Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Time portal to the future. One way."

The machine illuminated the sign so I could read it. It was not a large machine, just a cylindrical shape a metre in diameter, two in height. Large enough for a person, opened on one side. Bright lights wobbling around in the centre. Waiting for someone to walk in. Waiting for me.

A moment's hesitation, and I walked in. The light grew brighter with every step. By the time I was at the machine I was walking blind, my eyes closed. It was an interesting sensation. I suddenly felt weightless, my body lifted up by something I couldn't feel. I dared not open my eyes, it still seemed too bright. I know it makes no sense, but I felt like I suddenly shrunk into nothing, and then grew back as large as suddenly. And then it was dark, I fell down on the pavement.

The pavement was wet, but I didn't remember it raining. I looked around, got my eyes used to the darkness. The street lights were dimmer than I remembered. But almost every window was lit, which illuminated the street plenty. My mind was still spinning, I felt like I had been knocked out. I decided to go home. It wasn't far.

I got to my front door, but my key wouldn't unlock it. The lock was different. I knocked, there was no answer. The light was off. There was a small café across the street, the lights were still on. It had a large sign in a very French-looking font over the windows. For something so posh it should have felt more familiar. It didn't. It had a few computers at the back wall. A pretty girl was standing behind the counter. I asked if I could use one, she told me I had to order something. I took a cup of coffee, and went to the computer. I was greeted by a log-in screen and a choice: a Microsoft account, an Apple account or a guest account. I chose the latter.

The computer was bloated with all kinds of apps I had never heard of. But I did notice a big blue E icon. The name of the app was unfamiliar, but everyone knows the big blue E leads to the Internet. I was right, it was a browser. I checked the current news on BBC, CNN, io9. It was true, I was no longer in my time. I was in 2055.

What I learned during my quite frankly terrifying research was that while countries were created and destroyed, borders redrawn, leaders appointed and torn down, the corporations remained. Companies really were too big to fail - the demand for them kept them supplied with money and clients regardless of political states. No governments could control them as long as they kept producing popular entertainment. Governments remained only as minor players on the larger board.

Culture had changed. The people who grew up with computers, with the Internet, had grown old. A generation full of digital entertainment junkies had grown old. Social media sites had come and gone, games had come and gone, IM software had come and gone. Just how I remembered it, just add a few decades of the same. Every five or six years someone came up with something newer, something better, and it starved the old of users. But the effect it had had on people, that was remarkable. It appeared that everyone was online all the time they weren't sleeping or engaged in other private activities. Public transport had been revolutionized using self-driving vehicles with on-board WiFi hotspots, which were also placed in most buildings. WiFi hopping was automatic, using software preinstalled on every smart device. But what the people did online... it was astounding.

They were talking, chatting, sharing whatever they were doing. They were under a constant barrage of social activities, not a single moment without new notifications of someone doing something they thought their friends or everyone should know about or some new fad that was going around just to give someone their fifteen minutes of fame and sizzle out. Fifteen minutes of fame may be an expression, but for the people of the time, it was reality. Very few trending news, movies or performers managed to retain people's interest for over a month - too many new trends arrived to take the spotlight. I don't know how the people kept their sanity, how they could keep up with everything without going absolutely mental. And suddenly I felt like a grumpy old man amased at how people could find almost any piece of information within seconds using a dusty old computer with a DSL connection. In a way I was the grumpy old man, way too old for the time, way too stuck in my ways to be able to comprehend what was going on around me.
The girl came over to offer a refill and noticed what I was looking at - the past Internet spread statistics. 'It's weird, it feels like it's been around forever, now it's suddenly going away,' she said looking at the screen.
'What do you mean? "Going away"?'
'The... QuNet. What, have you been living under a rock or something?'
'Or something. What is q net? How can it be making the Internet go away, it is everywhere?'
'It's some quantum tunnelling thingy made useful. No wires, instant connections to everyone, no hotspot hopping, and way better security. It's all the rage.'
'While we're... um... may I ask, where are all the customers?'
'Most of them come by in the morning, check the news, messages, get some breakfast. It's pretty empty around here after lunch, but the law says all businesses granting Internet access must remain open at least until ten pm.'
'So you just stand here to keep the lights on?'
'Pretty much. You're not from around here I gather,' she replied with a smile.
'Ah, well, I guess, yeah.'
Closer than she might think, farther than I could imagine.
'You're also younger than the folk we get here usually. E-cafées aren't really exciting for them. Where did you say you were from?'
'Uuuh that is a little tough to explain.'
She looked at me crossly.
'I.... I used to live across the street.'
'Oh, when?'
'About forty years ago.'
She looked serious. She crossed her hands.
'You know you don't look *that* old.'
'Um, I'm not. In a sense. Hmm, I... Let me explain.'
I told her how on my way home I heard a clunk from an alley and a bright light, followed by a calming humm. Someone's excited shouts and laughter followed. I didn't usually go into alleys, but this time I was curious. As I slowly and carefully moved closer to the noise, I had suddenly heard a big zap, as if someone had unplugged a huge loudspeaker before turning it off. Then I noticed the machine, and the sign in front of it. The rest of it you know.
'"One way"? Why did you go in, didn't you have family or friends or someone who would worry?'
'There were no terms, no explanations, nothing that told me where I'd end up. I didn't know if it was legit, if the text on it had already been proven wrong, or that it'd take me further than half an hour. There was nothing.'
'And you still tried? Why on Earth would you do that?'
I suddenly recalled a quote from an old TV show I loved to watch that went perfectly with the situation. I wondered if the people there still had TV shows. I then wondered if they had TVs at all.
'If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask which seat! Just get on.'

This is a complete short on its own with no sequels or background story created or planned. Inspired by a question posed by a friend.

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