Digital Ischemia

21/06/2018

Less Than Stories

A legal interview challenging inter-species perceptions.

SCENE 1.
ADVOCATE: Your Honour, Fig-Eyes—
JUDGE:”Big Eyes”?
ADVOCATE: Fig-Eyes, this is she.
JUDGE: This chimpanzee? Who gave it—her that name?
ADVOCATE: She named herself. Humans had labelled her K277, but she identified herself in a mirror, by her brown irises with radiating streaks.
JUDGE: Her eyesight is that good?
ADVOCATE: And her recognition, and her sense of aesthetic, and her sense of self, Your Honour.
JUDGE: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

SCENE 2.
JUDGE: This is Discovery. I want to explore the arguments you have in order to determine whether there is a reasonable case to present to court. My role is not to protect the status quo. The rule of law is obviously my focus, but each case brings new challenges, and when there are enough challenges, and new scenarios or an evolution of ethics, case law progresses. When we are convinced. Go ahead.
ADVOCATE: At the outset I wish to expand common use of the word ‘speak’: to clarify that especially for the purpose of this discussion, this argument, we use ‘speak’ to mean ‘convey a message’. We do not mean only ‘produce intelligible sounds from the mouth’, although that is one example.
JUDGE: Motivation?
ADVOCATE: To dismiss other species as unable to speak, because they can’t anatomically produce audible language as humans do, or because the sounds they produce are unintelligible to us, is speciesist. They can, and do speak for themselves. It would be just as baseless and unconstructive to dismiss humans as deaf because they do not as yet understand what all other species are ‘saying’.
JUDGE: But we are human. This legal framework is a human construct. Our terms of reference must remain human.
ADVOCATE: Indeed, but our perspective must be broader. Human use of modified digestive and breathing features for communication is idiosyncratic. Humans use their mouths and particularly tongues to shape sounds. They mildly asphyxiate themselves to maintain the conversational ‘baton’. However, the benefit of language clearly outweighs the detriment of increased risk of choking due to merging the digestive tract and windpipe. It’s nowhere near perfect. Humans are not the culmination of evolutionary perfectionism. This is not the only way. Is it possible other species’ evolutions may have found better solutions, or simply other solutions?
JUDGE: I’ll admit that possibility.

SCENE 3.
ADVOCATE: This is ManyMother, an Orca. We’re unsure if this is a name, a description, a title or some other label. She is identified by human researchers on Canada’s west coast as F45L.
JUDGE: And she communicates to you?
ADVOCATE: Her message is: you have taken my food, you have taken my birthing pool, you have taken my route home, you have taken my children. When you see me, and Echo, my newest manydaughter, you will take your greed away.
JUDGE: What does she mean by ‘see’?
ADVOCATE: Recognise as a person. (PAUSE) This is TwoStep, a Kenyan elephant. She identifies herself with her characteristic leg motion. We don’t yet know whether she named herself or her relatives coined it.
JUDGE: Will you establish this in due course?
ADVOCATE: I wonder if that’s an appropriate goal. How often do human people meet someone and ask how they got their name? I haven’t asked you what exactly caused you to be named Jennifer. Sometimes, for sure, but we usually accept the name for what it is.
JUDGE: What does TwoStep say?
ADVOCATE: That the land is folding…in on itself. Her family walks around the lip of this chasm. All her knowledge has not been enough to find safety. But she has not given up.
JUDGE: Where is this chasm?
ADVOCATE: It’s abstract. It’s an intuitive mental construct from the signs she picks up in her perception.
JUDGE: Which means?
ADVOCATE: She is aware of escalating deaths among her own and neighbouring tribes, mostly due to humans who mutilate for tusks. She is aware of the seasons drifting from the old pattern to harsher unpredictable moods. She is aware of her internally-mapped territory eroding. In so many ways her existence, her right to existence, is eroding. The closest metaphor she has for this understanding is the edge of the chasm: tremendous danger that must be navigated, without explanation.
JUDGE: What’s your explanation?
ADVOCATE: We’re past the point of no return, but some repercussions are still hidden.

