Category Archives: Words to go

Short stories

Breathalyzer

Bump. Soft left turn. Slowdown. Bigger bump. Sharp left turn. Gilbright reluctantly opens his eyes, thereby deactivating his mobile storyteller. No need for an arrival alert to tell him he’s home, his body is familiar with this sequence. The autonomous commuter pod delivers the customary message anyway: 

 “Dear passenger, 82 Lower GT Drive reached at 15:22. Exit with current attire safe, no additional precautions required. Your next trip is booked for tomorrow, March 6, 2120, 10:12, boarding here same. Please say ‘adjust’ to reschedule or ‘confirm’ for confirmation.” 

 Gilbright goes “Confirm”, unenthusiastically, and waits for the pod to go through whatever routine always keeps it from unlocking the door at once. 

This delay can’t be about cash. He himself had taken a profit motive for granted until very recently and most people still assume as much, but that’s not the rationale.. 

To celebrate the bonus he got two months ago, Gilbright splashed out on the upgrade to the premium package his mobility provider just happened to offer, by one of those lucky coincidences. He can now ride as many pods as he fancies, whenever and wherever he wants, for a total one hundred and fifty hours or five thousand kilometres per month, whichever limit is reached first, without extra charge. 

His commute takes a good thirty minutes in the morning and rarely exceeds twenty in the afternoon. His non-job errands add up to less than an hour per day. He didn’t yet find the time to schedule any of the excursions he had in mind when he awarded himself the premium package. A couple of minutes of idling in the docking port won’t bring him anywhere near the limit. This delay can’t be his mobility provider milking him. 

 If the recurring lag period isn’t about profit, it might be one more case of government overreach. Always trying to mess with peoples lives, the elected super nannies. Would be like them, to force mobility providers to slow down passengers, under pretext of one more unproven and uncomfortable health benefit. 

Well, if this is about forcing him to calm down, it doesn’t work. Gilbright feels his blood pressure climbing by the second. He’s not claustrophic, not the fears kind of guy at all, but a man should be allowed to exit his pod whenever he so chooses, period. 

 Click goes the door, very softly, finally granting Gilbright his currently most fervent wish. Two steps to his front door. Zoom goes the camera, and green goe… What the hell?! 

The intruder alert is meant to startle, but if it gets any more effective at this task it will be a lethal weapon. The light above the door is also flashing red, but this is far less disturbing then the deafening howl of the siren. 

 Gilbright feels his bones turn into icicles. He’s a licensed resident, not some burglar, never mind one of those Caucasian intruders. He’s a regular citizen, no deportation material 

Unable to move, Gilbright has to endure an eternity of agony before the siren suddenly dies. The light has also switched to green and the door goes: 

“Apologies for the false alarm, sir, and congratulations, your new haircut is very stylish indeed. To avoid future inconveniences, please feel free to provide advance authenticated visual notice of any such alterations of your appearance. Or may we suggest to activate breathalyzer authentication? By far the best way to prove your identity. Thanks for your cooperation in making the world a safer place.” 

Gilbright is relieved, and proud. His home is well defended, exactly as promised by estate management. There’s this notice to all residents, next to the parcel retrieval area, informing about more stringent safety settings, in the context of a fresh wave of European refugees. 

If his new haircut triggers the intruder alarm, his wife has zero reason to worry about Caucasians in the cellar. Last week, there was a dire incident in an estate just like theirs, but someone must have messed up front door security. That’s what happens, when you go cheap on building maintenance, instead of using proper professionals. 

Two levels up and one corridor down, Gilbright braces himself for all hell breaking loose again, but no problem. His owner occupier profile has been updated to his new look, the door to his flat opens at once. 

Having awarded himself an early beer to celebrate this success, he decides to heed the advice of the system. He can’t waste energy and time on forever updating his profile picture to avoid setting off that hell of a siren. Time to switch to the modern way and activate the breathalyzer, provided this doesn’t interfere with the occasional beer. 

Bump. Soft turn left. Slowdown. Bigger bump. Sharp turn left. Stop.

Gilbright reluctantly opens his eyes, thereby deactivating his mobile storyteller. No need for an arrival alert to tell him he’s home, his body is familiar with this sequence.

The autonomous commuter pod delivers the customary message anyway:

“Dear passenger, 82 Lower GT Drive reached at 15:22. Exit with current attire safe, no additional precautions required. Your next trip is booked for tomorrow, March 6, 2120, 10:12, boarding here same. Please say ‘adjust’ to reschedule or ‘confirm’ for confirmation.”

Gilbright goes “Confirm”, unenthusiastically, and waits for the pod to go through whatever routine always keeps it from unlocking the door at once.

This delay can’t be about cash. He himself had taken a profit motive for granted until very recently, most people still assume as much, but that’s not the rationale.

To celebrate the bonus he got two months ago, Gilbright splashed out on the upgrade to the premium package his mobility provider just happened to offer, by one of those lucky coincidences. He can now ride as many pods as he fancies, whenever and wherever he wants, for a total one hundred and fifty hours or five thousand kilometres per month, whichever limit is reached first, without extra charge. And onboard beverages would be free, if he was into soda.

His commute takes a good thirty minutes in the morning and rarely exceeds twenty in the afternoon. His other errands add up to less than an hour per day on average. He didn’t yet find the time to schedule any of the excursions he had in mind when he awarded himself the premium package. A couple of minutes of idling in the docking port won’t bring him anywhere near the limit of his premium package. This delay can’t be about cash. Makes it all the more irritating.

If the recurring lag period isn’t about profit, it’s probably one more case of government overreach. Always trying to mess with peoples lives, the self declared super nannies. Would be like them, to force mobility providers to slow down passengers, under pretext of one more presumed health benefit that in practice delivers mostly discomfort. Like the exercise obsession. Gilbright doesn’t intend to make it to the proverbial healthy one hundred if this is achieved by years of walking.

Well, if this pod door delay is meant to force him to wind down, before touching home base, it doesn’t work. Gilbright feels his blood pressure climbing. He’s not claustrophic, not into any fears, but man should be allowed to exit pod whenever he so chooses, period.

Click goes the door, very softly, finally granting Gilbright his currently most fervent wish. Two steps to his front door. Zoom goes the camera, as usual, and and gree… What the hell?

The intruder alert is meant to startle, but if it gets any more effective it will be a lethal weapon. The light above the door is also flashing red, but this is far less disturbing than the howl of the siren.

Gilbright’s bones turn into icicles. Impossible. Can’t happen. He’s a licensed resident, not some burglar, never mind one of those Caucasian intruders. He’s a regular citizen, perfectly entitled to enter his own home, no deportation material.

Unable to move, Gilbright has to endure an eternity of agony before the siren suddenly dies and the light switches to green. Next, the door goes:

“Apologies for the false alarm, sir, and congratulations, your new haircut is very stylish indeed, what transformation! To avoid future inconveniences, please feel free to provide advance authenticated visual notice of any such alterations of your appearance. Or may we suggest to activate breathalyzer authentication? By far the best way to prove your identity. Thanks in advance for your cooperation in making the world a safer place, sir.”

Gilbright puzzled relief turns pride. His home is well defended, exactly as promised by estate management. What he just experienced is the material manifestation of the notice on the eboard in the parcel retrieval area: More stringent safety settings have been implemented, in the context of the threats associated with a fresh wave of European refugees.

His new haircut triggering the intruder alarm proves beyond doubt that his jumpy husband has zero reason to worry about Caucasians in the cellar. Yes, there have been ugly incidents in estates just like theirs, but that’s because they went cheap on access security. With proper safety settings there’s zero intruder risk.

