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Mouse Pad

by Yan Wu

1

Hao Keqiang stared at the pink, palm-like mouse pad. It rested on the most eye-catching place of the counter, and he thought it was most certainly not a fake.

He bargained with the saleswoman.

”But it’s the most item on sale!” the saleswoman said, with an affirmative tone, reminding Hao that if he didn’t buy it there were plenty of people behind him willing to do so.

”So, give it to me.”

Reluctantly, he handed over the money. For the pad, he had reduced his spending for 15 weeks, drunk no beer and bought no books.

The saleswoman stared at him distrustfully and pointed to an advertisement paper under the glass plate.

”Read it carefully, then make your decision.” Her tone and sight annoyed Hao Keqiang.

Saying nothing, he paid the bill, and took the pad away, leaving all the suspicions and jeers behind him.

2

He put the pad under the mouse before he thoroughly read the user’s handbook. The pad was pink, like the colour of young girl’s skirt. It was the shape of a slender hand, like the palm-size satellite receiver favoured by 12 year-old children.
He knew that his wife would be unhappy that he had bought such a bizarre mouse pad.

”How old are you now?” She would shout at him. He knew her well. So he put the mouse pad under the mouse secretly when she was washing dishes and disposing of the dinner leftovers.

3

8:10 pm. It was the time he could freely use his computer without his wife’s interference.

Before his wife could finish washing the dishes, he had forty minutes to himself. The couple had reached an agreement: during this period he could do anything he liked, and she was not allowed to interrupt him. Although she usually broke the rule, Hao Keqiang had still had some regular time to himself.

He started with a computer game. The mouse moved on the pad smoothly, as the advertisement had boasted. There was a film of air between the mouse and the pad, which slightly held up the mouse. He could feel its ascending force against his palm.

The smooth feeling enabled him to spend only three minutes crossing the “Tokyo Pass” which had hindered him for one week on the Asian battlefield of the World War II. The mouse seemed to have eyes, which led the Chinese army through the burning streets of Tokyo. Before the United States could prepare its atom bomb, the Chinese soldiers had killed 500 Japs and seized all the streets in the city. Then he successfully set up the negotiation table to force the Japanese surrender. In the process, he also took advantage of the U.S. A-bomb.

Then he assaulted Berlin, Moscow, New York, Baghdad, Belgrade, New Delhi… With unbelievable speed, he went through each pass in one minute.

After minutes he came to the end of the game. The territory of the People’s Republic of China covered four fifths of the world.

He shut off the computer and waited for his wife, who would bring a plate of fruit to the room. He knew she would talk, but he still felt delighted at having finished the game, and could hardly find the words to describe his astonishment.

He had spent half a year pushing himself to complete one third of the game. However, he finished the rest two-thirds in just 10 minutes!

It was the mouse pad, which seemed to have eyes, that had helped him do all this.

When his wife appeared at the door, he quickly hid the user’s handbook in his pocket, as if it were a treasure.

4

In the following two weeks, the pad kept on creating miracles for him. When surfing on the Net, the pad showed magic power again. Whenever he linked to the optical cable and opened the navigator, the pages appeared and rolled at a magic speed – 10 times faster than before. The computer images were previously flat, but now they were three-dimensional, and rushed out of the screen like express trains, splashing and flying in all directions. Every image skipped across his vision in milliseconds; however, he felt that his mind moved still faster than them. He could quickly see through every thing and understand them immediately.

And there were more miracles. The pink pad had bridged the gap that had long existed between Hao and his wife, which was a result of the computer. For the first time she sat by Hao after she finished washing the dishes, and she even touched the pad with her coarse hand, a product of endless and arduous housework. Then she held it and tried to move it.

Hao showed her a reluctant smile and looked at her, waiting for her taunts.

However, she did not attempt to create trouble as she had before. She was fully absorbed in playing with the mouse and the mouse pad.

It was an auspicious sign, Hao Keqiang told himself. For God’s sake, let her take to it!

