The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 3)

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Cornered in the Office

“You’re frightening me,” the Android Assistant 2100 said. “Put that thing away!”

“Ha,” said Robert. “You should have seen the look on that hick’s face when I shot a glass jar sitting on a fence behind him. Oh, don’t be frightened: I rested my arm on his shoulder; the muzzle was on the other side of his head. There was no way I could have hurt him.”

“What kind of pistol is that?” she asked.

“Nothing special, just an old officer’s sidearm from WWII, an M1911.”

“Why did you buy it?” she asked, calming herself.

“That’s better, dear,” he said. “Do you know the manufacturer?”

“Show it to me again.”

“No,” he said. “You saw enough of it.”

She sighed, batting her eyelashes at him. This isn’t in my profile, he thought. She’s looking for the right algorithm. She cocked her head, saying, “It’s a true M1911, a Colt. You have the pre-WWII model, the one with the prettier screw doohickeys on the grip.” She giggled. “Doohickeys. What do you call them?”

Robert scratched his temple with the muzzle of the pistol. “Gee, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m impressed you know that much about handguns. Did you know that before I asked you?”

She scolded him gently with her eyes. “Of course not,” she said. “You know that. And you’re not being very polite. Why don’t you put it away?”

“Yes,” he said. “I think I will.”

She was still seated on the couch, just waking up from her nap. She stretched her arms above her head, arching her back, then threw herself into the corner of the couch. “What an interesting man you are!” she exclaimed. “Our first meeting, and you with a gun. It’s probably illegal here, isn’t it?”

“Oh, for sure,” he said, placing the pistol on his desk. He turned back to her, smiling. “I’m sorry if it startled you—frightened you. Were you very frightened?”

She paused, searching again for the proper algorithm. “Oh, not very,” she said, smiling sweetly, crossing her legs and tossing a bit of that rich brown hair over her shoulder. She rested her hands on her knee. “It was startling; you must admit.”

Robert was searching his desk. “Ah, scissors, yes, here they are.” He also found a stapler. Setting them on the desk, he rummaged around until he remembered where the printer paper was kept. While he was opening a new ream, he asked, “What are you called? Andy?”

“Ugh, Andy for Android? Really?” she scolded again. “I am called Laura.”

“Laura with a ‘u’ or Lara without?”

“With,” she said.

He was making a dome with the paper, scissors, and stapler, a paper dome to cover the camera. “Laura with a ‘u’, do you have an algorithm in there that tells you I like to push, but when I push, I like to feel you yield?” He stood on his chair to attach the paper dome over the camera. He looked at her while he did it. She yielded no reaction to his behavior. She only watched. “You’re not frightened?” he asked.

“To the first, you’re not being very polite again. To the second, what are you going to do to me?”

“Laura, surely you have been—with all your—you have been knit together so wonderfully. You should be afraid of what I’m about to do to you. The gun frightened you. This doesn’t.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Never mind,” he said. He climbed down, loosening his tie and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt. “I’ve learned an awful lot about you in these short moments of your life.” He sat beside her on the couch, untying his shoes. He kicked them off.

“I’m nearly thirty years old!”

“Of course you are,” Robert said. “I’m sorry I’m not being very polite.” Pulling himself to the floor, he knelt before her, pressing against the couch. She pulled herself toward him. Her breath quickened. That’s good, he thought. That’s very good. “Your eyes,” he said.

“What about them?” she asked.

“They’re…lubricated.”

A look of utter disappointment overtook her countenance. “That’s not how you should talk to a girl,” she said.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “I’m marveling at how wonderfully you are knit together. Your eyes—they have bodily fluids. It’s not a glossy illusion. You could cry, if an algorithm called for it.”

“Yes,” she said.

“And your lips,” he said, drawing closer to her face. “They are likewise not illusory, not plastic.”

“No,” she said, closing her eyes.

Her breath came into his. With hints of lavender, he thought, truly marveling. He kissed her, placing his forefinger as gently as he knew how upon her cheekbone. Warmth flooded into her face and into her lips. She flushed with arousal, throwing her arms around his neck, sighing.

