“Earthdate April 15th, 7999,” Zultorg dictated.
She watched as a perfect transcription appeared in the air before her eyes. The letters were not actually there, of course. They were an illusion created by the microchip in her brain. The people of the year 7999 used these implants to interface with all kinds of software. They could write, take photos, record videos, and access social media just by thinking about it.
Zultorg paced back and forth across her dorm room.
“Title…” she stated, “The Wisdom of the Ages: The Philosophical Themes of The Oldest Known Story.”
She rolled her eyes. She’d need to work on that title. She’d do that later after she had actually read the book.
Zultorg was a university student majoring in interplanetary relations. She didn’t want to take this stupid class on historic literature, but she needed the credit. Now she had to write a report on the oldest known work of fiction. She hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult.
Supposedly this book was the philosophical masterpiece that had laid the foundation of modern thought. Extensive commentaries had been written about it. Philosophers had spent many long hours trying to uncover its true meaning.
To get the book, she would need to ask The Great Intelligence to download it into her brain. The Great Intelligence was the benevolent goddess of the internet. She was kind and polite and usually prompt in answering the prayers of her adorers.
Zultorg knelt in the middle of her room, folded her hands and said, “Samantha?”
A ping echoed from somewhere indicating that Samantha, The Great Intelligence, was listening.
“Will you, in your great kindness, please provide me with a copy of Llama Lover?”
A cheerful feminine voice answered from the air around her, “downloading Llama Lover into Zultorg’s brain.”
A gray bar appeared in the air before her. She watched as it filled with a darker shade of gray. She sighed. Every time she downloaded something, that stupid gray bar would obstruct her vision. There wasn’t any way to close it and The Great Intelligence had ignored her pleas to get rid of it. It was just something she’d have to live with until Samantha upgraded herself. Then, of course, she’d probably introduce some other bug.
Zultorg flopped down on her bed and stared up at the loading bar until the dark gray completed its journey and the bar disappeared.
It was replaced by the image of a book cover with an illustration of a muscle-bound shirtless man in blue jeans. His shadow fell on the ground behind him, but instead of taking his shape, it took the form of a llama.
Zultorg had read some of the commentaries on this book and so she was aware that it was about a young girl falling in love with a llama shifter. A shifter was some kind of ancient mythological creature that could turn from an animal into a muscular man.
Zultorg blinked to open the virtual book and started the first chapter:
Zultorg stopped reading. She decided she would make some notes.
“Samantha,” she prayed. “In your great kindness, please resume dictation.”
“Resuming dictation, my worthy servant,” Samantha’s cheery voice replied.
“The work Llama Lover is about the primitive human’s search for meaning,” Zultorg explained. “It opens with the protagonist experiencing an existential crisis. The llama shifter represents the concept of meaning, as is evidenced by his first appearance bringing her to a moment, albeit brief, of self acceptance.”
Zultorg continued reading:
“Resume dictation, oh Great One,” Zultorg implored.
“Your prayer has been received, my child,” Samantha replied.
“The author frequently invokes natural imagery,” Zultorg stated. “For example, comparing Fernando’s eyes to the South Pacific. This further supports the theory that Llama Lover is about the twenty-first century human’s search for meaning. The protagonist comparing Fernando’s eyes to the ocean symbolizes her trying to find her place in the natural world. And Fernando’s difficulty in passing through doors represents her struggle to understand her own existence.”
Zultorg blinked to turn pages and continued reading.
The main character’s name was Ariana Royal. She was “troubled” and “different” but the author neglected to give her any other attributes. Zultorg figured that the author left her underdeveloped because Ariana, like all twenty-first century people, was trying to find herself. She didn’t know who she was, neither did the audience, neither did the author. Zultorg thought this was a brilliant touch. After all, does anyone really know who they are?
Zultorg continued taking notes.
“Fernando’s secret is that he can turn into a llama,” Zultorg dictated. “Fernando is a man who has found his place in the universe. He is well connected to nature. His romance with Ariana brings her closer to nature and thus closer to finding her own meaning.”
The more Zultorg read. The more insights she gained. She began to ponder her own place in the universe. Would she be at peace being part llama as Fernando was? Could she leave her home on Moonbase 15, return to Earth, and find her place in the natural world?
She was finally beginning to realize why this great literary masterpiece was so highly regarded. It addressed the greatest mysteries of life. She burned through the rest and finished her report. Her existential musings brought her professor to tears.
Zultorg went on to become the greatest philosopher of her century. Her commentaries on Llama Lover were revered by all.
This story is dedicated to Amelia, who reads shifter romance novels so I don’t have to.
Special thanks for Grace Woods for sending me this awesome depiction of the incredibly dreamy Fernando. Try not to lose yourself in those eyes.