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This Blip came about when a very strange and surreal thing happened to Seth, and he demanded that we all write a story about it. I’ve no idea what it was, I respect his privacy. All we were given as a writing prompt was a date, some time in the future and the assurance that if we didn’t do it, he would reveal our internet search history to the world.
So, here are 4 takes on what this date means, in the form of a story that’s more-or-less, more or less than 200 words, or less. Or more.
August 17th 2085, 23:37
Mr Biggly wrote something on the board with his ancient Biggly-board marker. It had been refilled more times than the stainless steel flask of cheap supermarket brandy he kept secured in his left pocket, and the nib was flattened down, smearing the letters broadly across the glassy surface. It squeaked loudly, grating on Silver’s nerves.
Nobody else seemed to have noticed.
“1985,” he said, pointing to the very same thing drawn on the board. “August 17th at exactly 23:37. That was my birthday, if anyone cares.”
Silver groaned inwardly, fearing she already knew where this was going—all new teachers did this in their first couple of weeks.
“But, what do you think the future will be like in the year 2085?”
Silver groaned fairly loudly, as several other students around her did the same.
“Cheng,” the teacher said, pointing to a boy at the back of the class who was on the verge of falling asleep. He straightened and looked behind him, earning himself a flurry of chuckles from around the room.
“Me?” he said, pointing to himself.
Mr Biggly sighed. “Yes, you, Cheng. The only ‘Cheng’ in the room, and the only one I’m pointing at.”
Cheng laughed awkwardly.
“What do you think the future will be like in 2085?” Mr Biggly asked.
He screwed his face up thoughtfully. “I think we’ll all be dead.”
“What a tragic waste of such potential,” the teacher grumbled, rolling his eyes. “Does anyone’s imagination extend beyond the sad tale of their own demise?”
Everyone in class looked away, avoiding his eyes as they searched for someone to pick on.
“Silver!” he said loudly.
There was an annoying chuckle from beside her.
With a wry grin, she pointed to herself. “Me?”
“Don’t you start,” he growled.
“It won’t be much different,” she said. “It never is, is it?”
He narrowed his eyes and huffed. “That’s a bit cynical from someone as young as you.”
“But nothing important ever changes. Sure, we switched from royalty to dictatorships, and then to democracies, but nothing really changed. It’s the same people in control as it always was.
“It’s only the names of things that change.”
Mr Biggly sighed, but looked vaguely impressed. “What about technology?” he said. “That changes people’s lives.”
He looked around and pointed to a girl near the front. She was sitting with a painfully straight back, and was always grinning for reasons that nobody had quite worked out.
“Our phones will be better!” she said with a strangely sing-song voice and overwhelming enthusiasm. “They’ll be able to do more stuff.”
Mr Biggly looked like he was rapidly running out of sighs. “Such as?”
She looked away wistfully. “They’ll have personalities. We could date our phones, and they’d have to love us or we can just smash them in half. They’ll also be thinner and they won’t need batteries. They’ll just charge by sunlight.”
She frowned thoughtfully for a moment, and then continued with a new-found enthusiasm.
“If you put an egg on them, they’ll be able to cook it.”
Cheng said, from the back of the class, “You’ve never been on a date, have you?”
That earned him a louder, longer chuckle.
A hand went up from the middle of the class. Silver turned to see a small, younger girl. She had moved up from a lower grade from sheer hard work. She was not popular.
She asked, “Will there be education in 2085?”
“Is there any now?” Silver countered, a little louder than she intended.
Mr Biggly glared at her, and shook his head. “I worry about that. Education is declining and people are getting less and less capable. Will we need education in the future? Will the people want a smart, intelligent and informed population, or will they just let their leaders and their phones run the world?”
Silver added, “As I said, nothing changes!”
Mr Biggly looked at her and nodded sadly. “Indeed!”
“Flying cars!” a young boy said softly from somewhere in the back. “I want a flying car.”
“Flying cars?” repeated Silver’s best friend Rya, incredulously. “You crashed your car into a coffee stand last week. If there are flying cars, I either don’t want you to have one, or I want someone to invent indestructible umbrellas and give them out free!”
Silver chuckled at what was an uncharacteristically amusing outburst.
“Robots!” A young man sitting next to Cheng said with a slightly glazed look in his eyes. “Robots that look and feel exactly like humans, but, you know, do whatever you tell them. You know, they do whatever you tell them!”
Cheng playfully slapped him round the back of the head and tutted at him. “You’ve never been on a date either, have you!”
