“Where the hell is that bloody voucher? Tantra! Don’t you dare activate that! Select exit now. Now! That’s it. And from here on you keep your hands well away from that interface while daddy does the needful. Both your arms on the armrest, that’s a good girl. Pat, can’t you at least keep an eye on the kids, while I chase that bloody voucher?”
‘At least’. And in the panicky kind of resentful voice. Hector silently curses himself.
The marriage counselbot was adamant, after listening to a couple of hours of their best-ofs. It’s expressions like ‘at least’, ‘just this once’ and ‘ever’ that would already have gotten them divorced, if it wasn’t for the sake of the kids. Totally harmless words, but apparently considered insults by ladies. Stupid oversensitive bitches. Saying that aloud would be a proper insult, deserving an apology. But a man has to do what a man was told to do:
“Sorry, darling, bit on edge at the moment, no offense. I’m just so mad at that bloody voucher. And the heat in here doesn’t help. How about a nice cozy candle light dinner tonight? At that fancy place with the dolphin interface, the one I declared out of reach last year? We can afford a little luxury this season, and wouldn’t that be a nice start into the holiday?”
By the look on her face, the compensation is considered acceptable. Hector will have to volunteer for one of the stretch projects to catch up on that kind of expense, but peace is worth a little effort. Taking a deep breath, he once again focuses on his task.
He managed to call up the overall holiday schedule. It’s all there above his left hand, a mostly pastel hologram of their journey. The first day is in bright colors, he got the date right. The trip phase is flashing. But no sign of the voucher supposed to activate the transiator.
They have been standing in their four cages on the high tech merry-go-round for what feels like ages. Each of them uses the height adjusted support and leans against the wall, facing the 3D interface, a shimmering column at the centre. They have been following the instructions to the letter, but no sign of the voucher supposed to activate the transiator.
Bored, Tantra extended her chubby arm to reach into the column with her tiny hand. This triggered some kind of setup mode. The stupid kid might have fried their brains, without his intervention. But you can’t blame an eight year old. At that age, the little angels are entitled to relentless parental supervision. Very inquisitive, eight year olds.
This bloody 3D board game doesn’t seem to do anything except telling him to get going. Which is exactly what he would love to do. Shifting the hologram left, right and left again doesn’t achieve anything, confirming the results of his previous attempts. Same for turning it upside down. Reaching into it makes the picture wobble, and that’s it.
“Hec, honey, afraid doing this again and again won’t help. Something must be broken. We should really call the assistant now. I’d rather not run into bladder trouble, you know? The mere thought of peeing into these horrible diapers they force us to wear…”
Hector bites his lip, while still poking with his right index at the flashing take-off icon, to no effect. Pat has a point. The longer they stand here, the higher the bladder risk. But what will feel like a two week holiday to them will still last a mere two hours in real time. The human bladder can handle two and a half hours easy. Except in a traffic jam. And nowadays, he also rarely sleeps through the night. Isn’t that his bladder signaling fullness, again? No, he went three times already. Probably just nerves. Why can’t this bloody voucher show up?
Lost for options, Hector squeezes the bright red ‘help’ ball at the top of the hologram. The response is as immediate as terrifying. A low pitched female voice better suited to perform porn groans very slowly and calmly goes: “Thank you for using NovoNerv Trips and Tours. Biologically based intelligence will soon be available for support. While you wait, please allow me to introduce you to some of our new products. This month’s special offer…”
Hector and Pat stare at each other in silent horror. Never are they going to keep the kids still and quiet throughout what is very obviously a sales pitch bound to last half an hour, at least. No need to talk. Hector squeezes the yellow ‘exit’ ball as fast as he can reach it. Which immediately redelivers the initial configuration. They are seriously stuck.
In theory, it would now be Pat’s turn to come up with a plan. She had proposed to call for help, a debacle. She should redeem herself by coming up with a better idea now. Instead, she’s guaranteed to do what she does best. And here she comes:
“Remember, Hec, when I told you my doubts, about using this brand new technology? ‘We’ve never been early adopters’, I said, ‘why this rush now?’ Just to save a couple of glocs? We could have gone by good old virtual immersion, but no…”
‘A couple of glocs’! Hector only just manages not to hiss back “More than you’re making per month, lady.” For a party of four, a price tag difference of three hundred glocs per person adds up to a juicy sum. Before counting in that you get a lot more holiday for the gloc with the new technology. A full fourteen days, instead of the usual ten. Four more days of getting blamed might not feel like such a good deal right now, but still…
“Daddy, why can’t you at least try what Tantra suggested? She’s good at interfaces, you now? At school, she tricked the vending machine into an infinite loop, and we all got free Slugballs. Fizzgums would have been better, but still. Please, daddy?”
