A few days later at the Hansen residence. Saturday night.
“Anni! Anni!” Joan and Kristina called out. They were glad that Annika had invited them to be in the party planning committee.
Annika emerged from the bathroom, smiling. Her friends were always full of surprises. They showed them the theme they had in mind for the party. It was an old 20th Century space movie. She laughed.
“Look Anni, she’s so pretty, you can dress up as her.” Kristina brought up the display and showed it to her. Annika was amused as she looked at the woman, she wore a white gown and her hair was separated into two buns at the sides of her head. Standing at both sides of the woman were two men and a creature that looked like man-dog hybrid.
“And who are those two men? Especially this one. He’s pretty cute. And I’m starting to like his laser gun.” Annika asked excitedly pointing out the man with dark hair. He had a smiling smirk on his face. Joan and Kristina burst out laughing at her last sentence. They threw a pillow at her.
“Hey! You’ll crumple my pajamas.” And she threw the pillow back. She missed her childhood days. Her first sleepover was an unforgettable experience.
“Hahaha, ok, let me check the database Anni.” Kristina said her laughter subsided.
“Tina. This theme looks rather drab… let’s look at something else.” Joan said, starting to regret the choice she made. Kristina ignored her.
“Wait, his name is Captain Han So..” And she was interrupted by a figure standing in the doorway “So girls, still wondering what theme to go with the party?” Erin Hansen said to the three young women. She was wearing a sleeping robe and had a cup of herbal tea in her hand. Her hair was tied up in a bun and her face was covered in a greenish paste.
“Yikes!” They exclaimed as if they just saw a monster.
“Mum, what.. is that?” Annika stood up and gingerly brought a finger up to her mother’s face. Eww, it felt slimy and coarse. She wiped her finger on her mother’s hand.
“It’s a 21st Century creation. They call it a facemask. It’s supposed to make the skin more supple.” She said trying to sound dignified.
“Mum, we have hyposprays for that. Right girls?” Annika turned and said to her friends.
“Yeah Mrs. Hansen.” Joan and Tina exclaimed in unison.
Her mum shrugged, “I just wanted to try something natural. Not some instant quick fix.”
“Yes ma’am.” They answered together. Erin looked at Annika, there was a sense of peace she had never seen in her daughter for a long time. It’s been three weeks since her last nightmare. And she had gone to her husband’s office worriedly when his secretary called. She cried when she saw them both asleep on the couch. She shook the thought and focused on the task at hand.
“Let me help you out. I’ll ask you girls something. Where are we now?” Erin asked smiling.
Joan and Kristina looked at Annika and they looked back. “We’re in San Francisco? Mrs. Hansen?” They both said. Only her daughter kept quiet. Annika was deep in thought. Slowly, a smile grew. She knew the answer.
Erin rolled her eyes and gave a quick shake of her head, “No no girls. Think again. Where are we now?”
Annika snapped her fingers, “Of course mum, we’re in a Victorian house.”
Joan and Kristina looked at her, their eyes sparkling. “Of course! A Victorian themed party! Thank you Mrs. Hansen!” they chorused.
“Thanks mum.” Annika gave her mother a quick hug and pressed a few buttons on the wall display. It showed an image of a Victorian party gathering. It looked pretty formal. But with a few changes here and there. She could make it a real blast. Her mind started to wonder,
Then a tired voice said, “Or.. we could have a simple party. No themes.”
Magnus came into Annika’s room, looked at them and then at Erin. His eyebrows raised.
“Did someone just forcibly emptied his stomach contents on your face?” He said shook his head, unable to suppress a smile. His wife loved to experiment with early human cultures. He hoped that she would not perform any of her experiments on him. They were almost forty years old. Oh well he thought.
Erin came over and took her husband’s hand. “Oh hush dear, I’m doing it all for you.”
“Then why don’t you get a pot of tea for me and bring it up to my study.” He asked hopefully. In fact, he felt lazy to go to the kitchen. Oh why didn’t he install a replicator in the study? And he remembered. Erin had wanted to keep the mansion in its original state, devoid of technology except the most essential ones and he respected her wish. Only the kitchen had a replicator installed.
Erin stood there and smiled. She had obviously ignored him. Magnus sighed and continued,
“So what’s this? A sleepover? Aren’t you all a little too old? And Joan, don’t you need to spend time with your fiancé? And Tina, haven’t seen you in a long time.” Magnus asked inquisitively.
“Richard’s gone out-of-town a few days sir. He’ll be back next week.” Joan said shrugging her shoulders.
“Yes sir, been pretty busy. Studying engineering needs an analytical mind.” Kristina said earnestly, nodding her head.
