Londontown

I was not expecting something spectacular, but this was simply disappointing. After one or two turns from Piccadilly circus, we crossed a gate and arrived to a place that was very similar to the rest of the urban London…except that nothing was written in English. No pagodas, no maneki-nekos, no pandas. Just everything in Chinese instead of English.

– So we are here? – I stop to look at some wall posters over what looks like the wall of a closed business. A shop, maybe. Pictures of people, with Chinese text, and some numbers. – What are those saying? – My guide is not Chinese, but she is supposed to have learned the language at the school to the level of reading it. I have no clue of anything.

– They are looking for brides. – I smile, and look at the grey faces on the sepia-coloured paper. Some are looking like old men, but everyone needs love, right? – Are you interested maybe on adding your advertisement to this wall? – She’s playing the dumb Asian girl, she does it very well, but I hate it. I turn my head and start pouting. She realizes I’m upset and grab me by the waist. – Don’t be angry on me! Let’s go to find a place to eat. Any preference? – I don’t understand anything I see but I’m not going to say so.

– How about Chinese food? – She laughs her noisy, clearly sarcastic laugh, the one that let me see her silver teeth. I’m sometimes sorry immediately after speaking. – For example. After all, we took a cappuccino on Little Italy, right?

– Good choice, my lord. – She uses the exaggerated Oxford accent that I know she can use, instead of her usual american. She grabs my arm and we walk quickly through. – How about here? – We stop in front of what it looks like a glass showcase with a wooden door. Yes, there are tables inside, with people sitting, not a lot, and the smell of soup is overwhelming. I do not manage to see what the people are doing, the local is quite dark, I must say.

– After you. – I wave like if she is a princess. She goes in, not before smiling me, and I follow here to a featureless table. Over it, a white tablecloth that obviously has seen better days, the typical bottles with asian sources, two very small glasses, and chopsticks. I’ve been in chinese restaurants before, so at least I will not be forced to ask for a fork. A waiter comes, a few minutes after we finish examining the table, and he gives us two menus. I open mine. All is in Chinese, no pictures. I look at her. She smiles to me.

– What were you expecting? – I keep looking for something I can read. There it is. The prices! – When in Rome…

– Do as the romans, of course. Will you be so kind to order for me? – I hesitate. – Or, at least, can you explain me a little?

– Of course I can. – She has a quick look on the menu.-  Let’s first decide what you want to eat. Meat? Fish? Soup? Two dishes? One? – I shrug my shoulders. – I’m going to go for a soup, some rolls, and maybe a dessert. The chinese character for soup is 湯. Doesn’t it look like a pot over fire? Then the one for meat is 肉, that looks a little like an open animal. The one for fish is not so obvious, 魚. You can try to remember it as an octopus, with all the legs under. – I nod. The Chinese waiter comes, she says something in Chinese, I smile, he leaves. – Good. How about you point to something on the menu you like how it is written, and I tell you what it is?

– I’m in! – I scan the menu, and we order dumplings, Chinese rolls, some soup, some tea, and a very soft chinese beer. Close to us, now an American family sat down. At one point, they start shouting. “Where is the English menu? I want to see the manager! We are in London, for God’s sake!” We try to hide, fortunately, we don’t speak English neither. The food, all of it, is delicious, and nothing comparable to anything I tried before on a so-called Chinese restaurant. A lifetime experience.

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Chatting about the next holidays

– Did you decide then where to go this year?
– No I don’t. My AI is still computing prices. And you?
– Me and my family are going to Fantasialand. You should join us!
– Fantasialand? I don’t know if we can afford it. How will you?
– Easy: we joined an ad program. You know, one of these where you give the rights about your holiday memories. Our AI recommended us. Apparently we match some kind of common profile.
– Lucky you. We don’t, for sure. We are more on the consumer side. My big son, you know, the one you met, is really burning my credit onto VR stuff. I keep telling him to be more conservative, but no way. He’s a VR junkie!
– You should be careful with that thing. Although I heard if you are good enough, you can make money out of it.
– This is what he says to me. “I can’t go on holidays, papa, I need to be online or I will lose my followers!: 😦
– I know what you mean. My children, on the other hand…
– Don’t tell me about it. If I finally don’t manage to go anywhere, we will rent your holiday memories. If you let me do it, of course.
– Of course I will. I will be more than happy to send you a guest pass!
– Do it please. Sometimes I think my family is so complicated than the AI will leave us and raise a black flag about.
– Don’t be so dramatic. So see you then!
– See you then! It was nice to chat with you!

