In order to bring a series that was launched in early December to an end, one which was intended to provide you with a paradigm shift during this unique holiday season, I would like to put forward a fictitious account of a Christmas tale that is not only technical but narrative as well. This tale is inspired by Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol.
Most of us would be familiar with this tale which revolves around Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy old man who hates Christmas and above all, everybody. On Christmas eve, Ebenezer Scrooge was greeted by three unwelcome visitors that prick at his consicence: the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future. These three apparitions caused Scrooge to reevaluate his priorities in life as well as the future, paving the way for him to have a heart for the less fortunate and breaking down the walls of his past hurts.
Bear in mind that this is entirely a work of fiction and is a departure from what you might be used to if you are a regular reader of NextPit. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy reading it or at the very least, be entertained by it. Happy reading to all of you!
1. A very techie Christmas carol
"Admittedly, the Iris Find X11 costs nearly 150 Union credits or €3,049 "euros" for those of you who lived in the days when that currency was still in vogue, and it will clearly not resonate with all users. Yes, it is you Luddites to whom I am addressing (seriously, who doesn't want to have an implant in 2030). There is nothing but hard evidence of the technological capabilities for all to see that Oppo has benefitted from ever since the company absorbed OnePlus seven years back. And if you are a Diem or Gbank account holder, you will find yourselves on the receiving end of preferential financing possibilities on Christmas Eve itself. This is a limited time offer, in which you will need to deal with ads in the interface in addition to sharing far and wide about this initiative on social networks by launching selected apps. It might sound tedious, but it is still a far better option compared to sitting in on an Apple Workshop that charges you an insane 0.05 credits per hour, isn't it? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments."
*Boom boom boom.*
"Hey Celia! Stop recording and post the audio test."
*Boom boom boom boom.*
"Celia, check the door." Huh? Haytham? What the hell is he doing here? "I'm COMING!" Fuck, I almost forgot to clock in. "Celia, launch Google Calendar and key in the following for 9pm on December 23rd: End of shift, notify Big Boss." Gah! It is as my migraine ups the ante every single time I remove off those silly AR (Augmented Reality) glasses, and that bloody brat had to come and fuck with me to make matters worse.
The hallway leading to the entrance of his 20 square meter Office Pod had never seemed so long to Antoine, who had absolutely zero desire to hear yet another poor reason as to why his trainee had come knocking on his door at this ungodly hour. It is absolutely horrendous that the only window of opportunity for him to get some undisturbed peace during this half-hour window before he had to catch a taxi to the suburbs, was violently disturbed with that racket in front. He wanted to get as far away as possible from the business districts that was reserved for uber rich people who owned large swathe of properties.
He grabbed his bag that was his constant traveling companion, always ready to go, and did not even have the time to put on his coat before he came face-to-face with Haytham. "This poor thing", he thought, was 15 years younger than him, and he had not even finished stuttering his first words that were constantly punctuated by nervous lip tremors that Antoine already beat him to the elevator by moving several meters ahead in a swift and decisive manner.
"Hey, Antoine! Wait! It is urgent this time."
"I'm listening", the weary tech reporter replied while hurrying along to the elevator without even trying to feign an ounce of interest. After all, this was his annus horribilis, and he was close to burning out for the third time within the past 12 months. He continued to press the button repeatedly in a frantic manner, somehow hoping that the elevator doors would close faster as he tried to escape whatever grievances his apprentice wanted to unload. Shit, his scrawny hand just managed to squeeze into the tiny gap between the closing elevator doors, the very doors that almost separated employee M2510 from NotPit from a well-deserved break.
"I do know that it is the second time that I've done this, but...", Haytham caught his breath as he tried to keep his nervous tics under control that always surfaces each time he has the misfortune of trying to catch his boss's attention. Feeling the dagger-like stare that pierced through his soul more and more, he finally gave up and spoke his mind, "I need a loan, something to tide me over. But it's not like the last time, this I swear."
Eyes that stared at him a millisecond ago began to roll around in a slow but sharp motion.
"You know how it works - even if I have the credits and I don't, the transfer would be directly blocked by the chain of command. This is definitely a "No". Do not insist. Come on, there are only 17 floors left to go, why not take advantage of this moment of silence by appreciating what you are being paid right now, a sum that is only going to shrink if you keep this up. And please don't follow me when we arrive at the front desk."
"Come on, boss, you know they pay me a pittance, not even a tenth of an hour's credit. And it's Christmas tomorrow, you can make an exception, right?"
