A story by Vince D’Amato.
I had just left the office knowing full well that back at home in my four hundred and fifty-three square foot bachelor’s apartment, my future-telling program was on the fritz.
Actually, scratch that – the entire computer was on the fritz. It was some sort of hardware malfunction, although try getting the jerks in hardware to communicate with the geeks in software as to any sort of viable solution – well, forget about it, as my good friend Titorelli Francesco would say (with that Goodfellas New York-Italian accent of his, which was hard to define as either a half-joke or wishful thinking on his part). If anyone should know how futile this problem-solving communication should be between departments, it would be me – after all, I’m one of the head execs of Hardware.
“We’re going to upgrade the entire program top allow civilians to look at their mortal outcome two days in advance. That’ll be double from the single-day they’re currently allotted under the new MediPrevention laws,” Deckard went on. When he felt he had to explain things like how the times table worked in relation from one to two, somehow part of my attention began to wonder off, and I knew that was a usual indication of something dangerous about to enter my mind. Not the urge to kill, or anything like that. Sure, Deckard was head of the Hardware department, but hardware was on its way out and everyone but Deckard seems to be able to grasp that notion. It was time for innovation, not for trying to upsell a current commercial product that was treading water in a sea of looming obscurity – and sinking. The terrible thing was nobody seemed to want to tell the poor bastard this, to let him in on the rest of the free world. He’d figure it out soon enough when the Software execs came in to clean house. They were the ones running the show now. Anyway, as I stared out through the second-story window into the metropolis spread out beyond the Hardware operational headquarters (which wasn’t all that much thanks to the sixty-two story building directly across the street from the window I was currently being distracted by), the danger-thoughts began to creep into my mind. That is, potentially dangerous to my current executive status – as when I voiced these opinions, I tended to rub my immediate superiors the wrong way. These were simple thought, in essence, thoughts like, if MediPrevention have not yet increased the allowable foreseeable future for the civilians, then why would we be ready to launch and Hardware/Software that would so such a thing, or, a more pointed example (and one which had creeped into the back of my mind over three months ago when The Program was first released to the public, why would We allow any civilian to look into their own future at all, be it one day, or times two, which would be two days according to Deckard?? The answer to that was an easy one at the time, of course, it was in its own title: MediPrevention. Which was a sight more consumer-friendly than its previous incarnation, MortePrevention, or “DP” as we called it in the office (Death Prevention) and while the double-entendre might have had something to do with the way the execs were running Medi in the country these days, the double-edged sword that the entire programming effecting on the3 country was not much of a joke at all – at least, not in my point of view.
“With twice the foreseeable future in the hands of seventy percent of the civilians of this great country,” Deckard went on, and how I loathed his futile stabs at patriotism with descriptive adjectives such as ‘great’ and the like, I understood he was a bit of a paranoid manic who thought that if anyone from Medi were listening in on his weekly Productivity Meeting speeches and might inadvertently deem Deckard un-patriotic to the cause, as such it might me, that he’d be thrown in the hole for forty days with only bread and water and the intrepid slime to lick from the leaking brick penitentiary cell he’d be relegated to between wet lashings and the wheel, among other heinous medieval torture devices. Of course, the fact that this was all in his head made it all that much more amusing, and I smiled when I thought on how I’d been the one to lend Deckard my bootlegged Kindle copy of Nineteen-Eighty-Four (which he’d promptly infected with a digital virus after reading it, to my scowling chagrin. I guess the bastard does have a connection in Software, after all). Deckard was still speaking: “…the civilians will have twice the time to adjust themselves if any mortal, or fatal, incident was to occur in their foreseeable future…”
Right, now it clicked. Even if it wasn’t technically “legal” yet, Medi would have many dollars to be saved if the civilians had twice the amount of time to see, and therefor prevent, and injury or mortal harm that might befall them through the course of their day. In concept, it was and easy enough sell: You got to see your own future, ahead by a single day, and if you saw that you might, say, be hit by a speeding taxi cab while crossing the street, or that the plane you were on might explode in mid-air (which would actually never happen because the execs at BA had all of the technology months before it was released to the public, so it they saw an exploding plane, you can be sure it would never see the end of the tarmac, and hence, any civilian would never see they own gory demise on flight 732B because that exploding flight would never have been allowed to take off in the first place – but I think you get the point). Death by car, bus, electrocution, band saw, falling piano, and any such related or workplace injuries had thus dropped by a staggering 99% in that 70% of the population Deckard had just been referring to mere moments ago. So Medi’s solution was to get this success out there into more hands, while doubling the effectiveness, arguably by twice as much by extending the foreseeable future to two days. Although how you can even get 99% times two is sort of beyond me, but by the time that notion crossed my mind I’d already been taken by the vision in the office building, second floor, directly across the street. Long brunette, nice office-approved skirt, appeared to be a good typist, though from my vantage point, she could have been misspelling every second work and I’d be none the wiser. She was fast, and the polish on her fingernails blurred through the air over her keyboard and she sat with her side angled towards me, completely ignoring my presence.
