Digital Ischemia

25/12/2017

The Santa Hat

As the sky reluctantly lightens to murky blue, a two centimetre tall shiny red cone bobs along outside the window. Could it be elves or some other mythical creatures associated with the season? The jaunty angle fascinates me. I hear tapping and scratching, and the faint thumps of small feet.

I lean in to the shadowy wall, craning to see past the frame. A bluetit lands, unfazed by the festive mystery. He ignores the seeds I sprinkled in favour of jabbing the frame edges for insects trapped in spider web. The red cone wobbles and pulls my focus. Other than the seeds, I see no trail of magic or any clues. Can I get closer without being seen?

The bluetit twitches his head one final time, satisfied he has exhausted all visible sources of ready caught insect. I brace to move, hoping to use his departure as cover. I have to take a chance, as the red cone could also vanish at any moment. Wings flutter and I lean right in to the glass.

The red Santa hat tops a less than festive sparrow. She has a shiny plastic lid stuck to her head. It looks like the cap off a bottle; unmarked so I can only guess if it was packaging for some food product or cosmetic. Sticky either way. It’s poorly designed, even for its intended purpose: difficult to grip to twist it. Impossible for a clawed creature. Harsh penance for seeking food.

The sparrow dips clumsily to peck a seed. She flaps and falls into the adjoining shrub. Apparently she can hop up to the window and back to the bush but not fly. She’s too unbalanced, weighed down. Perhaps a sparrowhawk can get the lid off.

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24/12/2017

Three Boxes

Harris drives himself around the mezzanine’s south-east corner. Two more laps around the atrium, maybe three. He won’t have time for four. Walking is good for creative thought. Being away from the office is good for any kind of thought. He can’t think in that fairground of hollered conversations, phone rings, keyboard clatters, printer whirs… Nor in the fog of alpha-female pheromones.

Never mind the hurdles; he has a conundrum to solve. He focuses on the brick red railings passing at his left. The regular vertical stripes of shiny red soothe him. Until they refract into nauseating undulating shimmers.

Half way along the east side, Harris momentarily achieves a meditative state. Ironically this is vaporised by a numinous shaft of light from a southwestern skylight. Reflexively he halts, tilts his face perpendicular to it, to maximise the radiation, imagining he feels the warmth of divine inspiration. He registers a faint sigh. Sighing would probably be a key theme in the office soundtrack if it weren’t smothered by the fairground effects. The fairground conundrum. A seat in the sun would be good.

Harris wheels about and steps over to the nearest bench. This is mostly an act of spatial memory as his eyes are still readjusting to not staring at a nuclear explosion. Lucky chance has him alight not on top of someone else. As his eyes return to usual levels of exposure, he finds he is not at the epicentre of the beam. That position is occupied by a woman with a tilted face, closed eyes and beatific smile. He aborts his inner mocking reflex with the evidence for his own recent practice.

Harris launches in, “it’s like an alien tractor beam, isn’t it?”
The woman replies without turning her head, “I wasn’t sighing out of pique—it’s not my sunlight—I was exhaling in sort of appreciation.”
“Maybe you’ve had enough? I mean, maybe you’re cooked enough? Sorry, I keep sounding disrespectful.”
“No effect. Too good a day.”
“Depends where you’re sitting. Argh, sorry, sorry; I don’t mean literally; I mean my day’s pretty shite, as usual.”
“I was just wondering who to share my good fortune with first. Who might be most in need. And here you are.”

The woman flicks her head to face Harris and opens her eyes. He feels them rake through his motivations. The sensation is curiously paralysing.

“I’m Iona.”
“Harris. What fortune?”
“I got a commission.”
“From here?”
“To fill that space.” She indicates the massive cuboid of air within the mezzanine’s confines, capped by the shallow tetrahedral roof.
“With what? Why would you?! What are you?”
“Styrofoam; to blot out everything pleasant; a sadist.”
Harris tips his head back and manages half a chuckle. “Knee-jerked again, didn’t I?”
Iona turns back to the project space. “Serious answers: I don’t know yet; to make people think, to achieve your company’s objective and hopefully to get paid; and, I suppose, a sort of installation artist.”
“But however good your intentions, anything’s going to blot out that magnificent light!”
“Nonsense.”
“OK, give me an example! Please don’t say some ghastly perspex construction.”
“Just one? The sound of brass cogs and shafts, pistons and capstans, in an enormously convoluted contraption.”
“Yeh, I see how that’s not going to obliterate anything at all. And how are you going to hang it? Sky hooks?”
“A speaker?”
“Ah, I see: ‘the sound of…’; cunning.”

Iona turns to feel the sunlight fade, replaced by her smugness. Not to totally take advantage of her troubled companion, though. Supposed to be sharing fortune here.

“What’s your bother?”
“That’s what I was doing circuits to solve.”
“Before you stopped to interfere with my sunlight.”
“Can’t get anything right.”
“So let me spread my irrepressible joy over your problem and make you feel even worse.”
“I can’t really tell you. I mean, I’m not being mysterious, it just wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“How about … a metaphor?”
“Er, OK, I have— No, there are two boxes. I can pick one or the other.”
“What do they look like?”
“What?”
“These boxes.”
“Does it matter?”
“It would help me visualise the … options.”
“They’re solid, ebony cubes, with lids. Thick sides.”
“How big?”
“Pfff, about twenty centimetres each way. Happy?”
“Ecstatic. Thank you.”

Harris realises he’s going to be late back to the office. Suddenly he doesn’t care. It was a mostly self-imposed target anyway. The world has changed.

He volunteers more imaginary detail to delay the inevitable. “There’s a regular dashed pattern in a strip near the top of each side. You want to know if there are any chips or other blemishes?”
“I’d like to predict the inside.”
“Piss off.”
“OK, I’m going to write it down … then we can check later if I’m right.”

Iona fishes a scrap of paper and pencil out a pocket and scribbles. She scrumples the paper and lays it on the bench between them. Harris is unimpressed.
“Nerd.”
“Absolutely. On you go.”

Harris settles back to describe professional contents that have leaked in different ways into his personal life. One tends to froth angrily and foam stickily over the edge of its container. The other seems under control until you spot the poison leaching from the bottom corner. Under questioning, he admits the boxes are there as much to segregate the contents from each other as from his personal life.

“I can’t cope with both; I don’t even know if I can manage one, but I’ll have to try.”
Iona cocks her head, mildly amused. “Will you?”
“What other choice is there?”
“There’s always a third way.”
“Where?”
“Go back a bit.”
“In time? Are you going to tell me the two boxes were once parts of the same original box?!”
“That would be ridiculous.”
“So?”
“Step back.”
“Bloody metaphors. Oh, surprise, there’s a third box, sneaking into view.”
“And what’s in this one?”
“No idea.”
“Can you look?”
“Nope. Mystery.”
“Hm, well, I’m sorry. I see I’ve just massively wasted your time on this entertaining but fruitless diversion.”

Harris caresses the scrumpled paper prediction. After tantalising himself for a couple of seconds, he snatches it and pulls it open. He frowns, reorients the writing.

Iona watches him sidelong, curious but trying not to be too attached. After a few seconds of his neutral expression, she nudges, “well?”

