a short story
Gary Baker, August 2013
We thank you all for coming, and assure you that you have had the best of times tonight.” The primly dressed woman in pale khaki trousers and skin-tone stockings gave a curt nod, then proceeded off the stage and back to her end of show routine.
Ghera stared at the empty stage, barely two feet deep before a massive white cloth backdrop rose up like the face of a cliff. Murmurs rose from the audience as they shifted and set about leaving, though Ghera couldn’t understand why.
They just got here, not ten minutes ago according to the hard drive in his temporal reactor chip.
“Hey,” he leaned toward the cute grandma-like woman sitting next to him with large pearls around her neck and turquoise teardrop stones hanging from her ears. “Why is everyone leaving?”
She smiled as though he’d fallen asleep. “Why, because it’s over, of course.” She shrugged and settled into her coat with a sigh, “and it was such a ‘best of time’ sort of occasion, wasn't it?”
Ghera blinked. “So... I slept through it?”
He didn't want to believe that. He couldn't. Not after having waited weeks for this showing, not after having paid the usual quarter of a million Perennial Stamps for this. He had to admit that such a show had always felt like more of a wealthy man’s outing, something to take the missus at the end of a lengthy night of grand spending and other less-than-thrifty events before midnight.
He remembered seeing a flyer while on the subway, a transmission splayed across the floor, that wasn’t really there, he knew, but existed as raw data subverted through his visionary vortices along the route to his brain via standard middle-class cyber cables. He had been forced to watch as his rare physical book, with pages made of plastic sheets in place of his more valuable books safe at home where their paper pages wouldn’t attract unnecessary attention, turned a series of colors in the scheme of an incoming transmission.
So he’d placed a finger on his mark, closed the book, and let the advertisement pass. First it played out some childish commercial involving cartoon animals acting out the roles society had prescribed certain levels to be accessible to; in Ghera’s case, should he ever have children made for him, this involved hippos and rhinoceri attending their first job and learning to understand the next phase of TrueLiving according to the T.L. professionals.
Next came the ad for Julian Vasco’s “Red Ringed Royalty; revisited”, a play based on the hit app, which had once been a movie and had, before even that, and as most cases were these days, been a spoken poem written decades before anyone alive in the present had ever been born, based on the academia of the long-gone pre-borg era. A fine young blonde in a crimson flowy dress had walked the aisle of the train car with three butlers in tow, each demanding that she wear the, admittedly exaggerated in both size and form, first cybernetic implant which would connect her to the interwebz without the use of an unnatural handheld device.
“Nay,” she had remarked behind an overplayed hand swipe ending with fingers to her temple where she could turn the G-Glass MOD-5 on and return to ignoring them in the physical world. “Let me be human,” she sighed, “that is all I wish to be.”
But the butlers had persisted. Endlessly they had berated her with objections to the frailty of the human psyche without further enhancements to buffer the composition of what was real and not.
And just when Ghera was beginning to hope some hacker had broken through and given them all access to the whole play, the scene cut to the hovering logo of J.V. Empire and Estates Theater Co. in stark red and black, hanging over superimposed grass blades and unrealistically real tree branches.
The logo faded as the transceivers in his ears picked up the whispered “coming to a theater near you” at the tail end of it all. The passengers then lost their upward gaze and mechanically returned to the normal “busy” position to show they were back in cyberspace once more and were not to be bothered.
But Ghera was intrigued.
Soon he was planning his monthly earnings and savings according to how soon he could and would see the show. It drove him mad, simply wishing to know how Vasco determined the age-old app-movie-poem would end and whether or not he had allowed his corporation to be collaborating along the Hipster Party ideal for back-trodding into the days when humanity had the ability to turn themselves completely off-grid and therefore back into the darkness of web-less thought again.
It took Ghera three quarters to save up the desired Perennial Stamp credits, almost three fourths of a rotation around the spacial sun that had no better use for him.
And now he sat in his cushioned chair, unable to understand how he was incapable of staying awake for it. In fact, he couldn’t even remember seeing the start of the play, as though some glitch had happened in his temporal reactor chip. The very idea that a TRC could glitch made almost made him laugh aloud, though, as such chips were always updating according to the WF feeds that encompassed the globe.
“No, child,” the old lady responded. “You didn’t fall asleep. In fact I am sure you had the ‘best of times’. We all did.”
Again he turned to her with a wild furrow in his brow, “so what happened?”
“You don’t get to know that,” she chuckled. “It’s against the rules, young man.”
His eyes went wide. “What do you mean?”
Despite her calming smile, her voice began to intone a sense of annoyance at his ignorance, something he only picked up via the tingling scent of pickleweed that he got whenever the Vena-Jugula connector chip series fed into his TRC drive. “You must not be a regular here, are you?” She paused. “No, I thought not. Look, son, stay in your class, it’s not natural to go about pretending to be an upperman when you’re not.”
He waved it off, claiming “I’m a student, miss, I came to study the art.”
“Not according to my chip, you’re not.” She lifted her chin almost queen-like at him. “It says you’re nothing but a common vendor.”
Ghera had to pin down his choice words before responding, and finally let himself speak after several long moments. “I study on my off time, as in when I’m not at work.”
“But that’s just it: you still work for a living, and that is my point, boy.” She sighed heavily and saw that the seats beside her were beginning to be allowed to leave. “You just don’t understand, and frankly I don’t think you ever will.”
“But what do I not understand?” He pressed suddenly, aware of his dwindling chance at ever seeing an answer.
Just as quickly, her hand jolted to point at the screen. “That is what you do not understand, boy. The play is the property of Julian Vasco and his associates, not us.” She gave him a moment to comprehend, and upon seeing him continue staring into the white backdrop, she grunted and rose to her feet. “That means that we cannot take the play away from them. We cannot be allowed to retell the story to anyone who has not come to see it yet, and right now that means mostly everyone on the face of the world.”
Face contorted in confusion, Ghera exhaled and sat back in his seat.
The old lady watched him with an audible huff, then laid a hand on his. The act alone was enough to bring his full attention. No one alive in this modern age touched one another anymore, not for anything so much as violence nor passion nor medicine. So he looked to her and she locked his gaze with her piercingly sapphire eyes. “Let me spell that out for you, vendor. That means they cannot allow you to take so much as a memory from this experience. Memories can be hacked, after all. They can be copied, bought, sold, reviewed unlimited numbers of times and most of all you can see them anytime you want for free; and none of those would make Dr Vasco any credits, now, would they?”
Ghera sighed, realizing he had just wasted almost a full rotation’s wages on a memory of his own creation that he would never get to see. “No, they wouldn’t.”