I was still thinking about The Brunette when I came home, and had completely forgotten the fact that my foreseeable future hardware was on the fritz. Damn. I could easily have that fixed at work if I remembered about if for longer then ten consecutive seconds…. Oh, well, se la vie, I had more important things to do that to looking 24 hours into my already bleak future. For the sixty-third time that day, the thought of quitting the Hardware sector crossed my mind, and promptly left on the fast-train out when I looked around my palatial not-quite-five-hundred square foot bachelor pad. All I need was a half-bottle of catsup and a six-pack in the fridge, and I’d be living the high life. I was not by any means the only one who held a perfunctory attitude towards the foreseeable future, there were at least a dozen others, which it crossed my mind were likely responsible for the 1% ineffectiveness statistic by MediPrevention. No column of the times-table was going to fix that. Even these days, with all the modern conveniences, people still got busy. And at that thought, my Telescreen beeped its chirpy alert, and I saw on the holographic reader that my good friend Titorelli Francesco was giving me a ring. Ah, friends, that was something I should really make more time for, and I went to answer the screen-alert immediately, one of the six beers from the fridge in my cold little hand as I cross the spacious living room/bedroom.
“Tits!” I called to him as my thumb lifted from the remote Telescreen answering gadget – he hated it when I called him Tits.
“Fuck, what took you so long?” he immediately barked – not quite his usual charming self, even if his talent for conversation was up to his usual vigor.
“I answered on the third ring,” I argued.
“No, man, what took you so long to get home from work? I’ve been calling you for two hours!”
He wasn’t looking at be through the Telescreen monitor. From my angle, it looked like he was stuck at his Foreseeable Future Monitor. He had just purchased the latest model, too, I remember, picking it our from the Best Buy online retailer, a top-of-the-line 4D holographic monitor that would be capable of handling the two-day Foreseeable Future, if such software was actually approved – and I had no doubt that it would be. I hadn’t the heart to tell Titorelli that my own department was currently about to release the 4-HD model, and the 4-HD2 was already in the proverbial pipeline. But what the hell, I told him not to shop online for Hardware.
“I stopped to get a beer,” I told him, still feeling argumentative. His tone had put me on edge.
“Christ, I’m starving, I’ve been here all day!”
“Doing what?” I asked.
“Staring at this fucking monitor!”
I hoisted an eyebrow. Some of the edge had left his voice, at least.
“Why?” I asked the obvious question.
“Because I can’t figure a way out!”
I loved it when he got cryptic like that. “Way out of what?” I nearly sighed, and hoped that I at least sounded placating. In the meantime, I dropped my ass on the couch and let one of my legs swing over the arm, checking to make sure none of the beer escaped through the top of the can while I’d been momentarily distracted.
“Every scenario, I end up dead!” Titorelli nearly cried in despair.
That got me sitting up.
“You heard me, friend, everything I think of to avoid my death in the Foreseeable Future just leads to another path where death is still the outcome!”
I automatically checked the clock. It was well after six p.m. “How long has this been going on?”
“Since I got up this morning!”
And this, I knew immediately, was what they call in the business, Statistically Impossible.
I was pacing now, still holding the can of beer (minus three and a half sips) while it warmed unnoticed in my grip, trying to play out the events from Titorelli’s perspective. I was a verbal/literary guy. I needed things spelled out for me. “Tell me again, form the start,” I told him, and I could feel my own brow furrowed in concentration. Truth be told, I hated that.
