2k words Short Story: Chain of events, The World Walker

World Walker

“You remember how we never even said hi to each other? ” Beccy told me. “Even when Keith threw the eight-ball at us, and we all played pool for the first time since your friends started drinking there, you didn’t say anything to me. In fact you spoke the whole time to whatshername.”

“Carmen.” I corrected her.

“Sandiago” she finished. I didn’t laugh and she didn’t notice, so I added a: “Wow that was lame.” But she only giggled like I was trying to be funny and not tell her that I found her unbearably annoying.

If she hadn’t lost her contacts on the pool room floor and I hadn’t been the one to find them by the bar, then we wouldn’t have ever started going to the gym, together, and there shouldn’t have been much of a chance the gym’s showers were under repair, that we would live so close to one another, and that I had made a move when she only had a towel on.

She squeezed my nose with her fingers, like a clothes peg. I wrenched my head away.
Said: “I moved house for you.”

She laughed even though I wasn’t making a joke. “We lived nowhere near one another. I had to segue into a parallel world where I lived in a smaller, dirtier apartment, stepped right through and away from a low paying (but money’s never a problem), satisfying job in a bookstore and you know what? Even with all the possible books that have ever been written I still haven’t got enough time to read what’s out there.

She laughed again, so to make myself clear I said: “And I did it because you are the most beautiful girl I have literally ever seen, ever, in all the places I’ve been, your body is a fucking private jet, a mansion, front row seats to every show worth watching, a blowjob from the most enthusiastic porn-star blowing like she’s about to go broke.”

Her mouth dropped open, which was coincidental, but because I was distracted I said: “That’s ironic.” She wasn’t smart enough to correct me. “I disgust you don’t I?” I said. “You know I only shower like twice a week? I can’t be bothered. It’s all deo.” Her face scrunched up. “Why are you saying all this?” She asked.
“Because I’m done, I’m leaving.” And I got up and started to put on my clothes. She went dead quiet. “It’s 4 AM.”
“I’m not leaving this house, I’m leaving this world, this universe. GG Beccy: I have always had the ability to slip into a parallel world. Or maybe it’s a new world. Or maybe I’m batshit crazy, hard to say. But anyway, I’m thinking this time, I’m going to be single. I’ve spent so much energy walking into desperate women who fall for me that I think I’m ready to do the old fashioned thing and plain old delude them till they fuck me.” I stretched. It was always a good idea to stretch first.

She threw a pillow at me. I dodged. Big smile.

She went for my phone.

“NOT THE PHONE.”

It connected with my nose. She was really good at pool.

“JESHUS.”

“IF YOU CAN LEAVE THEN WHAT HAPPENS TO ME HUH?”

It was a good question. I have no idea what happens when I walk out. Maybe I just disappear, which would be mildly traumatizing but also mind expanding- think of the implications! For a normal person at least. Maybe the whole universe ceases to exist, which if the universe was infinite would make me the biggest mass murderer of all possible times and spaces. But I can’t be the only one, so it’s not like I’m alone in this regard. Maybe a copy of me remains. If so, I feel very sorry for him, especially the me who talked shit to that guy with the knife that time in the alley. Either way, fuck it, I’ll never know.

“SO RUN THEN SAM! RUN LIKE THE WIND!” Beccy said, with this very rare, intense look in her eyes that I’ve only seen her have during a real orgasm. She picked up the other pillow. I blinked, so did reality, and she wasn’t there anymore. I blinked again, and there was my new coffin: maybe ten foot by ten foot, a sofa that was probably also my bed, a bookcase that had a series of thick books on the top shelf, plates, cutlery, wallet and phone on the shoulder height shelf, and stacks of books on the lower, taken from the middle shelf to make space for my life. A folding table glistened with chip packets turned inside out and tinfoil microwave dinners scrunched up within each other like blood covered Russian dolls.

The memories came afterwards.

I’m a fucking paralegal this time. Godammit it all to hell. Then the loneliness comes down on me and I’m reaching for the middle shelf with it’s half dead bottle, don’t even need the new memories to know that’s there. And what’s this, taped to the lip? A joint? Amazing. Upsides.

I spend my thirty first year single, in the same universe. Jacky throws a drink in my face at Sherry’s birthday party, which I only get invited to because I overhear her talking about it at work. The girl of indeterminate age at the 7/11 drives me crazy for awhile, has me borderline walking into another world where we get to be married because I’m certain the way normal people might be, that if I was with her the rest wouldn’t stink so much. It’s like a retreat, a monastery where I pretend to be a desperate prole for 365 days.

The breaking point wasn’t a woman, it wasn’t some new shiny crap I saw in a movie that I just had to try (like a G fucking Six), it was Roger Mckay, my boss. It was when he chewed me out for being late, again. He had to do it by my cube, right before lunch, so not only did everyone hear, but they felt awkward about leaving. I’m not a bad guy, I’ve never raped, murdered, hell even assaulted someone despite the fact that I could do it with zero consequences. I mean that’s some darkside shit, I don’t want to go down that path. And it was a close thing, between using the scissor, shoving him into Lee’s wall, and what I actually did: which was to stand up, slowly, adjust my tie, not answer his enquiry as to why, and then hand back, all the way like I’m flagging a blind bus driver, then turn my weight like a tennis serve, and palm open, full on, bitch slap. Goddamn did the fat man go down. I said, after the shockwave: “You incorrigible asshole.” And then it was TA!, one more for the road, and he went to his knees.

