Flash(back) Fiction: In which I predict apps in the year 2001

About 12 years ago, I was making out with a girl and thinking how great it was that we didn’t have to worry about file formats or operating systems or port protocols. Boys and girls were compatible, and required no conversion software to communicate. Well, “communicate.”

Even then, I was a geek.

I kept thinking about the concept of people running software and it became this story. I always meant to revise it – eliminate the hardware, maybe back off the PG-13 a little –  but I lost track of the floppy disk until this weekend. It doesn’t seem nearly so futurist and prescient now, which makes me really wish I’d gotten it fixed up and published back then. I also wish I’d come up with a better title than the file name, “Warez,” suggests.

The full story, unedited, uncorrected, completely unchanged, is after the break.

 

 

                Scot very nearly lost his way to his girlfriend’s house.  He’d been there dozens of times, of course, and had TurnMapper ever crashed, even once?  Not once.  It was a perfectly stable program—only what one should expect, really, when installing an ApoGee, Inc. application on a GeeOS system.  It was the only company that could make reliable programs for its operating system, in fact, and it did it very well.  Still, he had stayed up rather late the night before, and gone through the shutdown procedure a bit quickly.  Could have something to do with it.

                It was fortunate that he’d just turned onto Lara’s street, or might not have made it anywhere.  Even pulling over and restarting the program, as GeeOS suggested, did no good—it just crashed and burned again.  Maybe Lara’s parents would have a TurnMapper chip and he could do a quick reinstall before they went out.

                He pulled into Lara’s driveway and parked with CarOps.  For the first time, Scot was grateful that they were two separate applications.  He exited CarOps and clicked over to Etiquette SE, just in case Lara’s parents answered the door.  He kept FlirtMagic running in the background.

                “Well hello, Scot,” Mrs. Friedrich said at the door.

                “Good evening, Mrs. Friedrich,” Scot replied.  “Lovely night, isn’t it?”

                “You took the words right out of my mouth!” she giggled.  “Lara’s upstairs, come on in…”  Her eyes darted down and to the right for an instant.  “Would you like a drink?  Lemonade, there’s some fruit punch left…”

                Nutrition Monitor had advised Scot to have some milk before he left his house, so his thirst meter was still pretty low.  “No thanks, I’m all set,” he told Mrs. Friedrich.  He always felt a little awkward around his girlfriend’s mother.  Maybe his own parents were right when they suggested he install Etiquette Pro.  The Select Edition just wasn’t as robust with its features.  Wasn’t there upgrade pricing anyway?

                He very nearly sighed with relief when Lara appeared at the top of the stairs.  “Hi Scot!” she called down.  “I’m almost ready—you can come on up.”

                “Hi,” Scot smiled.  He moved toward the stairs, Mrs. Friedrich smiling politely and retreating to the living room.  He was glad her ethics program, whatever it was that she ran, wasn’t particularly conservative.  He reached the second floor and Lara gave him a quick peck on the lips.

                “I downloaded a new date module,” she said, leading Scot back to her room.  “I hope you don’t mind—I know we were going to go to the movies, but there’s a scenario in the module that really looked interesting.”

                “Sure,” he replied.  “We can go to the movies anytime.  What is it?  Although as long as you’re there, I’m sure it’ll be wonderful.”

                Lara blushed.  Did FlirtMagic have her personality type pegged or what?  “Well, how does a candlelight dinner in the park sound?  Since we were going to grab a bite before the movie anyway.  Please say yes, because I already made up a picnic basket for us.”

                “Of course yes.  Sounds great.”

                “Okay then,” she said, dropping a few final things in her purse.  “Let’s go!”  She started toward the hall.

                “Um, actually—can I ask a favor?”

                “Sure.”

                “Do you have an install chip of TurnMapper lying around?  Mine crashed just before I got here, and I think I need to reinstall.”

                Lara mulled it over for a second.  “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we do.  Let me look.”  She went to the media room but stopped in the doorway.  “Wait, you run GeeOS, don’t you?”

                Scot mentally slapped himself on the head.  “Oh.  Yeah.”

                “My family is all on Humix, so we don’t buy cross-platform chips.  Didn’t you get a spare copy for the car?”

                “I’ve never had a problem with it before.”

                “Hmm.”  She darted her eyes and came up with a solution.  “Well, I’ll drive then.  Your car’s a Camry, right?”

