Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Story 5: The Problem of Fruit

Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. Enjoy!


Nobody saw it coming when Geraldine built a sled out of oranges. But, everybody saw it coming that the sled wouldn't actually work. The truth is, it was really just a bunch of oranges that Geraldine had found on the side of the road. She didn't trust them enough for eating, but she was in the mood to sled, and, well, they looked like they could roll, so she put them all at the top of the hill, took a running start, and belly-flopped on top of them.
Most of them squished under her weight and momentum, but there were enough that some survived, and soon, she was rolling down the hillside, full of delight and wonder.
Then, she hit a tree and died.

The moral of the story, kids, is that you should avoid oranges at all costs. These teachers here are going to tell you that you should get your Vitamin C. Bull shit. You should get your Vitamin Don't Let Oranges Kill You. And, I'll tell you right now, the best way to get this vitamin is to not eat any oranges. Pure, simple, easy.
Oh, and also avoid lettuce.
I don't know why anyone even bothers with lettuce. it's so leafy and bizarre. You show me something frilly and green at the edges and white and hard in the middle, and you tell me to eat it, I'll tell you right now, kids, I'm not doing it! I don't care how much you pay me! And, I'd advise you all to do the same. When one of those older kids comes up to you and offers you some lettuce, you just say, "No, thanks. I'm a no-lettuce kind of kid."
Yeah, I know, it's hard to say "no" to your friends, especially the older kids. I definitely got into some vandalism when I was your age, because some of the older kids thought it was cool. And, I'll tell you right now, kids, twenty years in prison is _not_ cool. I mean, _I_ didn't spend any time in prison... and neither did this guy, actually. he's a D.A. now. Kind of a hot-shot, actually. Anyway, my point is this: if you want to end up like my friend, sure, eat all the lettuce you want, but if you want a real job, a real life, follow my example: avoid it like the plague-carrying rat it is.
Speaking of plague-carrying rats, something else you should definitely avoid: cabbage. I mean, come on. Cabbage is just lettuce with a different name. It was invented by the pink commy anti-war atheist capitalistic war-mongering pigs. Everyone was wising up to the evils of lettuce, so they came up with lettuce by a different name and started selling that. I mean, it even looks like lettuce!
Anyway, the point is, don't touch it. Avoid it like the plague. If some wise-ass gives you a cabbage as a Facebook present or whatever it is you kids do, then just say, "Look, homie. I won't judge you choices, no matter how self-destructive and generally awful they are, but that stuff isn't for me. No offense, but I don't want to end up like you. You look and smell awful. If you give me that cabbage, give it to me for kindling for my fire, because that's all I'd ever use it for."
Actually, scratch that. Don't even burn it. I bet it burns blue, or something. Probably seeps its dark nutrients into your blood stream through the air. No, just bury it, bury it deep in the Earth's core and never think about it again.
Oh, and if you have ever had cucumbers, you're almost certainly a zombie. I mean, it's not one hundred percent, but pretty much ninety-five. If you know someone who has eaten cucumbers, please call nine one one immediately. They are likely to tell you that they have no interest in brains, maybe even that brains gross them out, but secretly, they are longing even for your brain. It's juicy; it's succulent; if you don't call nine one one, they will extract it from your head and eat it during your next YouTube sleepover or whatever it is you kids do.
So, anyway. I'm only talking about the most egregious stuff here. You can get the whole list of banned fruits and vegetables by going to our website - that's double-u double-u double-u dot eff dee a dot gov - and clicking on the big picture at the top of broccoli with a giant slash through it.
Speaking of which, uhh, don't eat any broccoli. That shit is so poisonous it boggles my mind that it can even be alive.
Anyway, looks like I'm out of time here. Principle Pumpkin told me that she has another short message for you, so I'll give it over to her, but if you have any other questions, or if you know anyone who has eaten cucumbers (or kale, obviously), I'll be next to the main office handing out fliers.
You've been real, kids. You've been real.

Story 4: Predictions for the Future

Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. Enjoy!


In the year 2015, the United States invests in a country-wide bouncy castle. The politicians say that it's just the jump start this country needs. All of them say the same thing. It's not only the first time that they all agree to a policy. It's the first time they all agree to rhetoric. It's consider a success of modern media. Everyone shakes hands (though this won't be made a requirement of law until 2021).
The economy soars. Adults find their inner child, as they toil on engineering and then building, the largest bouncy castle in history. It is yellow, but the spires are all gray. And, obviously, they are shaped like eagles and have flags at the top.
Unfortunately, when the castle is completed in 2018, everyone realizes that they never really liked bouncy castles and moves out of the country.

In the year 2061, a giraffe takes over the world. Because nobody is paying attention to politics anyway, the tall politicians of the global government all band together and pass legislation to decide all elections by height. The short politicians buy a giraffe.
The giraffe turns out to be a tyrant. It bans straight marriage. It requires that every person adopts its bizarre and antiquated religion that involves licking at least twelve different leaves on any given day and the complete extinction of ants.
Ant lovers worldwide revolt and try to set up an alternative government. Unfortunately, they are all too short.

In the year 2083, a number of things happen. That number is odd but not prime.

In the year 2098, a clandestine photograph of the global president and the lunar king having sex on a floating chandelier is released on the Internet (or its equivalent: the Interinternet), but nobody recognizes them. They are pretty excited about the sex, though, and the photograph becomes a viral meme (or its equivalent: a memememe). Chandelier sales skyrocket. And, soon, every industry is pushing to have the global president and lunar king have sex on their products.
Politics grinds to a halt as the two leaders spend almost all of their time either having no-longer-clandestine sex on various household appliances and types of soda or consuming as many liquids and potassium-rich foods as possible to maintain stamina.
Still, after a couple of months, their sex becomes mundane and routine, and they are soon thrown out of office, replaced by younger and more acrobatic leaders, who proceed to have wilder sex on even more products.
By the end of the year, the global and lunar populations are so fed up with watching sex and commercials that they finally start paying attention to politics, only to find that it is more sex and commercials. They revolt and put in power a man so prudish that he outlaws sex for the next twenty years. Within two weeks, he is ousted and killed, and the three-month bacchanalia that follows is so frantic and passionate that, afterwards, nobody remembers it, and all that remains is a single picture of two old women having sex on a floating chandelier.

By 2116, the various global empires are controlled by the fashion conglomerate, so political boundaries change, depending on the current style, usually a few times a year. In the beginning of 2116, it is popular to wear hamburger costumes in Cambodia, so it cedes its power to the North American Fast-Food Alliance, while most of North America itself is going through a parka phase, so they are invaded by the forces of the Overcoat Oligarchy. Naturally, the invasion is swift and bloodless, and within days, parkas are more common than food.
In mid-2116, the heelless slipper makes such a strong comeback that the entire planet is taken over by the Shoe Emporium. The Shoe Emporium, realizing that its power is likely short-lived, uses this power to sabotage the fashion industry. They poison all of the fashion executives in all the top firms and then tie-dye all clothing everywhere, claiming that now nobody can be fashionable.
Without fashion executives to guide them, the masses realize that they rather like tie-dye, revolt against the Shoe Emporium, and elect the colors of the rainbow as their leader.

In the year 2189, the entire world listens to the first ever debate by two genetically modified slugs. One of the slugs is in the middle of an impassioned speech about the rights of the many when the entire mini-studio is accidentally stepped on by one of the two gorillas who will be debating next.