The boy who still owed the coffee-seller several thousand dollars said, “At least not with Rya!”
Silver looked at Rya, who now had an angry look on her face. “You’re nothing like a robot,” she said comfortingly. “Robots are meant to be artificially intelligent, and you’re clearly not!”
Rya’s face softened. “Thanks, Silver. That means a lot!”
Silver grinned to herself.
“So,” Mr Biggly said loudly, bringing the class back to order. “In the future, we may have sentient robots, flying cars, phones that we date and make eggs for us, and a political system that hasn’t changed since men first climbed down from the trees.”
“And we’re all dead!” Cheng added.
“And we’re all dead,” Mr Biggly repeated.
“Shall we just write an essay?” Silver suggested, holding up her notebook.
“Yeah!” he shrugged. “Write an essay!”
August 17th 2085, 23:37
“You use electric toothbrush, right?”
“What kind? It left right left right wavy kind, or lateral whirly kind?”
“Um… Given a choice of those two, I’d say the second one.”
“Lateral whirly type. I think so—Dr. Fang never lie. See here, visible portion of tooth so beautiful! I eat dinner off. Couldn’t be cleaner. But under gum, especially rear molar and wisdom teeth, so dirty. It like toilet in your mouth. I see cleaner teeth on shit eating ape! So much bacteria under gum line. Electric toothbrush—especially lateral whirly kind—no good no good! You need give it good go over once, twice week, with regular toothbrush. If you no do something different, you get gum disease, all your teeth fall out! You want that, huh?”
“Am I in danger of that happening now?”
“No. Not danger. Now, I clean up for you. Get gum line spotless. Dr. Fang sensitive to delicate sissy patient needs. Just remember—do something different—come back three months.”
“Yeah, I could do that… Or I could just do what I’ve always done, come back in three months, and let you clean it up again.”
“Could do could do. But thinking broken. I old man, you young. I die, you have absolutely ages left to live. When that happens, you do nothing different, your teeth are fucked! Who going to clean them? Not me! I dead!”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way. You always do!”
“Yeah, I regular hero.”
“You know, I have to ask, is the date on your Dentist’s Desktop correct?”
“What you mean, ah?”
“It’s just that it says it’s 23:37. I knew it was late, but I didn’t think it was that late.”
“No no no, clock fast clock fast. I lose remote control, can’t change.”
“Oh right. Now I look closer, I also notice it say it’s 17th August 2085. I’m pretty sure it was May 2021 when I got here.”
“Remote control broken broken. You know how is.”
“Yeah, I know how it is.”
I didn’t know how it was.
Something was very off about that conversation. I’ve used all kinds of machines in the past, and any time the internal battery runs out, or it resets for some other reason, the time always reverts to some time in the early 70s, or more recently if it’s a custom built system. The date and time is never in the future. Ever!
Something else was going on here, and I decided I was going to get to the bottom of it.
It wasn’t easy. The Dentist’s Desktop is a very specialised piece of equipment, and very little information is available publicly, because nobody cares enough about it to make it so. It’s a screen that sits in front of the patient so the dentist can show photos of their teeth from inside their mouth instantly. I was going to have to find an operating manual, or at the very least talk to somebody that understands how it works.
As it turned out this was a lot easier to achieve than I had assumed. The company responsible for the Dentist’s Desktop was a start-up funded by the Kaleidoscope Conglomeration, which had originated as an offshoot of a research operation. Their offices were right here in London, and a single phone call was all it took to get an interview with the man responsible.
Evidently he’s very proud of his creation, and loves talking about it to anyone who will listen, which is normally nobody.
I turned up at their offices at the prescribed time, with an audio recorder loaded with fresh batteries. I was going to find out as much as I could about this system, get to the bottom of the mystery, and didn’t want to miss a single detail!
The man, Mr. Gaultier, greeted me enthusiastically at reception, and escorted me to a small meeting room intended for facility visitors. It came with free coffee, which was surprisingly good, albeit somewhat generic tasting.
The Dentist’s Desktop, as it turned out, had quite an interesting history.
Carbon dating as a method of determining the ages of ancient relics had pretty much hit a brick wall, so his research facility had been looking into a newer method of dating, that scans the genetic structure of anything that had once lived, and by analysing the cellular entropy, it could put a fairly accurate date on when it died. At first he’d just aimed for an approximate century, but by funnelling down the research, he found he could actually get the precise year, then the day, then the actual minute with near perfect accuracy. It was quite an achievement.
