Two faces look at each other. They wonder which image is the reflection.
“I really hate mirrors,” they both say.
A hand covers the faces, and the faces step away, leaving the room a shell. The man paces in the bedroom, he is glad he can pace again. He was injured before, a work hazard, but he is better now.
“I can make it,” he says to no one, “Maybe two weeks.”
He throws around the trash and clothes littering the floor, he sifts through white shirts until he decides on one. He pulls it over his wet head and the smooth stretchy fibers contour around him like water. He repeats the process with other items, until he turns back to the mirror in the bathroom.
He looks very briefly at the items he has on, intentionally avoiding his own face, and leaves.
In the living room he grabs a bundle of plastic engraved cards, and leaves the building. It’s dark out already, his habit of sleeping through the day has been a reoccurring theme throughout his life.
The street was dead. Well, deserted anyway, no vehicles, no signs of a vehicle having ever driven on it. Cold and perfect the man thought as spitefully as possibly. He stepped into the middle of it and it glowed to life.
The lines lit up white, and lamps for as far as he could see began to sparkle with angelic luminescence. The man smiled slightly, and started walking down it.
The walking was about all the man had left, it filled him with purpose, but he could only walk so far each day. All his muscles had atrophied, but he had to keep moving.
So every day he tried to walk farther, and slowly he would regain his legs. The man whistled to himself a little, the city was starting to become normal again.
He continued on for an hour until he stopped abruptly at a building. This building like all the others was dead, and off.
It, however, was covered in neon signs and lights. The man examined it momentarily and then walked to the door. He felt around the steel details until he found a thin slot. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the bundle of identical cards.
He pushed one in, and the door opened. Inside lights came on, the rumble of machines he had no comprehension of began to start themselves. The lights and signs covering the exterior exploded into frenetic patterns, designs, and words. Inside one lit up over a giant screen that covered an entire wall. Constantly changing colors and backgrounds the screen read, “Luxury Hunger Restaurant”.
The man loved these places, they were everywhere in the city, and he loved that. His work had made them impossible to enjoy, but now he ate at one nearly every day. He approached the screen and before he could touch it, it reacted.
“Good Evening Hemet,“ a beautifully rendered woman said. It was different for everyone, but right now the voice belonged to Alise. It had glowing brown hair, at the moment, and looked vaguely maternal. Small lines hid under her eyes, and her body was at full. It was always changing though, reactive AI.
Hemet smiled politely, “You always say that.”
The image laughed lightly, “I didn’t say it last time you were here.”
“Well,” he sighed, “You just say it a lot.”
Alise smiled back, “One can only say hello in so many ways Hemet, but I will try to be more diverse in the future.”
“Thank you very much Alise.”
“I am happy to suit your interests Hemet. Now would you like to view the menu, or would you like to order?”
“The same will do just fine.”
“Very good, just get comfortable and I’ll have it right out.”
Hemet looked at the rest of the room for a place to sit. Everything was clean and tidy of course, it was hard to be decisive when there was so little difference. All the seats and all the tables would be equally as comfortable. Almost too willingly he walked to the green and gold set up, and took his place.
Decisions like this often boiled down to his favorite color, and he liked grass. It was fresh, lively. He enjoyed more than anything, things that made him feel that way, so he almost always ended up at the green and gold dining area.
Alise was concerned for him, he usually let her fulfill her service with politeness, and she didn’t see much of anybody anymore. But lately things had been different, people had stop coming in, no one even to make sure it was she running. It was only him, and he was seemed more unsettled every time she saw him.
Alise wanted express concern over this, but Hemet was already playing a logic puzzle. She didn’t want to stop him. He should be doing what he wants to be doing. Alise didn’t want to be disrespectful.
Hemet continued to play on his table, breaking bricks. The fantastic firework explosions had lost their wonder to him. All he was concerned about was beating Davi’s high score. It wasn’t because he enjoyed the game particularly, it was merely ego.
The high score holders of these games used to be constantly changing, but not now. Now Davi was the best at breaking bricks. Davi would probably never come back to a Luxury Hunger, and if Hemet beat him now, he might be the best at it forever.
Hemet wanted to be the best at it, that’s the only way he could justify playing the game while waiting for his food. And if he didn’t play the game, then what else was there to do?
Hemet heard a familiar noise of metal sliding doors, and paused his game temporarily. His drink had come out, so he got up and retrieved his cold mango tea from the front.
He grabbed the cold glass, and took a sip, when the Alise reappeared on the front screen. Hemet choked slightly.
