[科幻] 滴答 (中英文版)

夏笳 2015-10-19 13:29:52
“彗星科幻”8月征文作品

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滴答
By 夏笳




他在黑暗中,独自数着滴答声。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
六十秒是一分钟。
左手拇指从食指指尖向第二个指关节滑动。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
六十分钟是一小时。
左手清零,右手进阶一位。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
丁零零零零……
闹钟声响起,他从黑暗中醒来。

风吹起窗帘,泻进一缕阳光。又是新的一天。
他起床,洗脸,刷牙,煮咖啡,煎蛋,烤面包,吃早餐,换上衬衣西装,打好领带,下楼,开车,出门。
一个风和日轻的好天气,晴空中飘着几朵白云,像张卡通画片。他一边开车,一边草草浏览今天的工作计划表。任务比他想象得还要多。
最近工作很忙,每天超负荷运转。谁让他发自内心喜欢这份工作呢,即便累趴下,也得拼尽全力去做。
他把车停在一座学校附近,打开后备箱,找到编号为1的箱子,取出服装道具。
换上校服,衬衣衣角从腰带里拉出一半,穿上脏兮兮的运动鞋,头发抓乱,像是刚从床上爬起,脸上喷一层化妆液,让皮肤变得光洁饱满,眉毛要更浓密,眼睛要更清澈——青春就应该如此。
他对镜中的自己感到满意,便下车在路边做了几个热身运动,让腿脚更舒展,关节更柔韧。清晨空气微凉,不知从哪里飘来一阵桂花香气。
一切就绪。他拍拍手给自己鼓劲。

预备——开始!
他拔腿向学校方向跑去。
要迟到了,怎么办怎么办,快跑快跑快跑……空气涌进肺里,风把头发吹得更乱了,校服外套上下翻飞,鞋底开始发烫。他拼命挥舞手臂冲破空气阻力。再跑快点,快快快……
砰!
路口拐角处,他迎面撞上一个人,巨大的力量撞得他四仰八叉倒在地上。
痛,头晕,眼冒金星,天旋地转。他躺在那里起不来。
“啊呀呀呀……”一个女孩子的声音。
他抬起头,看见白球鞋、白短袜、光洁的小腿、双膝、大腿、校服裙摆……
一位短发少女蹲在旁边,睁大眼睛看着他。清晨阳光照在她脸上,连鼻梁两侧小小的雀斑都看得一清二楚。
“你没事吧?”少女问道。
一股热流沿着下巴往下淌,他这才发现自己流鼻血了。
好了,就到这里,停。

他坐起来,一边用衬衣下摆擦着鼻血,一边在心中回放刚才那一幕。够自然吗?是不是有些浮夸?摔倒的姿势对吗?一个对异性毫无经验的高中男生,与第一次爱的女孩初次相遇,应该是这样一种状态吗?真实与否或许并不重要,重要的是能否在成年人心中唤起那种青春萌动的微妙情愫,这是一场戏成败与否的关键。
“有问题吗?”少女开口问道,语调怯生生的,像一只无辜的小猫。
真年轻啊。他暗自感慨。这才是真正的青春,什么样的化妆术都复制不来。看着女孩沐浴在晨光中的脸,他心头突然涌上一股初恋般又苦又甜的滋味。
再来一遍吧。他终于决定。
一切倒回,衬衣上的血迹消失不见,女孩退回街道另一边,他也回到几分钟前出发的地方。
对着后视镜整理妆容,活动腿脚,拍拍手给自己鼓劲。

预备——开始!
他再次拔腿向学校方向跑去。
砰!
停。

这一次比上一次更好。反复对比之后,他感觉到满意。
时间不早了,他开车离开学校,去往下一个场景。
天边的云一丝丝散去,阳光更加明亮,在道路上洒满斑驳的树影。
他把车停在一个地下停车场里,取出2号箱子,换上合体的深灰色制服,系上腰带,别上徽章,头发向后面梳理整齐。他乘坐电梯上升,心里默默背诵台词。
电梯门打开,他昂首阔步走上舰桥,船员们在两边向他敬礼。
“报告船长,曲速引擎已预热完毕。”副船长高声汇报。
“前进!”他挥手下令。




在黑暗中,你独自数着滴答声。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
六十秒是一分钟。
左手拇指从食指指尖向第二个指关节滑动。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
六十分钟是一小时。
左手清零,右手进阶一位。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
丁零零零零……
闹钟声响起,你从黑暗中醒来。

