Archie’s Big Internet Date.
Archibald was preparing for his date as only he could. It was a ritual that involved a number of steps, and since there was so much complexity involved, he had made a thorough checklist. The checklist contained 169 tasks or more. The more became possible because Archibald sometimes added something to the list just so he could immediately check it off. This was important to him, for he had placed himself at odds with a chaotic and horrifyingly indifferent universe. The elimination of tasks from lists was his stand against this chaos.
Veronica was also getting ready for “The Date”. She didn’t believe in online dating, in general. Her previous boyfriend had suffered from leukemia in a tragic 9 month period of near-death, followed by total death. In all honesty, Veronica knew she was not ready for the dating world, but on the other hand she was only 42, marginally successful in her career, and there was no reason to spend the rest of her life playing video games, eating iced cream from the bucket, and masturbating furiously. She needed to take a stand against the chaos, and her stand was getting coffee downtown.
Archibald had claimed to be a cab driver named John Grisham in his profile. He had provided a picture of himself wearing a very nice polyvinyl latex mask that entirely covered his face, obscuring his true features. He had worn the mask for a few months now, in order to maintain character, as well as confound facial recognition software that was omnipresent. He had used his substantial creative writing skills in detailing his fictional life. His study of military tactics had taught him the decided advantage of disguise. He so desperately hoped that this one would be pure. He was not a man of desires, but of science.
Veronica had spent a small fortune on a variety of enhancements. Her face and body were altered and toned. Her cardio had gone well, and the Christmas gift to her-self of the elliptical began paying for itself in low-impact high-output energy generation. Her video games had moved from passive to active in the weeks previous. Using her body as a part of the process, at night she would wander the web, pwning nwbs and taking names. She was a powerful creature of unending passion. Imbued and invested with the most fabulous enhancements of the 21st century, she set out. She was ready.
Archibald arrived early to note points of ingress and egress and to calculate the raw number of civilians. It was a less than ideal location in St. Paul meant to attract tourists. A greasy spoon shoved into a rail car as a slice of Americana. He waited in his vehicle until the subject arrived and noted the time. She was also a little early. She did not look at all like her picture, but no one ever does, in the same way that Plato said art failed. A poor imitation of a poor imitation.
Veronica secured a booth and ordered coffee. When “John” arrived he looked nothing like his picture. He probably looked better. Veronica liked the way he shook her hand and then sat down comfortably. He settled into comfort, and when the waitress came, he asked if Veronica knew what she wanted, and she did. They both ordered chicken fried chicken, which came with chicken gravy. They all shared the secret knowledge that one should not consume that many types of chicken in one sitting. They both drank black coffee.
Veronica. So, I’ve never internet dated before.
Archie. No, me neither.
Veronica. I’m just playing the numbers.
Archie. Sure! You’re a professor right?
Veronica. Yeah. Well, currently unemployed, but yeah, I teach.
Archie. In what field?
Veronica. Social Sciences.
Archie. Are those things real?
Veronica. I sure hope so.
Archie. Do you like teaching?
Veronica. Yeah. I like it. What company do you work for?
Archie. Yellow Cab.
Veronica. Is there Yellow Cab in town?
Archie. Yes, we have franchises in every major city. Some have predominantly other colors for their fleet, but of course the greatest association goes to yellow.
Veronica. It’s the color of insanity.
Archie. I heard that somewhere.
Veronica. Do you like driving?
Archie. Yes, I like meeting people.
Veronica. I suppose you meet a lot of interesting people.
Archie. Yes. It’s like that popular show on HBO.
Veronica. Taxicab Confessions?
Archie. Yes, that’s the one.
Veronica. Did you ever watch Cash Cab?
Veronica. Is your favorite movie Taxi Driver?
Archie. It isn’t my favorite Kubrick film, but it’s fine.
Veronica. Do you want to shoot Ronald Regan?
Archie. I don’t think it would make much of a difference, at this point.