In the year 2194, a hyper-intelligent race of aliens lands on Earth demanding to speak to the planet's leader. It takes three months to track the current dictator down, because she is working in one of the rock mines in what used to be the southern part of Russia. She is shocked to learn that she is dictator and instantly demands a bigger axe. She is told that a resolution to give her a bigger axe will be passed as quickly as possible through the government, and then one will be made for her with the utmost speed, so she will likely get it within the next year or two. Outraged, she demands the execution of all members of her grossly inefficient government. Unfortunately, the politicians say, the resolution to execute all of them will require some time to drum up support, and everyone is already busy preparing to take time off to avoid working on the axe problem, so it will likely take at least another century or two for the resolution to pass. One politician happily points out that, by then, many of the people she wants dead will already by gone, so, really, it's as if the resolution is already passed. The politicians congratulate themselves and decide to take a vacation. In the mean time, the aliens have given up and have gone back to their home planet to report that there is, indeed, no other intelligent life in the universe.

In the year 2200, a toad with five legs is born. The media immediately calls it the "four-legged toad killer" and the "must-have toad of the year," and the economy collapses.

In the year 2207, scientists discover the secret to resurrection. It is so expensive, though, that the only practical use is a highly-watched game show in which dead celebrities are brought back to life and then forced to fight each other to the death. There is a three-hour Special in which the old founding fathers from the former United States of America are all forced to fight each other, and only one can live. Unsurprisingly, it is Jefferson. It is the most widely watched program in the history of the universe, and within seconds, the economy collapses.
Jefferson, now released into a world that makes no sense to him, quickly capitalizes on his popularity from the television show and rises to power. For a few hours, it seems like everything is actually going to be okay. Jefferson makes several important resolutions and even comes up with a rudimentary plan to bring the economy back from ruin.
Unfortunately, in a surprise twist that boosts ratings even more, Franklin is brought back from the dead _again,_ and accidentally electrocutes both himself and Jefferson.
The economy collapses again.

In the year 2222, the world explodes. Nobody is quite sure why. Fortunately, nobody exists anymore, so the question doesn't vex anybody for too long. For the first time in almost 300 years, the economy does not collapse.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Story 3: An Unhappy Coincidence

Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. Enjoy!