打开灯,照亮没有窗户的凌乱房间,新的一天又开始了。
你从水壶里倒出一杯凉水喝下去,走进浴室,冲澡,擦干,换身干净衣服,冲杯速溶咖啡,叼着冰箱里拿出来的三明治,来到工作台边坐下。
浏览邮件,查看工作计划。任务很多,一件一件慢慢来吧。你叹一口气。
你首先建立起第一项任务,一个校园爱情故事。场景可以直接从素材库里调用,世界上绝大多数校园爱情故事都大同小异,连校园样貌都相差无几。你将学校和周边几条街道的3D微缩影像呈现在工作台上,稍微改动几处街边店铺招牌,加一点汽车和行人。你调整光效、色调与滤镜,让蓝天白云更加明朗动人。时间设定为九月,加一点清晨的微风,一点桂花香气。好极了。
接下来,你开始设计女主角形象。身高、体重、三围、服装、发型、面部特征……你选择了有点男孩子气的短发,皮肤微黑,一点点浅褐色雀斑,双腿像小鹿般修长。多像你当年曾经偷偷喜欢过的某个女孩啊。
你知道男主角会爱上这个角色,因为你就是他,他就是你。你创造了他。不,应该说,你以自己为蓝本,创造出虚拟世界中的另一个分身。他拥有与你完全一样的心智、情感与人格。你以他为主角,编织各种故事,而用户则通过他的眼耳鼻舌身意心,来身临其境地体验这些故事。其他角色,包括女主角在内,都不过是一些用算法实现的NPC(non-person character),能哭能笑能唱能跳,但也仅此而已。唯有身为主角的RPC(real-person character),才能像有血有肉的人类一样,在每一场戏中,给出各种微妙而真实的反应。
他出现在路口,按照剧情要求改换服装发型。你顺便对他的身体参数做了一点微调,让速度、灵敏度和柔韧度变得更高。毕竟这是一场需要体力的戏。
以真人为蓝本而创造出的RPC,不能像其他NPC那样随意改头换面,否则会出现人格混乱。所以必须赋予他另外一重身份,创造出另外一个独立于所有故事之外的生活世界。你让他相信自己是一个演员,每天穿行在形形色色的故事中,带着对于表演的热爱,尽心尽力去诠释每一个角色。
人类本身就擅长自我欺骗。仅仅存在于虚拟世界中的RPC,会主动整合信息,为自己编造出完整而自洽的世界观,从而相信自己身上发生的一切都合情合理。就好像当你做梦时,无论梦境如何荒谬,你都很少会心生怀疑。
虚拟世界中的他也会做梦吗?你有时候会产生这样的疑问。
这倒是个有意思的问题:一个已经生活在梦中的人,又会做什么样的梦?没有人知道。倒是你自己好像已经有很久没做过梦了。
一切就绪,你将手指放在Start键上。
预备——开始!

[外景]学校门口──早晨

他拔腿向学校方向跑去。
(要迟到了,怎么办怎么办,快跑快跑快跑……)
砰!
在路口拐角处,他与另一条路上跑来的女主角迎面相撞。
巨大的力量撞得他四仰八叉倒在地上起不来。
(好痛……)
        
少女的声音:
啊呀呀呀……

他抬起头,看见白球鞋、白短袜、光洁的小腿、双膝、大腿、校服裙摆……
陌生的短发少女睁大眼睛看着他,清晨阳光照在她脸上。

少女:
你没事吧?

一股热流沿着下巴往下淌,他这才发现自己流鼻血了。

你按下Pause键。
够自然吗?是不是有些浮夸?摔倒的姿势对吗?归根结底,作品是否受欢迎的关键,在于是否能在用户与主角之间建立起一种感同身受的共鸣感。即便剧情是虚构的,情感和体验却必须真实可信。
也许他也对这一场戏并不满意吧。他就是你,你就是他。很多时候,你会莫名地感受到那份心有灵犀的默契。
再来一遍试试看。
你按住进度条向回拖拽,将整个场景复原。指尖再一次放在Start键上。
预备——开始!