Several minutes latter, when she took her hand off the mouse, there appeared a thoughtful expression on her face.

”What’s wrong with you?” Hao asked.

”Where is the user’s handbook?” She said abruptly.

”The user’s handbook… ah, ok, it is over there!”

He searched his pockets and fished out the handbook. She grasped it and read it carefully.

After a while she raised her head, with an even more puzzled expression.

Hao opened his eyes wide and waited for her reaction.

“God, I can not believe it!” His wife said. She opened her right palm and showed it to him, with a mild expression for the first time in her life. All the crinkles on her palm, tortured by arduous housework day and night, had been ironed out. In the warm light, the hand was glimmering gracefully and tenderly just like a young girl’s.

”You had touched that thing for only one minute!” Hao himself was shocked by the miracle. Before he could reason it out, his wife grasped the mouse pad crazily and put the hand-shaped object onto her face tightly.

Tears rolled down on her face which quickly became young…

5

Hao and his wife entered their second honeymoon. He attributed all the changes to the mouse pad. She had renewed her skin. Under the wrap of the new appearance, she felt that all her interior organs and bones had also been renewed. Of course, the biggest changes took place in her personality and habits. She no longer maltreated herself by doing endless housework. She gave the green light to Hao’s favourite activities. She even sat by her husband on a stool, watching his hand move swiftly on the pink pad. She was absorbed in the magic pictures flying on the screen, which she had never seen before.

Hao felt extremely flattered by all the changes. He almost wanted to fall to his knees and pray. For God’s sake, his family life had come to a turning point. He told himself that he should always hold an awe-stricken feeling towards God.

Even his mind was set free and it acted as a guide for him. Hao had entered a brand new Net world. The pink mouse enabled him to ignore all the norms of Net games. He had not only penetrated all the secret databases, but also seized the keys of the arm warehouses of the most ferocious countries in the world. He had even examined the clandestine files containing the information that could easily topple all the regimes.

Finally, after he felt tired of the games, he began to play with the so-called hackers, the illegal intruders on the net. He spent five nights crossing the first pass to discover the “software garbage field” that generations of people had searched for over the past century.

The so-called “software garbage field” was a place to store the most useful and maniac software created by Net fans. The software was updated constantly and hidden in a place that nobody could reach. “Software garbage field” was just a legendary story among the net population, and it had not been found before.

Now, in a deep purple mist, Hao located the “software garbage field”. He moved the mouse impatiently, trying to expel the mist. However, he failed. Finally, when he had almost decided to give up, his wife said that she wished to try it.

”Maybe two people are able to generate stronger forces than one,” he said.

She said nothing, and placed her hand on his. Of course, two people emitted unbelievable forces, which drove the mist away in seconds.

The garbage cemetery was deep blue. The lights in the room suddenly extinguished. They seemed to have entered a city under the deep sea. The cursor zigzagged its way left and right through the streets into the centre of the city, where steep and queer buildings made the streets narrow. When they tried to move the cursor in another direction, a mysterious iron ball suddenly dropped from the top of a high building.

Luckily, since they were two, they could offer mutual assistance to decrease the limitation in observation and reaction. This time his wife was more swift. She pulled his hand away to another place.

The mysterious iron ball passed them by. However, it seemed that the ball was not controlled by gravity. It turned in the air and came towards them again.

They controlled the cursor and evaded the ball left and right. Several times the iron ball almost hit them. It was different from all the games or the “Hidden Locks” on the Net. One time when the ball brushed by him, he felt an acute ache on the hand that grasped the mouse.

When they were hit the third time, the woman’s hand was separated from Hao’s. She held her injured wrist and groaned. Hao now was in a difficult position. He wanted to console his wife, but at the same time he did not wish to give up the exploration. It had exhausted his energy to find the cemetery. Everybody in the world wanted to enter the place. However, 99 percent of them could not see a section of the wall surrounding the cemetery.

”You could try to put your hand under the mouse pad when I raise it up a little. It could help stop your pain.”

