“It’s a question of what you believe in, more than anything. If you think people are wholesome and good and capable of great things, you’re more likely to be excited about the future. You’ll probably look forward to what happens next; the changes that will materialize along with new technologies and ideas.
“If you’re pessimistic about humanity, on the other hand, you’ll probably feel a sense of dread about the impending shifts in how we organize, how we communicate, and how we live our lives. You’ll assume the worst about tomorrow because you assume the worst about the people who make that tomorrow manifest.
“Good people create the world of the Eloi. Bad people create the subterranean troglodytic world of the Morlocks.”
I picked through the basket of fries sitting on the table between Rainer and me, selecting one that looked crispy, but was actually just burnt. “You know, you had me until that last part.”
“And Eloi. I don’t know that reference.”
The Eloi were one of two species inhabiting Earth in the year 802,701 in H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel, The Time Machine. The Eloi lived above ground, and were described as both innocent and naive, like children. Their lives were tended to by the Morlocks, who were another species that lived underground, operated machinery, and seemed to live an existence of drudgery and darkness. The time-traveling protagonist of the book lives among the Eloi, and later discovers that the Morlocks keep them happy and fed in the same way contemporary humans keep their cattle well-tended, and for the same reason. The Morlocks would sneak in at night and steal Eloi to eat.
The Eloi and Morlocks are considered to be a statement about producers and consumers, and how the distinction between social and economic classes could inform biological evolution, given sufficient time.
“Oh, wait, no, I get it.”
Rainer took a sip of his orange juice. “One of these days, I’ll get voices of my own. Voices who’ll tell me cool things and make me seem more informed about turn of the century, English, science fiction writers.”
“I know you will, man, I know you will.” I perused the basket for another fry, but we were down to the dregs, and they all looked either soggy or overcooked. “But I think you were making a point, before spinning off on a literary tangent.”
“I was, at that.” He picked up a fry and ate it, making a face at the taste and taking a drag from his juice before continuing. “So you’re weirded out by the whole Francis thing.”
“I think I have a right. I mean, if I’m going to be weird about something, I don’t think it’s irrational that it be about…” I leaned in closer and whispered, “you know, killing people.”
Rainer smiled. “Bad people.”
“Bad to who?”
He sighed. “We’ve been through this. Bad in an absolute sense. Bad to everyone except themselves, because those kinds of people can delude themselves into thinking just about anything. Even ridiculous things, like the world not hating them, and them not being what makes society horrible.”
The street bistro where we sat was in a nice-ish part of LA, where businesspeople walked and everyone wore ties and suit jackets, and carried expensive briefcases. There were office buildings on all sides of us, and a bank across the street, its architecture an exercise in pillars and low-relief carvings and other hints of a newer building hoping to be thought old.
“I don’t know. I still think it’s just…there’s something inherently uncomfortable about the whole situation.”
“I know you feel that way, and I appreciate that sentiment. For what it’s worth, I’ve done my part by making some suggestions, and I don’t plan on participating further.”
“I guess that kind of helps.” I remembered something. “Didn’t you say, when you were keeping the whole Francis thing from me, that you were afraid? Like, you had to keep it from me because it would be dangerous to know what was going on?”
“Did she threaten you or something? She just, well, didn’t seem like the kind of person who would do such a thing. I mean, I know she callously shuts down people’s brains, but threaten you? I don’t see it. She was so friendly. She served us tea. Literally on a silver platter.”
Rainer smiled. “I know. I like that about her. And for the record, I was afraid for her, not for us. She’s capable of a lot, but self-defense is not on the list. I’m pretty sure you could take her in a fight, and you’re…” He waved his hand at me, implying much.
“I’m not the fittest guy in the world, but I could beat a girl in a fight.”
“I said you could.”
“You implied it wouldn’t be a sure thing.”
“I think you’re reading too much into this.”
