The lift stopped between floors. Did we break down? No one moved or seemed to care. I say “Hey uh, maybe someone should hit the emergency bell.” A slumped suit back doesn’t move. Bastard. Poke him. No one is moving. Turn around. See someone frozen, mid-yawn, hand ready to catch it. What the fuck:
“HELLO?” Nothing except the fear rocketing up my spine.
Then the lift doors slowly open and a blinding slice of expanding light has me closing my eyes. I open my mouth to scream when sound stops me:
“Greetings Human Male You Have Been Chosen Do Not Be Alarmed. Walk Towards The Light.”
I count the fingers on the hand I use to shield me from the brightness. I can still count. Does that mean my brain is working correctly? I yell at the light:
“My name is…Krantz. Krantz Gonzago…and I’m uh…I’m an auditor…please…what’s going on?”
“Step Forward Gonzago The Auditor.”
Theres nowhere else to go so I move towards the crack till I’m immersed in white. “It’s too bright I can’t see.”
“Follow My Instructions Gonzago The Auditor: Forward. Keep Moving Forward. Now Stop. Open Your Eyes.”
And find myself in a steel room with a see-through floor, a desk and chair, and no visible doors. I turn around and the elevator is gone. What remains is only a blank steel wall with some kind of protruding screen, and one thin metallic finger, extending outwards.
“H-Hello?” The voices seem to come from every direction, heavy with reverb. I scan for speakers, find none:
“Gonzago The Auditor Do You Know Where You Are?”
I open and close my mouth a few times.
“I Will Increase The Magnification: Look Down.”
I do and find, spread out below, a sea of black, speckled with glinting stars and a pale blue dot, enlarging, becoming as big as my fist, then a large ball, then the earth fills most of the floor, the blue capped with tufts of white, lace-like clouds, the curvature fading to black, all of it seeming to glow in its own light.
“What Do You See Gonzago The Auditor?”
On my hands and knees I say: “Home.”
“Yes. That Terminal Near You Is An Ecto Move Towards it And The Haptic Interface Will Activate.”
“Touch The Metal Thing Gonzago The Auditor.”
I went over to the metal finger. When I got close enough some kind of hologram appeared, of a keyboard, the same sort I’ve been using for years, with the exception that it hovered in mid-air and was made entirely of orange light. The screen lit up with a menu in English.
“Is there an option to go home…”
“Gonzago The Auditor?”
“Do You Really Want To Go Back?”
I looked at the stars and stretched away and off to the sides of earth, where these aliens had come from, which meant, that I wasn’t or at least we weren’t, truly alone, not really and I said: “No, not yet, but why did you choose me? Hello?”
I asked several more questions but no response came. I stood in eerie silence above earth, alone.
The screen had a list of terms, functions that meant nothing to me as I went down the list.
– Activate Nano-fabricator
– Augmented Reality Control
– Hologram Projector
– Smart Wall Configuration
– Station Status
“Hrmm.” I pressed he “Smart Wall Configuration.” Another nested list emerged.
“Wall climbing. I used to do that in school.” Sort of. Vague memories unfurled. An image of hanging from a blue sea shell, some crowd chanting below. Were they old friends? What were their names? It already seeemed so far away. I key down till I’ve selected wall climbing. A confirm box press yes. Oddly familiar.
The ceiling retreated upwards, sliding away, and the walls reformed themselves into a climbing wall, hand helds emerging and changing color. It all looks so pristinely clean.
I approach the nearest wall. “I bet you perverts think its funny and predictable that an advanced primate such as my self as resorted to climbing.” Run my hand over the hand-holds- they feel solid. Say: “Must be like…nano-technology…yeah.” More silence.
“Definitely *ahem* nanotech, yeah.” I go back to the terminal, look at the menu. I select gravity control, and notice, for the first time, a small graphic of what looks like a human mouth in the corner. As I look at it a holographic tool tip appears: “Voice Control”. I press it.
“Uhh, computer, uhh…voice control…active?”
“OKAY. Well…” And smiling through my teeth, I say: “Set gravity to…zero.”
“ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY DEACTIVATED.”And I slowly felt my arms drifting upwards, then my whole body.
I shove off the floor.
Nevermind. I soar upwards, tuck my legs in and begin to spin. I’m going head over heels, out of control, the earth sliding into and out of my view, into and past, over and under- the ceiling hurtles towards me- “FUUUUCK” My legs, outstretched, hit the ceiling and I push off and now I’m diving towards the transparent floor, the earth on the other side. I try to shield my face. “OH SHIIIIT…” Then I stop, bungee cord back the way I came- some kind of rope encircling my shin, made of the same, shape-changing material as the wall.
I play in zero-gravity, spinning through the air, floating. I learn enough control to glide, arms spread, a foot or so from the floor. For a few minutes it feels like I’m floating space, free, above earth. I drift down till my nose touches the ground, find myself panting from all the movement. A cold sheen covers my face. A single bead of of perspiration forms on my nose, expands till I blow upwards and watch a perfect, salty sphere detach.
I prepare myself for the short fall and say: “Set gravity to…uh…default.”
“SETTING GRAVITY TO 1G”
And I hit the floor with a dull thud. Feel clumsy and heavy again. Go back to the terminal. There is a menu option- ‘Entertainment.’
Before I’ve even finished reading the menu the whole thing flashes red and I’m back where I started. Maybe it’s glitched. I try XP and the wall next to the terminal reforms quietly, a sort of shelf extending with a strange , curved piece of plastic that almost resembles a headset. I reach out, touch it, and the whole thing retracts, the screen red:
A voice answers, filled with reverb, that I hadn’t heard in some time:
“XP Stands For Experience Playback, Gonzago The Auditor.” I go back to the terminal and start going through menu options, settle on ‘Nano-fabricators.’ Whilst my captor explains, “Experience playback is full sensory experience entertainment.”