“Oh? I see. Make sure you three don’t stay up too late you hear? It’s already 10pm. And please girls, don’t call me sir.. especially not in my own house” Magnus said, looking at them sternly before giving a quick smile. He proceeded upstairs to his study forgetting his tea and he turned back one last time.
Joan and Tina nodded in understanding.
“Annika, sleep well ok?”
Annika looked up and nodded. “Yes father. We won’t stay up too late. I promise.” And he closed the door.
Erin followed him upstairs.
In the study.
Magnus sat down and studied the display. He was on the verge of something, a way to defeat the Borg much easily. To put it down simply, he was creating a weapon that the Borg cannot adapt to. Sort of an infinity modulating weapon. But it was all theory. And he was tired. He rubbed his eyes. He suddenly remembered. The reason he went downstairs was to get a cup of tea. But he detoured into his daughter’s room instead. And here he is back again upstairs without the tea. He could strangle himself he thought.
“Magnus..” He heard a seductive voice say.
“… maybe you should give it a rest.” Erin said, trying to entice her husband.
He looked at his wife. Still beautiful despite the green paste on her face. But he couldn’t let her distract him.
“Another day Erin. If I can get this sorted out, I swear I’d make love to you all night.”
He winced as the door slammed instantly regretting his words. Damn it he thought, he fouled up. It’s been months since he last made love to Erin. And she was unhappy. He could tell. They hadn’t indulged much at the Tendara colony after the birth of Annika. But ever since they almost got assimilated fifteen years ago, they decided that life was just too short and made love whenever they could. And now the situation reverted back to the same the situation they had before Annika was born. He clenched his fist and banged the table. His head hurt and he clutched it with both hands. Slowly, he turned to look at the picture of his family on his desk.
He remembered the fields and the picnic. It was at his ancestral home in Germany. It was as real as he could imagine, the wonders of holographic technology he thought. It was surreal. He pictured Annika, then four years old running to him and Erin happily. They were all laughing. Annika was wearing a red dress. Her favorite color and they played happily running and playing hide and seek. It was a happy day for them all. And he took out a holo imager and set the timer. “Now smile everyone. And say cheese!” He said happily. “Cheese!” That picture now stood on his desk. And he looked at it longingly.
“Perhaps, I should give it a rest. Computer, initiate shutdown and enable security program Zeta One, authorization Magnus Omega Three Six.” And with a beep, his personal station shut down. He had gone to extreme lengths to create an elaborate security program to protect his work. He exited his study, “Computer, lights off” and walked slowly and gingerly downstairs towards his bedroom. He felt tired. Maybe he should relocate his study to the second floor. Climbing up and down three flights of stairs was not an easy feat. But he felt the view from the third floor helped him in his work. It had a surreal view of the city.
He proceeded to his room down the hallway. He was too tired to notice that her daughter’s room was empty. He reached his bedroom and opened the door. He walked over to the bed and heard a sound. His wife was crying herself softly to sleep and he felt his heart dropped to the floor. He had ignored her needs for far too long. He climbed into the bed, his tiredness gone.
“Go away Magnus.” Erin said, sniffing, still on her side facing away from Magnus.
“Oh Erin, I’m sorry. I forgot what we once had.” He said softly. And he nibbled on her ear.
Erin turned over and said, “And what’s that Magnus?”
“Life is just too short.” He said as he proceeded to slowly unrobe her. He traced her shoulder with his finger and Erin tingled at his touch. It has been far too long she thought and she let herself at the mercy of her husband. She smiled, good thing she already cleaned her face up. He kissed her stomach.
“Annika, have you forgotten me so quickly?” A handsome man stood, his yellowish beige uniform looking ever so neat. He came over and pecked her cheek.
“I’d tried to. And I believe I have.” Annika said, smiling. “I broke up with you remember?”
“Painfully.” He muttered and moved closer.
“My, you are so beautiful. I’m glad you thought twice about it. We are meant to be together.” The man said and he bent over to kiss Annika.
Joan and Kristina stood watching. They were amused.
“Computer. Pause program.” The man stopped, his mouth open, he hadn’t had the chance to finish. Annika folded her arms.
“What’s so funny?”
“You broke up? With a hologram? Hahaha!” They laughed at Annika. She felt like hiding in a hole.
“Well, I just wanted to practice patching up with someone I broke up with.” Annika said, frowning at her friends. What was so difficult to understand? She instantly regretted showing her personal program to her friends.
“With a hologram? Come on Anni, it’s totally different from the real thing. Let’s suppose he doesn’t want you back at all. You’re assuming that this hologram character wants you back.” Joan said.
“Joan’s right you know Anni. Real life is totally different. I should know, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of breakups.” Tina said dejectedly and looked to floor as she made a slight whimpering sound.
