200th Blog

Posted on March 27, 2016

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Okay, well 209th, but I have so many “almost done” blogs that I haven’t really published much of anything this year.

I thought a lot about this blog as it came up, coincident with me breaking 49,000 views. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to get 50,000 views on the 200th post?

I’ve been working on a couple of stories lately, and I thought I would hold off until I finished them for this post, but then I thought maybe what I should do is look at some of the very first things I ever wrote, which while they are linked at the top of the page, were never actually set forth as blog posts. In going retrospective I thought I could give exposure to some older stories while also reviewing any growth I may have had as a writer.

Now Life, Still Life

Now Life, Still Life is the very fist story I ever wrote, over 30 years ago (!) one day at lunch at Boeing, before email, when you could get fired for using a work computer for such nonsense. I did it in one shot, even then I wrote fast when I wrote. It’s a Cave allegory. It’s a love story. It contains one of my favorite lines: “In a nonce, Lololiandra-dor was trapped in now and now and now, echoes of a stick dragged click-clacking along the cage of life and death.”

Baby Bust

Baby Bust was my second story, a bit more ambitious. I recently dusted it off for a re-edit. It think there is some meat on the bones all of these years later. I wrote it in a Vietnamese restaurant on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the time between work an Aikido. It’s a love story. I started writing it when I found out that the human gestation period was not, in fact, 9 months, and that most women couldn’t be bothered to carry to term even then.  It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s probably mostly going to be true some day.

On the Road to Faraway Peak

On the Road to Faraway Peak was written one day when I was stuck on the sofa at R’s house after blowing the clutch out of my Subaru on the way to go skiing. I think I also watched every Star Wars movie that day. It all started from a line that was becoming all too common those days “Well, we would let you if we could, but we can’t because of insurance.” The lead character is called Freeman. It’s in the same vein as Baby Bust, a slightly askew near future arrived at by following the seemingly obvious conclusions of current trends. I sent it to Powder magazine, but never heard back.

1100 words.

Home Front

Home Front came to me in a dream and lived in my head for 20 years before I ever wrote it down. The story about the stag is true, I heard one of my father’s buddies tell it when I was a child. Or maybe it was one of my relatives. That one vignette taught me more about war than any history class or monument ever has. Home Front is about men who would rather go to war and fight about things that they don’t understand than come home to a country they cannot recognize. It’s small and vicious, and not too far from foresightful. I don’t think I’ve written that bleak since then.

 

INTERFACE

Note: This was a bit scary, once I started this exercise I realized not all of my old stories were posted here and they weren’t on my current laptop, nor my old laptop, and I finally found this one on a back up hard drive I made before the fire.  At any rate, for the 200th post, I decided to dust this story off and do something I haven’t yet done: actually edit it. I had some ideas come to me from an article I read a while back that I thought might enrich the story. The time stamp on the file is 1990. It’s a love story. A triangle actually between two women and a bus. While every story today has gay characters, this was a bit a head of it’s time.  Unfortunately, I have a few stories for competition and other deadlines, so I’ll post the unedited original here, which is basically entirely missing an act 2. However based on a story I heard on the radio yesterday about creating designer life in petri dishes,  and a new idea I had to tie ALL of my short stories together, I think this one will soon be moving back under the knife, er, pen.

“What a day!” Brenda extorted as she flopped her stocky body onto her bed in the one-room apartment. She bent forward to unlace her boots and continued, “This shit’s gonna kill me. What do I know about machines: Horses I understand. Bailing hay I understand. Horsepower and haybailers may as well be Swahili and warp drive.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit extreme?” Owlette asked. “After all, the aptitude tests showed that these courses would prepare you for your most suited vocation.”

“And you sound like the Tech Heaven catalog recording.” Brenda punctuated her remark with a halfheartedly thrown boot. “How did it go in the lab today? Still getting headaches from the ‘scopes?”

“Not since I had my bio-interface implants tweaked. When I’m plugged in, it’s like another world. It is another world. I can see the reactions right at the molecular level. And you have no idea what it’s like to see the entire spectrum, or hear the radiation. When I unplug, it’s like only being half alive.” She moued unconsciously

“You’re right, I have no idea. It sure sounds better than being able to sense the oil pressure and exhaust gas temperature of a high performance diesel engine. I tell you when I’m plugged in I just want to die! It feels like that stuff is pumping right through my veins. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life hooked to some dumb machine! Why I couldn’t have been born brilliant like you! Why did I have to be stupid!” With that she curled up into a ball and began to cry.

