Category Archives: Words to go

Short stories

Ronnie Roofer

“Come on, Seedie, good boy, we can do this, one more effort. Less than two hundred square meters to go, you can’t fail me now! We can do it. This will be one more wonderful roof garden, all green, and capturing lots of carbon to deliver oxygen, like the Amazon reloaded in Nigeria. We can do it, Seedie, you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got it in you, one more effort!”

Ronnie is glad there isn’t anyone else on this roof. Would be annoying, to be overheard talking to the robot like it was a dog. It’s the right size, walks on four legs, the planting end could be mistaken for a head at a distance, and the rear stabilizer for a tail, but that’s it, for similarities. 

Seedie is an emotional moron, would never wag its tail in joy to celebrate one more outing. It’s scientifically clever, hard to beat at soil analysis and melioration. It’s well balanced, able to fearlessly stalk along steep roofs that Ronnie’s excellent head for heights considers too dangerous to access. But Seedie is an emotionally blank. 

Seedie doesn’t yawn and moan about lack of sleep in the morning. It never inquires about Ronnie’s last night, to force him into a big brag about an endless series of romantic achievements that of course never happened. Nor does Seedie counter with an even bigger brag. No bragging, no groaning, no yawning, no calling for breaks. Seedie just does the job, without ever clamoring for a raise. Seedie is the team mate from hell, a blank striver.

But Ronnie is as close to tears as a tough guy dares admit, and to himself only. They have been working together for eight years. Seedie was Ronnies first brandnew Roof Planting Mate.

When he started at the firm, directly after his roofer course at the Lagos University for Applied Environmentalism, his manager didn’t trust the novice with proper tools.  Ronnie was forced to work with a semiautonomous model so outdated and hopelessly inefficient he had to go online for help, and in his own unpaid time!

Couple of days and posts later, Ronnie had become a card carrying member of the Roofers for Bright Skies union. A senior activist, code name GetDone, had explained how to proceed, and his trick worked like magic. It was actually quite simple.

One confidential chat with the owner of the three roofs Ronnie was in process of transforming into a tomato-cum-herbs jungle, to inform him of state of the art rooftop planting practices, sent the client calling the firm to yell for proper modern tools, or else bye bye contract.

Right on the next day, Ronnie had barely made it onto the middle roof with his museum exhibit of a hopeless tool, Seedie was delivered. A brandnew, state of the art, autonomous roof planting robot, straight from the manufacturer. Ronnie hadn’t been the star student in his coding class for nothing. He did it, all on his own. After a mere three hours of setup and configuration, Seedie was ready to go and prompty did a marvel. Together, they achieved more in one day, and it wasn’t even a full one, than Ronnie had gotten done in his whole first week.

The client was so pleased he tipped generously, a traditional appreciative practice that is unfortunately getting rarer and rarer, with all the explanations one has to provide since the switch to ecash only. Some kinds of digitalization really don’t qualify as progres…

But Ronnie has bigger worries to tackle right now. Never mind a few missed tips. Him and Seedie, they have been such a great team, right from their exhilarating first day.

And it’s not just all the work they’re getting done. Ronnie spends more time with Seedie than with his family, and he can always tell him anything, without fear of disclosure.

No problem to talk to Seedie about his betting wins and losses, both best no shared at home.

No risks in uttering doubts around the excessive passion at his neighborhood Liverpool fan club. Seedie doesn’t freak out when told that, honestly, it’s but a game, in the end, no need to go crazy about each and every match.

Even wondering aloud about setting up his own firm, to specialize on medicinal plants like cannabis and poppy for rooftop greening, is perfectly possible and safe in Seedie’s presence. 

Ronnie has of course made sure to deactivate all spy functions. He attended a union workshop on how to safeguard privacy in the presence of AI tools, in his own unpaid time, at his own expense. A very wise move. Not even his pretty professional expert self would have guessed just how many data could have been gathered by something as innocuous as Seedie, the settings permitting.

Ronnie and Seedie, they’ve seen a lot, over the past eight years, and now Seedie is falling apart. If its malfunctioning gets any worse, if they keep missing targets due to repair downtime, Ronnie will have to call management to ask for a replacement.

Even thinking about this betrayal breaks Ronnies heart. Two years ago, Seedie would have had a chance to get updated and come back an old fashioned but robust tool with a couple of years to go. But nowadays, after the sudden switch to the new ambient quantum cores, no one will bother. The tech unit is sure to declare Seedie scrap, have him dismantled and recycle the components. 