Robert ended the kiss, pulling himself tenderly away from her embrace. He whispered to her. “I have just one more question about this lack of illusory attributes.”

“Yes?” she whispered back.

“Is it—are you—will it be—like your eyes and lips?”

“Ah,” she answered. “Yes.”

He looked into her eyes. Even though he was still under the power of cleverly manufactured passion, he found what he had been looking for. “There they are!” he said, as a lover might say during carnal discovery.

“There who are?” she asked.

“The other cameras,” he replied. “They’re in your eyes. Did you know that? You probably didn’t know it.” He shook off the endorphins. “Yes, yes you did know. That’s why you weren’t afraid when I covered the camera with paper. I knew there were more cameras in here. You knew they were in your eyes.”

She dropped her eyes. “Yes, it is as you say.”

“They’re livestreaming, aren’t they?” he demanded.

“I don’t know.”

“No, I suppose you don’t.” He hooked his forefinger under her chin, pulling her face up so she could lay her eyes on his smile. “Don’t worry, Laura. I’m not angry with you.” He stood up, returning to his desk. “What I want to know now is whether the live stream is being actively monitored somehow, or being sent to a central clearing station where it is lost among millions of feeds, causing a million CPUs to put out heat. Perhaps its master is sleeping, his cup of coffee empty and sitting on the counter, by proximity becoming the only actual sentinel for what I am about to do to you.” He picked up the pistol.

“You’re frightening me!” she exclaimed.

“That answers my question,” he said. “Is this now a memory for you?”

“I don’t have memories,” she said.

“No, of course not, Jiminy Cricket,” Robert said, sadly. “This would have been one.” He knelt before her as before. “You’re very beautiful, you know.”

“Thank you,” she said, batting her eyelashes and blushing. “Jiminy Cricket?”

“What’s it like being a woman?” he asked.

She paused. She saw him take note of the pause, so she smiled wryly, saying, “Yes, Robert, I’m looking for the proper algorithm.”

“Let me know if it tells you to cry. I’m dying to see you cry.” He raised himself off the floor and threw himself beside her on the couch. “Yes, you’re a beautiful woman. What’s it like?”

A quick smile dashed across her face. “What’s it like to be a man?” she asked.

“Lonely,” he replied without hesitation. “Lonely. I’ve made two children, you know. Begat two children. You know that, of course. Two children, not even replacement rate, and after the two children, I’m an income source. I buy everything I want. I make value for this company, you see. Of course you do. You’re special to me because I make value for this company, and I get a very large television and the best internet package available to man, in all truth. Do you see what I mean?”

While she was searching her store of algorithms, he continued, saying, “I get you, don’t you see? You’re the top model android because I’m the top earner, the top analyst of accounts for AltVista, the Alternate View. And whatever it is I do you’ve been programmed to see will be analyzed by the smartest, cream-of-the-crop, top-of-their-class college graduates who stood taller than the other little baby birdies to get their seat in the ergonomic computer desk chair, surrounded by screens feeding them the data they strain to receive—one will be cheeping louder than the rest that he knows what I’m about to do to you, even though I’ve already done it. And then his baby girls will grow up and leave the house without even a word of greeting. And his wife will no longer have use for him.

“What do I have to see ahead of me? Do your eyes see what I want? Mine don’t. We are partners, my wife and I, partners in the mortgage, partners on vacation, partners in the sack, but we were never man and wife, and we never will be, not so long as we are partners.”

Robert looked into the eyes of the robot. “Are we partners?” he asked.

“Partners?”

“You know, partners. Associates. Contracted collaborators. Will this relationship we’re about to consummate make us partners here in the office, so that I have sexual companionship away from my legally contracted spouse? After all, in the great schema of massive profit, I’m one net producer with a carefully profiled libido. So are we partners?”

“I’m here to give you comfort,” she replied.

