“Mr. Jeff Bazoon, 49 years old, recruited at the Grand Canyon. What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I paused the app. “How am I supposed to answer this question, ‘what I want to be when I grow up?’” I shuffled beside Kate, trying to keep up with her pace as we walked back to the car. “Will you slow down? Can I do this later?”
Kate stopped and looked me in the eye. “You’ve been pushing too many things for much later, Jeff. You’re missing out on life.”
My phone buzzed. Her words, “You’re missing out on life” flashed on the screen.
“How did that record your words?” I said. “And why only those? Yesterday, it also recorded, ‘I shall see you soon, Tony’.”
“I don’t know, Jeff. You’ll have to learn how to decode it. It’s trying to tell you something about your journey towards your dream. That much I can say. But the rest, you have to figure it out. Some—“ she hesitated and said, “—someone said that the prototype behaves in a different fashion according to the algorithm of the user. It’s your life, your journey.”
Pushing too many things for much later.
Missing out on life.
The words rang in my heart.
What do I want to be when I grow up? I’m a grown up and I don’t even know what I wanted to be. “Kate, what if I answered it wrong?”
She tugged at me and we started for the car again. “I don’t think it’s like a test with a right or wrong answer, but I could be wrong. Why don’t you write the first thing that you ever thought you wanted to be when you were five.”
“Five? I could barely remember anything at seven,” I said.
“You’re a late bloomer then. I remembered wanting to be a photographer on my fifth birthday when I blew the cake and the candles refused to be blown off. The tongues of fire blazed yellow orange and red on my rainbow colored cake. I wanted to capture that moment with a blink, wished I had a camera inserted in my eyes and each blink would be a camera shutter.”
“You’re an early bloomer perhaps. The average person would have distinct memories at around 6 years old,” I said.
“Whatever. But you’re not answering the question.” She pointed at my phone and unlocked the car.
We both slid in and buckled up. With the starting of the engine, I typed the word ‘inventor.’
What do you want to be when you grow up? The cursor blinked.
“How many times do I need to type in my answer?”
“What did you write?”
“Is that really what you wanted to be?”
“I remembered playing with fine gravel in the construction site and found a broken Mongol pencil, probably from one of the carpenters, buried underneath the mound. I played make-believe with the pencil. Used it as a bridge, a crane, even as an airplane, made it hover over the mound of gravel.
“So you think that was inventing? You were playing make-believe with a bridge, crane and airplane. Hellow!”
I turned back to the cursor and typed, Engineer.
The question blinked again. I heaved out a breath of exasperation.
“What did you type now?”
Kate grunted. “How obvious do you want it to be, Jeff? You gotta be honest with yourself here. Who are you trying to fool? Pencil. Make-believe. Hellur!”
She braked and we both lunged forward.
Animals stood in the middle of the road.
“What are those?”
“Go take a picture with your iphone. Video. The kids should see this.”
I fumbled and focused on the strange-looking animals that looked like a cross-breed of moose, deer, and donkey with ruffled hair.
“They looked like they had a bad hair day,” she said.
“Exactly what I thought! You read my mind.”
The phone buzzed and the words ‘You read my mind’ appeared.
I stared at it. “Kate, the app. It recorded my words, ‘You read my mind.’”
“Huh?” She was busy maneuvering the car while honking in short staccato to avoid the animals grazing in the middle of the road. The large one in front of the car finally budged and walked to the side. Kate sped off, laughing as she looked at the rearview mirror. “Look, the animal walked right back to where it stood. Thank You, Lord we got past.”
“Kate,” I said.
“It said, ‘you read my mind’.”
“Who me? Of course, I always read your mind.” She laughed.
“But I said that, not you.”
“Go figure, Jeff. The app works inside out, upside down. Go write.”
Her words buzzed out, ‘Go write’.
“Go write what?” I said.
“Your answer. So you can proceed. You’re delaying again and wasting much time. I can drive the way to the Skywalk so you can finish the navigating instructions.”
“What do I write?”
“Uh-duh. Do I have to spell it out to you? Writer… Pencil… Make-believe… And you are the genius here. Sometimes I feel like commonsense is what you lack… Common sense. Yeah, maybe that’s why. It’s so common, it is for the common people, not a genius like you.”
I typed in the word, ‘Writer’. And the downloading icon flashed on the screen. I waited. A minute had gone and it was still reading. “I think it just hanged.”
“Must be the signal. We’re in the middle of dense forest. Oh, look, camping site.” She pointed as we passed by red and blue tents in between the pines. “We should do that next time, stay longer and just linger. I’m getting too old from this fast-paced, well-planned, stick-to-the itinerary kind of vacation.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s what I thought, too. You read my mind.” There it was again. The sentence. I shrugged it off. “I’m getting tired from hopping from one place to another, always in a hurry.”
“Why, Jeff… you should have told me. I thought that’s what you wanted. You always tell me to make a good plan. Research all the good places. Make every minute count. And every dime.”
“I said that?”
“Since our first vacation. 2009. Europe. And that’s what I did and you were ecstatic about that three-week European tour. Eurail. Four countries.”