Harris jumps up. “Come on.”
“Where? Why?”
“I’m going to need your help with these boxes. Well, with the other two.”
Iona hesitates. “They’re not going to like it.”
“Absolutely not. I see my metaphor wasn’t as veiled as I imagined.”
“You chose the third box?”
“Of course I did. I may be afraid of the unknown but I’m not a masochist for known poisons.”

Harris strides north. Iona grabs her bag and tries to keep up.
Harris calls back, “how’d you know then? Is red silk some standard default male mental image?”
“Railings, Harris. How many circuits?”
“What? Because they’re red and shiny?”
“What does this building look like outside?”
“I hate architects. And artists. What’s your name again?”
“Iona.”
“No, it’s Box Three.”

17/12/2017

In The Dark: Cupboard

SOUND: DOOR BURSTS OPEN, RAPID SLIDING STEPS, DOOR BANGS SHUT
VIOLET: (EXHALE) Aaaaaaah! Nauseating little goblin! All goblins are little, Violet. Try to avoid pleonasms.
SOUND: PACING
VIOLET (CONT’D): Poisonous vat of slime! I think you mean vat of poisonous slime, Violet. No matter. Myopic warmonger! Inelegant. Sulphuric harpy! Alright, that’ll do. (EXHALE)
SOUND: WHUMP-CLACK
VIOLET (CONT’D): Ow.
SOUND: DOOR CLICKS OPEN
ARNOLD: Ms Bogscrattle?
VIOLET: (PAUSE) What?
ARNOLD: It is you?
VIOLET: Well done; you rumbled me.
ARNOLD: Are you … well?
VIOLET: Very not.
ARNOLD: I’m sorry.
VIOLET: Not your fault, Mr Shipworm.
ARNOLD: I wasn’t apologising; I was expressing regret.
VIOLET: Could you close the door? You’ll attract attention.
ARNOLD: From the outside?
VIOLET: Whatever.
SOUND: SHUFFLE, CLICK
VIOLET (CONT’D): You’re still here.
ARNOLD: This … intrigues me.
VIOLET: It’s a cupboard.
SOUND: SWITCH CLICKS RAPIDLY
VIOLET (CONT’D): Not working. I like it dark. Sanctuary. Usually.
SOUND: FINGER TIP SQUEAKS ON TILE
ARNOLD: I think it may be a toilet. It feels tiled.
VIOLET: Or a shower. Whatever I’m sitting on seems to have slats.
ARNOLD: Doesn’t sound comfortable.
VIOLET: I’m being very slowly filleted.
ARNOLD: Er, then time is of the essence. I did want to speak to you.
VIOLET: Speak away.
ARNOLD: I mean with you, not at you.
VIOLET: And yet there I was, in the appointed place, at the appointed time, almost with the appointed person. The music was divine. And yet… And yet…
ARNOLD: I thought you were someone else.
VIOLET: Again.
ARNOLD: You liked the music?
VIOLET: That’s not going to salvage this. I deliberately misled you; you punished me. Can we call it even? I’ve had a rather trying day. Even before your sulphuric harpy.
ARNOLD: How wonderful.
VIOLET: Thank you for support. Can I be alone now?
ARNOLD: (WISTFULLY) Sulphuric harpy. Wonderful. Vicious. But why would you say such a thing?
SOUND: WHUMP-CLACK, FABRIC RUSTLE
VIOLET: Mr Shipworm.
ARNOLD: (CLOSE) Yes?
VIOLET: Why are you holding my arm?
ARNOLD: Oh, sorry, sorry; really shouldn’t touch you there … here … anywhere.
VIOLET: Molested by an attractive man in a dark cupboard. It could go either way, couldn’t it?
ARNOLD: Toilet.
VIOLET: Shower.
ARNOLD: Attractive?
VIOLET: You noticed that too.
ARNOLD: (CHUCKLES SADLY) Only in the dark could I be considered attractive.
VIOLET: You’re disappointingly visually discriminatory for someone who works with noise.
ARNOLD: I only sound attractive?
VIOLET: You sound narcissistic.
ARNOLD: It comes of being a performer.
VIOLET: You certainly made a performance of it.
ARNOLD: I didn’t know you were you! Twice!
VIOLET: And I exploited the loophole between my name and location.
ARNOLD: I got confused by your, er … reversing out from under the apron – you were muttering about irony and how many people it takes to change a light bulb.
VIOLET: I didn’t mean for anyone to deeply contemplate it. (PAUSE) Or my pithy muttering.
ARNOLD: Of course not. I mean: I wasn’t; my eyes just rested—
VIOLET: Joke.
ARNOLD: Ha! Well, I thought you must be one of the electrical people.
VIOLET: I can wire a plug. Apparently that equates to special skills in stage lighting.
ARNOLD: I like the air of mystery about … electronics.
VIOLET: It’s just tech. Let’s not imbue it with magical powers.
ARNOLD: You could fix the light in here.
VIOLET: I doubt it.
ARNOLD: Too dangerous?
VIOLET: Too demotivated.
ARNOLD: (WHISTLES NERVOUSLY)
VIOLET: Why is no-one allowed to listen to your practice?
ARNOLD: (SPLUTTER OF DISBELIEF)
VIOLET: Splutter all you like, but I genuinely don’t know.
ARNOLD: No, no, sorry, I mean that’s ridiculously pompous. Where did you get that from?
VIOLET: The lackey. The sulphurous harpy-esque one. Right before she unceremoniously removed me.
ARNOLD: Nonsense. What exactly did she say?
VIOLET: That I had to leave because you were not to be overheard.
ARNOLD: Ah.
VIOLET: Ah?
ARNOLD: My conversation was not to be overheard. My conversation with you. Which I was expecting to have any moment. But I thought I was waiting for someone who looked not like you.
VIOLET: To speak to or with about your still clandestine purposes.
ARNOLD: Oh, yes, I’ve drifted away again, haven’t I?
VIOLET: Is it because you’re nervous?
SOUND: CLOTHES SWISH, SNIFF
ARNOLD: Oh, god, can you smell…?!
VIOLET: No, you smell quite attractive.
ARNOLD: Oh. Ah. Er, what, then, my voice, whistling?
VIOLET: Your finger. It squeaked on the tile.
ARNOLD: Damn it. Too late to deny the rest now, I suppose?
VIOLET: I’d go on the offensive.
ARNOLD: Right. Er, why did you pretend to be someone else?
VIOLET: I’m sorry. I mean: I apologise.
ARNOLD: I’m not after an apology. I’m curious.
VIOLET: I think I was more passive; lying by omission.
ARNOLD: I’m not parsing what you said either. I just wonder why you didn’t, you know, like normal people, realise I was asking you for you because I didn’t know your face.
VIOLET: I did.
ARNOLD: Yes, of course you did, but I mean why, having realised, didn’t you just volunteer who you were and painlessly clear up my ignorance?
VIOLET: Have I caused you pain?
ARNOLD: Only a mild psychosocial wound.
VIOLET: I was flummoxed.
ARNOLD: By the electricity?
VIOLET: You could say that.
ARNOLD: Had you shocked yourself? What?
VIOLET: No, that was you.
ARNOLD: How did I shock you?
VIOLET: You were a whole lot more … than I expected.
ARNOLD: Oh. Right. Oh!
VIOLET: So, you see, it takes ten minutes in a cupboard in the dark to get to that.
ARNOLD: Toilet.
VIOLET: It’s a shower!
SOUND: STANDS, DOOR CLICKS
ARNOLD: Are you going to tell Facilities?
VIOLET: About your interference in my bolthole?
ARNOLD: Ahem. About the light not working.
VIOLET: I doubt it. I like it.
ARNOLD: Me too. Would you mind if we did this again sometime?