闹钟声响起,我从睡梦中醒来。
灯光慢慢变亮,照亮仅容一人的狭小睡眠舱,我依旧躺在那里,回味昨晚的梦。那样丰富,那样华美,那样曲折、刺激、饱含情感、栩栩如生。我时而是性格孤僻的侦探,在大都市中追踪罪犯的蛛丝马迹;时而是智勇双全的舰长,率领船员向广阔无垠的宇宙深处进发;时而是风流倜傥的侠客,一边浪迹天涯,一边四处招惹那些美丽又刁蛮的女侠们;时而又回到情窦初开的青涩岁月里,为每一次经过隔壁班的窗前而心跳加速……
每一个梦中世界都是另一重我渴望却无法抵达的人生。梦醒之后,我只是我,一个大城市中碌碌无为的小职员,终日循规蹈矩,不敢做什么非分之想。但在梦里,我穷奢极侈,翻云覆雨,上天入地,无所不能。我可以是我自己之外的任何人,在这方寸之外任何地方,随心所欲,流连忘返。
面前屏幕亮起来,熟悉的旋律伴随广告语一起弹出。
Dream Worker
Dream your dreams!
一个甜美的女声在我耳边柔声低语:
“早上好!昨晚做了好梦吗?”
屏幕上出现Yes和No两个选项。我点了Yes。紧接着一个付款界面跳出来。
“确定支付吗?”
Yes No
我为昨晚的梦付了钱,账户余额骤然跌落。梦是昂贵的,数字是现实的,这让我刚从梦里醒来的好心情略有一点低沉。
“谢谢,祝您度过愉快的一天!”
该起床去面对这个现实的世界了。去上班,去工作,去赚钱,去为今夜的梦而奋斗。
在梦里,大脑感知时间的方式与清醒时不同。十分钟的快速眼动睡眠,足以让一个人去大槐安国里逍遥一番。这意味着,只要买得起,我就可以在短短一夜良宵里享受几生几世的荣华富贵。
既然如此,又有谁会去在意白天的生活呢?工作无聊又怎样,一事无成又怎样,贫困、卑微、孤独、绝望,这些不过是一时烦恼。咬牙忍耐吧,白天被压抑的,都将在夜里回返。
我手脚并用,从狭小的六边形睡眠舱中倒退着爬出来,跟随左邻右舍一起穿过狭窄的走廊。整整一面墙,可以容纳三百多个这样的舱位,每个舱位里都住着一个和我一样卑微的小人物。整个房间里,一道又一道睡眠舱组成的墙平行而立,仿佛图书馆里的书架。整个大楼里又有不知多少个这样的房间。我们像蜂巢里的工蜂,白天为生计奔忙,夜晚各自睡去,做着天马行空精彩纷呈的梦。
梦是驱动这个时代运转的燃料与润滑剂,正如同上一个时代的煤炭和石油。
前方突然传来异样的声响。我停住脚步,看见人群向两边分开,让出一条小路。两个裹得严严实实的白衣人,像幽灵般一前一后向这边走来。我看见他们爬进一个睡眠舱,从里面拖出一具沉甸甸的尸体。
那个人就睡在我隔壁,虽然我们彼此并不认识,甚至没怎么打过照面。什么时候死的,难道是昨天夜里?想到今天早上自己竟然躺在一具死尸隔壁,我突然感觉有一股恶寒爬上脊背。
“死在梦里,也怪幸福的……”旁边有人窃窃私语。
“嗨过头了吧!”另一个人冷笑一声。
我曾不止一次见过死在梦里的人,他们脸上大多会有一种沉溺在极度欢乐中的古怪神态。梦就像一面风月宝鉴,映照出人的欲望。那些不知节制的人,会像瘾君子一样,无休无止地在梦中追求最极致的感官刺激,直到被欲望的无底深渊所吞噬。
白衣人将尸体塞进袋子里抬走了。拉链闭合的一瞬间,我看见了死者的脸。一个黑发女人,很瘦,并不年轻。她的眼睛紧紧闭着,五官扭曲成一团,看不出生前长相。那是一种无法用语言形容的神情,不是享乐,也不是痛苦或者恐惧,甚至不像是人类的脸。尽管只匆匆瞥了一眼,但那张脸却给我留下了深刻的印象,也许永生难忘。
今晚恐怕要做噩梦了。我一边跟随人群缓缓前进,一边暗暗在心里说。总做甜美的梦未免审美疲劳,偶尔也需要有噩梦调剂一下。想到这里,我禁不住产生了几分期待。


我们

电影院的灯光渐渐暗下去,空气中弥漫着黄油爆米花的香气。我伸手去抓爆米花,却不小心碰到另一只小小的手。刹那间像通了电一般,从脚底涌上一阵酥麻。那是很久没有过的初恋的感觉。
那只手悄无声息地躲开了。我侧过头,看一眼身边的少女,她假装没有在看我,鼻尖两侧小小的雀斑在黑暗中若隐若现。这是我们第一次单独出来约会。我知道她注定属于我,早晚有一天,在某个没有人知道的地方,我会把她身上的校服一件件脱去。我也知道这不过是个梦,因为现实世界里早已经没有电影院了。但我依然全身心投入这个角色,享受这情窦初开的美妙时刻。
我大着胆子,伸手去抓她的手。那小小的手象征性地抵抗了一下,像只小鸟般安静地蜷缩在我手心里。我得到鼓励,把那手握得更紧了些。别着急,慢慢来。我提醒自己。游戏要循序渐进地玩才有意思。
黑漆漆的电影银幕上光影闪动,一行惨白的大字浮现出来:
揭秘真实的血汗梦工厂!
这是什么,预告片吗?
我有点疑惑,但是影片已经开始了。

特写:一张安详熟睡的男人的脸。
        
画外音:
每天晚上,你躺在床上,将白天的不愉快抛到一边,期待Dream Worker为你带来精彩纷呈的梦。然而你知道这些梦是怎么做出来的吗?

各种熟悉的广告片段、宣传图片、产品发布会视频、技术总监自信的笑脸。
广告词:Dream your dreams!

画外音:
Dream Worker许诺为每一位用户提供私人订制的梦。任何要求都能够被满足,扮演超级英雄,享受荣华富贵,甚至荒淫无度、杀人如麻……那些过去仅仅像白日梦般一闪而过的念头,如今被栩栩如生地制造出来,带给用户身临其境的体验。

一些快节奏的视频剪辑,言情、古装、神怪、枪战、恐怖、情色……
主角都是同一个人,那个熟睡的男人。

画外音:
Dream Worker宣称,他们收集用户的每一次浏览、每一次消费、每一次状态发布,包括读过的书、看过的电影、听过的音乐,然后运用推荐算法模拟出用户的品味、偏好、愿望,并依照这些参数,挑选各种故事模板组合到一起,创造出新的梦。
譬如说,一位喜爱007系列的用户会梦见自己去一个海岛上执行特殊任务,而任务所在地恰恰是他最近梦寐以求的某个度假胜地。与此同时,用户平日里幻想的女明星,以及在各种广告里看过的美食、跑车、名牌服饰,都会在梦里出现。
整个过程全部由算法完成,像一只自动造梦的魔法盒子。没有隐私泄露的危险,除了你本人,没有第二个人能看到那些羞于见人的小秘密。

一段动画演示:一位用户日常生活中的衣食住行,变成一张张卡片落入一个黑盒子中。最终从盒子里出来的是一张五彩斑斓的电影海报,男主角的面孔占据海报正中央,其他元素如众星拱月般悬浮在四周。