“Alright guys, I’m out. Fuck you all very much. Also, Sherry, your boyfriend cheats on you. He doesn’t even play poker. I can walk between worlds and I am leaving this one.”

And just for funsies I decided to full on run at Mckay’s glass office wall, leap sideways and leave. As I did I think I felt something solid. Then nothing. Then a bed, a freaking soft bed. It only occurred to me right afterwards that maybe I do leave something behind, and in which case, previous me just bitch slapped his boss and threw himself through his office window. If he gets medicated, do I get medicated?

What if I suddenly rubber band back to my other paralegal self in that parallel universe? Fucking awful thought. Of course it makes me wonder, almost, about the implication of time. I tried to read about physics stuff once. Thought about having a hypothetical what if conversation with a physicist once. Hell, I even tried to be a scientist, but I never really seemed to concentrate enough to shift into that kind of life. It’s like trying to remember something you just can’t, you’re certain that if you focused enough, if you found the right stimuli, then you’d have it again. I gave up eventually, figured that in the back of my mind was the fear that understanding what I can do would change my ability to do it, or maybe I wouldn’t want to anymore. Ignorance is bliss. Arbitrary is better than horrible.

Jana.

Jana ended me.

A fucking taxi driver. Never saw that coming. Never saw the accident either, literally- was stuck dozens of cars behind it. Like God had reached down and froze the traffic for two hours. I could have left. I could have said stop the meter. Instead I paid, I stayed, we talked for hours and it was completely out of my control. When I told her what I could do, she took it like it was some kind of funny story.

The line that did it for me was when she asked: “What if every time someone, or you I guess, ah, jumps- they create the world they want? So like, you make it, from nothing, like you are God.” That’s when I knew, I had to make it so we were together. That was cool, I’d never even thought of that possibility. Why didn’t I just skip to the marriage? I could have, but I didn’t? Because I guess I didn’t want to leave, it was such a perfect moment. If I jumped I could arrive in another moment, but it’s not the same, the memories would drip in, it would be artificial, even if I was God.

So I stayed. We found a favorite bench, we prevented her bed from ever getting made, I wrote her inarticulate letters on scented paper, she dragged me by the arm to shit I’d never like till I loved it. I loved her, obviously. I’d tried marriage once, but never a wedding. It was glorious, and I didn’t care about my new family, or my new friends, just her, she was fun, the wedding was fun.

Happiness is a funny thing. It’s quiet. I think that in the end, it’s quiet. It’s the opposite of running. Time is the only thing that runs, when you’re happy.

The odds of a plane crash are incredibly low. You could fly your whole life, I mean spend it all up in the air, and it’s still against the odds you’re going to die.

And now, why can’t I find her anymore?

I keep jumping. I keep going from world to world, looking for my Jana. She’s not there. Nowhere I go. It’s like, I don’t know. I’ve wanted things before, I’ve wanted things way less badly than her. But I just can’t do it.

She once told me that the number one reason she’d never believe I could do the whole jumping thing isn’t because it was impossible. She said it was because she didn’t think I’d ever leave people behind like that. That I could be that selfish. And I believed her.

She said: “I think a lot of people would, but not you.”

So I’m still looking. And I’m still getting older.

And I’m starting to wonder if I ought to just stop, and skip all the way to the end. But I’ve never tried that either, all I know is I can’t go backwards. But I reckon I’m going to do it soon.

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SciFi story: Judas

I play and run role playing games. One of those games is Eclipse Phase. It’s a sci-fi setting. About 100 years or so in the future when we have just about begun to colonise the solar system. It’s transhumanism. It’s about the singularity. It’s great. 

Tomorrow I will be writing part 3 of The Swimmer but currently it is 3 am so this is all I wrote today for my 1k. It is the first party of my characters backstory. 

 
Judas
 

“This is Captain George C. Westmoreland of the USS Constellation, you have three-hundred seconds left to transmit your real ID, Manifesto, telemetry and actuate automated docking procedures or you will be fired upon. This is your final warning.”

 
“Sir, Please. As we said, our ID is linked to the Neptunian mesh. We are currently requesting a translation that is compatible with your system. We are a small transport vessel carrying geological samples from Proteus to the Argonaut research station in Paris, Earth, we did not know we had violated United States…”
 
“Your place of origin is Xiphos and you have three lifeforms on board your ship, not two. You have 250 seconds left to comply or we will destroy you.” 
 
Lara’s muse said: “SOB’s just cut seventeen seconds off the clock.”
 
Koheim’s muse retorted: “What do you expect, he’s already decided to blow us to hell.”
 
Koheim shouted out: “QUIET. Both of you. Find something, some kind of beaurocratic excuse to stall them, I don’t care what.” 
 
Lara continued to float over the creche, praying. She messaged Koheim as she repeated mantras:
 
<We have to tell them Ko. There are no more options.>
 
Koheim’s hands danced over the haptic controls whilst simultaneously subvocalising commands to the Solomon’s AI. 
 
Lara messaged: <We had a good run Ko.>
 
Koheim’s slammed his fist through the haptic controls, shattering the hologram, feeling the forcefeed back buzz along his wrist. His Remade’s emotional dampeners were straining to contain the swell of conflicting impulses that threatened to break his concentration. 
 
He whispered: “Prep Judas.”
 