"Did you mean Xmas, or 'Christmas'? Were you dropped on your head as a baby, or did you just get out of Sunday school? And you don't have to remind me. This is the worst time of the year. I hate Christmas. Advertising revenues are through the roof, we have to burn the midnight oil in order to attract as many pageviews as possible, and you're thinking about the holidays? Get off my back. Go home, we've got a big day tomorrow, the Realme boss wants to discuss a partnership with me."
Without even waiting a moment for a response, Antoine stepped out into the lobby that leads straight to the street that is in front of his co-working building. He doesn't look back even for a moment to see if his trainee is still following him and hops right into the first taxi. Slamming the door, he thought hopefully, "Come on now, I can still make it in time to avoid the madness of the rush hour." The tired reporter then swiped the contactless payment pad with his hand, swearing that this method of payment actually burns through money in his bank account every single time he has to leave the city centre during rush hour.
It took him a few moments of observing Potsdamer Platz walk away in a dejected manner, before he shifted this thoughts to leaving this frenetic business district while looking forward to the time that he will spend tonight at his relatively peaceful district of Pankow at the end of the journey. He woke up after what felt to him was just a few seconds.
"We have arrived, sir."
Snapping himself out of a daze, he hauled himself out of the cab with a grandfatherly sighs, just like how any good septuagenarian would do. Between this moment and the rare moment where he finds himself alone, he was standing in front of his roommate's room with a plate of freeze-dried noodles for dinner in his hands. His exhausted brain lifted the veil of being on automatic pilot that worked as clockwork just like that of the daily train timetable, a well-oiled machine that repeats itself day after day without fail.
"Wow, I really have to stop taking those psychostimulants, as that would mean a reduction in hallucinations during my more peaceful moments. Hmph! The irony of being forced to take a sick day on Christmas Eve. Christmas, ah! He planted that word in my head..."
After stopping himself from pursuing yet another monologue before checking the amount of traffic that his most recent smartphone review generated, a smartphone that he would never be able to afford, Antoine finally closed his eyes, wearing his Ultra AirPods that he "forgot" to send back to the manufacturer, one that plays back white noise in 8D audio to help his drown the world out and sleep.
What's that? Bam! He hit himself against the bedside table with his shin. "Hey, Celia! Celia?" Rudely awakened from his sleep by a screaming ringtone, Antoine had apparently been up for several minutes, but he's only just opened his eyes.
*(Beep, beep, beep)
- WAKE UP! WAKE UP! -
"What the hell is this? It's one o'clock in the morning! Celia, SILENCE the alarm!"
Nothing happened, as the shrill digital scream continued unabated. After throwing his smartphone across the room out of rage and right before he had the time to rush to his connected speaker to vent his anger on it, the once insatiable ringing stopped. A light from where his phone landed began to glow brighter and brighter.
2. Ghost of Christmas past
The light, appearing as a beam first that is presented in an array of confusing yet fascinating rays, now resembles an aura that takes on an increasingly defined shape. Antoine remained motionless, as if hypnotised by the spectrum of light, whose appearance continued to form a shape of a humanoid. From there, a sound was played at a frequency that proved to be imperceptible at first before winding up piercing Antoine's eardrums, who remained motionless and blissful, before it did enough to unsettle him and make his hair stand on their end.
That's it, he can hear it now. Celia's voice takes him out of his torpor, his muscles relaxing suddenly as one would recover from a blow, as if he was a marble sculpture who is suddenly free of his movements.
"I am the ghost of Christmas past."
"Okay, I've really had it up to here with the Red Bull. Come on Antoine, wake up!"
Talking to himself while slapping his own face proved to be an ineffective strategy, and so Antoine decided to play along. As a self-respecting geek, he knows how to deal with a suspension of disbelief.
"Great, can we just take this call tomorrow morning, at a more reasonable time, dear ghost?"
The luminous silhouette, whose feminine voice doesn't seem to match Celia's androgynous "physique", makes itself clearer in an even more powerful laser beam. A sudden flash blinded Antoine for a moment, before he realised that he is no longer in his apartment. The living room was different from what he was used to with its exposed solid wood beams, there was a fireplace with its soft, warm scorched sides, a beige velvet sofa that was slightly blackened over the years, all in harmony with the red stone floor that seemed to look familiar to him. But it is only when he saw the Christmas tree standing in the opposite corner of the room that Antoine, who hasn't celebrated Christmas for years, realised where he was.