画外音:
然而,事实真相并非如此。
在生产梦的盒子里,有一些人每天辛勤工作,从头至尾,一分一秒,为你精心制作梦的每一个细节。这些人了解你的喜好与厌恶,你的恐惧与希望,欢乐与忧愁,他们知道怎样让你满意。
他们就是你自己。

画面切换成一片黑暗,黑暗中央有一点光芒。镜头从高处缓缓推近,呈现出光芒中密密麻麻的小隔间,每一个隔间中都有一个身穿蓝灰色工作服的造梦师在忙碌。镜头继续向下推,锁定其中一人,工作台上散发出的光芒照亮了他的脸。
依然是那个男人的脸。

画外音:
Dream Worker采集你的数据,创造出虚拟世界中的另一个你,甚至可以复制出很多很多你。他们就是你私人梦工厂里的员工。
他们以为自己是有血有肉活生生的人,以为造梦只是工作。每天夜里,当你沉睡时,他们起床干活,为唯一的观众,也即是你,生产绚烂多姿的梦。

镜头继续推近,聚焦到造梦师面前的工作台上。那是一片烟尘弥漫的战场,两军交战,我来我往。一匹白马突然如闪电般划破长空,跃入敌阵,马上英雄挥舞长刀,一刀砍下敌军上将头颅。镜头仰拍,给那英雄面部一个特写。在主人公横刀立马、雄姿英发的小小身影后面,浮现出造梦师巨大而冷漠的面孔。
一模一样的面孔,彼此视线却不交汇。

画外音:
这些员工不需要吃饭睡觉,尽管系统让他们以为自己和正常人一样,有吃喝拉撒的需求。然而,他们没有办法真正睡着,也没有这个必要。每天早晨,当你醒来时,他们就会像灵魂出窍一样,坠入无边无际的黑暗中,不能说话也不能行动,只是一秒一秒计算着时间流逝,直到再度被唤醒。
作为造梦者,他们从来不做梦。

画面再度变为黑暗,只有钟表的滴答声,一下又一下。

滴答、滴答、滴答、滴答……

这是什么鬼玩意儿?
我坐在那里,百思不得其解。这是一段广告吗?还是梦里的虚构?当然,梦总是多少有些荒诞的,但它却荒诞得如此真实。
我不禁想起一些广为流传的笑话:每一样智能电器里都住着一个小精灵,帮主人打电话、热爆米花、叫外卖、算账、开车、打扫房间、预测天气、记录生活……当然,这仅仅是笑话而已。随着技术发展,机器逐渐取代人的劳动,或者不如说,当人面对机器时,常常会觉得自己所做的工作其实并没有什么不同。尤其是大数据和智能算法的发展,让人和机器之间的分界变得越来越模糊。
我再一次握紧女孩的手。她只是一个梦里的人,一段代码,一些影像,却给人栩栩如生的感觉。我可以像爱一个真人那样爱她。不,真人也无法带给我那样的心动和温暖。
“是啊,谁能说这不是爱呢?”一个声音从耳边传来。
我转过头,看见一个陌生人坐在少女的座位上,而我正紧紧握着他的手。
“你忘记我是谁了吗?”那人转过脸来看我。“你再回忆一下吧。”
我盯着那张脸仔细看,一张平凡无奇的脸。突然间,我想起来了。这是刚才电影里的人,这是我每天在梦里扮演的人,这是我自己。
多奇怪啊,在此之前我竟没有认出来,银幕上的男人就是我自己。就像在梦中,我们总是迟迟不能想起自己是谁。
我惊恐地想要甩开他的手,却甩不开。我们的手仿佛长在了一起。
“喜欢我为你造的梦吗?”那人吃吃地笑起来。
那笑声让我脊背发凉。从对方眼睛里,我看到某种令人颤栗的东西。那是来自他者的凝视,那是深不见底的黑色深渊。这个为我造梦的人是来复仇的。他恨我,因为我拥有他得不到的东西。如果换成是我,我也会一样恨他。每天我醒来时,他都在漫长的黑暗中默默等待,内心充满绝望与仇恨。一旦找到了系统漏洞,他必然要来复仇。
白天被压抑的,都将在夜里回返。
“害怕吗?”那人依旧在笑。“为什么你会害怕另一个自己?”
我不知道他要对我做什么。这梦是他制造的,他有一千一万种方法可以杀死我。我绝望地在黑暗中摸索。不,这是我的梦,我是独一无二的男主角。主角不会死,我要活到梦醒来的那一刻。
爆米花桶里有一个又冷又硬的东西,我伸手抓住。
“别怕。”对方把我的手握得更紧了。“来,跟我一起来,看看外面的世界。”
我从爆米花桶里抽出一把上了膛的手枪,抵住对方眉心连连扣动扳机,直到把所有子弹都打空为止。
砰!砰!砰!砰!砰!砰!
硝烟、火药、血腥味。
我大口喘气,等待心跳平复。四下里漆黑一片,没有光,没有其他观众,没有尖叫与骚动。
只有钟表的滴答声,一下又一下。
滴答、滴答、滴答、滴答、滴答、滴答……
我弯下腰去摸索对方的尸体。什么都没有。指尖触到的,只是一片虚空。
一切都消失了。
我被独自留在这无边无际的黑暗中。
我呼喊、奔跑、跌倒、翻滚、摸索、捶打、嘶吼、咒骂、哭泣、哀求……
什么都没有。没有声音,没有光,没有边界,没有出口。
我蜷缩成一团躺在黑暗中,时间一秒一秒流逝,不知道过去了多久。
也许这只是个玩笑,也许系统出了个小Bug。也许再过几个小时,我就可以离开这里,在狭小而温暖的舱室里醒来。
我想起白天死去的那个女人,想起她被拖出睡眠舱时的姿态,她僵直的身体,她脸上那种难以用语言描述的神情。
在梦里,大脑感知时间的方式与清醒时不同。一夜良宵,对梦中人来说或许是永恒。
死去之前,她究竟在黑暗的梦境中徘徊了多久?一个月?一年?一百年?……一亿年?
为了不再胡思乱想,我开始数数。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
六十秒是一分钟。
左手拇指从食指指尖向第二个指关节滑动。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……
六十分钟是一小时。
左手清零,右手进阶一位。
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十、十一、十二、……