“I got up this morning, brushed my teeth, and turned on the FS software while the Autopot started brewing the coffee. In the monitor, I saw myself leaving the house, I didn’t farther than one block when I saw myself step off the curb and get hit by a car.”
Okay, nothing unusual with that, in a manner of speaking – that’s what the Foreseeable Future software was designed for. “So you changed your course, then.”
Of course. But while you’re at the 4D FS Monitor you bought from Best Buy online only four months ago, that Change of Course (otherwise known as the Planchange, or PG if you were in a hurry) was something that happened only in your mind. It’s like this: You change your actions in your mind, the software then reads your mental beta waves like a radio antenna and then transmits calculated results back through the Hardware (which was soon to obsolete) and the Monitor allows you to see the new, freshly-calculated results of your still-theoretic Planchange. 100% of the time, if your Foreseeable Future started with a death or serious accident, when you inputted your Planchage the result were inevitably the Happy Ending for the day. Until now. Titorelli never got his HE, no matter what he theoritically inputted into the program. He’d thus managed to get himself into a conundrum. What I really had a hard time wrapping my head abound, though, was that during his first Foreseeable Future, his own death occurred almost first thing in the morning. Now, here it was, nearly six o’clock in the evening, and the program was still responding with Inevitable Death Scenarios no matter what Titorelli thought of. Basically, as soon as Titorelli was to leave the FS 4D Monitor from Best Buy, he was going to die.
I now had a further issue that I would be forced to deal with if we could figure some sort of conclusion to Titorelli’s conundrum – the very term Inevitable Death Scenario (or IDS) was the hush-hush, unspoken, don’t-tell-don’t-even-think-it surefire retail death rattle of the entire FS and MediPrev industry. It had been, until this very moment which I was now experiencing, only theoretic. The Doctor who had written the thesis on the IDS theory had worked for the MediPrev Software Research division and had mysteriously “disappeared” three hours after Emailing the thesis to one of the head execs ad MediPrev. Maybe disappeared could be construed as slightly dramatic, I did after all, run into this doctor working at a Gap clothing outfit in the last of the Vintage Malls just a few cliks outside of town, but it was a little awkward and I still don’t think he actually recognized me.
“Okay,” I got back to the business at hand, “so what was your Planchange?”
“Well, the obvious, at first. I changed my path to work”
“Right.” A dramatic pause.
“So, what happened?” Even in the throws of Inevitable Death, Titorelli was still playing for suspense. Always a storyteller. That’s likely why I enjoyed his company so much – usually. Just at this moment, however, I found him to be slightly irritating. I wanted to figure this damned conundrum out!
“I got hit by a bus,” he told me.
“Okay, so then what?”
“I changed my course again.”
That seemed logical to me. I almost called Titorelli on his annoying dramatic pause this time, but he got to the point before I did.
“I decided to go around the alleyway between 6th and Lexington – Then I got hit by a piano.”
Thank Christ, I thought the auditor function on my Telescreen was on the fritz again. I didn’t tell that to Titorelli, though. He had enough to worry about right now.
“A grand piano?” I asked strictly for clarification.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he told me.
“You’re thinking about a piano falling form the top of a brick tenement and smashing me into the ground, like in those Looney Tunes cartoons.”
“How’d you know?” At that, he actually cracked a smile. It made me relax a little.
“But that’s not what happened,” he explained. “I saw that if I took that alleyway between 6th and Lexington, I’d be crossing paths with this old gut pushing a brass-castored grand piano down the ass-end of the same alley. Long story short, he looses control of the piano and it runs me over.”
“I played around with the alley scenario for a little while, jumping to the left to avoid the charging piano, but getting hit by the motorcycle backing out of the backside carport into the alley, and to the right I get blindsided by a crappy Westphalia carried a young stoned couple. The girl seemed nice for a brief flash, though.”
I pondered what must be the infinite number of scenarios available to Tits even just through his back-alley walk, and then wondered if he really had put forth the mental effort to try to avoid Death By Piano on his walk to work. “Then what happened?” I asked him.
