Saturday, January 10, 2009

The book: part 1

(Just a quick note: when I dreamed this, I dreamed the beginning and the end but no middle. And since it was kind of a mystery, I was really damn frustrated when I woke up. I mean, I knew point A and point B, but not how everything got from one to the other. So I'm going to see what happens when I write in a middle. Because there's kind of a lot going on, I'm going to do this in parts. We'll see where it goes. Whee!)

Kai wasn't quite sure how she came to possess the tome that was the book. Only that she had owned it ever since she could remember. And because it was about her mother's life, she had treated it as a bizarre, sacred object, to be revered, but never opened. At a certain age, though, Kai decided that, in order to truly respect her lost mother, she would have to abandon her blind reverence and instead, discover the truth about her life and what happened to her. When she did manage to overcome habit and peer into the book's pages, Kai was disappointed to find an incomplete picture. There were bits and pieces: scribbled excerpts from events, scattered diary entries, partially drawn maps. Most unexpectedly, Kai's mother had included several biting invectives against her "nemeses," a pair of men from Wyoming. She never specified why she hated them so much, or why they were pursuing her; only that they were insidious human beings and would not rest until they had caught up with her. To kill her? Again, Kai's mother didn't say. She obviously wrote these notes down for her own reasons, not so that her daughter could know something about her years after her disappearance or death. The one stroke of luck for Kai was that her mother seemed to place some importance on recording the geography of her wanderings. It was this element of the book that prompted Kai to follow her mother's path around the American mid and North west to piece together the mystery of her life and of the book.

In Wyoming, several years before Kai began preparing for her own journey, the sons of two ranching families began a similar quest. Drew's father had let it slip one night that he HAD, in fact, traveled outside of the state as a younger man. He wouldn't go in to detail and left the table as soon as Drew pressed him for more information, signaling the end of the discussion. No one in the family left the nest of farms and towns where their forebears had established a settlement two centuries before. People from other families had come and gone, and the towns had swelled and shrunk and swelled again as the years passed, but Drew's clan remained one of two that never left. Their commitment was to the land. So when he told his friend what his father had said, Jo struggled with disbelief.

-I dunno,- Jo said. -Yer dad drinks. Could be he was just talkin. Wishin. Ye know.-

-Yeah. Could be.- -I want to believe it though. And if it is true... If it IS true, what happened? Why won't he talk about it? Did he... DO something? Somethin bad?-

The subject of Drew's father's travels came up more and more as the spring rumbled on. The more they talked about it, the more likely it seemed it had really happened. Quite against their families' wishes, and very much against Drew's father's, the boys left their homes at the onset of summer. It wasn't so much the past that drew them out, but the present: what else was out there, besides the ranching communities they had always known? Of course they would come back, but if Drew's father saw some other corner of the world, they could too. They SHOULD, even.

They didn't come back. They wandered- all over the Eastern sea board and the Deep South, working here and there, learning the ways of other folk. It took several years before they made their way back to the mid West and crossed paths with Kai.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Robot story

AT-10133 buzzed slightly as it tidied up the living area. Not that its family had been around in years, or any humans, really. But maintaining order in the home was its number three priority out of 75 and, as a machine, it regrettably didn't have much say in the matter. Thankfully for its circuitous sanity, AT-10133 hadn't achieved sentience, like the more sophisticated military and space exploration AI. The handful of these robots and devices that happened to be in suburban areas when the humans finally disappeared had long since gone elsewhere. Nothing remained to clue in AT-10133 that its programming to fix things rendered it quite useful to the other machines in the old urban centers and up in the stratosphere. Nothing remained to tell it that there were other machines out there. Nothing remained to trip the wire or flip the switch that would make AT-10133 care, inasmuch as a standard model household robot could care for anything. So, as it had done every evening for the past 1,874 days, AT-10133 tidied up the living area, and as its aging gears had done for the past 54 days, buzzed slightly.

It finished its tasks and returned to its storage closet to conserve energy (its seventh priority) when a movement outside the house tripped its initial defense protocol. Something was on the front lawn. AT-10133 sent a scanner to the window, which transmitted back that, indeed, a figure was stalking around on the porch. As its programming required, the robot's second defense protocol initiated itself, and it slid silently across the floor and opened the front door. A small, rusty early model of house-ware, the R-70 was rolling around in circles, twittering and sparking to itself. Poor thing, it must have been sold before thorough self diagnostic packages became a standard feature of such house-ware. Its programming must be telling it to do all kinds of things that didn't correspond to priorities.

'You are trespassing', a recording from AT-10133's voice command center played. 'Identify yourself and state your business or leave the premises.'

'Chirp. Chirp. Tweeeee.'

'This is your second warning. This house-aide robot, the AT-10133, from Troncorp, is fully armed with a level eight defense package and is in contact with local authorities. Identify yourself and state your business or leave now.'


At this point, the AT-10133's programming authorized it to initiate defense mode, booting up the most sophisticated, least energy efficient processes the machine was capable of. It had entered defense mode twice since the humans had disappeared and had incinerated two fearless squirrels on sight, but this time, something was different. It should have sent a transmission to the local police station and followed their instructions, or, should the police not reply, as was indeed the case, it should fire on the intruder in order to protect the family inside the house, its first priority. It didn't open fire. There was no family to protect. This little machine, broken, on the verge of shutting down, needed repair. It needed protection.

