END USER LICENSE AGREEMENT

A finalist entry to the Design A Story Competition

It’s a long story of how we arrived at this world; the world Kioni lives in. Suffice to say that the important map of the world is no longer a plan, but a section. Layers of spatial and human experience, analog and digital, built up like a cake. Each person experiences different combinations of these layers depending on their subscription. It is a careful and remarkable orchestration to maintain this overlapped experience, but needless to say it works, extraordinarily well. Kioni is a subscriber of many layers. She has the means to be selective in curating her experience — preferring nAtuR@! features and historic elements with a dash of human interaction.

But this story is about a strange day one year ago on Kalejdohill …….

Kioni felt so lucky to be here, in this place, at this time. After all, there were plenty of other versions of this life that could belong to Kioni right now. The grass was so green the air so fresh. Here there were no distractions, no sounds of traffic, no sounds of others — only birds chirping, open grass, and the occasional smooth woosh of a train passing in the distance. Kioni was enjoying the old stone structures and metal sculptures from bygone eras set against the sounds of nature. The park looked as it always did — beautiful and serene. But something was amiss. Kioni contemplated contacting customer control — she knew they were rolling out updates — but something still felt…different.

As Kioni gazed upon a particularly tall, old, stone folly she noticed a figure come into view at its base. She wasn’t shocked as much as intrigued at this new citizen manifesting in her content stream. It was as she tracked their silhouette move past the pale stone coursing of the folly that she finally noticed the what was off in the park that day. It was a little duller, a little more textured, less glowy. And it definitely had a different smell — more wet and muddy.

“CAW!”

The cackle of a raven broke Kioni’s contemplation and she looked up to where bird had taken flight from atop the tall folly. The raven’s twisting feet had knocked loose a large stone merlon and it teetered perilously overhead the mysterious figure below. The fall was inevitable.

“LOOK!” was all Kioni could muster.

The figure glanced above, twitched their head a bit and stayed perfectly still. Kioni’s heart raced as she looked on in horror as the merlon plummeted downward. Time seemed to slow down. She could see the stone merlon rotate in the air as it closed the distance to the figure. Collision was imminent.

Kioni managed only a few steps before the stone merlon made impact. A dull thud accompanied a spray of limestone fragments and a sharp sprinkle of muddy water over Kioni’s jacket. Her eyes focused on the spot where the bigger pieces came to rest. Among the rubble stood the figure, feet still planted in their original spot. The person was unmarred, unfazed, and unmoved. They stared at her quizzically.

Kioni jogged over with outstretched arms. She dusted herself off and they both stood long and awkwardly — staring at one another. Kioni was a bit amiss at what to say. She had never experienced anything like this before, seeing a person nearly being killed after seemingly poofing into existence. She stared blankly at the other person, feeling curious and frightened. This person had no content halo providing a safe social inroad. No identification or timeline or status appeared in her silhouette; it was just a wet, muddy, confused person staring blankly (albeit amiably) back at her.

Still in a state of silent awe with each other, the stranger reached out and took Kioni’s hand. They walked together a short way and sat down on the top of Kalejdohill overlooking the folly in the distance. From where they sat Kioni could see many of her favorite landmarks in the surrounding Jackobsberg. She could see the train schedule scrolling through behind the clouds. She could feel the cool earth dampen her pant legs. She turned to the stranger and blurted out a chortle in spite of the surreal experience. There seemed to be an understanding in their stunted sighs and nasally titters of embarrassment that they both felt similarly fascinated with this mutual experience. This body-chat went on for a for what seemed like a long while, but It was a surprise to each when dusk fell upon them. Kioni looked up into the orange sky and realized they did not know each other’s name. None of the follow-filters appeared in her content stream. So with a blush, and a chuckle Kioni finally uttered, “By the way, my name is Kioni. What’s yours?” The silence between them was pierced by the long, droll sound of a train braking far away and Kioni thought maybe the question went unheard.

Kioni was about to repeat herself when the woman cocked her head as if she were pulling up a long forgotten memory. She finally uttered the only words Kioni would ever hear her say, “My name is Bian…thank you.” With a smirk she stood up and trotted off into the dusky distance, disappearing back behind the folly from whence this strange occurrence began.

Kioni sat, until full-dark and milled over the encounter in her mind. She thought hard, trying to etch all the details into her memory. Locking away every question she had about the mysterious rendezvous. Where did Bian come from? How did the stone miss her? What was going on with her content stream? How much of this encounter was real?

In the year since, Kioni came to find out that updates were indeed rolling out on that day and in particular her subscriber was editing out full content on Kalejdohill — now named an official open-state content zone. When signing her updated End User License Agreement, she had to agree not hold her provider liable for any, “abnormalities, exposure, contact, breach of insulation or any other aberration experienced on the day in question.” She chalked up much of the bizarreness of the experience to glitches in the content. She thought it must also explain why the stone merlon didn’t harm Bian — it was a content projection. Bian was never in harm’s way. Kioni concluded she would likely never see Bian again. With the content shifting on and off and the presence of ‘aberrations’ that day there was no way of knowing where she came from or what ‘layers’ she was a subscriber to or for that matter how much of their shared experience was the same. Even if they bumped into one another this very moment they might look or sound totally different than they did on that day. Alas Kioni persists, spending much of her free time on that hill hoping for another glitch, another chance encounter. She looks around longingly at others in the park wondering if one of them is Bian. She carries a bittersweet pain in her gut hoping Bian is out there somewhere in Jackobsberg feeling the very same way about her.

On this afternoon she walks to the spot where the stone merlon would have crashed to the ground. She bends down and brushes her hand through the soft grass. A strange stillness comes over her as her clamy palm grazes something rigid beneath a shallow layer of soil. Her fingers find the edge of the object and she brushes away a layer of dirt. Kioni’s brow furrows as the composition below comes into view. She looks up to the top of the folly tower with a slight bit of nervousness. Plopping backward onto her seat, Kioni swallows hard and is met with a profound sense of joy and confusion. With each thumb she strokes the two objects in her palms and concentrates hard on their contrasting textures. Kioni remembers that Kalejdohill is essentially content free so the raven feather in her left hand and the stone fragment in her right are not content projections. Kioni smiles warmly as she remembers Bian, pockets the artifacts, and walks peacefully towards the top of the hill.