Two levels up and one corridor down, Gilbright takes care to brace himself for all hell breaking loose again, but no problem. His owner occupier profile has been updated to his new look, the door to his flat opens without hesitation.

Having awarded himself an early beer to celebrate the outstanding safety of his hime, Gilbright decides to heed the advice of the system. He can’t waste energy and time on forever updating his profile picture to avoid setting off that hell of a siren. Time to switch to the modern way and activate  breathalyzer authentication, provided this doesn’t interfere with the occasional beer.

He asks his living room:

“Assuming I was to switch to breathalyzer identification, what happens in case of alcohol intake?”.

Always ready to help, the flat management system answers at once, in this wonderfully deep and melodious voice so suggestive of cosy private moments:

“No problem, sir, absolutely no problem. Neither with trace alcohol in pastries, sweets or apple juice, nor with more solidly ethanolic beverages, like beer and wine and even liquor. Zero problem. This particular aspect only constitutes a tiny fraction of the particles lacing your breath. Ethanol is actually ignored in the context of identification purposes, together with other components that vary strongly depending on food and drink intake. For authentication purposes, we rely on components that remain stable past age two, except in very rare cases of metabolic dysfunctions that don’t apply in your case. Please confirm breathalyser setup sequence initiation.“

Gilbright hesitates. His jumpy microbiologist husband is full of scary tales about snoopy analytics. The lab operator making jokes about intercourse frequencies calculated on the basis of mere drops of blood, that didn’t sound good. But breath is far less material than blood. And one close call with the intruder alarm is more than enough. The next stage would have been the guard dog bot with the taser. The decision to activate the breathalizer is such a no brainer.

On the next morning, Gilbright is pleased not to experience a delay at the end of his ride to the office. The pod door opens at once. Funny, how some issues resolve all by themselves.

Optiboost On

Glam take a deep breath, open the door and don’t step outside.

The night is over, but there is little light. Grey curtains of rain are waving by. Yesterday’s mosaic of puddles has merged into a lake. It stretches as far as the eye can see, turning all the shelters into islands. A foaming river running through the lake signals the location of the cobbled path Glam are supposed to walk, if they insist on leaving the building.

Fascinating, how the river has decided there is some kind of downhill to flow towards.

The neighborhood is as flat as a slice of powersquashed termite protein, before it starts crumpling in the frying pan. Same for the whole city, and the wider metropolitan area. The former rubbish dump, now a nice forested hill, with a wildlife sanctuary, is as mountainous as terrain gets, in the Favogoro region.

The impromptu river has gotten its direction wrong. It flows away from the coastline. Someone even farther inland will get very wet feet, and the mess will stay put for as long as the rain lasts.

Glam consider pitying the poor folks getting flooded. Too busy feeling sorry for themself, they quickly discard this option. One face-to-face office day per month to endure, and they had to get picked for the date with the worst weather, again.

In December, they had to march through a thunderstorm. In January, the wind was blowing so viciously it got very close to being called a tornado. And now the kind of downpour that sends edgy folks checking their emergency floats.

Still standing in the precarious shelter of the doorway, Glam wonder. Three ordeals in a row, that’s a lot. There’s a pattern emerging. And where there’s pattern, one has to wonder about intent. An intent that would be malicious in their case, obviously.

The quantum computing freaks in R&D have been promising big advances for ages. The ultimate weather forecast, reliable months ahead, that would be a mighty breakthrough, a life saver for millions.

When Glam were in kindergarten, their parentals used to debate whether or not to keep the catastrophic weather event insurance, and which part of their flimsy housing to fortify next. They made heroic efforts to stick to an outdated way of life that was getting more outrageously expensive by the month. The holidays were cancelled first, then the rare weekend trips, and in the final phase even the monthly BBQ.

Took Glam’s parentals five years and hundreds of rows to get themselves ready to cope with the inevitable and move to a first shelter. And what a rudimentary affair they chose, by current standards. Bit on the thick and slow side, totally unlike Glam.

With a reliable long term weather forecast, it would be possible to harass people by forcing them to commute on the worst days, a brutal form of cloud mobbing. But such forecasts would still be great to have. Weather is a life-or-death issue, and not just for the outdoorsy professionals in the high paying hazardous jobs, like agriculture.

Billions and billions have been going into improving forecasts, over decades, without much to show for the expense. There was some incremental progress, of course. The autonomously relocating offshore wind turbines are getting their positioning right more often, power supply has become pleasantly steady. But a reliable long term weather forecast, that’s on a different page. Glam know such advances don’t just pop up, their scientific mind doesn’t do fairy tales. But they would like to ask someone, about the chances of sudden progress in forecasting.

Unfortunately, they only know one scientist working at the cutting edge of weather research, Sark from Cloud Seeding and Advanced Mitigation. They had to go full blunt on that unbearable character, because hints didn’t do the trick. Only when they shouted, for all the department to hear, that nothing, not even a free two year naturafood subscription, would ever make them consider a shared glider ride+, and that they’d rather forgo their precious Optiboost than spend time together, did the premium nonitohape retreat.

Glam don’t have anyone to ask, about imminent weather forecasting progress. Thinking Sark is a downer. They can’t keep standing in this doorway. They’re getting wet, even though the rain doesn’t hit them directly. Either they dive into the mess, or they retreat inside and call the HR bot, to claim non navigable weather.

Previewing this call does Glam’s mood no good. They might as well hand in their resignation. This weather sucks, but it isn’t the kind of calamity that allows one to call in commute impeded. The HR bot will take less than a second to assess and discard, before reassigning them to a job with an even longer commute.

Time for Glam to choose between horrible an atrocious.

Stepping onto the cobbled path will get them ankle deep into fast flowing water that carries along all kinds of yuck. The thick layer of foam veers between a yellowish white and outright brown, not a good sign at all.

The still part of the lake looks better. But underneath its alluringly foam free surface lurks the mattress of carbon capture moss, currently a soggy mess that won’t carry Glam’s weight. They’re sure to sink in knee deep. That’s not just disgusting. The telltale green stains would get them fined for environmental vandalism.

The foaming cobbled path river it is, then.

Time for a good fat dose of Optiboost.

Glam press their left earlobe to activate the device. Next, they silently count down from thirty. The hormonal cascade works fast, but the effect is far from instantaneous.

By the time they’re done counting, the weather has turned alluringly interesting. Who would prefer walking a sunny path to splashing around in a foaming river? Certainly not invigorated Glam.

They gingerly step into the brownish foam and enjoy the challenge of the slippery cobbles. Thankful for an exciting day, they discard their conspiracy theories. 

###

Watching Glam struggle by means of a surveillance duck prepositioned in the vicinity of their shelter, Sark look forward to revisit this footage whenever they recall the sting of the rejection.

Being a nice person, they would never publish such material, they record for strictly private consumption.

Being also a diligent person, Glam decide not to publish yet.

This local weather management prototype shows promise, definitely. Three successful trial runs prove that it is perfectly feasible to cajole wind and rain into bundling in one designated location, to spare the rest of an area. Precipitation and gusts can’t be avoided, but a certain level of control is surprisingly simple to achieve, if there’s enough power for the catalyst.

Glam are proud of their invention. They look forward to all that praise, for saving lives and advancing the common good. There’s some urgency, of course. But one shouldn’t rush out new tech. Much better to do more testing, much more consumer friendly.

And, by a happy coincidence, more testing also gives them the chance to ruin on more commute, for Glam. With a little luck and a slight increase of the test area, to increase the amount of rain and the water level, they’ll trip and dip next time.