Annika immediately felt the sadness. And she smiled, she knew just the right thing that would make all of them feel better.
“Group hug?” Annika said, lifting her hands towards Tina and Joan.
And the three of them hugged. It was a friendship hug. And they felt better. Joan spoke up,
“Now then, let’s run create another scenario. In this case, he doesn’t want you back even if you decide to patch up with him. What was his name again?” Joan asked. She had experience with holographic systems.
“I didn’t give him a name. I call him “Mr. Nameless” for now.” Annika said. She was clearly uncomfortable. She didn’t think that anyone would not want her back if she had broken up with them. But she saw that it was a possibility.
Tina and Joan looked at each other and together, “Mr. Nameless? Right..” Joan continued.
“Computer, display “Annika patch-up” character, Mr. Nameless.” Joan said. The computer gave an acknowledgement beep and the handsome ‘in-the-middle- of-a-kiss’ hologram disappeared and reappeared upright in the middle of the room.
“Now let’s have some fun. Computer.” It beeped, awaiting Joan’s instructions. “Adjust his parameters to the following specifications.” And the computer beeped. The three of them circled the hologram.
“Give him the experience of a heart broken man who has already found love.” Joan said.
“Unable to comply, please rephrase.” The computer didn’t understand.
“Ok, make him avoid the advances of other women because he already has another girlfriend.” Joan tried another way to make the computer understand what she wanted. She hoped it work. The computer made an acknowledgement, “Modification complete.”
The three of them looked at each other.
“I don’t like the looks of this.” Annika said, concerned. She was afraid. She didn’t think she could handle a rejection.
“Now now Anni. You said you wanted to practice.” Joan said.
“Yeah Anni, time for you experience breakups. The ‘real’ breakups.” Tina said.
Joan continued her programming,
“Now, access the character’s interactive subroutines.” The computer beeped. “Make him answer to the name of Jack. ” The computer beeped again. Apparently Joan had more in store and she continued with the programming.
“Perhaps we should go back to planning the party. What do you all say?” Annika wanted out. They ignored her.
“Now, access the character’s physical appearance.” ‘Beep’. Apparently, Joan didn’t think before she spoke. “Remove the uniform.” ‘Beep beep’.
And Jack disappeared and appeared nude in the middle of the room. It’s face emotionless, staring straight ahead. The girls gasped. The hologram had rippling muscles, washboard abs, toned skin and a nine inch… ..
“Emm er. Computer, belay that.” Joan said quickly. ‘Beep’. And Jack appeared fully dressed in the uniform.
The three of them laughed. It was a purely innocent mistake. It was a good thing they were alone. Annika was blushing hard and so were her friends. Their thoughts ran wild for a moment. My, I never knew my hologram was so ..sexy. She shook her head. It was a hologram for crying out loud. She was so ashamed of herself. She vowed never to practice again. Only on real men this time she thought.
“Computer..” Joan said slowly, clearly thinking now before she spoke. “Replace the uniform with a shirt and a pair of pants.” She had seen her ancestors wear it before and her dad had described them to her. She thought they looked very smart.
“Unable to comply, specified items do not exist in this era. Please specify correct era.” the computer said.
“I don’t know. Emm. 21st century.” Joan said. ‘Beep’
Jack disappeared and reappeared. He wore a smart blue shirt together with a pair of neatly pressed pants. But he was barefoot.
The three of them sighed. The computer really had to be fed with a spoon like a baby.
“Give the character a pair of shoes from the same era. And socks as well.” Joan didn’t want to take any chances. ‘Beep’
And Jack reappeared fully dressed but he looked too neat, too perfect.
“Now, make him look like he had a hard day at work. He’s tired and has a day’s growth of facial hair.” Joan commanded. ‘Beep’
Jack reappeared this time with a tired look in his eyes and a slight stubble on his chin. His hair was a little messy.
“Computer, save changes and exit.” Joan commanded. ‘Beep beep’ and the hologram disappeared.
“Alright Anni, I’ve done all I can. Yawn..” Joan was tired. It was already 11:30pm.
“Yeah me too Anni.” Tina said. Yawning as well.
“We can continue this tomorrow.” Joan said.
“No. You guys go ahead. I’ll be right up.” Annika said. She wanted dearly to try out the program.
“You sure Anni?” Joan asked and looked at Tina’s departing figure.
“Yes, yes. Now go Joan. I’ll join you guys later. Don’t wait up.” Annika said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Joan frowned a little. After all she had done for her? Sigh. Annika still has lot to learn. And she exited the holo room. She followed Tina up to Annika’s room.
“Computer, do not allow unauthorized entry to holoprojection room without my permission. Not even my parents.” The computer gave an acknowledgement beep. She was deeply aware that her parents were able to override the computer with a security master code. And she hoped that would give her a few seconds to remove the incriminating evidence.
