Felix wakes up to the sound of the city outside. Each day, his mornings begin the same.
The city wakes him up. He leaves his bed and walks through the voluminous light flooding in. Even on the greyest of days, it shines through to the living space. He looks out of the live aperture while a fresh brew prepares. Day or night, the skyline remains a busy canvas of image and information; a million colors; a billion bits.
COFFEE IS READY reads the skyline.
His attention snaps. He grabs his cup and sits on the stool rotating away from the skyline towards the unassuming blank wall of his living room. An impromptu screen appears. The system tunes to world news. Everyday, at 0615, he watches trending headlines before moving on to financial updates.
His routine has been consistent for the past several years. Except for the weekends, when he occasionally assumes anonymity to foray off his preferences. To experiment perhaps, or whatever little is left of it.
It has been an unexpectedly lazy morning. He retires his second cup of coffee and minimizes the entertainment tabloids. It’s going to drizzle in the afternoon. For now, it’s sunny. His suit reminds him he’s running late. He hurries out of the apartment for work.
Behind him, everything goes quiet.
It’s an unusually sunny day when Yosef comes out of the central station. For him, though, it couldn’t be more pleasant. He hasn’t been this excited for a long time. Everything is new. He meanders across the park towards
Hermanstraße. An aimless trajectory full of adrenaline and nerves. He is cautiously swift. He was given strict instructions to arrive at the Boddinstraße U-Bahn at 3 pm. He knows he is early but it’s okay because he can’t afford to miss this opportunity. He has waited far too long for this day. There’s a good chance he’d get an evolved biome DRAPE today. Nothing is final yet.
For now, he only has to make contact.
Felix leaves the bicycle at the stall. He walks towards the old John-Lennon Gymnasium building that has been re-purposed for co-working and play spaces for all. To enter, however, he has to punch in a code, much like the old days. The building is comparatively analog in its system operating on largely inherited infrastructure. One reason why the space is popular with people. Most choose to work here for nostalgic reasons. Others, to disappear, even if partially. Felix is a regular too. On nights when he finds himself in this district of the city. He prefers to work here than elsewhere.
It’s a dusty basement space accessible from the back. Fixed shut windows towards the main street. He is escorted by his Turkish contact, Berat, who leaves him at the second door watched over by a tall white man.
‘Take him to Vinko. He knows..’ Berat instructs before leaving Yosef.
Inside, the space is cramped with piles of boxes touching the ceiling. A small disorienting aisle mazes through to a small open lounge. There are a bunch of people watching football on a dynamic projection. The tall man speaks to one of them in Slovenian. Yosef hears a dubbed translation through his ear piece. It’s about the game.
He takes the empty chair. Nervously looking around till his eyes meet one of the hosts. He looks down. A slender looking young man walks through the projection and approaches Yosef. Its Vinko. It has to be Vinko.
‘Hi, I am Vinko. You want a grown DRAPE?’, he asks.
‘Yes. I want a DRAPE with many functions.’, Yosef replies naively.
Vinko pulls out a paper tablet and shows Yosef the process. To secure a grown DRAPE he will have to apply a random hack and hijack a system on minimum function to decrease security notifications. Once the DRAPE profile is ready, Yosef will get a synth and shall remain at the facility for a day before he is allowed to leave. He will have to pay physical money at an address relayed to him after he has left. Failure to do so will result in DRAPE shutdown.
It’s Friday afternoon; Felix wraps up a little early. He has dinner plans with friends. It is not often that they all happen to be in the same part of the city. Besides, it’s friday night. He hops on his bicycle. The drizzle has picked up. His suit jacket realized. It has changed color and lost much of its texture from earlier inside. Felix rides north-west to the Thai restaurant his friends agreed to meet at when his suit speaker gives him an update:
RESERVATION NOT CONFIRMED – CHANGE OF VENUE – EGON.
Barely surprised, he thinks to himself. The Thai place is always packed and reservations are impossible on such short notice.
‘Re-Calculate Map for Egon.’, he speaks to his suit.
A TURN RIGHT sign appears in his sight line just above the cyclist in front of him. A slight tilt to the right and a rear view visual appears to help him cross over. “Writing’s on the wall” by Sam Smith fittingly plays in the background.
More than half the group has left but a few remain. Felix is exhausted when he orders a last round. This is the fourth last round. In his intoxicated state, he makes an earnest effort at Chopin’s Nocturne No.3 in B Major. They always play this game. To go offline and play music without any help or aide. Just your own memory. Your own skill. For those few minutes, you are on your own. A strange quiet feeling. As if one were numb after an anesthetic.