Battle mode – post mortem

– I can’t believe I’ve been killed by a rogue AI!  – I remove my VR gear with a false anger. I can’t destroy the borrowed equipment, so I limit my movements. In front of me, the Colonel, dressed in the uniform of the Company, monitor my moves.

– Yeah, what can I say. No pain no gain. Or how did it say it? “No real no deal”. That was a good one . – He chuckles. I frown. – On your favour, I must say your death was very spectacular. Your attitude in general was very sportive, you are quite a character. Our beta viewers rated you quite high, and they want you back. Good news for you!
– Is it possible? I don’t have credit. I spent more than I should on that plasma PPT. What I should have bought is an AI filter. Damn it! – I feel a little bit ridiculous on my underwear, but I can’t find an uniform around. I hesitate to ask the Colonel about.

– Don’t worry about it. The viewers already collected credit for your new shell. – I smile. I’m going back! The Colonel gives me his back, looking at the other empty tanks. – I think we may have a star here! Who knows, maybe you’re the new Star Duke!
– No, I will never reach the level of the Star Duke. I’ve grown watching his videos! I think I can imitate every voice he made before the end. “Die red bastard die” and so on. He was using it on the “Red Planet” games. Do you remember? I’m not sure he was popular here…

The Colonel comes to me. It seems he was looking to his hand display, not to the tanks. He shows me the display that reveals my profile and some numbers. One of them, my credit, highlighted in green, is much higher than what I was expecting after such a sudden, stupid, innocent, death.

– He was popular, my son. Here in this business, we walk indeed on the shoulders of giants, but this should not cloud your view. You need to find your own character if you want to be a VR star. Today’s viewers have very little in common with your childhood. They may not look for heroes but for soldiers they can relate, people they can imitate. Son, I don’t know anymore what they are with their implants, their fashion, and so on. – The Colonel smiles. I smile back. – But I don’t care if they pay me. And you should do the same. Now, clean yourself, have a snack, and please go back there! Show me what you have, show them what you are!

Battle mode

– To your right! – After the shout, I shoot my head plasma PPT. The alien explodes into a feast of light and viscosities. My field gets dark of blood for a second and a half, until the alien body parts slip down my armor visor.
– That was a close one! – Once I’m free of meat, I look back to find the canyons of Bigguns about to fire in my direction.
– Just in case! –  I can imagine his smile inside his helmet. But I can’t imagine his face. I’m not sure even he’s a male. We communicate over voice, and a distorted, featureless one. There is no need to be distracted by his or her beauty, neither to change the natural balance, based in our equipment and experience, in one direction or another.

– You know, Bigguns, you should have gotten the points of this one. – I point to the corpse of our enemy. – Aren’t you looking forward to clear this level?
– Are you crazy? I like this! – His canyons point to the sky, where the Five Suns rotate their eternal love dance. Azure is now low, so maybe soon we will have our well deserved downtime.
– I do want to leave. I feel like I’ve been fighting forever. And I have one of these beta tester contracts that force me to either cover some territory, get a hundred gems or kill a thousand molebirds. – We dubbed these aliens molebirds since they tended to surprise us from underground or from the sky. – What is your deal with them, Bigguns?
– No real, no deal!
– What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Bigguns was the last of my Penta brigade, the squad we are forced to assemble to play. I already lost the other three. Two novas, one self-declared AI. Luckily I was not attached to any of them. I look once more to Bigguns armor. Who’s inside? Is he from Earth? Is he from the Company?

– Around us! At three, six, nine! – Definitely what is clear is that his sensors are more acute. I activate the automatic guns on my hip, and try to follow the trackers. Three more molebirds, these ones coming from underground. Again Bigguns was the first on detecting them, again I see no enthusiasms on getting the reward. Is he playing at all? Another one at nine, this one coming from above, falls over me. Not being able to dodge it, I stumble and get the damage of a pointy stone or something puncturing my armor on one of the soft spots in my back. I shoot to it. Bang bang bang. But the molebird is faster, and it manages to immobilize me with four of his claws. I see my powerbar going to the half while the mouth of the molebird peels off his foldable lips over my helmet. Where were his eyes? How the hell these monsters see the world?