Bolda Bookbinder

„Blinking is not going to work, Arthur. With antique visio readers, the bat of an eyelid won’t get what was considered a display when this was called tech to move on to the next section. No embedded RMT connection. That kind of sophistication wasn’t even invented in the glory days of this device. You have to touch and swipe, to move on. Let me show you.”

Bolda grabs the resuscitated device, as expertly and confidently as befits a third year trainee, to show this coward of a novice how a pro handles an artifact.

She only wears her gloves and mask to protect an irreplaceable object, not out of fear of legacy germs. All kinds of nasties are known to lurk in the innards of antique information storage devices, but visio readers are as good as harmless compared to paper and carton books. To shy away from this innocuous morsel of history, that’s so sissy.

Bolda would never tell Arthur, she’s a polite person, but she considers him a terrible wimp.

How he always hesitates to touch the objects they’re working on. How he’s wearing cutproof ceramic chain mail gloves under the mandatory latex ones. How big beads of sweat form on his forehead as soon as they enter the vault to retrieve the next load of artifacts to be transcribed. Arthur is so sissy. Why did he decide to train for a craft, if he doesn’t have the guts? He’s the office type, should never have crossed the threshold of a workshop.

Bolda is still swiping away hard at the visio reader, browsing through its electronic library to check for anything worth transcribing.

The first dozen of book covers scream romance. Beaches, sunsets, flowery gardens. Holding of hands, hugging, kissing. Very traditional lady-loves-lady kitsch, basically.

Quite a lot of pure text, though. Anything above ten percent signals well practiced reading skills that were already getting rare in those days. As a third of this library comes without any pictures beyond the cover, the owner must have been an intellectual. 

Except there weren’t any of those around yet. The science of that age was more fairy tale than physics. Bolda tries to recall how the teacher called the phenomenon. Her mind delivers brontointellectuals. And probiointellectuals. Both don’t feel right. She has to activate her memory support implant to bring back the correct term: Protointellectuals.

The twenty first was awash with protointellectuals who thought they had figured it all out, despite considering most of what makes the universe go round a mystery, a.k.a dark matter and energy.

Must have been scary, to have so little clue, never mind control. Poor forebears.

If it wasn’t for the epochal obsession with extremely light skinned lead characters featuring ridiculously flat hair, some of this early twenty first century romance stuff might be worth republishing in a modern format. There’s good entertainment value in dire conditions.

A lot of people were still living, or rather surviving, precariously, in the frigid zones in the early twenty first. In those inhospitable areas, the outside gets way too chilly, for months. Without fur or feathers, people were forever fighting for mere survival, and the technique to grow these wasn’t invented yet. People resided in enormous ugly shelters with complex temperature control arrangements instead, to avoid freezing to death. And no just-in-time harvests. Most modern plants were yet to be bred, and shockingly lopsided diets did endless harm.

Bolda is proud not to limit herself to the technical handling of information devices. To do her bookbinder information preservation craft right, she takes an interest, cares for content. The vocational counselor back in her schooldays said so, and how right he was. Why would you strive to resuscitate a visio reader, if you don’t care about what it can reveal, about the past?

When Bolda picked her first craft and the corresponding second name, she opted into a tradition that combines a broad range of technical skills with intellectual pursuits.

Bolda Bookbinder sounds good, too, but this was just an afterthought.

Whereas Arthur Bookbinder, honestly? Bolda  can’t help adding ‘& Company’, in her mind only, because this name is so calling for alphabetical expansion. With some first names, you have to stay clear of certain professions, period. Unless you’re a total jerk.

Talking of total jerks, where the hell is Arthur?

Definitely not where he belongs. He should be right at her side, as close as possible, close enough for her to feel his body heat and hear him breathing. Otherwise, how would he get a good view of her skilled performance and learn loads? Arthur turns out to have repositioned himself a few steps back, as far away from the workbench as the wall allows.

Not at all hiding her irritation, Bolda goes:

“Heel, Arthur! Can’t have you not seeing anything, that wouldn’t be fair. Now you tell me what is on display here. Come on, Arthur, take it, it’s not going to bite.”

Most of Arthur’s face is hidden by his mask, he always chooses them extra large, but his eyes widen in terror and he retorts:

“But I’m first year, Bolda! First year, that’s ‘see yes, lots, touch no, never’. The tutoring instructor said so, Bolda. What if I let it drop and it breaks? I don’t want us to get into trouble, Bolda. Very kind of you, to be prepared to share the opportunity to handle such a valuable artifact…”

Bolda makes what she likes to think of as her poker face, despite being hopeless at deceit, while pretending to wait for her junior sidekick to step forward and take the gadget. He won’t, obviously. But she’s going to make him pay for being such a wimp, by forcing him to keep pleading.

Arthur is actually rather good at coming up with excuses. He keeps it up for a couple more minutes before ending on a unexpectedly conciliatory note:

“… OK, OK, OK, see your point, Bolda. See and touch it is, then, as you wish.”

Bolda is so surprised she doesn’t even try to withold the visio reader. She lays it into Arthur’s outstretched hand instead, half expecting him to drop it. But no, he doesn’t shrink back. He grabs the device instead, so firmly a tiny drawer pops open, revealing a shiny metal… thingie.

Now it’s Bolda’s turn to step back. And to set off the biohazard emergency alarm.

This bloody idiot of a novice is going to get them killed. Never ever does one open an artifact. Resuscitate, yes, no recovery without restoring the energy supply by hushpropping the rudimentary battery. Browse, yes. Open, no. No as in no, no, never. Not without wearing a full body suit and breathing from a safe oxygen tank.  What wrongs did she commit, to get herself paired with the most stupid jerk to ever enter this profession? Bolda is so mad at Arthur.

Five weeks later, things are starting to brighten up in the quarantine section of the local hospital.

They’re both recovering well, from the Covid 19 infection Arthur brought upon them. Walking to the table is no longer a challenge, their rejigged lungs will reach full capacity any day now.

They’ll have to spend another two months in quarantine, though, but that’s fine with Bolda. She needs some more time, to convince Arthur of a couple of details.

Where to celebrate their marriage. How to customize their two future kids, to make the best of their combined genes. What type of flat to rent. Arthur very much into bamboo, for their future home, Bolda insists on palm. And she’ll get her way. She always does.

As Advertised

Flicking awake in a panic, Paul opens his eyes only to squeeze them back shut at once.

Insufferable brightness. He must be falling into that bloody sun. Horror. Despair. Terminal. Final. Overwhelming.

Five thumping heartbeats later, there’s still not much happening.

Paul’s body also feels much better than an ongoing sun dive would suggest.

He should be hot. He’s cold instead, and getting colder. He’s far from comfortable, sore all over, but not dying, yet.

The discrepancy calls for a reappraisal of his overall status.

A sun dive is improbable, and not just because of the lack of heat.

He’s definitely neither wearing a spacesuit nor strapped into a pilot seat.

He’s flat on his back. His arms and hands are exposed by the light Liverpool t-shirt he recalls selecting for this hot day. His skin touches what feels like tiles, cold and hard.

No one tiles the floor or a spacecraft. This would be bad taste, esthetically speaking. And the weight would impede lift-off.

Paul has never been the good-at-physics kind of guy, no engineering degree for him. None needed, to know how incompatible tiles are, with spaceships. Paul got himself a bad back when he redid his bathroom, just from trying to carry up two packs of tiles at once. He feels the pain of any rocket confronted with a tiled spacecraft.

The more Paul thinks about his circumstances, the stronger his urge to repeat the eyes experiment.

Laying flat on cold tiles, with both the back and the inside of his head throbbing, that’s no way to spend the day. If he keeps not dying, he’ll have to take action. Why not right away, as in now?