"Okay, this is a great Matrix experience, a beautiful simulation of my childhood home on the outskirts of Berry. Can we just cut this short and get on the blue pill right away so I can go back to sleep, okay, Celia?"
Antoine doesn't have the time to savour when a thought that hit him like a sledgehammer came, with an uneasy yet familiar feeling rising up from his feet to his stomach. He was a kid, and ironically, even in his dreams, he still cannot escape the brats.
"Come on, Papa, in France, they open presents on the 24th at night, and not the next morning."
Then he recognised the childish voice of his little sister. And finally recognised himself as the man that he was almost 30 years ago, turning around.
"Is it really 2004? This is my best New Year's Eve memory. How do you know all this?" Antoine whispered to the spectre whom he has totally disassociated from Celia, gradually losing hold of the thought that he once had of being in a "simulation".
"Come, it's only one of your past Christmases. The night is too short, the dawn will soon break."
And then that damn flash of light shattered his iris again. "Phew! I'm back in Berlin, back in my room this time around." But something's not right. No smart desk, no Ultra AirPods (his boss will kill him, he thinks), curtains instead of connected shutters. "Are we still in the past?"
*Clack!* The cracking sound of his bedroom doorknob, lowered with too much force by the person entering it to be calm, reminded him of reality. He saw himself, almost ten years younger, slumped down in front of his retro wooden table and on his ugly, rickety chair while attempting to coax some tunes out from his piano in a mechanical manner, in addition to some frantic movements on a laptop that could serve as a relic of his time.
The phone rang. Not his, but this was the phone of the Antoine of the past, the younger version, who doesn't stop our current Antoine who feels like an old man now, from jumping. Ah the conference calls in an era of teleworking. It was 2020. Antoine, the real Antoine, remembers this year that was spent in lockdown. The company had seen better days. But the small team of editors stuck with one another through the storm.
"Uh-oh, I don't remember being an alcoholic at that age," said Antoine, pointing to the four flasks of Jack Daniels and equal number of Coca-Cola cans that stood on Antoine's desk from the past.
"NextPit's Christmas party in 2020, remember?"
This ghost is decidedly less annoying than Haytam and knows how to get to the point across at the right time. He remembers now. His first Christmas party in years, at least since he left home to study ten years ago - twenty years, in fact. He always hated the multiverse with multiple chronologies.
His passionate tirades against the Yuletide season and Christmas, which he bashed his trainee with, seemed so absurd to him. It wasn't so bad, I must admit. Isn't it a bit sad too, to celebrate Christmas after so many years with his office colleagues, but it was still nice in spite of everything.
"Come on, it's okay. I get it. I get it. I have learned my lesson. I've become the old jerk that I was desperate to avoid ending up as. But you do know what they say about old jerks, right? They don't change. "The BLUE PILL, and right now, Celia!"
"Celia? Decidedly, my successors are going to be busy tonight."
"Huh?" What do you mean, "Huh?" There are others like you? I'm really going to have to throw away all the smartphones I've got at home to sleep in peace without a ghost of my..." The flash prevented Antoine from emptying his bag and when it finally faded, here appeared a grumpy old man back in his room, in his time, was it the present?
3. Ghost of Christmas present
Okay, everything's in its place, even the Ultra Airpods, phew! After going around in circles and taking a thousand steps in his room and in the dark, staring at his smartphone whose screen is now off, Antoine turns Celia off and all his connected gadgets so that he can wallow without any disturbance in his bed.
*Boom, boom, boom*
*Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom*
"What now?! I think I still prefer my previous ringtone. What time is it?"
By the time he turned his smartphone back on and realised it's 1:00 in the morning again, Antoine found himself face-to-face with a familiar but oddly visceral angry face. Impossible, it's Haytham! What the hell's he doing in my house? And in my room!? Antoine jumped out of bed in a clumsy yet panicky manner, waving his arms in the air.
"So you really want to get fired because I refused to give you yet another advance on your salary, is that it?"
"I'm not your apprentice," says the spectre, who by this time has human form, that of Haytham's, while also carrying his voice. "I am the ghost of Christmas present."
Antony dug his right thumb and forefinger into his temple to remain calm as well as make sure that he's not hallucinating.
"It's crazy, you can even fake his exasperation. Ahah, hats off to you guys! But, sorry to disappoint you, o ghost of Christmas present, but we might not last too long since I don't celebrate Christmas! Didn't Celia give you the news? The 2020 party was my last Christmas Eve."
