‘Existence is useless!’ Nike shouted gleefully as he threw the controls into hyperdrive, pushing the spaceship towards the black hole, risking all in an attempt to break the space-time continuum.....
‘May as well... I've just crashed and burned YET again.’ Nike turned from the console and grinned at Omo, the purveyor of the pizza. ‘Where's Flora?’
‘In front of the US™ as usual,’ Omo replied.
A shriek from the direction of the ULTIMATE® US™ screen proved his hunch to be correct. The boys ran towards the common room to find Flora jumping up and down in an aggravated manner.
‘What's up?’ they asked in unison.
She pointed at the 90 inch screen which held pride of place on the feature wall. On it was a tiger, in a poor state, effectively breathing its last.
‘Look,’ she gasped. ‘It's the last tiger. The very last. Dying.’
‘Uh, huh.’ The boys were unimpressed.
‘Pizza?’ offered Omo.
Flora threw him the dirtiest of glances. Nike realised he'd better try another approach. ‘Where'd you get that programme from?’
‘It's a live stream,’ she replied.
Now Nike was interested. ‘No. No way. They never.... it's got to be archived.’
‘NO.’ Flora was adamant. ‘I'm telling you. This is a live stream. We are watching the last tiger in the world DYING right now, right here, in our living room.’
Omo squinted closer at the caption in the bottom righthand corner. ‘No, Flora, it's in a zoo, in Berne.’ Omo was good at missing the point.
‘What's a zoo?’ Nike asked. ‘Where's Berne?’
The reply came as a spoken response simultaneously typed out on the lower left quadrant of the screen.
ZOO: Definition. Short form of zoological gardens. A public garden or park with a collection of animals for exhibition or study.
BERNE: Place name. Capital of Switzerland. Founded in 1191 – The period known as the medieval period in history. Toblerone chocolate bar and Emmental Cheese brands originated here. Albert Einstein worked here. THIS INFORMATION HAS COST YOU TEN KNOWLEDGE CREDITS. FOR MORE INFORMATION…
‘Stop it,’ Flora screamed. ‘I can't see what's going on. Stop asking stupid questions. Just WATCH.’
The boys sat on the sofa either side of Flora who had sunk back into the luxurious faux leather, and munched on their pizza as the tiger breathed its last.
When finally it was dead, a commentary began, giving details on ‘the once mighty tiger....’
Flora cried. Omo and Nike were shocked. They'd never seen Flora cry before. In fact, neither of them was sure they'd ever seen anyone actually cry before. Not live, in front of them. It was a day of firsts. And lasts, if you were the tiger.
Nike wasn't too bothered by the tiger. It wasn't the sort of thing he was interested in. And he couldn't afford to ask questions except on the things that DID interest him. Asking questions only got you into debt. Nike was running out of credit at the ULTIMATE® knowledge bank. He was always running low. He asked too many questions. And where knowledge is a currency, being overdrawn was always a danger for a guy who couldn't stop asking questions. Being overdrawn is no fun. It meant that instead of playing the usual games he would have to do some ‘productive’ consuming. Nike hated being ‘productive’.
PRODUCTIVE: Definition. In History being productive of or engaged in the production of goods or producing commodities of exchangeable value. In current parlance being ‘productive’ is a component part of the ULTIMATE® way of life where to be ‘productive’ is to engage in activity directed by ULTIMATE® (usually the engagement or analysis of consumer behaviours) with the aim of gaining knowledge or memory credits which can then be exchanged via the ULTIMATE® knowledge and Memory Bank system.
Nike had developed quite sophisticated ways to cheat the system. Omo didn't like to ask questions. Wasn't interested. So Nike traded knowledge credits with his pal on a daily basis. But it had come to the point where he'd used up nearly all the credits on Omo's vault as well. And if Flora ever stopped crying about the tiger and went back to her own knowledge vault, she'd find that her password had been hacked and her bank account raided too. Nike wasn't proud of that, but it was like an addiction.