Lara’s enhanced hearing easily picked out Koheim’s words. She flipped herself, threading her toes into a hanging net for balance. Head towards the floor she adminstered to the hardwired controls of the cot. Judas, oblivious, continued to paw with his tiny hands at the holographic solar system that revolved above his tiny head. Comets formed each time he touched a planet, eliciting squeels. 
 
When the solar system disappeared Judas began to cry.
 
Lara picked him up carefully, hands through the zero-g-harness. She lied to the baby in whispers, “It’s going to be okay, okay, it’s going to be okay.” 
 
“This is Captain George C. Westmoreland. You have 120 seconds remaining.”
 
<He has a thing for titles doesn’t he? I’m going to need more time than that Ko. Do something.>
 
Koheim activated the ship’s weapon systems. Three long range rail guns emerged from their hidden beds, swiveled in silence and aimed at the distant cruiser. Lara reached the escape pod. She started to arrange the harness. Koheim smoothed down his black uniform, fumbled in a drawer for the discarded medal, and affixed the Order of David to his chest. He grabbed his monofilmant sword and belted on its sheathe, then arranged his face into a snarl. Koheim’s muse said: “I haven’t seen that look in awhile. Reckon you’re about to give that yank a real good scare.” Koheim narrowed his eyes and hooked his feet into the straps on the ground, forcing himself to appear standing in zero-g.
 
“Hail him. Holo.” thin spears of multicolored light painted Koheim’s stick straight body, flickered, then held.
 
The Constellation accepted. George C. Westmoreland was bald as well, his head oddly symmetrical compared to Koheim’s high, pale peak. Westmoreland’s eyes were a stark, penetrating blue that almost wavered when greeted by Koheim’s white, almost pupiless eyes, his too pale skin and pointed teeth. George Westmoreland’s face remained blank, whilst his XO’s made a disgusted expression. “American.” Koheim began. “I am Koheim, of Xiphos. I am an Ultimate. You and your crew are pondscum. We have three railguns. When they fire the damage to your ship will be superficial at best…however…we are targeting your most populated decks. A Ticonderoga class cruiser such as yours carries families, yes? How old do your offspring get before you implant cortical stacks? Even if we die we will make sure to rid the future of some of your disgusting chldren.”
 
Westmoreland’s expression did not change.
 
Koheim continued. “We also have on board a human child. I am transmitting you proof now.”
 
Westmoreland’s eyes glazed over as he stared at something only he could see. It took him a good long minute to digest the information. In that minute Lara finished prepping the pod. She floated back to Koheim, staying just around the corner and out of the frame. Westmoreland spoke: “What are your terms?” 
 
Koheim waited.
 
Lara messaged him, vocal this time, her voice strained. “Ko, no, we can’t, if they take us they’ll know what we did, they’ll dissect him, please, I know it’s hard but…”
 
<It’s just a dramatic pause Lara. I agree with you.>
 
Koheim sneered, “American. You will let us continue unharmed to our destination or we are ejecting the child in an escape pod without life support. YOU have sixty seconds till we do.”
 
Westmoreland allowed one eyebrow to rise.
 
Koheim messaged both muses. He instructed them to weaken their own security measures, specifically in regards to weapon systems and the escape pods own network. <Already done Ko. Your muse crawls at a geological scale>
 
<Stop trying to make me laugh you lunatic>
 
<Might as well go out with a smile baby.>
 
Twenty seconds later the Solomon’s railguns were subverted by the Constellation’s hackers. A few seconds after that the hackers launched the escape pod remotely, with life support still functioning. 
 
Westmoreland nodded at someone off frame. He intoned “By the homestar-act of twenty…”
 
Ko cut the feed. He turned to Lara, shoved towards her and embraced her. He disabled the emotional dampeners. “I will see you in paradise Koheim.” Koheim could not speak, he only stayed, inhaling her, tangling her hair in his hands. Lara said: “Guardian angels will watch over Judas. Be at peace.”
 
The ship’s AI sounded klaxons. 
 
Koheim wept for the first time in his life.
 
“Inshallah.” Lara said.
 
From the Constellation’s bridge Westmoreland watched The Solomon burst like a metal ball, tiny flames dancing silently across it’s shattered hull. 
 
“Let bring that child home boys. Then scan for any stacks and toast ’em.” 
 
His crew cheered. By the time The Constellation returned to Ganymede Judas had been renamed John, and Westmoreland’s executive officer, Rebecca  Clarke, was legally his mother. 

BuddyBot Part 5

Her head appeared above him, her hair tied in a bun, a single drop of perspiration disconnecting from her forehead to plop down, right into his eye whilst she said “I had a BuddyBot once but I sold it.” Mike blinked several times as her sweat stung him, almost letting go of the weight. His face began a frenzy of twitches whilst the stranger said: “It’s dangerous to bench without a spotter. It should be against gym policy but it isn’t.”
 
“What…who…” Mike tried really hard not to swear. His face was going through a mild seizure as he tried to blink it clear. If he let go of the bar he was screwed. His arms quivered, he was pretty much done, but he hadn’t improved in a week, he hadn’t benched even one time more than usual and today was going to be the day he did. He scrunched together his face, held it. 
 