Ronnie didn’t see the switch to ambient quantum cores coming, despite hearing about some of it one the news, and he hates himself for his mistake. He doomed good old Seedie.

There must be a way to keep going, for a couple more months. Weeks. Days. Hours.

Pretending not to notice the minimal progress since his last cheer, Ronnie once again goes:

“Come on, Seedie, good boy, we can do this, one more effort. Less than two hundred square meters to go, you can’t fail me now! We can do it. This will be one more wonderful roof garden, all green and capturing lots of carbon to deliver oxygen, like the Amazon reloaded in Nigeria. We can do it,  Seedie, you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got it in you, one more effort!”.

No Veg Rack

Having turned the corner, Pride stops short, taken aback by the size of the building she now discovers to her right. She goes:

„Wow. What a veg rack. Never seen one that big.“

And it is big. Huge, even. Totally unlike the row of low houses in the first street of ArcheoTown. This was a pretty unimpressive sight that had sent Pride wondering about what exactly was the point of visiting. Whereas the landmark she discovers now runs is higher than any contemporary structure, and runs the full length of a block.

Turning towards Star, Pride tries to get a grip on the monster:

 „That’s sure to be ten… No, let me count: Two, four, six, eight, twelve. Twelve! This beast is a full meaty twelve storeys high! Must have taken a whole forest to build, and just to grow veg. What the hell were they thinking, in those days? What a waste of wood.”

Star shakes her head in active dissent and retorts:

“You’re getting this so wrong, Pride. And using foul language won’t hide how clueless you are, about the past. Didn’t you pay attention, in history class? The ancients, they were all sickly. Walking too little, breathing bad air, eating tons of all the wrong foodstuffs. Those guys were a mess. Our life skills tutor, she used to say the worst of the ancients spent more time looking at screens than getting massages. That was of course an exaggeration, impossible to survive on less than two hours of massage per day, you’d go brain spike. But the ancients were sickly, that bit of my life skills tutors tale is true. It said so in an immersion tutorial, too, and those are fact checked by both the lieless and the bragimpeded, as true as truth gets. Each and every single ancient had to munch through tons of greens, to make up for all the unhealthy. No wonder they built multistorey veg racks. It was like temples to them…”

Staring at the huge relic of past madness, Pride squeezes her eyes in an effort to recall more than faint shadows of her own history class. Star has a point, but something feels wrong, in her tale. Pride would so love to be better at this knowledge thing.

She does recall her own life skills tutor, Merit, a bloody good looking number. Tall and bulky, he wore his aggressive makeup with impeccable style. Merit made boys half his age, and dressed up for a beauty contest, look bland. All girls wasted fortunes on his kind purple lipstick, to hopefully attract Merits attention.

His name, his looks, his vanilla perfume, that much Pride recalls as if they had parted ways minutes ago. There was this one instant, when his eyes rested on her for that all important additional split second of appreciation. Still makes her shiver. But what the steak did the target of her teenage phantasies talk about?

Merit had such of lively way of describing past ways of life. Pride recalls how his anecdotes made her feel like having been there, with him. All smiles, a nice contrast to the gory conditions he was describing, his eyes gleaming through bright orange contact lenses that contrasted exquisitely with the smooth darkness of his skin, Merit instilled real passion in her. For his person. Whatever he had been talking about is gone.

The enormous grey mass of the big building just sits there, unimpressed by their presence. No pop-up ghosts to tell the story of the past. ArcheoTown is one of the innumerable sites that where created in the frenzy of historical interest after the meteor near miss, too minor for any fancy technology. The locals just opened a gate into an area that had been fenced off for decades, added the sign ‘ArcheoTown’ and claimed the federal bonus.

Star is still waffling about the sickly people of the past. She’s very much on the slim side, not looking all that healthy herself, no wonder this is such a big topic for her.

Whereas Pride’s body is in perfect shape and health. If only her brain could be of the same caliber. Something is wrong, she’s so sure this silent mass of grey wood doesnt’t fit Star’s story and would protest, if only it could talk. But dead wood can’t talk. Nor is it grey!

Excited to be doing the intellectual thing after all, Pride goes:

“Shut up, Star, will you? Just listen to yourself, talking about wood and forests. Never heard of legacy buildings? Can’t you see? Just come with me an touch this so called wood!”