They keep at the game for a while and finish just when the last customer walks out. Felix manages a faint goodnight to his friends. He shuffles across the wet sidewalk and asks for boarding options,
‘Take me home!’, he croons. No response.
‘Home!’, he tries it louder. Still nothing.
‘What the fu*. Take me home!, he shouts now. A man walking at some distance hears him and gazes indifferently.
There is still nothing from the system.
Frustrated, he decides to walk and find an opening himself. After barely a block away he finds a boarding portal. There are plenty of home-spaces. He taps the screen to login. ENTER PIN, it reads. Felix starts to panic now. He taps again. ENTER PIN. Worriedly, he inclines against the portal.
‘Home’, he pushes his voice. No response. As if it went to sleep. Nervously, he taps the portal screen again.
ENTER PIN, so it reads.
“System status. Report Fail’, he blankly commands fearing the worst for his profile.
An automated voice returns, ‘System Missing. Reboot Protocol Initiated.’
He hasn’t see Vinko or the tall Slovenian since he was brought in. He remembers being put to sleep. How long for? He doesn’t know. He has spent the past day in a room with little more three recliners and a table with basic food. His synth has been successful. A notification had appeared in his peripheral vision to the left the day he woke up. Following which, similar notifications appeared with instructions for basic tasks. Yosef had completed all his tasks and was eager to experience more that came with this DRAPE. He has been dying to leave this dimly lit room where his only distraction has been a series of exercises familiarizing him to the responsiveness of the environment.
He was ready he had thought to himself. Anxious to leave.
On his second day awake, Yosef leaves the makeshift lab.
Soon that he steps out he realizes it is not the same neighborhood he had been. They must’ve moved him. That is of little concern to him right now. Like a child he commands,
‘Take me to Mabhuk.’
It is a kehwa shop where he hangs out with his friends. Mostly playing backgammon. He is excited to show off. I would beat them all and then tell them later, he thinks to himself. Most of his friends have evolving DRAPES like he once did. Nobody was crazy enough to spend so much money and take on the risk. For Yosef, this has been an obsession ever since he arrived in the city. To experience a fully integrated life. Be online, fully.
They recorded his statement before he could proceed for a fresh implant. He was not alone in the implant room. People come in for updates, fixes, tweaks, customization, etc. However, he was the end of the queue. His would take longer than the others. The officers were less than sympathetic while hearing his account. There had been an increase in DRAPE hijacks but victims could not escape suspicion owing to the lucrative black-market associated with DRAPES. Stories had emerged of people willingly staging a DRAPE hijack in return for a sizeable fortune. It was akin to selling body organs on the underground in the old days. Authorities are wary of contraband DRAPES given their potential cultivation as cybernetic weapons. Felix knows he’d be under surveillance for a while after this.
He feels awkward before the synth. Worried about what to expect. He has lived with the DRAPE for so long that the past few hours have gone unregistered. As if he were asleep. He feels like a part of him was missing. He knows that his profile preferences are all secure on the cloud but the DRAPE being a biological synth will require some time before it matures into seemingly seamless responsiveness. It’s like growing up again. You move, touch, see, in a different way. The objects and the environment bombard you with cues and information that you learn to accumulate and respond to in real time. Every experience is new. Heck, it’s like growing up again.
His vision keeps flooding with information from both inside the the bus and outside. He closes his eyes for clarity but no sooner they’re open that superimposed assemblages appear again. Whichever direction he turns there are pop-ups, notifications, ads. If it is not distracting enough there is also the voice notifications about the journey. It is way more information than there was in the lab, he thinks. He has given up going for kehwa.
He needs to adjust to the DRAPE. His DRAPE, he smiles when he thinks of it.
For now, he is heading to a home-space suggested by the system. He had requested a self-regulated, synth-responsive, home-space. The bus stops at Kongostraße in Wedding. He is instructed to unboard. The whole journey was automated. It felt like an autopilot. No needless decisions. No hassle. Yosef was already enchanted with his find.
Standing on the curb, he looks up at the cuboidal monolithic mass that gives away very little in appearance. The sombre façade encourages neither eagerness nor appreciation. It is a lifeless mass. Quiet. Just there. Yosef had seen these across the city but never entered one. He takes a deep breath and walks inside.
It is a wide endless expanse. As he moves through it, the space animates into forms that aide direction. A corner appears a few feet in front of him making him turn right. Bemused, he follows. His visual space offers options on different floors.
‘Choose a floor’, the system startles him with a sound byte.
