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Authors: T. Warwick

The Artificial Mirage

BOOK: The Artificial Mirage
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The Artificial Mirage

T. Warwick

Copyright © 2013 T. Warwick

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 0615820611

ISBN-13: 9780615820613

ebook-ISBN: 978-1-63007-078-6

CONTENTS

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

1

I
n the French café across from Reunification Palace, the electricity had been out for several minutes. Charlie watched as the thick cobalt windows sent blue sunlight flickering through Lauren’s wavy auburn hair. Beneath her violet contacts, her eyes seemed to smile. Her presence minimized all reminders of the augmented reality advertising that existed outside on the streets of Saigon: dinosaurs that pranced out onto the sidewalk from sports bars, cheering soccer and rugby matches as they promoted happy-hour specials; city skylines that changed from Makati to Beijing to Mexico City and crumbled as people walked through them. When the bars closed at night, iridescent augmented-reality men and women modeling erotic attire lingered on every corner entreating passersby to purchase and download them: “circus acts for the poor,” he had told her once during an awkward pause in a conversation about money and shopping.

He looked at Lauren through layers of data and felt calm. The real-time chart of his dong-dollar position was spiking up her left cheekbone like an EKG emanating from a scribbled mustache above her lips, plump yet petite lips that could be obscured by a large scallop on her fork. The Fibonacci bands on the chart gently pulsed in symbiotic unison to the healing Solfeggio frequencies being piped into his right earbud.

Lauren flicked through the menu with her fingernail stylus, which left traces of miniscule, multi-colored bears that inflated and popped like bubbles in its wake. The menu contained photos of the entrees and videos of the chef preparing them. There was even a short film on the history of some of the spices used.

Every thousandth of a penny brought him closer to breaking even. The clock in his peripheral vision morphed into an official reminder that three hours remained before he had to settle his previous trade. Unless sufficient funds were available to cover it, his account would be frozen. He had made the classic mistake of trusting his own judgment over an AI. Using his stylus ring, he
traced over every spike in the refreshed hourly chart. It was taking longer than expected. All the charts and economic reports were showing a reversal, but Chi Capital Markets’ newest AI had illuminated a brief window of opportunity that could be exploited for a few hours. Leverage made everything possible—it kept him alive. At thirty, he had already had the beginnings of a cancerous tumor in his brain dissolved—the cost of doing business. After chasing the Asian dream for four years, he was finally dreaming it.

“The trend is your friend,” he incanted beneath his breath, unaware of the waiter until he had refilled their champagne flutes with the last of their bottle of Krug. An AR display of the bottle hovered above the table and poured out AR bubbles that drifted before falling to the floor and dissipating.

“Thank you,” Lauren said to the waiter with a smile.

He watched her as she watched the waiter walk away, his blond ponytail flipping back and forth across his heavily starched white shirt.

“Relax, Charlie,” she said. She reached across the table and held his hands.

“I’ll relax when we’re out of Saigon.”

“That’s a long time to wait.”

“It depends. We can’t live in this toxic cesspool forever.”

“I know.”

“Nobody can.” He observed the position approaching the target price. Three dragons with green scales chased a white comet, hundreds of thousands of dong gained and lost with every twinkle.

“I love you,” she said as she closed her eyes deliberately and then reopened them with her trademark expression of wonder.

“I know.”

“Oh?” she said.

He picked up the crystallized candy shaped like an elephant dangling from the edge of her flute and munched on it without losing his lock on her eyes, which implored him to stop before finally relenting.

She took a small sip from his flute before carefully placing it back in the exact spot she had taken it from.

“Here,” he said. He flicked her an app that made her AR contacts show everything as silver for thirty seconds. She swallowed silently as she became keenly aware of the shapes and textures of everything around her. The silvery glow carried with it a feeling of meditative calm she hadn’t felt all month.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Do you like it?” He scuffed his wrist on the starched white linen tablecloth as he reached across and wisped her inner thighs with his fingertips. The chart was moving so perfectly that his eyes darted to the corner to make sure it was being refreshed in real time.

“Yes,” she said.

Using a different app, he drew in the tiles embedded in the stucco walls to join the swirl of clouds accompanying the ascent of the dragons on the chart. He gave Lauren’s brown eyes flecks of blue and green like oil paints that hadn’t assimilated.

Lauren used her pink ring stylus to flick a receipt for a short white dress with a video of her modeling it to his glasses.

“Chanel,” she said.

“You can stop showing off now.”

“It’s original.”

“So are you.”

“As original as Chanel?”

“More.”

“I know,” she said. She picked up her champagne flute and smiled sarcastically.

“Come on. Let’s go.” He grabbed her hand as she planted the flute on an adjacent table. The lunch crowd had long since deserted the place. Blue stars flowed from his hand to the waiter’s stylus as his encrypted payment was transmitted.

Outside, the sound of traffic was a monotonous whine. He braced for the inundation of input. Lauren had clicked on several promotions. He looked over and watched her dancing with an animator’s version of a short giraffe with red and blue spots selling insurance. Men and women in androgynous business attire flowed around them like water around rocks in a brook, chasing after their own AR projections. Prying her away from the giraffe’s sales pitch, he took her hand as they crossed the street.

They walked through the security gate of Reunification Palace and past a booth touting the latest AR guide app. He flicked the entrance fee to the icon above the booth, and the attendant nodded. His position had retraced slightly, but the trend was still intact.