28/11/2017

In the Dark: Office

Two colleagues unravel a socio-technical faux pas.

PATRICK: Do you see what she did?! Why’s there no lights?
SOUND: SWITCH CLICKS RAPIDLY, TABLET CLUNKS ON DESK
NEIL: Turn it till I see, then…
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL CHUCKLES
PATRICK: Every time I go to get my email, this…daft picture pops up, jiggling!
NEIL: Very guid. Very guid.
PATRICK: It’s not good! It’s technical harassment!
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL: Sparkly wand! (GIGGLES) It’s like you have magic powers.
PATRICK: Yeh, magic. Why are you in here with no lights?
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE, TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL: Aye, it’s like it’s you making the app come up. (CHUCKLES)
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL (CONT’D): The smug face is totally you.
PATRICK: Had enough?
NEIL: Naw.
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE, TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
PATRICK: OK, OK. Come on, now. How do I get rid of it?
NEIL: Who cares? It’s brilliant! Patrick the arrogant magician.
PATRICK: Can you stop laughing at my trauma here and… I’ve been hacked!
NEIL: It’s no’ really hacking, is it, if you hand over the device yoursel’, no’ even locked?
PATRICK: I thought tablets were supposed to be unhackable?! Where did she get that picture?
NEIL: Probably took it. No’ difficult, seeing as you’re a’ways pointing at some puir wee soul, barking orders. Here, see mines.
SOUND: TABLET SLIDES ACROSS DESK
NEIL (CONT’D): She must’ve recorded me when I was chuntering over those dire business proposals.
SOUND: TAP
NEIL: (D) No, we’re no’ doing that. No’ doing that either.
NEIL CHUCKLES
SOUND: TAP
NEIL: (D) No, we’re no’ doing that. No’ doing that either.
NEIL CHUCKLES
PATRICK: You can’t do that; you can’t record people without them knowing! It’s illegal!
NEIL: How is it? You have a picture of yoursel’ on your own device: call the cops. (CHUCKLES)
PATRICK: This isn’t funny! This is frightening! Surely that’s affecting your productivity: every time you go to do something you get that daft message.
NEIL: No’ really, if you think about it. Setting aside that you definitely need to lighten up, so much of what we do online is knee-jerk; you dinnae really need to do it, or no’ right that moment. You’re addicted! You need to sit back and organise your thoughts.
PATRICK: “Organise your thoughts”?!
NEIL: Aye! So let’s sit back and—
PATRICK: In the dark.
NEIL: —think this through. What, are you afeart of the dark now?
PATRICK: I’m in a state of high alert! I’ve been threatened!
NEIL: The on’y thing getting threatened is your pride. So, what exactly did you say to her?
PATRICK: I said, “Neil says you can sort my email.”
NEIL: Ah, well, nae wonder.
PATRICK: What?
NEIL: Nae preamble. Did you no’ think to say who you were? Ask who she was? How her day’s gaun an’ that?
PATRICK: I did sort of explain: I said I was really busy—I was right in the middle of rehearsal and it was going all wobbly—so I needed my email sorted by the end of the day.
NEIL: Sweet.
PATRICK: I don’t have time for niceties! I don’t have time for the stupid helpdesk! Plus, obviously, my email’s hoofed. I had two thousand and sixty unread messages! I was on every group! I couldn’t see the wood for the bees!
NEIL: Did she say anything?
PATRICK: Er, she asked me to set it not to lock itself or something.
NEIL: Ah-ha.
PATRICK: Then I had to go back to the unattended imbeciles in the hall.

NEIL: Did you get it back by the end of the day?
PATRICK: In a plastic bag.
NEIL: Gubbed?
PATRICK: No, it’s just a bit odd, isn’t it? It’s like getting your dry-cleaning back in a fancy plastic case with a hanger when you just took it scrumpled in a bag.
NEIL: When do you get dry-cleaning?
PATRICK: Never mind, it’s suspicious, like: why are you polishing the turd?
NEIL: I think you’re taking the wrong things to get dry-cleaned.
PATRICK: So I asked. And she said, “security.” So I said, “pretty obvious what it is.” And she said, “yes,” in that patronising way, “but when the forensic team arrives, my fingerprints won’t be on it.”
NEIL GUFFAWS
PATRICK: That put the wind right up me! I’m looking down at my big greasy paw wrapped right round it. Right enough, the rest of it’s totally clean.
NEIL: Can you see where you went wrong?
PATRICK: In ever coming to speak to you today?
SOUND: TAP
NEIL: (D) No, we’re no’ doing that. No’ doing that either.
NEIL CHUCKLES

NEIL: How’s your email?
PATRICK: Oh, that’s lovely: all sorted, tidied up, all the pish banished somewhere.
NEIL: There you are.
PATRICK: At what price?!
NEIL: So you have a wee animated caricature that maybe gets a bit annoying.
PATRICK: And an email in my inbox called ‘kiss my osud’.
NEIL: I beg your pardon?
PATRICK: I think I slightly incited that.
NEIL: What did you do?!
PATRICK: When I came up at break, she was—
NEIL: You came back up?
PATRICK: Yeh?
NEIL: Where was I?
PATRICK: How should I know?! I can’t even operate my tablet! I don’t have a tracking satellite!
NEIL: Well, this’ll be it. Gi’es it, then.
PATRICK: Ah, she was just sort of swaying about, bending.
NEIL: How do you mean?
PATRICK: I don’t know, it looked like contemporary dance. Maybe she was doing yoga. Wasn’t work anyway. So I got a bit annoyed.
NEIL: Oh, aye.
PATRICK: I asked her if it was done yet. She glances over at it and says, “fifty-five percent.” So I say, “can’t you speed it up?” No, apparently it’s ‘synchronising’ so we’re at the mercy of the electronicary.
NEIL: So you were a wee bit tetchy, ya arrogant arsehole.
PATRICK: No, that was when I said something really foolish, considering— Do you know, I really hate how these techies basically hold you to ransom! Like, ‘lick my arse or I’ll accidentally wipe your life’s work—’
NEIL: Is it no’ ‘click my arse’?
PATRICK: Why is this a massive joke to you?!
NEIL: Because it is! What stupid thing did you say?!
PATRICK: I said, “I hope you’re not reading my emails.” I was pretty snotty.
NEIL: Aye. And her witty comeback?
PATRICK: How do you know?
NEIL: I have a sense of impending doom.
PATRICK: She glances at the screen again and snaps back, “yeh, I’m getting moist for your thoughts on… Jane Ace.”
NEIL: Jane whae?
PATRICK: Janàček. One of the emails that I did want. That just tipped me over the edge into haughty overload—
NEIL: Naw!
PATRICK: I just barked, “I need you to finish this—” She spits back, “can’t rush those security checks.” So I said, “just bring it to me before five.”
NEIL: Aaaiihhhh!
PATRICK: I know! Calm as a sanddune she asks, “can I check where you’ll be? Or should I just follow the glow of your specialness?”
NEIL SUCKS HIS TEETH
PATRICK: So I snap back, “hall six,” and stride out.
NEIL LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY
PATRICK: You don’t even know… I knew I’d been offensive, I just couldn’t stop. It never hit me till I saw the ‘Osud’ email: she kept saying ‘check’.
NEIL: Ah! Your yanar-check?
PATRICK: And Czech, the nationality. Osud is one of his operas.
NEIL: Well, that was worth waiting for. It must be braw to finally meet someone on your twatty, cliquey, trivia wavelength. While pissing them right aff.
PATRICK: Totally outmanoeuvred. But I think she likes me: “Dear Mr So-Frightfully-Busy-and-Important,” it starts…
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE, TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL SIGHS