“Wow, you’re right. Germany, Italy, France, and Austria. That was hectic. But we were young then. Can’t believe that was almost ten years ago.”
Kate grasped my hand and held it tight. “You should have told me to slow down, throw away the itinerary, and go where the Spirit leads. I would have liked that, too.”
I kissed her hand and rubbed it on my cheek. “Why don’t we do that, Kate?”
She withdrew her hand to make a left turn. “All these constructions and detours—“
“It’s confusing the GPS.” She flicked it off. “There. Shut up. I can read the road signs without you telling me.”
The app flashed on and her words stared at me. ‘I can read the road signs without you telling me.’
Could it be that the words I speak or spoken to me were clues? Encrypted. Decoded. Responded to Algorithm. The app operated on real time.
The dream. Writer.
The iPhone screen went black and then lit up. “It’s working now.”
“Go ahead. Read it,” Kate said.
“Welcome to the REM Protocol,” a female voice spoke, reminding me of AI simulations in sci-fi movies. “We dream everyday. Some dreams are superficial. At the level of our consciousness.
Some dreams are buried in temporary amnesia. Traumatized by memories. At the level of the subconscious.
Some dreams haunt us until we unearth it. Written in our hearts by Divine Hands. At the level of the unconscious.
The app captures what you may not. You capture what the app cannot. Together, we work to patch up the pieces and decode the dream encrypted in your design.
Designed by Divine Hands.
Congratulations on taking this step towards your dream. Your destiny,” the voice ended.
“Kate, it’s back in the homepage.”
“What? You must have missed something. It took me hours to complete my navigational instructions.”
I tapped the home menu button. “Yup, that’s it. It has the journal tab, word for the day tab, stored memories tab, write your dream tab.”
“What about FAQ tab?”
“Where do I find that?”
“Just below all those tabs you mentioned.”
“Nope. That’s all I got.”
“Weird.” She signaled right, entered the hotel complex, and parked by the entrance. “Praise God for the empty spot.” She unbuckled and took the phone from my hand. “Let’s see.” After a couple of finger taps, she frowned. “You’re right.”
“Told you. You won’t believe me.”
She shoved back the phone to me and looked at her apple watch. “You activated my app. It recorded your last words.”
“You have the app?”
Kate looked like a girl caught with her hands in the cookie jar. But only for a minute. “I said I was familiar with it, didn’t I?”
“You could have told me up front. So were you recruited too? Who recruited you? Why didn’t you tell me?” Then it dawned on me. “It was Sam!”
“You know now.” She shrugged and looked at her watch again. “I’m not answering any more questions that are not related to technical aspects of the app.” She hopped off the car and headed to the entrance of the hotel, her hands pointed to the car and locked it.
That was unlike Kate, secretive. What was she up to this time?
I hurried after her. “So the app syncs to your watch? I can do that?” Best to pry it gently out of her.
“Isn’t that neat? Just tap settings and sync.”
I tapped on the menu. “There’s none.”
She grabbed my phone again. After a couple of taps, the lines around her mouth deepened. “Your app seems to have the basic buttons only. Mine is more complicated.” She handed back my phone and opened hers. “Here, look.”
The home button alone had ten tabs and each tab had five subtabs. The settings button had several options.
“It’s too complicated for me. I like mine better.” I gave it back to her. “I don’t have the time to read all those instructions.”
She put a finger under her chin. “Hmmm, just like the Ikea cabinets. I’m the one who reads the manual and could not build one without it, no matter how many times I’ve built the same cabinet. You’re more intuitive. Sometimes, you can build one even without reading the instructions, once you’ve performed the procedure. Maybe that’s how the app works. It’s adaptive to your brain.”
“How can it do that? My brain does not have bluetooth,” I said.
“Remember the prototype activators? The one that sizzled the hair on your arms? At the Hermit’s Rest?”
“What about it?”
“It’s a form of nanobiotechnology.”
“You mean Tony implanted me with nanobots in my brain without my consent?”
What else did that guy do? And why did Kate knew so much about this technology?
“The prototype activators won’t work unless you have the app,” she said. “It’s programmed to biologically degrade on your skin unless activated. And the app won’t work unless you consented to it?”
“Well, I did not.”
“Uh, hello,” she said with raised brows. ”Didn’t you read the terms and conditions at the opening page and hit agree? So technically, he did get your consent.”
“I—-uh. I did?”
“And you’re the genius. What happened to your memory?” she said.
“My brain seems to have been whacked by the encounter with Tony.”
“Anyway. Let’s go. Need to pack up, check out, head to Sky Walk, then Hoover Dam, then…”
“Can’t we not hurry? National Geographic, remember? Slow down our pace. Go with the Spirit.”
“Oh, right.” She hugged me and clasped my hand. “I hope the kids are awake.”
When we opened the room, both were still on bed.
“Girls, wake up!” She flipped the blankets off the two. “Argh. I should have called.” She turned and saw the open suitcases with clothes in disarray. “And you’re not even packed.”