Abyss & Apex : Fourth Quarter 2009: The Chinese Chef Was A Hologram

The Chinese Chef Was A Hologram

by Max Salnikov


Sadly, the World Wide Wait was not just for posting pictures of cats. Falco adjusted his visor and sent a mental command to the nanomachines in his hair to fine-tune the built-in spam blocker.

He sat back in the neomodern chair and snapped his fingers. The unlit cigarette he was holding made an arch through the air and landed square into his mouth. Fishing for ideas for the better half of the week gave him nothing but a headache.

Having blocked the news feed from IKEA’s blog, he reviewed his portfolio for probably the hundredth time that day. There were more than seventy items to show for the two years of his freelance career, but none of them triggered any ideas for the contest entry which, under ideal circumstances, should’ve been ready by last week. But like Falco’s granddad used to say, “Ideal circumstances are a myth’s myth.” He usually followed that by something like “They’re coming through the walls!” or “The answer to the world is the square root of a penguin!”

Another ad waltzed right through the spam blocker.

“Stumped?” it read, “Lost that creativity spark that makes us who we are? Then let us help you! Tag INSPIRE ME NOW and get a 15% discount! Inspiration guaranteed!”

Maybe it was high time to upgrade my hair, he thought, but didn’t block the ad. If they were smart enough to build software sneaky enough to get past the filters and scan his brain waves, maybe they were smart enough to offer a poor furniture designer some advice. The thought made him feel more miserable than he really was. Tagging the site triggered Google Maps, and after a moment’s wait, the route to the closest consultant the company had in the area downloaded into his visor. Here was to hoping they didn’t lie about the fifteen percent off.

It turned out the closest INSPIRE ME NOW consultant was sitting in a Chinese fast-food a block away. Busy inspiring the shrimp fried rice, no doubt. Having tied his dreads into a knot, Falco left the high-tech comforts of his flat for the Chinese.

The restaurant was called Chow Yun-Slim. A cozy little place. The tables were custom made wood. Artificial, of course, but it was a nice touch. Chow Yun-Slim was empty except for a man in a leather jacket behind one of the tables, a bowl of noodles and a laptop in front of him. A laptop! Someone must have slept through the nanocomputer revolution. The consultant looked up from his screen. Just like Falco, he was in his mid-twenties, so he decided to drop the formalities.

“I’m here to be inspired,” Falco said, joining the consultant.

“All right, it’s fifty megabucks for a fifteen minute session.”

“Does that include the discount?”

“Sure. Just hand me your card.”

Falco’s logic told him that he was about to give three pepperoni pizza’s worth (extra cheese) to a man he never seen before, but he gave his card to the consultant anyway. In for the penny, in for the pound, he thought. The INSPIRE ME NOW man ran it through a reader, and after the money had been transferred, shut his laptop’s lid.

“So,” he said, “Are you a programmer or a designer?”

“Em, furniture designer actually. Freelance. What, it shows?”

“Well, you’re lit up like a Christmas tree with all that nano crap in your hair, and it’s only programmers and designers who think they need to be jacked in twenty-four-seven. Of course you have the occasional geek, too, but those only need inspiration deciding which hentai site they wanna see next. They don’t need us for that.”

“You can call me Bob,” the consultant added, getting down to business.

“Right. Sure. Bob. Here’s my case. Deadline for the Natuzzi three days away. It’s a world acclaimed contest where designers from all over the globe submit their work and then vote for the winner. The finalists get contracts, fame, money, you name it. The catch is that you gotta submit new work. Things that never saw the store. And to cut things short, I can’t come up with anything new. Everything I think of feels derivate. Uninspired. You know. Crap.”

“Well, that’s an easy one!” Bob said and grinned, exposing his salesman-white teeth.

Bob was interrupted by a chubby Asian man wearing all white. Falco could have sworn he wasn’t there a second ago.

“Welcome to Chow Yun-Slim, dear guest! You are our third customer today, so as the chef of the restaurant, I greet you for good luck! What would you like to eat?”

“Whatever he’s having,” Falco said.

“As you wish, Sir! Will be just a moment!”

“I’m having Chow Mein with duck. You know what Chow Mein is?” Bob asked when the chef was gone.