“Drink your damn juice.” I saw a fry in the basket that looked like it might be worth my time, but was stopped mid-reach by a commotion across the street.
An alarm sounded, and a small stampede of people surged from the double doors of the bank. Even from across the street I could tell something serious was going down. “Dude, something serious is going down,” I said to Rainer, though he was a step ahead of me; he already had his phone out, camera at the ready.
He said, “You think it’s a bank robbery?”
I said, “I don’t think those actually happen in real life. I think people just, I don’t know, hack banks or something. Or steal people’s bank passwords.”
“Phishing,” he said, eyes still locked on the front doors of the bank, where nothing had happened since the initial pack of fleeing people cleared the steps.
Phishing is a type of online scam wherein the ‘phisher’ tricks the victim into divulging their login credentials by posing as a legitimate entity, such as a bank, government office, or retailer. The first recorded instances of phishing took place on the America Online service in the mid-90’s, and has since evolved into more specialized activities, such as ‘spear phishing,’ which involves angling for information from a given target, and ‘whaling,’ which involves spear phishing high-profile targets, like CEOs of major companies and politicians.
“Yeah, that kind of thing. I just don’t think anyone’s willing to take the risk these days to…” Before I could finish my sentence, a figure dressed all in black, complete with a black ski mask, crashed through one of the glass doors, ran down the stairs in front of the bank, and took off down the street. He was carrying two enormous black duffle bags; one slung over his shoulder, and one under his arm.
“Ho-ly shit. Cain, did you…?”
“Oh yeah, I saw it.” I was about to ask Rainer if he’d gotten it all on video with his phone, when the masked, black-clad man was tackled by another figure who seemed to fly from an alley alongside the thief’s path of retreat.
As the two figures rolled around in the street, one of the duffle bags went flying, breaking a car window. The new arrival straddled the thief and was pounding the other man with his fists, but was then himself rolled to the ground and whaled on by the man in black, who still had the other duffle bag slung over his shoulder.
There were people sitting at other tables in our bistro who had also stopped to watch, and there were shrieks and gasps of surprise among them when the non-masked figure pulled a gun on the other man, and fired into his chest at close range, once, twice, three times. The masked man shuddered with each impact, but kept on fighting, knocking the gun from his attacker’s hand.
The gun removed from combat, there was a visible struggle, even though neither man moved. They were grappling with one another, and both seemed to be testing the other’s strength, and apparently found themselves evenly matched. The thief seemed to be slowly overcoming the other man, who had managed to roll back to the ground, and who seemed to be shaking a little from the effort.
Then, fast as the shutter on a camera, the man on the ground struck the black-clad figure in the throat. Though he seemed to be winning the bout moments before, the thief crumpled to the ground, all life draining from him instantly. It was really quite something.
I looked to Rainer, ready to gossip about the really cool thing that had just happened, but he was studying his phone.
“Huh,” he said.
“I got video of the whole thing.”
“Dude! Send it to me! Share it, before any of these other people have the chance!” I looked around, noting the people who were typing away on their phones, wondering which were innocently texting their families and friends about what had happened, and which would be competing with us for video views later that night.
“Yeah, ah, well, you might want to see it, first.”
“What? What happened? Did it not save correctly or something?” I prepared myself to be devastated, and tried to lock the whole epic fight into my long-term memory, so I could revisit it later.
“No. I mean, yes. It saved just fine. I actually got it in high definition, and I zoomed in, and…well…look.”
He handed me the phone and I watched the playback for a few seconds before I realized what he was talking about. I looked back toward the figures in the street, who were now surrounded by police cars, the whole block being cordoned off by yellow tape and uniformed officers.
“So that was…?”
“Yeah. That was Plato fighting with the bank robber dude.”
It took me a second to process the situation, beyond simply knowing someone who was directly involved with such a dramatic street fight. “So…if that was Plato…and he’s, you know, what he is…”
“Then…?” Rainer said.
“Then who the hell was fighting him? And winning?”