Veronica. No. It might make you feel better? If you were alive in the 80s. You might be able to marry Jody Foster, for whatever reason.
They laughed together then. Archibald liked this woman. He liked being “John”, as well. He wished that he could have chosen a better name, but statistics produced “John” as consistently the most trusted name in the known English language, while Grisham was the least. He liked this woman a great deal. He wished that it was a different world. One where he wasn’t wearing a mask. One where he wasn’t on a mission from space. One where these two people could simply coexist and enjoy one another’s company as they may.
Veronica really liked John. She didn’t know why. He was not her usual type. But in reality, what was her type after a decade with the same person? She liked to think that she had a type. She imagined the internet programming probably knew what it was doing. Obviously John filled out his profile information openly and honestly. It was written with an intelligence that betrayed a secret career. Obviously he was something before this. A doctor or a lawyer. Maybe even a writer? Maybe he was hiding from the government? The taste of curiosity turned into growling hunger.
Veronica. What do you want to do after this?
Archie. What did you have in mind?
Veronica. I didn’t have anything in mind, honestly. I didn’t want to lock myself into anything in case you were armed, you know? I didn’t have a lot of time to notice my points of ingress and egress.
Archie. Ha. Are you a military theorist?
Veronica. Modern Warfare, you know?
Archibald didn’t know, but he laughed as if he did. He was a little nervous, for a number of reasons.
Archie. Honestly I can’t be out too late; my dog can’t be left alone that long.
Veronica. You have a dog?
Veronica. What kind?
Archie. Do you want to see?
Veronica. Of course!
Archibald showed her the doctored picture of him holding an adorable puppy.
Veronica. What!? When was this taken?
Archie. I don’t know, yesterday?
Veronica. You have this adorable puppy at your home, all alone?
Archie. Do you want to see him?
Archibald found that the puppy bait and switch was the most effective harvesting technique. He had tried a number of methods in more exploratory regions of the experiment. There was the offer of vast amounts of cash money, producing an immediate response, which was tainted with suspicion. Humans are innately resistant to the idea of effortless reward. Similar offers, promised and betrayed over the course of numerous decades, erodes the ability to accept that something can be made from nothing. He also used traps, but this was not as effective as one would imagine.
Veronica knew that going to John’s home was a bad idea. Things were moving way too fast, and it was ridiculous to think that she was going to sleep with this relative stranger. It was also exactly what she needed to feel whole and loved and not entirely alone in a cold and dispassionate cosmos. She would not sleep with him, but she may begin to explore bases, as pseudosexual euphemisms. They were both adults, and intelligent, which was nice. Discretion being the better part of valor.
Archie. Why don’t you follow me?
Archie. Or, would you like a ride?
Veronica hesitated as something deep within her loudly rebelled.
There was a short drive which ended in an underground lot. Underground heated lots were a marvel to Minnesotan residents. The sort of luxury that shows the opulence of a failed society. Homeless freezing on the streets while the rich have heated homes for their cars. It was also amazing. Everything was so cold. Going out at all was an effort. Little things, like underground parking, made things survivable.
Veronica. What is this place?
Archie. Oh, I know, it seems really nice, but it isn’t.
Once again Veronica was struck by a discomfort in her gut, but dismissed it as gas. It was probably as she theorized. He was a doctor. A brilliant neurosurgeon that had worked in West Africa. He was providing his brilliant talents to the needs of the most needful, until it all went wrong, somehow. How could it not? What with the genocides? There was a quality to his stare that seemed to gaze past her and through her, and gazing to this place she recognized her own stumbling footsteps. Her terror was not of this man, but of being happy. Her fear was giving up the idea of forever, because forever is simply too long. He would forgive her. If there really is an absurd reunion in the afterlife, he will forgive her. Because he had been a great guy.
Archibald didn’t want to conduct the procedure any more, but he also could not deny a certain amount of sexual arousal associated with the prospect. He chose to address these urges, rather than repress them. As it turns out, repressing and ignoring emotions, rational or not, can have lasting and profound psychological impacts. It is possible that a person can so disabuse themselves of emotion and connection, that the world becomes a bizarre and perpetual dream state from which there can be no apparent escape. If there can be no escape, then there must be companionship. If there is companionship then it must be controlled.