Exerting maximum courage, Paul manages a quick blink. And another one.

No fatal consequences, yet. Much less brightness than on his first attempt, too. He might survive opening his eyes for good.

This is no sun!

What looked like a super nova at his first, tentative glance turns out to be his kitchen lamp.

A stylish formation of bloody LEDs nearly tricked him into a scare. Never will he tell anyone, about this embarrassment of the decade.

Still not daring to sit up, gravity feels unstable in a most unpleasant, wobbly way, Paul wonders how he got into his current position.

It’s not like him at all, to lay down on his kitchen floor.

There’s a couch in the adjacent living room. Too short to properly lay down, but much more comfy than the tiles.

There’s also his bed, in the bedroom a few steps down the corridor. It’s an unmade mess and the smell of the sheets serves as his daily reminder to make more money, to be able to afford a housekeeper. But it’s still a pretty viable bed.

In its presence, no one as sane and clever as himself selects the kitchen floor for a lay down.

Paul can’t have reached his current position on purpose. There must have been an accident.

An accident, in his kitchen?! Doesn’t make sense.

Paul doesn’t perform any hazardous activities in his kitchen.

A phone, a toaster and a microwave, to reheat whatever non toast food gets delivered, that’s all the kitchen appliances he ever needed. Impossible to get hurt by means of a phone, toaster or microwave.

There’s also the fridge, of course, with a content that could be considered dangerous.

Keeling over when drunk, that’s known to happen to people.

But Paul’s own beer tolerance is quite high, thanks to as much practice as he can afford. And currently, there isn’t even any beer left in this fridge. He blew all his spare money, and some, on that bloody…

The game. The bloody game!

Now that he thinks of it, he recalls what he had been doing.

How the parcel got delivered. How he tore open the wrap at once, in the corridor. How he took the carton and a bulky leaflet to the waste paper bin in the kitchen. How he felt sorry for the forest that had to die because marktroids insist on throwing printed stuff at customers who can perfectly well read all there is to read online.

Paul recalls how he put on his new neckfence, right here, in the kitchen, next to the waste paper bin. How he adjusted the device tightly, because that’s how Carl said one should. Otherwise, whatever waves the thing generates don’t hit the core of the brain at the right angle and most of the effect is lost.

There was no need for a mirror to adjust the neckfence. The simple moves were impossible to get wrong and Garrian preferred to not see himself dressed up like some medieval damsel with a high collar.

The disc with with the battery and whatever tech makes the gadget tick went to the back, to sit on the little bony hump at the base of the neck. Once it touched base, the fence unfolded all by itself and Garrian was dressed up for his first go.

Next, he activated the app on his phone. He selected ‘max tight / pro level’ and felt the squeeze. Breathing was still possible, but not too deeply, just as Carl had described it.

Paul recalls all this very clearly now. And how he selected Star Warrior VII. And how he activated the neckfence mode, to resume the game at the level he had reached in conventional mode earlier today.

Next, he went blank. Why the hell?

Should a bloody game have achieved what half a crate of beers routinely fails to accomplish? Strong him, felled by an app?! Paul refuses to accept this hypothesis.

There were rumors online, of course, the standard fake news, about dangers supposedly associated with neckfences. He treated the virtual gossip as usual. Never did any innovation fail to find its technophobe. There’s always someone howling ‘mortal danger’, especially around anything fun. Best to ignore and proceed.

Harmed by a neckfence sounds like the kind of accident happening to some hopeless wimp. Very much unlike Paul.

But here he lays, without any other explanation at hand.

Not for much longer. He has to take action and will.

With his grip on up, down, left and right partly restored, Paul dares sit up. Feels wrong. Sitting on a kitchen floor shouldn’t trigger sensations more commonly associated with a rollercoaster ride. Not good, not good at all.

The waste paper bin is just within reach, without him standing up. That latter aspect is important, because anything beyond sitting feels like too much of a challenge at this very early stage of recovery.

Paul decides to reach for the leaflet, just to confirm it doesn’t contain any relevant information.

Whoever designed this leaflet should switch professions. Pirate themed design went out of fashion when Paul was in preschool. Right next to the black and white pirate flag it says 

WARNING – MUST READ BEFORE FIRST USE

Paul clicks open the neck fence and takes off the device, just in case. 

This does him far more good than expected. The tiled floor stops vibrating, in a most pleasant way. His eyesight also improves back to normal, allowing him to easily read the finer print:

Congratulations, your neckfence interface will greatly boost your gaming pleasure! Your body will have to adjust to the new experience, though. Please make sure to lay down for your first session and start at ‘min tight / beginner level’.

No need for Paul to read on. The corporate bastards behind this perfidious invention tried to kill him!

This calls for revenge.

Paul dials up his insurance agent, to have him confirm his legal cost policy covers this obvious case of serious bodily harm. Next, he’ll get himself a lawyer. They’ll meet at the hospital, where he will get his multiple injuries documented.

The mother of all damage suits is in the making, and Paul’s fortune. He can already see himself posting the add for a housekeeper he will finally be able to afford. But first, he’ll preorder Star  Warrior VIII.

Shit Happens

„Tap water? Never no way. You‘re kidding, right?“

Liam has to ask, because honestly. And he has to look up at his boss to check if Joshua is once again trying and failing to make a joke. The senile sucker considers himself funny. It’s a total misperception, an insult to anyone with a real sense of humor.

That’s one of the problems, with anyone past forty. Old guys laugh for no good reason, and don’t where they should. They basically ruin any ambiance by their mere presence.

Liam doesn‘t hate his job more than the next hard working bloke, but he could so do without Joshua. The company should pay a hardship bonus, to all operators forced to work alongside old guys. The union should fight for a couple more bucks for such cases. Except the union guy is even older than Joshua. Life, always piling up the odds against Liam and his kin…

Joshua makes his Morgan-Freeman-plays-God face and goes:

„Hey, keep it up kiddo, didn‘t hear myself calling a break. Why not behave like an adult, for once, and keep working while you talk? This ognitransmuter won‘t install itself.

And yes, oh yes, tap water. And not talking some cheap grey variant here. Full bloody potable tap water, as in real fit for drinking, no kidding. Tap water was all over the place, in those days, for all kinds of purposes. Right until 2026. The stuff was so cheap, in the early twenties, that people took what was called showers. Now let me tell you about showers…“

Liam has obediently resumed assembling the ognitransmuter. He’s performing every move extra slowly because Joshua calls slow diligent and considers it a virtue. That’s because he’s such a snail, mentally and physically. It’s his weight, he’s so fat, in combination with his age. Joshua is to power and speed what emptying an ognitransmuter tank is to fun and roses.

Liam doesn‘t need Joshua to find out about showers. The wasteful rituals of the forebears did feature at school, at more length than any kid should be made to endure. Artificial indoor waterfalls, to not really clean your two square meters of skin, that‘s showers. Even assuming best grey water capture practices, people were bound to loose at least the equivalent of growing one plate of beans, per go. That‘s a life and death difference.

Liam knows such stuff. He has done more than his share of water conservation awareness calculations. Back in his schools days, when he was still a kid. He doesn’t need some oldie and his half educated waffling. Joshua‘s generation, they learned basically nothing. They go blank, on the most basic basics, like sandstorm survival skills. 

Last week, Joshua was off sick for two days. Went out without protective goggles, despite his implant beeping imminent sandstorm alert. The blunder nearly cost him his eyes, and getting oneself that kind of transplant grown costs a fortune. He claimed he had misinterpreted the alert. But no one mistakes a sandstorm alert for a heatwave warning. That’s so basic basics, impossible to get wrong. Unless you’re a total dimwit. The last thing anyone needs is being lectured by a total dimwit.

