Monday, March 5, 2012

316/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Magic Show" by Electric Owls

The ships came on a Wednesday and parked themselves in the sky. They are sort of diaphanous, structured out of a honeycomb matrix. The ribs are covered in a substance that looks like gold foil but no one's ever been able to test it. We don't know if the ships are manned or not, if that's even the right word, or if they are completely automated. They won't let us get near them. Within hours after their arrival, every human, and perhaps other species as well, became clairvoyant. We could all see precisely ten minutes and 23 seconds into the future.

It was quickly called 'the overlay' because we would always be aware of it, even if it was in the back of our mind. It would come forward, unbidden if some danger was imminent. We could make decisions that would change the future, and doing this released a little dopamine kick.

As a result, society changed rapidly. Everyone sought out novelty. Writers wrote books with digitally randomized plots (this brought the final demise of the paper book). TV became even more swollen with reality shows that had an audience voting component. Casinos sprung up in every neighborhood and gambling became a national past time practiced by everyone, regardless of age. Improv comedy was suddenly much more popular than it had any right to be.

Incarceration rates were down. Criminals could better assess their risks, and the police could anticipate crime, and both these dampened the actual number of crimes committed. Automotive accidents were almost non-existent. Dictatorships rapidly fell as rebels and revolutionist could easily evade government crackdowns. Force an intimidation do not trump maneuverability even when both sides are enhanced with overlay.

Most people became silent. Sure, there was still the chatter of television, and there were people so addicted to the overlay that they constantly babbled randomized gibberish to themselves for the dopamine surge it gave, but for the majority, there was little point in talking when you knew what the person you were conversing with was going to say after uttering just a syllable in their direction. So in a way, the overlay also gave us what could be called a limited telepathy.

Some of us got good at it. There were meets and competitions. We were paired up with partners we'd never met. We'd each be given an envelope sealed at least ten minutes prior that had a card inside with a subject printed on it. We'd sit face to face, open our envelopes at the sound of a bell, read the subject, and look at our partner. Then we'd run through subjects in our head, guesses, and if the overlay told us we'd won the match, then we knew we had the right subject. The partners that both guessed in the shortest cumulative time would win the meet. What was really strange is that sometimes the spectators knew who would win before the winners did. That always bugged me.

I was moderately good at it. I appeared in several regional meets even. And then one day I opened my envelope and took out a blank card. My heart raced. It had to be an error or a prank and there was no way my partner could guess it. I started to sweat. My partner squinted at me and grunted, and pressed her index finger to her temple, which of course did absolutely nothing, but some people liked to put on a show. I started to hear gasps from the audience. Everyone was turning to look at us.

"Koalas," I said.

My partner smiled. I had guessed her's correctly in under a minute. She tucked her chin to her chest and stared at me intently from under her brow. Any kind of signalling body language was forbidden in the rules so I couldn't shake my head at her, not that would have helped.

And then I came to see what the audience had collectively predicted--my partner sprawled out on the floor and the events leading up to it were somehow skipped over. She saw it at the same time. She stood, frightened, and screamed.

"I forfeit!" I yelled, but the overlay didn't change.

"How?!" she implored.

"I don't know!" I said.

I ran to her, to comfort her, but she shrugged  me away. The meet organizers swarmed us and an ambulance was called, although it was already on its way.

"The future is gone," she said, suddenly calm. Then she went limp and collapse to the floor.

One of the organizers felt for a pulse, but we already knew she was dead. Everyone looked at me. I looked at the card in my hand. I held it up and showed it to the spectators.

"It's blank," I said, sure that any explanation was unnecessary, but everyone gasped again. Words were whispered, and though pre-known, the saying and hearing of them made them more real.

I dropped the card, and it fluttered to the floor, but I was shocked to see it also still in my hand. The card on the floor was gone. I dropped it again with the same effect. I put it in my pocket, but there again was my arm outstretched.

"The overlay is gone!" someone yelled out from the audience.

"It has collapsed to now!" screamed someone else.

Then there was a thunderous cacophony of theories expressed by the simultaneous same handful of people and in the briefest moment a definitive, most statistically likely conclusion was reached. The ships were here to gift us not with clairvoyance or telepathy, but instantaneous, collective knowledge. All that was needed to bring it about was an unlikely, impossible event, and I was the lightning rod for it.

We went outside in time to watch the ships leave. It was a Saturday. That was the last we bothered with naming days.

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