The bar was smokey, dark and full of threat. I think Daewon chose these places for us to meet as a way to appear more edgy than he really was. I don’t think this was one of his regular haunts, no one seemed to know him and he seemed ill at ease beneath his veneer of false bravado.
We’ve been here an hour and were several drinks in, reminiscing about our shared times at university. The old friends, the nights out drinking, the love interests, his dropping out, my progression and our annual reunions.
“I got a new tat” say’s Daewon and he pulls up his jumper’s sleeve to reveal a winding dragon on his lower arm. The animation is a little crude but it’s well done; I heap praise on it. The tattoo cannot hide the fact that Daewon is looking old beyond his years however. Grey specks his thick black hair and his skin looks dry and sickly. I have a sudden welling of concern for my old friend and lover, even if that was a lifetime ago. He reads my expression and gives me a forced smile.
“It’s not that bad Nga, I just need a bit of a rest and some sun you know? You know it looks like my days of doing AVR animations are over anyway. The stuff I’m good at is fully automated now, it’s just a matter of months before the design boys have the hang of it and the work will dry up. I’m only really working on legacy projects as it is.” As much as he tries to spin it as a fresh start, I can see the bitterness in his face as he continues to tell me of his state of underemployment.
“We all know it’s a matter of time before our jobs are gone Daewon, this has been hanging over us all of our lives. We lost three lab techs last week, I’ve got to make sure all their tasks are automated but I doubt I’ve got more than a few years left where I am. I might just take the UBI and join some opensource projects until I find something else to do.”
“You did well to finish uni Nga, you always were a smart one, you did well to get rid of me too.” He laughs as he says this but it pisses me off nonetheless.
“If you’re going to start feeling sorry for yourself, I’m out of here. We all have shit to deal with, I just don’t choose to wear mine on my sleeve.” As the words hang in the air I learn over to the table’s touchscreen and order some sake and a platter of finger foods straight from the microwave.
Eventually he nods and mumbles an apology. “It just infuriates me you know? I’ve spent years on this skills path, I’m good, I’m fast, I like working from home, working for myself and the clients are happy. I don’t want to have to tear up my career because some AI worked out how to do my job. I never asked to have my existence upended so that the five people that own that AI can take all of my money. I can’t blame human:nature for protesting like they do.”
The thing with Daewon is that I’ve never been able to know if he’s serious and stupid or if just enjoys trying to piss people off. Regardless of his motives, he’s now pissed me off. Again.
“You have sympathies for the fuckers that took my leg? Who very nearly killed me? Fuck you Daewon.”
“Yeah fuck me, fuck you and fuck us all; we’re all fucked anyway. Truly, I’m sorry about your leg and I’m not condoning their bombing but their indiscretion doesn’t make the human-first movement wrong or irrelevant, that’s all I’m saying.”
I glare at him. Daewon, I don’t want to keep drinking with you…”
He goes to cut me off but gesture him down and finish my sentence, “…unless you go and score something stronger for us. Not blues, something more laid back but you know me, I’m not fussy.” I lean forward and give him a show of cleavage as I speak.
He starts to protest but laughs instead. “Alright you pill head, I owe you that I guess.” He saunters off to the bar, makes his inquires and leaves the building for a few minutes before returning with a smug little grin on his face. I’m pleased that I can still manipulate him.
“Are you pleased that you can still manipulate me with your curves and long lashes?” he asks as he palms me over a bio-bag of an unknown pink powder.
I answer with a wink and head to the restroom with my prize. I return to a table of sake, assorted mini-baskets of food and Daewon looking a good deal fresher than when I left him.
“Well don’t we look like a pair of cats who got the cream?”, he asks.
I grin back at him, “I suspect we do. Look D, (why am I using my old pet name for him?) you have my sympathies and understanding about the work thing, you know? But it’s not about blowing up progress, you can never stop that shit. It’s about how we deal with it. The truth is that with all the automation, no one has really needed to work for the last twenty years. Instead of celebrating that and making sure that everyone has enough to thrive, we’ve framed everything as a zero-sum game. We fight the progress and dream up even stupider new jobs for ourselves. I say fuck this, let the AIs and Droids do the work, let’s focus on the money because there is more than enough for everyone.”
Daewon stares right into my eyes, “I had forgotten how hot you are when you’re fired up. Of course you’re absolutely right, but there is one problem Nga.”
“The table appears to be melting.”
He’s not wrong, the whole room is shifting and reshaping in the most beautiful way.
“Daewon”, I ask “What the hell did you just have us ingest?”
“The seller said it was called Ghost, hot new thing right now he said.”
“This is certainly not a drug for a bar. The sake bottle is trying to talk to me and the pizza is eating the chips. We are either heading home or to the Spire, so make a choice and let’s get gone.”
With that we stand. Holding each other we head out into the night, laughing as we go.