Maybe it was the amount of time that had passed since the last incident that had allowed the higher processes to work toward sentience, unnoticed to the standard operating programs. Maybe this is what caused the AT-10133 to recognize something of itself in this poor confused machine. Or the recognition of itself AS a self. Whatever the case, the AT-10133 didn't open fire. Instead, it scanned the little R-70 and began to mend its circuits. Because of its proficiency with repair and the availability of supplies in the house, it only took the more sophisticated machine a few hours to restore the simpler one's motherboard and settings.

However, between the moment the AT-10133 made the choice- the first it had ever made- to fix the R-70 and the moment of the task's completion, the threat of an intruder had been accounted for, and the AT-10133's defense protocols switched off. With its complex processes nonoperational, the possibility of choice and the awareness of self evaporated. Also during this elapse of hours, whether by another choice or by some fault of its programming, the R-70 replaced the AT-10133's family house as the object of service and protection. The R-70 whizzed off the porch toward the street, and the AT-10133 dutifully followed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Road trip with Margret

We had been rushing around all day, Margret and I. We began the day at the High School Commune, with a lot of people I didn't expect I'd ever see again, but there they were, all together again. The Commune was like a giant tree house, with clothes and blankets strewn all over the place, three-walled rooms built haphazardly, over grown plants and destroyed side walks. But unlike the roof and fences, the energy there didn't flag; everyone was happy and ran around, taking care of their shit, taking care of each other. The archetypal commune, I guess. For some reason, we couldn't stay there, and because of all those kids from high school, I have to admit I didn't want to. All that teenage anxst came back, even though I don't think any one recognized me. I didn't have to suffer through it now; I could just leave.

So we were driving, Margret and myself, in a massive black SUV (is that how we managed to escape the energy efficient, self-sustaining tree house?). We stopped to get gas and all of a sudden, it was dark out. I guess when you're on the road for so long, nights and days creep up on you. We reached an urban area a little after we filled up; I must have zoned out as we cruised through the suburban sprawl, because we found ourselves in the heart of some city. In the middle of the night, it was dark enough to conceal anything that might threaten you, but only just. The shadows, a neon light, casting a red glow over the side of a building, alley ways with stagnant puddles and trash- I half expected Batman to show up. Wouldn't have been unwelcome.

Stop here- said Margret.


I have a job. Don't worry, this won't take long.


I must've stopped because she got out of the car before I could say anything else. As she turned to jump down to the steaming pavement, I saw that she looked different than she had at the gas station- she was heavier, but she didn't look bad. Her clothes were trendier and she'd put on a bunch of shiny makeup, bright red lipstick. How long had we been driving?

I saw a guy walking toward her from... I don't know where, I guess he had been behind one of the dumpsters, or come out from a nondescript back door. She smiled big when she saw him, like they were old friends. Inside the car, the sounds outside were muffled but, I heard her say -Hiiii!- and start chattering as they walked arm and arm into the shadows. I knew she wouldn't be long. I knew what she was doing, although I didn't know why or how long this had been going on or when the hell she'd had the time to set this up. I sat back and waited for it to start raining.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Existence Cafe

I didn't know how long I'd been sitting in the club, but I wasn't bothered. A near empty drink in hand; I must've been here for at least half an hour. If this was the first. Bourbon. Probably not the first.

The place wasn't empty, but not packed or lively. The other patrons concerned themselves with their own conversations, and I couldn't see any of their faces in shadow or just darkness.

As I continued to converse with no one and think about nothing in particular, I noticed that my ear had been tugging my attention toward music, a singer on a minimal stage in the corner, the only really lighted spot in the room. She shared the little platform with only a microphone, although the instrumental accompaniment suggested a full band and quite a bit of production, probably a tape behind one of the sequined curtains. The curtains. Hot pink and glittery, the chintzy kind that you would see at strip club or a kids show at an amusement park. The singer's dress glittered in the same way, but in light blue, and she resembled a cheap, worn Marilyn Monroe, like you would see at a strip club or a kids show at an amusement park. She didn't sing like Marilyn, though, she didn't breath the notes with an mock innocent, hyper feminized purr. Her voice was soft but clear and if you paid attention, you could make out the lyrics: stars and molecules and light, kinda sci-fi philosophic type stuff. If you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't notice that the curtains and the dress slowly switched colors, or that the singer's face was out of focus. I started to think about it and, nothing on that damn stage made any sense! Maybe I was really wasted.

I drained the last of my Bourbon, which was more melted ice at this point, and as the not unpleasant burn sifted from my throat into my stomach, I noticed I didn't have a glass in my hand. The singer and the other shadows of the club were gone. I was still sitting at the little black table, but I was in a dessert. Sand and sand and sand. Not even a breeze. It was dead quiet. I looked down at the ratty pile of rags that had been my clothes, mostly on the ground. Most of what had been my skin was gone, a few leathery strips sticking to my bones; and my organs, I bet had those had been eaten. Wait, then what am I thinking with? Shi..!