However much Flora tried to explain to him that it was pointless... because knowledge wasn't meaning and meaning was personal and so there was no point to any of it, other than the point you created yourself in your own vault... Nike just couldn't stop asking questions. So, now that he was in a barren desert, it was time for more drastic action.
‘We should go and see my Nan.’ Nike suggested.
‘Why?’ A question from Omo. That was unusual. But it was not a real question. Not a question with meaning. For Omo, ‘why’ was like grunting. No thought went into it, it was just a knee jerk reaction and he didn't care if he got an answer or not. Questions didn't interest Omo, and answers interested him even less. Omo was a model citizen in that respect.
‘She's got lots of stories to tell. Her vault is amazing. And (this was for Flora) she'll know about tigers. She knows all about animals and nature and that sort of historical thing.’ Nike put his best case forward.
The deal was done. They would go and visit Nike's Nan.
‘We should take her something. Something real,’ Nike said.
‘Something real? What?’ Flora replied. Omo just sucked on an ULTIMATE® sweet and said nothing.
Nike answered, ‘I don't know. What do old people like?’
The US™ screen replied.
GIFT GIVING: In History, a Scottish tradition. On visiting family members or acquaintances, one would take a gift of some sort. Acceptable gifts included a range of consumer items such as Flowers, chocolates, wine.. Live animals and expensive consumer items are not appropriate. YOU HAVE 10 ULTIMATE® CREDITS LEFT TODAY.
‘Boy,’ said Omo. ‘You're really going to have to be careful on the questions now.
‘It's not fair,’ replied Nike, ‘I didn't even want an answer to that one. I wasn't even asking a question. I was just thinking.’
Omo laughed. ‘Don't think out loud, Nike. How many times has Pryce told you that?’ He put on Pryce's accent, ‘Thoughts are best kept in the head. Meaning is personal and thoughts are personal. There is no currency in thought or meaning so don't bring it into the public arena.’
‘All right, all right.... give me a break,’ Nike replied, ‘we'll get her some flowers. Where....?’
Flora cut him off short. ‘I'll sort it Nike. I can buy things without losing question credits. I know how to shop.’
‘No problem. Now get me some pizza will you?’
The boys went off to provide Flora with pizza, happy that she was eating at last. And that finally they'd distracted her from that hideous tiger.
In the kitchen they waited for the ‘ping’ which would tell them the pizza was done. A whole four minutes. That's because they didn't have the newest microwave. You could get a pizza in 36 seconds if you had the latest model but who needed their pizza in 36 seconds? Who cared? While the Project Kids were supplied with all their requirements, if they wanted the very best of the best, they had to put in more ‘productive’ work. And it wasn’t worth it for a microwave when there were so many other things you could do with your credits. So they waited the regulation four minutes. Normally not a problem, but today it seemed like a long time to stand in a kitchen waiting, so the boys resorted to conversation. Of a kind. Conversation was an art going the same way as the tiger, certainly amongst Project Kids such as Omo and Nike. They were better at doing, or avoiding, ‘productive’ work. Their lives were lived virtually and real interaction was neither encouraged nor considered normal. Of course they talked to counsellors when schedules had to be changed or the like, but most needs could be met by a virtual exchange.
‘It wasn't pretty was it?’ Omo said.
‘The tiger? No. It was kind of ratty. I reckon it would be better off dead than living like that.’
‘I meant Flora crying.’
‘Girls used to cry all the time,’ Omo observed. ‘In History. I saw about it on the US™. Cry and cry and cry.’
‘Why?’ Nike mouthed... he was wise to this. If he asked this question out loud he'd break his credit limit and he'd have to spend the rest of the day in ‘productive’ work to regain his balance.
‘Not clear,’ Omo replied, ‘Emotions. Hardship. Love. All kinds of silly things. NOT things you should be asking questions about. Not with your credit rating.’
PING. That was the pizza ready.