His wife did what he said. Now her hand was beneath the mouse pad. Hao grasped the mouse and continued to evade the iron ball. One hand on the pad, and one beneath it, it was like a sandwich. Hao felt that it was more flexible than the flat mouse pad. Their co-operation had thus opened some wonderful routes.

The cursor moved faster and faster, and the iron ball gradually lagged behind. Thanks to the magic mouse pad, their hands seemed to have melted into one, and so had their hearts.

When they escaped from the iron ball and reached the top of the iron city, they saw the first light of morning on the horizon. From their right hands holding the mouse there leaped up a hot stream, which quickly crawled up their right arms and spread to their bodies. It crossed their shoulders and circled their necks, penetrated their vertebras and entered their spinal cords, finally finding its way into their cerebral cortexes.

On the screen there appeared a red mars-like background on the remote horizon, where countless bright lights were glittering. The iron city disappeared, and they seemed to have fallen into a sweet and creamy dream. In the colourful mirror of the dream, their minds talked, and their memories melted. Then the warm and honey dream spread wide like a blanket, expanding the world that had brought their minds together to an unlimited boundary, as if it was a real world intertwined with an ideal kingdom.

Suddenly, they realised that there was no need for them to use computer at all. Everything including hulking main computer, monitor, keyboard, control stick, telephone line, modem, microphone, three dimensional glasses, nerve glove… would lose significance in their lives. The mutual inductance code existing between an untold material in their brain cells and the electromagnetic wave on the Net had been decrypted. From now on, they could break into any Net world anywhere at any moment, just by touching it with their minds.

6

In the following two weeks Hao and his wife experienced miserable moments as they adapted to this new life.

First, their minds had linked. In other words, though they worked in different places, they could feel the existence of each other. It was not a ghost feeling: they really knew where the other person was, and what he or she was looking at or thinking about.

After all, they were husband and wife who had lived together for years and understood each other well. Compared to everyday communication, they felt more embarrassed when linked to the computer network. When they were in the Net, their every thought was a shared event.

The colour of the electronic sky of the Net was always beautiful than the polluted sky in the real world. This enabled them to identify the world they were actually in. However, when the real world and the Net entered the night simultaneously, they could not tell the real world from virtual reality. Sometimes, Hao thought there was a mug, for instance, and he could clearly see it, but could not touch it because it was actually a fake. Sometimes he thought that a bus was a picture in the non-real world; however, it almost ran you down. Since the real world and the Net were not easily identifiable, they gave up their efforts to distinguish them. They put their focus on cultivating the capability to escape the Net. They found some special places in the real world, such as places under the high voltage electric lines and transformers, places near metal objects or radio stations, where the signal of the electromagnetic wave was not so strong. At these places, it was easier for them to be away from the Net and slip into the real world. However, if they wished to get rid of the Net at any moment, the best way was to drive it out of their minds. Once they stopped thinking of it, the connection between the Net’s electromagnetic waves and their brain cells was cut off.

When they could get in and out the Net freely, they returned to the Net and fought the last battle with the master-hands there. Hao quickly found that his wife could adapt to the Net life more easily than he. When confronting strong enemies, women showed greater savvy than men. For instance, it was his wife that first found that they could move without the restriction of the rules in the real world. They could easily pass through walls and the ground. Their discovery had enabled them to beat all the Net masters hands down in three months.

Their quality of life had improved a great deal. They spent almost every weekend in various Net spaces. Through the Net, they had roamed all the places in the world. They had even enjoyed the life described in fairy tales. Sometimes, after they said goodbye to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Monkey King, they laid naked and comfortable in the temple combining the styles of Arabia, Byzantium, Babylon and Qin, watching the 16 moons of the Jupiter floating softly in the remote sky rimed with brilliant aura. At this moment, they would think how all this came into being.

They should thank that magic mouse pad!

7

Though they had had a wonderful moment on the Net, they had to continue their earthly life. They had to eat and wash dishes. And they had to dispose of the leftovers, and open and close the door of the refrigerator.

