By Ovi Demetrian Jr
Published via Indie Aisle
June 8th, 2018
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Cover illustration by Jaromír Hřivnáč, design by Ovi Demetrian Jr
Editing by Jenny Meadows
Published via Indie Aisle
June 8th, 2018
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Cover illustration by Jaromír Hřivnáč, design by Ovi Demetrian Jr
Editing by Jenny Meadows
Michael wakes up, his sleep interrupted. Of course it was, he’s on an airplane. He can never sleep properly on planes. Besides not being able to get into a comfortable position, there is always some kind of noise or movement around him.
He keeps his eyes closed. The sleepiness begins to go away as the thoughts most on his mind come flooding in. All of them relate to the trip to Tokyo he is flying back from. Did he get out of it what he had hoped for? He does feel different. But he felt different the entire two weeks he was there because it was all a new experience for him.
He thinks about the fun touristy things he did. He thinks about the time he spent to himself, reflecting on where he seemed to be in life, having recently turned thirty. But he mainly thinks about his new friend, Faye. Even when he tries not to.
Michael had always wanted to go to Tokyo. He was fascinated with Japanese culture since he was a child. It just seemed so different. And it was that feeling of different that originally drew in his teenage self, when being different was what he felt all the time. As he grew older, he eventually realized that the idea of Japanese culture that he had in his head was perhaps more fantasy than reality. It was all based on what he saw in the movies and TV shows. So he finally decided it was time to experience it for himself.
The reason it took him so long to go was probably because he unknowingly wanted to keep it a fantasy for himself. But there was another reason he decided to finally go. He felt like he was stuck in a rut. Turning thirty years old led him to doing some soul searching. He had been working full-time at his current job for the last eight years and he was beginning to wonder if there was something else out there for him. He didn’t have a particular interest in traveling, but thought a change of scenery would help. He researched a trip to Japan and started making Japanese friends online. That’s how he met Faye.
Michael opens his eyes, putting his thoughts on hold as he heads to the bathroom. He is careful not to interrupt anyone as he makes his way to the stall. But he’s only half paying attention. He doesn’t notice some commotion, with people whispering to each other about the slightly odd turbulence they just experienced—the same turbulence that had awakened him. He just finishes his task and goes back to his seat oblivious, getting in a comfortable position and closing his eyes again.
He’s developed a technique for getting into a sleep state. He visualizes his thoughts until they turn into pleasant imagining and eventually into dreaming. He pictures what a new life will look like if he decides to move to Tokyo. He’s always liked the idea of being lost in a big city. More specifically, a big futuristic, cyberpunk city like Tokyo. Like in his favorite Japanese sci-fi movies and TV shows.
And Tokyo didn’t disappoint. While he was there, he could see himself becoming a part of the culture and environment, making it his own. It could be an extension of who he was. The feeling brought him to the core of his need to reflect on things: his identity. What made him unique, beyond being an IT guy who kept to himself most of the time? He was intent on defining himself. The times that he was alone in Japan, he took stock of the things that made him who he was. He started a list on his iPhone. Actions from his past that influenced his direction in life, his choice of friends, his relationship with his parents.
He concluded that he knew himself pretty well, but felt an emptiness of belonging. He sensed that he had prepared himself for something, but wasn’t sure what. He always admired other people who seemed to fit in, to make friends. They appeared so blissful, like they had things all figured out. Of course, no one really has things figured out, but Michael never felt completely comfortable around anyone.
After a few days of the trip, he met up with Faye. They decided to watch the lunar eclipse together. They got along well right off the bat. They both had an interest in space exploration and enjoyed the same kinds of sci-fi movies and shows. She seemed to like him. He certainly liked her. However, once he noticed just how much he liked her, he began poking holes at their relationship as if there was something that had to be wrong with it. But he eventually decided to take a step back from the exercise and just enjoy his time with her.
Michael finally tunes in to the commotion around him and looks out the window. It’s a familiar place, San Francisco, but it’s different somehow; more dense and bigger than he remembers it, with characteristics that remind him of something out of the sci-fi movies he watches. He has come back from Tokyo, a city that seems from the future, to what looks like another city of the future. The pilot comes on the speaker to tell everyone that he shares in their surprise and adds that he has been told to land soon.
On the ground, passengers are taken down a set of stairs that is brought to the airplane since they have stopped far from the terminal. At the bottom of the steps, they are greeted by a small group of airport employees and guided to gather around them.