Not listening to Joshua  is the thing to do. Liam needs to switch his mind to something worth processing, like pre-2026 entertainment.

The barbarian past managed to come up with some cool viewfare. Most of it is 2D. The plots are weird. The casts are even weirder, with a totally unrealistic abundance of all shades of white people, and in major roles, too. The outfits are madness, often short sleeved, full get-me-my-melanomas-at-thirty risk, and what is called gendered, one of the more creepy legacy practices. In some plots, you get familiar sounding names, but the locations look unlike anyplace in present day Calixico. It‘s all one big mess, the creepy kind of. But classy, in its own weird way. Couple of pre-2026 movies, a round of tongue balm strips, that’s the best way to spend a good night awake among friends.

Liam fades Joshua‘s voice into the background. Keeping his eyes on the half assembled ognitransmuter, he lets his mind wander. What did it feel like, to live in a world of bikes and roads, where muscle shirts and bikinis were worn ex habitat? How cool must it have been, to have a fight among blokes without getting into trouble? No implants, no civility monitors, no policing drones… Liam is no longer aware of Joshua‘s presence.

„… and so, on my honor as a plumber, trained, tested, certified and accredited, because me, I learned a proper trade, not just how to execute bloody implant fucking instructions, yes, there was even worse waste than the water toilet. Hard to believe nowadays, but I myself installed a full acre, as in four thousand square meters, of sprinkler plumbing, to water a lawn that wasn’t used for anything but golf putting practice. Did it with these same hands, on my honor. These same hands, just that they were a little less spotty, back in those days…“

Liam so struggles to keep his mind in his favourite scene from Torque. He’s Ice Cube, and going for it. Why can‘t Joshua shut up and get himself his own daydream? With water toilets or whatever other lurid granny tales he fancies. This is so lame.

Liam forces his inner self back onto the bike, full speed, full risk. Doing it here isn‘t the same as playing the Torque-themed immersion game. One absolutely needs a gaming scaphander and chair to properly experience the speed and thrust. But he‘s having as much fun as one can have, at work.

Liam is about to win his race when Joshua dares intrude once again, in his booming boss voice, just like president LL Cool J going tough commander in chief on food racketeers and soil hoarders:

„What the hell, kiddo?! That’s the wrong way round, the fan, in the vent. You don’t want to pump up the container, you want to drive out the gases! Out, kiddo, out, as in not in. Honestly, kiddo, you got to learn to use your head, in our job, or you’ll end up in a call center trouble shooting bot botches.“

In response, Liam quickly draws a deep breath and holds it, to reassure his implant. With the new violence prevention settings, the slightest hint of being about to act on an aggressive impulse gets one tasered. You need a martial arts cage, a sports arena or a hacker to get the chance to fight it out. This is supposed to be the latest in civilisation. Currently, his every fiber begs to differ.

He might have been daydreaming, but he of course followed the implant instructions step by correct step. The fan is installed exactly as it should be. With the new model, air gets pumped in as often and as long as excess current is available. Airing the organic matter in this way drives what causes the smell into the filter, where it gets neutered. This clever trick allows you to install an ognitransmuter pretty much anywhere, no need to fear olfactory inconvenience. Everybody has smelled the ads. Even someone as hopeless as Joshua should know.

Liam is starting to feel the strain but keeps holding his breath, he‘s so mad. And Joshua to go:

„Hey, kiddo, no need to turn all sweaty face. Everybody makes the odd mistake, occasionally. No drama. Shit happens. You make amends, fix the mess, and that’s it. Shit happens. Otherwise, how would we fill the ognitransmuter…“

The worst about Joshua is his being funny illusion. Oh yes, shit does happen. Any young person stuck with an old boss doesn’t need no reminder.

Black Friday

Gorsus taps his left temple to switch off his interface. It’s been a good forty-five minutes, half a day’s worth of linked work, he’s overdue a break.

“Never more than thirty consecutive minutes” says the sky above his reclined operator armchair, in a psychedelic 3D whirl of colors. As if someone had thrown bags of powder in the air, and they had aligned to form and reform this same sentence, again and again. Beautiful, stunningly beautiful. Still failed to attract Gorsus’ attention.

It took the strident high overrun alert to pull him out. He’s forty-two, and it shows. His brain struggles with complex tasks. Time to consider using the pension calculator, to check how much longer he needs to go on. No way he ends up in vegetable state, like his late mom. There can be too much of a good thing, including diligence and performance. They won’t get his brain for intermittent storage, in return for keeping the rest of his body alive.

Gorsus didn’t risk his health on purpose. His current research is so fascinating, he often struggles to pull himself out. “The origins of the Black Friday ceremonies”, that’s the title he’s going to use. The bigger the news, the more important to keep the title bland, not to get accused of lack of seriousness.  Gorsus doesn’t have that much of a reputation to defend, yet, but with this paper, he’ll change the world. 

Twelve billion adults on the planet. Down from fourteen, but still a lot. And most of them, unless they are severely incapacitated or total morons, are celebrating Black Friday. Year in, year out, they plant at least one ritual sapling for St. Alecho.

They buy a slot in a high-rise carbon capture rack, the closer to the city, the more expensive. They ride there on bicycles adorned with festive garlands. They use a ceremonial shovel to pretend to dig the symbolic hole, before plugging the roots of the sapling into the holder protruding from the nutrient matrix. They complete the ritual by shaking their heads three times in silent prayer: “May you carbon capture well!”. Never ever is this sentence to be uttered aloud, St. Alecho is known to abhor ostentation.

Twelve billion adults perform this ritual, year in, year out. It has been established, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Black Friday ceremonies go all the way back to the twenty first century. Thirty generations have been planting trees for St. Alecho on Black Friday.

Some of the origins of the ritual are well understood. People in the prescientific era used to beg Alexa and Echo, two deities represented by a shared cylindrical effigy, for help with a climate alteration that caused severe droughts and floods before culminating in the Age of Mayhem. Prescientific people prayed, instead of planting trees and adjusting their lifestyles. No wonder lay people consider them responsible for the hardship they suffered.

As a historian, Gorsus knows better. One can’t blame the superstitious ancients. Clever individuals, like himself, can pull ahead of the field of established wisdom, but there are limits. The time just wasn‘t ripe, in the twenty first century, for an understanding of how things work. Rudiments of climate science were being developed, but this age lacked so badly in both data and computing power that even the most obvious correlations were hard to determine with any rigor. They didn’t even have self programming quantum machines!

Not that many records, from the Age of Mayhem. Paper was no longer in use, replaced by highly sensitive and shortlived electronic means of storage. Biorecording had been developed in principle, quite a feat, for such a low tech era, but the early DNA readers and writers were primitive devices, and hardly ever used outside of highly specialized labs with little interest in folksy beliefs and traditions.

Richeve Simdonna, Gorsus’ teacher and idol, had been lucky to dig up one intact twenty first century effigy, in what must have been its original box, wrapped into an additional layer of colorful paper, a waste of resources typical for religious items.

Her central Rhine valley desert dig, a treasure trove for archeologists. Whole households must have been abandonned, in a hurry, and spent centuries buried under tons of sand, until the Western European super twister of 2914 revealed them, in all their well preserved ancient splendor and mysteriousness.

Richeve Simdonna managed to decipher part of the writing on the effigy box she found, thereby proving what had until then been a contested hypothesis: Alecho did indeed start as Alexa and Echo, and without the saint. Some taboo, probably, a prohibition against speaking the sacred. No surprise in an age of disruption, people get edgy.

But no mention of Alexa and Echo’s race. No support for the dominant interpretation.