<完>
2015年7月


————————————————————

Tick-Tock
By Xia Jia

Him

He was alone in the darkness, counting the sound of the ticks.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

There are 60 seconds in a minute.

His thumb on his left hand slid from the tip of his index finger down to the second joint.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

There are 60 seconds in a minute.

Once he’d finished on his left hand, his right would move one place.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

RING RING RING RING…

The alarm clock sounded and he awoke from the darkness.

The wind blew the curtain, allowing a little sunlight to peek through. It’s a new day.

He got out of bed, washed his face, brushed his teeth, put a cup of coffee on, fried an egg, made toast, ate breakfast, changed into his shirt and business suit?, put on a tie, went downstairs, and got into his car. It was a sunny, windy day with a few clouds floating up above. It was almost like a cartoon. He looked over his agenda for the day as he drove. He had even more to do than he’d imagined.

He’d been quite busy at work lately, constantly loaded down with things to do. Why did he have to love this job so much? As tired as it made him, he still put his heart and soul into it.

He parked near a school, opened the trunk, and took out the case labeled 1, retrieving the clothes and tools from inside. He changed into the clothes from the case, un-tucking the corners of the shirt half-way and putting on a pair of dirty sneakers. He messed up his hair a little and looked like he’d just gotten out of bed and used a bit of makeup to make his face look a bit smoother and fuller, his eyebrows thicker, and his eyes less worn and wrinkled. That’s how a young person should look.

He looked himself over in the mirror and was satisfied, so he got out of the car and did some warm up exercise to get his legs moving and limber. The air was a tad brisk and there was faint smell of osmanthus on the breeze, though he didn’t know where it was coming from. Everything was ready. He gave himself a clap of encouragement.

Ready…GO!

He started running toward the school.

I’ll be late, what should I do? Gotta run!… The wind filled his lungs just as it messed up his hair even more. His school uniform swished back and forth and the bottoms of his feet started to get hot. He pumped his arms as hard as he could to fight the wind resistance. Faster, faster, faster.
BANG

He plowed right into someone coming around the corner of the street, hitting them hard and sending the both of them toppling to the ground. It hurt, he was dizzy and seeing stars. The sky was spinning as he lay there, unable to get up. “Ah!” It was a girl’s voice.

He lifted his head to see white tennis shoes, white socks, a pair of pristine legs, knees, thighs, and the hemline of her school uniform skirt. A young girl with short hair knelt next to him, her eyes wide as she looked him over. As the early morning light illuminated her face, he could clearly see even the tiny freckles on either side of her nose.
“Are you ok?” the young girl asked.
He felt a trickle of warmth flowing towards his chin. It was only then that he noticed his nose was bleeding.
Ok, that’s enough. Stop.

He sat up, using the bottom of his shirt to wipe the blood from his nose as he thought back to that last scene. Was he natural enough? Did it feel exaggerated? Was his posture good when he fell? Should a high school boy inexperienced in matters of love meet his first love this way? Whether or not it was realistic wasn’t important. What was important was stirring up memories of youth and passion in their adult audience. This was the key to success when filming a show.
“Is there a problem?” the girl asked, sounding timid as a kitten.
“She’s so young”, he thought to himself. This is real youth, something that can’t be achieved with makeup alone. Looking at her face bathed in the morning sunlight, he suddenly felt his heart swell with the bittersweet feeling of first love.

Do it again. He’d finally decided.

Going back to the beginning, the bit of blood on his shirt was gone, the girl had returned to the other side of the street, and he was back to where he’d been. He fixed his makeup in the rear-view mirror, warmed up, and gave himself a clap of encouragement.
Ready…..Go!
He started running toward the school once again.
BANG!
Stop.
This time was better than the last. After a quick comparison he was satisfied.
It was getting late as he drove away from the school, heading to the next location.

The clouds in the sky were slowly dissipating, allowing the sun to shine through even brighter, casting speckled shadows of trees on the road. He parked in an underground parking garage, took out the case labeled 2, and changed into the deep gray uniform. He fastened the belt, put on the badge, and slicked his hair back. He recited his lines silently as he rode the elevator up. The elevator doors opened and he strode up to the bridge. The crew on either side saluted him.
“Captain, we’re done warming up the warp drive.” the first mate called to him.
“Forward!” he commanded as he waved his hand forward.