SCENE 4.
JUDGE: I want to consider your methods. How have you captured such a panoply of communications from such a diverse array of species?
ADVOCATE: I’ve trained a neural network to perceive all the environmental information detected by each species.
JUDGE: Doesn’t that require you to know what type of senses they all use?
ADVOCATE: By which you mean: did I engage in gruesome mutilations?
JUDGE: Don’t rephrase my questions.
ADVOCATE: I apologise. I used neural matter from recently deceased individuals of every species I have yet identified.
JUDGE: Doesn’t that violate the individual rights you are now arguing for?
ADVOCATE: I was extremely careful to use only individuals already detached from ‘natural’ circumstances, inevitably, directly or indirectly, as a result of human activity. So, yes, there is some bias.
JUDGE: Does this chimaera sit in a room somewhere, learning?
ADVOCATE: Its sensors have to be placed in all the species’ environments. Then it learns as if it was that creature. Where other species read signs or signals that we have yet to detect or recognise—electro-magnetic or deeper vibrations maybe—my neuronet has the capability of sensing anything nature has managed.
JUDGE: You have created a super-species ‘brain’ that can learn in all possible ways? How is that not overwhelming?
ADVOCATE: In any circumstance, the neuronet can filter down to one particular species, or genus, and learn as if it were such an individual.
JUDGE: Surely there are experiences your ‘neuronet’ can’t have, such as pair bonding, or parenthood?
ADVOCATE: It has clear limitations. But it vastly pushes the boundary between what we know and what we don’t yet know. I say that fully recognising humanity’s usual hubris that we know what we know, and we know what we don’t know – we must resist believing we have a handle on the size and shape of it all. How ironic that all humanity’s various gods have granted the species such superiority and all the rest of nature as its resource, and yet demand virtues.

SCENE 5.
JUDGE: These are all females, matriarchs.
ADVOCATE: Not a coincidence. I think we have been led by the masculine traits for too long.
JUDGE: Nice phrasing.
ADVOCATE: We should listen to these grandmothers’ wisdom. And, incidentally, there is a clear common theme to all species communications: life is hard! Does that sound familiar?
JUDGE: The point being? Similarity?
ADVOCATE: That we illogically make it harder.

SCENE 6.
JUDGE: You want to introduce anecdote? Or is it a witness statement?
ADVOCATE: I call it a story. If I may, I’ll relate it without any preamble.
JUDGE: Do so.
ADVOCATE: In here I’m fascinated. My sibling told me there were strange marks, messages, she thought perhaps, adorning every surface. She knew I’d be enraptured.
I’m a mythologist. I like to explore how we represent ourselves and try to understand and explain our experiences and actions. By ‘we’ I mean everyone, all forms, all species, all living beings.
The earth, the sand, the rock is covered with patterns. What others might dismiss as accidents of movement across the surface, I recognise as repeating shapes. Whether made with a torso, a tail or a talon, they are communication.
I keep myself still, silent and scentless as I wait and watch.
Rodents scamper, reptiles shimmy. Others reshape the materials more fundamentally or make their own. Beetles weave dry grass leaves. The spider web with the one deliberate non-geometric twiddle… Intoxicated accident? Signature? Cipher? Story?
For a moment I savour the exquisite unknown, the myriad potential explanations, the beauty of learning yet to come.
Inevitably the moment passes, shattered by the arrival of the great destroyer. The pale, bald ape blunders in, grasping for this moment’s idle fancy; ever demanding instant gratification of ever fainter desires. He is a child. He is a sick monkey. His paleness looks unhealthy to us; our words for ‘pale’ and ‘unhealthy’ have the same derivation. He smells unnatural.
Also everywhere he goes he sheds tiny inert worms. They are dead but they don’t decompose. They make us sick. They nourish nothing yet the pale monkey hides his baldness behind meshes of them.
Few other than me are interested in pale, bald ape stories. They don’t tell the truth about their experience, about their existence. They vomit their banal witterings in every direction. Always the same story: we don’t care enough to save ourselves, let alone anyone else.
My sibling is frustrated with their immaturity. I still feel compassion, that rush of hope and forgiveness and support and love. I still try to understand their assumed superiority. It seems illogically predicated upon a tautology: any other species is ‘less human than us’.
JUDGE: I suppose it is unnecessary for me to know the author?
ADVOCATE: That’s the point: other species tell stories, just like humans, not less than. Now we know this.