Pulling her friend by the arm, Pride forces her closer to the high building, to give her the chance to feel that this structure isn’t made of wood at all. Loudly and proudly she goes:

“This monster is made of synthetic stone, my dear. Because the ancients, sickly or not, their health not the point at all here, they built their veg racks from tons and tons of synthetic stone. All the wood, and more stuff, like former wood turned petrol, had to be burned, in those days, because there was too little carbon in the atmosphere. Not allowed to use wood, the ancients had to manufacture stone, for their veg racks.”

Star, always the doubter, knocks on the wall, only to discover it really doesn’t feel and sound wooden. She nods, but still finds a way to deny Pride the confirmation she deserves:

“Concrete, it’s called, or sand, cement and water mix, not artificial stone, but you’re actually right for the rest, Pride, this veg rack isn’t made of wood. Pretty impressive, to what lengths our primitive forebears went, to increase atmospheric carbon. Glad we came here, Pride. Seeing and touching such a lot of concrete is far more impressive than a full immersion lecture…”

Pride quietly smiles at herself. It’s going to take Star at least half an hour of waffling, to make good for her initial mistake. But it won’t change a thing. Pride got ArcheoTown first. Perhaps she should reconsider her aversion against further studies? Lots to think about, for the rest of the visit.

A couple of meters back, Joy longs for the two ladies in the matching chameleo outfits to get moving. Or to shut up. Anything that makes very sure she never has to listen to them getting everything all wrong again. What the blood are they doing here, if they don’t even know the difference between an authentic veg rack and a repurposed office building? Why visit ArcheoTown, if they have no clue whatsoever about its main exhibit? Joy would so love to go aggressive witty on her fellow visitors, but she’s lousy at both. Joy shuts up and waits.

Finally, the two know nothings are done knocking on concrete and walk off, not to make sense of the next exhibit. Chances are they will misinterpret the bus at the stop down the road as a tank. Not wanting to listen in again, Joy takes her time at the entrance of the former office building, wondering what it was like, to he a brain worker in its the glory days.

It must have been tedious, to shuttle back and forth, often daily, between housing and brain work compounds. In ArcheoTown, it’s just as three minute walk, but that wasn’t the rule. According to the records she’s studying for her thesis, two hours of commute were considered acceptable, in the early digital era. Tedious, certainly, but also exciting. Incredibly, breathtakingly exciting.

So many opportunities to meet strangers, in person and really close up. Unsafe, of course, to encounter unvetted people, especially in a public space that might not even have been surveyed by cameras and personal space infringement detectors. But also thrilling. 

Joy would love to spend just one day in the past, to find out what it was like, to walk into an office building, sit in a cubicle, eat in a canteen. ‘Office’, ‘cubicle’, ‘canteen’, for her these are not just terms of reference featuring in the glossary of her thesis. Those are the sounds of adventure.

G Day 89

What to do on a cloudy Thursday afternoon in thirty three C heat?

Not much, and certainly nothing physical. Kchalo spares a thought for all the robots doing all that work. To think that the poor ancients would have been busy in such heat. Shocking.

Kchalo turns up the cooling of his reclining chair a notch. Not doing much feels less stressful with a chilly neck-rest helping the body not to sweat more than strictly necessary. Less sweat, less need to raise his beer bottle to drink from it.

Yes, he’s holding an actual beer bottle, well chilled thanks to the convenient fridge under his reclining chair. And he‘s taking actual sips from it.  Kchalo prides himself on his traditional skills. No automatic infusions from a sleeve container for him. He prefers to take in fluids orally, just like the ancients. Yes, there is some exertion involved, but it‘s worth it.

The reward for raising a bottle to the lips to drink, a nice ritual in itself, is a sublime taste experience. 

Some people pretend it’s perfectly replicable, that at the end of the day, the brain can’t tell the difference between drinking for real and the suggestion of the corresponding sensations as conveyed by the next fluid balancer app, but that’s so wrong.

Having heard of the studies supposed to demonstrate the superiority of an infusions-only lifestyle, Kchalo did his own trial and proved the scientists mistaken. His experiment was anything but double-blind, of course, but who the hell cares if the brain can be fooled in an unnatural setting? It’s pleasant, to drink from a beer bottle, period. No need for techie mumbo-jumbo to confirm something as intuitively obvious.

