up, we haven’t got all day. What are you staring at, anyway? Old dude in a lab coat, with piglets?! The piglets are curtey-cutey, yes, ok. Nice piece of educational hologram, whatever it’s supposed to be about. But, need I remind you, Salf, you’re the one who fancies new cotton wear. You’re the one who insisted on walking all the way to try buy old-fashioned pre-sawn from a classical bricks-and-mortar shop that’s bound to be outrageously expensive, instead of going online to align your 3D persona with a nice cut, select a fabric and have your cotton wear custom made, like a normal person. Need I remind you, Salf, how I proposed…”

Lenk doesn’t get to finish his litany. Salf is too excited about his discovery to let him proceed, as he usually would, for at least ten minutes, as per their long established custom:

“You got to read this, Lenk! Yes, it’s an edutainment window, yes, those are not cool. But this is so amazing. Look at this, Lenk, please, who’d ever have thought…” 

Pulling his companion closer to the display, Salf starts to paraphrase the explanatory note:

“Back in 2025, people were eating lots of meat, for whichever disgusting reason, especially pork. Kept at very close quarters, pigs tended to get aggressive, sometimes pretty lethally so, as in maiming each other. Omar Tabori, that’s the dude in the lab coat, people went by two or three names in those days, because of some clan concept, Omar Tabori, he was studying the porcine gut biome. That’s the community of bugs in the entrails of pigs. People have one such community, too, in their guts. For them, it’s called the human gut biome.

The Omar, let’s call him by one name, like he was a modern person, to facilitate, the Omar, he was looking for ways to fatten pigs faster. He worked with different pig farms, in a very practical type of research. In the course of years of study, the Omar couldn’t help notice that one of the farms lost lots of pigs to aggression, whereas there were no such incidents on another, and very few on a third. Intriguing difference. Our guy Omar, he wondered what was behind it.

Different breed of pigs? Nope. Different stables? Nope. Different pig feed? Nope.

Different porcine gut biomes? Bingo! With a lot of help from a lot of very early days AI, our guy Omar found out that a combination of three bugs made pigs peaceful. None of the three bugs worked on its own. But in the presence of all three what was a bad tempered pig on Monday had turned into a zen pig by Friday.

Our guy Omar published his results, got himself a nice pile of cash from a big vetpharm company, and went on to live happily ever thereafter in a nice mansion on a posh island. End of Omar story. But by no means end of overall story.

By 2030, all farmed pigs all over the world were inoculated with PigZen. Please don’t ask how. Details not suitable for polite conversation, like access through the rear entrance,…

Anyway, by 2030 peace reigned on all pig farms, and even some animal rights activists were prepared to concede that the livestock had a better, if still exceedingly short life. Pretty good progress, just like science is supposed to deliver. 

Don’t look at me like this, Lenk.

Yes, we are vegetarians, and couldn’t care less about pretty repulsive ancient dietary choices. But the pigs are not the true story. They’re just the prequel.

Pigs and people, they’re not that far apart, biologically speaking.

By 2040, some army types and football coaches in regions with big pig farms, like the US, Asia and Europe, noticed a marked decrease in animal spirits among juveniles that made it ever harder to find promising new recruits. As national securities were at stake, research was funded, pretty much across the world. And guess what so many scientists discovered, in parallel and in secret, because that’s how defense research is done? 

Exactly! Good old Omar’s zen inducing combination of bugs had jumped host. Pig farm workers had spread the adaptable bugs to their families, and from there on they conquered the world. There was a mild diarrhea associated with the infection, barely noticed by most people. In defense circles, the diarrhea got nicknamed Colitis Generosa, because it not only made people less aggressive, it also made them much more willing to share.

A very secret and nevertheless lively debate occurred. Normally, infections are for fighting. But this particular pandemic came with advantages. 

Just imagine yourself a general, Lenk, you’re a leader kind of person, should come easy.

As a general, you’d be awfully keen, on the opposite side getting infected with Colitis Generosa. No recruits, no combat readiness, that’s exactly what you cherish in an adversary. As long as your side manages to stay just a little ahead, on the agressivity scale, you’ll be pretty sure to prevail, and at less cost than in the past.

Military administrations can do speed, in an unambiguous emergency, but with Colitis Generosa, no one felt threatened enough to move fast. ‘Let the zen bugs roam and weaken our potential enemies’, was the attitude of choice. By the time the bugs had spread far and widely enough to convince majorities to open borders and dismantle armies, it was too late for the top brass to reconsider. As they also had gotten themselves infected, just like everybody was carrying the bugs by 2050, they melted into retirement without so much as even a minuscule last war.