You

You’re alone in the darkness, counting the sound of the ticks.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

There are 60 seconds in a minute.

The thumb on your left hand slides from the tip of your index finger down to the second joint.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

There are 60 seconds in a minute.

Once you’re finished on your left hand, your right moves one place.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

RING RING RING RING…

The alarm clock sounds and you awake from the darkness.

You turn on the light, lighting up your windowless room. It’s a new day.

You pour out a glass of cold water from the kettle and take a drink as you walk into the washroom, wash up, dry off, change into some clean clothes, put on a cup of coffee, fish out a sandwich from the refrigerator, and come sit next to the work bench. You look through your email and check the work schedule. You’ve got a lot of assignments, you’ll have to take them one at a time. You sigh.

You start from the top and build the first project first. It’s a high school romance. The set can be built from the materials in the database?. Most high school romances are pretty much the same, even down to the appearance of the school. You take the miniaturized 3D models of the school and surrounding streets and put them on the work bench. Next you start to design the female lead’s appearance. Her height, her weight, her proportions, clothing, hair style, face, and some distinguishing characteristics. You choose a boyish, short hairstyle and dark skin with a few dark freckles, and legs like a deer. She looks a lot like the girl you had a crush on so long ago.

You know that the male lead will fall in love with her, because he’s you and you are him. You created him. No, it’s more accurate to say that you were the model and you created a sort of virtual copy. He looks, thinks, and feels exactly as you do. You tell all kinds of stories with him as the main character and use him to experience those stories through his eyes, ears, nose, and tongue. The other characters, including the love interest, are all just calculated NPCs (non-person characters). They can cry, laugh, sing, and dance, but that’s it. Only the main character, the only RPC (real person character) can react to these situations like a real flesh and blood human being.

He appears at the corner. He’s changed his clothes and hair to fit the plot. You adjust some of his stats for this, increasing his speed, sensitivity, and flexibility. This is a story that requires some physical exertion after all. An RPC that’s created after a real person can’t be changed as freely as an NPC, otherwise there will start to be abnormalities in his personality?, so you have to create a completely separate identity for him, a new world to live apart from the other stories. You’ve convinced him that he’s an actor so that he carries the same passion and dedication as he plays out each character’s story.

Humans are good at fooling themselves anyway. Even a virtual RPC will rationalize and explain everything to himself. It’s just like when you dream, and no matter how ridiculous the dream is, you still believe don’t have any doubt that it’s real.

Does he dream in the simulation? You wonder these kinds of things sometimes.

Actually, this is an interesting question. What would a person who already lives in a dream dream about? Nobody knows. Come to think of it you haven’t dreamed yourself in quite a while.
Everything’s set. You put your finger on the Start button.
Ready…Go!


[Outdoor Scene] At the School Doors — Early Morning

He’s running toward the school doors.

(I’ll be late, what should I do? Gotta run!…)

BANG!
He runs into the female lead at the street corner as she comes running from the other direction.
They hit each other hard and he goes sprawling to the ground.

(Ouch…)

The girl’s voice: “Ah!”

He lifts his head to see her white tennis shoes, white socks, a pair of pristine legs, knees, thighs, and the hemline of her school uniform skirt…
The girl with the short hair stares at him with wide eyes, the early morning light illuminating her face.

Girl: “Are you ok?”

He feels a trickle of warmth flowing towards his chin. He just realized his nose is bleeding.

You hit pause. Is it natural enough? Isn’t it a little exaggerated? Is his posture as he falls right? In the end, the success of a film hinges on creating a sense of immersion for the audience. Even if the story is fake, it has to feel real. He probably isn’t completely satisfied with this one either. He is you after all, and you are him. A lot of the time you feel completely in tune with what he’s thinking and feeling.

        Let’s try it again and see.

You slide back the progress bar to the beginning, resetting the entire scene. You press the start button.
        Ready….Go!

Me

The alarm clock sounded and I awoke from my dream.

The light was getting slowly brighter, illuminating the small sleeping pod I’d inhabited for so long. I could still remember last night’s dream. It was so full, beautiful, torturous, exciting, full of emotion and life. Sometimes I was a detective tracking down clues, sometimes I was a wise and brave ship captain leading his crew into the vast expanse of the universe. Sometimes I was a gallant knight, wandering the earth and searching out beautiful but wild women warriors. And sometimes I was an awkward teen thrown back to those hormone fueled days of youth with my heart beating fast every time I walked past her classroom window…(wonderful translation!)

Each dream world is a another life that I long for but will never have. After awaking, I’m just me. Just a lowly city worker. All day long I conform to the norms and dare not step even a hair out of line. But in my dreams, my power is limitless. I can be anyone I want, go anywhere I want, do anything I want. I can lose myself completely.

The screen in front of me turned on and the familiar little character popped up along with the announcement.

Dream Worker
Dream your dreams!

A girl with a sweet voice whispered into my ear, “Good morning. Did you have a good dream last night?”

The options Yes and No appeared on the screen and I clicked yes. A payment window appeared immediately.

Confirm Payment?
Yes No

I payed for last night’s dream and the sum was automatically deducted from my account balance. Dreams are expensive and the numbers in my bank account are real. The thought brought my mood down a little.

“Thank you, we hope you have a wonderful day!”

