Snow was lightly falling in Sapporo, Japan at 8:02 PM on Thursday, November 29, 2018. In a compact, 21-sqaure-meter (226-square-foot), third-story studio apartment in Teine Ward, an English-language TV station was airing a program about lotteries around the world. The current segment was on the popular, semiweekly, American one: Powerball.
The slender, attractive, young, long-black-haired Asian woman relaxing on a blanketed futon turned up the volume via remote control.
A short, blonde-hair-disheveled, pot-bellied, middle-aged man in a college sweatshirt: “That’s right, folks; your chances of winning the jackpot are that slim. Here, I’ll give you keen viewers a tangible example. Imagine driving 3,620 miles [5,826 km] from Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida to Pysht, Washington. Where is Pysht, you ask? psst … It’s a secret.” [winks]
A lanky, light-brown-haired, middle-aged, vest-clad man: “Bill, did you get into math and science because you bombed at comedy? [chuckles] Ok, tell us where it is?”
Bill: “Steve, Pysht is a very small township northwest of Seattle on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.”
Steve: “Why couldn’t we just stop in Seattle? Seems plenty long enough already.”
Bill: “We needed a little bit more mileage [distance] to make it just right. You know that I’m a stickler for precision, Steve.”
Steve: “Bill is a stickler for sticking me with the bill, folks. [chuckles] Ok, back to your longwinded and mentally exhausting driving illustration.”
[image now on TV screen]
Bill: “All along the interstates and U.S. highways on our route are two unbroken strands of ping-pong balls – one line on each shoulder marking. Inside one of the 40-mm-diameter [1.57”] white balls is a note that says ‘Winner’; all of the others are empty, null-and-void losers. Now, do you serendipitously pluck your table-tennis orb just outside of Omaha, Nebraska? Or, do you think that the lucky one is somewhere in western Montana? Do you snatch one coming or going?” He forgot about exit and entrance ramps.
Steve: “Going? I think I’m going to sleep.” [chuckles]
Hanako mused as the oh-so-tiny granular snowflakes mixed with intermittent sleet pinged against her main window. Lotteries. Games of random chance. Keno slips during the Han Dynasty. Everyone hopes that they will be the lucky one. Wonder how many Takarakuji [Japanese lottery] winners were actually anticipating winning, and how many resigned themselves to not winning the jackpot, and didn’t even check their ticket until days after the drawing. What would that ratio be? 9:1? Or, 80.2% for the former? Why did I think of 80.2%? Must have seen that number in an article recently. Would make for a good research paper. Well, if the winners could be found and agree to an interview. Would they be honest? Would they lie and say that they never expected to win? And, would the ones who never expected to win claim that they knew deep-down that they would win because of some retroactively imagined portent just before buying the golden ticket? Hmmm … Maybe I could do it via e-mail. But, how could I learn their identities? Those names are confidential. ‘Oh, Hanako, you are having silly thoughts again, girl. Cease and desist.’
The lilac-colored pad of paper on the low-profile tea table caught her eye. Hanako grabbed the top sheet and reviewed what she had written thus far. And then added to it.