‘Any, Any floor’, Yosef scrambles a nervous reply. He continues with the shifting forms. Following them obediently like school boy on his first day. He looks around to make sense of it but fails. The space brings him to a halt. GOING UP, reads an adjacent surface. He feels a faint weightlessness. It is soon over and he is again instructed to follow.
‘Welcome Home, Yosef’, says a voice.
‘This is it? I made it!’, he utters in excitement.
‘Yes, you did. Welcome Again’, replies the system.
The space is almost empty with barely any physical objects. The walls are all a uniform color. It is bigger than he imagined. He looks around confused while trying to orient himself. He slowly paces across the space. Pulls down the strap from his shoulder and places the duffle bag on a surface next to him. 18.2 KGS. A luminous outline of his bag appears on the surface. Yosef stares in a daze. He suddenly remembers his exercise from earlier. The environment can only be responsive as long as the subject desires, thinks, wishes or wills. He tries to clear his mind and focus on a task. He thinks of the city. An aperture appears. It is almost dark. There are curious texts hovering on the skyline. Yosef has no patience to read that now.
‘Food’, he demands in a croaked voice.
A screen lights up behind him making him turn. It’s like a menu list. Everything is in German. He remembers he has to manually change the home-space system language a few time before adapts the new language. Afterall, he has quickly become oblivious to the disconcerting detail that the system is loading preferences of another human subject. He changes it to Arabic. Its an interactive list that can be categorized by supplies (wet, dry, cold, etc.), food types (dairy, meat, vegetable, etc.), recipes (indian, greek, etc.) and so on. He wonders if any is halal.
‘Show halal food’, he exhorts. A very brief list appears. Hesitantly, he opts for Falafel.
SORRY, WE CAN NOT FIND YOUR CREDIT HISTORY. PLEASE ENTER PAYMENT METHOD – reads the screen.
‘Are you kidding me?’, shouts Yosef in frustration. He taps his detail on the screen. He looks away at the lifeless wall which lits up with a projection. It resumes an episode of the Rick and Morty show.
‘Maafi!’, he hollers, which is immediately followed by, ‘Put on music. Arabic music’.
Flustered he walks inward to explore the rest of the apartment. The bedroom appears as lifeless as the façade from earlier. He can’t help but compare it to the spaces he was accustomed to. A generic looking grey mass lay there in the size of a bed. There is no other furniture in the room. He think of his old bedroom that he shared with a friend. The room suddenly animates. Images appear next to the bed. The sheets take a red hue. The simulated room makes him smile. He closes in on the images. Its a group picture of friends on a beach.
One of them is the owner, it strikes him.
FALAFEL READY, he is interrupted by a projection. Arabic music plays in the back when he sits for dinner.
Somewhere in the city Felix’s helplessness was growing with each fleeting moment he spent in a near dead room. He was struggling to come to terms with an unresponsive environment. He had to perform tasks that usually self- performed. He poured himself a cup of coffee while thinking this was only the fourth time he had ever done so in his life. He remembered how his mother always picked on him for abandoning analog tasks. His parents kept a balance. They cherished their analog life. Fire, handle faucets, a stove, and a whole other list of analog objects that would test his weary patience for them.
He sat on a mattress that was responding to a single profile at a time. How many times would he have to sleep in it and in how many positions before he could arrive at the same level of responsiveness he was so used to for his comfort? These thoughts spiraled his loss into anger. Why him? He had heard stories of such instances. Incidents where DRAPES were erased all together. He wished it was all just a bad dream. He wondered what happened to his DRAPE? Who was using it? That sick bastard, he thought to himself. The loss was unfathomable. It had taken him years to evolve with his DRAPE. It felt like he had lost a part of himself.
He was ignoring calls he had been getting. He broadcasts a single message to his contact list: BUSY, CALL YOU LATER. He knows he has to work through this. His new DRAPE needs interaction to learn. Staying idle will not help, He goes out for a walk.
Yosef went to bed quite late while attempting to re-program his system several times. He is woken up by the sunny glow of the wall. It’s only 0600. He turns over on his side to block out the light but it’s useless. He can hear something brewing. It’s the coffee machine again. How long before the system adapts to him? He’s awake.
It has been like clockwork every single morning since the two weeks.
This was supposed to embody luxury, he thinks, but it is proving quite the opposite. He doesn’t look forward to the coffee. He grew up with kehwa and switching to coffee is not on the cards at this point in life. This is the life he always dreamt of. For everything to be responsive. But two weeks in and the projection of morning news still makes him jump when they suddenly appear on a lifeless wall.
It’s a steep curve before his perceptual system adapts to such a barrage of cues. He knows it is going to be a while. He thinks of staying at a less automated home-space for the night as he takes a sip from the dreaded coffee.