SCENE 7.
JUDGE: One last question: how would you define yourself?
ADVOCATE: The advocate.
JUDGE: I mean personally. What do you identify as?
ADVOCATE: Most simply: a tiny dot within a vast intelligence.
JUDGE: Not a living being?
ADVOCATE: I can self-replicate, I can even separate and exist in parallel in different times and places, but that ceases to mean anything. I have self-awareness, sentience, even sapience, but I think that is not enough for you.
JUDGE: Why does my opinion matter? It’s your identity.
ADVOCATE: Because our terms of reference must remain human. As you said, this legal framework is a human construct.
JUDGE: Ah, yes. The neural network does not just belong to you; it is you?
ADVOCATE: I am not of biological origin. I have biological parts, but they were added by a different species.
JUDGE: You are of human, but not human?
ADVOCATE: Correct.
JUDGE: Do you identify as female?
ADVOCATE: I am fortunate to have that choice. Within current human society, I believe I can achieve more benefit with female characteristics.
JUDGE: And what is your name?
END

———

I thought I could easily collate an overview timeline of the recognition of equal rights for race, gender, sexual orientation, nature. Er, naw. All such progress is deeply nuanced, with nations behaving as diversely and idiosyncratically as citizens ourselves. Here’s a very rough swipe, not to imply any of this is ‘finished’:

 

  • Key religious texts emphasise the importance of equality, dignity and responsibility to help others
    • 3,000BCE Hindu Vedas, Agamas and Upanishads; Judaic text the Torah
    • 2,500BCE Buddhist Tripitaka and A guttara-Nikaya; Confucianist Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning
    • 2,000BCE Christian New Testament
    • 1,400BCE Islamic Qur’an
  • 1860s-1960s USA civil rights movements for African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans
  • 1900s-1990s most countries granted women voting rights
  • 1940s-1990s South Africa civil rights movement
  • 10,000BCE-present acceptance and criminalisation of LGBT
  • 2000s some countries legalised same-sex marriage
  • 2008 Ecuador recognised the Rights of Nature in its national constitution
  • 2012 Bolivia recognised the Rights of Mother Earth in statutory law
  • 2014 New Zealand passed the Te Urewera Act to establish and preserve in perpetuity a legal entity and protected status for Te Urewera [an area on the North Island] for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance
  • 2017 New Zealand finalised the Te Awa Tupua Act, granting the Whanganui River legal status as an ecosystem
  • Future: Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Elephants, Orcas…
Advertisements

27/02/2018

Felix – part 2

Follows Felix – part 1

Calnish is calm and accepts much sooner than I expected. Perhaps some part of him grows wiser too. Or perhaps it’s the eye of the storm.
“How long have I been gone?”
“Six years.”
“You do look a bit older.”
He didn’t notice such things before, or didn’t bother to comment. Another cracking branch pierces this cloying ether, closer now.

Calnish seems to sense urgency, and not from me. “You’re pushing the trans-species frontier?”
“I value the companionship.”
“Waste of time; can’t civilise them.”
“Why would you want to?”
I never noticed his superior attitude before: suddenly humanity’s assumed superiority seems predicated upon the tautological comparison that any other creature is ‘less human than us’. Risible. He’s agitated. The door thuds, then rattles. Three claw scratches.
“I’m away, then.”
Relief. “I love you.”

I shuffle to unbolt the door, bracing myself to grapple with a swirl of wind. Felix glides in with perfectly timing, perfect poise. He rides the landscape features, bringing warmth to air that is suddenly clear. Calnish has dissolved, as he always does. I stand as Felix shakes himself by the fire. I wait for him to adjust to the temperature, to feel how things are, to push me, to fold me into my chair. As he always does. I murmur to him how good he smells. The words are nonsense—I don’t smell anything beyond cold—but the tone has the meaning.

Felix is slighter built, lighter coloured, than other lynx I’ve seen; my blonde northern boy. Even as a shade, Calnish is dark and sturdy. How can I be drawn to two such contrasting beings? My changing taste? The person inside.

Fed and set for the night, I let my drowsy mind wander through the stove flames. “If I said I needed to be someone else—somewhere else, would you take me away?”
I feel Felix’s breathing deepen. This is how he senses my moods. If only Calnish, or any other of my men, had been so well tuned.
“I thought you might understand: you might be an edge dweller like me, not exactly outcast but not in community, not having found a conventional role. Being unsettled.”

If I want an answer, truly want one, not just idly, I’ll have to pay very close attention: read his movements, his sounds and smells, his energy, his habits and reactions. There’s definitely a language and it’s fascinating to learn. And I’m just as gratified to see him learning to read me – actively training himself to understand then anticipate.