Owlette jumped up from the desk where she had been studying and rushed over to put her arms around Brenda.

“There, there, don’t cry. You’re not stupid . I could never do the things you do with machines. You say it’s hard but you know that you are the best in the class. You’ll have your pick of jobs! I bet you’ll even get to run a farm. Wouldn’t that be great to get out of the city and back to the horses?”

Brenda began great hysterical sobs, gasping out her words in between by great effort, “You ..don’t . get… it! All your implants are.. in your head, mine are all over me! I’ll never ride again. I’m ruined and I hate it.” Owlette had no response to Brenda’s final rush except to hold her close and begin to kiss her tears away. Eventually Brenda quieted, and then returned her affections.

After they had made love they lay in each others arms, Brenda’s short, powerful body nestled against Owlette’s longer flatter frame, her head on Owlette’s breast. “Owlette, I don’t know what I’d do without you. All I can think about is unplugging so I can be with you. Don’t ever leave me.”

“I won’t baby.” As Brenda slipped into contented sleep, Owlette unconsciously shifted so that the port under Brenda’s left breast didn’t dig into her, and began thinking about the experiment that was beginning to consume more and more of her thoughts.

The next day Owlette arose, showered and left the flat before Brenda awoke. She was anxious to start the final phase of her thesis. She was sure her work on the development of life from the primordial soup that was the initial ocean of earth was nearing its climax and she wanted to get to the lab early so she could plug in and avoid the ritual chit chat people seemed to so regale in.

When she was first implanted, plugging in was very disorienting. An entirely new world ripped open to the senses. Gradually, she got over the mental shock, and then, to welcome the interface, and finally, to spend each waking moment anticipating her next hook-up. It frustrated her that this microscopic world, her world, was always there but could only be reached with the aid of machines. If she had remembered the religion of her childhood, she might pause to think that God was cruel. But when she was plugged in, all the time unplugged was forgotten, and God was wondrous.

Today as she plugged in her anticipation grew. She couldn’t explain it, but her initial role of voyeur had gradually changed. Subtly at first. So Subtly she hadn’t consciously perceived it. But now she felt more a participant than an observer. It was almost as if she could anticipate what the particles were about to do. Not the analytical, mathematical probability predictions she was trained in, but a spontaneous sense that allowed her to foresee the patterns and forms the molecules would take, following some not quite understood purpose of their own. The feeling built gradually as she became accustomed to the equipment and continued to have herself implanted for more and more direct interfacing.

Now she felt on the verge of something; but she had ceased to analyze what she felt, she was only excited about the long awaited outcome of her experiment. For decades scientists had mixed the appropriate ingredients to reproduce the circumstances out of which life had arisen on earth. Applications of electricity, to represent the abundant lighting of those eons, had given rise to the basic building blocks of life, the amino acids and proteins, even crude strands of RNA, but no attempts had yielded that immortal spark itself.

For the past several weeks she had been spending more and more time plugged in. At first she just skipped breaks, then she began working over. As she became more obsessed with the idea of success she began sleeping at the lab, eventually not even bothering to unplug except to perform the most basic functions demanded by her human body. Functions she came to increasingly resent.

 

It was nearly a week before she saw Brenda again during a brief visit to the apartment.

“Well look who’s home. What’s the matter, did your scope stand you up for a date?”

In her absorption, Owlette missed the sarcasm. “What? Oh, no. I prepared another compound and I have to wait for it to mature.” She walked over and began to route around in the refrigerator, verdant from neglect. “Do you need the computer tonight? I’d like to transcribe some notes while I have time to kill.”

“The computer? Why would I need that for, I dropped out.”

That was sufficient to break through Owlette’s reverie. “You what? You can’t. I mean you’ve been implanted, it’s mandatory to continue.”

“Yeah? Well so are mortgage payments. My daddy’s farm ain’t making it and they can’t wait for me to graduate to send them money, so I hired on with a trucking firm which will repay my school loans and finish any necessary implanting.”