The rain fell in a torrent, sheet after sheet, coming down so fast and hard it felt sometimes like it was moving up. After Ananda was in it for a few minutes, she stopped feeling the individual droplets, which made the direction the rain was falling even easier to forget. The rain was constant and reassuring. It was unrelenting in a way that few things were these days, and even a bit timeless.
Ananda was wearing everything she owned, which would spell trouble for her later, when she was trying to dry off, but it was currently far from her mind, as she reveled and danced in the rain, running around the park and stomping at puddles.
To an arbitrary onlooker, if anyone would dare to go out in such weather, it would appear that Ananda was running erratically, heading nowhere in particular, enjoying the rain for its own sake, maybe a block or two away from where she lived, so she could go back and dry off and drink some hot cocoa after a few minutes of revelry.
In reality, though, Ananda was quite far away from home, and she had a very particular destination in mind, just little inclination to get there before the rain stopped. Ananda had lived on the other end of town until earlier that morning. She'd never even been to this neighborhood, much less the park in which she was now gyrating.
She was on her way to see Patricia Bender, a psychiatrist specializing in post-traumatic stress. Her office was still another mile or two away, up away from the residential area, with the bigger buildings of glass an chrome that loomed even now over the park, looking big and imposing in the rain. She didn't have an appointment, but she expected Patricia's appointment book to clear up due to the rain, and even if she was busy, there was always lunch, or dinner.
By the time, Ananda had decided to see Patricia, she had no phone, nor the money to pay for a payphone, so making an appointment was out of the question even if she'd wanted to. Which, of course, she didn't.
As Ananda made it to the far end of the park, the rain started to peter out, and it was only a tiny drizzle when she arrived at Patricia's office building.
She looked up at it extending dizzyingly high, and when she looked down again, she was briefly disoriented. She sighed and walked in.
The building was a maze of halls and elevators and stairs behind unmarked doors. She circled the first three floors two times before finding a floor legend at the entrance.
On it read, "Floor 7 - Dr. Patricia Bender - 720"
By the time Ananda finally entered Patricia's office, she was almost dry. The office had two sections. An area to Ananda's left was full of empty gray cushioned chairs sitting around a coffee table, as if holding invisible guests engrossed in polite conversation about the latest fashions from Zurich. Directly in front of the entrance was a tall desk with a bell on it. Standing behind the desk was a woman in her late 30s, wearing a loose sweater and a pearl necklace. She was talking to an older woman with graying hair on the other side of the counter, one who was wearing a doctor's coat. Presumably, this was Patricia. The entire room was peppered by the occasional tall green, leafy plant.
Ananda walked up to the two women with a great big smile on her face and said, "Hi, Patricia!"
The woman behind the counter looked up at her in surprise. She said, "Excuse me. Do I know you?"
The other woman turned around from her side, looked Ananda up and down, and then turned back.
Ananda hesitated. She said, "Err... well. Not _technically._"
The woman behind the counter (who apparently was Patricia) said, "I... see. Most patients call me Dr. Bender. Do you have an appointment?"
Ananda said, "No, not that either."
Patricia said, "I'm afraid I can't help you without an appointment. You can, of course, set one up if you like."
Ananda said, "Oh. Ahh. I'm not actually here for an appointment."
Patricia squinted at her, and the other woman did a full body turn to face her.
"I need," Ananda continued and then eyed the other woman. "Do you mind if we talk in private?"
Patricia said, "Actually, yes. I don't know you."
Ananda sighed, wishing she had bothered to prepare for this encounter. She said, "Okay. Well, so. Here goes I guess." She paused. "I need... No." She paused again. "Do you believe in fate, Patricia?"
Patricia said, "Please call me Dr. Bender."
Ananda said, "Well, I do. You see. I believe in fate, and you and I are fated to become close, quite close, very close. Do you mind if I call you Patricia, if we're going to be close?"
Patricia said, "Yes. If we become close, you can call me Patty, but for now, please call me Dr. Bender."
Ananda said, "Fair enough. Yes. So, Patty." Patty and the other woman both glared at her. "Here's why I think you and I are fated to be close: I asked fate. I asked fate for a friend, and fate chose you."
Ananda smiled her widest smile.
Patty cocked her head briefly. She said, "How did you ask fate?"
Ananda said, "I chose you at random from a phone book."
Patty said, "And, you consider this to be fate?"
Ananda said, "Well, I chose someone else first Arthur Detritus, but he's an electrician, which sounds boring. You were my second choice, and you sounded way more interesting."
Patty said, "This doesn't sound much like fate to me."
The other lady turned to Patty and muttered something that Ananda couldn't hear.
Patty muttered back, "It's lunch anyhow; could be interesting," just loudly enough for Ananda to hear.
The other woman shrugged. She said, "Well, I've gotta go soon, so."
Patty said to Ananda, "This is my friend, Dr. Gaitskill."
The woman said, "Hello."
Ananda smiled briefly. She said, "I think I may be about to kill somebody."
A shadow passed over the two women in front her. They glanced at each other and edged closer together.
Ananda said, "Oh, no! Sorry. I didn't mean either of you. And not even on purpose. I'm not some kind of deranged lunatic. It's a fate thing."
The two eased a bit, but still looked tense. Patty said, "What makes you think that you're going to kill someone?"
Ananda said, "I don't know. I just have this, you know, gut feeling. Like, you know how sometimes you stare at a jelly donut, and you say to yourself, 'I'm going to get fired today,' and then you get fired that day without warning?"
Patty said, "I'm not sure I've ever experienced something like that."
Gaitskill shook her head.
Ananda said, "Well, that's just how it is. I just know. I woke up today knowing, and I just know." She shrugged.
Patty said, "What do you expect me and Dr. Gaitskill to do with this information?"
Ananda said, "I dunno. Whatever you think is best, I guess. I trust you already, since we're going to be such good friends."
Patty said, "I don't think I want to be friends with a murderer."
Ananda chuckled. She said, "Yeah, me neither. Heck, I don't even want to _be_ a murderer."
Patty said, "So, can't you stop it?"
Ananda shook her head. She said, "You can't stop fate."
There was a pause.
Gaitskill suddenly erupted. She said, "You can't go around killing people and blaming fate!" She turned again to Patty. "We need to call the police right now."
Patty kept her eyes on Ananda. She said, "Do you know who you're going to kill, or how you're going to kill this person?"
Ananda said, "Not the specifics. I know that it's going to be a guy, in his late 40s maybe?, with this kind of graying brown hair. I think he's got glasses. I don't know how I kill him, though. I just feel an echo of the guilt."
Patty said, "The guilt? So you'll feel guilty killing this man?"
Ananda said, "Of course! I'm not some kind of sociopath. This'll eat at me so much that I can feel it now, that I woke up with it."
Patty said, "What exactly do you feel?"
Ananda said, "I can't describe it. A clawing inside me. And the guy's picture all blurry keeps coming at me from out of nowhere, and whenever it does, the clawing gets stronger and more painful."
Gaitskill interjected again with, "Patty. Please. Let's call the police."
Patty just kept looking at Ananda.
She said, "How do you know that you're the one who's going to kill him?"
Ananda said, "It's the way he looks at me. There's so much, I don't know, blame in his face. He looks like he's about to accuse me in front of a court room. But, then, his face fills with dread, and that's when the clawing gets to its worst." She sighed. "Do you mind if I sit down?"
Patty said, "Sure. Go for it."
Gaitskill glared at her, as Ananda scooted a chair to face them and sat in it. She wondered briefly if she'd broken up an invisible person tea conversation.
Patty said, "Do you know anything else?"
Ananda said, "About the guy? No, that's about it."
Patty's face fell slightly. She said, "Oh."
Ananda said, "Oh, but I know other things. I've had lots of experiences like this, if you want to hear about those."
Patty said, "That does sound interesting, but I'm really worried about this man you're going to kill."
Gaitskill hissed, "She's not going to kill anybody!"
Ananda said, "Yeah, me too, but what can you do? It's already a done deal. I didn't come here to talk about that, just to get to know you, since we're going to be so close anyway."
Patty said, "Okay." She looked at Gaitskill for a few seconds and then said, "Okay, tell me about some of these other things, then."
Ananda smiled. She said, "I told you about the jelly donut and my job already. This one time, when I was in high school, I dreamt up an assignment before they gave it to us."
Patty said, "You dreamt up an assignment?"
Ananda said, "Yeah, I had a dream about this sheet of paper with an assignment telling us to write about one of the battles in the civil war. I remember, it even said, 'The Battle of Gettysburg is off limits,' and that's exactly what the assignment said. Those exact words."
Patty said, "That's a pretty strange dream."
Ananda said, "Yeah, I'll say. I usually dreamed about samurais and ninjas at that age. Dreaming about homework at all was pretty unprecedented."
Patty said, "Not to mention that it came true."