“This is going to sound crazy to all of you, but to us, you have appeared seemingly out of nowhere after being lost for twenty years,” one of the employees says. “Exactly twenty years ago today, ANA Flight #008 went mysteriously missing without a trace. And now you have appeared as if you just boarded the plane a day ago, which from your perspective, you have. You have somehow leaped into the future.”
Everyone starts talking to each other, some laughing and wondering if this is some kind of practical joke for a TV show. But as they recall the strange turbulence, they start to believe the reality of their situation, as crazy as it sounds.
“We will be happy to answer your questions but will be giving you something that will help you answer many of them for yourselves.” The woman holds up a small box. “These are Apple Lenses and Pods. Contact lenses and ear buds which allow you to interact with a personal assistant who will talk to you and show you everything as if it is right in front of you. You will be able to contact loved ones using these.” She holds up a slightly larger box. “We also have Google Glass with the same technology if you prefer glasses instead of the contact lenses. The lenses and glasses are free of charge, provided by CNN, who have asked for an exclusive mirror call to interview you.”
A woman next to her whispers something in her ear. “Oh,” the speaker continues, “a mirror call is where you go to a full-length mirror with your lenses or glasses on and broadcast yourself. Opting in allows you to keep your lenses or glasses. Opting out requires using only the glasses, which you have to return to us. We will be assisting you through the process. Let’s start on this end here.”
She points to the left side of the crowd and gestures for the first person to step up as the second woman stands near a cart with boxes. Michael watches as the boxes are opened and people put on glasses he’s never seen before. And a few, though seemingly hesitant, decide to go with the contact lenses. It’s eventually his turn. He is greeted by a younger man. “Lenses or glasses, sir?”
“Lenses, please.” Michael finds it interesting that CNN would give away the lenses just to get an interview. He wonders how much they even cost.
“No, sir. Your recorded approval is all we need.” Michael realizes that he is being recorded by the man’s own lenses, which is as valid as getting a signature.
The man hands him a small box. Michael opens it to find another smaller, plastic case, and inside are the lenses and pods.
“Where does the power come from for these to work?” he asks.
“It’s natural energy from your body,” the man explains, not sure himself exactly what that means.
Michael puts in each of the lenses. He puts only one of the two buds in his ears. He knew from the ones he had for his iPhone that he didn’t need to use both.
“Don’t be alarmed,” the young man says. Michael is used to staring at screens with various interfaces. The fact that they are now directly in his eyes doesn’t surprise him. But nothing comes up before him like he expects. Then he hears a voice in his ears.
“Hi, I’m Siri. Who is it I’m speaking with?” He notices that the voice sounds much more natural than the one he knows on his iPhone.
“Michael Brown,” he responds, nodding at the young man to signal that it is working. The young man just looks back with an understanding grin on his face.
Interesting, Michael thinks. He remembers something he learned from interface designers he interacted with in his line of work: “The best interface is no interface. It should only be there when you need it.” Having a voice that just talks to you is itself the interface. “I wasn’t able to find your profile from your eye scan,” responds Siri. “Would you like to manually log in? Or do you need to create a new account?”
“I can manually log in,” says Michael. He has an account with Apple which he assumes will still work. Might as well give it a try.
“Okay,” says the voice. “What’s your email address and password? Use the fields you see in front of you to enter them in. Just glance at the letters you want to enter in, one by one. Let me know if you make a mistake.”
He looks at the first letter of his email address, then the second letter and continues. He’s impressed how instantly and accurately it detects his eye movement for each letter he looks at. Almost as if it can read his thoughts.
“Okay, I’m done,” he says, almost forgetting he is talking to a computer.
“There you are, Michael.” The voice in his ear confirms his account login. “Would you like me to include your eye scan as part of your account? It would make it easier for you to do things like sign in to your other accounts and make purchases.”
“Done. Now, what would you like to do? You can just tell me, or let me know to pull up some options for you to look through instead.”
Michael looks at the young man and takes out his Pod. “So what exactly can it do?”
“Anything you do on your smartphone and much more,” the young man answers. “It looks like you’re already pretty comfortable with it, actually. Just ask for what you want to do.”
The obvious realization suddenly comes to Michael. He thinks about how everything he sat in front of a computer for, or used his iPhone for or even watched on TV, is now right in front of him. Any kind of screen he has used is now available right before his eyes. Literally. And he doesn’t even have to use his hands to interact with it. “I think I got it,” Michael says. “Thank you.”