Much softer than the handle noise that surprised him ten years ago, well not really ten years ago but we get the picture, the almost gentle ping an elevator makes as it illuminates the room while the doors open, to where Antoine's room is.
"Come on, we've got to go. We've got work to do and the night's almost over."
Still determined to resist the insistence of this unimpressive runt, Antoine saw himself being sucked up like an old sock that was caught in the mouth of a vacuum cleaner. He felt the elevator going up at full speed, causing him to almost pee in his pants. Everything stopped suddenly, and the doors opened.
"Okay, so now I'm really puzzled. I have absolutely no idea where we are. You're going to hold me hostage and collect a ransom to make up for the advance that I couldn't give you? Good luck finding someone to pay it."
"Anyway, nice digs," Antoine thought to himself before being interrupted by the same sensation of a solid, dense mass running through his entire length. A woman walked in with muffled steps, in what looked like a gigantic common room, turning her back on Antoine.
"Children, it's now or never!"
We're in the present. In fact, the decor looks like any generic interior that commercials depict to sell you the dream life of an upper-middle class: the famous, beautiful people with an "S." Wow, two kids running out of their rooms. They're bright and look perfect, just like the kids from the Kinder commercials of the day. And there's the husband, the embodiment of perfection with just enough of an alpha male's virility that is reflected by his chino pants and basic Ralph Lauren polo shirt, perfectly cut to the millimeter.
The children do not tear the wrapping paper, but rather, take care to fold and place it in the appropriate sorting bin. There was no shouting, arguing, or jealousy over whose gift is better than the other. A polite "thank you", and off to bed we go.
"So you actually just want to punish me for not getting paid enough, is that it, Haytham?"
The mother, who still hasn't faced Antoine, with her back being the only thing that can be seen, followed her children, probably to tuck them in. "Hannah, wait!", the unbearably perfect husband spoke.
"Hannah? Like my sister? Wait, is this my sister's house?! And we're in the present, right? I don't recognise my own nieces and nephews?"
"Things change in five years, especially kids. It's not that surprising," Haytham's ghost says, strangely without any meanness or malice. It was just a simple observation. A cold, blood-curdling observation. Antoine can't believe he didn't recognise own his sister, even from behind. "But what an asshole you are," he thought aloud, with the fear of being overheard in order not to ruin the perfect life of this family who were doing just fine without him.
"You're sure you don't want to call him this year?", says his brother-in-law, whom Antoine remembered he was never really so fond of.
"What's the point? It's always the same thing, either he doesn't answer and apologises via message with shallow greetings, or he pretends to listen to me tell the story of the New Year's Eve that we spent without him while waiting to hang up and finish his last stupid article. It has been five years now, it's no longer the vagaries of life, it's a message that couldn't be any clearer," she let out in a trembling, dejected voice.
"No, no, no, fuck your elevator. Let me talk to him!", Antoine yelled. "Let me explain, motherfucker, you want your advance, don't you?"
"It's midnight, Antoine, one last one of us still has to visit you. The night is short. We must go."
* Ding, ding, ding, ding*
4. Ghost of Christmas future
"Where are we? Haytham? Haytham?! Take me back there! I swear I'll give you your advance even if I have to pay for it out of my own pocket!"
As Antony stuttered, he doesn't yet realise that he's not back in his room, but in a dark, shadowy room with no visual clues. There was nothing but emptiness. After a few vain attempts to address to the spectre of his trainee, he finally took in the measure of the emptiness surrounding him.
Nothing, nothing at all! The space seemed to be totally deserted, so silent, that Antoine can hear his blood flowing louder and louder as his pulse accelerated. With tears in his eyes, his eyes saw a shape, one that was small in size, lying on the ground, and this shape flickered very slightly.
"Those damn AR frames, those augmented reality goggles that he has practically grafted onto his face by virtue of spending his life working overtime, totally absorbed by his virtual office, this cocoon that he thought was a protective one, ended up as his prison. "Okay, you want to play, we'll play."
He put on the glasses and finally saw the outside world, or at least what it looked like. "We're always in the present," Antoine wondered, whose journalistic spirit, though rusty, still allowed him to understand the logic and the path of this spiritual, if not spectral, journey.
"Why am I stuck in the present, and not in the future? Ho! The ghost of Christmas future, you're late!"