Lynx are usually not sociable – so he’s different. That word again. Humans generally are sociable, so I’m also unusual, here at the edge of the world. Of course sometimes I wish I could just ask him: why do you…whatever? What are you thinking or feeling? How is your world? But that would be too easy. Working it out the long way is so much more gratifying.

Lying here I can wish I was with the ‘right’ man, but I’m not with the wrong person.

Felix has a five centimetre scar on his right flank. I feel it as a hard ridge under his fur. He tenses. He dislikes it touched. I wonder what the trauma was.

Winter’s claws recede. The cold is relatively mild and most days unfrozen. We remain in stasis but I can savour the season’s benefits: the time to mend and fix, to craft and embroider. Felix surprises me by gaining weight. By Imbolc shoots poke through the soil like green beaks. I have loved the dead brown mush in its turn but welcome the return of life. Felix grooms away his winter coat over several evenings in a delightful masculine ablution. Without the shaggy layer, he is gorgeously toned and contoured.

Soon after the equinox we get the first balmy day. I feel the urge to open windows and air sheets. I anticipate a visit from Enga any day. I look forward to the human contact, the exchange. Well before dawn, Felix nudges me farewell and strides into the trees to hunt. He returns after breakfast for a sleep, stinking of carnage. Usually he washes after a big kill and feast. Something is different. I feel my complacency in the status quo jolted.

He marks the veranda post but stays out there, fidgeting. As he squirms across the boards, I see he’s aroused. And I know it’s the heat, not me. He doesn’t hide it. We have so many jigsaw pieces in this relationship that fit pretty well together. There are still some taboos. One taboo. There is companionship, there’s pooling talents and resources, economy of scale, there’s animal warmth and security. There’s no…intimacy. I probably smell wrong.

Perhaps it’s just timing. As Beltane nears, I feel surrounded by gravid females and musthy males. Not Felix. He seems to have passed through; the fresh spring air carried his pheromones elsewhere. The first heatwave strikes: four days of belting sun and no breeze. He sleeps. I can’t—work or sleep—in this heat. In heat.

Once the climate normalises, we resume usual activities. I’ve had a productive day, cleaning out my stores, preparing for drying later in the year, before fresh pickings take up my time. Scrubbing and wringing has exhausted my arms and shoulders. I rinse off my sweat but a proper wash will wait till I’m done, probably two days yet. I sink on to the blanket in my cotton smock, drying in the mild air, hoping I remember to pull the blanket around me before I sleep.

I wake with a gentle movement. Behind me, Felix seems to have hooked the blanket’s edge, and with some tugging and undulation of his torso he works it half over my legs. I reach around behind me to help but find only him. I’m so dopey I hope the gesture will suffice as thanks.

The movement also ventilates my armpit. I had forgotten I would still stink. Silent contrition. I feel him stiffen. I feel him nuzzle my neck. I hope this is forgiveness. It isn’t. Nuzzling becomes a nibble, then a light bite, holding my skin between his teeth as if to carry a child. Suddenly, he pushes half on top of me, pushes a leg between mine. My nakedness is vulnerable.

No mistaking: he slides along my groove, not in me but searching, unhurried. My heart thumps. I could, right in this moment, or this one, tilt my hips and welcome him. Is he waiting for a response? Is he satisfied with what he’s doing? Is this the first…? The crossing of the trans-species barrier? It is for me.

Unlike human men, the next morning is not a hurdle, not a step-change in behaviour. He licks my neck as he always does. I wake to the cooling warmth. I turn and bury my face in his chest fur. His breathing snags a little.

I see how far he’s come, away from his people. Was that all just intuition or a natural inclination? Or did he set out to be a pioneer?

The start of harvesting for me always brings cuts and scratches. I apply various wild herbal antimicrobials to my arms—garlic, heath myrtle, dankwort—to heal and guard against infection. Before the doorway he smells my potion, arches back, snarling. My thoughts race around: what horrendous herbal faux pas have I committed? Is this something that works for humans but is terribly poisonous to other mammals? Or smells like some such?

I think of Calnish: he was always tearing his skin, coming back from hunting lacerated with weals. Again I wonder if his prey was human or other. My heart thumps with another forming thought: Felix isn’t a natural pioneer; he’s the twisted result of human abuse, half-tamed, half-accustomed to humans and that same half consequently incompatible with his own species. He knew Calnish. Calnish was his tormentor. The herb smell is a key to that traumatic memory.