“Then the Autopot’s alarm went off, so I abandoned the Foreseeable Future, momentarily, while I fetched my four-shot Americano from the kitchen.”
“Alright, but when you got back, did you try out any further scenarios for the back alley?”
“No, when I got back I realized it was a dead end.”
“Physically or theoretically speaking?”
Tits chewed on that one for a minute, absently biting the corner of his lower lip. “A bit of both, but I’d say more of the first.”
“You didn’t know the alleyway dead-ended before you inputted is as a Planchange?”
“It wasn’t before. I think they just recently built the youth runaway shelter at the end of the alley and blocked off the through-way.”
“When was the last time you used the alley?”
“Only six years back.”
“Alright, I guess we’re getting off topic.”
“I suppose we are,” Tits agreed, “but the conversation’s making me feel better.”
“No it’s not, the conversation is just distracting you.”
I could see his teeth pinch the lower lip again, and his eyes got that worried look back. I felt a little guilty about that, too.
“You’re right,” he said. “So, what’s the ticket, then?”
“Well, what happened after you gave up on the runaway piano scenario?”
“More of the same,” he said. “A lot more. Any scenario where I left the house ended in certain death. Car, bus, train, falling musical instruments, crashed power lines, open manhole, explosive road reconstruction, building deconstruction on the corner of Main and Seventh-”
“-Yeah, that backed up traffic for half an hour this morning,” I almost couldn’t help but interrupt – not that it did anything to phase Tits.
“-subway derailment,” he went on as if completely uninterrupted at all, “loose rooftop brick, faulty window-washer lift, brakes failing on a speeding firetruck, liquor store robbery cross-fire, and that’s just to name a fraction of what I’ve seen of what could’ve been in store for me today. Not to mention the plate glass window.”
“Plate glass window? Did you fall into one, or did one somehow fall onto you?”
“It’s a long story, more irony than payoff.”
“But you don’t. You can’t. I’ve been here all day! I went through sixty-eight Planchanges before I realized I was two hours and eleven minutes late for work, and I hadn’t left the house yet!”
“So, what did you do?”
“What could I do? I called in sick.”
“Ah,” I placated. “So once you called in sick, you must’ve been able to settle down the IDS from the program,” I figured aloud.
“What’s an IDS?”
Shit. “Nothing. Just a software glitch.”
“I work in software. I’ve never heard of such a glitch.”
Actually, Tits work in low-level software. Thirty-second floor. The corporations usually put the peons on the upper floors, in case of full-scale emergencies, it was the lower floors that made it out alive. I.E; The Important Personnel (or TIPs). I always thought if Tits applied himself, he’d be lower-floor, high-level stat in no time. He had the brains, but he seemed to want to enjoy himself more that put the proverbial nose to the grindstone. A lot of his peers – in his department, that is to say – saw it as some sort of character flaw. Personally, I liked Tits that way.
“I meant a hardware glitch,” I falsely corrected.
Sure, he might’ve said “oh” but I could practically feel the wheels in his brain turned through the holographic Telescreen connection. What he’s really said was: “Oh, let me think about that for a while.”
“So it must’ve gotten better, then, after you called in sick?” Though I felt I already knew the answer.
“No, it got worse. Suddenly, all the scenarios ended up with me dying without even leaving the house. Slip in the shower, toaster electrocution, a knife being knocked off the kitchen counter and slicing through the artery on the inside of my left ankle, you know the one that sticks out at the inside ball of the ankle bone?”
“The hot faucet exploding off the bathroom sink-”
“-That wouldn’t kill you.”
“I does when the faucet launches through your left eye and the bottom screw jabs into the front of your brain.”
“Thank the stars those geniuses at Medi haven’t developed the touchy-feely sensor software to go with the program yet. ‘Cause that really would’ve hurt”
“Thank the stars indeed,” I agreed, but by now Tits had my mind going full-tilt boogie. I mean, I love puzzles just as much as the next guy, but this one was a head-scratcher of the greatest magnitude. Of course, there seemed to me to be only one logical outcome for the entire situation – my friend Tits was going to die.
“What I can’t figure,” Tits said brightly, “is that I’m obviously not supposed to die.”
“I’m not supposed to die!”
I wondered just how in hell Tits figured that one.