Reunification Palace contained all the things that a palace shouldn’t, he thought as they approached the steps to the palace itself. It was nothing
like Buckingham or Belvedere or Versailles. Inside walls of clear glass looking out onto plain lawns, there were plastic chairs with generic factory-made upholstery around Formica conference tables. AR generals and government officials paced around with furrowed brows.

They slowed down as they passed a live tour guide recounting the arrogance and deception of the surrendering former government to a group of tourists. Lauren tugged at his wrist and guided him down the stairs to a courtyard and into a stone garage where the familiar replica of the jeep that had been used to deliver the announcement of American surrender stood. He drew her to the back of the garage and gathered up her long, flowing paisley dress. Multiple projection indicators frolicked on the chart with the dragons. “Don’t fight it,” he whispered in her ear as he pushed into her deeply. The comet began flashing red above the spare tire on the back of the jeep. His position had touched on a new resistance level. The flashing red comet acted as a metronome that his body followed exactly until he felt her body stiffen and begin to quiver. She gasped quietly as the sound of tourists’ footsteps became louder.

As they made their way out of the palace grounds to the parking lot behind the café, she walked ahead of him. Occasionally, she looked back at him over her shoulder as he followed in a blissful daze, stepping on and off the sidewalk to avoid people. His shirt was unbuttoned and his tie was dangling, but she remained impeccable in her public appearance. He strayed behind her and watched her hips propel her taut legs in her deliberate and defiant manner of walking. Her legs managed to stay straight with each fast step that was equivalent to one-third of his step.

When they got to the parking lot, he slipped the loose paper money in his pocket to the valet without looking at it. As soon as the car door shut, the clamor of the street was silenced, and he listened to himself take in a single breath before starting the car. He opened the window and slipped some more loose dong to the old man who stood at the edge of the parking lot pretending to guide him out.

Lauren leaned back and closed her eyes as the black Aston Martin inched its way through the late-afternoon traffic of scooters and bicycles. She seemed to open her eyes instinctively as they neared the narrow, clear-glass building that housed Chi Capital Markets, which stood out from the surrounding grit and grime and traffic chaos with its immaculate white walls.
The only apparent color came from the people and the charts and graphs and tickers running wildly along with snippets of video reports in the windows; a kaleidoscope of unintelligible input that drew her in closer and closer.

He set the car to amble within three blocks of the office and waited for her to get out first as they approached the entrance. He put his glasses back on and got out. As he strode through the clear acrylic elevator doors that dominated the lobby of the thin building, he felt his muscles contorting under his sleeves.

“What’s the matter, Charlie?” Lauren asked as she rubbed the side of his head affectionately.

“Position’s moving away from me.”

“You put in a stop, right?”

He grimaced with the unconscious belief that his personal confidence could transcend the fluctuations in a position. The actual money and the use of it to buy things or build things had become nearly immaterial to him. And whether he dined in a French restaurant or a sidewalk pho shop, he would inevitably find his way back to the primitive game of moving lines and dots out of sheer compulsion.

Returning to the elevator, he watched Saigon’s skyline rise up before stepping out into the lifeblood of the machine: the crème de la crème of the sales force. It was a nostalgic nod to a retro system from the Old World, from where he’d sprung. Back in New York, people had more faith in the best AI models than in people. But in Saigon they craved the bravado of a real person. Somehow, they still believed it when someone told them that everything was going to be fine.

All of the men’s heads turned to watch Lauren as she strode down the aisle between their workstations, her hips swaying like it was a catwalk. She greeted their yearning looks with disgust. Chi’s chairwoman had once told her that the inspirational buzz she created among the male staff was worth far more to the firm than her technical skills. And then she invited her back to her hotel room. Lauren had felt oddly obliged. She never told Charlie about it.

Having a family genealogy tainted by French colonialism made her exotic, but it was also the foundation of her spiteful pride. It was the pride of knowing both sides of the coin, East and West. As a girl, she had liked to think that she was more evolved because she possessed both Eastern and Western DNA, resulting in a better understanding of the world. Later, as
she matured, she felt fluid and unrestrained in her emotional attachments to other people. How could she feel attached to people who could not understand her predicament? In their eyes, she was to be revered or ostracized. She would have neither. After six months of doing the
Saigon Business Report
, she had acquired a loyal following of admirers within the trading community. Occasionally, they would tell her about “an uneasiness” or “a lack of restraint” in a position they were dumping. Sometimes, they sent her flowers. It paid little, like working at a museum, and she was let go at the end of her contract.

Charlie walked up the clear plastic spiral staircase that led to his office. The clear plastic floor of his office hovered over the brokers. It had the sparse feel of an art gallery. Everything appeared glaringly new. Even the black Donna Karan bean bag, a thirty-year-old collectible, exuded factory freshness. There was a small garden of green plants in the right corner facing a wall of glass where a small brook gently gurgled its way over smooth stones. He looked down and savored the setting sun shining dully on the brook and the plants. Yet, it wasn’t nature that brought him solace; it was the subjugation of nature. He looked down meditatively on the traders as they peered through eyes covered in the gauze of muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety meds at patterns within patterns in charts deciphered by a multitude of AI trading models. Everything was as it should be. Everything was in harmony.

BOOK: The Artificial Mirage
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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