Ross tapped his mask, invoking a pop-up in the lower right of his view. Ten percent and dropping. Ross uttered a short curse. He should have checked it before he left for work this morning. As it was, he wasn’t going to be home on LoveDay at the normal time with all the kissing and groping going on.
DVote and TruLove were ancient relics, having out-maneuvered each other in intense bouts of corporate sabotage and intrigue. Their legacy culminated in LoveDay, a sponsored event that had full government backing. Ross remembered a time when dating and wooing a potential partner was standard.
Now it had all been replaced by these infernal nanites.
The miniature machines released into the air like birds taking wing, drifting on micro-currents and thermals until they were inhaled by passers-by. Inside, they burrowed into the capillaries and rode into the brain, stimulating nerve centers to release dopamine and other compounds.
The end result was an all-out gropefest with glassy-eyed couplets pawing at each other, cheeks flush with amorous desire. Ross stepped over a pair humping on the side of the street, clothes torn from grasping hands. It was undignified. Ross understood love, or he thought he did.
The kind that simmered like a good stew, tended and cared for with quality ingredients. Perhaps that was his bias, as a cook he loved to take time when preparing a meal. Advances in technology had brought insta-meals and exotic flavors, but they couldn’t hold a candle to something made from scratch.
That’s what love should be, not this add-nanites-and-get-groped nonsense.
In a nod to the remaining souls that had to perform their duties whether LoveDay was in session or not, nanite filters were available for qualifying citizens. It wouldn’t do to have enforcement officers making out at a crime scene. Certain jobs had to get done. If you didn’t meet the threshold for critical duties or the AI needed more bodies making babies, you were out of luck.
If excluded, you could use a mask. It was crudely fabbed with sockets for stubby cylinders jutting out at right angles. Ross wasn’t sure about all the technical details, but it allowed a temporary reprogramming of the nanite cloud in your local space. The dormant nanites would form a kind of shield on the filter membrane preventing active ones from getting in.
The effect lasted as long as an override signal kept pinging into the mask, fed by a small power cell embedded inside. Once the power was gone, the barrier would dissolve and the active machines would flood his lungs, burrowing into his bloodstream. It could be worse, he supposed.
The early aughties were filled with horror stories about abused technology. Rogue pharmacore sabotage, neutralizing medicines from competitors, often inside the very bodies of the patients that needed help. Millions died from such conflicts. Civilization was brought back from the brink by an accord drafted by an AI, with input from the remaining sovereigns.
Relinquishing self-governance on the national scale was a bitter pill to swallow, but the AI was a kind if benevolent dictator. It resulted in some policies that didn’t make sense in human terms but were deemed necessary by the unblinking eye of the machine intelligence shepherding its human charges.
We were too unreliable and moody to exceed our baser desires. The human race needed help, especially to counteract the trend of declining birthrates and basic intimacy. Ross firmly believed that the incursion of technology was partially to blame for the gradual isolation of people.
It was one of the reasons that he still traveled to go to work. Most would just goggle-in and be done with it, having walked mere steps from their beds to their office. Nothing beat a good walk in the morning sun, he thought. Ross wouldn’t sequester himself in his apartment, meeting with friends in virtual spaces.
“That’s the life for a pet, not a free person!”, Ross exclaimed, stepping over a half-naked couple in the middle of the sidewalk. The nudity didn’t bother him, it was the loss of reason and control. Did we really have to surrender all control for one day, just because a machine said so?
He had his doubts. It was why Ross tried not to use technology if he could help it. His kitchen was full of anachronistic devices and tools. No one cooked over open flames anymore, but Ross did. The first time he fired up his home made stove, the fire suppression system had kicked on.
It took days to get all of the FireRid pellets out of his living space. He still found one every now and then, small sphere holding compressed nanos that would break active bonds starving any raging flames. They looked like tiny pearls from an old-time necklace.
Ross was almost home, mask vibrating faintly to warn him of the exhausted power reserves. Walking briskly across the lobby, he leaned on the call button. His building was ancient, preserved by a historical society that prided itself in keeping ancient relics unchanged.
The elevator door slid open, revealing his neighbor Kate. Ross had admired her from afar, much too hesitant to let her know his true feelings. Her curly hair, ringlets descending from the temples. It was his weakness, those deep sapphire eyes and graceful cheekbones.
Ross stared aghast as Kate pulled her partner in view, glassy eyes infused with nanite love. He was muscular and handsome, the exact opposite of himself. They were barely clothed, torn sleeves and askew shirt collars revealing more than Ross wanted to see.
Dejected, he left the groping couple walking to the stairwell exit. Only ten stories, plenty of exercise to work out the feelings he had. Had it all just come down to this? He cursed himself, wishing he had offered her cooking lessons or helped her move in.
But he hadn’t.
It didn’t matter much, did it, on LoveDay. If he had ripped off his mask and somehow banished the interloper to some hidden dimension, that could have been him in that elevator. Was that what he really wanted? Simulated attraction, mechanical groping and coupling. He might as well be the cranked meat grinder in his kitchen.
Ross shoved open the door to his apartment, allowing the door to seal. The air inside was actively filtered, since he had an exclusion permit. Ross removed his mask, putting it on the small table in the foyer.
It vibrated faintly, then went dead.
Just like he felt inside.