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This piece is heavily inspired by the works of Ray Bradbury and Mark Osborne's MORE.
What is the meaning of life?
My fingers shudder at the pamphlet within them, the papers seemingly glaring at me as I returned their gaze. Large, bolded script spells out the acronym “F.U.N.” on the top of the paper.
Humans have been pouring over this question for millenniums, desperately searching for a be-all end-all meaning to their struggle before death. Since I was a boy, I have pursued this question, and the answer that I came up with back then is the one I hold with me to this day: The meaning of life is having fun.
I shift uneasily in my seat and adjust the rim of my glasses. I can’t make any judgements now, but this manual is going down a sour route.
Think about it, dear reader. Every action taken in life’s many chapters consist of seeking out joy. When someone eats or drinks, they do so because it is not fun to starve. If one were to give something to someone else, he or she does so because the fun they will have watching the other enjoy their gift outweighs the sacrifice of losing what is given. Wars and terrorism erupt not because the people who start them wish to inflict pain and fear, contrary to popular belief. Such atrocities start because those who commit them believe the fun of themselves and their people outweigh the agony caused to their victims. So, if every action taken in life is a pursual of happiness, then why should other emotions exist? In this age, we possess the technology to blot all these ‘bad’ emotions out (anger, disgust, sadness, etc.), yet I seem to be the first to pursue such a thing.
I have the set the paper down to stop my fingers from visibly shaking in anger, the words within the pamphlet blurring in my hatred of them. The man who created such a machine that this print is attached to is obviously technologically smart, and nobody can deny that. However, his philosophy is childish to a point where I question the authorities that let him come up with such a device, cursing them for causing the downfall of this country 4 years ago, the date of the machine’s conception.
A F.U.N. was shoved into my arms as I made my way back to my apartment by a saleswoman outside a grocery store with only a smile and the words:
“You won’t regret it.”
I sigh, bringing up the pamphlet yet again just to see how far the man’s insanity could go.
This is why I developed the F.U.N.: Feelings Under Nobody. The name derives from the fact that the device puts feelings into your control, so even your ex-lover or annoying boss can’t stop you from having fun. Simply insert into your bodial drive located where the spine meets the neck, and you are good to go. Do not fear: drives have been used to control emotions before. Their ability to connect with the nerves running to your brain allow other drives to help people suffering from depression or cool down those with anger issues. Upon plugging in the F.U.N., your thoughts will instantly become reality due to small electronic pulses the F.U.N. uses to control your sight, smell, taste, hearing and even touch on all portions of the body. Don’t get too lost in the wondrous world of the F.U.N. though. If you ever need to cease the effects of the drive, simply say out loud the voice command: “Stop the fun.”
I roll my eyes despite the fact that there was nobody around to see me do so. Of course you could cease the effects of the F.U.N., but no one wanted to. Unemployment spiked as workers simply forgot about reality, stuck in their own homes living out their dreams. Suicides have reached a record high as many were forced to turn off their F.U.N.s to go to work, realizing actual reality isn’t worth living in if they can’t experience the same fun they had in their own perception of life. This in turn prevented the government from giving in to those petitioning that the F.U.N.s were destroying us, as the government would have to make them illegal and confiscate all of the devices in the country, resulting in what could be the largest mass suicide of all time by a tenfold; it would be disastrous. With the added peril of the stock market being a husk of what it once was, our society is stuck between a rock and a hard place with nowhere to move.
Trembling, I bring the pamphlet back up to my eyes.
The F.U.N. is an undeniable stroke of genius and is already being used by billions around the world. However, I feel that everybody should be able to join in on the fun, leading me to come up with the “Fun for Everyone” project, which aims to supply F.U.N.s to everyone around the world for free, even airdropping them to places in need. On that ‘fun’ note, I feel it appropriate to end this manual here. Insert the drive and have some fun. -Professor Frederick Undelobach Nikolov
I slam the paper down and sweep the packaging of the F.U.N. into the trash with one large sweep, the device still inside it. My entire body tenses up in outrage, and I have to force myself into a cough to prevent me from saying some choice words out loud.
