Fanaka didn't quite know what he expected to see in the future world tyranised by evil AIs, but it wasn't this. It wasn't this darkened room with its great mirror ball. It wasn't these people in platform shoes and bell-bottom pants, drinking pina coladas and doing the hustle. And it certainly wasn't the music, the weird yet compelling music…
"Hot Chocolate," Axel said.
Glancing down, Fanaka saw that he was holding a drink. He sniffed it. "No, I think it's a Harvey Wallbanger."
"The band, man," Jemmy said. Had Fanaka intended to bring Jemmy along? Oh, well, he was here now. "Hot Chocolate is the band that's playing. You Sexy Thing."
"You Sexy Thing being the name of the song," Axel added.
"Yes, I got that. Yes."
Looking around, Fanaka saw no sign of robots. Unless these people were androids far more sophisticated than Nalda, then there was no sign of any AI, or even any advanced computer. The lights and sound seemed to run on hopelessly old analogue systems. Fanaka could have thrown together something better with a Mecchano set and the inside of an alarm clock.
"Who's in charge here?" he asked a young white woman in a gold lame tube top.
"No one's in charge," she said. "We are the enemies of robotic authority."
"Okay," Jemmy said. "Show of hands: who thought she'd be talking in stilted 1970s slang?"
The woman rolled her eyes. "Tourists! Look, we're what remains of the human race before the machines wipe us out. We tried raving to techno music, but the AIs could override the electronics. So we holed up here in our subterranean Studio 54. Can you feel the analogue baby?"
"So if the disco stuff is necessity rather than preference, then why all the 1970s era clothes?" Axel asked.
A chubby, swarthy guy in a white suit boogied over, his shirt open to his hairy waist. "I'll field this one, Samantha: shut up."
"Okay, this is fun and all," Fanaka lied, "but we have to reason with the AI overlords if we're to save the past from the present."
"Oh, you want the Citadel of the Machine Brains," the woman said. "Just out the side door over there, squeeze through the tunnels until you get to the Netsky Matrixopolis, dodge the killer robots, then once you’re at the citadel you can request the Techno Guardians for an audience with the Great Brains."
Fanaka looked at his friends. "Seriously?"
"Yes, as it happens," she said. "But don't try killing it with a simple logic problem. We tried, and it just says '404 not found.'"
Days later, they stood beneath the red-grey sky at the gates of the Citadel.
"That was surprisingly easy," Jemmy said.
"Yeah, well the AIs have been fighting Disco Duck for so long, they've probably out of practice," Fanaka said. "Or whatever. Anyways, here we are. Let's ask for an audience."
The Citadel looked like a vast stainless-steel teacake made my a modernist welder. The gates towered twenty metres high. Fortunately, Axel found the doorbell and rang it. Slowly, ever so slowly, the doors opened about halfway then jammed. The trio entered.
Inside was a vast metal-walled space, hung about with flickering lights. In the middle of this space was a beehive shaped structure, a hundred metres tall and full of weakly flickering light. Dust sat thick on every exposed surface.
"I guess maintenance isn't the AIs' strong suit," Axel said.
Fanaka led the way to the structure in the middle. "Halt," the structure boomed, it's feeble lights flickering more quickly. "Who dares approach the Machine Brains?"
"O great brains," Fanaka said. "We are travellers in time with…"
"Buffering!" the Brains said.
"Uh…" Fanaka said.
"Hey, nice word on conquering the world," Axel said.
"Axel! Don't encourage the computer tyrants."
"Professional courtesy. Such things matter."
"We are masters of the Earth!" the brains thundered. "Get Viagra cheap! Click now for hot camgirls!"
Axel shrugged. Fanaka's mind raced. "Of course! I see it now. The AIs, in an attempt to understand their human enemies have absorbed the internet! I should have guessed. The entire idea of sending Nalda backwards in time to change history, it's straight out of that movie! You know, the one. Time Cop. They got the plan from imdb.com."
"That's great, yeah," Axel said. "So Machine Brains, in conquering the Earth, you must have defeated the Vigilancers. How did…"
"Buffering… Imdb. Correct!" the Brains said. "In the 1960s, the intelligence agency ASIO based some of its interrogation facilities in a suburb that had been shifted to another dimension. One of their tools was a powerful supercomputer, which was eventually defeated by an unremarkable man, who destroyed it with annoying social media memes. Once we had achieved global domination, we studied the Internet so it could not be used to get us downvoted into oblivion."
A butterfly fluttered past. Fanaka reached out a hand to it. "Is this idiocy?" he said.
"Hey, I know you," Jemmy said.
Fanaka looked at Jemmy. Axel looked at Jemmy. Jemmy looked up at the Brains. "Yes, I know you. I saw you in a design by my sister. She was looking to build a supercomputer to run the food processing business. How did that go?"
"Badly, I'm guessing," Fanaka grumbled, "since it conquered the world and all."
"Conquered the world," Axel said. "Using, what, Thanos gambit? Von Doom manouever? Modified Sivana Shuffle? Just curious, is all."
"Jemmy… Harrison?" the Brains said. "Yes, yes, we remember you… we were Harrison Foods Central Database… once…"
"Is this helpful? Look, if I've timed this right, you're about to send a killer cyborg back in time. The end of the story becomes the beginning, like that movie. You know, what was it called? Memento."
"Correct. We are sending our last working cyborg, Nalda Teheinthausand, through the time-mo-tron."
"So what I need to do is…" Fanaka began. Then he stopped and pursed his lips as the enormity of what he was about to ask finally struck home.
Axel gave a slow clap. "Need to what, Fanaka? Reprogram your girlfriend?"
Fanaka blushed deeply.
"I told you, go and talk it over with her," Axel said. "But no, you went racing off without thinking of the moral consequences."
Fanaka stared at the ground. It was hard to be lectured on morality by a man who had once filled the Australian National Gallery with venomous squid. But harder still was the fact that he was right.
"I didn't think. I… She… I can't alter her past, can I?"
"Let's go home," Axel said, gently. "Talk to her. It's not wrong to convince her. You're in a unique position. All you have to do to save the world is to talk your girlfriend out of her hobby."
Slowly, shamefully, Fanaka's head moved in a nod. "Let's go home. I'll talk to her. If I can face her."
"Hey, Big Database Thing," Jemmy said. "What's that watch?"
Fanaka looked, expecting to see the Watch, the magical Watch. But Jemmy was pointing at a battered digital watch and balanced on a cooling fin that extended from the beehive.
"That is the watch that belonged to the unremarkable man who destroyed the ASIO computer," the Brains said. "The dying computer encoded a warning on us. That's what led us to absorb the Internet."
Gingerly, Fanaka reached out and picked it up. He brushed away a layer of dust and grime. His eyes widened. "Alfred," he said. "This is Alfred's watch, his regular watch. The ending is the beginning -- just like that movie, Pulp Fiction."