                “Yeah.”

                She pulled a chip case from the media shelf.  “I’ll just load that CarOps profile.”  She pulled the chip out of the case and placed it on the optical port on the back of her neck, underneath her thick blonde hair.

                “Thanks,” Scot said.  “Careful there,” he added, moving right behind Lara.  He pulled the chip off and moved an errant strand of hair off the optical port.  He replaced the chip and kissed Lara behind her ear.  “Wouldn’t want a corrupt installation.”

                “Hey, baby, you can corrupt my installation all you want,” Lara said with a gravelly voice before bursting into laughter.  FlirtMagic called that mock seduction, and advised Scot that a few more kisses might be just what his girlfriend was looking for.  It seemed to be right.

                “Install’s done.”  She tilted her head so Scot could remove the chip.  He put it back in the case that Lara was still holding, and she returned it to the shelf.  She turned around and clasped her hands behind Scot’s head.  “Off we go?”

                “Off we go.”

                There was indeed a picnic basket waiting for Scot and Lara in the refrigerator.  A few sandwiches, some prepackaged potato salad and macaroni salad (since Lara couldn’t stand one nor Scot the other, as Lara’s organizer program must have reminded her) and lemonade.  A perfectly respectable picnic lunch—odd, then, that it was for dinner, Scot thought, though maybe that was part of Lara’s date module.  As several nag screens lectured, Scot dutifully carried the basket out to the car.  He also opened the driver’s side door as he handed over his keys.

                “Don’t crash it,” he said.

                “Don’t you trust me?” Lara grinned, with wide, innocent eyes.  Scot shut the door as she sat down and then sidled over to the passenger side.

                Lara’s eyes darted in several directions in quick succession as she accessed the Camry CarOps profile. “Wow,” she whispered idly.  “This profile is almost identical to my parents’ car.  Even uses the two-pedal system.  I thought each car was different.”

                “There are bound to be some similarities,” Scot replied, as Lara turned the key.  “Still, each car model has proprietary systems and everything.  Why else would we need different car profiles?”

                “I suppose.”

                They drove for several minutes in silence.  Scot had been in a car Lara was driving before, but it had been her parents’—it felt a little odd being on the right-hand side of his own car.  He contented himself with glancing at the scenery as it passed by, but it was customary for the passenger to initiate conversations, wasn’t it?  He checked with Etiquette SE; customary, yes, though not a complete absolute.  FlirtMagic suggested a possible topic.

                “You look pretty tonight,” he said.

                Lara smiled again, glancing away from the road for only an instant to flash her grin at Scot.  “You really think so?” she tittered.  “You’re not just saying that?”

                “Of course I mean it,” he answered.  As if today’s programs would let anyone go out looking any less than their best.

“Good.  I was a little nervous about it.”

“Didn’t FashionMagic confirm your appearance?”  She was wearing a light-colored, ankle-length skirt that was thin enough to flow quite accurately over the contours of her legs, along with a tie-dyed tank top.  He couldn’t really tell if she was wearing any makeup.  He suspected not, as his sister had informed him that the natural look was in this summer.

                “Oh, I closed it,” she said.  “It suggested pink.  I didn’t feel like pink today.”  She casually flicked the turn signal on and headed down a side street.

                Scot was shocked.  “You just closed it?  Why did you do that?”

                “I told you.  It wasn’t being helpful.”

                “That’s ridiculous. What’s wrong with pink?  Pink looks good on you.”  At least, that’s what FlirtMagic suggested.  Always compliment a woman’s appearance, almost completely always.

“It wasn’t being helpful.  That’s all.”

“What do you mean, it wasn’t being helpful?  That’s what our apps are for, to be helpful.  Why bother having them if you don’t use them?”  FlirtMagic was not being particularly helpful here.

                “I do use them,” Lara scowled.  “But I didn’t feel like pink today.  Is that so wrong?”

                Let it go, Etiquette SE suggested.  It did seem a little silly to be arguing about.  “I guess not,” Scot said.  “Sorry.”  He glanced at the rearview mirror outside his window.  “Just odd.  I wouldn’t think of dressing without FashionMagic.”

                “Well, I promise I won’t just close CarOps now, OK?  Deal?”  Lara wasn’t one to prolong a fight.

                “Deal,” Scot said.  “My car in one piece is a good thing.”