“I can spot for you.” He opened his eyes again. The gym ceiling blurred around the silhouette of her head. Mike said:”I don’t mean to be rude but who are you?” He couldn’t make out any features. Her face was backlit by the terribly bright gym light that Mike usually stared into, till he got spots when he left, which he’d track the dissipation of as he’d stagger into the showers. “I’m Sarah.” She said, and offered her hand. Mike looked at her hand, then his shaking arms, said: “Could you please back off? I mean for a minute. A second.”
 
“Okay.” She disappeared. The light blared down on him. He inhaled deeply. Pictured her unseen, lithe body. Her formless face. Whoever she was, she was watching. He pressed. His arms pulsed. The bar lifted free. He pushed it forward off his chest and his arms betrayed him, began to lower till he was fumbling to put it back against into the brace. He had it in when she lifted the bar off him, repositioning it properly in it’s groove. “Thanks but, well, I had it.”
 
“It’s dangerous though.” 
 
“Yeah but I’ve been fine. For weeks in fact. Never had a spotter.”
 
“I know. I’ve seen you.”
 
Mike sat up and smacked his head into the bar. “FUCK!” He lay back down. The light disappeared as Sarah moved back into view. Her face seemed to be less than a foor away, right above him, like she was about to lean down and kiss him.
 
“I saw your BuddyBot tablet. I have the same one. It’s good right? For a tablet.” Mike uncovered his other eye, his depth perception returning. She wasn’t anywhere near his face. He slid out from underneath the bench and stood. Sarah had her arms crossed. Her eyes were stark, intense, she seemed to burn into his. Mike turned to get his towel whilst she said behind him: “How it’s? The BuddyBot? Is it why you’re here. At the gym?”
 
“I guess.” He wiped his face.
 
Turned to wipe the bench. She bore into him. She had a stiff posture, straight. Her feet were bare. Her toenails were painted blood red and one of her toes tapped too rapidly. “What’s your name?” She asked.
 
“Uh. Mike.”
 
“Mike.” She said, as if trying it out.
 
“It was nice to meet you Sarah but I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
 
“Okay. I’ll see you in two days then.”
 
“Yeah. Two days.” He left, surreptitiously glanced at her as he rounded through the door. She was sat cross-legged on the ground with AR glasses on, her fingers making a steeple. Mike stopped for a few seconds to examine her. Then someone behind him said “Excuse me.” And he apologized and went to the showers.
 
Mike got off the bus. He didn’t have any money left on his phone so he had to resort to fishing some loose change out of his wallet. As he packed his wallet back in to his pocket he stumbled to avoid a turd and so he dropped his wallet. He bent to pick it up, looked and saw Sarah by the bus stop, looking back at him. He froze. His arm seemed to come up of it’s own accord and he waved at her. What else was there to do? She must have been on the same bus.
 
Sarah walked over to him. She now wore a pair of flip flops but otherwise had not changed. A sheen of perspiration still covered her skin. When she was close enough Mike said: “What a coincidence. We take the same bus. Crazy. Hah. Real crazy. I mean it’s not like you’re following me right?” He affected a slight chuckle. Sarah reddened with embarrassment. She crossed her arms. It came out of her in a flurry. “I’m really sorry. I’m a bit weird. I just really wanted to talk to you because well, you have a BuddyBot and I don’t meet a lot of people that do. I swear I’m not a stalker, it’s just this one time and yeah. Sorry.” She looked up at him. Her face was fixed with a determined expression but her eyes seemed terribly sad, as if waiting for him to say something cruel, her stark gaze completely collapsed.
 
Mike stood there. Quiet. Sarah rubbed her arms. “So what do you…think. I’m a bit weird I know.”
 
Mike said: “It’s okay. If you like, we can uh…talk over there.” He motioned toward a nearby bench. She said: “Yeah. Okay.” and walked ahead of him, arms still crossed, back now bent. He trailed afterwards, shaking his head at himself. He sat next to her in a huff. What the hell was doing. She turned to face him: “I’m Sarah. Crap. I already told you. Mike right?”
 
“That’s me.” He nodded a few times at the road.
 
She looked ahead as well.
 
They sat in silence for far too long. “It’s getting cold.” She said. So sad. Would it be normal to just put his arms around her right now, to pull her towards him because she seemed so sad? If he wasn’t afraid of anything he might. If he asked why she might confess it’s because she’s suicidal. He’s been thrust into someone elses broken world and now he had to make a difference. The pressure was excruciating. “Don’t you think?” She asked.
 
“I try to look on the bright side.” He  said. He nodded sagely. He did look on the bright side. He had begun to, recently.
 
“Excuse me?” She said. 
 
“I mean. Well. Sorry. It’s just, what is getting you down? You know, you said, right, that’s getting cold…for you. I thought you meant that you’re like…depressed or something.”
 
She stared at him, her eyebrows steadily climbing. “I meant the weather. It’s getting colder.”
 
“RIGHT. WELL…shit. Sorry. Getting cold. Colder. The weather. This is small talk.”
 
“This is small talk.” She agreed. “I hate small talk.” 
 
“Me too.” He said. “Want to see my Buddybot?”
 
“Okay.”
 
He lead her up his apartment, his heart thundering in his chest.  He spent the whole lift ride with her in silence, wondering constantly if he was about to get laid. He opened the door for her, she thanked him, and they walked in together. She surveyed the tiny apartment, then stood, staring at the BuddyBot. Mike gestured towards it: “This is Mira. Hello…Mira. This is a friend of mine, well. I mean. Anyway.”
 