The artificial sensations conveyed by the mind altering substances in the infusion do have an effect, Kchalo won‘t deny this fact.

Yes, there is relief from thirst. It‘s felt rather faster than in an actual drinking experience, as if relief from thirst was the point of drinking beer. There‘s also quite a strong aftertaste of well chilled beer in the mouth. In the proven absence of any fluid that effect is more creepy than pleasant.

Same for the rapid onset slight tipsiness that makes you urge to brag about hacking your delivery drone to have it exceed the speed limit. No one is going to believe you made it fly at Mach 1.2, and scared the neighbors with a nice little sonic boom. You‘re vaguely aware of behaving stupid, but you can‘t resist the fun of the tale.

And the Mach brag is better than the alternative, boozy macho pretense. Everybody so knows that a nerd like Kchalo has a better chance to boost drone speed to impossible levels than to achieve the kind of romantic conquests suggested as mandatory by all screens.

Thinking of which. Kchalo suddenly knows what to do, on a hot Thursday afternoon.

Even more exertion involved than in the act of physically drinking from an actual beer bottle. He‘s going to sweat hard on this one, and so is she, his partner in the strenuous undertaking. But hey, a man has to do what a man loves doing.

To steady his body for the upcoming ordeal, Kchalo reaches into his fridge to pick three spicy high protein cheese cubes he wolfes down without taking the time to munch or savor. Energy input is what counts now. With all this stuff passing through his mouth, he‘ll have to remember to brush his teeth when he takes his shower, but that’s for a later hour. Now he’s going to have fun.

Kchalo pulls down the Virtual Reality visor integrated into his reclining chair, waits for the motion feeder to grab his neck and establish a connection, steadies himself into a well balanced position, with his legs slightly more apart, grabs the armrests, calls on his back and leg muscles to prepare for action hard and fast, takes a deep breath and yells „G Day 89“.

No gentle onset with this episode. Kchalo gets jolted right into the action. All his muscles tense up all at once, making him sweat and puff like a steam engine. He‘s pounding along fast, needs all his alertness to stay on top of events, back and legs aching under the effort.

It’s even worse for the horse, of course, weighed down as it is by Kchalo, the traditional armor and the heavy saddle. But she‘s a tough black mare, racing along the track in a mighty stampede, taking the corners so low the public hums in fear of a fall.

Impossible for the others to keep up with them. After the first round, they’re one length ahead of the field. After the second round, Kchalo and his champion mare no longer recall that field, too busy racing and breathing. In the third and last round, they both feel like dropping dead, but the public cheers them on. They barely make it through the last bend. The mare slips, the public yells in horror, Kchalo shifts his weight, in exactly the right way at exactly the right moment, and they make it, to win the race with five lengths of advance, an all time record.

Kchalo’s back is as sore as a coal miner‘s in the bad old days without robots. He feels like torn up down the middle, what is left of his legs a wobbly mess. But he so loves reenacting Gymkhana Day 2089 at the Ikeja Saddle Club. His parents had brought him to watch the show for his sixth birthday. His dad was carrying him on his shoulders to allow him a better view. He pissed his pants when the mighty frontrunner stumbled. Dad was sweating so badly he didn’t even notice the additional wet and Kchalo went unpunished. Never will he forget that glorious day, never will he tire of reenacting the most exciting event he ever witnessed.

Recalling Cow Void

“Grandpa, what are those for? Can I have one, for pling practice? It’s just the right size. I’ll hang it up by its straps, this way round, like a little basket, over my bed. I won’t damage it, grandpa, I promise. Can I have one, or two, just in case, please?” 

Blief is doing her best to look and sound the nine year old angel she isn’t. She’s holding up a stack of blue, white and red face masks she must have found at the back of some drawer in the guest room cupboard. Incredibly inquisitive, kids, always turning any place they visit upside down. And disruptive. Bye, bye afternoon snooze, hello story time. 

Kyl hadn’t even been aware he still had the innocuous looking bits of fabric, but he does recall that particular season all too well. His memory might not be as sharp as in his youth, but the face mask phase of his first career, that’s not something he’ll ever forget.

Raising his armchair to a more upright position, Kyl clears his voice and goes:

“Well, Blief, you can have them all, and no worry about damage. They don’t serve any purpose these days. These were for covering our faces, to avoid breathing and sneezing at people, not to infect them with any bugs we might carry.”

