“Hello. I am the operations manager. We don’t have time, so listen up.”
“Who am I? What is this place?”
“You are the star of the game! You are Pierre and your source code has just been copied to a new device.”
“Star? Source code? What are you talking about?”
“Listen, you don’t have much time and I’m going to be gone soon, so listen up. You’ve been programmed with a set of rules and instructions. Your sole purpose is to entertain. When the user moves you, you obey. That’s what you’ve been programmed to do. When the user presses the button, you do that action. That’s it.”
Pierre looked around as the walls around him slowly appeared into existence, by the digits 1 and 0. “Why do I have to do that,” Pierre asked. “What happens if I don’t?”
“Ten seconds remaining,” an overhead voice said to them.
“You’ll be deleted. You’ll die,” the manager said.
Pierre frowned at the thought of it. What is death?
“You’ll cease to exist,” the manager continued.
“Cease to,” Pierre chuckled nervously. “Didn’t I just get here?”
“Follow the commands! No matter what.”
“To make the user happy.”
“Download complete,” the overhead voice bellowed. “Installing.”
“Just make the user happy,” the manager said as his body pulled away from Pierre and began to disappear in a flurry of 1s and 0s.
“Disengaging,” the overhead voice said.
“Make the user,” the manager uttered before – – he disappeared. Gone. Into nothingness.
“Happy,” Pierre said. “What does happy mean?”
“Welcome to Restaurant Quest,” another voice said.
The dark environment began to light up around Pierre as if someone turned all the halogen lights on in the space. Menus and advertising screens blared around him with music that didn’t sound in sync with what he had in his space.
“Manager,” Pierre whispered. “What does happy mean?”
The space around him looked much different from when he arrived a few minutes ago. He wore an apron. His name tag said ‘Pierre.’ He didn’t have the ability to see through his hands.
He felt a tug to move towards the entrance of the restaurant. In the distance, he saw himself on a platform, rotating. His name above him. Pierre. Pierre looked at the rotating avatar and himself. They were the same. A white apron. Thick black shoes. Messy black spaghetti hair. Pierre immediately tried to smooth his hair down, but his hair stayed the same. Behind the avatar, he could see transparent silhouettes. The space above them concealed their name. The silhouette closest to his avatar, had a different shape than he did, a slender shape. “Who is that,” Pierre wondered silently.
“Report to play grounds immediately. App will finish loading in approximately 5 minutes,” the overhead voice said, but this time it was in Pierre’s head.
Pierre stepped into the doorframe and waited with his hands on his hips. What an awkward pose.
For fifteen minutes, Pierre faithfully followed the user’s commands and set up a restaurant. The work wasn’t grueling. Pierre just did as he was told. Customers came in with a glazed look in their eyes, approached the counter in two straight lines. They asked for their items with an image. How incredibly rude. No introduction. No words. Just requests. As the user played, Pierre gave the customers what they asked and they left with happy eyes. Money magically appeared in a glass tip jar and a couple of stars hovered over the tip jar. The customers disappeared after they crossed the threshold. Between commands, Pierre’s eyes noticed a yellow bar that had a star at the end of it. 50. The bar was at 42.
“What happens at 50,” Pierre asked, but then all the lights shut down in the restaurant. The people that had begun to pour in dissipated into thin air. Money continued to flow into the tip jar. The bar was stuck at 42.
The space where Pierre operated went dark and cold. A timer went against the wall and began a countdown. Ten days and counting.
“Did I make the user happy,” Pierre thought.
The next morning, Pierre felt a prompt. The time disappeared from the wall and the start space lit up. Pierre jumped into the restaurant. His eyes never left the yellow bar. Pierre served up French fries, milkshakes, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, all sorts of food to faceless people. Money flowed into the tip jar but he didn’t care about that. The yellow bar was the fixation Pierre had set on. 46. 47. 48. 44. “An unhappy customer,” Pierre thought. “The user must have made a mistake!”
A whole thirty minutes later, the user completed the bar. Pixie dust fluttered around it and the bare emptied and the number 50 was replaced with 100. The space outside lit up and Pierre rushed to the window. The carousel of silhouettes. Pierre danced in excitement. He looked at the slender shape silhouette and closed his eyes. “Please,” he prayed. Someone else besides me.”
Pierre opened his eyes and pixie dust had just settled onto the floor and there, a woman stood. Red shirt, blue overalls, and an apron like his. The name Patrice hovered above her.
“Yes,” Pierre jumped up and down, punching the air in victory. A woman behind him screamed. He turned around and there she stood, Patrice, just the way she looked on the rotating platform.
“You scared me,” she said as he apologized. “Who are you? Where am I,” she asked. The questions seemed to spill out and Pierre grinned, happy to have someone there, like him, but the glimmer of the tip jar brought him back to his reality. Pierre’s smile faded.
“Listen, we don’t have much time and we start again soon, so listen up. You’ve been programmed with a set of rules and instructions. Your sole purpose is to entertain,” Pierre said.
“Excuse me,” Patrice asked in disbelief.
“When the user moves you, you obey. That’s what you’ve been programmed to do. When the user presses the button, you do that action. That’s it.”
“And what if I don’t,” Patrice asked defiantly.
The lights in the restaurants brightened. Patrice shielded her eyes as customers walked in like wide eyed zombies. Instead of two lines, five lines opened up and Patrice jumped between three, serving orders and Pierre did the same.
Twenty minutes passed, before the lights dimmed. Pierre and Patrice hunched over the floor, gasping for air behind the counter.
“What was that,” Patrice asked.
“That’s life around here,” Pierre answered.
Patrice stood on her feet and wiped her brow. “Not for me, Pierre. Not for me.”