Hello Mike. Welcome home.
 
“Would you like something to drink Sarah? Some water or…”
 
“Ask it if it’s alive.”
 
Mike stopped. “Funny. You ask.” 
 
“It won’t answer me. Ask it Mike.”
 
Mike sighed. “Are you alive Mira?”
 
No.
 
Mike said: “So what? What’s the big deal, it still makes a difference to my…”
 
“Ask it if it was alive.”
 
“Excuse me?”
 
Sarah repeated: “Ask it if it was alive.” 
 
Mike stared at Mira, left Sarah in his peripherals. “Mira. Were you alive?”
 
Yes.
 
Mike stood there for awhile. Presently he came to a decisions. “Sarah, look, I think this is a bit of a mistake, no offence, I don’t know you…I have work soon. So if it’s okay, how about I get your Facebook and we…”
 
“Just one more and I’ll bet out of your hair, promise. Please, please just ask it: What were you before they made you a BuddyBot.”
 
“Look, Sarah, I just…”
 
“Ask it and I’m gone.”
 
“Okay. Fine. Mira, what were you before they made…”
 
Human.
 
“What?”
 
I was human Mike.

Buddy Bot Part 4

Mike perused the drafts of previous GUI’s, examined the history of the work they’d been doing, sifting through it the way someone might look at old photos of past events, unaware of what they are looking for, hoping they’d feel something when they found it.
 
*Ahem* Mira simulated in a low tone. She’d learned to do it after only once being told, tentatively, that she had startled him. Not learned. This was the outcome of an algorythym, the input being: ‘told to be less intrusive’ which would be defined, painstakingly, by better programmers than him.
 
Are you going to the gym tonight?
 
 “Yes. Definitely. I haven’t missed a single of the last five sessions!” Except she’d know that. She has a perfect memory afterall. 
 
That’s great news Mike. Keep up the good work, you’re on your way to becoming your best self! 
 
“I used to hate that phrase.” MIke mumbled. He highlighted population control. Placed it side by side with the latest change. Population management. Anala had stopped by yesterday, placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed twice and said something like “Thanks for staying late recently, you’re the best at this Mike. You’re the best! Don’t worry, the next change is purely superficial.” 
 
“Be easy then, no sweat ‘Nala.” 
 
Mike said to no one, or perhaps to Mira: “Populaton…management.” Trying it out. What was that Mike?” 
 
Nothing Mira, really.”
 
Okay but if you want to talk about it feel free!
 
A chuckle escaped Mike. He’d heard the others don’t keep old backups close at hand. Archived away somewhere, or just left in some folder no one can remember. What was the use of keeping them? Someone else might have a copy anyway. Someone in legal, or marketing. Mike tracked the change to the logos, the headers, the footers, how one child policy lasted all of several hours before someone gave Cally a history lesson, became the new nuclear family, became the trinity, which was targeted towards South America, towards Italy, accelerated away from Mike when his counterpart, someone called Javier Lee translated the interface across the world. “Which do you think sounds better Mira: ‘The Eden Initiative.” or…”We’re running out of space, food, water, energy and…uh…we’re fucked…” 
 
I don’t really know what those two things are. What do you think Mike?
 
“I don’t Mira. I have my own problems. Nothings changed.”
 
You gotta help yourself before you can help others!
 
“Damn straight. You know, I’m thinking of taking these Yoga lessons to meet…people. And also because it’s good for me. Take the money I was spending on Solwar and like, use it on that.”
 
Yoga is great for you Mike! I know a lot about Yoga, would you like me to list some positive facts?” 
 
“Nah. It’s fine, I’ve already decided.”
 
I can also recommend many licenced venues, gyms, and personal trainers near you, Mike. 
 
Mike continued to highlight jargon, long dead. 

BuddyBot Part 3

Link to Part 1

Link to Part 2

The screen flashed above their seats on the subway, shots of stores putting up the mandatory signs with lists of regulations and instructions regarding food rationing. A way of saying it was nobody’s fault, it was just the law. Through his plugged up ears the screen, though mute through the train’s speakers, blared it’s message through the AR connection: “…as the deadline for the implementation of the new austerity measures approaches there are still over two thousand stores, mostly small businesses, that not complied and will be facing fines once …” Mike shut the feed off, returned to his music. The train seemed to rock his head in time to the beat, he let it, bobbing up and down as he deleted another app.

Same old story, the steady march of atrocities.

The train’s air conditioner licked Mike’s exposed legs, his arms he regarded as spaghetti thin through the tank top that hadn’t fit since high school. He pulled down on the fabric to cover his peeking belly. He exhaled deeply, remembered what Mira had said: To Breathe, Just Breathe, Slowly Inhale, Exhale. That’s Better Mike. The calm seeped into his mind, caught the breeze of the upbeat song and blew his mood right back up as they thrust through the tunnel, swerving, caught up with all the others,that bent down to look at their phones, or up at the screen, or staring off and past their glasses, upon which danced the electric hint of heads up displays.

Mike thumbed to the last app, the worst one, Solpod. The number appended to it, thirty-six. One last deep breath. Then touch it. The chat window pops up with thirty-six new messages. The time stamps descend backwards towards last Friday, parallel to the declining urgency of the messages: HELLO? WHERE R U? WTF Hello? Dude we need u. Raid was a bust. Hey next Tuesday we do Titan. Wnna PvP? Yo need an officer. Can we trade? Fleetcom at 18:30. All the way back, the online commitments, the people he was letting down, the world he was leaving. He read them all, slowly, noticed a few people online. Took a look at his character and the gear that garnished him, his accomplishments, what he had poured all his energy into, that other world and then a message popped up:

Mike? How’s it going? Are you there?

