Tag Archives: SciFi

Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul knows he should have listened to his research assistant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marshmallowy, softdrinkily or candyflossy sweet.

Same for the hay. And bark. Even wood.

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

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

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

Mathilda Mason

Any minute now. Her peace won‘t last. Someone is going to approach her, ask, and the sequence will unfold. Whenever Mathilda attends a posh event, she has to brace herself for the sequence.

She’s used to it, has a bouquet of answers ready. She’ll shoot the right one back, her voice steady, her posture and gaze confident. She’s good at this. Lots of practice. She’ll pretend not to notice the discomfort she’s causing and fill the lag time with her little lecture.

Doesn‘t mean Mathilda doesn‘t hate the sequence. She’d so love the people attending this kind of event to be… different. Easier to handle. Broadened, horizon-wise. More modern.

It‘s just the yearly Great Gulf of Guinea get together, Mathilda reminds herself. She has been in attendance a dozen times. She always managed, well. She will manage, again. She won‘t let some know nothing idiot ruin what is, in principle, a very good night out.

The event is traditionally celebrated on the Moremi Ajasoro, a former cruise liner, nowadays part museum, part event location. A splendid place, even by Mathilda’s standards, and she does like to reward herself with the odd bit of luxury around the house. What’s the point, of making loads, if not a nice and stylish sofa in a cosy living room, to rest her tired butt after a hard day’s work?

Smiling at no one in particular, to delay the sequence some more, Mathilda savours to be in attendance. This is a big honor, for anyone, regardless of their career.

According to local lore, the first edition of the Great Gulf of Guinea get together wasn‘t even intended for its current purpose. Some rich kids, names long forgotten, had chartered the Moremi Ajasoro to celebrate their engagement. Months of planning, no expenses spared, they were sure to make the front pages. But fate would beg to differ. On the big day, early in the morning, the Gulf of Guinea region was declared to have finally, after years of near misses, overtaken the Shen Kong area to make global number one for wealth, health and joy of living. To spare their event the insult of being treated as other news, the rich kids put out a press release announcing they would celebrate the top spot by getting engaged. This allowed them to make the front page after all, under the header ‚Great Gulf of Guinea’, and the tradition was born.

Mathilda isn’t into legends. Seventy years on, layers of myth have been wrapped around a tiny factual core. The Gulf of Guinea region is number one, yes, and this achievement is being celebrated every year, to keep everyone everywhere else envying, yes again. But all the rest is storytelling, a marketing plot to boost the aforementioned joy of living even higher.

Knowing about metropolitan myth doesn’t make Mathilda less proud to be here. Making it in the Gulf of Guinea, to the point of being invited to this event, that‘s a huge achievement, for any professional, whatever her or his trade.

Shen Kong might still pretend to compete in large series manufacturing, but only just. Whereas for anything digital or design, big or small, hard or soft, fleeting or durable, edible or decorative, the must be place is either Lagos proper, for those who fancy a bustling city life, or anywhere neat and green between Accra and Libreville, for those who don’t, as in too old to have fun.

Every aspiring soul in the proverbial rest of the world longs to stand where Mathilda stands. What’s not lo like? The sequence.

The Lagos state governoress walks by, barely looking up from her exchange with the Indonesian ambassador to wink a greeting in Mathilda’s direction. Same for that elderly chap with hair as white as his festive robes. Mathilda vagely recalls them having been introduced on a prior occasion, but no details. Might be a banker, they’re very much into traditional outfits.

And here he comes, the encounter Mathilda has been bracing herself for. Very young, thirty at most, rather more like twenty five, very dressed up for the occasion, most probably his first go at a big event. Very eager, very clueless, and on the hunt for an interview.