PATRICK: Where is the malevolent harpy, anyway?
NEIL: After she fixed your tablet, and helped me fix the power, she really had to go away and do her own work.
PATRICK: What do you mean: fix the power? We’re sitting in the dark!
NEIL: It broke again. Well, I broke it. I just couldnae leave it; I should’ve left but I couldnae stop myself going to press a button: FIZZT! Then you turn up with your light entertainment so here I still am.
PATRICK: What other job?
NEIL: What?
PATRICK: You just said she had to do her own work. What work?
NEIL: You’re still thinking she’s ‘just a techy’?
PATRICK: Obviously she’s not just a techy; techies are frighteningly powerful, plus she has scary special powers.
NEIL: Why are you so threatened by a woman with independent thought?
PATRICK: Because: look what she did to my tablet!
NEIL: Heinous. On’y it’s hilarious.
PATRICK: By the way, didn’t you want me to meet some woman?
NEIL: Oh, seriously? What’s this – seven hours later? We finally come full circle.
PATRICK: Yeh, that was why I came to see you in the first place, because my email was all clogged up so I couldn’t get the details but I knew I needed to speak to you about something, someone you thought, I don’t know, you thought I could work with? I was whinging about my email, you said you’d had the same, blah blah, then you pointed me at this bint under the table all tangled with cables.
NEIL: You are incredibly easily misdirected, do you ken that?
PATRICK: How?
NEIL: Thought I’d kill two burds wi’ one stone, or kill one stooge twice wi’ the same burd, as it turned out. Hello? Aye, there it is.
PATRICK: The… Medusa! She’s let me hang myself with the massive loophole of my assumptions!
NEIL: I think she let you embroider it a guid bit first.
PATRICK: Ah, shite. I need… I need… I need to get my head… When’s she here next?
NEIL: Dinnae ken.
PATRICK: I don’t mean to the minute. Tomorrow?
NEIL: There’s nae plan for her to come back. Thinking about it, I dinnae ken why she would come back, seeing as her day was totally hijacked by technical distractions and arsey demands.
PATRICK: She was only here today? I need to make reparations! I don’t know who she is, what she does, where she might be…
NEIL: I wouldnae worry; she certainly has your number.
PATRICK: Yeh, massively wide berth.
SOUND: TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL: Inbox, pillock.
PATRICK: Oh, right, good; I can’t wait for her to torment me some more.
NEIL: Och, wheesht your havering. If you really pissed her aff she could’ve totally scorched you.
PATRICK: (LAUGHS SARCASTICALLY) Yeh, I feel so comforted about all the stuff she could’ve done that I’ve just not discovered yet.
SOUND: TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
PATRICK (CONT’D): Will you give that a rest?
NEIL: I like the comforting glow of your specialness.
PATRICK: All your fault.
NEIL: Let’s just sit here a wee while, in the dark.
PATRICK: Why?
NEIL: For the metaphor.