That was easy. No wonder people are moving pretty fast in line before him. He looks around now to see most of them in their own spaces, seemingly talking to themselves.
“You’re welcome,” replies the young man. “Please give us a few minutes to help the rest of the passengers get set up and we’ll direct you to the airport terminal where you can hang out and get something to eat.”
At the terminal food court, the first thing Michael thinks of is how he is going to pay for anything. Would he still have a bank account? His Apple account still worked. Why wouldn’t his bank account? The beauty of digital accounts is that maintenance and storage cost hardly anything. So there’s really no need for anyone to have to do anything to them if someone doesn’t use theirs for twenty years, for example.
He pulls a Pod out of his pocket, puts it in one ear, and asks the voice: “Siri, can you pull up my Chase Bank account?”
The Chase Bank interface comes up with a login. He enters his info and sure enough, he is logged in to see his account information. His primary account has a couple of thousand dollars less than he expects, most likely from some of his monthly automated bills. And in his savings, a couple of thousand dollars more of accrued interest. So it about evens out to what he had twenty years ago. He hopes the dollar value is still about the same, that the coffee he wants from the nearby Starbucks doesn’t cost him twenty bucks.
As he looks around the airport, he sees that there are still screens everywhere despite the fact that people have them in their eyeballs. Everything is animated, even banners and signs. He also sees many robots of different shapes and sizes roaming around, including drones flying above him. He thinks about all the calculations the robots must make to detect their environment and respond to the people.
He goes up to the Starbucks counter, assuming he’s supposed to talk to the robot with a digital graphic of a friendly face. “How can I help you?” it says in a man’s voice. “I’ll have an Americano, please.” Michael replies, hoping it’s still a standard drink they have.
“It’ll be right up.” Michael suddenly sees what appears to be a notification in the upper right of his view that reads: “Starbucks, San Francisco International Airport,” followed by an amount of “-$3.87”.
He hears a brewing noise and about a minute later, he sees a cup of coffee come out at the end of the counter. “Here’s your Americano, Michael,” the robot says, aware of Michael’s presence.
Michael sits down with his coffee and thinks of everyone he needs to get in touch with. He wonders how he prefers to get updated on all the major life events that have passed him by. Should he call and talk to everyone, or just check Facebook? He thinks about how fast information flows now. All the information in the world has gone from a device in his pocket, made available at the speed of his fingers, into his head, available closer to the speed of thought.
Suddenly that feeling of not belonging hits him. He’s twenty years into the future; it’s a whole new world; he works in technology and now he’s fallen behind all of it, probably unable to get any kind of job resembling the one he had; the people he once knew probably barely remember him; he surely doesn’t fit in here!
The robots he watches moving around remind him of how he has always been careful in his interactions with other people. He knows it is from being an introvert and that he is more sensitive to other people’s emotions. But while he understands it in theory, he still believes he is missing regular shared human experiences. He appreciates the aspect of what we as human beings have been able to achieve. The society we’ve built. He is seeing it now before him! But he has a hard time connecting to people as individuals, as friends.
He remembers his sense of connection with the culture and people in Tokyo. And suddenly his moment of panic turns into a flicker of understanding. Just as he figured himself out, he would figure out the kinds of people he feels comfortable with. Starting with his new friend Faye. She seems to fit in the category of the people he wants to be around. He begins creating an internal descriptor of what a friend is to him.
As he continues sipping his coffee and looking around, he feels a sense of clarity. It’s almost as if he actually sees things differently, like there is some kind of photo filter enabled on his lenses. The world is exactly how it should be, and he is ready to join it.
He gets up and finds a Microsoft Mirror and decides to make his first call to Faye. He sees her face come up, somewhat different than he knew it, but with the same familiar smile. He starts by telling her why he ghosted her for the last twenty years. She tells him a bit about what she has been up to since their time together. They reminisce about watching the eclipse, which is an odd feeling since to him it happened only a few days ago.
“Guess what?” Faye says. “I now work on the freaking moon! I’m an engineer for SpaceX, on their base here. Would you like to take another trip to visit me?”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Ovi Demetrian Jr is the founder and interface designer of Blocks Edit. He loves stories of fiction along with comics and tries to write his own stories sometimes. This makes his second short story. He's also published a graphic novel, Hacktivity, about a team of hackers that go against the NSA and another graphic novel, Lifehacks, about a hacker turned private detective.
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