The package

The package is standing close to the main door of our building. It’s of some kind of white cardboard, more or less square, of around two meters of height and half a meter width. It could, indeed, contain a coffin. It’s filled with stickers and stamps, like if it has been travelling for awhile, bumping from country to country before arriving to us. The only thing readable of the addressee is our street, written in capital big, black, letters. Like if written in hurry. I try to read the name above it. Timecap, Thomass, Thimion…no way.

“Is that your package?” I look back to find our new neighbour staring at both the object and me. He’s very thin and tall and like to dress in shinny green colours. Or at least, the couple of time I meet him, he was dressed that way. Because of that, from far away, you could think he’s an insect of some kind. A giant one. He’s wearing, as usual, his round black sunglasses. I try to remember if I saw his eyes so far. No, I didn’t. “Mysterious, isn’t? Do you know when was delivered?”

“No, I don’t. I was just trying to read the name on the address. I don’t know any Thomas on our building. Are you a Thomas by chance?”  I try to smile while saying it, but he doesn’t react. His face is expressionless, like a mask. In fact, even his voice seems to come from somewhere other than his mouth.

“I’m afraid I’m not. I’m just thinking it can’t stay on our door for a long time. Do you mind if I take it and have a look in my place? I just moved in, so to say, and I have plenty of  space in my Wohnung.” I don’t know what to say. I look at the parcel. Closed packages are always intriguing, more if they are definitely not for you, more if they have a funny shape. I’m tempted to claim it myself. But it’s not my style.

“Sure. Please take it. Probably it is the right thing to do. We just need to leave a post-it or something on the building board, close to the mailboxes, saying that you have it. Do you want me to do that for you? After all, I’m the one closer to the door.” My neighbour doesn’t get closer to the entrance in the meantime. But finally he comes downstairs, although he doesn’t position himself close to me but to the thing. I smell to wet grass for a moment. He has indeed a powerful scent.

“Yes please, that will be great. Thank you very much. My flat is the 3rd floor, left door. I will pick it up soon. Please do not hesitate to pass by if you have news about the owner.” I don’t know if I want to visit him. Of course I don’t say that. I mumble something to him and I open the door of my flat without looking back.

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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.

A special date

– I must say I’m a little disappointed. – The girl I chose to meet was supposed to be 100% compatible, but the whole introduction thing was weird and the date was going down since I asked her to say my name. – Coming from another stelar system you seem so…ordinary.

– I will take that as a compliment. What were you expecting? – I had this conversation like a hundred times since we arrived. – Big eyes? Crab claws? Tentacles?

– Tentacles! – She flashes me the blondie smile. I am really trying hard not to leave. The truth is, I want to meet a girl. And the Earthlings are more interesting than the average for me because of the cultural background. I read of course the basics, but the challenge is, as it always has been, to live it. I look at my wine glass, evaluating if I have enough to repeat what we said to them when we all arrived.

– My love, there’s almost no genetic difference between us. As far as I know, you could be an “alien” too. – My time to show her my teeth.

– I know, I know, I know! – She giggles.-  That’s great, that you guys came in your fancy interstellar cruise… knowing you will probably find us here! So you are… star tourists! – I sight. Our people chose this metaphor to explain our presence on Earth, and it stuck like glue. Like if you can take your ship and go to Proxima for a weekend.

– I am a tourist. But not on your planet. On this city. I took residence on Paris….no special reason, just the Eiffel Tower reminded me something similar in my hometown.

– Sorry Mark…can I call you Mark? You look like Mark to me – I sight. Then I nod. I need to delete this dating app as soon as I manage to escape. – Can you tell me, with your own words – she waves both hands, I believe trying to symbolize the two solar systems – how come you look like…a Mark to me?

– It’s very simple. The universe is not random. – She looks at me, then around, then to her cocktail, that she sips. Her eyes are open wide. I need to continue. – Everyone here will agree we all have a very successful body design. – She giggles. I think she believes I’m speaking about her boobs. – It’s true there are other possibilities. But the bilateral solution is the simplest one. So we have multipedes, quadrupeds and bipeds. Which one is the most economical one? The biped. Add to this the common chances to have a mass extinction, plus the existence of a limited amount of life building blocks and you will end up with an human. Not with an octopus. Or an ant. Or a dolphin.

– Dolphins are very smart! – Maybe smarter than you, I tell to myself. – But why are you here, why did you abandon your planet?

– Why did you go to the Moon, why did you launched all these space probes? Because we can, of course. – She nods. I wonder if I need to go deeper into the subject. Then she takes this pose where she shows the cleavage to the speaker, in this case, to me, so I continue. – Your planet is unfortunately heavier than ours, so to go “up in the air” – I do the gesture with my hand – is more expensive energetically speaking. If you add to this that due to our geography our society lacks of countries and loves science, you will end up with me. Or someone very similar to your … Mark, I will say. Capisce? 

– More or less. – Suddenly she is bored also. Both our glasses are empty. I look around trying to find an escape route. Couples here and there engage on one or another stage of Earth’s mating ritual. The music is loud enough so we can hear the others, but not enough to disturb us. – The truth is, I want to meet someone special. And I thought you, coming from another planet… were the one.

– Coming from another stellar system, my dear. – I hate the mixup of planets with stars. – Coming from another star, if you prefer. Although this is not exactly true, since I was born on the way here…

– Yeah, enough with the space talk, space man. – Her cleavage is gone. She adjusts her tight red dress and look around. She seems to find something interesting to her left, and focus her sight there. I wait. – What was I saying?

– A special one. – She keeps her gaze fixed to her left. I look also. A lonely man just arrived. Will he be her next one?

– Right.  Mark, I’m very glad I have met you, but I think this is not going to work. So we better move each one in a different direction, so to say. – Don’t make the gravity analogy, please. Don’t. – Some bodies attract each other, some repel… you know… like gravity.

– Not like gravity. Whatever other one but gravity. – I try not to get up and leave immediately. What a waste of time. She stands up and extends me her hand.

– Well, it was nice to meet you, Mark. See you around! – I shake her hand and she leaves without waiting for my answer. See you around, and thank you for the fish.