                “Don’t worry.”  She smiled again.  Situation salvaged.  Scot let the silence linger this time.

                The drive to Babbage Park wasn’t particularly long, but Lara was driving a bit more slowly than Scot would have.  Scot called up BioloGee and identified the trees they were passing as mostly red maples, with a few oaks and a smattering of spruces thrown in for good measure.

                He ran through his daily log and history files to come up with possible conversation topics for the evening.  Of course, FlirtMagic told him, he’d have to comment, favorably, on the setting and nature of the date Lara had chosen, as well as the food—Etiquette SE confirmed that to do otherwise would just be rude.  He also came across the trigonometry exam that he’d done rather well on, his mother’s newest brilliant ideas for his future career and a bit of news he’d come across about Abby Christiensen, Lara’s favorite actress.  He wondered what was going on at the animal shelter where Lara volunteered; that would surely satisfy the checklist he was getting for being interested in Lara’s life as well.  Besides, it would give her a chance to talk.

                Babbage Park came into view on the left, and Lara slowed the Camry down in preparation for the turn.  “Almost home free,” she said.  “Can you believe we’re not sitting upside down in a ditch?  Truly a miracle.”

                “Okay, okay,” Scot answered.  Lara was teasing him, in all likelihood.

                “I hope I can park it,” she said, darting her eyes down several times and smiling goofily.  “The brake, which one is the brake?”

                “Okay, okay,” Scot said, “I said I was sorry for teasing you.  You’re a wonderful driver and my car is better simply for having been driven by you.”

                “And you’re so cute when you’re apologizing.  No, I wasn’t looking at you, I was looking out the windshield, but I just know that.”  The car came to a halt and she moved the gearshift into PARK.

                Scot leaned over and pecked her on the cheek.  “Thank you for treating the car so very nicely.  I bow to your superior driving and adaptive skills.”

                “All right, stop now.  You’re getting smarmy.”  Exactly the word FlirtMagic had told him to go for.  And she was still smiling.

                Scot carried the picnic basket out of the car, as was only proper of course, as Lara led her to the place she had in mind for their dinner.  It wasn’t anywhere near the picnic tables, but he hadn’t really expected it would be; where would be the creativity in that?  Lara’s date module had analyzed the map of Babbage Park and found a spot a few hundred feet from the walking path and down an incline that took them near the water of the stream.

                “This is nice,” he said, putting his free arm around Lara’s waist.  “A bit off the beaten path.”

                “Gee, I hope you won’t mind being alone with me,” Lara monotoned.

                “I’ll live,” Scot replied, planting a sloppy kiss on his girlfriend’s cheek.

                She giggled again.  “Getting fresh already? We haven’t even eaten yet!  Put the basket down and spread out the blanket.”

                “Yes, dear.”

                Lara sprawled out on the blanket as soon as it fluttered to the ground, and Scot had to smooth it out around her, dodging her kiss attacks at every move.  She eventually gave up and unpacked the rest of the picnic basket, making sure to bump into Scot at every opportunity.  He noticed it was just starting to get dark; he tried to check GeeOS’s built-in Environment Database for the time of sunset, but it wouldn’t open for some reason.  Lara had apparently known it would be dusk soon after they arrived, though—the last thing she unpacked was a pair of candles that Scot hadn’t noticed before.

                Scot looked over the spread and was impressed.  He’d finish FlirtMagic’s checklist easily.  “You done good, Lara.”  Picking up her choice of utensils, he asked, “Were these part of the date module too?”

                Lara plucked one from his hand.  “Nope, I just like sporks better.  I mean really, a spoon and a fork in one?  Brilliant.”

                “You amaze me.  Do you use apps for anything?”

                She scooped a sporkful of potato salad into her mouth.  “Of course I do.  For example, right now, FlirtMagic is telling me to tell you to shut up and eat.  I wonder who writes this stuff?”

                “Dunno.”

                Lara frowned.  “Of course, now it’s scolding me for talking with my mouth full.  I’m so sorry.”

                “Savage ingrate.”  Scot said it just as FlirtMagic suggested a sarcastic insult of some sort.

                “I’ll never do it again, I promise,” Lara replied through a large bite of wheat bread and tofu.