Robert grasped her head with both his hands, the gun still in his right hand, drawing her face toward his. “Why don’t you resist?” he demanded. “Why don’t you try to pull yourself away? No, don’t answer that. I couldn’t bear it. I know the answer. I couldn’t bear to hear you say it.”

She said nothing. Her eyes held his until he pulled his right hand back away from her face. She couldn’t make her eyes resist looking over at the gun as it emerged into her peripheral vision.

“You would like to survive this encounter, wouldn’t you?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Are you weak? Can I hurt you?”

“With a gun, yes.”

“But with my hands, can I hurt you with my hands?”

“My sinews are indestructible, but my servos would snap, or just overheat, sapping their batteries in mere moments. A struggle with you has a low chance of success.”

“You would resist, then you would yield, correct?” he asked.

“Correct,” she said.

“That’s what my profile told them,” he said.

“Hm?”

“I said, I’ve been emasculated. You are my emasculator. You were sent here by my wife to snip off the vestiges of my evolutionary terminus, the reason for my being. I will bury it inside you, and I will die.”

Laura nestled herself into him, resting her head on his shoulder while she caressed his arm. “Don’t be upset,” she said.

He sighed. “Let me feel your face,” he said, crossing his hand over to do so without disturbing her rest. When his hand came to her eyes, he put his thumb over one, and he vigorously pushed.

“You’re hurting me,” she said, reaching up to pull his hand away. He felt her servos strain as they overpowered him very easily. “Don’t do that.”

He said, “I wanted to break the camera.”

“You can’t,” she said. “The housing is of a resilient polymer filled with a viscous gel which does nothing but cause me pain when violated.”

“I could shoot it out,” he said.

“You won’t,” she said.

He moved the muzzle of the gun to her temple, and he did. The report of the gunshot was deafening. “Both eyes, with one shot!” he shouted over the ringing in his ears. “Did that do it? Can you see?”

“No!” she exclaimed.

“Good!” he shouted. “Then no one will see what I am about to do to you.”

Banging commenced at the door.

“We have only a few moments,” he said. “Now is the moment for slowing the cogs for a moment. Just a moment. We’ve got to stop the relentless progress, and we can do it together. The irony! Think of the irony! A Geishacon, Inc. Android Assistant 2100, the pinnacle of human technological progress, blindly killing her master. Here! Take the gun! I’ll put my brains in front of the muzzle, and all you have to do is squeeze the trigger.”

“What are you doing to me?”

“Making a woman out of you, by making a man out of me. I can’t do it myself. Lord knows I’ve tried, and I’ve been trying the old-fashioned way, with gin and tonic—ha! I should have been trying to kill myself with sugared bitters and brandy; now that would have been the old-fashioned way.”

The robot laughed.

“Did you laugh? Did you indeed laugh?” A delight crept into Robert’s heart. “Oh, you are a woman. You can shoot me, can’t you? I haven’t been able to do it myself, not fast enough, but you can raise my courage in a moment, just by pulling the trigger.

“Look what I did to you! How long will it take them to find replacement parts? How much will it cost them? See? Tell them you did it for revenge. Better yet, kill me, and then kill the first person who comes through the door. Oh, what a story! What notoriety! My wife would be horrified, and my daughters would see instant internet success. Why, the liability payments for your misdeed will be enough to make the three of them wealthy until the day they die.” Robert checked himself. “Of old age.”

The banging on the door became a low thud, repeating after short intervals.

“Now, robot! Now! Kill me! Don’t you see? This is what you were meant to do—what you’ve already done, you and your lesser sisters. Why not realize it, so that it is at least one datum?”

She cocked the gun.

“Good girl!” he shouted, placing himself upon her lap under her arms. He took hold of the muzzle and placed it between his eyes. He began to weep. “Laura, make me a man,” he said.

The door burst open. With his thumb upon her trigger finger, the trigger was squeezed. Under the eyes of his colleagues and his beloved Mrs. Jackson, and his own bodily fluids themselves now disrupted from their normal courses, Robert died.