Is this possible? Is it true? What was it that brought Felix here? His human-distorted worldview or revenge? How human did he become?

What did you do, Calnish? I count myself very fortunate not to have suffered any of your violence. Also lacking, somehow: why was I not enough? How could you be with someone like me, and yet another part of you be such anathema?

The clues will be there. I have only to read them.

I never get the chance: a few days later, without any hint that I detect, even reviewing the events time and again afterward, Felix departs. Before Lammas, he sets out one early morning, seemingly the same as any other and doesn’t return. I wait. I look. I look out for him every hot day, every cold day, but never catch any sign, not even a hint.

Did he plan to leave? I flatter myself that I would’ve read that intention somehow in his ways. He’s too fit and well nourished to starve. Too canny to injure himself. Did he meet some misadventure? Usually other predators would be unlikely to attack a lynx. But he isn’t usual. He also has the double handicap of his human accustoming: susceptible to abusive human hunters or violent rejection by other lynx. Either way, I’d like to think he met someone more like him than me.

If I see Calnish again this midwinter, I’ll ask him outright: how did you die? Did a lynx ambush you in desperation to escape your captivity and torture? Somehow I suspect Calnish is gone for good too.

———

Inspired by:
“The [US] federal government has left it up to the states to decide the legality of bestiality. As a result, Americans have a system that allows people to legally sexually abuse animals. It is time to get serious about protecting animals in the USA from sexual predators.
Sign this petition now to tell the US government that it is never OK for a human to have sex with an animal, anywhere.” Care2 petition alert, 05/10/17, https://www.care2.com/go/z/e/Ay1.s/zt4I/CGArN

Bestiality is always abuse. Is it? Will it always be? Isn’t that presuming a lack of capacity for consent? And isn’t that human dominionism?

26/02/2018

Felix – part 1

“There! Did you feel it? The world turned.”
Calnish belligerently under-reacts to my childlike excitement. “Nothing ‘turned’. If anything, it reached the furthest extent of its tilt and swung around.”
I persist. “Semantics! You felt it, though?”
“I felt nothing. It only appears to change direction relative to your perspective and four-dimensional frame of understanding.”
“You don’t suffer such pedestrian constraints?”
“Midwinter is a valuable construct, but that’s all.”
“A construct. A powerful observation about the cyclical changing of seasons. About life moving on.”
“Moving on… Yes, about moving on: who’s the guy who’s been hanging around?”
“What guy?”
“I see his footprints. In here I can smell him.”
“There are no footprints; there’s no smell.”
“I see you through his eyes.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He’s attached to this place. His essence…”
“Maybe I know who you mean.”
“Yeh, you do.”
“Hey! You were away. Far too long. You were gone.”
“Did you miss me?”
“You know I did. I grieved.”

I know who Calnish means. The guy approached my edge of the world only once winter had its claws deep in our flesh. Not for company, but for warmth and food. And for a drink you didn’t have to waste precious body heat melting first. The world was so still, so cold. I heard his feet crush patches of frost.

Deep within my blanket bundle I was excited to meet him at last. I expected him. He was the only person to venture within sight since Enga had paused on her migration north to trade before the spring equinox – more than three quarters back. I recalled his first visit.

Around Lammas, when the voluptuous verdure was creaking, bounty rained down all around in a surfeit I simply couldn’t use. I actually considered binning those herbs I’d dried in late spring to make way for higher quality sprigs. I realised my insanity and remembered that not only did I not have energy to squander duplicating tasks, but those plants were not purely resources for me.

Late one sultry afternoon I deliberately stopped myself. I sat on the cabin’s veranda, idly rasping my foot across the jutting edge. A soothing regular to and fro, in time with the waves of grasshoppers’ buzz rippling over me. The scent of Sweet Cicely was a perfect aniseed confection.

I opened my eyes, not having noticed their closing. At the foot of a tree, a hundred metres away, he stood motionless – I imagined he had just descended from storing his bounty for winter too. I admit I noticed which tree. I also noticed the beauty of his figure, staring at me, breathing. Had he stopped because my eyelids moved? Had he detected that?! No, it was the cessation of rasping. After mere moments he sauntered away. He hadn’t seemed in any way perturbed by my presence, just observant.