– Bigguns! Help me please! – I have five blinking lights on my display. Only one is green and static. Bigguns. What the hell is he doing? Fighting the other ones? – Bigguns! Do you know where are the eyes of these guys? – My plasma PPT is finally fully loaded again, so I point it down and I shoot it like if shooting my feet, in the hope of vaporizing most of the molebird. Splotch! There it goes!

– Yuhuuuu! – The light of Bigguns still doesn’t move. Is he alive? If I see his green light, he must be. The red lights, oddly enough, don’t move anymore. Maybe they are agonizing. Maybe they are not dead but they can’t move. I call my Penta mate. – Bigguns? Everything alright there?

– Everything alright mate. I have run out of fuel. I am reloading. Can you please come to help me? – His metallic voice is calmed, as calmed as an elevator music. I stand up, remove the claws of the last molebird, still attached to my armor and head back in his direction. He’s only fifty meters away. But we are on an enemy land. I cover the distance slowly (I don’t want to be surprised again) while I admire my progress bar. Almost full. I can’t avoid to shout out my happiness.

– I’m almost done on points, my friend! One more to go! – I tell him.

– I know. You’re then ready to be collected. – To my surprise, he has again all his canyons pointing to me. I check my sensors, looking for new red lights. No, nothing in my back this time.

The last thing I see is the fire of his plasma PPT.

 

Headaches

– On your file it says you’re a Martian. Is it true?
– Of course it is. Why should I lie about such a thing?
– I don’t know. You tell me. –
– You tell me, you are the Doctor! –

The Martian is dressed with a red T-Shirt saying “Earth Sucks” and chino black trousers. His hair, although cut very short, seems to be blonde. His eyes are clear green. The doctor is sitting on his desk playing with a thin transparent touch screen that is showing quickly flashing graphs and letters.

– Right. Let’s have a look to that later. So you came hear complaining about unexplained headaches…
– That is correct, sir. I’ve never had headaches before coming to Earth. A quick search told me that it’s one of the most common Earth diseases…
– So is the cold, and nobody goes to the Doctor because of it. So why are you here?
– Someone up there told me you could help.
– Someone? You’re the first Martian that comes to my office! I have records, boy.

The doctor flashes the touch screen to the Martian. A long list of names is rolling down quickly. The Martian doesn’t pay attention to it. He seems to be more interested on the window.

– We like our privacy. You know we have the right to hide our origin…
– You have the right, that’s right. So why didn’t you hide it?
– I don’t know…I think the whole Act 15 is stupid, if you ask me.

The doctor looks at the Martian. So Martian and democrat. What a strange combination. He stands to get to the closest cabinet. From there he draws an stethoscope and a tensiometer, all old school.

– Please let me have a look, boy.

The doctor starts pumping the tensiometer. The Martian stares at the wall around. The doctor has a very old style office, and the only modern device seems to be the touch screen.

– Is it bad?
– Boy, you are in perfect health. I think you are one of the most healthy patients I had in the last month. Let me check your inners…

The doctor gets the touch screen, and he looks at the Martian through it. Images of his organs appear on the transparent display. He pinches, zooms here and there, and seems to stop on the picture of the brain. The Martian, that sees also the pictures, changes his face when he stops.

– Can you help me? Do I have a tumor?
– No man, it’s much easier than that! You show signals, but I know the reason.
– What reason?
– Your frontal lobe is under pressure. It’s a well known symptom the rock-climbers experience after coming back from high mountains. That’s giving you headaches.
– The pressure?
– The pressure. Boy, just come back to whatever idyllic Martian village you come from: this weather will end up damaging your brain, I’m afraid. It’s too much pressure for your little head!

The doctor taps the Martian on the forehead. The Martian, annoyed, stand up.

– Thank you doctor. At least I know now Earth is not for me.
– I hope I could say more about, but…as I said, you’re my first Martian.
– Your first Martian, I know. Have a good day, doctor.
– Have a good day you too. And have a safe trip home!

Setting up AI.cnf

Ummm…let’s see…interactivity: yes. Of course I want interactivity. Yeah I understand some people don’t really want to interact, but I enjoy a good conversation. Empathy: no. I never liked the typical guy or girl who’s in your face as soon as he has a chance saying “I understand you. I totally am.” It’s a cheap trick, the empathy. If human can’t master ir, how can my new toy? Next one: log and memory. I’m going to set it to readable, rewritable and forgettable. If I could simply do that… but I can’t, it’s there. I will never manage to rewrite it, and I would love to be able to forget it just with one swipe. What else… backup… what about it? Can we turn back the clock? Can we experience the same sensation, over and over, just by resetting the backup? No, of course we can’t, so I’m going to say no, no backup. It will be more realistic, so to say. How about this one: Imagination. What’s this? Let’s check the documentation. The ability to be creative on what you do? And what the hell does that mean? I do have imagination: I want to think he (or she) will be as smart as the last girlfriend I had. When I think about it, anyway, another concept comes to my mind. I mean when I think about imagination, of course. I want to fly away with him, or her. I want the experience to be as remarkable as a lover’s trip to the Caribbean sea, or similar. So yes or no? It’s of course no harm to say yes…will I be able to change it later? Here it says yes…but I don’t think I going to crop it later on.

Physical appearance of my new mate is easy. After all, it’s just plastic. The dirty one is the AI.cnf. From it, you see it all. From that and the database dump, of course.

The best place

– I have been in many places around the world, but this one is really nice!

We were waiting in front of the standing desk of the maître to have our table assigned. I didn’t know where to go with her, so I spontaneously decided to try that fancy new place in town, Le Creuset. Being a local it is not easy to impress me with the setup, since this city is getting most of its business from tourism and almost everything was tried before to attract public. After entering, the only thought that crossed my mind was “it’s bigger on the inside”.

– Could the happy couple come with me, s’il vous plait?

We walk after him. The path crosses the dining room, direction to the imperial stairs at the end of the hall. I look around surprised. The place is really heterogeneous, filled with tables of different sizes, for four diners, six, or twelve. Some of the tables had funny shapes, like L-shaped, semicircular, and so on. Light comes from chandeliers of different sizes, candles, and some kind of shinny mushrooms… probably to create this so called organic feeling.

– Is it your first time in Le Creuset, messieur, madame? – We are still walking, apparently we go upstairs. I answer our waiter, that seems to be waiting for a feedback.

Oui. Although I’m a local. I simply heard that this new place was kind of out-of-options if you come uninvited or without a reservation. But I’m this kind of guy that doesn’t believe what people say…

– I can smell that – was the odd answer of our guide. – So you don’t know how this thing work. Magnifique! First I need you to tell us what are your expectations.

– Expectations? – She says. I do expect to have sex with her tonight, I refrain myself to say.

– Expectations, Erwartungen, les attentes. If I don’t know what you expect, how can I please you? – He smiles. His mouth is oddly big, and at one point I seem to see more teeth than what I could expect one to have. Again, he stops. We are halfway up the stairs. I look back, to the hall we crossed. The mix of differently shaped tables seems to want to tell me something…that I don’t manage to interpret.

– I just want to have a nice fish. This is a fish restaurant, right?

– We do are a fish restaurant, mlady. In fact, this is the place to come if you are a fish. – Again this weird smile with a mouth more filled with teeth than usual. And they really look sharp, I observe. I will never understand these new XXI century fashion trends, with those hipsters, trappers, and so on. I’m too old for that shit.

– I’m going to say I want also a nice ambient. A quiet table. In a terrace, if you have any.

– We do have terraces. You will love ours. Par ici. – The second floor extend deeper into the building. The chandeliers are almost gone here.  I look at the tables and the bar. Yes, this one looks better than downstairs. To my left and right, I see terraces opening, but we seem to walk straight. At the end, a big balcony seems to be guarded by two thugs. I grab her hand and we enter the balcony just to find out it ends on stairs…that go down to some sort of beach. An hologram, probably. The effect is amazing, there’s breeze and sea smells. There are also two empty tables. The waiter walks us to one.

– Please sit down, and I will send you someone to take note of your order. In the meantime, enjoy these caipirinhas by the house. We love to make new friends! Adieu…

We wave our hands in a stupid way to the leaving waiter. He smiles. What a big amount of teeth. I wonder if he can eat as usual with them. Probably I’ll never know.