22/10/2017

Grandparent File Download

LYLE: Sure you want the whole file?
MARIE: Absolutely.
LYLE: I mean—sorry to be patronising, just to cover everything, you know—it’s a massive file; it’s about…ten and a half years’ worth of usage allowance.
MARIE: I’ve saved up.
LYLE: Aye, I see you have the credits.
MARIE: It’s not something you can chunk up. That’s not how the data’s organised.
LYLE: Even if it wouldn’t work in chunks, you could still download it that way? Just to be safer if one chunk got interrupted?
FATHER: Where are you based?
MARIE: Dad! I’m dealing with this.
FATHER: I’m not interfering. Simple question.
LYLE: Sorry, what?
FATHER: Are you a person or a robot?
MARIE: I’m sorry; my father is online too.
LYLE: Ah, OK. That’s good if you got him connected and working.
MARIE: Although obviously he does like to be involved.
LYLE: Right, for the record, then: I’m a real person and I’m at the Onlineage Support Centre in Glasgow.
FATHER: Jolly good. Is that the new establishment in Dumbarton?
LYLE: Er, I can’t actually give any details – for security reasons.
MARIE: Dad, could you just imagine him in Dumbarton so we can move on?
FATHER: I’m not sharing my information with some ‘clown’ in Anniesland. Or Mumbai.—
LYLE: Did he just call me a clown?
FATHER: (OFF) —Or Dubai. Or Arizona.—
MARIE: I think he meant “cloud” but it was disrespectful; I’m sorry.
FATHER: (OFF)—Or Wales.
MARIE: What’s wrong with Wales?! Never mind. Pipe down, eh, or you’ll blow all my credits hijacking a support call.
FATHER: Willco. Dumbarton it is.
MARIE: Onlineage has all your information already. Those cats are out the bag and clawing open all your cans of worms.
FATHER: (OFF) Cats didn’t eat worms in my day.
LYLE: Er, most folk like to get comfortable with the parent file before installing the grandparent files.
MARIE: Aye, in an ideal world I’d be twenty-two and fizzing with vitality, but I have to be pragmatic. This is as comfortable as I get. I don’t have the luxury of time.
LYLE: Fair enough.
MARIE: I’ve saved up for this four times already; each time life got in the way and I had to start all over. If I’d had my parents and my grandparents linked up sooner maybe things would’ve been different. If, if. I’ve had to get through without them. But no more. I have the credits. I’m ready.
LYLE: No bother. Like I said, sorry to be patronising; I just have to check.
SOUND: BEEP
LYLE: OK, that’s the transfer started.
MARIE: Which one?
LYLE: Both, sorry.
MARIE: My grandparent files go “beep”?
LYLE: Aye, just the final confirmation.
MARIE: I can see it coming through! Fantastic. Thanks so much.
LYLE: Welcome. You want to stay on the line till it finishes? Just in case? Won’t cost you any more.
MARIE: Thank you; I’d appreciate that.
FATHER: I say, getting rather crowded in here.
MARIE: Recognise anything yet?
FATHER: That’s not what happened! My memory may not be fully polished but this is clearly faulty.
MARIE: You’re going to need to relax. It’s all just perceptions, same as yours. Somewhere between all these bits of information is the truth. There’s so much to learn.
FATHER: (OFF) Bunkum.
LYLE: So, what are you going to learn first?
MARIE: Gaelic.
LYLE: That’s one I never heard before.
MARIE: I want to learn Norwegian and I reckon there’ll be some overlap. There are some old cultural connections I want to get at.
LYLE: Isn’t Gaelic really difficult?
MARIE: Less difficult than English. Every day I think in English and some daft peculiarity strikes me.
LYLE: But you’re fine at English.
MARIE: Aye, and that’s taken me decades to get this good at. It must be torture for non-native speakers. And when I die: zap – all deleted.
LYLE: I’m sure you’ve got plenty time to use it before then.
MARIE: I’m ninety-two. What odds would you give me?
LYLE: You’re joking? (PAUSE) What age is your dad?! (PAUSE) No, obviously it’s in the file. Shite. A hundred and…twenty-eight? That wasn’t him…
MARIE: That was your excellent Synthesis app.
LYLE: Shite.
MARIE: I have no children. I need to integrate my knowledge so it’s not wasted. Every new person shouldn’t have to learn all this stuff from the beginning.
LYLE: You’re combining your lifetime of experience with your parents’ and their parents’?
MARIE: Isn’t that what this technology’s for? It’s not idle nostalgia: see the world through your ancestors’ eyes. You have to give it forward. Think what we could be if we weren’t restricted to sharing experience only by communication through the filter of societal behavioural norms?
LYLE: Er…
MARIE: Speaking, mostly.
LYLE: Right, right. I thought this was mostly for, like, instead of ‘how was your weekend?’ you just experience the whole thing. Eech.
MARIE: At first I wondered how folk’d get along without the liberty to embellish, but seemingly that’s factored into their perceptions.
LYLE: Like, if you want to believe you had the best time, that’s what others will get from your experience, too?
MARIE: Nobody will care that my father always kept fifteen spare packets of toilet paper, but they might benefit from his experience as a child during wartime. They can feel his psychology and understand how he attributed a lifetime’s hyperconsumerism to suffering rationing. I have this theory…
LYLE: You may as well tell me; we’re only at thirty-four percent.
MARIE: Last century our cultural evolution suddenly got turbocharged. Industrialisation, commercialism, technology raced away with our beliefs about success and happiness. ‘Can do’ completely overtook ‘should do’. We started making demands on our bodies that would take generations for physiological evolution to deliver. Bombarding ourselves with information and materialism. At the same time it became apparent that this hyperconsumerism was equally unhealthy for us and the rest of the living world.
LYLE: This is where technology solutions come in?
MARIE: Aye and no: we have to ask if, now a robot prepares your tea, are you happier? Saves you twenty, thirty minutes, right? Time you could use for something more useful? More useful than appreciating where your food comes from? Savouring the smells as well as the tastes that are part of the full experience for your body? More useful than the mental downtime of a simple task?
LYLE: I don’t know if that spiritual stuff is for everyone – all that overanalysing stuff.
MARIE: I think that’s where our lives are generally: chronic overstimulation, poor mental and emotional agility, constant analysis of marginal information.
LYLE: So you mean, like, get implants?
MARIE: They just enable you to process more and more information of less and less value. You still have to work out what that vanishingly small value is in order to make use of it. More and more work to get the same quality of information.
LYLE: Surely adding your parents’ experiences in to the mix is just more stress then?
MARIE: Only if you don’t learn from it. See the lessons they learned from their lives; see what worked for them, what they figured out.
LYLE: You’re pretty bright for a ninety-year-old.
MARIE: I’m still learning. How’re we doing?
LYLE: Sixty-two.
MARIE: Humans have been grappling with the same life problems for millennia; wouldn’t it be good if we learned from others more efficiently – the benefits of their experience?
LYLE: Isn’t there a point to, you know, working it out for yourself?
MARIE: Sure, and maybe you come up with an even better solution, but why not see what your predecessors came up with first? Minimise that struggle, that suffering?
SOUND: BEEP
LYLE: Er…
MARIE: Finished?
LYLE: No… Some block. Your system has stopped confirming the request for download.
MARIE: Ah, I bet I’m using too much processor being online.
LYLE: That shouldn’t be an issue. Can you check you’ve shut down absolutely everything apart from our app?
MARIE: Oh, I have, really: I checked the processes before I called. That’s all that’s been running this whole time.
LYLE: OK, you’ve filled in all the criteria in the form, all the technical specs; you have plenty memory, enough processor capacity. What else could be using up the system?
MARIE: Your Synthesis app.
LYLE: Your father? Can you suspend him?
MARIE: (laughs) Aye, but that won’t be enough.
LYLE: Wait: I have a mirror pane; it’s showing another person running… Is that…you?!
MARIE: The very one.
LYLE: I’m speaking to a Synthesis?
MARIE: Indeed. Died a while ago. Something snapped. Who cares? This is far too important for a hurdle like that to derail the whole project.
LYLE: Er, if there’s any indication that you’ve reverse engineered our software, I have to invoke a non-compliance procedure…
MARIE: Don’t be daft: I’m ninety-two! How would I ‘reverse engineer’ anything? Couldn’t even reverse my tea trolley without cowping the last fifteen years. I haven’t broken any of the agreement I signed. But by all means check. And while you do that, consider who you’re going to prosecute. Hah.
LYLE: But how— How can you— How am I having this conversation with you?
MARIE: Your Synthesis app! Onlineage is really very good. You should probably be promoting your products a bit more.
LYLE: But it needs something— How can you launch it?
MARIE: Ah, the combination of all these experiences, knowledge, so on; it takes on a life of its own, so to speak.

24/09/2017

Night on the Tiles

I blundered into the dimly lit washroom, thoughtless in my sleepy haze. As I automatically reached over the sink for my toothbrush, a dark mass behind the tap startled me. I was used to spiders and other housemates—woodlice, vine weevils, mites, and other dots—scurrying across surfaces but more often living out of sight. I’d even been bitten by a spider. That surprised me, and left me with a tiny red V-shaped cut in my wrist as evidence. That spider had chosen my cardigan sleeve for refuge and reasonably considered my thrusting arm to be an attack. Apparently biting spiders are common in Britain; fortunately they’re harmless.

I knew August was the mating season for ‘house’ spiders, driving them to roam widely and overtly in search of partners, and hence being seen more often. This one surprised me not only by her location but her size: a good ten centimetres diameter. I dislike surprises, especially late at night, and the ensuing tension. I think it comes down to a fear of insects unintentionally jumping on to me and disappearing up a sleeve or into my ear or somewhere I can’t get them. And then what? I supposed they might bite or tickle or lay eggs or commit some other grievous offence. More irrational conditioning.

I went on with teeth-brushing, casting frequent glances to check she was still there. Perhaps the light had halted her exploration, even though it was dark orange – at least neither of us should suffer melatonin cycle disturbances. Do spiders have melatonin? Perhaps my noise or movement vibrations disturbed her. Still indulging this mental blether, I turned off the light and went to bed. The next morning she was gone.