“I just haven’t come up with the right Planchange yet.”
And there, I realized, was where the real conundrum lay. There were, as I had thought earlier, infinite Planchages that could be inputted into the program. You could actually spend your life inputting Planchanges into the program for it to read the following scenario back to you in full 4-HD holographic images. Or in Titorelli’s case, regular 4D. If I was going to help Tits, I was going to have to get my facts straight. I lifted the beer can to my lips and took a sip while I mentally ingested everything up to this point – and then nearly chocked the beer back up and out It was warm as hell. I set the can on the lamp table at the edge of the couch and got up to go to the fridge.
“Where are you going?” Titorelli asked, almost panicked.
“Just grabbing a drink. I’ll be right back.”
And I was back, lickety-split, with a cold beer in my hand. When I cracked it and swallowed half the can and looked back to the Telescreen, I could see Titorelli practically salivating. I felt a little bad about that, too, so I finished the rest of the beer PDQ.
“So, I hate to ask you this, Titorelli, but-”
“-Just what in hell makes me think that I’m not supposed to die today?”
“Because when I put in the Planchange of me sitting here, starting at the 4D Monitor inputting Planchange after Planchage, nothing happens. I mean, I don’t die. I just sit here, and continue living, inputting endless Planchages into the program. But – I don’t die.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that.” I suddenly had a vision of a mirror-walled elevator where if you look to one side you can see yourself in a theoretically endless string of physical existence.
“So I figured,” Titorelli went on, “That if there was that one scenario where I didn’t end up dying, there must be others. There have to be, right?”
“Unless you starve to death trying to figure out the correct Planchange,” I offered, but I didn’t think that was going to help the situation much.
“I don’t suppose you’d want to do me a favour,” Titorelli asked.
“Would you bring me one of those beers? I’m afraid to get out of this chair and go to the kitchen. Falling knives and killer toasters, and all.”
“Not to mention the blender,” I helped again.
“A pizza would be really nice right about now.”
“I’ll bring a pizza and a six-pack.”
“No need for the six-pack, I won’t be able to go to the bathroom too often.”
“Might push your luck?”
“Why don’t you input what might happen if I show up to your place with pizza and beer?”
“Right, good idea!”
Titorelli turned back to his 4D Monitor. He nearly immediately conveyed visible disappointment. “Damn.”
“Well, it’s not the worst death I’ve seen for myself today – but I suppose it all ends the same, regardless. Death is death, right?”
I thought there was some kind of poetic reasoning with that, especially considering it was coming from a theoretical dead man.
“Can I ask you something?” I asked.
“You said the only way to see a scenario in the Foreseeable Future is if you remain seated at the monitor, continually gauging your death scenarios, correct?”
“Well, wouldn’t it be logical that you would starve to death?”
“I suppose so, that sounds logical.”
“Yet the Foreseeable Future software won’t holograph that scenario-”
“-Too far into the future-”
“-Right, hence, it would be Un-foreseeable.”
“Jesus Christ, man, you’re a frick-fracking GENIUS!”
“Well, I wouldn’t say-”
“We need to get you working in the Software field!”
No thanks, I thought, but didn’t want to insult Titorelli right then and burst his proverbial bubble. Whatever it was I’d said to him, he gotten his goat an a gruff and he was, as they used to say in simpler times, inspired.
“I’ll call you back!” Titorelli all but screamed in excitement, and then the holographic Telescreen went blank.
Oh well, I thought, and went back to the fridge to get another beer.
I was four episodes into a retro-run of an old millennial television program called “Firefly,” a sort of comedic space-cowboy cross-genre entertainment that appeared to think itself quite clever of the time, and I was most enjoying myself when the Telescreen indicator buzzed at me. I used the remote to switch the retro-entertainment off and a hologram of my good friend Titorelli invaded my living room. Something was definitely different about him.
He’s not sitting at the Foreseeable Future monitor, it finally clicked.
“Tits! Nice to see you looking so well. Not very dead at all!”
“Indeed, my dear friend, it is a wonderful evening. Would you like to meet me and grab a long drink fr a warm night.”
“You are certainly in better spirits! What happened? Did you finally figure out a survivable scenario for yourself?”