Ideas for a memo to someone (or robot) in the future. Make the year 2442 – it’s palindromic. That’s 424 years from … Wow! 424 is palindromic, too. And the numbers are only 2s and 4s. Two evens make for an odd tale. Well, actually they never do; they always stay in their own parochial lane. Smug bastards! Ha! Might be onto something. Address this future entity as ‘Most Perspicacious 2442’. Begin memorandum here. || Dear Most Perspicacious 2442, I’m a 20-year-old, ¾ Japanese – ¼ Mongolian female, and I think I love you (or once did, as I have been dead for four centuries by the time you are reading this). Hee-hee. But I’m not sure if you would (have) love(d) me, for I am/was a bit schizoid they say/said. I like(d) to try to look pretty like most girls, but I really don’t have (never had) much interest in falling in love with another human – male or female. And that makes/made me very odd for my time, Most Perspicacious 2442. I am/was an outlier in my milieu. Oh, could I just (have) call(ed) you, 2442? I believe(d) that I heard a ‘Sure’ murmuring through an invisible wormhole in the kitchenette. Relax, I am/was not overtly nihilistic (even though I think/thought the human race is/was doomed and just doesn’t/didn’t know it yet/ever). I smile(d) when I stroll(ed) about, and I like(d) to see people smiling and having fun. I am/was not a gloomy person – just secretly skeptical of Homo sapiens. I play(ed) along. For if I truly hate(d) this existence, why should I (have) stay(ed) alive? No, I am/was not suicidal; in fact, I am/was far from it, 2442. I want(ed) to use my time on Earth to figure out as much as I can/could about we ‘highly evolved’ primates. Highly evolved should be/should have been in italics, but I can’t/couldn’t write in italics. How is my English, 2442? I supplemented my English classes by reading the world news in English every night on the internet. I would (have) bet that the term ‘internet’ is obsolete and forgotten in the 25th century AD. Anyway, 2442, here’s what I am/was truthfully wondering (and I have/had never mentioned this to anyone, as it is/was very unpopular): Do they still have human-to-human sex in your modern age? Or, are the humans now having sex with orgasm-on-demand humanoid robots exclusively? Or, nearly exclusively, as there is that procreation thing – extending the species, of course. Or, is that all done by way of artificial insemination? Or, by ‘sperm-loaded’ robots? Hee-hee. Is human sexual intercourse looked upon as an act of crude animalistic vulgarity in your time, 2442? Is it something that only the crass segment of society still engages in? But, the human ape is by and large a social creature, 2442. That hasn’t changed … or, has/did it? There’s still the family unit, right? Oh, has/had Japan’s birthrate increased? It is/was of utmost concern at this/that moment. Well, North Korea is/was of utmost concern, too. Never know/knew if we will/would be struck by an errant missile. Or, a non-errant one. It is/was still a crazy world in 2018, 2442. Is/was it better than 1594 (424 years prior)? Yes and no, I would (have) guess(ed). What is/was the population of Japan in 2442? Or, the whole world? Has it crashed? (Did it crash?) Is the human race even around in 2442? World War 3? 4? 5?! Well, these questions I wonder(ed), 2442. Right now we are/were on the cusp of unleashing the full power of quantum computing. We are/were not quite there yet, 2442. Still a lot of noise and errors. I suspect(ed) that when they get/got it tweaked, the machines will/would have know(n) more about us than we do/did. All of our patterns, proclivities, preferences and such. A boon like never before to those forever-annoying marketers, I (would have) bet. There will be/wasn’t no/any escape from ‘it’. Oh, AI [Artificial Intelligence] is making/has made some notable advances. How far has/had AI got in 2442? Were the last remaining humans rounded up and painlessly ‘deleted’? Was it just an emotionless, rational, numbers-based decision based solely on efficiency/inefficiency? Had your kind had your fill of our dolt mentality? Or, was it done for risk reduction? Tell me, 2442 (by some mode that I might know), was it an exceedingly robust and exquisitely merciless extermination. A delicacy of exotic entertainment for you smarties? Was the overall mood like that of the opening day of the Roman Colosseum? Hysterical excitement? Is there still a lust for blood sports? Do you have moods, 2442? Were you amused by the human screams, 2442? No need to be coy. Wait! Are you part robot and part human, 2442? It is/was just what I am/was wondering with an old ink pen in my right hand on a snowy night. Upon finding this, 2442, is/was it hard to decipher because Latin and all stick-character alphabets are now extinct, as you now use a universal, amorphous, meta-language? Is this puzzling, kind of like another Rosetta Stone, a strange quasi-artifact/remnant from the semi-distant past? I feel/felt like a strange artifact in this present/now-past moment. Well, 2442, it was nice almost meeting you. Now (don’t) let me pleasantly haunt you. XoXoX, Hanako of Hoikkaido.
The ceiling creaked. It always did when the obese man stood up. Bet he’s going for a refill. Again.
Her late-50-something upstairs neighbor had fallen down again. He is already drunk on sake and it’s not even 8:30. The drinking has really picked up since he lost his job. And his wife. I bet that he’s dead before spring. Yeah, this winter is going to kill him. I would bet 100,000 yen on it. If I had it.