What really impressed him though was his experimentation on primates. He found that by scanning the teeth of a still living ape, the machine could analyse the reverse entropy and predict the precise minute it would die. The precise minute!
He hoped that this new technology would rock the scientific community, and put his name in lights above the entrance to the hallowed halls of historical recognition. He simply wasn’t prepared for the silence he was greeted by. Crickets!
Dating relics is one thing, but evidently nobody wants to know when an ape is going to die. Apparently there’s just no market for that. When he suggested they consider the possibilities, it occurred to him that he couldn’t think of any either.
However, the analysis his scanner was able to perform could be pivoted upon, and he started redirecting his research instead towards a system that could analyse human teeth, detect problems before they occurred, and recommend treatments.
A mobile varient also proved highly efficient at detecting the best watermelon’s in the supermarket, but he couldn’t get anybody to back this, as everyone just wants phones that can cook eggs these days.
So with that, the Dentist’s Desktop was born, and became a household name among households with very talkative dentists in them.
With a wink, he told me of an Easter Egg he planted. He left the reverse entropy Al-Gore-isms in place, and occasionally it will shows the date and time the patient will die.
This left me with questions.
“You use electric toothbrush, right?”
“What kind? It left right left right wavy kind, or lateral whirly kind?”
“The first one.”
“I know this. See here, visible portion of tooth so beautiful! I eat dinner off. Couldn’t be cleaner. But under gum, especially rear molar and wisdom teeth, so dirty. It like toilet in your mouth.”
“So you’ll clean it up for me?”
“I clean. Every time I clean clean. You come Dr. Fang for love. Other dentist know only drill. You want drill, huh? Do something different, come back three months.”
“Thank you! I actually have a question while I’m here.”
“I entirely comprised of ears!”
“The last time I was here, there was a strange date on your Dentist’s Desktop. You mentioned you’d lost or broken the remote control.”
“That right. Racoon run off with. No change date. Dr. Fang never lie!”
“Well, I was wondering if perhaps you made an exception on this instance.”
“How you mean, what you mean?”
“To put it bluntly, did it show me the date and time that I will die?”
“No ifs or buts?”
“No ifs or buts. That is day you die.”
“So, I could go out there and throw caution to the wind and effectively be immortal for the next 60 plus years?”
“Immortal, yes. If do nothing different.”
“Do nothing different, you invincible for the next 60 years.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do something different, date and time change. Do nothing different, that is day you die.”
“Different compared to what though…?”
“Also, your teeth fucked! You choose!”
August 17th 2085, 23:37
While his robot was outside parking his flying car, he excitedly tore open the box in front of him. Plastered on his face was a silly, childish grin, as silly, childish excitement took hold of him.
There was a sense of anticipation all around the gigantic, glass-walled coffee shop as patrons sat with boxes of their own, ripping at them or admiring the contents.
“You know it won’t go live for several minutes yet?” Darrius told him, his own box sat on the table between them, unmolested. “The whole thing isn’t guaranteed to work until midnight, even though it will probably come on early.”
“Bits of it will still work!” Crill said sternly. “Why are you always such a miserable funrick?”
“A funrick?” Darrius said with an angry frown. “You can’t say that to me, that’s our word!”
Crill hung his head and sighed to himself. “I acknowledge the unintended offence rendered, and assume responsibility,” he said sadly, remembering the correctly worded apology from that week’s ‘Sensitivity Class.’ “As the cursed melanin-deprived face extinction, it is wrong for us, your betters, to berate you. You were to right to reprimand me, humbled as I am.” That sounded about right.
Darrius tutted and crossed his arms. “Funrick!” he said to himself. “Next, you’ll be attacking me for my gender.”
Crill shrugged and turned his attention back to the box, losing all interest in anything else. “I wouldn’t know how,” he admitted. “The whole ‘gender’ thing is so complex now that I just leave it well alone. My auxiliary parental unit identified as a ‘Third-Level Co-Binary Oxypaternal Soft-Mascotype’ on his last work personnel audit, and was told he was being over-sensitive. People are offended by that now.”
“Yes!” Darrius agreed with a nod. “You can’t afford to be over-sensitive these days. It’s offensive to the under-sensitive.”
“I’m not worried,” Crill said with a proud smile as he gestured to his box. “My new phone has an app for that. It will warn us if we’re wrong-thinking, and will issue an immediate correction. I can’t wait! I’ll never be accused of being clumsy or stupid again—except by my phone!”