How are people okay with what the F.U.N. has done?
The answer is not that people are or aren’t “okay” with how the F.U.N. has affected us, it’s that people simply do not have a reason to care. Those who are against the machine have realized there protests are doing nothing long ago, and the ethics of such a device doesn’t matter to those who use it.
In fact, to them, nothing matters. When a F.U.N. is operating, anyone could live out their dreams of being a celebrity, curing cancer, or murdering millions.
The thought of what some people could experience with a F.U.N. is downright terrifying.
Without thinking, I find myself at the door, struggling to pull my coat over my shoulders. The professor’s mansion isn’t far from my apartment, but what am I going to do? Kill him? I would be charged as if I assassinated the president.
I will talk to him, I decide. Show him my philosophy. Surely he will understand.
As I make my way to the door leading to the outside, the ridiculousness of the situation occurs to me. A 25-year-old talking some sense into a 60 year old billionaire with support from over half of the people living in the world.
I saunter down the street in awkward gait, holding my arm up to guard my eyes from the sun that failed to warm the brisk autumns that envelop this city from time to time. The professor’s estate towers in the distance. Getting closer, I begin to feel like I’m being looked down upon by a tall man with a crooked smile, his silence sending off invisible threats.
As I approach the front gate of the mansion, a thought occurs to me. How am I going to get in? Would I have to break into his pavilion just to talk with the man?
As if the Professor could hear my thoughts, he appears, walking towards the gate with 3 bodyguards covering his sides and back.
“Hello there, sir!” Chimes the Professor, fumbling with the latch. “Are you going out for an afternoon stroll as well?”
His words are surprisingly clear, despite the obvious F.U.N. drive protruding from the back of his neck. Rumor has it that those who have been under the F.U.N.’s influence for a good while can begin to sense what is going on in real life. And since the Professor has most likely been using the F.U.N. since it’s birth, he has mastered the art of experiencing two realities at once.
“Afternoon stroll.” Repeat the guards. They most likely are trained to perform real-world actions under the influence of the F.U.N., using his words as a way to tether themselves to reality and prove to the professor that they are doing so. The professor would be a hypocrite if he forced his guards to unplug if they wanted to go to work, and this must be the way he lets his workers enjoy both worlds.
“Uh… Sort of.” I manage.
The Professor stands silent, running his hand through his hair to prevent awkwardness from settling in.
“You see… Uh…”
What am I going to tell him? Even if I do manage to get all the correct words out without stuttering or making myself look like a fool, it’s not like he’s just going to realize all my points and immediately shut down the F.U.N. project.
“Well?” Says the Professor, looking down at his watch.
“Okay. How do I say this… Your philosophy is wrong. I’ve waited long enough… Four years? Okay, yeah, four years, I’ve waited that long to say this to you…”
The Professor frowns, and the rest of his body frowns too. His eyebrows draw into a line, his feet began to awkwardly shuffle, and he crosses his arms. His guards tense up.
“Anyway, what you don’t understand is that suffering is part of human nature. Humans have existed since the stone ages because of a careful balance between suffering and-”
“Fun.” Says the Professor, keeping his distasteful look.
“Yes, fun… Humanity has always existed because ‘bad’ emotions: Fear, disgust, and anger, were kept in check by happiness. Or as you like to call it: Fun. You are presenting humanity with an option to experience only fun, so by default actual reality becomes inferior. Giving back the ability to suffer is the only way-”
“So you’re telling me you want to suffer- No, you like to suffer.” The Professor spits out the word “like” as if it were poison.
“No, I want to bring back the balance-”
“Be honest with yourself, boy.” He looks me straight in the eye. “You want the ability to suffer again.”
“Yeah, you’re right, but you’re failing to understand-”
“Hah!” The Professor cuts me off with a single-noted, trumpet-like laugh.
“Hah!” His guards repeat.
“Look, young man. I think you’ve been suffering too much lately. Just loosen up and have some fun.”
One of his guards snaps from his trance and produces a drive from his pocket.