That’s so Bora. Hector can’t help melting, when his well behaved ten year old appeals to his golden heart. Always speaking up for her little sister, sweet Bora. If only Tantra could be more like her. Hacking vending machines now?! He will have to look into this. But not yet. Now he needs to get them going. With the courage of the desperate, he extends his left hand into the column.
Did the machine sigh? Probably not. But the flash was there all right, triggered once the holiday hologram was fully immersed into the central column. And here they are, all four of them, standing on the Clubbers Marina boardwalk. In holiday attire, without diapers. Victory!
Two weeks later, they stand in the departure lounge of their hotel, watching the last ten minutes trickle away on the once again activated hologram.
Pat just admitted Hector chose well, for once. She didn’t say ‘for once’, but the tone of her voice clearly sugggested she thought it. And she’s not done commenting:
“The illusion definitely feels more real than with good old virtual immersion. That transiator thing, whatever it’s doing to the brain, it does it well. Even wonder if the illusion isn’t a bit too perfect.
What do you think, Hec? I mean, like when you crashed down, from that banana boat. You look like real hurting, on the video.
Your mom sent a message, all worried, asking if you’re in hospital. Poor old thing, she really doesn’t get modern technology. Wonder how much longer we can let her…
Tantra! Where did you get this? Will you put that behind you, immediately! I told you, you can’t bring stuff over. You put it down? Out of reach of the machine? Good girl.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, Hec, we really need to consider, for your mom…”
Hector, all zen after two weeks away from the office, smiles at his wife. He doesn’t resent her posting the stupid video. It’s better that way.
Back at the office, he’ll be able to show off both his sense of humor and the best moment of this holiday, him riding a banana boat amid three twenty something ladies, one more attractive than the other. He flew off at the next sharp turn, but right up to that point, he was in heaven. That moment was well worth bruises that forced him to sleep on his belly for the rest of the holiday.
“Daddy, why can’t we go hyperlocal? That didn’t sound hard. We just need to make sure everything we buy is made or grown no more than ten miles from home. And you can still go to the office, even if it’s twenty five miles away. Sharpy said you get a permit, if you need to commute to make a living. As long as the vehicle is solar powered…”
Time for Hector to exert paternal authority and stop that nonsense from budding:
“No way, Bora, darling. I won’t have some stupid fish telling me to eat algae with algae followed by a dessert made of, guess what? Algae, of course. This is not what I call living. And your mom will never tolerate some ugly lumps of recycled plastics for furniture.
Pat, I wonder whether I should file a complaint, concerning that episode. One moment, you’re enjoying your seafood. The next, out of the blue, some stupid fish tries to turn your kids into vegan eco terrorists. This calls for a refund, don’t you think?”
Pat does look appreciative, but an unusually rebellious Bora shoots back:
“Sharpy and Schroedinger are dolphins, daddy, not fish. And they say what they say in the real world, if you travel to their sea conventional and talk to them through a real communicator. Generations of disrespectful landlubbers just like us ruined their sea…”
‘Their sea’. Property rights for fish. Even if Bora is right to remind him these fish are sea mammals, property rights for mere animals are a malignant figment of eco terrorist imagination. Time for Hector to get his favorite daughter back on track:
“Enough of this nonsense, Bora. Dolphins are animals, they don’t understand priorities like we do. If they were as intelligent as the eco fanatics say, wouldn’t they engage in more sophisticated conversation, instead of rambling on and on about how the sea is supposed to taste all bad these days? And it’s not as if they were eating algae, either.”
Proud of his point, and of having made the wannabe eco warrior shut up, Hector leans back. The flash will strike any second now, according to the hologram. And tomorrow, there’s that peer review at the office. Lucky the kids who only go back to school. Perhaps he should…
Diapers? Diapers indeed, and mercifully dry. But a strong urge suggests they’re at risk of not staying that way much longer. Hector quickly exits his cage to head for the toilets. Pat is the mom, her job to handle any post-transiator troubles the kids might be experiencing.
Later that night, in the privacy of her sleeping cubicle, Tantra finally gets to admire her prey.
Four silvery white sea shells. So beautiful, and all hers.
Because dad wouldn’t listen and learn, about the souvenir function. Each participant was entitled one souvenir, options identified by a discreetly blinking ‘s’. Different types of shells and rocks were proposed, as well as boring adult stuff like pottery, perfume and whiskey. Tantra isn’t a big talker. She once again didn’t manage to explain before dad told her to shut up. This got her the shells. Sometimes, a techno-clueless dad is a nice-to-have feature.