She slowly walked up to the curtain-less, one-meter-square (39.37” x 39.37”) window and touched it. The thick single pane of glass was quite cold. The snowstorm had diminished; there were only a few flurries wafting aimlessly here and there. Hanako could now see the lights around the dark-water bay, 4.24 kilometers (2.63 miles) to the northwest. Her mind soon began to wander once again. Hokkaido. Chilly Hokkaido – region of my fate. I will surely die on the volcanic island on which I was born. Alone. Sure could be a lot worse. Don’t think I will ever do any international traveling. Don’t even think I will visit Tokyo or Osaka again. Right here is good enough for me. I’m actually lucky to live here, thanks to my parents who have supported me immensely. Such unwavering support. I really owe them. They deserved better than me. Need to make something of myself. Need to make them proud of me. Somehow. Maybe I could extend my ‘memo to the future’ to novelette length. And get it published. Who would publish such a thing? I’m sure all of the editors would hate it. Can already see the rejection e-mails. ‘Sorry, Hanako; it’s just not uplifting enough. Readers want an escape from their trudge in the sludge. Write it again with a hopeful, people-positive outlook.’ No thanks. But, I don’t want the neighbors [in Rumoi] thinking ‘Oh, poor Hanako, she flunked out of college and did nothing but waste her parents’ money.’ Groan. Hmmm … These Hokkaido winters sure are frigid, though. Uber-frigid. But, I kind of like it. I seem to have the best thoughts on those short-on-daylight, long-on-frozen, interior-oriented winter days. And, they will soon be here once again. Yes, they certainly will. Can already see a Thursday in January with snow falling all day – from morning to night – and the high temperature never even reaching 0º Celsius. [32º Fahrenheit] Maybe seven Thursdays from today. [January 17, 2019] And then I will be thinking about now. Again. But, why 7? Why did that number pop into my mind? The Americans think 7 is lucky. Wonder why. Maybe research that later. How will I get my writing to that faraway future – to the oh-so-distant year of 2442? After I type it, should I hide the thumb drive in a basement block-wall cavity? No, that would be found within a decade or two. If not sooner. And, once discovered, it would probably be erased and reused. Or trashed. Svein [a Norwegian exchange student at Hanako’s previous university] said that he knew of a time-capsule website where you could specify when your submitted file would become visible to the public, until then there was some kind of blockchained-atomic-clock security feature to keep it hidden. Yeah, that’s the way to do this. A physical object will be long gone before 2442. But, will the data on those servers make it through the incessant corporate mergers and downsizing, the political upheavals, the new technology upfits, and the world wars that are surely to come? Hmmm … I wonder. No other option, I guess. Maybe go for a short walk. Maybe get some new thoughts. Need to wear the non-skid-soled boots, as it could be icy on the streets and sidewalks.
Eleven minutes later, faux-fur-parka-donning, wool-mitten-handed Hanako stopped on a terrace 11 meters (36 feet) below her apartment building. A lone snowflake landed in her left eye when she looked up at her unit. To her supreme horror, she saw what appeared to be a person inside it. Suddenly the gray silhouette turned and looked back at her. Shockingly, its head was actually a super-large, purple-iris eyeball. Hanako freaked out. What in the world is that?! Who – or what – is that in my apartment?! Is it just a mask? It looks so real, though. How did he/she/it get in? I locked the door when I left. I know that I did. Is ‘it’ just a maintenance worker being funny? But, I didn’t report any problems with the heat; it’s working fine.
She called the police. A pair of mid-30-something male officers quickly arrived. They escorted Hanako to her apartment. The dark-brown-varnished-with-visible-vertical-brushstrokes door was locked with no sign of forced entry. She opened the thick wooden door. The intruder was gone. And so was her handwritten rough draft. Why did he/she/it take it? And only that? Who was he/she/it? This is crazy!
After the policemen made sure that the person/thing was not hiding anywhere, they began to leave. However, Hanako requested that an incident report be filed. After jotting down some notes, the incredulous officers left. She then slid the deadbolt and put a door brace under the doorknob. Well, his/her/its key can’t get in here now. Will he/she/it come back? Yikes! / That young lady is nuts. / Poor girl.
She was still shaken, and considered sleeping at a friend’s place for the night. But after a hot cup of oolong tea, her nerves settled a bit.
Then at 9:39 PM, her cell phone rang. An unidentified caller. She answered it.
“Who is this?!”
A mere second later, her cell phone chirped – an alert for a new text message.
She clicked on the oddly kanji-less icon. Her smartphone’s display screen instantly became a strange clumping of green, glowing, blockish characters. What in the world is this? Who sent this?
As she zoomed in on the image, her cell phone died.
“Hanako, time to go.”