„Madam, an honor to meet you. Would you mind answering a couple of questions, for the Flip?“

At this point, politeness suggests the need for a pause, to give the interviewee a chance to react, but that’s not how this works. Mathilda draws a deep breath, to brace herself. She doesn’t even try to stop what has been proven unstoppable on prior occasions. The kid proceeds:

„First of all, madam, your profession, if you please? Something digital, I presume? But on which side of the aisle, madam? Games or robotics? You look like a hands-on person, who might be into something solid, like personalized service robots, always a market for that, right? And who’d be better at making those just the right kind of pliable, not to say servile, than a lady? Ha, ha, just joking, no offense intended, sexism so out. Now seriously, madam, which kind of digital is it?“

Mathilda draws one more deep breath and takes the plunge:

“Something solid, good guess. Doesn’t get much more solid than a house, right? I’m a mason, as in bricks and mortar, which, believe it or not, are still used alongside 3D printed components, to deliver that unique touch of artisanal ambiance…”

Mathilda keeps going, flashing her professional smile at the kid’s disgusted disbelief.

This is a very young journalist, not much of a poker face yet. Very traditional upper middle class, very respect for brain work only. Not even the hint of an aspiration to pretend to be as class blind as modern expectations would dictate. Knows how to hide his doubts around female achievers under a joke. Plausibly pretends not to notice the very light skin of the folks serving the drinks. But trust him to consider artisans, and farmers, barely human, and to show it.

Mathilda’s dad was right. The true revolution is yet to come. The last one managed to get proud craftspeople like them invited to this kind of event. The next one will deliver respect. Impertinent nuisances like the one she’s smiling at will be made to write Words or code will neither feed nor house me. Ten thousand times per day. Otherwise no supper, no bed.

Mathilda is still lecturing. Her smile is no longer fake.

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.

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.

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.

Veblen* Vacation

Only ten minutes until pick-up time! Not prone to panicking, Ako takes a deep breath and sits down at the kitchen table. First things first now. He activates the screen mode of his implant by double pressing the first phalanx of his left pinkie with his right thumb and index to check his travel documents.

It’s all there on his left forearm, displayed in cool turquoise letters. Perfect contrast with his dark skin. The interface upgrade didn’t come cheap, but this is far more comfortable to read than the yellowish scribbles delivered by the basic version. And much more classy to display in public.

Ako discards the wave of career & earnings pride. At this stage of their vacation, he has to focus on the essentials.

First of all, his own passport, with a permission to access the wild zones formerly known as EU. As part of an organized group and in the company of a tour guide only, of course. No sane individual from a civilized country would freelance into this mess. 

A copy of Ebu’s passport, also validated for their adventure trip. 

Their health status, including a long list of vaccinations that took them half a year to acquire.

Who would have guessed there was an ailment going by the name of permafrost scabies, and that one had to vaccinate against it?

The recommended health precautions sounded a bit scary at first. But the tour operator as good as guarantees a safe trip, for participants with their kind of global health care coverage. And the neighbors did it.

Last not least, enough cash in the bank to buy a minor EU town. They’re easily able to afford purchasing whatever additional items they might need. No need to worry about forgotten face masks, toothpaste or anti-frostbite unction.

Satisfied with his trip readiness, Ako calls towards the sounds of frenzy emanating from the bedroom: “Honey, just close that bag and come sit with me for a ready-to-go coffee, please? We’ve got two days in Paris, we’ll go shopping.”

Ebu might be in panic mode, but that’s not going to stop a multitasking champion from arguing back. Shouting to make herself heard above the sounds of her own frantic packing, she goes: 

“Shopping in Paris? Are you mad? We’d pay ten times the Lagos price! And for some items, there’s no way, they’re just not there.

Ever seen a picture of what Europeans call a pharmacy? You’re better off heading for a bar if you need anything as basic as painkillers. The pharmacy will probably sell the very same moonshine, but the bar is less likely to have run out.

Just get up and help me find those bloody protein gel sachets, please, darling, now!”

She’s the doctor, and his wife, and hot, in every sense.

Ako joins her in the bedroom and starts rummaging through the second wardrobe before starting to argue back: 

“Honey, half a billion people live where we go. Suggests survival is possible. And we’re with an experienced tour operator. Our guide will know where to find essentials. They won’t come cheap, OK.

But being able to afford not cheap, that’s exactly the point of us making good money.