And that’s how our global government came about. Bit late to do enough about climate change, getting there earlier would have avoided us a lot of decades of rationing. But I’d rather not imagine how bad we would fare now, without good old Omar and his pig gut research. Even total no brainers, like the disappearance of racism and homophobia, might have needed help from Omar’s bugs, to prevail. Just imagine it all hadn’t happened, Lenk.”

As usual in this kind of situation, Lenk is torn between shaking his head and melting with love. Not prepared to choose, he goes: “I’d rather not, Salf, but thank you for sharing.”

Mary Mechanic

I will not ask. No way. I‘d rather take all night than ask. Asking is for sissies. I‘ve got no clue what‘s wrong with this bloody beast, but asking is not an option. Never no asking, ever.

Up to her elbows in chain oil, Mary tries not to mumble what she reminds herself to think, to strengthen her resolve to go it alone. She also takes care not to look up from the spread of parts what would be an early twenty first century ebike in its assembled form.

Such so called Pedelecs, because of the electrically assisted pedaling, were a typical fad of the late presustainable era. What passed for a battery in those days delivered minimal storage capacity for maximum bulk, and no wearable  photovoltaics to top up on the go. Pretty much useless over long distances or for steep climbs. But this sorry device reminded its nonagenarian owner of the joys of youth, when it turned up at the far end of a cellar that had to be redone after unusually severe floods. He decided to have it repaired and upgraded, as a vintage gift for the twentieth birthday of a grandchild that will be hard pressed to pretend cheer.

As no expense was to be spared, Mary opted to replace the toxic mess left from the original battery by the best bioreactor money can buy. For a daily dose of ten Milliliters of sugar water the genetically engineered glowyeast delivers enough juice to carry bike and rider over one hundred kilometers flat, with minimal muscular exertion. No annoying stopovers at fast charging stations. Carry a couple of refill syringes, and you‘re good for a whole day of mobile fun.

The bioreactor alone is equivalent in worth to an electric Harley Davidson. That‘s Mary‘s gift to the poor grandchild. If she‘s clever, she will overcome the disappointment, read the manual, discover the hidden gem, have the bioreactor replaced by a nanotube battery and buy herself a one year subscription to a virtual reality chamber instead of the three day pass she had been hoping for.

The glowyeast is in place and humming with productivity, the power transmission is a no brainer, but the mechanics prove more tricky than expected. The cogwheels resist assembly in standard formation. Mary has so far discovered eight ways not to do it, plus one that might work. Unfortunately, that one and so far only viable option runs contrary to basic basics. Every first year trainee knows all wheels should turn this way, and this way only, not that way. Except here, it’s the opposite. Either the elders had different basic basics, or Mary is about to mess up big.

I will not ask. I will not look up, otherwise Esther will come running. She has this way of saying ‘Come on sister, let me help you. Can’t have the boys thinking we’re not up to it, right?’ Drives me mad. Asking is for sissies, totally not ok.

I could go for a soda. With a little luck, Bodu will be at the fridge. Incredible, how many sodas he’s gulping down over a day. We’d have a little chat, about antiques. A chat, that’s not asking.

Of course it is. A chat is asking. Whom are you trying to fool here? No asking, period.

Mary has once again assembled the parts in the only way that feels right, except for running contrary to all basic basics. Only one way to find out who is right, her intuition or tradition. She releases the brake on the bioreactor and gently, gently exerts pressure on the pedal with her left hand, ready to emergency stop the engine with her right, in case it goes against.

Oh marvel, oh wonder. All fine, all parts working together for the common goal, ready to hit the road. Mary heats up in a rush of conflicting emotions. She did it. Without asking. All on her own. She’s one hell of a mechanic, getting even messy antiques back up. But could he, the constructor of this mess?! He owes her a long and sweaty afternoon, the bastard. Pity he must have been dead for decades, Mary would so love to kill him right now. How dare he?!

“Hey, sister, you did it, and all by yourself! Was wondering whether to drop a hint, like about some people in some countries driving on the wrong side of the road. Funny, how the folks in Asia and Europe had their mechanical conventions all upside down, back in the days of this antique, isn’t it? My first one took me a whole day to figure out, so congrats, you got there faster…”

Mary hadn’t heard Esther coming, too busy having more than one feeling at a time. Now she’s back to normal, as in one feeling, strong. She’d love a T-Rex to amble by and select Esther as snack. Nothing gory in her vision. No screaming, no wriggling, no red splashes. Just Esther swallowed by dinosaur mouth, period. Peace.