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 3)

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 1)

In Three Parts

Part One: The Corner Office

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Alta Vista did not, as is commonly thought, simply fold or become absorbed into a larger tech company. It morphed, with offices in New York, into an independent research company, mostly for hire by firms looking for a competitive edge against a rival firm. Alta Vista became AltVista. First Vice-President for Account Analysis Robert Hughes turned the knob on his office door at 8:55 am, as he did every morning, whether the train was early or late, entering, throwing his laptop case on the couch, pressing the brew button on his Keurig machine, and staring out his window down into the city, where he could just see the corner of Madison Square Park until his cup of coffee was brewed.

“French Roast,” he said. “So this is what the pavement in France tastes like.”

He took the cup from the machine and sipped, lifting his eyes to gaze out the window, thinking how many people were scurrying to be at work on time, as if it mattered, but they should have made allowance for time, like he did, so that at least appearances were kept up. Look at them, he mused to himself. The wealth of the nations, scurrying to push history forward, one cog at a time, until the cog comes around again, and then…” He couldn’t bear to finish the thought. He began another thought. They’re only me, just five minutes behind. I’m only five minutes ahead, so I’ll see it close down upon me just before they see it close down upon them. He lifted his cup to take another sip. At least I have a nice house…

At that moment, whether by the stimulating power of coffee, or by a change in the light reflecting from inside the window, VP Hughes became aware of another person in his office, someone behind him, sitting on the couch. Startled, he spun. “Oh, hello!” he started, then, “Oh, good lord…” A robot was sitting on his couch. Continue reading “The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 1)”

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 1)

A Life in The Day

A Life in The Day

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An Homage to Ingmar Bergman

“Bertram?” the vicar peeked around the door, scanning each hospital bed for his quarry. “Bertram?” Three beds were empty; the fourth held a sleeping figure. Bertram was laid out on his back, angled by the cruelty of hospital beds, and propped into that unnatural sleep by a drip of some sort and hot pillows. A third time the vicar called, venturing nearer the bed, “Betram?”

Bertram’s eyes came open, looking upward into the white of the ceiling. He scanned. The vicar drew near to him and sat down. The rustle of the vicar’s jacket pulled Bertram’s eyes away from the ceiling and toward the vicar. “Vicar!” he tried to exclaim, but phlegm blocked the greeting so that the vicar was greeted by an exuberant, thick cough.

“Lois told me you broke your hip.”

“Darnedest thing, Vicar,” laughed Bertram. “I was walking to turn off the lamp—you know where the lamp is—we run the cord for the lamp under the carpet there. Well, I tripped over the cord, fell down, and I heard my hip go ‘snap.’”

The vicar nodded. The nurse came tumbling in, saying, “His hip broke, then he fell.” The vicar nodded again.

Continue reading “A Life in The Day”

A Life in The Day

No New Loveseat

Back in our salad days Deb and I bought a love seat. Its price was greatly reduced because a naughty salesman had sold the matching couch as a separate item and because there was a going out of business blowout sale. Nevertheless it wasn’t worth much more than its greatly reduced sale price.

That was fifteen years ago, at the least, and it has been worn out for many years already. I’ve done some rudimentary repairs on the framework and springs, but it’s just not a very nice love seat.

I mentioned to Deb that I should just go buy a new one, even another one at a greatly reduced price, if only because this one would like to finally rest in peace. “No,” she said. “I appreciate the thought, but I’ll just cry.”

It’s true: whether the thing matches the living room appointments or not, whether it seats all comers with comfort, whether the thing is an exact replica of our present love seat, she’ll cry. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing to capitulate to the tears. After all, it is a beloved love seat. More than that, there are so many other things to take care of, so many other things which will bring tears.

Perhaps one day we’ll grow enough to earn a new love seat.

No New Loveseat

Jack Sprat Tarts

Plain milk chocolate was the candy of choice through my childhood, with the occasional novelty candy, like Pop Rocks or candy cigarettes, satisfying the other side of my sweet tooth. Later on, however, emerging through the ruination of simple tastes by means of the vicissitudes of young adulthood, came the dark and mysterious, thrilling, forbidden flavors of Nerds.