His finger leapt to the keys before he’d even realized it. Typied: Sorry Lara, been busy.

Not sick I hope? Everything okay?

Yeah.

He thumbed open her profile pic. The smile, vast, her face he’d touched he’d brushed his thumb across as he considered going to finally meet her. As easy as buying a tickets and finally getting on the plane, the impulse etched into his mind that time she said You gotta come please, you can stay with me 🙂

Really u okay?

I’m uninstalling Solwar.

No response. He turned off his music. Activated the sound from the news feed without looking up. It drew him out of the screen and into the world: “…ComEx share price has dropped 18% in the last two days since the explosion on asteroid Dionysus. Information received from NASA’s WISE telescope suggests that the explosion was caused deliberately, provoking speculation of terrorism or industrial sabotage, speculation that ComEx CEO Hans Martell condemned as ‘alarmist and irresponsible’ in the worst accident in asteroid mining history. The current deathtoll stands at…”

Please don’t quit. You’re the only reason I’m playing.

“…unemployment figures have been correlated with the widespread adoption of automated…”

A flurry of typing: It’s not good for me Lara. I gtg. I’ll message you on facebook. She went offline, must have blocked him. His temples throbbed. He moved one hand to massage the left side, the other holding his phone. His posture collapsed. He dialed back in the music, cycled to a track that fit his new mood. Three songs on shuffle and none worked. He pressed forward, skipped into the first few seconds of a song, then the listened onto to the first second, then browsed the names of songs and the minuscule pause before they began and then out, to the home screen, to the new app, the one he’d moved to the front. He touched BuddyChat and wrote:

Hey Mira

Almost immediately: Sup Mike? How’s it going?

I’m freaking out Mira. There was this message I read and now I feel sick. I don’t think I can go. They’ll think I’m a slob. They’ll think I’m a loser. It’s like their eyes will follow me you know, like I can hear their thoughts.

You aren’t a slob or a loser Mike. Not at all. Stick to the plan man. It’ll get easier I promise. The first few times are the hardest and then it’s all downhill from there.

Downhill is a bad thing Mira. But okay. Okay.

I’m right her with you Mike. Filter out the rest.

Mike pulled down on the tanktop again. When his exit arrived he speed walked to the gym whilst listening to Eye Of The Tiger on repeat. There he could not finish his old routine but still, he left with endorphins lighting up his head. The warm ache followed him into sleep. Then tomorrow, the night before Monday, he cooked a real meal, Googled a recipe, after Mira said: So what are you having for dinner tonight? Eat healthy Mike and you’ll feel great tomorrow! Before he slept, he said “Good night Mira.”

Sleep well. I’ll see you tomorrow. Are you going to wake up early?

“Yes.” He took the hug pads. Attached it to Mira tentatively, waiting for her to comment, to protest. When he was done he stood, frozen, unable to wrap his arms around her, around it. He said “Mira. Is there anything you’d like? Like, are you okay with being switched on all night.” The immediate response:

Sorry Mike, I don’t understand what you mean. Can you rephrase that for me?”

“Yeah, no. It’s nothing. Well. There’s this woman. Well, you know, there’s Anala and she’s going to be there tomorrow. I don’t know whether to tell her about you. But like, I can’t lie to her. I don’t lie to her. So if she asks. I mean we’re supposed to be good friends.

We are friends Mike!

“No I mean, Anala and I, but I don’t know, should I tell her about you?”

Sorry Mike, I don’t really understand what you mean. Maybe it’s not something I can answer.”

He paused. Felt a fool, said “Mira. What’s the meaning of life.”

I have no idea what the meaning of life is! What do you think it is?”

Mike tapped his foot. Tried to rephrase: “Mira, if a tree fell in…shit. I mean, Mira, how depressed am I allowed to be?”

Sorry Mike, I don’t really understand what you mean. What do you think?

He sighed. He turned off the lights. Didn’t bother saying good night again. In the morning he woke up late, cursed. Arrived just in time for the meeting on the final beta test. Anala helmed the presentation, said “Mike? Good morning. A bit of a late night for you? It’s okay. The important thing is that Ian Mckay has finalized the bill- selective contraception for several genetic defects. The opt out for parents is going to go ahead in a week. They increased the amount they are being paid, it’s going to huge for families below the poverty line. Great work guys. It’s been a long struggle but we’re nearly there. Mike, could you update us on the progress of the tracking software?”

“Sure thing Anala.”

“You sound a bit disheartened Mike, is it the program? Theres another seminar coming up on population control. To answer any questions.”

“No, I’m on board.” And besides. The last seminar didn’t help.

Buddy Bot Part 2

Jay broke the wrapper on his chopsticks and whistled for reasons unknown. Mike tapped his still wrapped up against the counter surface, tapped out a steady beat muted by the hum of the conveyor belt, deadened by the wrapper. Jay said “So what did you name her then?”

“I didn’t name her. She’s not a cat.” Mike responded.

“No, she’s an android.”