Esther is still talking, oblivious to the fact that she has just been snacked on, as far as Mary’s personal universe is concerned. Mary does her best not to listen while packing up as fast as possible. Her official workday ended three hours ago, and now she needs out. Otherwise, her inner T-Rex might suggest a novel use for the big wrench. Traditionally, it’s not meant to be used to smash someone’s skull. But sometimes, intuition needs to prevail over tradition.

Paul Plumber

“Shit happens, goes the saying. Technically incorrect. Only a tiny amount, think cholera epidemic, does happen. Happening suggests spontaneous, fast, wild, out of control, right? Of course it does! And that’s not how people move their bowels. Paul, would you mind describing your last occasion, for the sake of helping the class understand? Paul?”

Paul’s mind rushes back from afar. Very joyfully busy picturing himself on a honeymoon with Peter, two rows ahead to the left, profile of a demigod above what must be a superb body ready to be unwrapped from too much cloth, Paul had forgotten about the rest of the world, including this bloody waste of his hard earned cash of a teacher now staring at him with expectant malice. That’s were the sound vaguely identified as relevant must have come from.  

Never lost for words, Paul goes: “Yes, sir?”.

Ending on a question mark usually does the trick. Makes cross costumers spell out. You don’t want to waste time defending the color of a toilet when they’re mad about its height. 

Color complaints, you have to show the customer his online order with the small print stating that colors look different on screen. Takes a while, and skill, to get him to blame his gadget and pay. Height issues, you only need to shrug an go “Norms and standards, need I say more?”.

“Yes, Paul?” goes the teacher, surprisingly well aware of the 101 of efficient full frontal customer interfacing. Might have been a professional, in some earlier life.

A lesser guy would panick, but not Paul. He feels himself winning. He’s good at this, all his team says so. He doesn’t hesitate to elaborate: “Yes, sir? What can I do for you?”.

The class seems to consider his question hilarious. Paul doesn’t mind. A good laugh is always nice to have. The teacher doesn’t laugh, yet, but nor does he look like getting mad. A bit tired, a tad disappointed, not mad. So far, so good.

After a short pause and with a slight raise of one eyebrow, the teacher goes:

“We were contemplating the fact, Paul, that most bowel movements don’t happen spontaneously. They are controlled. We are willing them to occur, or to refrain from occurring. Would you be so kind as to provide an example, from your own personal experience? Where and how do you usually go about your defecating business?”.

Now that’s a nice surprise of a simple task. Paul would have hated one more microbiome question. He’s getting better at naming those apparently vital lodgers of everybody’s bowels, but which of them are good and which bad still eludes him. He’s starting to suspect some of the bugs switch sides, just to make his life complicated. Much easier to tell the class about his when, where and how. Only challenge is how to impress Peter in this context.

Paul is glad to be such a natural born entertainer. A lesser guy would fail at this task, but he never runs short of anecdotes. Using his storyteller voice, Paul goes:

“Well, so glad you asked, sir. Always wondered whether it’s only me, actually. I like to take some light reading along. Depending on mood and season, I’ll vary. Today, I picked the “Biker’s Fortnight”. Fortnight as in two weeks, not as in Fort-n-i-t-e the legacy game…”

Paul was planning to go on describing pictures of a biker outing, guys all dressed up in black leather and bling, to match the chrome of their rides. With a little luck, Peter would share his esthetics, and feel attracted. In a best case scenario, he would even flash the kind of fleeting smile that Paul could use as a conversation starter on their way out.

Not at all does Paul appreciate the teacher cutting in. Instead of letting him proceed with his perfect seduction plan of a story, the brute goes:

“Exactly, Paul, thank you! ‘Legacy’, that’s the word I was aiming for. So much has changed, over the last couple of decades,  in so many aspects of life. But in some areas, we still think inside very old boxes, too lazy to challenge obsolete traditions.

Back in the days of my grandpa, when water fit for washing ourselves, or even drinking, was routinely wasted on flushing away human excrement, it made perfect sense to install defecation infrastructure in the bathroom. Nowadays, no one would dream of spoiling potable water in this way, not least because one ends up in jail faster than one can spell ‘ecovandalism’ for trying.

By the way, never ever do you guys dare fix one of the few remaining old style toilets. Yes, some rich people living in grand old houses are offering excellent cash for this kind of illicit service. Yes, they promise no one will ever find out. But, let me tell you, this never works. Over the long run, all pipes get leaky. You’ve got a better chance to get away with brewing LSD than with fixing a WC. But I’m not here to help you stay out of prison.