“It’s not just your phone!” Darrius said, frowning at his best friend, who had been assigned to him many years prior for reasons of diversity management. “Everyone on the planet is getting a new phone, absolutely free, and they all do the exact same thing! It’s going to connect every living human to the new network.”
“Are they?” Crill rolled his eyes thoughtfully. “No, of course they are. I knew that.” He sipped at some very soft and inexplicably sweet coffee, served from a recycled paper cup.
Darrius looked at his box with a hint of incredulity. “I don’t like it. Why would they give us all a brand new free phone? It doesn’t make sense.”
Crill sighed at him and explained, “Because we’ve earned it!”
“How did you earn it?” Darrius asked. “You’ve not done a day’s work since I’ve known you!”
Crill laughed and then stopped, a moment before his laughter could be considered emotionally harmful, but only just. “You don’t earn things by working!” he told his ridiculous friend. “I say the right things on the ‘Social Ranking Appraisal Platform! That’s why I’m given things.”
“Twister?” Darrius huffed in annoyance. “My grandfather said there used to be dozens of such platforms. It must have been a glorious time to be alive!”
“That sounds exhausting!” Crill grumbled. He swiped his box up from the table and began pulling at the corners again. It was constructed from a very smart form of recycled paper that appeared to be in a constant state of recycling itself, the effect being that every tear was healing almost immediately. Finally, he just ripped it up, the side snapping away from the rest and the contents sliding out.
“Ooooo…” he said, dreadfully impressed. “It’s even thinner and more transparent than I thought.”
Darrius leant forwards, his efforts to look entirely disinterested melting away very conspicuously. “I hear it’s powered by sunlight. Who could have imagined that?”
“I hear if you put eggs on it, it can actually cook them!” Crill told him.
“What?” Darrius looked up suddenly. “Who on Earth told you that?”
“My auxiliary parental unit!” he said defensively. “Why can’t phones cook eggs? There’s probably a dozen apps for that!”
Darrius shrugged. “I don’t know about cooking eggs, but there are a lot of new apps. I’ll give you that one.”
“The most interesting one is the ‘Stop-Watch’ app,” Crill said. He looked back to his phone and began gently cradling it, gazing lovingly into its lifeless screen.
Darrius rolled his eyes. He began shaking his head and biting his bottom lip. “I wanted to opt out of that one, but there was no way. I can’t believe they make you do it.”
Crill hugged his shiny new phone, tightly pulling it towards an exposed lump of his flabby, sweaty flesh, poking not shyly enough from the top of his shirt. He looked up with bewildered eyes. “Why would you want to opt out? It’s a fantastic idea. It watches everything in the entire world, and lets you know when you’re going to stop!”
“I know what it does!” Darrius snapped. “An app that gives you a one-hour warning before you’re going to die, to give you enough time to say your goodbyes to your loved ones. Everyone know what it does!”
Crill frowned at him. “I think it’s clever!”
“It’s clever alright,” Darrius said. “They’ve included a critical-safe processing architecture in every one of these new phones that watches everything. It knows your dental and medical data, it knows all of your environmental information, distance from every local kebab shop, and it constantly works out all of the odds of every event around you with such staggering accuracy that it can predict the moment of death with 99.9998% certainty. The chances of it being wrong are so small that the computer working it out thinks it probably made a mistake about it.”
Crill grinned. “So I’m right!” he said proudly. “It is clever. It’s the smartest Al-Gore-ithm ever invented.”
Darrius sighed to himself, quite loudly. “You spelled that wrong!”
“No!” Crill said. “He’s the man who invented the internet and global-warming. He was a genius!”
Darrius closed his eyes as his head shook just a little more vigorously. “Right…” He sighed and continued, “But to allow this algorithm to work, do you realise what they’ve had to give it control of? The system is in charge of everything now. It can do absolutely anything.”
Crill grinned. “Like cook an egg!”
Darrius looked away, his expression a mixture of slight disgust and a more pointed form of absolute disgust.
“I mean, that’s good, right?” Crill said absently. “It wasn’t long ago that all the world leaders were executed for crimes against humanity. Isn’t it better that our phones run the world?”
“What if the phones are corrupt, or try to wipe out humanity?” Darrius said loudly, sounding a little frustrated by all this.
“We’ll just execute them all for crimes against humanity,” Crill said with a shrug, as if this was all very easy to understand. Indeed, he was a bit confused at how Darrius wasn’t able to keep up.
“Oh look!” Crill cried out, pointing excitedly at his new phone. “It lit up blue. It’s activating early.”