Owlette was speechless. Brenda’s family owned a horse ranch that had gone on hard times. The only reason she had gone to the Institute was to be able to get a job which would support the place. As far as Owlette knew, she hadn’t even told her strict Baptist parents about the implants for fear that they would disown her. Secretly, Owlette had always had faith that the system was right and infallibly picked the job best suited for each individual. She was sure Brenda would become a huge success as a plant manager or some equally important job and that eventually she would learn to like it, once the initial pangs of implantation wore off. There was no future in trucking. It was hard, monotonous, dirty work, barely fit for the dimmest of humans, certainly nothing for her beloved Brenda.

Owlette sat down at the table which served as the unofficial division between the sleeping and eating portions of the flat, still clutching a jar of pickles she had reclaimed from the refrigerator. “It can’t be, we can send them money from my stipend, I’ll work harder on my thesis, when I publish neither of us will ever have to work again, we can buy another farm…”

Brenda cut her off. “Poor Owlette. Brought you down to earth with one great big dose of reality. You know it’s too late. I’m already signed up, even if it was possible to support a farm on a graduate student’s income. I’m glad you came home though. Job’s in Pittsburgh and I was just on my way out. I’ll finish moving next week.” Large tears were creeping down her cheeks as she looked away.

Owlette looked up. Noticing for the first time the barrenness brought to the apartment by the removal of Brenda’s meager possessions, then the bags behind the door.

“You’re, you’re moving?” The realization was too much to take on top of all the rest. She began to get up, to object.

“Don’t.” said Brenda. “I love you. This is for the best you know. Ever seen a Driver? More machine than human. I’m sorry. That was cruel. It’s not your fault. You gave me about the only good memories I’ve ever had. I don’t want to ruin that, that’s why you have to let me go this way. Who would have ever thought I would be the strong one?”

Owlette sat at the table, holding the pickles and imploring the door to open up again long after Brenda had walked through it.

It was days before she returned to her work, but gradually the obsession re-established itself, driving thoughts of Brenda back to be resolved at a later time.

 

Connection became almost full time for her as she began to discover that her new senses were nearly independent from her body. She had IV ports installed to eliminate breaks for food and excretion. Over time she established a new identity as her ego dissolved and she became more and more a part of her new world. In time, she learned not only to anticipate the chemical and physical reactions, but to influence them. She learned to {formulate} the various compounds at will, directing molecules and energies with a natural ease {THINGS THAT WERE NOT UNDERSTOOD WHEN SHE STARTED SHE NOW CONTROLS}. The chaos was no longer formed into chance forms through random interactions. Now it was directed into an ordered distillation with the sole purpose of {spawning} life.

 

No thought was given by Owlette to her physical form. It continued a separate life through a separate set of machine interfaces. The others in the lab had ceased to communicate with her, but all of their work stopped as they spent more and more time monitoring her signs and observing her results. Although no one was directly interfaced to the experiments, the data output was enough to keep the entire team busy around the clock evaluating and hypothesizing about the processes she was controlling. It was obvious she was on to something big.

 

She was two days short of the end of her sixth week of interface when it happened. Instinctively, still searching for the mechanism through which life started, she was juggling its elements about, concentrating on that one somethingness which was hitherto unfound, that spark. Suddenly what can only be explained as the vista of her obvservations began to glow golden in the distance, microns away. The glow formed a pulsing going through the yellows to the reds and back again. The glow spread until everything in sight was infused with this internal light. The molecules began moving in response to some pattern which Owlette experienced both as a spontaneous imprinting from herself and on an analytical level as the scientist she once was. The world seemed to roil and churn and time ceased to have meaning. Then, on the edge of her awareness, she felt a new element in her well known world. It was an impulse, a desire. Before she could isolate it and find its source, she felt it from another octant, then another, and another. Then the first wavered and it was two and she knew what it was. It was life. And she knew that she was the spark. In a rush, she became aware of both the world within her experiment and the laboratory without, of herself as part of creation and of Owlette, the scientist. She watched for a while longer for the pure joy of it, payment in connectedness, realization, satori.