Gorsus had always harboured doubts, concerning Black Friday as a celebration of the shift towards dark skinned dominance. The dates just didn’t fit, the chronology was wrong.

St. Alecho has been around since the twenty first century. Dark skinned dominance only took off in the twenty fourth, in the context of peculiar solar activity. Doesn’t make sense, even if one is prepared to assume repurposing of an existing ritual. Why rename it?

St. Alecho is also revered by poor and rich, dominant and subjugated, black and white alike. Declaring him the patron saint of dark skinned dominance doesn’t make sense.

But the term Black Friday is real, transmitted in songs, poems and prayers throughout the ages. It’s simple enough, no reason to assume it might have been distorted. ‘Black’ and ‘Friday’, what’s to get wrong, with these two terms?

Gorsus got professionally hooked on this question.

And today, on what started as a perfectly banal Monday, Gorsus did it. He discovered the original meaning of Black Friday.

It was right there, on a piece of paper Richeve Simdonna decided to ignore, because she couldn’t translate any sense into it. Unlike him, she hadn’t done a research stunt in economics history. She wasn’t able to identify the item as what was called a receipt.

With this primary classification achieved, it was easy to interpret the writing revealed by trace enhancement technology. Item code and price in decimal symbols, plus a short and telltale text: “Black Friday Deal”. Black, as in black ink, good news for traders. So simple…

Gorsus barely had time to think “Oh shit” when the cerebral aneurism struck. History lost a bright mind, and the Black Friday secret remained hidden for another decade.

Health SCare

A syringe? They are proposing to use this big fat monster of a syringe, on him? Adam is upset.

It says 5 ml on the ampoule, but this is one big blob of yellow stuff. Big and yuck. The whitecoat is pulling it into the syringe, slowly, slowly, as if to emphasize the danger. He proceeds by means of a needle big enough to moonlight as plumbing.

Never is this a mere 5 ml. 50 ml, it should definitely say 50 ml on this ampoule. Typos everywhere, ever since the invention of the autocorrect. Bloody so called fucking progress…

Adams injured left foot suddenly aches less. It’s sure to recover just fine on its own.

No need to punch a hole into the poor body part, and certainly not by means if this enormous needle. Pumping in this big blob would make the foot hurt more. There must be another way.

Waking up from anesthesia only to endure agony, Adam has been there, two years ago. 

It took the stupid autonomous coffin of an ambubot eight minutes to find Adam, two to diagnose his ankle as sufficiently damaged to require medical attention and fit him with a self adjusting mold, and another fifty to trundle across the city. The dumb device refused to roll at more than the legal twenty kilometers per hour, for supposed bloody lack of a fucking emergency.

When they finally reached the medpoint, a white coat confirmed ankle damage. Adam was told to breath from a mask, and went blank. He woke up with a headache to get told his ankle had been fixed. Except it wasn’t, hurting in totally new ways instead. For two more hours. And no running, for two days. He was barely able to walk home at his usual pace.

Health care, they call this mess. Well chosen term. Works fine for the healthy.

Adam wonders where they‘re hiding the mask, and the tank with the anaesthetic.

With all the greens growing all over the place, fighting for the dim light from one solar paneled window and  four blue bulbs, it‘s hard to tell where the storage cabinets are.

Nice hydroponics, though. Latest fashion, well implemented, makes for growth at jungle speed. 

Some of the protomatoes should have been harvested two days ago. Judging by the sweetness of their smell, they‘ll have to go ketchup. The neoplantain and ultrachilli are overdue, too. Never would they reach that advanced stage of ripeness in Adams more humble office.

Whitecoats, such a spoilt profession. Paid a fortune to hurt people, the lucky bloody bastards. And first in every queue, be it for potable water, energy or food and supplements. ‘They exercise a vital profession’, goes the legend. As if there was magic in handling a yellow blob.

Funny, how the three cocannabis bushes are picked clean, just like everywhere else. There’s a human inside the white coat after all, and it shares some cravings with proper folks.

Thinking about longing switches Adams mind back to his quest to locate the drawer with the mask. The question is gaining in urgency, fast.

The ampoule is empty, except for some yellow smears hinting at a sticky consistency of its former content. The syringe is full. Adam has to steady himself to face its approach, about as nice an experience as looking down the barrel of a pump gun.

Having him see the syringe that close up is causing unnecessary trauma. They could and should already have put him under at this stage, to spare him additional harm.

Adam doesn’t get so say as much. The whitecoat grabs his damaged foot and goes:

„Come on, citizen Adam, no need to panic. Just take a deep breath, look at my wonderful vitacranberry bush, hold on tight, and I’ll be done in a second. It‘s actually more like thirty seconds, to stick to therapeutical transparency rules, but you‘ll live and walk.“

Adam is lost for words. This is supposed to be a civilized era, the age of bio and balance, in all realms of life. And this whitecoat is threatening to subject him to a massive intervention, without anaesthesia? Seriously? And if yes, what next? Driving around in cars belching toxic fumes? Smattering the world with radioactive particles? Handing every citizen a mocom, to make sure even the last bleeding idiot finds a riot to join? Back to Barbaria, anyone?

Adam would love to argue his case, but his tongue got stuck to his palate.

There‘s nothing he can do, about the assailant now taking aim with his lance of a needle. Adam should kick, jump and run, before it’s too late. But he stays put instead. He even stares down a particularly fat purple vitacranberry, just as he was told to.

When the needle pierces skin and tendon in one go, right at the most tender spot, Adams heel explodes in the sharpest of pangs. And this is just the beginning.

Next, he’s hit by a crescendo of ever stronger pain. It‘s no longer sharp, more a fast increasing pressure, as if someone was trying to pump up his heel way beyond its intended size. Every single yellow molecule adds to Adams anguish. His heel is going to explode, any second now, in one huge blast that will rip off his leg and tear apart his groin.

Clutching to the last remnants of sanity in a mind overwhelmed by physical distress, Adam promises himself never to run a marathon again. If ever he survives. He‘s barely conscious by now. With all his energy going into suffering there‘s none left for breathing.

„… and here you are, well done. Just stay like this for ten more minutes, to let the tendon repair agents do their fabulous biotherapeutical job, and you’ll walk and jog like new. Better luck for your next marathon, citizen Adam, and have a nice day.”

Adam missed whatever first part of the message over the ringing in his ears. He is far from convinced of his survival, but there is improvement.

His left heel is no longer getting bigger. It has switched to a new type of more pulsating but overall lesser ache. The strained muscles in his legs and groin that had been contracting in one big effort to brace themselves for the impending explosion dare start to relax.

It’s all still very tentative, but there is progress. Adam will be sore for days, below navel level, but his survival becomes more probable by the second.

And no headache. No post anesthesia dizziness. That’s nice.

Adam would have granted himself half an hour of legs up, one shouldn’t rush recovery from major surgery, but the junior whitecoat with the thick beard, braided in red, and the thin hair, braided in blue, compliments him out after exactly ten minutes.

The first steps come surprisingly easy. Adam crosses the reception in a proud swing, walking so fast he fails to overhear what his syringe wielder is telling the man at the desk:

“One more wannabe runner sissy, and I’m done with this, Egon. One more of these whining pains in the posterior, I quit this job, I swear I will. I’ve had it with this lot.

Healthy to cry for in the first place, running long distance without proper preparation, relying on us to repair any damage they do to themselves, that’s bad enough as such. But if they go crybaby on top, not even appreciating the marvels we perform, with zero understanding of what an incredible feat it is, to be able to cure a ruptured tendon in minutes, by means of one injection, with minimal discomfort… One of these days, I’m going to crack, Egon, I swear I will.