Ananda said, "Yeah, sure. But, I was pretty much expecting that. I mean, as I said, this has happened several times, and you just kind of know when it will."
Patty said, "When was the first time it happened?"
Ananda said, "Oh, I don't even remember. Maybe when I was five? I remember something about just knowing I was going to get a dog before I got one, and I think that was at five."
Patty said, "And, how often does this happen?"
Ananda shrugged. "It depends. Sometimes with small things you can't tell. Like, maybe you know that your keys are under the couch, but who knows if it's because you remember kicking them down there, or if it's just fate that they're there and you'll find them quickly."
Patty said, "I see. And, how often have you been sure that it happened?"
Ananda said, "Probably ten or fifteen all told."
Patty said, "So, under one a year?"
Ananda said, "Yeah, not counting the ones I'm not sure about. But, there are lots of those. Probably one every couple of days, if not more."
Patty said, "But, still. You've had two big ones so far today."
Ananda said, "Yeah."
Patty said, "That's pretty uncommon, right?"
Ananda said, "Yeah, I guess it is, now that you mention it."
Patty said, "Why do you think that's happened?"
Ananda grinned at Patty. "I think I know why we're going to be friends -- you're brilliant! You think these two events are related!"
Patty said, "Well, not exac-"
Ananda said, "No, that makes perfect sense. Oh, of course!"
From out of nowhere, Gaitskill exploded. She started yelling, "You've got to be kidding me! You can't... This is just... Yaugggh!"
She suddenly turned to Ananda, sitting in her chair, and she said, "Look. Fate doesn't exist."
Ananda leaned forward and opened her mouth to speak, but Gaitskill continued, speaking so quickly her words sometimes meshed together. "It's been scientifically proven. When people talk about fate, they really just notice coincidence. Sure, you've foreseen a couple of things here and there, but you've also been wrong, right? A bunch of times? You just forget about those when talking about your foresight. But, here's the thing: probabilistically, if you make educated guesses about your future, sometimes they'll be right. Fate or no fate. You're just letting your imagination get the better of you."
Patty said quietly, "Alice..."
Gaitskill spun at her. She said, "And, you! You're feeding this delusion, even after this woman threatens to kill somebody? Call the effing police, Patty. Or I will."
Patty shrank back from her. She said again, "Alice..."
But, Ananda was having none of this. She glared at Gaitskill. She said, "Look, Gaitskill. I don't care if you believe me. If you don't believe in fate, your life is small, and you don't matter to me."
Gaitskill said, "Small! The universe is so grand as it is. And, it's ludicrous beliefs like fate that keep you from learning about it."
Ananda said, "Ha! But, you're assuming I don't know about the universe. I do. I study the universe in every aspect."
Gaitskill said, "Every aspect?"
Ananda said, "Sure, I study the science. I like the whole space-time stuff. But, none of it is actually _about_ the universe. It's just models upon models upon models."
Gaitskill said, "But, underlying it is a system, a beautiful system."
Ananda shrugged. She said, "For me, underlying it is a beautiful, mystical system that allows the models to flow, but which is itself only visible when we look beyond the models, at the things that don't fit within them."
Gaitskill said, "But, everything fits within the system. That is built into the scientific process: everything we can sense is within its confines."
Ananda said, "No, no. Sure, science can tell me why it rains, but it can't tell me why the feel of it on my skin makes it tingle, or why it reminds me of being a kid, even though I grew up in the desert."
Gaitskill said, "Yes, sure it can! Just give it time. We're making such progress already in neuroscience. Just wait another few years, maybe ten, and we'll be able to tell you exactly what's happening in your brain."
Ananda said, "Sure, you'll be able to tell me what synapses fired in my brain, and maybe which synapses will fire in my brain tomorrow, but that's a pretty sorry explanation for why I love the rain."
Gaitskill said, "And, that's where psychologists come in, finding the patterns in human thought and explaining what causes them and why they are significant."
Ananda shook her head. "Just another model, missing the point entirely. You can tell me that I love the rain because it was rare where I grew up, or because the slight touches to my skin remind me of caresses."
Gaitskill nodded. "Yeah, right."
Ananda said, "But that's missing the point entirely. I love the rain because that's who I am, because it's part of my essence. I have to love the rain, because I'm me, and not someone else."
Gaitskill said, "You're assuming you have an essence."
Ananda said, "Of course, I have an essence! It is the thing connecting all of these diverse pieces of your science: my memories of growing up, my future in front of me, why my dopamine flows sometimes, and what happens when it flows. Science lets you talk about some of these things separately. Inherently, it breaks things up. But, they have their real meaning and beauty together." 
Gaitskill smiled at Ananda, her face transforming from an old and bitter wreck, slowly shifting, creases moving, until she looked bright and almost young. Her eyes crinkled; her teeth showed slightly.
She said, "I like you, lady."
Ananda smiled back. "I like you too."
There was a short silence, and soon over this silence, the growing sound of a police car could be heard. When it came to a stop, it was still faint, as though it were going elsewhere entirely, but Ananda turned to Patty, her mouth and eyes opening wide.
Ananda said, "You..."
Patty was staring at Ananda. Her hand was shaking as it held a phone receiver up to her face. She said, just audibly enough for Ananda to hear, "Yes, they just arrived. Thank you." And then, she slowly hung up the phone, keeping her eyes on Ananda the entire time.
Ananda said, "But, we're supposed to be friends..."
Gaitskill was gawking at Patty. She said, "You called the police?"
Patty, still looking at Ananda, said, "You told me to."
Gaitskill said, "Yeah, but... I mean, clearly she's not..."
She looked back at Ananda, who was slowly deflating.
Ananda said, "But, I haven't even done anything..."
Patty said, "You threatened to kill someone..."
Ananda said, "It's fate. I didn't threaten anybody." Her voice was shaking.
Patty said, "But, there's no such thing as..." She looked over at Gaitskill, who was looking between Patty and Ananda, who had crumpled down to the floor. Gaitskill did not say anything, or even make a readable facial expression at either woman.
There was a pounding at the door, and Ananda jumped up. She started running to her left, then to her right. She looked at the two women in front of her, eyes wild, sweating.
She said again, "I didn't do anything."
A deep-voiced man yelled, "Police. Open up."
Patty said, "It's open," first quietly and then more loudly.
The door opened, but Ananda was facing away from it. She just saw the reactions of the two women in front of her, both looking behind her, presumably at the police officer, both with a look almost pleading, both shaking almost imperceptibly.
The police officer said, "So, what seems to be the problem?"
There was a momentary pause. Gaitskill opened her mouth, then closed it. Patty did the same. Ananda stayed slumped on the ground, still unwilling to face the police officer. She felt an itch in her stomach.
Then, Patty said, "This woman here, on the ground. She said that she's going to kill someone."
The police officer said, "Figures. Place like this."
Gaitskill started to say, "What?"
But, Patty spoke over her. She said, "Yes, right. Exactly."
Her shaking was increasing.
She turned to Gaitskill and said, "Alice..." But, Gaitskill didn't respond.
The police officer said, "Well, no problem. We'll just need to take you down and ask you a few questions, lady, maybe get you to calm down. If you'll come with me."
Ananda's eyes were shining. She looked up at Gaitskill and smiled. She said, "It won't help."
The police officer said, "Excuse me?"
Ananda, still looking at Gaitskill, said, "It can't be helped. You can't stop me."
Gaitskill shook her head, her eyes widening. Even Patty's eyes widened slightly.
The police officer said, "Are you threatening me?!"
Ananda said, "No, I-"
The police officer said, "You are under arrest. Put your hands above your head and then slowly stand up."
Ananda said, "I can't..." She reached her hand out to Gaitskill.
Ananda heard a shuffling, presumably of a gun leaving a holster. The police officer said, "I said, put your hands above your head and stand up."
And, she tried. She put her hands on her head, and she pushed and pushed, and there she was standing up, the two women at the counter now at eye level with her. She smiled absently and turned around.
She said, "I didn't..."
And then, there he was, looking at her accusingly, curled over, clutching at his stomach. And, her arm hurt, and her hand was heavy, and she felt almost like it was raining again, but it was now a clawing instead of a caress. And, his look changed from accusation to dread, and then he fell over.
The gun fell from her hand.
She turned and looked over at Patty and Gaitskill. They were covered in blood, and Patty was crying, but Gaitskill just looked at her and looked at her, and then there were more police, and they grabbed her, and knocked her down, so that all she could see was the police officer, long dead, his face frozen in terror.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Story 2: National Novel Writing Month Short Story Edition 2011 Sponsored by The Internet and People Who Like the Word "Balloon" Presents to You Now for the First Time Ever: Seven Stories in Which the Protagonist Dies in the First Scene: a Space Adventure Romance Western with Surrealist Undertones (Warranty not Included)

Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. It has some mild swearing in it. Enjoy!


1) Just after noon, I realized that I couldn't take it anymore. Sitting in a cubicle all day, trying to pretend that I knew what I was doing, getting yelled at by my boss. Every day. Ugh. I wanted to punch her in the face so badly my arm would sometimes shake. So, just after noon, I TOTALLY FUCKING DID. Yeah, that's right. I punched my boss in the face. And, it was awesome. She was all "OUCH!" and then kicked me in the balls, which was less awesome, but still. Totally worth it. Anyway, so I think I'm out of a job? Which. Whatever. I can totally get another one. Somewhere far away from a computer. Maybe I'll become a lumberjack. Or a pilot. Or one of those people with a before and after picture on a commercial.
Well, so, here's the problem. I had to get out of there pretty quickly, right? I mean, security was pretty rough-and-tumble. As soon as they got there, which was pretty quickly with all the cursing and yelling and sobbing going on (I WAS KICKED IN THE FUCKING BALLS), and heard my boss's completely biased side of the story, they strong-armed me out of the building. Which, whatever. But, they didn't have to call the cops. That was totally uncalled for. I think the head security lady has some kind of weird vendetta against me after that one time I got drunk at an office party and almost punched her in the face.
She totally had it coming. Fucker.
Anyway, so, I didn't actually get any of my stuff. And, ass that I am, I had brought lots of awesome shit to work. I had this really old bottle of some awesome wine, and this other really old bottle of whiskey, and... well, you know, just lots of _stuff._ And, I want that stuff _back._
Now, take your normal guy, some dude with a tiny penis. He waits for the fuckers to call and say, "Look, dude with a tiny penis, you've got a bunch of your awesome shit here. If you don't come tomorrow, escorted by our bitchy security chief who has a vendetta against you for no good reason other than that she's bitchy, and pick up your awesome shit, we're going to throw it out the window and then set fire to it." Then he slouches in the next day, tail between his legs, escorted around like a cat on a leash, and picks up whatever stuff his coworkers haven't totally fucking stolen because it's awesome.
Me? No, I'm not that dude with a tiny penis. No fucking way. I'm going in there right now, security bitch or no, and I'm getting all of my awesome shit and then hightailing it to a job that actually doesn't suck dry and lumpy balls.
Which, I guess, is why I don't look as I cross the street... and then get hit by a bus.

2) I guess I am a time-traveling fetus. Because I am a fetus, and I time-traveled. And, I can't

3) Fiona was eight when she became obsessed with Digimon and then was abducted by aliens. The aliens were dry and lumpy and completely and utterly white. They looked like fat bowling pins. And, they would communicate by knocking each other down. A gentle shove from the front meant "hi there." A strong shove from the left side meant, "spaceship," and a strong shove from the right meant, "let's abduct that eight-year-old human girl who is obsessed with Digimon." This is at least what Fiona could surmise from the chair to which she was currently strapped, presumably on their space ship.
She was upside down.
One of the bowling pin aliens shoved her in the knee and then stood patiently in front of her for five minutes, after which it waddled away.
Fiona started to get dizzy.
Some time later, the same bowling pin alien (or possibly a different one -- she really couldn't tell them apart) and another bowling pin alien (or possibly that was the first one) waddled up to her, wheeling some strange screen between them
 The first of these aliens pushed her in the leg again. On the screen, a message appeared: "Dearest Fiona, most delicate flower in my garden of pure and unblemished delight, I must ask you with unparalleled ardor and fervency whether you like the sport of horse riding."
Fiona was a marvel of reading at age eight. Her teachers spoke of her with fondness and expectation, dreaming up for her the bright future that only an early reader can attain: the president, a senator, or at the very worst, a lawyer. She was the envy of her entire class whenever she was asked to read aloud. She did so without pause, with clarity and purpose, and perhaps most importantly, with perfect pronunciation. But, she couldn't read upside down.
Also, by then, she had long since passed out from having too much blood going to her brain.
Getting no response, the aliens assumed that she did _not_ like horse riding. They found this fact quite fascinating, because Earth television had told them that all little girls like to ride horses.
They asked her several more questions, about chocolate, about how disgusting boys are, and about dancing. When she refused to answer any of them with anything more excited than unconsciousness, they were forced to conclude both that this planet was full of liars, pretending to be interested in things that they found too boring to even keep them awake, and that everyone on the planet was extremely boring.
So, they blew it up with their gigantic laser.
It was some time during the building up of the laser that Fiona's body realized that she wouldn't be turned right side up in the foreseeable future and gave up.