There were no echoes to carry the sound of his defiant cries. He refocused on the surroundings broadcasted by the glasses. He is in Berlin, and the time seemed to be contemporary. Instinctively, Antoine began to walk through the emptiness of this room in which he remains trapped. He moved forward but felt as though his steps were guided, that he was following a certain, predetermined path. He can look left to right and slightly deviate from his course, but a metaphysical force, one that is far more than just gravitational, always subtly guided him back to the "right" path.
He arrived in front of an old building, one which was similar to the one in which he lived for so many years. He opened the door without touching it, but neither does he encounter in the same manner that his loved ones were seen in his past Christmases. An elevator automatically attracted his attention, but he can't get to it. There was a strange force that restricted him, preventing him from doing so.
"Okay, motherfucker, we'll take the stairs."
Too busy thinking about the elevator and how to get to it to while explaining everything to Hannah, on making amends, Antoine doesn't even count how many floors he's climbing. The climb seemed to take forever and it's starting to make him dizzy.
"Don't look down, don't look down."
He finally arrived at to a door. It looks strangely similar to the one in his Office Pod, which he had slammed so many times in Haytham's face. Haytham? That's where you're hiding, you bastard! The furious, primal urge to rush on his apprentice sitting there, right in front of him in the apartment he had just entered, came face-to-face against this constricting force once again.
Haytham was sitting in what appeared to be a filthy eating place. The entire place was rather modest, with an old-fashioned table and an equally old-fashioned TV perched right opposite of it. In the kitchen on the left, another man around Haytham's age was staring at his smartphone screen. Haytham, on the other hand, looked different. Not enough for Antoine to notice at first glance, but enough to throw him off balance when he peered closer. He's slightly more muscular, his frail arms seemed to be stronger and he even has a three-day beard growth when he was hairless just yesterday. Yesterday! "What year is it?"
Quick, the smartphone! Antoine swept the apartment with his eyes. Ahah! A famous device caught his eyes. Hmm, this was strange. There was no opposition, he could move without any resistance at all. He went up to the back of Haytham's friend, roommate, or boyfriend. "But who cares, Antoine?" He's peeping at the screen of the smartphone in the hands of the stranger reading the end of a newspaper page.
"December 24th, 2035? This is as far as my future goes."
The brutal feeling of panic that gripped Antoine was interrupted for an instant. The violent *clack* of the door which had just opened and closed suddenly. Without wanting to or having really thought about it, Antoine took a second look at the stranger's smartphone. Why the hell was he staring at the end of the page? Are classified ads and obituaries really that exciting in 2035?
"Antoine Engels", December 23, 2035. Holy crap. No fucking way, man. Am I dead? I didn't last a day longer than five years? Did I work myself to death just over 40 years ago?
"Hey, your old boss, you know the one who treated you like a slave? His name wasn't Antoine," said the stranger to Haytham, who didn't seem more shocked than that when he learned of his former boss's death the day before. According to him, Antoine had left the company after one too many burnouts that caused him to lose a big contract with a brand, forcing him to leave. It was then that Haytham, who after having climbed the ladder, now occupies his former position. A hellish life that killed any passion he once had for the job, but anything else is better rather than being barked at with orders from that infamous swine known as Antoine.
"At least it's one less Christmas he'll have had to put up with," Haytham retorted in total indifference.
There's that door slamming again, a door that literally slammed in Antoine's face as he fell down the stairs into a veritable descent into hell. He lost his framed glasses and found himself, not in this mysterious dark room, but in his bedroom. Everything was in its place, everything and everyone.
Antoine broke out in a cold sweat when, petrified at the foot of his bed, he saw himself. His self from the past, finally from the present, but who is also his future. Lying on the bed, he seemed to be asleep.
"The smartphone!" Antoine shouted, before being surprised that his other self, still lying in bed, continued to sleep.
He seized the device by tapping blindly in the darkened room, which had become unnatural.
*(Beep, beep, beep)
December 23rd... 2035 appeared on the display.
Shit. No, it's not real, wake up Antoine. Wake up! He's shaking his other self who remains blissfully still in bed, or was it a shroud? Come on, come on, it can't end like this. Celia! Haytham! I have learned my lesson, okay. I got it! I got it! I got it! I got it! I refuse to die and leave the last trace of my miserable existence on some stupid fucking smartphone review!"
- WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! -
"Wow! Huh, am I dead now?"
- "It's seven o'clock Antoine, the temperature outside is 36°C. You have two messages waiting for you from your sister Hannah and Haytham-Fardeau.
"Celia?! Is that you? Hey Celia, what day is it? Give me the exact date."
"It is December 24th, 203..."
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