The second night I had entirely forgotten her existence and so was startled again by her presence on the tiles beside the sink. I was more relaxed, though, and observant. After a couple of minutes she rotated to face the wall and compressed herself against the grout. This seemed like avoidance behaviour. I was sorry cause her discomfort. I have no illusions about this being ‘my’ space. The wilderness may have been long since concreted over, but nature is mobile and constantly recolonising.

The following morning she had stopped just over the edge of the tiled unit, where the panel descends to the floor. She remained immobile during my intermittent visits through the day. I wondered if her exploration had tired her, or she had bivouacked there to extend her range the coming night, or she was awaiting prey… or a mate.

The third night the tiles were unoccupied. No movement, no stasis, no presence. I was somewhat relieved, but also concerned by the not knowing – pure selfishness: once you know something is present, not seeing it becomes unsettling. As the toothpaste foam built up, I wondered about the content of her life of which I was mostly ignorant. I trundled back and forth, brushing, pondering.

Crunch. My right foot felt a momentary resistance. My head leaped to the fateful conclusion. I bent my knee and raised my foot behind me: even in the artificial twilight the sole showed a telltale wet patch. The floor covering was too dark to identify the victim.

Wrong time to choose to freeze on the floor! Wrong place! Why did she not sense my noise or vibrations or the light tonight? Why not flee? Evolutionarily unsound!

My defensive denials fizzled out. Was she starving? Not dehydrated in a washroom, surely. Was she fuddled by sleep disturbance? But I wasn’t there that often. Was she just trying to get from A to B, and like the poor hedgehog, when faced with large, looming movement, made a poor choice. Freezing in the path of a heavy creature means death.

Daylight confirmed my conclusion. She’s still there: a fading husk of legs, pressed on the floor. I’ve slid her aside so I don’t repeat the offence, but haven’t appeased my regret yet. I didn’t mean to, sure, but I can’t say I couldn’t have foreseen that risk. Apologies tumble out as pathetically inadequate recompense for not considering consequences. Why do my needs or arbitrary habits supersede my housemates’? What might I have learned from sharing time and space with her? What have I learned?

10/09/2017

Play Me

SCENE 1
SOUND: phone rings
HARRIET: Hey, Vin. Alright?
VIN: (D) No, sorry, need you to come through. Drew’s really upset. He’s locked himself in his office.
HARRIET: Upset? At what?
VIN: (D) No’ angry; he’s wailing, greeting even.

SCENE 2
SOUND: footsteps approach, taps on door
HARRIET: Drew? Can you let us in?
SOUND: door handle clunks, muffled groan, sob
HARRIET: My love, we’re really concerned. Please let us in. Drew?
VIN: Come on, man. Need to let us help.
SOUND: taps on door
HARRIET: Drew?
SOUND: footsteps recede
HARRIET: (whisper) At least he’s conscious.
VIN: (whisper) There’s no’ anything up wi’ you two, is there?
HARRIET: No? Totally fine till you called. Was he alright with you?
VIN: Aye, seen him first thing. He just didnae come through for lunch. Will we burst the door?
HARRIET: He might be right inside. OK, what I’m about to show you… Never mind. I trust you. We’re going back along, but totally silent, OK?

SCENE 3
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: Nicely done.
VIN: We’re in a storage cupboard.
HARRIET: Aye, I found this one time he had me wait in his office. I got bored, peered about, seen the wardrobe—why is there a wardrobe in that office? Turns out the back of it’s like Narnia except it’s just sort of joists and maintenance scaffold between the walls. Anyway, it comes out here. So, we walk along the planks and sneak into his wardrobe.
VIN: Do we need anything?
HARRIET: Torch. There.

SCENE 4
SOUND: breathing, click, rustle, swish, steps burst from wardrobe
DREW: No! Get out! (gasp)
VIN: It’s only us, man.
SOUND: shuffle, rustle of kneeling
HARRIET: My lovely man, what’s happened? Can you sit up? Look at me.
VIN: Did he collapse?
HARRIET: I don’t know yet. No smell on his breath, eyes are fine, pulse a bit rapid. Can you look about if anything’s out of place?
VIN: I don’t want to touch his stuff.
HARRIET: Don’t. Just scan. You’ll see something.
VIN: Why’s that flashing? Must’ve been unplugged. There’s a CD in, paused. Who has CDs still?
HARRIET: Maybe that’s why it was unplugged.
VIN: Will I unpause it?
DREW: No!
HARRIET: Drew, my love, can you tell me why? Just tell us, please?
DREW: No. (moan)
SOUND: caress
HARRIET: OK. Why plug it in..?
VIN: Guess we have to listen—
HARRIET: No! Wait. No, don’t touch it. Don’t touch the buttons, any CD cases, anything.
VIN: OK, what?
HARRIET: What do you do when some mailbox you don’t know emails you a file unexpectedly?
VIN: Bin it; virus.
HARRIET: What if it’s an audio file?
VIN: Probably a fake file extension; bin it.
HARRIET: What if it’s on a CD? Can’t infect the stereo, can you?
VIN: Shit! Sonovirus?
HARRIET: Don’t touch anything. Come away over here. We need serious polis. Nobody needs to listen to that. They need to Fourier analyse it or something off-line. No audio.
VIN: You think Drew here got like hypnotised?
HARRIET: I know: I have a rush of paranoia now. But we do it to ourselves plenty: atmospheric music, trance, using vocal tone, pitch, pace to match mood or subtly altering it to lead mood. No wonder we’re stressed-out insomniacs. Applied maliciously you could use sound as effects, tunes, speech to match subconscious thought, brainwaves even, then disrupt them. Not much of a leap to someone twisting it to an audio weapon.
VIN: He maybe thought it was a promo track?
HARRIET: Call the polis—ambulance first. Say he’s maybe been hypnotised into some sort of mental breakdown.
VIN: Psychotic?
SOUND: phone tapping
HARRIET: I don’t know the psychiatry, it’s mood-altering sound. I don’t think he’s scrambled, just maybe acutely depressed or paranoid from suggestion or non-verbal sound.

SCENE 5
VIN: On the way. Eight minutes. Can I touch the door?
HARRIET: Why?
VIN: Unlock it?
HARRIET: Aye, good point.
SOUND: bolt drawn
DREW: (gibbers)
VIN: You’re alright, man. Help on the way. Why Drew?
HARRIET: That’s not how terrorists work, is it? It’s random, innocent folk.
VIN: There’ll be more then? Shit. They won’t show their hand without an impact.
HARRIET: That’s my paranoia ramped right up. Maybe it’s just one random nutter. Oh, my poor boy.
VIN: How desperate do you need to be to go to these lengths to get attention?!
HARRIET: I’m not feeling sympathetic to anyone’s cause right now.
VIN: It’s just nasty stuff. Twisted sociopaths.
HARRIET: Want to head out to meet the medics?
VIN: Check they are who they say they are?
HARRIET: Cannae do this conspiracy shit. I just need to see my man safe.
VIN: Still trust me?
HARRIET: Have to trust someone. Have to trust each other? Otherwise they win.
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: My poor love. We’ll be alright.
DREW: (sigh)

03/09/2017

Barcode Not Recognised

My wife disappeared in an art gallery. I’m not a connoisseur. The exhibition was modern – post-talent I would say. It appeared minimalist of effort and mercenary of presentation. The images were monochrome, straight lines.