Getting back to the point I’m trying to make: Where do we keep installing the toilets that transform our solid waste into fertilizer, as if this was 2010 instead of 2100? We keep installing them inside  individual flats. In the bathroom, more exactly, in that very same spot where grandpa’s version was attached to the plumbing. Absolutely no reason to keep proceeding like this. 

If toilets were invented now, we’d never put them so close to our living quarters, because smells, logistics,… need I say more? Emptying urine bottles into the waste water regenerator, fine and clean, no problem. But no one wants to talk, never mind handle, shit. Much better to commute to dedicated defecation hotspots. The farmers are all in favor, too. Much easier to collect bigger volumes in one central spot than do rounds and rounds for not much.

One dedicated defecation hotspot per neighborhood, nice place, well maintained, with staff keeping things neat and orderly, that’s the modern way. Combine this with some emergency kit at home, just to be on the safe side, and the world will be a better place.

Now, I can practically hear you guys thinking ‘What’s that nonsense he’s talking? Aren’t we supposed to modernize our business and catch up on latest trends by attending this course? Modern days my ass, I’m not giving up thirty percent of my business!’ That’s what you’re thinking, of course. No need to deny it, and you’ve got a point, theoretically. In practice, you lack vision.

You guys, you’re best qualified to set up and own your local defecation hotspots. You go infrastructure and services, guys, and you make serious money. Don’t let some know nothing suits get ahead of you. You’re the experts, you’re best placed to do this…”.

Paul’s mind drifts off once again. He’ll propose to Peter, half jokingly, to hedge his bets, right after class. Not for marriage, of course not. He doesn’t even know for sure that Peter is gay yet. He’ll propose a defecation hotspot partnership. The paperwork is bound to be heavy, the investment to build such premises will be huge, much better to join forces. And later, who knows?

If all goes well, including a police siren approaching fast being meant for someone else, not related to that broken pipe he shouldn’t have touched, even though he really needed that cash, Paul might get himself rich and happily married in one smart move.

Priorities

A slice of salami. Just one slice of this salty, fatty miracle.

Recalling how salami melts on a human tongue sends Paul shivering with want. If there was any chance to taste salami again, just once, he would be prepared to climb the highest tower, and jump. One slice of salami is worth any effort and risk. A life for a slice. If only he could do this deal.

No beer, no problem. The same level of inebriation is perfectly achievable, and faster, by having the odd droplet of former fruit. Plums, especially the green ones, deliver the biggest oomph. The taste is soso, of course, but Paul has had enough stale beers and dubious doses of liquor in so many low key pubs, why would he get picky now? Beer, wine, schnaps, yes, they differ, but flavor isn‘t everything. At the end of the day, ethanolic beverages are for lightening the mood and dissolving mental barriers. Any gourmet experience is an extra, not the point.

As hard as he tries, Paul can’t keep his mind focused on the fun of getting drunk. His useless traitor of a brain comes up with salt and vinegar crisps instead.

Just one tiny blue and yellow, maddeningly overpriced sachet of salt and vinegar crisps. Paul used to order crisps at the pub, to distract his taste buds from the stale beer.

In his youth, he would have taken a shot of cheap liquor with his beer, to cleanse his mouth. The label on the bottle would have said something like Latvian Light or French Fire, suggesting official if foreign distillation. His brave younger self would have known there are no such brands, nowhere, and that he was risking at least his eyesight, perhaps his life, with moonshine. Little did he care. A soul can only cope with one existential emergency at a time, and in those days getting laid, or rather not getting laid enough, filled that slot, beyond capacity.

As hard as he tries, Paul can’t make his mind stay with the fun of having sex. The crisps muscle back in, now as maddeningly alluring as the salami.

Paul knows what’s wrong. Too much sweet. An overdose of sugary, in all imaginable shapes, textures and colors. Whatever he chews on, it will always taste sweet. Never sour, bitter or salty. The only dietary choice he gets, in this rotten hell of a life, is to have his daily dose of sweet associated with more or less starch. Calling that choice is like mistaking football for golf, because, hey, there’s a ball involved, and it’s competitive.

This football-golf analogy feels badly lopsided, even to Paul’s crisps obsessed mind, but he can’t make it right. He’s beyond making anything right. Has been like this for a while.

Yesterday, he nearly drowned on the beach, trying to sip a drop of salty water. The incoming wave was a very near miss, forcing him to perform his biggest jump ever, back towards dry sand, ad hoc, without the slightest bit of planning.

Having landed right next to a seagull, he was lucky the monster was as surprised as himself. By the time it had decided a snack would be welcome after all, even though free meals, and delivered right to the nest, scream trap at the bird, Paul had performed five more jumps and reached a nearby forest of maram grass.