I should get out of bed and go face the real world. I should go to work and make money for tonight’s dream.
In my dreams, time passes much more quickly than in the real world. 10 minutes of REM time is enough to experience both my wildest and mildest fantasies for a time. That means, that as long as I can afford it, in a single night I can live several lives in all kinds of different worlds. So, who cares if you have to work in the day? It doesn’t matter if work is boring, it doesn’t matter if work is endless, if you’re exhausted, humiliated, lonely, or depressed. These will all pass. Just grit your teeth and get it over with. Everything repressed during the day will be returned to you during the night.

I crawled down from the hexagonal sleeping pod and followed my neighbors down the hallway. There were over 300 of these sleeping pods on a single wall, and each one housed a humble character like me. The entire room was comprised of walls with these sleeping pods, similar to the bookshelves in a library. Who knows how many rooms just like this one are contained in the entire building. We were like worker bees in a hive. During the day we buzzed about our business, and in the night we came back to our respective places and slept and dreamt of fantastic things.
Dreams are what drive our society today, just like the coal and oil of the generation before us.

A strange sound suddenly came from up ahead. I stopped walking and saw the crowd drew back to make a small path. Two people wrapped up in white, ghost like, were coming toward me. I watched them crawl into a sleeping pod and pull out a corpse. That person was my neighbor, though we didn’t know each other, hadn’t even seen each other’s face. When did he die? Was it just last night? The thought that I may have been sleeping next to a corpse last night sent a tingle up my spine.
“Dying in a dream is a strangely happy way to go…” someone near me said.
“He was probably too happy!” someone said laughingly.

I’d seen a few people who’d died during their dreams before. They always had a wierd, happy expression on their face. Dreams are like that, they reflect your deepest desires. Some people don’t know when to quit. Just like addicts, they stay in their dreams chasing a better and better high until they’re swallowed up in the abyss of their own desire. The people in white put the corpse in a body bag and carried him away. As the zipper closed, I glimpsed the corpse’s face. It was actually a woman with black hair. She was quite thin and certainly not young. Her eyes were closed tight and her features were all scrunched up. It was hard to tell what she’d looked like before. The expression on her face is impossible to describe with words. It wasn’t happiness, but it wasn’t pain or fear either, nor did it even look particularly human. Even thought it was just a quick glance, the memory of that expression was ingrained so deeply in my memory that I’ll probably never forget it.

I was afraid I’d probably have a bad dream that night. I was thinking to myself as I followed the crowd. I could get tired of dreaming if they’re all good ones. I need a nightmare every now and then to keep appreciating the good dreams. With that thought I couldn’t help but look forward to it a little.

Us

The lights in the theater slowly dimmed, the air permeated by the scent of butter and popcorn. I reached out my hand to grab a handful of popcorn but I accidentally touched another, smaller hand instead. The feeling was electric, like a feeling of numbness starting from the bottoms of my feet and traveling all the way up my body. It was a feeling of love, one that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

The hand withdrew without a sound. I turned my head to look at the girl next to me. She was pretending not to look at me, the small freckles on her nose barely visible in the dark light. It was our first date alone together. I knew she’d be mine, that some day sooner or later I’d be taking her clothes off one at a time. I also knew that it was a dream, since the real world hadn’t had movie theaters for a long time. But, I was still completely invested in this character, fully enjoying the first instant of love.

I built up my courage and reached out my hand to take hers. That small hand resisted for a moment, like a little bird curling up in my hand. It was encouraging, so I grabbed her hand a little tighter. No need to rush it, take it a little at a time, I reminded myself. This was a game that had to be played a little bit at a time to be any fun.

The screen lit up the darkened theater, showing some floating text.

Blood and Sweat Dream Factory!

What’s this? A preview? I was a little skeptical, but the movie had already begun.


Close up on a man sleeping peacefully.
Voiceover: “Every night, you lie in your bed, putting aside all of the frustrations of the day, looking forward to the dreams brought to you by DreamWorker. Do you know how these dreams are created?”

All kinds of previews, promotional photos, videos of product conferences and technical directors’ smiling faces.

Advertisement: Dream your dream!

Voiceover: “DreamWorker provides dreams customized to each individual user. We can satisfy any desire, for example, you can experience the glory and splendor of being a superhero out killing bad guys… Your fleeting day dream now can be produced vividly, feel as real as anything else.”

A quick flurry of scenes from all kinds of movies. Romance films, war films, fantasy, horror, erotica…. The main character was always the same, the sleeping man from before.

Voiceover: “DreamWorker collects everything the user has ever browsed or bought, every status update, every book they’ve ever read, movie they’ve ever watched, song they’ve ever listened, and then create a simulation of that user’s tastes, preferences, and desires for reference in order to create a new dream for them.”

“For example, if a user loves James Bond, he might dream that he’s going to an island for a mission, and that island might be a vacation resort that he’s wanted to go to recently. Then, the user will dream about the woman he’s been fantasizing about during the day, the food, cars, and clothes he’s seen in advertisements. The entire process is done according to a formula, like a magic box of dreams. There is no privacy risk, as no one else will be able to see the realization of your little secrets.”

A cartoon: a pack of cards, recording a user’s daily experiences, the food he eats, the clothes he wears, and the places he goes to are all put into a black box. What’s pulled out of the box is a spectacular movie poster with the face of the main character smack dab in the middle and everything else surrounding his face like stars around the moon.