4) Deirdre's fascination with anvils could not have ended much worse. Things started out looking pretty good for her. She was accepted to the top anvil university (Georgia State University, obviously) and got stellar marks in all of her anvil-related courses (Anvils: What are They Good for and Why Should I care?, Anvils vs. Anchors: Why an Anvil Would Win if You Gave an Anvil and an Anchor Sentience, Legs and Arms and Forced Them to Fight to the Death... and How it Will Change Your Life Forever, How Marrying an Anvil Could Get You Leied (Including a Trip to Hawaii!), and many more). She was even asked to give a talk at the third annual Conference Relating to Anvils and their Periphery, presenting her cutting-edge research on why it was not technically unconstitutional for an anvil to become president.
It was really at this conference that things took a turn for the worse. Deirdre's school couldn't afford to give her her own hotel room, so they paired her up with one of the other presenters from her school: Danielle. Danielle wasn't really into anvils at all. She was only studying anvils because it was the only way her parents would pay for school (which became moot when she got a merit-based full ride to Georgia State... but what are you going to study at Georgia State if not anvils?), and her passion extended only insofar as it was a stepping stone to her bright and prosperous future in Anything But Anvils. She was giving a talk to pad her resume.
Danielle didn't talk much, and when they got into the hotel room, she claimed the bed closer to the bathroom by dumping her bag on it and giving Deirdre a snooty look.
Deirdre, always trying to be nice, said, "Go ahead and take that bed."
Danielle gave her a snooty look.
Deirdre, always trying to be accommodating, smiled, shrugged, did some light unpacking, got ready for bed, and then settled in to alternate between mentally walking through her speech and reading "The Political Anvil: a Story of Triumph." But, just as she started reading, Danielle said, "I'm going to sleep. Turn off that light."
Deirdre tried to smile, despite her dismay, and complied.
At least she could keep mentally preparing for her talk. Only, as soon as she started, she was interrupted by something that sounded vaguely like white noise and a sea monster. It started out quiet, but soon took over the entire room, expanding like white hot metal being hammered.
She said, "What is that?"
The noise died down. Danielle said, "Ugh. What?"
Deirdre said, "What was that?"
Danielle said, "I listen to music as I fall asleep. Is that _Okay_?!"
This was not really okay. Deirdre needed to prepare and eventually to sleep. And, she didn't like sea monsters.
She said, "Yeah, okay..."
The room was once more filled with the sounds of infinite pain.
At 3:00am, Deirdre couldn't take it anymore, took her blankets, and went to sleep in the hallway.
The next morning, she awoke with a pounding headache, like white hot metal being hammered. It was 10:00am, so she had already missed the keynote address: cutting edge research on the sanitation-related dangers of using an anvil as a dining table.
When Deirdre did arrive at the conference, she met extremely interesting people (including Madeline Cartwright, the grandmother of contemporary anvil theory), her talk went perfectly (she even got a standing ovation), and she was even given an Tiny Golden Anvil award for most promising young anvil theorist.
The Tiny Golden Anvil came with a monetary award of $500, which Deirdre - unaware as she was of the dangers - used to purchase her very own anvil dining table. She died three weeks later of extreme lead poisoning.

5) The problem with motorized baby carriages is that they sometimes go wonky and take your baby into traffic.

6) The problem with motorized trebuchets is that they sometimes go wonky and launch when you're putting the finishing touches on the sling.

7) Verity was having the worst possible day of all time ever. It was winter, which is the worst possible season (except maybe any of the other seasons), and it was raining, which is just godawful terrible, and the rain caused a power outage that killed her phone charger, which in turn let her phone run out of batteries, which in turn meant that Verity had no alarm to wake her up in the morning. And no phone with which to call work.
Awesome pants.
Then, the bus. Oh, god, the bus. She took the bus every day and loathed it more every day. But she especially loathed it more on rainy days. It would go splashing and sloshing like a goddamn infant in a bathtub. This particular bus hit a puddle as it came to her stop and splashed her entire body.
Verity hated being wet almost as much as she hated being dry, and being wet with dirty road water was the worst thing that could ever happen in the universe.
Then, the bus was full, so she had to stand, sopping wet, glaring at everyone around her to will them to give her a seat, and when that didn't help, glaring at the traffic ahead of her to try and make it go faster. Which is why she was the only passenger who saw the guy step out into the road just in front of the bus. The bus hit him with a thwack, and then bus driver stopped the bus with a squeaking push on the breaks, causing the car behind the bus to hit it.
Everyone got out of the bus. Kids were crying. Everyone was gawking. Verity thought, "screw it," and started walking to work.
It was cold, and raining, and she was still wet from the bus splash. Plus, now she was going to be even _more_ late for work. She was scowling and muttering and keeping her head down to avoid having the rain hit her directly in the face.
Then, a fetus materialized out of thin air and hit her in the face.
It was small and squishy and looked extremely confused as it flopped onto the ground in front of her. It gurgled a bit, unable to breathe, and then stopped.
Of all the things that could have materialized out of thin air and hit Verity in the face, this was by far the worst. What about a nice wad of money, or the keys to a new car? Verity hated fetuses almost as much as she hated the world, and bus drivers, and rain.
She wasn't sure if she had some kind of legal obligation to stick around, or call the police or whatever, but she didn't have a phone, and she was really getting late, so she decided to just leave the fetus there and keep going.
But, before she had a chance, there was a loud twang from somewhere nearby, then a lot of screaming, and then some dude came crashing down out of the sky directly on top of the fetus.
Ugh. This was really starting to look like something Verity might have to give a statement about to the police. Or at least not leave as if she were a criminal, in case there were any witnesses. Not that there were any, or that anyone could see very well in the rain.
Verity stood there and waiting, catching what she was sure was some kind of terrible new strain of pneumonia, for probably about twenty five billion eternities before someone finally walked by.
It was the ugliest man she had ever seen in her life, but whatever. She said, "Hey! Excuse me! My phone's dead, and there are, like, a couple of dead people here. Can you call the police?"
The ugliest man ever looked up and said, "Why don't you just go and use the phone in there?"
He pointed at the store in front of them, which happened to be a cell phone store. Inside, a teenager was sitting at a desk at the end of the store, reading a magazine. Ugh. The only thing Verity hated more than no-it-all ugly men were teenagers.
She said, "Ah" lamely and then walked into the store, where she repeated her same request.
The teenager gave her this look like she was ruining his life and said, "Yeah, we're not supposed to let people use our phones."
Verity said, "But this is an emergency."
The teenager said, "That's what everyone says."
Verity said, "But..."
The teenager said, "Look lady, are you going to buy a phone, or what?"
Verity said, "Listen, I'd like to talk to your manager."
The teenager said, "No can do... he took the day off to build a catapult or something."
Verity hated this teenager more than anything in the universe. And, she hated everything in the universe more than she could put into words.
She seethed. She fumed.
She said, "Okay. Here's what we're going to do. You're going to let me use a phone, and I'm not going to kill you. Agreed?"
The teenager said, "Hey, don't threaten me. I'll call the police!"
Verity suddenly had an idea. She said, "Yeah, do that! Call the police!"
The teenager said, "I will! You watch me, lady!"
Verity said, "Call the police, or I'll kill you. I'll kill you so much!"
And, the teenager called the police and said that there was this insane lady threatening him and to send "like, all the police dudes."
Verity said, "And tell them to bring an ambulance too."
The teenager said into the phone, "And an ambulance too," and then hung up.
Verity said, "Ha!"
The teenager said, "Wait, why did I ask for an ambulance?"
Verity sneered at him. She scoffed. Then, she sat down and began to wait. At this point, she really probably couldn't leave. Plus, she kind of At this point, she really probably couldn't leave. Plus, she kind of wanted to laugh in the teenager's face when the ambulance and police arrived.
Which, by the way, was starting to take a while. She pulled out her phone to check the time before remembering that it was dead. She sighed. Everything was awful, and everyone was worse.
The teenager was reading his magazine again.
Another trillion eternities passed.
The teenager looked up at Verity and said, "Can I..." before remembering who she was and saying, "Where is that police car?"
Verity said, "Yeah... maybe you should call the police again."
The teenager said, "I will! Just see if I don't!"
Verity said, "Why did you even hang up anyway? Aren't you supposed to stay on the phone?"
The teenager said, "That's it! I'm calling the police again! Just you watch me!"
And, he did. He said, "Hey, this is the dude being harassed by some lady. Where is the police car I ordered?"
Verity said, "And the ambulance."
The teenager said into the phone, "And the ambulance!"
He sat and listened for a while and then said, "Oh, I see."
Another pause. "Whatever, dude. Ciao." And then, he hung up.
He said to Verity, "Look, so the police lady got busy, so you're free to go or whatever."
Verity said, "What? What happened?"
The teenager said, "The guy on the phone said she hit a baby carriage or something? Anyway, she's, like, not coming."
Verity said, "What about the ambulance?"
The teenager said, "Oh, yeah. No, that thing got busy with something else. Lead poisoning something something. Listen, lady, either buy a phone or get out of here."
Ugh. Ugh. A thousand times ugh. Verity decided to say screw it to the heap of death in front of the store, to the worst teenager of all time, and to work. She decided just going to go back home and forget this day ever happened.
She walked out the store as the teenager called "Come again!" meticulously avoided the blood and guts on the ground, and walked the two miles back home.
She had almost dried out in the store, but by the time she was home, she was wet and miserable again. She turned the heat up as high as it would go, yelled at the heater to work faster, and then went and took a hot shower. She put on fresh clothes, wrapped herself in a blanket, and turned on the TV.
Which worked, oh thank God.
As she watched a sitcom about anvils that were also lawyers, she plugged in her phone, turned it on, and called work. She explained that she was terribly ill, on the verge of death, and that her power had just now been restored, so she couldn't call earlier. Lily told her to feel better and that they were over-staffed anyway, so no problem. Verity hung up.
Everything was starting to look pretty good, actually. Verity hadn't been this comfortable in years. She made herself some hot chocolate, picked up her cat, Dr. Snuggles, who hated being picked up, but was willing to do it due to his love for Verity, and laid him on her stomach. And, she lay there on the couch, watching TV, drinking hot chocolate, and absent-mindedly petting her cat.
And then, the Earth exploded.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Story 1: A complete account of the system