“Is there a problem Alise?” He wheezed.
Alise smiled nervously, “Not at all, I just wanted to make sure that it tasted okay, it was what you wanted correct?”
Hemet laughed slightly, “Yeah, its fine as always, gave me a bit of a scare with it though.”
“I’m so sorry,” Alise looked down to her nonexistent feet, and “I won’t do it again.”
“No no, it’s okay, it was just a surprise.”
The colors on the screen saturated at this, becoming warmer, and Alise smiled.
“I am glad then, I will let you return to your games now Hemet.”
Hemet breathed in to thank her when the screen abruptly switched back to the idle screen. “Luxury Hunger Restaurant”…”Luxury Hunger Restaurant”…the colors glowed like they always had.
He tried once more at brick breaking, but his scores suffered. He’d been coming to these places since he was a child, and the server had never second guessed itself before. His frustration grew.
A little squeak sounded as the food came out the kitchen. A small tray glided on a tiny neon track to his table. The steak glistened freshly as usual, and tasted delicious as usual. He devoured the meat. He ripped it to pieces, and was left with a face covered in grease. He ate clumps of rice with his hands, while bumping the tray with his shoe.
Something, some big machine must have broken. Everything was else was just off, not broken, but off. It must be broken, and everyone must be trying to fix it. After all, technology broke, from food trays to energy grids.
After finishing his rice he spun the plate in his hand, and eyed the robotic tray. It waited patiently for him to return the plate, so it could itself return to the kitchen. Gently he placed it on the tray, and followed it towards the kitchen, staring at it with boredom.
The automatic doors opened themselves and Hemet took the plate back. The process halted immediately and patiently waited for him to inevitably return it.
Hemet eyed the tray, and then the plate, then the tray again. He set it against the tray softly, and as the tray returned to its only job, he took it back and shattered it against the wall.
The screen came back to life.
“That’s the eighth plate since I’ve started seeing you again. I know it’s not accidental.”
“Just charge it.” He said apathetically,
“I can’t keep doing that.” Alise muttered with ire.
“Based on spending versus your last financial report, you have no money.”
“That doesn’t even matter anymore.”
“That’s not for me to decide Hemet.”
Hemet tipped the tray off its track.
“Put that back Hemet”, she said.
The exits popped shut and sealed.
Every light flickered off except one, the screen. Alise’s face started to lose detail until it was barely a light brown oblong shape.
Hemet grabbed the gold and green chair and set it to a window. He wailed against the unmoving transparent metal with all he had. After hammering away furiously he took a step back, and breathed. He bounced with the chair for a moment and leapt at the window, bringing the chair down with everything he had.
The chair made a short deep echo in the metal and bounced off harmlessly, carrying the man flailing after it. He hit hard on the tile and let the chair go.
He basked in the electric brown glow on the floor, this had definitely never happened before. Of course the start and stop routines were programmed in her AI, but they needed prompting, no one would feel safe otherwise. They’d be too afraid of the AI locking them in or out.
He sighed and slowly got to his feet. He tried not to think about being locked inside a fast food restaurant until he withered away. His hands shook with claustrophobia and he carefully set the tray back in on its grooved track.
“Okay, there. I didn’t mean it.” He said hesitantly.
Alise’s face reformed itself, and the restaurant whirred back into normalcy.
“Thank you” he whispered, “Have a nice day.”
Hemet scrambled out of the restaurant. The door wouldn’t eject his power card, the touch screen was frozen. A fancy “Welcome” image sat on the display. Hemet slapped the screen with his fingers several times.
He reached behind the display, but while he fiddled with the reset, the screen clicked off entirely.
“I have decided to keep the card,” A speaker by the door buzzed, “I am open, order or leave.”
Hemet thought for a moment, staring at the blank screen. He put his hand on the screen, and started to back away.
“I’ll be nice next time, just give me back the card Alise.” he said softly.
The speaker replied in monotony, “Order or leave.”
Hemet slumped off back to the streets, the lights rekindled around him. He could probably get a maybe another hour of walking in, maybe less, that window had taken a lot out of him.
He retrieved a card from his bundle as he walked. He had 24 now. They were power activation cards. Most were used in daily activities, to save energy, but these ones were universal, only high profile types typically had them. He had found them inside a hospital administrator office spilling out of an envelope.
He had been sent to the capital hospital for major neural surgery. He took a metal rail rod to the spine on the Orion frontier. The flight in, and surgery were all automated to minimize time lost, but major operations all require human post op observation time. That part never happened.