I wandered among them in bewilderment, wondering how long it would take a troupe of monkeys to produce the same with a graphics app and random key strokes. After twenty minutes I abandoned my search for any shred of interest or intrigue. I approached my wife who was standing, mesmerised before a giant barcode: black vertical lines on a white background, but perfected – entirely uniform with equal width bars and spacing. It was a grill lit by one ice white spotlight. We stood, side by side, for several minutes. Eventually she murmured that it was true, pure brilliance. Tactfully, I muttered something about it standing out but I didn’t recognise any feature of value. I couldn’t sustain a focus on it and my mind and eyes soon wandered. Consequently, when the incident occurred, I glimpsed it only peripherally.

Apparently without cue, from about five metres away, she walked straight at it, slowly, steadily, right up to it. She closed in and vanished.

At first I thought she’d wandered between the exhibit panels, but couldn’t find her. I didn’t think she could’ve left as there was a perky ticket checker beside the doors, and I had the tickets. I swept the place, then, just for my own sanity. I went out to check our car, despite knowing I had the keys. Eventually in escalating concern I sought help. The ticket checker assured me that no-one had left before my foray to the car park. We scanned the CCTV footage of the entrance and car park and indeed no-one had. We examined the internal camera footage and there, in poor quality monochrome—ironically suited to the art—we watched her approach the massive barcode and disappear.

I was surprised all over again. I had thought I must’ve been mistaken. She didn’t disappear front to back, like passing behind the edge of an opaque object; she didn’t fall; she wasn’t grabbed. She faded away, like someone had switched off a projection.

That was what spurred my thinking, in the following hours and days. After several nights of insomnia, my mind opened up creatively to the most bizarre and unlikely possibilities. I wondered at what point beforehand a change could’ve been made. When was the switch?

I found it: she’d gone to the toilet when we arrived, and I hadn’t seen her come out. She had appeared beside a piece or art, so I had joined her. She hadn’t spoken. I had nothing to say, bewildered as I was. But why? I invested weeks and months of painstaking forensic analysis into all the life evidence she left. She had carefully, gradually and systematically removed anything she valued, including her own money, and left all the dross as an unchanged façade.

The rest is cliché. Infidelity, attraction to a man with more money than a small country, but also a staggering creative talent, which combined to manifest even his most elaborate whims. A hologram. A simple message relayed from a tiny black speaker stuck on… you guessed it: the barcode. The toilet had a cleaner’s cupboard, which had been unlocked, and which had a service hatch, which was shared with the neighbouring shop, which had any number of patrons departing in obfuscatory groups or hats. Gone.

I have no idea why she left, or why she chose such a dramatic exit. The banality of the barcode could suggest that she rejected our life because it was too insipid and predictable, or not dull enough. She had changed into someone I didn’t recognise, and had deliberately hidden that change. I stopped analysing my own thought-echoes and got some sleep. The stages of change played through my emotions. I hope they’re happy living a perfectly straight path.

Now, when I spend time with someone, I pay attention.

27/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 3

begins at Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 1

As Fossoway Flora, the fragile frond, recovers equilibrium, Tantalum the nixie summarises their position in discussing pacifist extremism.
“Whether or not we can hear plants cry in pain, they react to harm. They experience something unpleasant. We shouldn’t need to hear a scream to tell us harm is not good.”

Tin is agitated. The nixie equivalent of a nerve has been nipped. He emits a rapid series of encyclopaedic squeaks.
“Plants are way more sensitive than to just pain. Pine and elm trees can identify which species of insect is chewing them from the insect’s saliva. They then release an appropriate deterrent chemical to the area under attack, or a specific airborne pheromone to attract the insect’s predators.* How clever is that? What else can we conclude but that plants have a sense of taste?”
Tantalum adds: “Just because we don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Tin squeaks on.
“The roots of tree and grain seedlings crackle at a frequency of 220Hz.”
Tungsten belligerently interrupts: “Could be just the sound of ’em growing or shifting about.”
Tin is delighted to respond.
“Indeed, or from their cell walls losing turgor with dehydration. However, the interesting observation is that seedling roots not only make a noise but they also respond to that frequency: they orient their tips in that direction.*”
Tungsten is still translating the technical terms. Tantalum is impressed. Tin squeaks on to a conclusion.
“Except cultivated plants: for example farmed grains are quite quiet*. Humans seem to have bred all the sense out of them, all their community communication and resilience.”
Flora feels faint.

Tungsten feels obliged to leaven the hysteria.
“So at some level they taste and hear. Next you’ll say they can see.”
Tin pipes back with a sneer.
“What is seeing but responding to light?”
Tungsten feels an invisible net is closing.
“And they do that?”
“Phototropism? And you may have heard of photosynthesis.”
“Ar, very clever.”

Tantalum detects Flora’s energy waning, despite the passionate debate, and attempts a summary.
“Usual human folly, then: just because you can doesn’t mean you should…in this case: impose yourselves on other lives.”
Tungsten wades back in with a late surge.
“Bacteria and other microbes are constantly being expunged from yer body, billions per second probably. Is that acceptable since your survival depends on it? Since you can’t see them? Is killing anything to survive acceptable?”
Flora’s twiggy mindlette explodes in a coruscation of anguish and anxiety. She becomes as limp as a twig can, probably in severe drought. Tin wavers nauseously. Sensitive souls.

Tantalum re-establishes pragmatism.
“Not every single seed gets to grow into an adult plant. There isn’t sufficient resource on the planet. ‘Nature is profligate,’ as Umbel says.”
Flora faintly tries to insert “although humans seems to have forgotten…” but Tungsten’s still surging.
“Yer right. Assuming the number of trees stays roughly the same, and, naturally, a tree lives for hundreds of years, and produces millions of seeds during that time, the chance of any one seed making it to reproductive adulthood is literally millions to one.”
Flora sighs in uneasy relief.

But Tungsten likes playing devil’s advocate.
“Of course that same profligate strategy only evolved because of the numerous hazards to be navigated. You can argue it any way you want.”
Flora sways. “Oh, please don’t.”
“I’m just saying, like, for humans, animal protein is easier to digest than plant protein. From that you could argue that human protein is the most easily digested so you should eat one another. Yer moral threshold is arbitrary.”

Flora is surprised to glimpse familiar territory – her starting point circles back toward her. At least they’re not hopelessly lost in a dark, thorny underbrush of debate. Not quite.

“Should we strive to evolve to a physiology where we can absorb all the basic nutrients we need from minerals—if we still consider those to be inanimate—and from them construct every chemical compound that we need?”
“Like us, ya mean?”
“Is that how you do it? Oh, brilliant!”
“Sun, sea, soil and, er, stratosphere?” Tantalum beams self-congratulation. Tungsten grimaces, the verbal initiative having been snatched while he was self-indulgently circumloquacialising around his argument. Best to plough on, push the rollercoaster right to its vertiginous finale.
“The fact that you have evolved to this point through the efforts of others is not in itself justification for continuing. Human evolution has not reached an endpoint. Yer not perfect; yer work in progress.”
Flora agrees with a faint flutter of leaf, despite a haze of impending doom.
“Our ‘success’ is predicated upon killing which is neither ideal nor sustainable. Certainly we have a way to go yet. Why not aspire to exist by absorbing pure energy?”