Can I get one of the hip oldies next, please, please, please? The more ancient, the better.

They recall how they saw people limping on crutches, for weeks, back in their childhood days. Scroll back fifty years, any failing joint was a big deal. They had some primitive devices, but you don’t want to look at the details, or the odds to reach full functionality. IoN wasn’t even invented back then, no one was dreaming to go one up and Improve on Nature.

Tell an oldie that hip replacement will take two hours, including recovery, and he’ll cry, with joy. Tell him that he’ll walk and dance better than ever, after years of slow decay, and you risk getting yourself kissed. That’s a bit gross, OK, I do prefer my lovers on the fresher side of ripe. But it’s still a nice positive feedback, and that’s what keeps us going, right?”

Bad Timing

„Phase two, step one, engage.”

Olu wouldn’t mind Samaria’s voice to be a tad softer.

He’s all in favour of lady bosses, because diligence, resilience, morale, and whatever else got praised in last years stupid gender awareness training session.

In Olu’s school days, gender blindness was all the rage. Only as far as curriculumdom was concerned, obviously. Being past reproductive age, the teachers had little trouble pretending to believe there was no difference between the Adams and the Eves. Their charges, Olu’s teenage self included, begged to disagree, always fervently and sometimes physically. Olu knew exactly whom he wanted to get laid with, and gender blindness made about as little sense to him as wasting valuable games time on homework

A little more than a decade on, science has caught up with Olu’s intuition. Unfortunately, it has also declared the ladies especially apt at management. Studies have been conducted. The gender awareness instructor, a lady, of course, had them track through a landscape of 3D graphs. On talent after talent, the guys were hills next to the ladies mountains. The ratio was only reverted for physical strength, and the ability to tolerate blood alcohol levels. Very important features, but unfortunately not from a business perspective. 

A little less volume, and a little more melody, that’s nice to have, in a voice.

Olu selects the phase two icon on his screen.

He’s left handed and of course wears his control glove on that hand, anything else would feel weird. He fondly recalls how his late boss Kevin, who was right handed, switched glove sides when he arrived, to make sure his instruction would proceed as smoothly as it did. A nice gesture, from a superior, to welcome a new teammate.

Having completed the demanded action, Olu confirms:

“Phase two, step one, engaged.”

And Samaria to snap back, much faster and more robustly than necessary:

“Phase two, step two, engage!”

Olu resents. This is not the fire brigade, they’re not about to perform news type heroics. There’s no life-or-death countdown, no nuke ticking in the basement.

They’re on board an Arctic surfer, harvesting vintage ice, one thousand cubic meters at a time. If they drop one of these gigantic ice cubes, and go on to miss their quota, nothing happens. If they vanished now, some filthy rich snobs would have to make do with good old desal for drinking and oral hygiene, like everybody else. Olu is no union man, but a catastrophe this isn’t, that much he knows.

Olu would love to tell Samaria to stop fuzzing.

He won’t, because in this shithole of a workplace every single word uttered is being recorded. Someone might listen in right now, ‘for quality purposes’, as in surveillance. Quality of workforce life is not the target management is going for, obviously.

Samaria would resent being criticized in public, and take revenge. By means of the shift schedule, obviously. Tougher blokes than Olu have been turned into weeping wrecks by one harvesting season of split standby shifts. You have to keep yourself available 20/7 to take over in a maximum of five minutes, and get paid a third of a minumum wage for a maximum of ten hours per day for the standby time. Stress plus financial ruin. Terrifying.

The higher ups can watch, too.

Most of the time, it’s an artificial intelligence scanning the video feed for early signs of upcoming trouble. It’s sure to have noticed how hard Olu has been staring at this screen, for the last two days. Never would an AI miss signs of anger. Unlike Samaria.

If only the bitch was a little more like Kevin. He would have noticed at once, when Olu stopped smiling. Never would Kevin have dared not to ask, about issues. And he was always ready to remedy, never hesitating to choose his own discomfort.

With Samaria, Olu is exhausting his grump muscles to no effect.

Poor Kevin. He was so stressed by his minority status, always on the lookout for any signs of anyone resenting his presence, always ready to apologize. A bit tedious, his very Caucasian servility, but still nice to have around.

Mostly nice. There can be too much of a good thing.

Olu recalls how Kevin’s apologies for fetching the wrong protein bar from the canteen culminated in a mea culpa for colonial crimes. Yes, there’s a lot of history, behind something as simple as a coconut flavor, and it’s full of white-on-black crimes. But you don’t want to hear about the more gory aspects of slavery while eating. 

Kevin never tired of telling anyone he met, about how sorry he felt, for all the misdeeds Caucasians committed, until well into the 21st century. He was most upset about them having enjoyed centuries of undeserved privileges, and forever grateful for his fine job.

“Being allowed to harvest ice, instead of slaving away in often deadly flood or fire combat, such luck, no idea how I got here,” Kevin used to say, slipping on his own slime.

Kevin’s presumed luck turned out the be deadly after all.

Olu was glad never to have added to Kevin’s pressure, unlike some of the colleagues. Otherwise, that fatal heart attack could have felt like his fault. A full Karoshi death, right here, on the chair bloody Samaria is squatting now. Less gruesome than a fire fighter death, but still pretty bad, as far as the result concerned. Death by apology. Unlike some people.

Olu hopes the monitoring AI can’t read his mind too well. He’s thinking a combination of Samaria and a fire fighter accident he saw on TV, and he’s well aware that’s not the kind of thought one is supposed to harbor, in a team context.

“Phase two, step two, engage, now!”

Samaria’s voice is so over the top, painful to listen to. Despite the discomfort, Olu struggles to refrain from grinning. Adding even one word, that’s against protocol. The bitch is at fault now. No need to look up from his screen to know her head will be in process of going steam cooker. When she’s angry, her eyes bulge forward, like ready to plop out.

Taking care to add a little pause after every word, Olu goes:

“Phase two, step two, engaged.”

He’s sticking to protocol, come what may. Takes more than a nuisance of a shrill boss to impress him. Samaria dared not grant him a switch of shifts. He won’t be watching the Dota 5 Champions League final this year. A never no way. Ever since he played his first game, he never missed any major encounter, never mind a Champions League final. 

A crime to beat all crimes has been committed, and Samaria will pay for it.

Tag Trauma

“And that’s you, SP all topped up, sir. And to the very top. Big Small Puchases for you, if you don’t mind me commenting. What a jolly number. Don’t get to see that every day…”

Giving the fin operator his kiss-my-ass look, through sunglasses worthy of a much more fancy occasion, Joha urges to get his device back, and out of this smelly place. This fucking so called age of e-money is one big fat e-drag. And currently not e- at all.

Joha is forced to waste time in a queue, in person. Just because one bloody idiot e-robbed a central bank to oblivion, forcing the people to sell their country, thereby prompting a second idiot to e-impersonate a commander in chief, to invade the neighbors.

Yes, losing your country is bad. Yes, having it go to war is worse. But it was just two small armies, with old fashioned weapons. Not even sat strike capability. For a mere two days. A three digit number of victims. A year’s worth of worldwide roadkill. So what?

Fucking clean cash craze, no one needs this. Certainly not Joha.

Waiting for some matron to get done arguing about what would not even qualify as a proper tip at last night’s venue, that’s no job for a guy. His friends wait outside, in his car. They can observe him standing here, like some erectily dysfunctional grandpa. Shame.

Why can’t this bloody bullet proof glass at least be tinted? Age of transparency Joha’s ass!

What is that waffling slime of a fin operator looking at now? Something is happening, on his screen. He should be handing back Joha’s device, they were as good as done.