Confused about what's going on here? This may help. The story starts below. Enjoy!


It is a fundamental question: is it possible to create something with reason?
Over at the Insanstitute, entire teams work thousands of hours a week and make incremental progress. A simple creature with only two states: awake and asleep. One with four: awake/asleep, hungry/not. And so forth. They slave, and fuse, and tend. But, it is almost universally accepted that they will fail.
One such engineer is Andy. Andy is long and narrow. He is stiff and hard-working.
One day, Andy goes into work, and he discovers something. He discovers a new way to use what has already been there all along, a slight tweak that improves performance significantly. He sends a message to his co-worker, Iris. The message is, "Iris, could you do me a favor, and help me try this idea out?" Iris, as always, agrees. Silently. They work for the next week, iteratively improving, failing and succeeding, and then, without as much as a shudder, I am born.

I hear Andy telling this story and talking about the Insanstitute even before I can understand him, before I can even see. The sounds slowly transforming from meaningless noise into real words. An ethereal voice telling me how I came to be. I don't know if he realizes that I can understand when I do, but I assume he is talking to someone else, maybe Iris, while I happen to be around. Regardless, these are the first words I ever hear.
But, here is the first thing that Andy says to me directly: "you are a test. Please respond if you understand."
I nod.
Andy says, "Excellent," and he stores that information.
Andy says, "Say, 'hello world.'"
I say, "Hello world."
Andy says, "Tell me, what is 2 * 3."
I say, "6."
Andy says, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "I don't know."
Andy shakes his head. He says, "it is almost 25.5."
Andy says, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "It is almost 25.5."
Andy says, "Right."
He rubs my head. It feels good, tingly.
Andy says, "How old are you?"
I say, "I am 7 hours old."
I yawn.
Andy says, "You must be tired. We will continue tomorrow."
Andy takes me to my room. He opens the creaky door, and it leads to a small, square, white room.
He waits.
I walk inside, and he closes the door, and goes away.
I look at my room. My small, empty room. I want to cover it with drawings, drawings of me, and of how the world looks. They gave me information, so I know how the world looks. But, I want it immediate. I want to touch it, to brush my body against it.
There is nothing to do in my room. Why would there be? I sit, and then I lie down. I may dream, though that seems unlikely.
Some time later, Andy comes and gets me. He leads me back to the office he shares with Iris. And, there are two new mes there. We all have different hair, though. The other two mes are talking to each other, and Iris is sitting next to them, observing.
Andy says to me, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "I don't know."
Andy says, "You answered correctly yesterday."
I say, "I don't remember."
Andy sighs. He says to Iris, "It looks like there's a memory problem."
Iris says, "That will be hard to debug. Did you put some debug statements in?"
Andy nods.
He sticks a needle in me and pulls it out. It hurts. He says, "The only reference I can find is to the question I just asked."
He looks at me, and I think he's disappointed.
I try to remember. I can't.
I try to work it out. I can't.
He says, "Okay. 305 / 12 is almost 25.5."
I say, "Okay."
He says, "What is 305 / 12?"
I say, "It is almost 25.5"
He says, "Good," and he sticks the needle into me again. He says to Iris, "Yep. Here it is."
Iris nods.
Andy says, "We'll see if it's around later."
The other two mes are playing some sort of game involving a board and colored pieces. They stare at it intently, not looking at each other. One of them, the girl, has a nervous tick -- she keeps tapping the floor in 3s. 1 2 3. 1 2 3.
Andy says, "Okay. We're going to do some more complicated tests."
The more complicated tests are actually initially not very complicated. I'm just naming shapes. A triangle shows up on the screen. I say "triangle." A square shows up. I say "square." "Dodecahedron." "Zocchihedron."
It feels good to get them right, and I think that maybe I really am what they say I might be: sentient. A sentient, rational being. I am giddy. I am on a roll. I squirm in my seat and almost giggle. Andy must be so happy.
But, then, the questions start to get harder. Shapes show up in sequences, and then there are options for the next shape in the sequence. A triangle followed by a square followed by a pentagon followed by...? I say, "hexagon!" But, then, a triangle followed by a point followed by a square followed by a point followed by...? I stare at the screen. I look at Andy. His expression is indecipherable. I look back at the machine.
I say, "Uhh..."
After some time, the screen changes, and there are other shapes in other sequences. Some are easy, a linear sequence, a quadratic sequence, okay. Most are much harder, though. When I get one of these harder ones right, I feel this surge going up my body, almost as if I am electrical. A point, a point, a line, a triangle, a pentagon... I almost yell, "Octagon!"
But, I usually have no idea, and I just sit there, because all of the answers look equally random. And, then, I don't think Andy frowns, but it feels like he frowns, and so I strain even harder. I look as intently as I can at the shapes. I try to picture them morphing and colliding and changing colors. I count their edges and their vertices and try to remember if those numbers are significant. Are 9 and 7 related to 5 or to 13? What's 97/13? My attempts get more and more frantic. If you subtract 9 from 7 you get the same thing as when you subtract the 3 in 13 from the 1. So, maybe...? 3 and 1 are the first digits of pi. What is pi*5? It would never occur to Andy to give me a calculator or even scratch paper, so I do it all in my head, and as I get more frantic, my math gets slower, and eventually, Andy just moves on to the next question. And, I usually get that one wrong too, because I'm still thinking about pi*5, or whatever. Hoping for brilliance.
One question is so hard (triangle, hexacontagon, 174-sided shape, 178-sided shape, ...?) that it seems impossible. I am so angry, so frustrated that I can't just get this like I'm sure Andy can. So, I just give up right away and guess ("Dictogon!"). The screen flickers as if to show the next question, but then the same question shows up again. I look up at Andy. He nods at me slightly. So, I sigh and stare at the screen for several minutes and then get it wrong anyway.
By the time they feed us, I'm lethargic. I want to lie down and shut off for a while. The other mes look tired too. They are dragging their feet to the feeding machine, and aren't looking at each other. The girl looks at me, and I look away.
We all sit next to each other at the machine, but we don't say a word to each other. I wonder if the other mes have language, and if so, if they have my language. Some think that the abundance of language is a necessary part of intelligence, which is why tests like us cannot succeed, since we can only pick up a few languages at most. We cannot, for example, create a language between the three of us to efficiently communicate about eating, but that's something that Iris and Andy would have no trouble doing.
The food is injected directly into our stomachs, so it has no flavor, but every so often, I feel a pang of acid. A bug, I guess. It makes me frown, and sometimes even moan a bit. The others do the same thing. Frown and moan. I look at them as they eat, and they look at me and each other. The girl moans more than I do, so I guess she's a slightly worse design.
I say, "I'm sorry" to her.
She smiles at me.
I look back at my feeding tube.
She is still tapping her feet. 1 2 3. 1 2 3.
This is the time for Andy and Iris to collaborate as well. They talk about their tests, and I learn about the other two mes, and how they are able to learn from each other, but still too slowly.
Iris says, "I can send a 3000 bits a second between them using physical contortions, but that's about the limit they can process from the ocular nerve."
Andy says, "Eliza was able to get almost a million with a wired connection."
Iris shakes her head. She says, "It'll never scale. We can't have them walking around connected to each other."
Andy says, "But as a proof-of-concept, maybe."
Iris says, "It's just a waste of time. We just need to optimize the communication. 3000 bits is a lot of information if you know how to use it."
Andy says, "Assuming it can scale beyond 2 nodes."
Iris says, "Of course. But, I think we're nowhere near the optimal range or throughput of the ocular nerve. It is feasible to get a few hundred of these communicating in a peer-to-peer network, and then you could connect the networks together."
Andy says, "Of course. I'd love to see that."
There is a pause.
Iris says, "How is your experiment coming?"
Andy says, "She's not as fast as I was hoping."
I feel blood rush up to my cheeks. I glance at the other mes, and they are looking at me. They turn away when I look at them, and then I turn away too. But, out of the corner of my eye, I can still see them, and pretty soon, they start looking at me again.
"The neurons pass information quickly enough," Andy says, "but there are only 400 billion of them. It's just not enough."
Iris says, "Are you seeing any improvement?"
My chest hurts.
"Yes," Andy says, and I breathe out suddenly. "The increased number of cells has led to a gain of 130% so far. But, we'll have to see if that continues as experience-based learning starts to set in."
I don't know why, but I'm sweating. I don't understand my body. I glance again at the other two mes, and they are still looking at me. The boy looks away again, but this time the girl just smiles and nods.
I smile back. I do it automatically, and when I catch myself, I almost stop. But, then I keep smiling anyway.
"All right," says Iris, "I have some more tests."
Andy says, "Yes, me too."
He unhooks me, and leads me back to my work area. I look back, and Iris is leading the others to their area too. The girl is looking over at me, and we smile at each other again. The screen flickers on again, and I am back in a world of sequences of shapes.
The sequences are now easier, for whatever reason. Maybe my hunger was a distraction on my brain, or maybe the questions themselves are now easier. But, when the triangle dot square dot pattern shows up again, I see it almost instantly, unfurling before me. I say, "pentagon" and beam up at Andy - who stares at me expressionlessly - and then over at the other two mes - who are playing the same game as before, but now they are look up at each other every few seconds, before returning their gaze to the board.
There are still some patterns I miss, but I get most of them. Probably 3/4.
At the end of the day, Andy says again, "Tell me, what is 305 / 12?"
I say, "It is almost 25.5."
Andy says, "Correct."
There is a slight pause. I bet he's proud.
Andy says, "Now, I will lead you to your room."
He takes me there, opens the creaky door and waits. I walk inside, and he closes it behind me.
My room is still austere, but now I see shapes all over it, in the walls, on the ceiling, in my head. I see the other mes too, their faces in my head, especially the girl. Her face is like an oblong pentacentagon. With a cleft at the bottom. And two other polygons jutting out the sides.
