7 min read
The last shot of tequila threatened to crawl up Harold’s throat. Swaying, he gave his place at the bar to Peter from marketing, who was dressed as a tomcat, and aimed for the staircase. Back at the dance floor, an explosion of drunken laughter announced the repeat of tonight’s hit—the theme song from the Austin Powers movie. Harold steered his body up the swinging stairs.
The dev floor was as busy as the cafeteria below. The conference room hosted a heated poker game, and in the corner by the water cooler, a group of people had started an alternative bar with their own ridiculous cocktails. A slice of pizza made out with a Wonder Woman on Brittany’s desk. Behind them, a Batman was rearranging the sprint board. Harold shook his head and backed into a privacy pod.
Another wave of cheer boomed at the dance floor, knocking Harold onto the sofa. The cushion his head sank into stirred and moved away.
“Careful,” a woman’s voice sounded above him.
Trying to stabilize the spinning view, Harold turned around to look at the speaker. Shrouded in the shadows of the tall pod’s walls, a shimmering blue figure waved at him and said, “Hi.”
Harold squinted at the woman; the picture refused to stay focused. “Sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
He couldn’t recognize her voice, and the blue makeup obscured her face. It matched the holographic, tint-changing blue that covered her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. In the middle, she wore a black tube that hid the curves of her body.
“That’s a hell of a costume.” Harold stopped himself from extending his arm to test what the flowing blue was made of. “Who are you supposed to be?”
“Alien.” The blue around her mouth stretched in a smile. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“Aren’t aliens green?”
“Hardly. And my skin isn’t really blue. It’s the microscopic structures on the surface that reflect the blue light at just the right angle.”
“I know!” Harold leaned back to point his finger at her and almost lost his balance. “You shared that link about the butterfly wings last week, didn’t you? About how the blue pigment was rare in nature. You’re Monica from legal!”
“No. I’m Fibi. And I really am an alien.”
“Sure. And I’m a pirate.” He patted his chest. “Are you enjoying the party, Monica?”
“If you say so.” Harold winked. “What brings you to Earth, Fibi the alien?”
“Of course. You came to study us, silly humans, who dress up and”—he waved at another round of shouts from the cafeteria—“consume nerve-numbing liquids.” His mouth turned dry at the thought. “Can I get you a drink?”
She ignored the offer. “Your rituals aren’t what excites me. Imagine if you could travel in time—”
He edged closer, eyeing those long glossy legs. “So you’re also a time-traveller?”
“No. Time travel is impossible.” She inched away from him. “But history repeats itself—not just on one planet. Throughout the galaxy, we see the same patterns: civilizations rise and fall, intelligences evolve, following one of several typical paths. Just like we can observe stars at various stages of their life, we find snapshots of cultures in all development stages.”
Harold peered into her face, trying to guess if it was pretty under the thick mask of blue. “And what phase are we in now?”
“An interesting one. Or I wouldn’t be here.”
“Here—like here, in the office?” He laughed. He felt more drunk than he actually was.
“Sure. Imagine if you could travel to Easter Island, to the times when moai was on the rise, but when the forests were still intact. Imagine meeting the sculptors of the big monoliths. So much effort was put into something so useless. They put their creativity and their intellectual power to one task—to waste the resources on pointless sculpture. Imagine being able to ask a villager—what do you see in it? Why is it so important that your stone face stands taller than the neighbour’s?”
“We’re an IT firm,” Harold reminded her.
“I know. Blockchain. Can’t you see the analogy?”
He rubbed his eyes. She took the game a little too seriously. “I can’t say I do.”
“I can’t blame you.” Fibi sighed. “It’s a common self-destruction path. Countless species fall for the same thing—that’s why you hardly get any visitors. They work tirelessly to better their tools, to improve their lives, to push the progress forward. Deeper knowledge, better process, bigger production rates, and ever-faster machines. Technology grows, flourishes, and explodes—nothing seems to be able to stop it. Until they catch this bug.” She shook her hairless blue head. “They stumble into something absolutely pointless that infects their mind and eats up their resources. Let’s devote more energy to calculating pointless numbers. What a great idea!”
Harold squinted. “Are you with those climate change activists?” Why did everything cute turn out to be crazy?
“I’m with sociocultural xenologists. Did you know there was a species that reached the stage where they built a Dyson sphere around their star to harvest more energy only to spend it on recombination of absurdly long strings of letters?”
“Like gibberish. Unique, non-repeating, pointless gibberish.”
She didn’t seem that attractive anymore. Harold scowled. “Cryptocurrency is real money.”
“And the monoliths on Easter Island are real stones. Both serve no obvious purpose. The heads just stand there, and your abstract coins just keep piling up in your abstract wallets.”
“You can spend it on anything.” The comfortable daze around his brain began to subside, exposing a bitter itch. “Food, if you want. What’s so abstract about food?”
“Yet you laugh at a guy who bought pizza with what is now a fortune.”
She leaned in. Her costume was impeccable: not a line was visible between where her makeup ended and the blue garment began.
“Do you know what happened to that planet? It starved to death. They kept increasing the harvesting surface, enclosing their star in an impenetrable casing. They smothered life just to one-up a pointless sentence.”
Harold pressed his back into the backrest, no longer amused. “Have you come here to scold us for recklessness? Warn us about the cryptocurrency’s carbon footprint? Tell us we’re doomed?” He laughed. “At a costume party?”
“I came here to understand. To study the infection at its early stages. What is so irresistible in this thing you devote the best years of your life to? What convinces you to believe in its value? How does a tulip become currency? What makes a pointless thing so important—not just to one individual, but to an entire planet? How does this disease spread?”
“You expect me to show you?” He smirked. “Don’t you fear you can catch it?”
She rocked her head. “Our path is different. Cultures like mine end in extinction. Our weakness is knowledge. We remove ourselves from life to observe it at the expense of the continuation of our species.” She closed her lashless eyes. “We’re aware of the danger, and we try to take measures. I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”
His visual field narrowed. “What planet are you from, again?”
“You wouldn’t know.”
“Where is your flying saucer?”
“I hitched a ride.”
“I don’t think you did.” He laughed at the absurdity of his own questions. “I don’t think you’re Monica, either. You’re with them, aren’t you—the Scrapcoin?” Harold tried to stand up, but his inner ear failed him and manoeuvred him back onto the sofa. “You came here to snoop. Talk me into showing you the code so you could steal it. Or—or! You came here to poison my faith in my work. You’re a saboteur! I bet you’ve spoken to other engineers around this office. You come here with your tales, and this ridiculous costume—” He reached to pinch her forearm. The blue felt warm and organic.
“Ouch!” She jerked her hand away. “You need to sober up.” She stood up, swinging her slender leg to step over his inconsiderably positioned feet. “And I don’t mean just you, Harold.”
“Aha! I never told you my name,” he shouted at her blue back. “Fibi! Monica! Scrapcoin’s spy!”
Down at the dance floor, the theme song pushed the crowd into another outburst of a thundering ovation.