I turn to run but the guard snatches my trailing arm. He tries to put the drive into my neck but misses, as he’s still seeing another reality, barely aware of this one. He tries a few times more, the cold metal of the drive hitting the surrounding flesh of my neck.
“Don’t forget.” Says the Professor, putting a hand on my shoulder as his guard attempts to jab the drive in. “If you really don’t like it, you can stop it at any time by simply saying ‘Stop the Fun’”.
“Stop the fun.” Mock the guards, but not before the Professor’s eyes bulge open in fear, realizing what he just did.
Now seeing the real world in it’s mind-numbing grey, without the constant dopamine flow that the F.U.N. grants, the Professor can’t do anything but scream. He wails for a good while, sinking to his knees. His guards follow, crumpling to the ground and covering their eyes and ears.
It occurs to me that the Professor and his guards haven’t seen the real world for a good time now. Since they still have a slight perception of reality, there simply hasn’t been a need.
While the Professor and his service struggle to turn their F.U.N.’s back on, I pick up one of the guard’s ID cards and walk right past them, sprinting for the still-open door of the mansion, hope lingering in my heart that those were the only guards the Professor had.
I manage to find my way into the main server room without getting seen, but the door was locked due to the technicians being on a lunch break. Sliding the guard’s ID through its sensor, I slip inside.
After the World-Fi plan was put in place, which gave every square mile of the earth fast and accessible internet, everything was given an internet functionality, including most body drives. The F.U.N. was no different, using the internet to share your fantasies with your friends, among other things, and the two supercomputers in the regulation room are meant to update and supply information to F.U.N.s everywhere.
“Heh.” I mutter to myself, alone in the dimly lit area. “I thought that technology major was going to be useless.”
Within the spacious workroom are the two hulking processors: The script receiver and command prompter. The script receiver, a giant screen connected to an even bigger processor with lines of code constantly running down it, quickly and efficiently pings every single F.U.N. in the world to make sure everything is running fine, along with supplying information to F.U.N.s that request it. The command prompter’s screen was much smaller, but it’s processor was about the same size. It’s job was to allow the technician behind the screen to update and edit pieces of code, allowing for constant maintenance of the program. With the microphone next to the prompter, one could also tell announcements to the user’s F.U.N.s directly through the feed.
Excited to end it all, I rush up to the microphone, write a script call into the command prompter to allow for a direct recording to all users, and say into the microphone:
“Stop the fun.”
My head quickly spins to the script receiver, but nothing changes. Regular status scripts continue to pour down the many lines it’s receiving. Nothing happened.
A few moments later, I have a startling revelation. To shut down all F.U.N.s around the world, I needed the words to be said in the user’s own voice. And I needed to make the shutdown permanent.
The voice data was stored somewhere in the individual scripts for each F.U.N.. I eventually find the script storage line for the user’s voice, used for recognition if for shutdown. Copying the script into the recording portion of the command prompt, I modify the input for the microphone voice to change to a simple “text-to-speech” program, taking a deep breath and reminding myself that this is the right thing to do. Like little ants, the white lines of text dash about the receiver screen, taunting me to make them all stop.
Within the text-to-speech command prompt, I type:
“Stop the fun.”
And hit enter.
The script receiver begins to slow down due to all the signals it’s getting.
“user_111002 has shut down”
“user_111003 has shut down”
I madly search the script for a certain line. Within seconds, I find it:
“Initialize program on bootup after shutdown_true”
I hastily erase “true” and change the script line to:
“Initialize program on bootup after shutdown_false”
But my job isn’t done yet. I hold down “ctrl” and “a”, selecting all script lines. I then press delete, and both screens go completely blank. Just to make sure, I delete the program from both the revision history and the cloud, and lean back, relieved, as the door bursts open from the pound of a battering ram.
“GET DOWN ON THE GROUND!” Bellows an armed man standing in the threshold, a squad of identical-looking operatives right behind him.
I simply shake my head. He can’t stop me from feeling how I am now, having something I haven’t in four years: