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!: ūüė¶
– 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.


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.

Buried on the moon

– Is this your first burial?
– Yeah. – I look at my interlocutor. She’s a good-looking human. Through the helmet I can barely see her face, but her semi-transparent suit is very revealing. – Is it your first?
– Nah. As a mooner, I enjoy coming to this. – I try not to see her smile. – Don’t worry about it – she adds – I don’t mind to recognize I’m happy people choose to be buried here, on Serenitatis. Their reasons must be different, but the output is the same.
– More active biomass. – I smile. Of course she doesn’t see it.
– More active biomass. The Dome, as you know, was the dream of that businessman. What was his name?
– I don’t remember. – I do remember, but I don’t want to look like one outsider to her. – Musk, Cook, some of them. Does it matter?
– Right. That was his dream. But our dream is to have farming land. I want to eat Moon tomatoes. I mean, on a regular basis! And run around without this suit.
– Me too. – I lie. The moon tomatoes are tasteless in comparison with the California ones. I don’t know why, they remember me somehow always of the night when I eat them. I look up. The Earth is half full above me. Beautiful. And bigger than the Moon is seen from Earth, of course. I can’t get familiar with this sensation, the sensation I’m going to fall up¬†back at any moment, at any time. The lower gravity doesn’t help also. Maybe I should have chosen a heavier spacesuit, as recommended for earthlings.

– Why do you come, if I may ask? – My moon girl seems to be a little bit more interested on me than I am on her. I look at her body again. Not my type, but I must admit, a very gorgeous type. To my left, the second row of our procession is walking in apparent silence. Four AUmans walking without spacesuit. Two non-humans seem to be tourist. The rest are dressing with more or less fashionable variations of our suits.
– I’m considering to apply. I have some savings…
– That’s great! – My moon girl jumps and stays in the air an unreasonable long time. Unreasonable for me, of course. – Don’t forget to invite me. Are you planning to die soon? – I look at her. Then to the Earth above us. The to the Dome where they bury all the approved candidates. She’s seriously asking it.
– No no no. Not soon. The problem is, I have my doubts. So I asked them to show me the ceremony. – This bit is true.
– You’re going to love it! We gather around the casket, some people sing, some people dance. Then we bury you and put two tree seeds over your biodegradable coffin, one of a fruit tree, one of a wood type. Then we drink, and tell tales about you. If we don’t have tales, we invent them. I heard it’s a little like an Irish funeral. – We are getting close to the Dome Airlock. – Why do you have doubts?

I decide to open my heart to this friendly mooner.
– I don’t know if we are doing the right thing. I think it’s futile. The Moon is a desert without atmosphere. It will never be a second Earth. Or do you think it will?
She looks at me, like evaluating if I believe what I just said. I think she’s trying to decide if I’m worthing it or not. I mean the discussion.
– We are already here. I was born here! You may not know our culture, but you can know me. We are real, and we don’t want to leave. The Moon is our home. Unfortunately, we are not able to get everything we want from her, but there is where you can help, my nameless friend! Look at it like being a 20th-century organ donor. You don’t know what they are going to do with what you give, but be sure we will try to do our best! And think about it. Your molecules, although transfigurated, will end up inside people like me. So will you do it? For me?
– Yes I will. – Yes I will. We close the airlock and we are in. Inside the Dome, heading to the core of the Garden in the Sky, the Explorer’s graveyard. Where I’m going to end, where I want to be buried in.

Star Hotel 2050 (IX)

– Papa. – We are heading back without speaking. After David fell asleep, we left the place, not before being sure the robot was notifying the authorities about the sleeping man. If the working laws are the same here than on the surface, he should not be punished. If they work the same way. Here on the Star Hotel, I guess there are no expendables, and if someone needs to do something, it must be him or her who does it. On the other hand, if there is one person only for the task that David is suppose to perform, the AI master will find the way to revive him.

– Papa! – I look at Paula. – You are spacing out. Would you care to come back with me, please? What are we planning to do here? Or let’s say, what are you planning we do here? You were more talkative with David than with us! – We already crossed floating the hanging gardens. The light now is different, without creating a nightly feeling, it is indicating we are on another biorhythm. I must say, I’m very tired, not even able to speak properly. The beer is revolting in my stomach: the low g is not helping it to go through.

– Let’s speak tomorrow. I had so many plans…but we can discuss them, of course! I will say, I put you over the table our options, and we vote. We are three, after all! We should be able to reach some agreement.

– Except if all of as vote for a different option.- Paula says.

– Except if all of us vote for different plans. Then we could vote for the order we make them happen. Some agreement we will be able to reach! We are family after all! – I see the corridor that lead us to our cubicle. We are close. We are close.

– Yes we are! But what do you know about my life, apart from what you can find on the network? What do you really know about what I like now? – Here we are. I scan my face on the door…I hope I’m not puffier or something…but the door opens without problems.

– Paula. Calm down. I know we have differences. But I love you, and I know you love me. And that’s all that I want, the rest is irrelevant. – I fall over my bed. Oh gosh, I’m so happy there is microgravity…


Star Hotel 2050 (VIII)

(The previous installment is available on Star Hotel VII)

– Don’t you think them, Doctor Gr√∂tzinger, that we have lost the sense of marvel? – After a little small talk and the delicious meal served by my Mr. Robot we have started to go into what I can only call a drunk talk. – What you tell me is that, whatever we represent, it doesn’t matter how crazy it is, it is not as good as the real thing. Am I getting it right?

– You got it, David! – I look at Paula, that seems to be drinking our words as fast as we drink our beers. – It happened before, during the Analog. There are these artists who are fantastic on reinterpreting art, you know, they take a classic piece from, you know, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, these ones, and they deliver you one hand-painted almost-perfect copy of them, or a comic-styled version of it. Then you buy it to hang it over your chimney, you know, and what do you feel when you look at it? Nothing. Nothing! The spirit is gone.

– The spirit is gone! – David lifts his glass. I’m not sure he’s as drunk as he looks, I hope not, since I’m on holidays but he’s not. – What a fantastic picture, my friend. The spirit is gone. So how about the TV? the 2D TV? What do you think of that? Is it dead?

– Well, there are good programs – David start naming series that I don’t manage to understand – but most of them are just translocations of classical plots. Take Ulysses, you know, and put it…on space. You see what I mean? – I finish my beer. – Mr. Robot! Can I get another one? – The robot nods and one more is appearing in front of me. I have two abilities. One is to separate my rational mind from my irrational one, the other one is to find correlations. The first one is letting me think clearly while being irrationally drunken. It’s like a lucid drunkenness. The other one is telling me this meeting, this dinner, can not be thanks to serendipity. There is a reason behind. That is…- I was betting for this project because I believe it is original. Nobody ever built something like this. There are artificial islands. There were previous space stations. But this, this is for me art. We have built a new ecosystem, one that we can enjoy, and one that we could tune up if needed the way we like it. This, my dear David, my dear Paula, is the dream of the mankind. Not Mars.

– Not Mars! – David gulps his glass as to celebrate my last sentence. Then an awkward silent follows. Paula look at me, smiling. I look at him. His eyelids are falling like under the effect of the absent gravity, falling, falling, and they close. I won! David is drunk for real. Good to know that I can win him on this. I could use the situation to dig out his hidden reason to friend us, but I will wait. I will wait for the next party. Now it’s time to go back to our cozy cabin. And maybe I should tell someone that David is here?