Darrius glared at it accusingly.
“It’s thinking!” Crill told him, repeating what the adverts had told him. “It will take just a few seconds for the system to wake up and then integrate itself. It will go through our history-books and study everything before deciding what to do. Amazing, isn’t it?”
Darrius rolled his eyes. “Amazing.”
‘Update Complete,’ flashed on the screen in large blue letters. A bar of lights scrolled up the side.
Crill said excitedly, “It’s doing something! Exciting, isn’t it? I bet it’s going to have a really cool personality and I’m going to want to date it.”
“Yes,” Darrius agreed sarcastically. “What could be better?”
Suddenly an alarm bleeped from the phone screen and it flashed red. The words, ‘Stop-Watch’ appeared on the top and a one hour countdown began, the seconds ticking slowly away.
Identical bleeps came from all around the shop. People began gazing at their phones, with looks on their faces ranging from slightly concerned to outright horrified, and everything in-between. Beyond the glass walls, people had stopped walking past and were holding their transparent new devices up to their faces, gazing through them.
People did not look happy!
Darrius looked absolutely, completely and undeniably terrified.
Crill pointed to his screen and grinned. “I wonder what this means?” he said.
Darius opened his mouth but nothing much of anything came out of it. There was a muffled squeaking sound, but it was lost amidst the rest of the muffled squeaking sounds from all around.
Crill raised his hand to the waiter, who was glaring with an angry, bewildered expression at his own new communications device. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan!” he said.
Darrius looked as though he had just dared to hope.
The waiter very slowly looked up to him, their eyes meeting.
Crill smirked as his cunning plan reached the culmination, “Waiter?” he said with a widening grin of smug self-satisfaction. “Can I get an egg?”
August 17th 2085, 23:37
Friday 17th August, 2085
“Jesus Christ, the same! Yesterday, today, and forever!”
Hebrews 13:8, The Bible
At Woking Station I alight.
The Northern exit.
Across the road, it’s there,
Shining like a beacon,
An oasis of ecstasy,
The universal constant.
There since the dawn of time.
The purveyor of pita,
And the lustful fillings therein.
The kebab shop.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, setting up a kebab shop.”
The name has changed many times since my first visit,
Some 80 years prior.
Perhaps the owners too.
It always seems to be the same people.
Perhaps all the kebab emporia in all the world,
Are different aspects of the self same shop,
And the people that staff them,
Not people as we may know them,
But mere reflections of the same oneness,
A god in human guise,
Many and one together.
Never seen anywhere but behind a counter,
Never lowering themselves to speak our base words,
Required to sell kebabs,
And sometimes chips in pita bread,
Coated in chilli sauce,
Ambrosia from Istanbul,
With a couple of martian willies,
As a finishing flourish.
I stand in line with my futuristic phone,
Waiting to place my order.
Medium doner, salad, chilli sauce,
Two martian willies.
More people come in.
An argument erupts, as it always does,
A kebab flies across the counter,
Gracelessly slapping the wall,
As its meaty contents explode raptuously.
The owner shakes his head.
Not his business.
Kebab already paid for.
The two men take it outside.
Honour to be restored.
But what they’re doing isn’t fighting,
They’re hugging each other,
Pushing each other against the storefront glass,
Slapping each other on the backs.
A police siren blips.
“Oi! Break it up you two!”
The two men stare down the officer.
“We ain’t done nuffin.”
And they ain’t.
“Yeah! Get in your car and fling yer ‘ook!”
The officer shrugs, and drives away.
The two men shake hands and laugh.
Like old friends.
Nobody needs a dentist tonight.
My kebab is ready.
Rolled in paper, I tuck it in my bag.
Some things are better enjoyed at home.
I catch the bus outside the station.
Half full with tired souls.
Or perhaps half empty.
Or perhaps the bus is too big.
I sit near the front.
An old woman jabs me in the rib.
“Would you mind not eating that here?”
I’m not eating anything.
I explain as much.
My stop is coming up soon,
Except there is no stop.
I need to ring the bell,
Except there is no bell to ring.
Instead, in the vicinity of my home,
I have to raise my voice
“Can I get off here please!”
This always fills me with dread.
I don’t know why.
But, get off I do!
Home at last.
The kebab of promise sits on my table,
The delightful scents cascading.
Lovingly I unwrap it,
Yet entirely predictable,
They forgot the martian willies.
For 80 years, week after week,
Time after time,
They always forget the martian willies.
For it is scripture,
And it must be so.
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