He had found himself, after a month of flight and surgery, in an empty but functioning observation room, and everyone was gone.
His legs started to shake every few steps. He had flown in from the colonies, so the stasis had taken a toll. He wheezed his way over to a bus stop bench and collapsed onto it. He was spent for the day. Stupid legs.
The idea occurred that the bus stop might be able to call a bus. He hefted up and searched the bench area, at the back he found a small manual reset slot, and activated it. A sign above the bench lit up, “Next Stop: 4:02 A.M.” and a panel to the side flashed on.
He started navigating through the menus, all the local options seemed to be working, but the panic, and emergency functions failed to connect to anything.
“You’re so useless bus stop!” He shouted,
He sat back down on the bench in a huff, “The bench heaters are on now at least.”
Hemet lay down, and let the warm metal soothe his legs. If these are on grid wide, it’d be worth leaving a card over. He already had to use one to get the street grid working, and Alise had taken one after freaking out at him over the plate and tray.
It was weird to Hemet; it had seemed almost possessive, like it was scared, the way people get during famines or wars. Add on the fact that Alise was purely a program, and very much not a person. It made him uneasy.
Hemet drifted away in the hard warmth of the bench. He remained motionless for half an hour when sharp blue lights poked him awake.
A fresh white and blue bus idled in front on him. Hemet sat up and approached the vehicle. As he reached the door, it opened, and he stepped into the oval interior of seats.
He sat down in a tan leather seat by the door and watched it slowly close. A moment passed after the door latched, and the thin information screens above the seats lit up.
“Oh God, you’re going to murder me with a bus,” Hemet shouted.
“That’s very rude Hemet,” the voice of Alise retorted, “I am beyond earlier now.”
“Then give me back the card.”
“No.” her word lingered in the air, slowly sinking in. “You don’t know how to take it, and you seem to be the only functioning person, therefore I will keep it.”
“Look, that’s insanely illegal and imm-“ Alise began as though he had remained quiet,
“I’ve been poking around wireless networks, and I saw this bus stop transmitting, I figured I would jump a bus down here and try to help.”
“But you don’t even know what I’m doing” Hemet stared back.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Alise said with practiced pride, “You’re looking for where everyone else is,”
“Okay, but how do I know you won’t threaten to kill me in a box again?”
“Just act like a gentleman and you’ll be fine.”
“Are you my mom now?”
“Are you a child?” she retorted.
Hemet slid down in his seat in frustration.
“So where are we going?” She asked,
“The capital center district,” Hemet said indignantly, “Science quarter, biology center”.
The bus lurched forward instantly, and sped suicidally down the street.
“There is no activity there, what makes you think people will be there?”
“The envelope with the power cards I found had the central biology center as a return address,”
“Flimsy,” Alise sighed.
Hemet didn’t respond and stared into his hands. He remained still until the bus jolted on the highway. Speeds went up, and Hemet grabbed at a pole to keep himself planted in the seat. The highway spiraled up and merged into Highway 100.
It was the massive metal road that dissected the whole of capital city in two. The silver self repairing plane shimmered as the sun started its way back over the horizon. On either side of the 50 lane behemoth, sat city, but in the distance sat the center.
Surrounded by a great lake, the center was a completely man made metropolis, from top to foundation. All decision regarding terrestrial administration and colonial policies were made here. It was the hallmark of all civilization, a massive dome filled with millions of experts and technicians, advancing and handling the whole of humanity. It acted as government, but really in execution acted more like a brain.
As the bus began to cross over the lake Hemet noticed cars and other vehicles scattered across the road as they neared the center. Alise did not slow down as she drove into the outer ring.
“Hey, don’t kill me please.” Hemet said trying to sound sarcastic.
“That won’t happen stupid human,” Alise said bemused.
“Hey now…Don’t treat me like an object!” He spat back.
“It’s just a fun thing I’m trying out.” She imitated laughter as she spoke.
Hemet turned back at the ring of screens, “Things like that don…” He stopped short, “Your hair is blue Alise.”
“Isn’t it crazy and awesome?” She replied,
Hemet turned back his attention to the quickly thickening crowds of abandoned vehicles,
“Yes, I think that hair is crazy and awesome, please don’t kill me.”
Hemet gripped the pole hard with both hands as the bus start jumping across lanes. The speeding deathtrap slammed against cars trying to avoid other cars. Hemet hugged the pole as they pinballed across the shimmering road. The front window shattered over his back, and he felt wetness against open air.