                They settled back and enjoyed their meal, Lara taking great care to never speak unless she was chewing something.  Scot tried to impress her by naming every species of waterfowl that floated past on the slow-moving stream; all the information was in BioloGee, of course, which she knew quite well, but she yelled “Bravo!” every time as loud as she could without scaring away the birds.

                By the time they finished the Italian ice Lara had packed, the sun was long gone and dusk was becoming an increasingly questionable designation.  They lay facing each other on the spread-out blanket, the picnic basket shoved aside and holding their trash and recyclables.  “Good production, Lara,” Scot said.  “Much better than a restaurant.”  He kissed her lightly.  “Where does your date module have us going now?”

                “Nowhere.”  She kissed him back, for a little longer than he expected.

                “The park’s closing, you know.”  Babbage Park: Closes at sundown.  Right there in Town Scheduler.

                “You can’t close a park.”  She kissed him again.  “It’s waaaay out in the open.”

                “But we’re not supposed to be here.  People are supposed to go home.”

                “You mean,” she said, looking aghast, “there’s no one else in the whole park?”  She dabbed him on the nose and giggled.

                It dawned on Scot that perhaps Lara did have plans; they just didn’t involve moving from their spot.  As she moved closer and started kissing his neck, he became pretty confident that yes, her plan was to stay put.  Why hadn’t FlirtMagic clued him in?  Even when he queried it directly it didn’t come up with any useful information or suggestions.

                Lara brought her face in front of Scot’s, so that their noses were brushing.  “We’ll just have to deal with being all alone, then,” she whispered.  She looked expectantly into his eyes.

                But what was she expecting?  FlirtMagic just sat there, as if waiting for input.  Scot consciously thought at it: What should I do? while actively thinking about Lara’s position, her proximity and the last few things she’d said.  No response.

                After staring for a few seconds, Lara pulled Scot’s face to hers, making a long, deep kiss Scot’s only real option.  She slowly leaned away onto her back, keeping her hand behind Scot’s neck so that he’d follow her down.

                Scot was panicking.  No matter how many times he queried FlirtMagic, it wouldn’t tell him anything.  He lay nearly motionless, kissing his girlfriend as a stopgap measure.  He finally shut down FlirtMagic and started it again.  For some reason, the Tips dialog came up, giving him pointers on how to use the program.  He’d disabled that feature ages ago.  All his other preferences were gone, too, like automatically loading Lara’s profile; he had to load that manually too.  At least it was still saved.

                Lara pulled just a millimeter away.  “I’m sorry, is this too public?  I didn’t mean to make you nervous.”

                The restarting seemed to help: FlirtMagic suggested stroking Lara’s face.  Scot breathed out with relief.  “No, it’s not that, it’s…”  He wasn’t sure what to say.  Don’t say anything, FlirtMagic told him.

                Lara was pressing her face in the direction of Scot’s hand, her eyes closed, corners of her mouth just slightly upturned.  “It’s nothing,” he told her.  He kissed her again, as advised, and this time she pulled him tightly to her, slipping her hands under his shirt.

                One of FlirtMagic’s basic assumptions was the wisdom of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have done to you.  It also assumed the converse, that when someone does something to you, it’s a reasonable supposition that they wouldn’t mind the same treatment.  The program didn’t give the full reasoning behind its advice, but its analyzation of Lara’s reaction to Scot’s hands under her shirt added another useful, positive entry into Lara’s profile.

                “So you don’t mind being all alone in a park with me after dark?” she said.

                “Apparently I can deal with it,” Scot answered.

                “Good.”  She moved her hands up and got Scot out of his T-shirt.  FlirtMagic didn’t offer any advice on how best to assist her, so it was a bit awkward, but she managed.

                After de-shirting him, she pulled Scot tight again, kissing him while trying to talk.  “…Because…”  Scot would’ve thought some reciprocal action might be in order, but there was no suggestion waiting for him.  He queried FlirtMagic, but it didn’t respond at all.  Not even an acknowledgement that his query was being logged.

                “Because I think I’m ready,” Lara was saying.  Ready for what?  Scot couldn’t even open a query dialog that time.  He tried to open a menu, any menu, but FlirtMagic was completely frozen.  He had to cancel its process completely, wait for GeeOS to flush it out of memory and try to start it again.

                “You’re…you’re ready?”  It wouldn’t start.  The splash screen came up once, stayed there for ten seconds before Scot had to cancel process again.  After that it wouldn’t even get to a splash screen.

