A hellish vision of what it will be like to attend CES on its 100th anniversary, courtesy of Sam Biddle.
Art by Koren Shadmi
The rectangle almost completely filled Central Hall, the largest and historically least depressing room in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Several billions in bitcoin and bullion had been spent, and conservation experts from Facebook Centers across the country had been flown in to help restore the structure to its 20th century splendor; the last living scholar of 1960s Las Vegas carpeting had even been brought out of retirement. No expense was spared, no detail ignored, no LED unpolished—all seventy thousand of them twinkled, spelling out, "CES CENTURY! 1967—2067!"
The second exclamation point looked stupid, but they'd pulled it off: before the rectangle had been lowered in with an array of freight drones, Central Hall looked just as it did in the museum photos. Except now it wasn't a room; it was an ocean. The rectangle was slender as a finger, deep black, and smooth as glass. Maybe it was glass? There weren't any signs up, and the booth attendants were all staring at their feet. From its entrance, the LVCC's North Hall looked like it contained a vast black sea that floated several feet above the historically accurate patterned floor. Beyonce Bermm looked out over it and his skin was hot.
"This is sexy as hell," he half-whispered, half-moaned, letting out a mouthful of cocaine vapor. He took another puff and strained to see the end of the great black plane.
A man stood behind Beyonce with an outstretched hand, his face painted with the blue and orange stripes of a Consumer Electronics Association executive. He didn't offer a name. Just a hand. "Is this your first show?"
"No. Well, yes—I proxied in last year."
Beyonce shook the CEA man's skeletal hand, triggering several plastic bands tied to his arm. He silenced them with a wink. "My name's Beyonce Bermm, and I'm here—"
"Beyonce! A pleasure. I see from your badge that you graduated from Bezos University just like me. I always recognize a Bezos man. Go hounds! Say, did you know that when the Consumer Electronics Show was in its infancy, Beyonce was a woman's name? But you see, history has a way of changing. It's like a river. Have you ever seen a river? I drove up here from Facebook last night, and I remembered my grandfather telling me about all the rivers you used to be able to see along the way. You see, our industry is like a river; it flows, it's cold, and it's filled with fish. Rectangular fish, absolute geometric perfection. Do you follow me, Mr. Bermm?"
He didn't, but he nodded along and kept looking at the rectangle through the corner of his eye. Beyonce was hungry; he should've stopped at the Facebook on the way to the convention center for a snack like his hat suggested. Beyonce took another pull of cocaine vapor from the small silver knob and his stomach stopped nagging.
Shouting Hats, as a billboard in the Hall of History pointed out, were first introduced at CES—along with blu-ray, 3D television, and the first prototype narcotic vaporization sticks. But that was decades ago, before the rectangles.
Almost every one of the convention center's 3.2 million square feet was filled with booths dedicated to the sale, maintenance, restoration, financing, protection, consolidation, fragmentation, beautification, or promotion of smooth, black, glossy rectangles. THE SHAPE THAT PUT EARTH BACK TO WORK!
The CEA executive left Beyonce and trotted into the crowd now shuffling in from the North Hall, where rectangles from the big players like Samsung and Nestlé maintained cavernous, shrieking booths, small cities filled with PR drones, hors d'oeuvres, bloodsport, and complimentary narcotic vapes. Beyonce followed the crowd northward. Below a pulsating blue light, Samsung's Senior Vice President for Occidental Facebook Recalibration was showing off the company's 2067 lineup:
"The HHHHHHHHHHH-1-HH delivers unparalleled performance, industry-leading durability, and the glossiness that Samsung customers depend on."
The crowd shrieked, some fanning themselves with their own portable rectangles, rubbing infinitely smooth, thumb-polished sides.
"For the first time in the history of the HHHHHHHHHHH series, we've created a rectangle solution that's heavy, sustainable, brittle, and connected—all in a dimensional envelope like none you've ever seen. Allow me to demonstrate, and I think you'll agree it's a Goddamn game-changer."