It took a fraction of a second for the nanomachines to encode Falco’s mental command, and Google search displayed the first ten links from the 809,000 results it registered. He made a search for “duck” just for kicks, too. Duck: the common name for a number of species in the Anatidae family of birds, also known as the bird some very disturbed people mention when what they’re really meaning to say is an entirely different word.

“Eh, some sort of noodles?” he said.

“Exactly! Which brings us back to our case!”

“It does?”

Bob took out a switchblade from his pocket. The blade unfolded.

Holy Batman on a stick!

Mind racing, Falco tried to remember what you had to do when dealing with crazies. You shouldn’t provoke them, never look them in the eyes… Garlic, crosses? No, that’s vampires! Where was the damn chef?

“How do you know what Chow Mein is?” Bob asked.

The INSPIRE ME NOW consultant grabbed Falco’s hair and with one swift motion cut through the dreads. The amputated dreads fell on the table, blue lights fading as the nanomachines died.

“Here, try this for a change,” he said.

“What the hell, dude?” Falco shouted. The nanodreads had cost a fortune.

“Look at Mister Yun-Slim over there,” Bob said, calm like a clam.

Falco turned his head. With a fraction of their processing power gone, the nanomachines failed to fully render the cheerful chef. He was hued blue, not to mention see-through. The Chinese chef was a hologram. A fizzing cloud of blue light with glowing sparks for his eyes, cheap bootleg technology.

“You wanna feel inspired?” Bob asked, stabbing his switchblade through the table, “Well, you’re on, pal. You still don’t feel inspired tomorrow, we pay half your money back.” He took his laptop and left. Bloody surreal.

“What the hell,” Falco repeated to empty chair in front of him.

The air was scented. It smelled of cooking oil and fried rice, but scented never the less. Falco never noticed smells before. And it was more quiet, too. He tried to pull himself together, collect his thoughts. The damaged nanomachines launched random searches, comedy sitcoms were auto-downloading themselves into the undamaged nanocells in his hair to cheer him up, but it felt as if it all came from a different dimension. Falco pulled Bob’s knife out of the table and, his legs all wobbly, headed for the men’s room.

Sprinkling water over his face didn’t help much either. Falco left Chow Yun-Slim and headed back home. The sidewalks were crowded with people, most of them wearing enhancement hardware. Brain stimulating shades, nanomachine filled turbans, Global Positioning System neckties. He spotted a homeless man sitting cross-legged right in front of his apartment complex, starring at an ancient laptop. Falco wondered how he never noticed him before.

A day later Falco bought a laptop and shaved his head bald. The new world he discovered wasn’t the bright techno-utopian dream he thought he was living in since the first time he installed a consciousness switch at the age of twelve. No, this world was dirty and smelly and very much alive. Inspiration was everywhere. In the piles of empty pizza carton boxes in Falco’s apartment, in the dead cactus on his window sill, and in the music playing through his new laptop’s speakers.

The entire project was complete in two days and a night. Falco drafted the MUSASHI 10K kitchen stand on March the 20th, sent in the finished design on the 21st, and got a neat brown envelope on the 30th. The envelope contained a golden paper slip that proclaimed him to be this year’s Natuzzi’s winner, a ticket to Milan, and a big fat check.

“Duck you, Bob,” Falco muttered under his breath as he kicked his way through the mold-infested pizza boxes.

After cashing the check he spent nearly half the megabucks in Twisted Lobster Augmentations down the street. The money was more than enough to buy him the latest tech in the spontaneously grown nanohair department, a brain stimulating implant, and an X-Ray left eye (hard to go wrong with X-Ray eyes, these days). Eating his Chow Mein noodles in Chow Yun-Slim a couple days later, Falco couldn’t help but admire the finely rendered texture of the chef’s white robe. He had always wanted an upgrade.


Max Salnikov was born in Russia in 1986 and started writing both humorous and serious (well, less silly, at least) speculative fiction shortly thereafter. He currently lives in Budapest, Hungary with his beautiful wife and daughter. You can find more of his writing at maxsalnikov.com



Story © 2009 Max Salnikov. All other content copyright © 2009 Abyss & Apex Publishing. 

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Art Director Steven Coker, Jr.