Besides, it’s only just pick-up time. On past form, we’ve got at least an hour to go until the driver shows up, to give us an earful about Lagos traffic.

Why not close that bag for now, and join me for a cup of coffee? It will help us remember where we put…”

Ako doesn’t get to finish his well calibrated plea.

With a triumphant “In the fridge!” Ebu rushes past him, travel bag and what must be the designated protein gel sachet container in hand. She’s sort of doing what he suggested. Ako counts himself one up on the authority score.

Three high rush minutes later, a proudly grinning conductor heaves their bags into the trunk of the red three seater before complimenting them onto the passenger seats. Mister Grin will be sitting up front behind the wheel, to take over in case of an emergency. For now, there’s no need for him to do anything.

It’s Ako giving their trip the go, prompted by a cute flashing traffic light icon on his left forearm.

While they roll towards MMA II airport, past waterfront holiday resorts and the kind of gated communities he aspires to buy into for the family stage of their marriage, with Ebu checking whatever on her pink-on-black forearm display at this side, Ako is both cursing and priding himself.

He of all people should have had Autonomous Only Saturday in mind.

No conventional driving in Greater Lagos on Saturdays, except in life-and-death emergencies.

And LMA, as in Lagos Mobility Authority does mean it, the fines are huge. No traffic jam on Saturdays. No need to schedule their trip with the usual delays in mind.

At their current speed, they’ll reach the airport in twenty minutes, and will have to wait for their flight to start boarding for six hours. 

Amazing, how smoothly the pretty thick traffic flows.

As foretold by their preliminary study, there is a higher proportion of taxis and carshare vehicles on the road. They get subsidies to go solar, and all electric vehicles are autonomy enabled.

But there are also a lot of private eVs around. It has become a trend, and it’s picking up speed.

A moment of quiet engineer pride for Ako. He’s behind this. Not just him alone, but he’s definitely a major contributor to this marvel. Without the base stations he installed, none of this would happen.

Outside, the pretty estates with their palm groves have been replaced by box-type buildings surrounded by easy-upkeep carbon capture greenery.

Some manufacturing, mostly high-end components based on petrol intermediate inputs. These well paying companies take advantage of the big refineries and recycling plants further downstream.

Some logistics, often displaying the company names in both Mandarin and English. Very Asian, logistics. Like electronics.

A lot of foodstuffs. All kinds of, all stages of processing.

The African tropical belt feeds most of the continent nowadays, mostly via Lagos. Plus some processed food gets shipped towards the few Europeans lucky enough to be able to afford imported supplements to their very basic diet.

Amazing, how one climate event can affect billions of people. Back in the 2020s, they were the lost souls living it what was referred to as a hopeless country, in polite company, and promised to suffer most from climate change. People aspired to be allowed into the EU. Until things went topsy turvy, out of a sudden.

Ako missed the early stages of the switch.

He was too busy scrambling for his degree while failing to seduce beautiful fellow student Sophia. She went for a hotshot wedding with the UK visa holder  instead, leaving Ako too heartbroken to care about world events.

Something will have featured in global news, about Greenland ice and the Gulf Stream. But this is not what you notice when struggling with romantic misfortune in a forty degree high heat wave.

By the time the dimensions of the switch registered with Ako, Europe was racing to the bottom faster than a bob slides. Most of it just froze over, for most of the year.

Remittances stopped. Their former senders started to beg for job recommendations, to be allowed to return. Sophia called to casually drop the news of her upcoming divorce and refound freedom.

Ako smiles at the memory of him mentioning his happy marriage with wonderful Ebu. “You’ll love her” he told Sophia, “let’s meet for a drink one of these days”. He would have gone on for a while, to savour this little revenge, but Sophia hang up with a foulmouthed curse. He’s so lucky not to have conquered this bitch.

Time to blow an air kiss at his wonderful wife at his side.

Yes, Ako is a lucky man. In the right time, at the right place, with the right qualifications. And here comes the airport.

With a frisson of anticipation, Ako gets ready to enjoy his first poverty porn trip.

*Please check the definition of Veblen Goods if the title fails to convey meaning