The crowd went silent. The Samsung presenter removed an obsidian-dark rectangle from a velvety pouch. He flicked it with one finger, and an orange light in the middle blipped on and off. The audience went fucking crazy. As if to say But there's more, the presenter held up his flicking finger, silencing the crowd again.
"Tell me, can your rectangles do this?" He flung the metallic board against the ground, where it shattered and dissolved into a fine powder. A man wearing a bright Wall Street Journal sash began to sob and applaud. Drones dropped confetti.
Beyonce took his own rectangle out of his trouser pocket and saw his muddled reflection in its deep black face. It seemed worthless, putrid. He'd sold his bike for this. For this? For one without an orange glowing dot in the middle, and one that wouldn't turn into that lovely powder upon impact? The battery life was still good, though—but wasn't everyone's? Manufacturers had eliminated screens years ago. Beyonce thought of his accessories: the limited edition dock, the polishing cloths, the ochre stand. He was ashamed.
Buyer's remorse had been chemically cured and criminalized in the 50s, but there were psychiatrists on hand in the South Hall. It was an option. Beyonce turned his back on the Samsung booth, where another fight to the death between two political prisoners was about to begin; the victor was to receive a Limited Special Edition HHHHHHHHHC-81, eight inches across and tinted dark grey.
It was early afternoon and the halls had started to fill up. Guests squeezed between rectangles in glass cases, rectangles propped up against one another, fully non-functional rectangles hanging from the ceiling like mobiles. In a demonstration pit, two teenage PR reps dressed like nuns cracked eggs on an LG BagBagBagBagBag rectangle, its rounded edges and silver trim dripping with yolk.
"This little motherfucker has no screen, no speakers, no buttons, and the most powerful Bluetooth antenna in the world," one of them shouted while winking over and over and over. "The bezel is treated with human stem cells, and the 2067 model will come in a delicious light-black color variant."
Beyonce felt ill. Not even a velvety satchel of the sort he'd seen at Samsung would make him feel better about his rectangle or conceal its mediocrity. All around him was the future: rectangles bigger than his, smaller than his, rectangles with edges sharp enough to kill, rounded so gracefully you could calculate pi. The thinnest and thickest rectangles in the world were on display at CES; his was neither. It was rumored that the smallest rectangular unit produced—something of a coup for SonyKraft—was on display, but it hadn't yet been spotted.
Beyonce's heart pounded. He needed fresh air, but the quarantine period wasn't yet over for the day, and the queue for a mask stretched past Sbarro. He reached in his pocket to make sure it was there; the rectangle was humming along, vibrating at the random intervals he'd been promised when he bought it. He rubbed it idly. It was disgusting. He'd never hated a shape more.
The future was in this hall, in Las Vegas, in this throng, and he was just barely scraping by with a chunk of obsolescence in his pocket. Beyonce was humiliated, sick with shame. A bell sounded, followed by an androgynous sing-song announcement—Beyonce's connected hat whispered along:
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN AND REMOTE PROXIES, THE UNVEILING WILL TAKE PLACE AT CENTRAL HALL IN JUST FIVE MINUTES!"
Central Hall: the biggest of all time. A team of heavily armed Facebook personnel cleared a path for visiting dignitaries, digital executives, proxy hosts, models, athletes, and drone stars. Jaden Door, war hero and CEO of Samsung, floated by, veiled from head to toe; he didn't even stop to wave.
Beyonce let the crowd push him to the red rope that surrounded the Central Hall rectangle's perimeter. For the first time, he noticed you couldn't even see the other end. It was a black oil spill in the largest room he'd ever stood inside, a vacuum of reflected neon, the largest non-fingerprint marred surface in the history of human civilization. He sucked the last wisps from the cocaine pen, and squeezed to the front of the crowd. The presentation would begin at any moment. There was no time to mourn the contents of his pocket, no room for dread. History was crashing over everyone around the dark expanse. His hand unclenched; he let go of his brick. Beyonce craned his neck and saw his dead face in the mammoth rectangle, and he'd never loved anything more than he loved the future.
This dispatch is a part of Terraform, our new online home for future fiction.