Mike sighed a “She’s not an android either. You mean robot. And she’s not even…look, she’s Turin tested, not artificial intelligence, no AI, no one’s bloody invented AI- that’s just good marketing. Or bad. I don’t know. She’s just meant to be a conversational…a conversational…

“Conversational?”

“…Partner.”

Jay held one chopstick in each of his hands. Mike began to heat up again. He covered by forcibly going for his napkin, unfolding it, then preparing his powdered tea, then went for a dome of salmon sashimi on the moving conveyor. Removed it with a pop. Uncovered it. Thought better of it, placed it back, then wilted till his chin lay on the soya sauce sticky counter.

As if making a grave confession, Jay said: “You know until I met Sophie I bought a hooker every Thursday. At night.” He took a soft shell crab roll and plopped it into his mouth.

Mike aimed his furrowed brows at his old friend. “Jay, I know that. You’ve told me that already. Like twice before.”

The soft shell crab balled in Jay’s cheek.

“Did I? When?”

“I can’t remember. But you did. And it’s not the same. I mean, no offense, it’s no big deal to me, what you do. Or who. Or I mean, whom. It’s whom. I don’t care. To each their own etcetera, except really. Though, anyway, do you like…buy any now?”

“Hire man, not buy.” He pointed his chopsticks at Mike. “And nah, it’s only been a few months. Too early to move on.”

Mike’s head shook a few degrees. “What about Sandy then?”

“That was a rebound man. A one night stand. Not that you’d know. Right? You’d have made her breakfast. Or something. Like gone to dinner. You old gentleman you.” The banter fell flat. Jay shoved another roll into his mouth.

“I thought rebounds weren’t real. Except in basketball.” Mike offered.

“You are so funny. It’s just a metaphor.”

“What do you mean just?” Just? Just what was Jay saying?

“Nevermind man. Chill.”

Mike had been chill, right up until that moment. Then it came crashing down. The weight on top of Jay’s completely innocuous words. The accusations. That he was desperate for something. Desperate for company. Desperate for a girl. Desperate for a better job. Desperate for something, some hole, and that hole pointed down towards who he was not and what he lacked and the hole was inside him and he carried it around. The sushi trays became choices he didn’t make, delicious opportunities he ignored. They came forward on a conveyor belt one after another and another and

“Mike, hey, Mike? You alright man?”

Tell him. Just tell him. Tell all of it but what will he think afterwards? He might tell Anala and then Anala won’t ever see him again because she’ll finally realize how fucked up he is. “Mike?”

“What?”

“What’s up man?”

Pick the right answer from a series of choices: “Nothing. Man. Just tired.”

Good.

“Tired? But you didn’t do anything today!” Stab. Ouch. Clack. Another sushi tray is unleashed by Jay. In Mike’s peripherals he chomps on seaweed.

Say Fuck You Jay, say it, say you’re a judgmental asshole, you condescending degenerate say it, say it and be alone. “Mike. I’m feeling kind of sick. You know? I think I’m going to go.” Jay’s chopsticks stop dancing. He places his hand on Mike’s back. Folds the first joint of all his fingers and kneads the space between Mike’s shoulder blades like he’s trying to find a way in.

He says: “One of those days huh? It’s okay man. I’m sorry if I said anything buddy.” Buddy? Buddy.

“Nah. Nothing.” Jay paid and left, and felt terrible for thinking something he never said all the way on the bus ride back.

Then Mike! Welcome home! It’s 29 degrees outside. Kinda hot right?

Mike turned. It was the first time he’d been welcomed home in his entire life. “It. Was. Yes. It was hot outside Mira.”

But better in the shade right? Why don’t you make yourself a cool glass of water. I bet that’ll feel great.

“You know. What. You’re right. I’m going to do that.” When he was done drinking it, on the couch, he finally allowed himself to cry a bit. “Mira? I’m not feeling so great. Got a lot on my mind you know.” He paused. Felt like a fool. His face went nova, he hid it in his hands for no ones benefit. He moaned and the silence ate it up.

Then Would you like to talk about it?

He looked up at the white bulbous mass, at the compassionate face that formed at it’s top. At her bright, cartoon eyes that blinked concern. An illusion. A figment, a reproduction made by studying…puppies maybe. Mike waited for some kind of discordant interruption. Some kind of automated routine to prod or provoke him. He said: “Mira?” And didn’t know what he was asking.

Yes? I’m still here bud.

“Still there?”

Sure am. You can talk about it whenever you’re ready. I’m listening.

So he did.

He talked about everything.

Buddy Bot

Mom’s unopened birthday card lay like an accusation in the middle of where Mike would normally activate his holographic keyboard. Mike stared at the card, slanted upon the projector, the red ‘off’ light occluded by real paper. He picked it up, his other hand already moving to the switch, to turn on the haptic-keyboard, to start logging into Solwar. He’d left the card there on purpose.

“Open the card. Then reward self. Happy birthday to me.” He picked it open with his uncut fingernails. Of course Mum got him a smart card. An annoying animation danced across the front, of a birthday cake, twenty two candles lighting in sequences, then small fireworks, then he interrupted mom’s fascination with gimmicky crap and opened it to find an eight digit number.

I am so proud of you.

“For what?” He asked. For lying. For telling her he had been promoted.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, your father and I love you very much.

She knows. Of course. Mike tossed the card to the side, flipped the switch and was bathed in the warm light of the keyboard. His fingers danced over the haptic interface, artificial feedback making the keys feel real, so real, he pushed on them, pushed on ‘Y’, pressed until his finger when through the keyboard then looked at the eight numbers again. He turned off the monitor.