A close call. And what for? To once again discover that even one hundred percent salty sea water doesn’t taste it. Just like human or pig sweat. Yes, pigs do sweat. Behind the ears, mostly.

Or the saltlick block of the cow that ignored Paul’s presence to the point of nearly feasting on him, accidentally of course. Cows don’t mind green stuff on their white lick, he learned. Made sense, on second thoughts, with most of their food being green.

Paul knows he should have listened to his research assistant.

The little lady in her always neat lab coat, like fresh from the cleaner, even after a day of hard work, she did point out it was early days. She did talk about the unknown unknowns of the transfer technology, many, many, many of them. She did warn of unforeseeable and therefore unforeseen downsides. All her concerns were founded, scientifically fair and fine.

Paul knew as much then and knows it all even better now. 

But he was getting old, and this was proving tedious. And there was this worry, meanwhile proven mistaken but big back then, that his aging body and brain would be less and less able to withstand the shock of the transfer. He had to take the leap, the sooner the better, and he took it.

As the assistant wouldn’t help him proceed, Paul transported the equipment to the forgotten barn at the far end of the farm of a former friend, a computer wizard who was wasting part of his fortune on letting very happy livestock breed themselves near nowhere in particular, on the coast. Lots of nature and pastures, food aplenty and no risk of pesticide exposure.

Having set up the experiment, Paul dithered for a long while.

More and more cows were crowding in on the barn, curious, perhaps hoping for an extra treat from a rare visitor, and he was struggling with a sudden lack of courage. Finally, his bladder broke the deadlock by clamoring for a pee. Instead of extricating himself from the transfer equipment to go, Paul pushed the button in one surge of bravery and ended life as he had known it.

The first hours in his brandnew and youthful grasshopper body where a marvel of well-being.

His mind had made it across fine, all higher functions had survived the neural miniaturization process intact. And all the rest was even better. No more heartburn. No more sore knees. All six legs easy to stretch, so ready to bounce him here and there. Jumping around, a marvellous experience after years of mostly useless sessions with his physiotherapist.

It all felt so fine, only to go downhill so fast.

Hungry from lots of joyful jumping, Paul had to eat.

No problem, there was a choice of hay right in the barn, and plenty more fresh greens outside.

He of course went for seasonal fresh. A couple of jumps later, he was sitting pretty amid lovely flowers and grasses. Never had he been in the presence of so much food, towering around and above him. Just like paradise, he thought, and dug right in.

Having expected a taste of some sort of salad, Rucola, perhaps, he was taken aback by an explosion of sweetness. Very much like an energy drink, only worse, and chewing boosted the effect.

Whichever plant Paul tasted, they all came across as sweet.

Marshmallowy, softdrinkily or candyflossy sweet.

Same for the hay. And bark. Even wood.

The shelves in the barn manage to taste sweet, despite having been treated with glaze. 

Sweetness all over, impossible to escape. Takes the mind of a natural born grasshopper to endure.

Paul has had enough. With salami and crisps at the top of his mind, he hops out into the open, to find himself a hungry seagul and suppress his flight reflex.

Novel Pause

Dear readers,

thanks for putting up with my weird ways! It’s always a pleasant surprise to hear I made you laugh, or cringe, or display whatever other emotion strong enough to have you hit the contact button. Please do keep up your reading while I take a break from writing.

Less suffering inflicted on the poor old English language these days:

  • Zero progress on my WIP Beautiful Potholes
  • No intention to participate in Nanowrimo 2020
  • Words-to-go only until at least March 2021

Not getting any kinder or more respectful of the tongue of Shakespeare with age. Me not writing much is a Covid effect:

My dime novels and the 1kYears series all share an aspect, they’re immediate to near future.  It’s our world I’m writing about, plus a little something, a beneficial bug (Think-o-mat), an unexpected climate change twist (Guilty until Proven) or aliens (Plugger Stuff, Felinity Rules and Beautiful Potholes).

There’s a downside to this approach: Writing Tandem, the third novel of the Plugger trilogy, in real time, I had to decide whether Donald Trump would prevail. Not being a fan, I hated to guess he would. US election night 2016 was a bittersweet moment…

Covid 19 is an order of magnitude bigger than Donald Trump. This disease might be the catalyst that brings about the marked societal and international changes I anticipate in my novels.  No time for writing, not for my kind of science fiction. My motto went from “Science by day, fiction at night” to “Science around the clock”.

Stay safe and see you on the other side!