“Indeed I did, my friend! Bu unconventionally so. And in the process, and this is all thanks to you – I’ve completely re-designed the entire software programming for version 4010, which is due to be launched at the end of this season…”
“Wow, that’s incredible!”
“Yes it is! It’s going to be revolutionary, I tell you!”
“So tell me, then, I’m bursting here!”
“No, no, not through the Telescreen. Come, let’s get a drink, on me, of course.”
“You had me at ‘drink’.”
We were sitting on the patio at The Derby and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. Titorelli, being the dramatic bastard that he was, had waited until we’d been served our drinks and for me to prod him one more time before finally spelling out this revolutionary software he’d re-designed while I’d been busy watching millennial reruns of sci-fi westerns and drinking a good part of a six pack.
“It’s going to change the country,” he told me, and I waited patiently for Tits to get to the frigging point. “I reversed the programming.”
I nearly spit the wine spritzer out of my mouth. “Excuse me?”
“I reversed the programming,” he repeated.
“Yeah, I heard you. What I meant by ‘what’, was asking you, in no uncommon terms, are you out of your drive-fragging mind?”
“Our entire industry in based on the Foreseeable Future. In fact, that’s the launching pad for the forward motion of the entire Medi Software industry! We want to see what’s going to happen! IF you reverse that, well that would mean… I mean… Wait a sec, what the hell would that mean? Reverse the programming? You mean you want us to see the Foreseeable Past??!”
“No, no,” Tits snorted, his version of a don’t-be-ridiculous laugh.
“Even darker. We don’t need a retro-holographic photo album! Leave that to the folks at Kodak-Holocolour.”
“Exactly,” I agreed, though I still couldn’t see where Tits was going with this.
“The new programming for version 4010 will holograph for the viewer what happens if they see their IDS.”
“Oh, so know you know what an IDS is? You didn’t just five hours ago.”
“I figured it out. And then I figured, if everyone saw an IDS, nobody would leave their house!”
“But the whole point is that nobody would ever see an IDS. Your case was completely out of the norm! Totally random!”
“A conundrum, like you’d said.”
“So that’s what I re-programmed. I coded a conundrum command into the software, and bada bing, everyone who used the Foreseeable Future software will automatically have their IDS as one of the irrevocable options.”
“Are you fucking crazy?!”
“Not at all.”
“But nobody would ever use that fucking thing if that were the case! They’d literally be scared off!”
“Precisely. I told, it was going to be revolutionary!”
“But….” I let it go, verbally speaking. I guess Tits did have a point, after all. I got what he was saying. Nobody who used the FS program would actually be able to see their Foreseeable Death, if one were to occur for them over the events of that day (never the following day, because if Tits reprogrammed the software, the two-day FS program would be a total kibosh, pending approval or not…) because the IDS that Tits was designing top be ‘irrevocable’ would override anything else. And people would just plainly get frustrated at the scenario of sitting in front of their FS monitors for endless days thinking that if they didn’t, then they would cease to live.
And that was no way to live.
“Is the conundrum true?” Truthfully, I already knew the answer to that. The answer was sitting right across from me, drinking a pink wine spritzer.
The answer was shrugged. “I’m still alive,” he said.
I grinned. That was the real glitch in the software, the glitch that the folks at Medi Software Research did no want anyone knowing about. The whole Foreseeable Future was a sham, a product (a product that worked some of the time, according to the Medi Stats), but really just something to make money and keep the economy turning. Keep us going, as a society. Something people thought they needed. And that was the key, wasn’t it? You can’t sell things to people they want anymore, in this day and age, they have to need it. And how do seventy-six percent of the population all simultaneously decide they need something? Well, they’re tricked, of course.
“Don’t overestimate the human condition, though,” Tits said suddenly, bringing me off of my train of thought.
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
“We can still make a killing with the new 4010 programming. It’s all in how you spin it.”
I suddenly had a horrifying vision of the entire population of the country stuck in from of their FS monitors, not leaving their houses or apartments. The collapse of the entire economy. Of civilization…
“We’re going to make a killing,” Tits reiterated.
Indeed, it seemed quite so. I guess Tits finally went an applied himself. Good for Tits.
Copyright © by Vince D’Amato.
July 10, 2010