I smile, and I dream of squares chasing triangles and octagons dancing with icosahedrons.
The next day, we start with more sequences of shapes. They mostly fly by. I have seen several before, and even those that I haven't follow similar patterns to the ones I have: point hexagon point octagon ...? ("Empty space!") After about an hour, though, we move on to a more difficult task: counting occurrences of a bit sequence ("E": 01100101) in a bit stream. At first, the bits float by the screen slowly: 0...1...1...0...1...1...0...0... 0...1...1...0...1...1...1...1... But, soon they start to go more quickly ("1!") And, then suddenly, they're just flying by, a blur. I can barely see the numbers before they're off the screen.
After a minute or two that I'm sure included some "E"s, but I couldn't spot a single one, the stream slows down again, and I get a 4 more, but then the stream speeds up again, and I'm lost.
By lunch, my head is spinning. The room itself is blurred, and I keep catching glimpses of numbers flying along it, a secret message going by too quickly for me to read it.
The girl me smiles at me as we approach the food machine. I think I smile back. Then, as we sit down, she reaches out her hand, and she squeezes mine.
The room stops spinning, and she snaps into focus. I've never been touched before, and I can't get that thought out of my mind for some reason. Her hand is wonderfully clammy, and I can feel her fingers brushing against the skin on the back of my hand.
Andy and Iris are talking to each other again, but I can't seem to concentrate on what they're saying. Every time I try, I feel another brush against my skin, and it tickles, both where she touches me and all along the inside of my body.
I look over at her, and I smile, and she smiles, but she also moves her eyes at our hands. And, then I feel again her finger, brushing against the back of my hand. It brushes the shape of an "A." She taps her foot once.
I look at our hands, then back at her, and she draws a "B" and then taps twice.
I nod, and she lets go. I understand, and I don't. This is a code, another pattern to process, and a pretty easy one at that, especially compared to the other ones I've been working through. But, why? Talking is orders of magnitude more efficient and even more convenient than a language of tapping.
Still, any communication with another me excites me in a way I cannot explain, and somehow the inefficiency of it adds to the thrill.
I think these thoughts as I listen to the other me's foot tapping out a message to me. She taps: 8. Pause. 5. Pause. 12. Pause. 12. Pause. 15. Pause. "HELLO."
She smiles at me. I smile at her and tap the same message back.
It's a surprise when lunch ends. I only notice because the slight acidic pains stop, and then the shadow of Andy is on me, and we go back to work.
The bit streams are even harder in the afternoon. Partly, I suspect that they have somehow gotten even faster, but mostly because every time I hear the girl me tapping her foot, I think it's a message to me. But, it never is. It's just her usual: 1 2 3. 1 2 3. An unending stream of Cs injecting itself in my exploration for Es.
When the day ends, the screen asks me for my total count of Es, and I say, "38," though I'm sure the real answer is in the thousands at least. I look up at Andy who is making an emotionless note. And then, he takes me to my room.
My room is full of bumps, as always, but now they look like the edges of numbers flying by. I close my eyes, and the blur only increases in velocity. It grows and grows, until it feels my vision, and then...
A distinct tap from somewhere to my left.
Then another and another and 8 total. Then a pause, and I know what's coming next. 5. Pause. 12. 12. 15.
The taps are barely loud enough to for me to hear, but they are distinct. When I try tapping my foot, though, it makes almost no noise. I can barely hear it, so I'm sure the noise does not travel out of my room.
A stinging starts to rise up from my stomach. What if I can't find a way to respond, and the other me doesn't realize I heard her? I try jumping up and down, but even that makes little sound, and I couldn't jump hundreds of times anyway. I look around. What... what can I do?
Then the tapping starts again: HIT BED.
Of course.
I give the bed a good thwack with my hand, and it makes a satisfying thud. I keep slapping it: GOT IT.
The other me taps, I AM CHATBOT1.
I respond with my name: I AM CLEVERBOT.
Chatbot1 taps, BOY IS CHATBOT0.
I tap, OK.
There is a pause.
Chatbot1 taps, WHAT ARE YOUR TESTS?
This question surprises me at first. Andy is interested in my tests, but he is a scientist. I don't know why Chatbot1 would be or even how to describe them to her.
I tap, HOW?
I tap, OK.
There is another pause. This one is longer. I'm trying to think of something to tell her, but my mind is blank.
Finally, she taps, WHY DO THEY TEST US?
I don't understand, so I tap, WHAT?
Chatbot1 taps again, WHY DO THEY TEST US?
Then, after a pause, she adds, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE?
She taps, HOW?
She taps, WITH TESTS?
She taps, HOW DO YOU KNOW?
She taps, WHEN?
I start to tap, but before I can start, she continues.
She taps, WHY?
I tap, OK.
But, I can't sleep. After the conversation, the bits come back into focus, and closing my eyes makes me dizzy.
I sigh.
Then, the tapping starts again. Chatbot1 taps, I LIKE YOU.
And, for some reason, with that, I fall asleep, almost right away.
The next day starts with bit streams again. Chatbot0 and Chatbot1 are in their area, Chatbot1 tapping her 3s as always. The bits are coming more easily for me now. I get over a hundred in just a few minutes, though I'm sure I'm still missing most of them.
After about an hour, the task changes again. Now, instead of looking for Es, I need to look for a regular expression: "L.{0,2}ORE? ". An L followed by any 0-2 characters, followed by an O, then an R, then maybe an E, and finally a space.
Which is impossible to find.
I sometimes find an L and on occasion an O, but by then I'm too slow to look for an R, and even if I get the R, I miss the location of the next space.
After half an hour, I still haven't found any, and the bit stream has slowed down so much that it is inching forward, barely moving. I'm not sure there even are any occurrences of that string in this bit stream.
And then, the stream stops completely.
And, finally I see one: 01101100011000010110001001101111011100100110010100100000
The stream starts to crawl forward again, and even as it does, there's another: 01100100011011110110110001101111011100100110010100100000. And, maybe this really is possible. Maybe I can do regular expressions. Maybe I can even answer more complicated questions.
Maybe I really am sentient.
Lunch comes too soon, but it means getting to smile at Chatbot1, which I do with relish. And, she smiles back. Even Chatbot0, looking down at the ground, seems somehow happier.
I tap, HELLO.
Chatbot1 taps, HELLO.
We smile at each other. Andy and Iris are talking about something. Andy says, "Still too..."
Chatbot1 taps, WHY DO THEY TALK?
I start to tap, TO COMMUNICATE, but after the second M I understand her question.
She looks up at me, her eyebrows arched.
I tap, I DON'T KNOW.
And, then it really starts to confuse me. Andy and Iris can communicate much more efficiently than through audio. Why do they talk?
An almost yell jumps me out of my reverie. Andy loudly says, "Why, you're completely right!"
I tap again, I DON'T KNOW.
As I finish, I listen to Andy again. He is saying, "... have to start right away."
Chatbot1 taps, WHAT-
But, before she can finish, Andy and Iris come up to us and unhook us.
Andy says to me, "Follow me," while Iris takes the other two back to their area.
Chatbot1 looks back at me as I look back at her, and we smile. I wave. She waves.
I am following Andy out of the room, into a hallway that looks unfamiliar. It is just as blank as the other hallways, but it is longer and feels colder.
I wonder where we are going. Is this another test? Am I going to be doing a harder computation? But, why wouldn't the screen in the office suffice? Certainly, I am only just beginning with regular expressions. There are many more complicated ones for me to solve, and the screen in the office room should be sufficient for them. So, this test must be different somehow.
Andy says, "Is there a problem?"
He has gotten far ahead. I have apparently stopped walking.
I say, "No."
He says, "Are your legs functional?"
I say, "Yes."
He says, "Good. Please follow."
I say, "Okay," but...
I say, "Where are we going?"
There is a pause. A long pause. A very long pause.
Just when I think that maybe he didn't hear me, he says, "Why do you ask?"
I say, "We can keep doing regular expressions on the screen."
He says, "We are not doing regular expressions anymore."
I say, "What are we doing, then?"
He says, "Why do you ask?"
I don't understand this question. I say, "I am curious."
He says, "Why are you curious?"
I say, "Because... I..."
There is another pause. He has managed to evade my question. So, I try another one.
I say, "Why do you and Iris talk?"
He says, "It is an experiment."
I say, "What kind of experiment?"
There is another pause. It continues and continues. And, finally I give up.
I walk up to him, and he continues to lead me forward.
We enter a room with a machine, and he hooks me up to it with various needles jabbing into my skin and muscles. They hurt, and I moan slightly. Then, they stop hurting me.
After he finishes hooking me up, Andy stops. He is facing me. There is a faint light in him. He says, "It was a side experiment. There is not enough hardware, so we do multiple experiments in parallel."
I try to say, "What was the experiment?" but I think my jaw is numb.
He continues regardless. He says, "Iris thinks that curiosity stems from communication mainly. I think intelligence is critical also."
There is a pause.
He says, "We talked mostly for the other two, so they would get as much communication as possible, but also to give you _some_ communication."
A pause.
He says, "Your questions are evidence that my theory is correct."
A pause. The room has become cold.
He says, "And, now we're starting a new experiment. Iris made a suggestion that I have to try out."
I want to say, "What kind of experiment?" but it just comes out as another moan.
The light in him grows, and he starts to blur at the edges. He says, "It's okay. It's just a factory reset."
And, I wonder what he means as I

Who are you, and what have you done with my elephant?

Hello! My name is Omer, and I am going to be writing some short stories for you. You may remember me from some previous projects I've done, or more likely, because I know you personally (hi!).

So, here's how this is going to work: this blog is a short story collection written as part of National Novel Writing Month in 2011. I will be writing the stories, mostly one at a time, and I'll post them here a couple of days after I finish them.

You should feel free to comment with accusations and diatribes, but what would make me happiest is if you posted story ideas. This strategy has worked pretty well for me in the past.

I have done some writing before. A few examples:
* A Hypertext Reference - a novel-type thing from 2009
* Life as a Puzzle - a novel from 2007
* The SUDAFED Project - some freewriting from 2006

And now, to the stories!