The kid rolls her eyes opened extra large to signal disbelief.

Of course she does. She got her filter implants alongside her first vaccines at the tender age of four weeks. The devices have been growing with her ever since, neutralizing any infectious particles she might be excreting. A world without implants sounds impossible, to kids.

Blief’s parents, they recall anxiety and preemptive guilt instead of implants from their childhood years. But even they are too young to have worn face masks.

Barely anyone around, from the pre-Marvid years, and not because that disease is so particularily deadly. Even the fittest rarely make it past seventy under the best of circumstances, and Kyl is going to hit seventy eight next month, his slightly wobbly heart permitting.

“Yes, Blief, very low tech, they don’t look the life saving part, and you wouldn’t want to try to stop a serious bug like MARV4 with that kind of flimsy protection. But the face mask years, that wasn’t about MARV4. The face masks happened much earlier, when I was young.”

Seeing Blief once again roll her eyes, Kyl points at the shelf with his trophies and puts as much strength into his voice as he can muster to go:

“Don’t look at me like this, Blief, all doubting. There was a time when I was young. Very, very long ago, OK, but there was and I was. How the hug else could I have been a sports star?

And what we were playing in those days, football it was called, that was to pling what a storm is to a breeze. A leather football to your head can knock you flat out, Blief, believe it or not. With pling balls, they were called ping pong balls in my youth, you don’t even feel an impact.”

Blief nods her agreement so fast her head looks like ready to fly off.

Kyl knows where that enthusiam comes from. She’s scared he might deviate into one more endless rant, about his youthful striker heroics. He’d never subject his favourite grandchild to this torture, only his useless son-in-law gets bored out on purpose, but how would Blief know?

Kyl let’s himself sag a little lower to signal end of rant risk and pursues his tale:

“Don’t even recall the name of the mask bug, or the disease. Something like crow vet, or cow void. Yes, cow void, that sounds right, whysoever they called it that. Bovines or any lack thereof were not involed, to the best of my knowledge. 

Cow void came with what we considered a big bang, in those happy days. It made a mess, all over the world, not unlike Marvid. You could also get and transmit cow void without falling sick, not unlike Marvid again. But the mask bug was far less deadly than MARV4. It was just a matter of slowing its spread, not to have too many people fall severely ill at the same time.

Whenever and wherever we met people, we had to don face masks and keep our distances. 

Didn’t work well in my first sport. Fine enough for the masks. With everybody forced to wear them, everybody’s breathing was impeded in the same way. Cost me a full second of maximum speed, but I was still top game. Whereas the keeping our distances bit, that was far too leniently enforced.  The referees, they always looked the other way, instead of punishing close play hard and fast. Especially in the lower leagues, players kept rushing into each other as if no cow void.

Wasn’t meant to last. At the height of wave five, like two years in, some study showed bad numbers for football players, and out went my first sport. No problem for me, of course, discovered I like tennis better anyway, less harm to the legs. But it was a sad moment…”

Seeing Blief signal question mark in videospeak, Kyl pauses his story to give her to chance to raise whatever issue is on her mind. She doesn’t hesitate to ask:

“You say you were all doing physical distancing all over. But grannie, you must have met her close up, at some point? Otherwise, mom, she wouldn’t be, right?”.

Kyl likes his granddaughter, and her inquisitiveness, but certain topics are off limits.

Pretending to have been overcome by a sudden bout of senile fatigue, he quickly closed his eyes to savor the memory of that particular infraction in private.

They had kept their face masks on. Never will he forget the Nike logo on hers approaching, and how he had thought ‘funny, wasn’t even aware we’ve got the same sponsor, hopefully a good omen’. He of course never revealed that thought, preferring to talk about beautiful eyes and long lashes. Commercial can’t be allowed to intrude upon romance.

Undue Reticence

„What exactly do you mean by ‚It’s not working‘, Floup*? It can‘t be not working, not as such. Failure is impossible this time round. The mechanism is ultraoctople effective. Tried, tested, refined, retested, rerefined, reretested, and again, and again, and yet again. You know it, Floup, for the sake of clear waters, you were there and did it with me!

Our tool is as close to perfect as any such booster can get. We took all imaginable precautions, worked at maximum diligence, and we did it. We created an as good as perfect vector. We rolled it out and it will do its job. Nothing can possibly go wrong with this one. So tell me, Floup, what by the unholy rules of logic do you mean with this stupid ‚It‘s not working‘ statement?“.