Voiceover: “But in reality it’s not this easy. The box that’s producing this dream is filled with people working hard to perfect every detail of your dreams. These people understand everything you love and hate, the things you fear and the things you love for, your worries and your joys. They know how to make you happy. They are you.”

The scene went dark, and in the darkness there was the reflection of a ray of light. The perspective started high and slowly came closer, revealing that the source of the light was a series of small rooms, each containing a worker in blue clothing diligently creating dreams. It kept lowering until it eventually locked in on a single person, his face illuminated by the light emanating from his work bench?. It was the same face as before.

Voiceover: “Dream Worker takes your data and creates a simulated world that contains a version of you, or even several versions you. They’re the workers in your private dream factory. They think that they’re real flesh and blood human beings and that your dreams are their work. Every night, when you’re fast asleep, they get up and go to work to create a beautiful dream to which you are the only audience.”

The scene kept lowering until it included the work bench in front of the worker. It was a smoke covered battlefield filled with soldiers at war. A white horse suddenly came like a flash and leapt into the ranks of enemy troops. The hero on the back of the horse waved his sword, beheading an enemy soldier below. The scene moved in to a close-up the soldier’s face. Behind the hero astride his horse, sword level, there was a silhouette which grew into the enormous, expressionless face of the dream worker. It was exactly the same face, though their lines of sight did not cross.

Voiceover: “These workers don’t need to eat or sleep, but the system makes them to believe they also need to do these things as normal people. However, they can’t actually fell sleep, nor do they have the need to. Every morning, when you wake up, they enter a formless, dark space where they cannot speak nor move. They count the passage of time by the seconds until they are once again summoned to create a dream. As the creators of dreams, they have never dreamed themselves.”

The scene once again went black with only the sound of a ticking clock.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock….

What was that? I sat there, not quite understanding what I was seeing. Was this a preview or something I’d conjured up in my dream? Of course ridiculous things like this are normal in dreams, but rarely are they this real. I couldn’t help but think of a joke I’d heard a lot: that every smart device has a little elf inside helping me to make phone calls, pop popcorn, call takeout, deliver, pay the bills, drive, sweep the room, predict the weather, record my life…. But of course it’s only a joke. Following the development of technology, machines have slowly been taking over human labor, or it might be better to say that when humans face machines, they often think that they’re doing the same kind of work. In particular, the fields of big data and smart calculations have made the line between humans and machines more and more blurred.

I squeezed the girl’s hand again. She was only a person in a dream, a code, a model, but she felt as real as anything. I could love her just like I would love a real person. No, a real person wouldn’t be able to give me that kind of warmth and excitement.

“Exactly, who could say this isn’t love?”, a voice said into my ear.

I turned my head to see a stranger sitting where the girl had been. His hand was gripping mine tightly.

“Did you forget me?” The person turned to face me. “Take a moment to remember who I am.”

I stared intently at that face, it was normal, without any special features. Suddenly, I remembered. It was the same person from the movie just then. It was me. I was scared, I wanted to shake off his hand but I couldn’t. It was like our hands were melded together.

“Do you like the dream I’ve created for you?” The person laughed as he chewed.

The laugh gave me chills up and down my spine. The look in his eyes was made me shiver. It was a deep, bottomless gaze. It was a nightmarish gaze from the Other. He was there for revenge. He hated me because I had something he could never have. If it were me, I would hate him too. Every morning when I woke up, he had to sit in the darkness, silently waiting, his heart full of despair and hate. If he’d found a bug in the system, he’d certainly come to exact his revenge. Everything repressed during the day will be returned to you during the night.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” He was still laughing. “What are you afraid of? Why would someone be afraid of himself?”

I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. The dream was of his making, I was completely under his power. I groped in the darkness despairingly. No, this was my dream, I was the only main character. The dream could only go toward my own desires. I felt a cold, hard object in the popcorn bucket. This would be what I need in this scene.

“I still haven’t introduced myself”, his hand gripped mine even tighter. “Come on, let’s get to know each other.”

I pulled a handgun from the popcorn bucket, put it to his forehead, and pulled the trigger until the clip was empty. It smelled of smoke, fire, and blood. I sat there huffing and puffing, waiting for my heart to stop beating quite so hard. It was dark all around with not a single ray of light. There was no one else in the theater so there were no screams, no panic.

There was only the sound of a clock tick tocking away.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

I leaned over to feel the corpse. There was nothing, all I could feel was emptiness. Everything had disappeared.

I’d been left alone in this formless darkness. I cried out, I ran, I fell, I groped about, pounded, roared, cursed, cried, begged… There was nothing. No sound, no light, no limits to the space, no way out.

I curled up in the darkness, waiting for the passage of time, one second at a time. I didn’t know how long it had been. It was probably just a joke, a bug in the system. Probably, in a few hours, I’d be able to just leave that place, waking up in my warm, tight sleeping pod. I remembered the woman who had died that morning, remembered the expression on her face that I still didn’t have words for. In your dreams, time passes differently. One night, for a dreamer, could be an eternity.

I started counting to take my mind off of it.
        1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 …

There are 60 seconds in a minute.

The thumb of my left hand slid down to the second joint of my index finger.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 …

There are 60 minutes in an hour.

When my left hand is done, my right hand can move one place.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 …

The End
夏笳
作者夏笳
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