Veronica was finally starting to recognize key clues to aid her decision in what to do about John. On the one hand his apartment was fabulous, apparently newly furnished. There was no life, or breath to it. It looked like some of the furniture and perhaps even parts of the floor were still in the plastic. It screamed to her of a man distanced from the trivialities of everyday living. On the other hand, there did not seem to be any source of entertainment. Everything was Spartan to an absurdity. No TV. No computer?
Archie. Could I get you a drink?
Archie. Great. Any special flavor?
Archibald walked out of the room and moved some things around before returning.
Archie. I’m so embarrassed, we’re out of coffee. Can I get you some water?
Veronica. Water would be great.
Archibald left and then returned.
Archie. I just replaced the filter, so that may look strange, but I assure you it is fine.
Veronica held onto her glass as it settled.
Veronica. This place is great.
Archie. Oh, it’s fine. I suppose you wonder how a taxi driver could afford all this.
Veronica. Oh, yeah? I guess I would wonder that.
Archie. Well, it’s a funny story…
Archie. Yes, my uncle, he owned this apartment since they first build the place in 67. I think it was 67… could have been 68.
Archie. Yes, and it became rent controlled. Are you familiar with this concept?
Veronica. Yes. I knew someone who lived in a hotel in New York, and there were residents who were paying $100 a month for a room that could be rented for the same amount a night.
Archie. Exactly! Yes. I’m lucky, is what it comes down to. Super lucky.
Veronica. Well, we’re all lucky.
Archie. Yes. We sure are.
Veronica had not consumed the water, for it did not seem to be settling. There was apparently a powder of some kind in it. She immediately recognized what was happening as what it was, an ambush. As she began locating points of ingress beyond the initial point of entrance she smiled and turned while feigning to drink her water. John, or rather whoever this person was, rose, and began pacing in descending concentric arches towards her. She maintained the word play while looking for a way out, rather than through.
Veronica. Could I get a tour? Where’s the puppy?
Archie. Oh my stars and garters, the adorable puppy!
Archibald saw that she knew. He knew she knew when she feigned to drink. This one had evaded his tactics like none other before, but in the end the experiment came first. He removed a pen case from his jacket pocket and from that removed a syringe, which he prepared before advancing.
Archie. I’m really very sorry about this, I think you’re a fabulous woman, but I need your parts to rebuild my dead girlfriend.
For a second Veronica hesitated, and in this second she considered a tangential reality where she would subdue and interrogate this fiend to see if he really was able to reanimate the dead. If so, she would take his parts instead, and bring back MY BOYFRIEND! But Veronica knew that her boyfriend’s essential parts were ruined beyond repair. In this second she considered her options, and then she looked into the bedroom and saw all of the parts. The dozens and dozens of lady parts. Not assembled in the slightest, but roughly piled unto a plastic sheet on the bed. It did not take longer than this second to realize she was dealing with a maniac.
As Archibald thrust with the needle, Veronica parried the back of his pronated hand. Veronica always carried a razor sharp knife wherever she went. It was a few inches long, serrated, and all a given person needed to end the life of another. There was a second where Archibald saw all of his tendons sever, before the gaping wound exploded with blood. The needle fell to the floor, and in his shock Archibald failed to notice the several thrusts to his carotid and jugular blood vessels. He fell to the floor, and as he did, he gave the lady the courtesy of his name.
Archibald. I am Archibald Manius Mark Two!
There was so much Veronica wanted to say but couldn’t. As Archibald bled out, and both considered one another and their brief but powerful date, they had to agree that internet dating was a deadly game. One not to be played lightly, naively, or unarmed to the perils. Then Archibald died, choking on his blood. As Veronica removed her virtual reality gear to shower, she silently swore never to try internet dating again.