One night, Hao Keqiang did not put the leftovers into the refrigerator according to his wife’s instruction, as he was busy to go to a Net gathering. The bowl of leftover was thus placed on his computer desk, right next to the pink mouse pad.

The next morning when his wife asked him to look for the leftover in the refrigerator, he realised he had made a mistake yesterday.

He came to the desk and looked at the porcelain bowl, and found that all the leftovers had been eaten, with only some soy soup remaining.

”Did you get up last night and eat it?”

He immediately realised he was the biggest fool in the world. The palm-like mouse pad, which was pink and naive like a child yesterday, now looked like a lump of dough crouching stupidly on the desk. The vivid pink had been replaced with the ugly colour of soy.

Did the mouse pad climb across the verge of the bowl and eat up all the leftover? He was puzzling over this when he heard his wife’s scream. He rushed to the kitchen and was frightened by another scene.

On all the walls and floor of the kitchen room there crawled many soy-coloured hands, large and small, identical to the mouse pad!

8

Hao and his wife clamped all the hand-like objects into a big canister, and closed the cover tightly. Then they immediately went to the shop that sold the mouse pad. The shop had changed over the past few months. The counter had disappeared, and so had the beautiful saleswoman. A number of people wearing white robes were busy with a laboratory platform.

A desk girl received them. When they asked her to open the canister and show the things to people there, the girl smiled and simply ordered a young man carry it away.

”I am very sorry for creating trouble for you.” The girl said, very politely. ”How should we compensate you? In cash or electronic money?”
”It’s up to you, but…”

”Never mind, I will explain everything to you. Even the manufacturer did not expect the mouse pad to act in that way. They simply produced the pad with new materials made from ancient rocks, which they thought would fit the pad well. However, our test has found that the rock contained a mini-size lifeform that lived in the Cambrian age 530 million years ago. It can endure rubbing and high temperature. An individual lifeform has no intelligence, but as a whole they can smooth the communications between man and man as well as man and machine in an unbelievable way.“

”530 million years ago? Cambrian age? Communications between man and man, man and machine?”

”What did you mean by smooth? More easy?”

The girl nodded.

”It is difficult to explain in several minutes. This is for you.”

She gave a handbook to Hao and his wife.

On the way home, they were too impatient to and read the handbook in the taxi.

530 million years ago there was a mysterious moment in the history of life’s evolution. Before that time, there had been no complex lifeforms on Earth. However, just like a big explosion, life suddenly evolved into diversified and complicated forms.

”How could it be! The theory of evolution says that all the lifeforms evolved slowly and could not blast at a certain moment!” Hao’s wife shouted, stunning the taxi driver.

”Sh!” Hao stopped her, goggling at her.

His wife shrunk her neck and took a deep breath, calming down.

They finished the handbook and threw it aside.

”It explains nothing,” Hao said.

”Even the greatest biologists have not yet found the reason of the explosion of life. Could that be called a conclusion?”

”Why not ask them?”

After a while, she suddenly said. ”Whom?”

”The mouse pad!”

”Ask it?”

”Is it made of Cambrian lifeform? Is that life wise enough?”

”Right, why not?”

”But… we gave the store all the things…” His wife looked upset.

”No, I have kept one.”

When the taxi arrived at their home, Hao took a plastic bag from his pocket and handed it to his wife.

”But how can we talk with them?” His wife was still worried when walking upstairs.

”Are you really worrying about that when two great intelligences are facing each other?” Said Hao in full confidence, and he opened the door…

Translated by Song Han
Original title „Shu Biao Dian“
First published in
Science Fiction World, October 2001
Copyright @ by Wu Yan

Wu Yan is Asociate Professor at the College of Education Administration and Director of the Research Center on Children’s Literature at Beijing’s Normal University. From 1995 to 1999 he was vice-editor-in-chief of Science Fiction World, the world’s largest sf magazine. His science fiction works include two novels and several short story collections. He is winner of China’s National Book Award and of the Outstanding Popular Science Book Award of China.

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