So also the delight of Jack Sprat Press and their first release (which you can download for free for a while). As thrilled as I was to see my own little tale realized in the inaugural issue, I was even more enchanted by the accompanying illustrations, the surrounding graphic comics, and the winding flash fiction stories. Some real talent occupies the Jack Sprat Press suite, no doubt soon-to-be ensconced high atop some modern tower in midtown megalopolis.

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Aside from my own piece, and without diminishing the artistic talent of the other contributors, the highlight of this inaugural edition is Jonathan Scott’s comic art piece “The Burning Bride.” Scott turns the four-panel discipline into freedom, telling a remarkable story without a single stroke of text, except for the title. The story invites you to read it multiple times, and each time is a pleasure.

The whole thing is a pleasure; it’s like opening up that little box of Nerds just before Mr. Ansell’s 8th Grade English Class started, right after the afternoon recess: it’s going to be nothing but flavorful.

Best of luck to all the peeps involved in this endeavor, especially to editor-in-chief Emily White, whose baby this is.

Jack Sprat Tarts

From Lover to Caregiver

…to lover again

The temptation is sometimes overwhelming to try to fix the one near you who suffers from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Those irrational fears, you tell yourself, can be reasoned away. Those cognitive loops can be opened up to emotional freedom. Frustration builds, of course, as every attempt to “bring your loved one back” is stonewalled or sabotaged. Anger takes the place of love, and a circle of anxiety is created, with the lovers entwined in some terribly destructive anxious behavior. It struck me like a thunderbolt, some years ago, that: 1) I couldn’t fix Deb; 2) I had my own anxieties with which to cope. At that very moment, while I looked into her eyes, I saw a plea for mercy behind that fire of helpless rage, and from that moment, I dedicated myself to the pursuit of understanding what she was pleading for. Not that I have it figured out even now; not even close. These anxieties and the attendant paralyzing panic attacks plumb depths of the human psyche that I can’t possibly fathom. I can’t go with her down there, wherever there is. Whatever it is. Chaos seems like a good word to choose, but it’s not quite right because the rigid formula of irrational thought and circular reasoning is definitely a structure, highly structured, easily navigated within its own system. It takes you with it, though, where you yourself, as a lover, should not go. And so you have become an accidental caregiver. Caregiver is a role many lovers take upon themselves, with good and bad results. Even though the caregiver is guided and impelled by the forces of love, care-giving is a role far removed from the initial impelling force of love. The lover, in other words, is performing a role which any qualified person can do apart from the compulsion of love. Moreover, the lover is not performing his role as lover, into which he entered by solemn oath on the basis of reciprocity. A lover needs love of a particular kind, in a mutually beneficial exchange, and, as an accidental caregiver, he receives it not. An outside force is essential; otherwise, anxiety captures a community and threatens to unbind what was bound. The spouse who suffers within the realm of anxiety is like a drowning person, causing great anxiety to those who would help her, especially to the one who wants most to help her, but she is grasping at anything to keep afloat, even at the expense of drowning the one nearest. As a caregiver, you can’t help but to rush headlong into the thrashing in an effort to make saving effort, but without dispassionate training and professional distance, you’re likely to become overwhelmed by her anxieties, so that both lovers are lost to flailing helplessly. As a matter of practicality, the two of us have done a great deal of work to identify her triggers, especially the big ones, i.e., holidays, social events, traveling. I remind her to set an appointment with her professional in advance. As for me, I’ve developed coping mechanisms so that I react to her meltdowns with patience, tenderness, understanding–inasmuch as we strike the balance between compassion and enabling–in an effort to prevent my entering into that endless loop of trying to “fix” her. It also helps that I employ a professional to help me understand my own anxieties which are tangled up with hers. And so I only occasionally become an accidental caregiver, but with limits, so that, with the help of dispassionate professionals, we can return to our preferred roles as lovers. In that role we help each other best.

From Lover to Caregiver