Behind their joking tone, Smeech are bubbling purple with irritation. If they were into physical violence, they would lash out with their two strongest arms. But they‘re science personified, never lose control to the point of engaging in physical altercations. This is no muddy waters wrestling arena, it’s a lab. A place of peace and science.

More exactly, it‘s their lab, even if it technically belongs to the Pangalactic Promising Planets Preservation Project. The P5 bureaucrats might claim it as their place. But they have zero clue about species engineering, so how would they own this fine institution?

‚One can‘t own what one doesn‘t understand and can‘t recreate‘, any third grade youngster will manage to recite if woken in the middle of the night. They might need a little more alertness to be able to explain the axiom, never mind outline what it implies for sustainable social organisation and planet management, but the basic understanding…

Smeech suddenly realize Floup should by now have interrupted their thoughts with the requested confirmation. No such message is forthcoming. Instead, they‘re twisting their arms into the kind of knot suggesting pronounced embarrassment. Not a good sign. Same for their body pumping like the next compartment pressure leveler, and their visible heartbeat.

Something is very wrong, and Smeech need to understand what is going on. Switching from cheeky to bossy boss, they go:

„Floup, you bloody nuisance of a semicompetent pseudosentience, what the crystal is wrong? You either tell me at once, or you might as well brace yourself for a new career in shark breaking. You know the rules: The precious few safe and cuddly jobs in science and administration are assigned on the basis of intelligence and social merit. Social merit, Floup. Being truthful at all times is one major component of this criterium. You have to tell me, now. What – is – wrong?“

To Smeech‘s surprise, Floup actually pull themself together, and in a blink. With two thirds of their eight tentacles transformed into a solid column and only one third stretched out as stabilizing foot, they now tower a body length above Smeech and go:

„Shut up. Just shut up. And listen. We boiled it. Oh yes, you’re reading me right. We boiled it. This is one more gigantic boiling mess. Remember the glitch with our very first retrovirus, when so many of the dominant primate subjects came down with immunodeficiencies, instead of developing the photosynthetic ability we were trying to confer? One big bad boiler that cut our funding down to bare bones, as I‘m pretty sure you recall. Ah, I got your attention now, don’t I? No need to turn red, Smeech, and no cannibalism, please, the current boil isn’t that bad. But we might both be headed for the shark farms anyway.

This salty nuisance of an alien target species once again develops side effects we didn‘t see in our local model, for whichever salty reason. Perhaps it’s related to their lack of fur. The young ones are doing fine, just like our specimens. They integrate our virus without so much as a sneeze, forming a marvelously symbiotic partnership with it. Couple of generations on, their brains should display the intended improvements. Just in time to keep the planet viable for our cousins, hopefully, and accidentally for themselves, too. So far, so fine.

But some of the old specimens, and there‘s an awful lot of those around, they must be damaged in some unforeseen ways. They start well, no negative side effects for days. And then, out of a sudden, their lungs fail, unlike anything we‘ve seen during testing. In some cases to the point of them dying. And, guess what, Smeech? They hate it…“

Deflated, Smeech let themself sag flag to the bottom of a lab they no longer dare call their own. 

They don’t need to listen to the rest of Floups tale. The dominant species on their assigned promising planet might be stupid, often outstandingly so. But it is also stubborn. Especially when fending back against any lethal dangers simple and imminent enough for it to grasp. It‘s going to prevail, again. Smeech and Floup boiled it, again. Their best efforts won’t be enough. One more promising planet with wonderful oceans is at high risk of getting turned inhabitable. They probably won‘t be allowed to try again, and reassignment to the shark farms looms large indeed.

On the upside, Smeech always wondered if this shark breaking business really needed to be so tedious. By means of one more retrovirus, it should be possible to cure the undue reticence of the beasts and teach them to love pulling carriages. Improving alien primates might have been beyond their skills, but re-engineering very local lazy sharks, that should be within reach.

* Please pronounce Floup like soup

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. 

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 breathalyzer setup sequence initiation.“

Gilbright hesitates. His jumpy microbiologist wife is full of scary tales about snoopy analytics. Her jokes about intercourse frequencies calculated on the basis of mere drops of blood, that didn’t sound good. But breath is far less substantial 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.