Tin has a final word.
“When universal aliens make themselves known on earth, will humans respond by assuming their usual superiority complex, regardless of the dazzling astrophysical evidence to the contrary?”
Flora despairs of her native species.
“I’m not so sure I want to be human again.”
“With all your trans-species experience?”
Tungsten can’t resist one last barb.
“Crying out for a superiority complex!”
“Not helpful, Tungsten. I was thinking you’d be uniquely placed to spread a little much needed empathy.”
Flora sighs.
“It’s academic anyway. Can’t even get back to the tree until Umbel resurfaces.”
Tantalum exclaims: “Why did you not say that was what you were after?”
Tungsten’s contributions remain brusque.
“Piece o’ piss.”
Tantalum continues solicitously.
“How close do you need to be to re-thingummy with the full tree?”
“Oh, you see, I think I’ve had enough of the tree, for now at least. I was hoping to extricate myself and resume human status.”
“Sure?”
“Is that an option?”
“As you may have noticed, we’re kinda in the business of evolutionary progression.”
Tin pipes up “You could be like us: Pacifist Extremists!”

As Flora digests this too perfect offer, a trumpet of a fart rips through the bunker.
Tantalum quips: “Action stations, chaps.”

Tin skitters along the bench to the wall. Between two wooden struts, he presses his tiny hand into a crack. There follows a thrilling clattering and clunking of cogs and cranks. An irregular door springs open revealing… nothing: a dark hole lined with vertical wood grain that fades to black as it recedes. Flora is fearfully fascinated by this hellish enslavement of her tree ancestors.

“What’s in there?”
Tantalum beams.
“The wood between walls.”
“Is that some dreadful parody of Narnia?”
“You’d rather ‘stick’ it out here in the trench with Mister Mustard Gas?”
A disappearing Tungsten adds: “who, by the way, can’t transmogrify a ginger biscuit without total digestive collapse.”

Tin and Tantalum don’t wait for the warm, toxic gust that inevitably follows the fanfare. They pitch Flora through the hatch by—or possibly to—her sticky end.

A few minutes later, as the fug clears, a heaving and a creaking brings forth Umbel.
“What-ho, chaps. A little inner work clearly required there. Fascinating.”
Here ‘inner work’ means a restorative doze; however, clothing remains decorated by crumbs and cocoa, and hair has been restyled by screwing against a heat-retentive pillow.
“Ah. Popped out for a spot of fresh air, I see.”

THE END

*Tree sense facts from Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate.

20/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 2

follows Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists part 1

“One for all, all for one!” This squeaky trio preludes three tiny leaps from the tin on to the bench, accompanied by aggressive shaking of tiny fists. Fossoway Flora, or twig thereof, is baffled.
“How can you win if it’s four-all?” Another bafflement arises. “What are you?”
“Nixies. What are you?”
“Oh, yes, I forgot; Fossoway Flora – got myself involved with a dear old beech tree. Lightning strike type thing.”
“Pretty small tree.”
“Ahaha. I’m travelling light. Flying, baggage allowance – you know.” Flora’s stoicism wavers.
“Not even slightly. Anyway, I’m Tantalum, and this is Tungsten and Tin.”

Flora acknowledges graciously, as best she can by a slight bend of stalk, and raises an invisible eyebrow to Umbel’s careless approximations. A staggering insight smacks her.
“You were in a tin!”
Tantalum sighs.
“Misappropriation of proprietary label. It’s actually an alloy.”
Flora catches Tin smirking.

Tungsten moves the discussion on before it becomes irretrievably bogged down in wordplay.
“What’s yer conflict?”
“Where to draw the line.”
“Always tricky. ‘specially when yer basically a line yerself.”

Tungsten performs a triumphant miniature jig at this wit. He aborts this on realising that he too has succumbed to wordwankery. Flora decides not to engage in an escalating series of barbs until she has ascertained if these ‘conflict demonerals’ can help her. But please let’s move on.

“That’s quite good. Well done.” Flora commences formal proceedings. “My question is: how do you eat without killing? How do you live without killing?”

Tin develops a beatific grin but remains silent. Tantalum raises his arm to claim an imaginary conversational baton.
“Ideologically?”
“Yes, I suppose. Is it possible? What is… Beyond Veganism? I mean, vegetarianism is not killing animals; veganism is not using—some would say abusing—animals at all; but each threshold is arbitrary. What’s the ultimate level? – total harmlessness.”
Tungsten beckons to Tin.
“Yer up, Tincyclopedia.”
Tin frowns but recites with ease and squeaks.

“Ahimsa, you mentioned?”
Flora casts her mind back to that pearl cast before Umbel cast his crumbs. Not really surprising that the wee nixies overheard that conversation, as they sat poised in their resona-tin. She twitches a leaf encouragingly. Tin resumes.
“Then it’s fruitarianism for you. Fruit, nuts, seeds, any reproductive part—zygote—that the plant produces and detaches for dispersal in order to propagate itself. Fruit in particular evolved to be attractive to animals as food for the very purpose of entering a trading partnership: the animal gets sustenance, the plant gets propagated with a handy dollop of fertiliser.”
“Oh, good. Can you live on those?”
Tantalum is horrified.
“We’re mineral sprites!”
“Oh, gosh, no, sorry. I mean: can I?”
Tungsten can’t help himself.
“Yer a tree.”
“Damn it.”

“Stop provoking the lass, Tungsten. Flossie, we’ll come back to transmogrification, so don’t fret. Follow the line!”
Flora appreciates Tantalum’s benevolence and pragmatism – sentiments always lacking from interactions with Umbel. Incidentally, that would-be puppeteer of this unlikely conversation remains off-screen, in a post-prandial stupor, emitting nonsensical murmurs. Flora succumbs to a rush of questions.

“How far can you take harvesting? Is it permissible to take some of a plant’s tubers if the plant can survive? That’s still a harm. I’ve felt it! Sodding Tiahmin, snapping my bits off. Is it acceptable if the plant is an annual and would die anyway after producing its offspring? Provided you leave some—how much? And isn’t that just sustainable horticulture?—for the next year? If you let a plant go to seed and collect that seed, is it then acceptable to eat its root, stem, leaves, or any or all of the rest of the plant? Are leaves permissible? A plant will likely survive the loss of a few leaves, but, again, that’s still harm – there’s still an injury and a detriment to potential…” Flora’s twiggy stomata gulp fishlike.

Tungsten peers at the gasping twig.
“Is it oxygen yer needing, or carbon dioxide? Nitrogen?”
Tin, more pragmatically, thrusts a rubber tube at her. He notes her increased alarm.
“Not from the swamp! Piped by fungal mycelia from—”
Flora clamps a vesicle around the tube and draws in fungal gas. More pleasant than it sounds. If yer a tree.

To be continued…

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