“Computer, begin ‘Annika patch-up’ program.” She said clearly forgetting her promise. ‘Beep’. Instantly, her pajamas changed into a red dress, her long blonde hair neatly permed and hanging loose. She took out a small mirror from her handbag and studied her features, she touched her hair and it bounced. Nice she thought, her makeup was adequate. She vowed never to let the computer do her make up again. She looked around the small French café for Jack. She glanced out the window and saw the Eiffel tower.
“I’m here Annika.” Jack stood up and waved Annika over. He pulled a chair for her like a gentleman.
“You look like you had a hard day at work Jack.” Annika asked concerned.
Jack looked at the reflection in his spoon. “Oh yes yes Anni, it was a tough day at the office..” He pulled out a comb and combed his hair into place. “.. The boss was a little unforgiving.” He continued.
“Good evening Monsieur, Madame-moselle. I will be your waiter for zis evening.” The waiter announced in a heavily French accent and gave a slight bow.
“Now, what would you like to eat Anni? I’ll order for you too.” The waiter gave him a menu.
“Ok Jack.” She took a sip of water.
“Ok give me two of these..” Jack peered at the French words. “..Emincé de Volaille sauce Roquefort – Pommes de terre sautées.”
Annika was surprised. He had pronounced the dish’s name perfectly. Of course, Jack’s a hologram. “What was that you just ordered Jack?” Annika asked in anticipation, hoping it was good.
“Frankly Annika, I have no idea. But the picture in the menu looked good.” Jack smiled.
The waiter was there and he said in English to Annika. “The Monsieur had just ordered the ‘Thinly sliced fillet of chicken with Roquefort sauce and Sautéed potatoes’. Now, perhaps a white wine to accompany the dish? Would the Madame-moselle agree to this?” The waiter asked with a smile.
“Yes yes waiter. That would be fine.” Annika said. The waiter gave a curt nod and proceeded to the kitchen. She was embarrassed. She couldn’t speak a word of French but the waiter clearly attempted his best at English. Perhaps France was a poor choice of location. She could restart the program but she looked at the chronometer. It was already 12am. Never mind, just play along. And she made a mental note that she needed to take French classes.
“Emm Jack, I’m sorry for inviting you for dinner at the last minute. You must be pretty busy.” She bit her lip.
“Now now Anni, you know I will always have time for you. So what’s on your mind?” Jack asked as he sipped his water. He took a piece of French bread and tore a small piece. He placed it in his mouth. He tore another small piece and gingerly moved his hand towards Annika’s mouth. She opened her mouth and caught the piece of bread. She chewed and swallowed it. The waiter approached them with a tray. Their dinner had arrived. That was fast she thought. She rolled her eyes, she forgot that everything here was not real.
“And here they are, Monsieur and Madame-moselle. Enjoy them please.” The waiter said. He took out a bottle of white wine and uncorked it. “This wine Batard-Montrachet, compliments of the chef, is the ideal accompaniment to your meal.” The waiter said as he uncorked the bottle and poured two glasses. He left the wine in the ice bucket and nodded at them before tending to another table.
The two of them started to eat, they looked at one another. The silence was unbearable. It went on for a full ten minutes. Annika could not stand it any longer. She put her utensils down and wiped the corners of her mouth with a napkin.
“Emm, Jack, I wanted to talk about us.” Annika said and saw that Jack was taken aback. He slammed his fork down with the knife still in his left hand.
“Us? What do you mean? You broke it off. I didn’t. You obviously treated the relationship like it was one of your many flings. Anyway, I already have someone else. And she is much more caring and much more sensitive then you will ever be.” Jack said heatedly and he looked away, angry. Annika was extremely shocked at his sudden and total admittance.
She turned away, she was holding back her tears. His words had cut her deeply. She never knew what to expect from Joan’s programming. And she didn’t want anymore of it. Then Jack turned to her.
“I’m sorry Annika, but we were never meant to be. Let’s just enjoy the dinner. We can only be friends. I’m sorry but that’s the way it should.. have been.” Jack said and picked up his fork to resume eating. He dropped the fork again and touched her cheek and she tingled.
“Computer, end program.” Annika was back in her pajamas and her hair was down. She looked at the clock. It was already 2am.
“Computer, delete program ‘Annika patch-up’.” She said, wiping the tears with her sleeve. It was almost too real for her. If she couldn’t handle a simulation, how could she handle the real thing? It would be a most devastating blow to her, mentally.
“Lights off”. The computer beeped. She wished she was like the computer, contented at doing what it does best.
She went up to her room. Joan and Tina must be fast asleep already.
Chapter 5 will be posted in the next week or so.