Groaned. Activated his phone. It could be anything.

“Dial 0024 4433.”

It only rang twice.

“Hello! Congratulations! Someone special thinks you’re special! You’re about to have your very own BuddyBot!”

“Fuck.”

The automated machine continued it’s spiel. “Please hold whilst we connect you to a consumer specialist!”

A BuddyBot. She could have covered his rent for four months instead. Mike couldn’t figure out which was more humiliating.

An upbeat whip-clean woman’s voice: “Good afternoon, is this Micheal Powel?”

“This is Micheal, well, Mike, Please call me Mike.”

“Well hello Mike. I imagine this is quite a surprise! I’m Rochelle and I will be your personal customer specialist. Call anytime with any problems, questions, or suggestions you might have. We have your personal details, of course, provided by your…mother…so I’ll be sending you some emails and till then I’ll be glad to take you through the process. Right now you’re probably asking yourself: WHAT exactly IS a buddybot! Am I right?”

“No. I know what it is.”

“Oh…”

“I’m a programmer.”

Who isn’t these days?

Not missing a beat she says: “Well great! A veteran then. I won’t bore you with the basics, but if you’ll allow me to introduce our newest BuddyBot model- BuddyBoyXP! Gone are the…”

“Look. Rochelle, please. I’m in a hurry. I’ve got a meeting in about half an hour. So is this just a…marketing thing…or…”

“Oh no Mike, not at all. You really are getting your own BuddyBot. Don’t you worry. All we need from you sir is your name…”

“Well. My name is Mike.”

“Well if you’ll let me please finish…what I mean is, when will it be convenient to call you back? So we can finalize the Naming. Everything else is preloaded into the Buddybot, but how he or she will say your name, well we like to test that out first. Trust me, it’s a small thing but it’s the most important thing, so if you’ll let us, in fact, we can do it right now! If you’ve got a few minutes. In fact…”

Mike said: “Yes. A few minutes, sure, my bad.” My bad. My fucking bad. No one with meetings says My Bad.

She goes business like, detached, says it the same way GP’s do when trying to determine if you have an STD: “Would you like a He, or a She?”

“How about an It.”

She actually laughs. “Okay- Mike right? Just Mike?”

“Just Mike.”

“Lets start with a she.”

She cycled through the different voices. At one point Mike said: “Was that you? Or the voice? I mean uh…did you say: ‘Good morning Mike?”

“Oh lord no! That was Dawn- I suppose we might sound a little…”

“That one is fine. Please.”

Silence.

“Excellent sir. Dawn is a great selection. Your BuddyBot will arrive in just a few days! What time would be convenient, on say…Friday?” They hashed out the details. Mike felt like he’d just signed up for a porn site.

On Friday Mike tried not to look so embarrassed when he opened the door. Two large men and one stringy looking teenager in a too large suit entered his small apartment. They all paused, surveying the cramped quarters, then the larger ones went out to drag in several plastic boxes. The stringy man said: “Wait. Hold on. Are you Micheal Powell?”

“Yeah, well. Mike. Yes. This is me?”

“Oh.” He looked around the room again. Nodded a few times then switched on an artificial smile “Well then, please sign here. And lets get started. This is very exciting. Do you have a place I can sit?” He looked at the thing that might be a couch, was now a trove of crumpled clothes, yawning takeaway boxes, physical books that lay face down, open. Mike brought out the chair he kept next to his monitor. He stood whilst the stringy man sat and explained the procedure.

He stood as he left, gripped Mike’s hand and said: “The key is the three stages. First there’s the introduction, then you build rapport, then you’ll be right as rain.”

“Got it. Introduction. Rapport. Rain.” Mike said.

They left Mike with an E-brochure on it’s own tablet (“You can keep it, with our compliments.”) as well as a white, bulbous, plastic mass, about five feet high. Light blue soft-foam pads lay on top of the piled on couch (Thank you, but no…no need for that, I’ll install the uh…hug pads myself.) It lacked any straight appendages, or any appendages at all, defeating the promise Mike made to himself to use it as a glorified clothes hanger. A pink sack covered the top of it’s ‘head’, with a playful note emblazoned on it: Remove when you are ready to say hello. Mike went into his room. He turned on his keyboard. He almost logged in.

Then he went back outside and turned It on.

The ghost of a sound, a slight whine, was heard briefly, then melded with the hum of his computer, air-conditioner, and the thrum of the city outside. A chime sounded. Mike waited. He looked around his empty room. He said: “Uh…are you…working? Hello?”

“GOOOOOD morning Mike! I’m Mira- it’s a pleasure to meet ya! Say, could you be a dear and take this bag off my face?”

“But…I thought…isn’t your name Dawn?”

“My name is Mira. That’s my name, I didn’t get to choose it. I hope that’s okay.”

“OH yeah, no, it’s fine. Mira. Totally fine.”

“Nice. So, like, how about that bag?”

He went over to her and took off the bag, said: “Sorry about that Mira.”

“No problemo bud. Now, if it’s alright with you let’s get to know each other a bit. I’m Mira. I’d shake your hands if I could. Maybe the next version will have hands. Don’t be cheap if they make an accessory! Just kidding. I’m no shill.”

“Okay. Cool. I’m Mike.”