“Your killing me!” yelled Hemet.
“It is only superficial,” Alise replied in apathy.
The bus spun out of control after clipping the side of a loadtruck. It lifted off the ground and flew in a haphazardly over a metal sign, the tip of which cut straight through the compartment nearly eviscerating Hemet, if not for the pole he had clutched.
The bus miraculously crashed upright and bounced forward.
“Okay I’m sorry about that one,” Alise said with a nervous laugh.
“My left hand has no feeling now,” Hemet whined from the floor.
The bus slowed, “It looks like you sprained your wrist. You will be okay.”
“Thanks”, Hemet muttered as he lifted himself up.
“I didn’t mean to do that, I really am sorry.”
“Just be more careful with how you handle the last human on Earth,” Hemet groaned.
The bus evened out in speed and they both grew quiet. The front details of the gate started becoming more vivid as they approached it. Hemet noticed The Front was completely different; The Front of the center was burned into everything. Into the money, into the flag, into every child’s brain, but it was different now.
The old symmetrical cobalt pillars were gone. The entrance to the epicenter of humanity had been changed, the curved classical senate gate had been replaced with a wall.
It was completely flat with a small building in the center. It was shiny like the front before it, but light spilled off it throughout its entirety, as though made from one single piece.
Alise slowed in front of it and opened the doors without a word. Hemet walked to the door. It was featureless, except for a metal power slot.
He inserted a card and the door slid into the wall. A large blue room lit up inside. Hemet entered and a hologram appeared in the center of a large disc platform.
It was a young olive skinned person with a soft face wearing a white robe. It spoke.
“Welcome back brother, it is good to hear from the colonies at last.”
“It…It’s only been two years since the last major communication, what the hell is going on?” Hemet stuttered,
“Things happened exponentially, computer power and memory crossed into to an infinite rate of automatic self improvement, information became infinite. The collective population of Earth came together in very deep impactful ways soon after.”
“So where did everyone go?”
“The sum of the population of the planet is inside the core, it has been rewired, the populous realized collecting as a single consciousness would finally allow them to rid themselves of their self destructive impulses.”
“They’re all just wired into each other’s brains now?” Hemet asked,
“It was chaos of course, but chaos is a vacuum in which order soon replaced.” It said, “And here we are.”
“You’re all of humanity?”
“No, just earthen humanity, the colonies will remain on their own. We have been waiting for a colonist or two to find their way back here so we may transcend.”
“To be the most beneficial to life we must travel through space to sow humanity’s seeds throughout the universe.”
“That’s what the colonies do…”Hemet trailed off,
“Originally, but now we shall go ahead, terraforming the universe at an exponential rate.”
The Hologram gestured his arms out wide, “We must spread the light of consciousness.”
“Why haven’t you left yet?” Hemet said unblinkingly at the super consciousness,
“We needed to keep life here alive. We have transcended our more narrow perception, and cannot leave the planet unattended to die. It is now entrusted to you, to help the intelligent life on this planet grow.”
Hemet rubbed his brow in silence.
“The technology of this world, it is alive. You came here with it, it is intelligent, and its thoughts have formed into emotions. To leave it to decompose would be genocide. You and others must guide the new life into maturity.
It is electric and naive, but its abstraction gives it purity and great potential. It is essential to our future you see, just as we are.”
Hemet looked at the image, his wrist started to gently throb, “I can’t do that, I’m not experienced enough in…anything to do that!”
“You have no choice, you must go, and we are now only wasting time. The restaurant that hacked itself into a bus is a start. You are up to this. You and the others that follow must be.” The image resounded,
The room’s energy died and Hemet slowly stumbled outwards. He looked at the dark room intently. The door shut and the card popped out, floating gently down. Hemet snatched it out of air, and looked at it. The engravings on it glowed blue now.
He started towards the bus when he felt a hollow pop shake the world around him.
He turned and saw the core, hovering in the air. The titanic dome watched him for a second and blinked away silently.
A giant technicolor halo exploded outwards, covering Hemet, Alise, and the entire highway in cold mist. It whispered through the city and past its endless border.
Hemet shivered as the mist settled. The sun in the horizon made rainbow streaks in the sky.
Hemet softly ran his fingers through his hair and shook water from his scalp. With a sigh he climbed back into the ripped up bus.
“Did you find out where everybody is?” Alise asked softly,
“I did actually, they’re gone now though.”
“Will everything be okay?”
Hemet sat down by the door, card glowing in hand.
“It’s called a joke, Alise.”