The nested list under ‘Nano-fabricator’ is massive- food, drinks, furniture, clothing.
“it’s not just audio and video, but tactile sensations, bodily awareness, emotions and even internal thoughts…”
The food looks human, even down to the names of the drinks, it’s like they designed all this for a human, for me.”
“With full spectrum XP you can feel what it’s like to be someone else. You can experience what it’s like to scale a mountain, to fly like a bird…”
“Fascinating but I got some other questions like, when do I get to leave this place? What is this then? Am I an exhibition for you guys? An experiment? What’s with all the human food. The menu lockouts- and woah…what was that?”
Down, towards earth, I watch objects, small at this distance emerge from the atmosphere like a school of steel fish, rocket trails extending beneath them down to the surface. “What is happening down there?” The night side of the earth approaches, and I see another impossibility- a straight line, like an enormous silver string, it goes through the sky, down past the clouds towards the surface. “What is that?”
“Well. That would be the sub-saharan space elevator.”
Now notice how South America looks weird- too much sea, like sections of it are submerged in the ocean. The fear comes back.
“WHAT THE HELL IS ALL THIS?”
A section of the wall recedes, and a woman emerges. “Hello Gonzago.” she says, the reverb gone. “My name is Ophelia and there is something you should know. The date is March 25th.”
“Oh my God.”
“You’re fucking time travelers. You like, time traveled me into the future. You’re not aliens at all.”
“Well…we prefer the term trans-human.”
“This is going to come as a bit of a shock Gonazgo the auditor, but the world has changed somewhat, in fact we, as a species, have changed.”
She extended one arm then, and I saw it slide open, revealing a hollow space. Inside she withdrew a small object, a metallic cube. “My arm is artificial.” She said. “I had it replaced by choice- it helps me as an artist.” She tapped her head. “There is an insert here, a sort of computer with which I can control networked objects, like this holo-projector.” The cube sprouted tiny rotors, landing in front of us. Her hand spread and split, her digits parting to become small tools. “The holo-projector will teach you about our brave new world, that has such things in it- it’s your world now.”
“But I can’t. I’m not FROM here. I have no money, no pass port, hell, no job. Except, wait a minute- was I declared dead then? Or my investments…if I’m still alive, with almost one hundred years of compound interest…I could be rich right? Super rich…”
“Gonzago the auditor you are not rich, not in the sense you mean. In our time, this time, money is not as necessary as it was in yours.”
“So what…do I do now? I mean I’m an auditor. I have a degree. The laws have probably changed, everything, I bet you have like, what, robots doing my job now?”
“The short answer is yes. We do not call them robots, but essentially- yes. Your occupation is no longer relevant.”
“Then how will I make a living?”
“Living is easier, with the use of the nanofabbers. These machines are like your ancient…” she seemed to zone out, then she focused on me again. “Sorry I had to look up the historical term- these nanofabbers are like your ancient 3D printers, but with microscopic…robots, that build objects from the atom up. All that is needed are the raw elements- silicon, carbon, hydrogen; all, of course, readily available. In our world, in this world- creative work is what is valued more, originality that only your unique perspective can produce, work that can’t be produced by the nanofabbers, not gross labor. Design is what matters, art, Gonzago the auditor you must discover what it is your are capable of creating, what you have to contribute to the rest of us. The holo-vid will explain in more detail.
I watched and felt as if I was falling, as if everything I thought I knew had been rendered a lie. So I sat, hugging my knee in hologram’s glare.
“So what is this then- some kind of utopia? A heaven without friends, with no family, like some kind of dream that I am a tourist in?”
Ophelia looked at me for some moments, then nodded her head, as if in approval: “Gonzago the auditor, that was well put- have you considered writing?” She clapped her hands with what might have been condescending pride.
“I haven’t considered a damn thing. I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I mean the scariest memory I have would have to be, I mean…”
I tried to cast backwards in my mind, found an image, stark, of a climbing wall, the same damn wall, and I am falling- no, I am merely afraid of falling. Then Ophelia’s hands are around my hands and she’s saying: “Don’t worry Gonzago, stop trying so hard to remember- focus on the future, on what you’re going to do next in this world. It really is incredible in the end, you know- so much better than your time. There isn’t much of what you called poverty; nobody wants. Technology has made us more, made us better than we were. We explore the universe now! The kind of menial, repetitive work you used to do is fully automated, is being by AI’s.”
“So now what, you have robots, living alongside humans…as equals?”
Opelia looked disgusted. “They aren’t people Gonzago, they are machines, property: we created THEM!”
I wondered how I had here, what the life expectancy is, what kind of government exists, what kind of families their now were. I said to her: “Okay. So where do I start?”
She smiled and I feel reassured, and she…
I froze Gonzago’s playback, took off the XP headset. My partner said: “HEY! Why’d you pause it? I was inside the guy’s head. You totally ruined the flow.” Gonzago remained, that weird sensation he had, a mixture of curiosity, wonder, and fear, all fading away. “HELLO?” my partner said, poking me- “I said, why’d you pause it? This is great- this is the best XP cast I’ve seen in ages.”
I said: “I don’t know, the whole thing seems kind of gimmicky. Like Ophelia’s running out of ideas.” There were two more seasons to go through still, but for now Gonzago remained frozen. “It’s like, come on, there’s no way he’d really believe he was ‘time traveled’ into the future- that’s stupid, everyone knows that’s literally impossible. And when he finds out he’s a machine?”
“Yeah. That almost seems wrong.” My partner said. “I like Gonzago, even if he isn’t a person.”
Eventually we resumed the show.