                “Yeah, I’m ready.  You haven’t tried to pressure me or anything; you’re a great guy,” she said.  She had her hands down near the front of his jeans.  “I want to.”

                He tried to activate GeeOS’s diagnostic program, but that froze at the splash screen too.  Cancel process.  He flicked his eyes down, up, trying to find some app that would open.  Even the clock adjustment dialog froze.  “You want to?”

                She nodded slowly, moving her hands down.  “I want to.”  She kissed him again.

                Good lord.  She was talking about sex!

                He futilely tried opening FlirtMagic again.  There was a module on this he’d been waiting to try.  Of all the times to crash!  “Um…are you sure?” he said.  “Because, you know, I wouldn’t—”

                Lara planted her lips on his to stop him talking.  Scot could feel her tugging at his jeans.  “I want to.”

                Scot couldn’t get a single app to open anymore.  Even the response to his eye-darting seemed sluggish.  He clicked and clicked—nothing.

                He pulled away suddenly.  Lara had been leaning on him and stumbled the inch or so to the ground.  “I can’t.”  He stroked her arm.

                She propped herself up, ran her finger over his chest?  “Why?  What’s wrong?”

                He concentrated on her arm.  “My apps aren’t working,” he said.  “A memory leak or something.  I guess it wasn’t just CarOps, it’s the whole GeeOS install.”

                “Oh.”  She let her hand wander, down to his stomach, just above his jeans again.  “So shut it down.”  She kissed him again, lightly.

                He didn’t let her kiss him for long.  “Shut it down?” he said, yelling and whispering at the same time.  “Are you crazy?”

                “You don’t need it,” Lara said.  “It helps.  It’s nice.  But you don’t need it.  Here, I’ll shut down Humix.”  He watched her eyes dart left and right, selecting menus and check boxes for shutdown.  You did that every once in a while, when you went to sleep, when you did a full diag cycle, not when you were awake—wide awake.

                Her eyes came back forward.  “See?  No big deal.  You can reinstall after you go home.”

                “I can’t drive home like this!”

                “I’ll drop you off.  We can figure out something with the cars later, look, it’s fine.”  She ran her hand through his hair.  “I want to be with you right now.”

                Scot tried in vain to open up his scheduler to see when she could pick him up again so he could retrieve his car.  It wouldn’t open, of course.

                “Scot,” Lara said, “what is the exact color of my hair?”

                He stared at it.  He had no app to ask.  Some kind of blonde, but he couldn’t retrieve a precise name from her profile.  She opened her mouth again.  “What’s my mom’s oldest sister’s birthday?”  Nothing.  “I couldn’t tell you either right now.  It doesn’t matter.”

                “I’ve never done this before.”

                “Neither have I.”

                He grabbed her other hand and clutched it as he darted to GeeOS’s main menu.  It hesitated as it opened, but it came into view and presented the shutdown options in one section.  Shut down?  Restart all services?  “Maybe I can just restart,” he said.  “Give me a minute…”

                “We don’t need apps here,” Lara said.  She took his hand, moved it across her chest.  She took a deep breath.  “The human body knows how to do this.”

                Shutdown?  Dart.

                <OK>.

                GeeOS shuddered as it halted all its processes, slowly.  The dialogs popped into view and half-disappeared, becoming gray without text, instead of vanishing like they were supposed to.  Each one piled on top of the last, until eventually all processes were halted, and all Scot could see was what was in front of him.

He moved his eyes back to face his girlfriend.  Her pupils were millimeters from his; she was breathing on his face.  “Just you and me,” she said.  He instinctively tried to open some anxiety-relief app, but there was none to be found.  “If you need suggestions, I’m happy to help.”  She moved his hand again, slowly under her skirt and up her right leg.  For the next half-hour, he did exactly as she told him.

2 Responses to Flash(back) Fiction: In which I predict apps in the year 2001

  1. Pingback: » I TOLD you it was terrible John "jaQ" Andrews

  2. Finally got the chance to finish this, and it *is* familiar, so I’m pretty sure you sent it to me when you first wrote it — but I’m kind of astonished at how fresh it still is. You may have predicted apps, but this story almost works better now that they’re so commonplace. It feels a bit more satirical than I think it felt originally — but that works for it, too. :)

    Glad you sent me the link!

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