 

 

She had been disconnected for several hours now. She huddled over a cup of coffee re-aquainting herself with her body while the laboratory buzzed around her in preparation for the media. She was afraid that the experience would fade, but it seemed that this was the dream. The others all seemed so foolish running around. It seemed so silly to ask her about something when it was now so obvious to her that they could experience it for themselves. She didn’t need to be connected to the machines, she could experience her connectedness to everything now. She could feel the very atoms vibrate in the table she rested her elbows on.

{MAINSTREAM LATCHES ONTO WRONG DISCOVERY}

 

Eventually Owlette had been able to capitalize on her discovery. Not from any desire on her own, for she was not so concerned with the jumpstarting of a bowl of soup into life by her will as she was with her discovery that her separateness from that soup was an illusion. She had not created life, merely dissolved the barrier in her mind between “her” and the rest of creation. This was a bit much for the scientific community to grasp and they showered laurels on her for the tangible effects of her work, even if they thought she had gone a bit round the bend as a result of it. The {public}, on the other hand, immediately latched onto the esoteric aspects of her experience, getting it wrong as they had the same basic message for the last several thousand years. Yet having absolute faith in it for being discovered in a laboratory instead of under a {bodhivista} tree.

 

In the end, it wasn’t very important what others made of her experience. Owlette took part of her compensation and had her now obsolete interface connections removed. She made close friends with several Zen priests who seemed to understand her without explanation and retired to live a quite life. There was a nagging absence in her web of completeness, though, which she was eventually forced to {recognize}.

 

 

It was a drizzly day in the city with rain bringing the permanent steel gray of the sky down to the people on the streets. Owlette sat in a cafe looking through the rolled metal doors forming the front of the cafe which was open to the street. She looked calm as she sipped her cappucino but she was feeling a tenseness she thought she had forgotten.   She had just checked the clock on the wall for the fourth time in as few minutes when a bus pulled up to the curb. With a hiss of air, it settled into quiescence. After an interminable time the doors in the front opened and a bulky creature steeped slowly and apparently painfully to the sidewalk. The creature looked right and left and then peered into the cafe where Owlette sat. She gave a self-conscious wave and the creature moved toward her only to stop suddenly. It turned back towards the bus and disconnected a cable which Owlette watched snake back into the bowels of the machine with a slight sickening feeling she did not quite understand.

 

The creature awkwardly made its way through the empty tables on the sidewalk toward her. It was intercepted by a waiter and an angry discussion ensued, punctuated by much arm waving by the waiter and basso rumbles from the creature. Finally the waiter turned to Owlette and she nodded her head, but the creature pushed him aside without waiting for her answer. Owlette watched it close the gap with growing apprehension.

 

The torso was a maze of tubes, some of which were dripping viscous fluids, as if just disconnected. Sensors and dials covered the face and head. Ports and connections seemed to be spaced randomly about the entire structure. A smell of diesel and unclean flesh covered the whole being. It stopped at her table its chest rising and falling with labored breathing which whistled through its filter apparatus. “Don’t get a whole lot of exercise these days.”

Suddenly Owlette was on her feet and had her arms around the creature, not a being tuned into the cosmos, but a love struck college girl. “Brenda!” Her self consciousness gone she held Brenda at arms length. “I have so much to tell you. Take that gear off and let’s catch up. Sit down.”

Brenda started making a wheezing sound which was already subsiding before Owlette recognized it as laughter. “I’m not wearing any gear, dear. It’s all part of me. As for sitting down,” some what wistfully, “that’s not really practical.”

 

Owlette had her hand over her mouth which was formed into a little ‘O’. She fell back into her seat. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Brenda, I didn’t realize…”

 

Brenda started to {placate} her but suddenly Owlette’s eyes focused and she looked up with resolve. “Never mind,” she said, “that’s unimportant. I’m rich now. Rich enough to take care of you and the farm. I didn’t realize it before but I can’t live without you. Everything that’s happened to me, and I only want what I already had. I’ll pay for the surgery. In a month you’ll be teaching me to ride a horse and we’ll neither of us ever take a bus again.”

 

“Never take a bus again?” came Brenda’s synthetic voice. “Oh, Owlette. Silly idealistic Owlette. I only came to tell you in person. I’m in love with a bus.” She snorted, then turned and made her lumberous way back to the curb.

 

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