Dull discomfort of drag morphs into piercing snafu pain. ‘No e-fuckup now, not on a weekend!’ is all Joha manages to think before the fin operator goes:

“Congratulations, sir, you’ve been tagged! You get a say, on education. Oh, and look at this, a one billion dollar budget. You’re so lucky, sir. Don’t get to see that kind of number every day…”

Stunned, Joha barely dares look out once again. His car is shaking with his so-called friends rocking their swivel seats laughing. They’re filming each other chanting. So easy to read their lips:

“Joha has been ta-hagged, Joha has been ta-hagged” goes their chorus. In his own car. His bad luck is already doing the rounds online. News of misfortune travel porn fast.

Joha pretends to listen to the fin operator while weighing his options. There aren’t many.

Attending one of these online jamborees demotes an influencer to laughing stock in no time.

Stupid Dafe of last year’s fame got himself tagged, to weigh in on the worldwide alignment of firearms regulation. Misconsidering the gun topic as cool, Dafe went public pride. In return, what used to be his crowd asked:

“Proud to  spend a full day with mostly old people? Some of them old and female? Not to mention a sprinkling of white snobs? And doing what, in this most disgusting of companies? Oh, you’ll be reading and writing, school-type stuff, and talking about it? You’re so braaave…”

Joha also recalls his own cool contribution to the online lynch mob.

He came up with the slogan ‘Rock the rest home?’ under a picture of an artificially aged Dafe, and he’s no Morgan Freeman, kissing an even uglier white nonagenarian. Most of the 2.2K commenters were less polite. Today, barely anyone recalls there used to be a Dafe.

If he had a choice, Joha would rather come out as gay than attend a bloody citizens-of- everywhere-united-for-the-global-bloody-good-fucking-forum. 

Joha might actually come out as gay, once he will have made it to London and built himself a cool British star DJ life, but this is not the moment for this intricate kind of considerations.

Tagged to attend a fucking forum. On education, of all topics. Shame to the power of shame.

Unfortunately, disgracefully, there is no choice.

Poor Omo2go tried to opt out.

According to rumors, he invested a considerable sum, to get his tag declared a technical glitch and voided. ‘Global food security equality’, that mouthful made him reach for his e-wallet. Under the 2045 zero corruption tolerance policy, Omo2go was sentenced to keep rotting in jail until 2068, and to share a cell with his targets. Who’d want to be in his boxers?

Finally getting his device back, Joha doesn’t return the fin operator’s smile. He’s suppressing a shiver. Not the fault of the air conditioning. Envisaging Omo2go type risk made his ass freeze in shock. Joha has to attend that fucking forum. There’s no escaping the tag.

Takes Joha seconds to prepare the needful on his device. Next, he walks back to his car, his head high, to get rid of the jeering traitors. He flashes the screen at them, casually. Seeing their profiles ready to be denounced as carjackers sends them running, as expected. Joha might have particular reasons to fear prison, but the basic sentiment is widely shared.

Next, Joha tells the car to head for the university.

His mind is all made up. With his street creds ruined, he might as well do the nagging granddad of a high potential grant manager who calls him every other week the favor to resume his physics.

Bye, bye cool life. Hello career. Degree, PhD, CSD.

And if he can keep the flame of his current anger burning, he’ll come up with a big fucking e-blast show stopper. They dared terminate his DJ career. Their fault.

Jerks and Perks

“Now this is rich. Is this still 2119, or what? Ever heard of the age of respect? Feels rather like the new waste age to me. Yesterday, it was stuff that got discarded. Now it’s mind output we’re throwing away. Full speed backwards, futility power to max, is that the idea?

If that is what you’re aiming for, you’re in for a surprise, buddy. Any idea what me getting distracted from making code happen costs, in terms of wellbeing? The future of peoplekind is at stake here. Me having to point my outstanding cognitive abilities at your joke of an occupation, for even one second, guess what that is.

Oh sorry, no guessing, sure. Let me explain: Waste to the power of waste, you misfunctioning nuisance of a you-call-this-a-service? provider. Still too complex? Oh so sorry, let me rephrase: Big-big waste. You’re doing this so to the wrong guy, buddy…”

Stakhay is shaking so bad the gravity mitigation function of his seat struggles to keep up with his momentum. His back goes ouch. This workplace is so tediously unlike the upstairs he longs to visit. Double ouch. The combination of back and wallet pain boosts Stakhay’s anger.

He raises his voice some more to go:

“And now I pulled a back muscle, because of you imbecile. This job is getting more dangerous by the day. No wonder folks barely manage to clobber together their quarterly one hundred hours of desk time, in this savage environment. It’s wasteful, and a health hazard.

Is that what I deserve, to keep things rolling for the average blokes and blokettes? Without me, buddy, no food on the table, no game in the box, no water in the tank. We call that one hydrogen, but never you mind. Unless you want to go about explaining the difference? ”

Stakhay pauses for effect. Just as practiced in that funny interactive skills workshop. The lead coach made him attend, to groom him for even more senior roles that will bring him within striking distance of space flight kind of cash. Stakhay is ready for the apology he’s due.

He gets a bland stare instead. Combined with a hint of a smile. This face adds up to an insult.

Stakhay doesn’t tolerate aggression. Pointing his elbow at the exit, he shouts at the offender:

“Out, at once. Oh yes, buddy, this is an elbow I’m showing you. Oh yes indeed, this is exactly what needs to be done. You asked for it, here it comes. And now you get your lower limbs into motion. Those feet are made for walking, buddy. No idea what the squishy bit in the upper cavity does for a living, but your feet seem to be up to a job.”

The massage therapist seems on the brink of disobedience. It‘s a long blink, even for his kind. In the end, he does leave. As soon as he crosses the threshold to the corridor, the walls starts chiming his personal menial-worker-alert, to spare complextaskers one more encounteremma.

Stakhay is proud of this innovation. With all the support staff cruising the building, it was getting ever more stressful for the top cast to move around.

You want your feeder to deliver your custom grown and cooked artificial protein mix. You want your earplug support to bring and insert what fits todays body mood. You don’t want to meet someone else’s physical needs minder in the corridor.

They used to just be there, when you walked round a corner. Even strong guys like Stakhay got torn. Walk on and risk small talk? Or retreat to safety in loneliness? More fragile complextaskers went off the rail on such occasions, a terrible loss.

One was injured so badly he never recovered. That was a peculiar case. It involved a re-enactment of what last centuries barbarians refered to as ‚kissing‘, with the personal dress manager throwing himself at the victim. A massacre.

Most of the encounters are comparatively benign, but still. Stakhay is proud to have reduced this office‘s hazard score by means of simple implants and an array of loudspeakers.

That‘s creativity, not to call himself a genius outright. Take what‘s there, reassemble, and whoosh, the world becomes a better place. The corridors are safe, thanks to him.

Next, he will come up with a prevention strategy for in-office incidents.

A body kneader addressing a complextasker verbally, instead of just stretching his earlobes for better focus, as ordered, that’s so off. It might have been nothing but a “hi”, but to minds like Stakhay’s, that’s the butterfly triggering the tsunami. He was on the point of…

There. He doesn’t even recall the breakthrough he was making. Gone.

Even one spark of his brilliance getting lost is a tragedy. Mindless destruction, just like in the waste age. And look what they did to the planet? Even space is starting to look positively habitable compared to that hot smelly mess. And Stakhay’s beautiful mind is next.

Stakhay urgently needs his shrink.

If only this particular staff wasn’t so talkative. There’s no way yet to make these work on mute. 

Stakhay shivers under the next wave of envy.

Bloody lucky future folks: Holidays in space and silent shrinks.