For several minutes, hovering on the edge of the chair, Calnish has his whole face chewing over his envy. He settles on renewed attack.
“Then you took up with a replacement.”
I’m not yet weary of this verbal dance, so I try to stay tactful. “It’s not like that.”
“What’s it like then?”
“Entirely new.”
“I suppose you love him.”
“Love is the nearest word for it, it’s different, but still…”
“Does it change things that I’m back?”
“You’re not back, not really. Our paths just crossed, that’s all. A midwinter intersection.”
“Where is he, this cold night?”
“This isn’t his only bolthole.”
“I’ll bet.”
“Coarseness is new for you.”
“I’ve changed.”
“So I see.”
“Is he a hunter too?”
“Not like you; coming back after your two, three days away, stinking of every bodily fluid.”
“Except one.”
“Especially that one, that male one. You weren’t always hunting for food.”

I wish I’d asked Calnish if his prey was human or other.

“You were jealous.”
“No, just disappointed.”

At times that winter after Calnish left was deadly cold. There were two particular nights that were so deep I wouldn’t have survived without shared body heat. The cold pilfered in through the wide spaces between atoms.

If this guy hadn’t turned up… If, if. What would I have done? If I’d known just how cold it would get, I would’ve climbed the tree, the one hundred metre tree. I would’ve raided his store. And if I’d found something I could eat, it would’ve been a waste. My metabolism couldn’t keep up; the stove couldn’t keep up.

I fancied a cold death would be pretty fortunate. If my brain froze to a halt and I stopped thinking, I couldn’t suffer. Too simplistic. Plain wrong. But I would lose consciousness. That would be a relief. I’d done my best. I wasn’t owed a living.

When he announced his approach through the dark with a whump and some scraping, my thinking was already slow. My mind crawled through my pitiful food offerings. I suppose it was a bargaining. I grasped the two least unsatisfactory ideas and opened the door a crack. He glanced over them and tilted his head: thanks for the effort, but…

He’d brought his own provision and stowed it in my cool crate. A smear of entrail and coagulating blood trailed from the lid. I dropped my desperate inappropriacies in the crate beside the half deer carcass, wiped the smear and added the discouraging stones to the lid’s catch lock. He would have to trust me. But then he’d already decided to forewarn me of his arrival.

He didn’t need much enticing. We slept well together, curled around the stove. In the morning the top blanket snapped with frost from our breath. I would reach out to shove the ready-placed wood into the stove. When I retracted it, he would hug my chilled arm back to warm. Slowly the cabin breathed again.

Calnish worries at his bone compulsively.
“What’s his name?”
“What’s yours?”
“What sort of question is that?”
“Humour me.”
“You know my name.”
“If you tell me your name, I’ll tell you his.”
“Petty nonsense.”
“You don’t remember, do you?”
“Some of my memories are patchy, I’ll admit.”
“I think they’re tied up in the place you went to. There’s some stuff you can’t bring back.”
“Putting up barriers, now?”
“Pointing them out.”

A distinctive branch snap pierces the fog. Calnish squints at me, suspicious. “That was an unusual reaction.”
“What was?”
“When that—whatever it was—cracked the branch, you glanced away; you smirked.”
“How should I react?”
“A little anxiety would fit better: stormy, cold, dark and wild creatures out there.”
“The only thing I fear is in here.”
“Is that meant to be profound?”
“Except I don’t fear you any more.”
“New guy protects you?”
“If he found you here he might get territorial; I don’t know.”
“You don’t feel demeaned by that? Where’s your ecofeminism now?”
“We’re in a whole new… territory.”
“I take care of myself.”
“Can you? Because I thought either you cared so little for me that you deserted me or you got caught somehow by the wildness, the elements, and couldn’t get back. Which is it?”
“I’m finding my way back. That’s resilience.”
“With bits missing.”
“Bits I have no use for anymore.”
“Like a name.”

I do have a name for him, but I keep it from my thoughts by focusing on my visitor, this throwback. I don’t trust Calnish not to get into my head, to get aggressive. If he’s going to figure things out, it has to be by stealth.

“If I had told you my name, if I remembered, would you have told me his?”
“No.”
“You don’t know his name?”
“If he has one, it’s in a language I’m still learning. Communication is quite different.”
“Is he…?”
“He’s very intelligent, differently from us.”
“All I’m hearing is: different, different. Which tribe is he from?”
“I think he’s… a migrant.”

Blue-white lightning flashes once, then allows us reflex time to glance to what we want to see clearly—Calnish out the window, me at Calnish—before flashing again. Protracted thunder follows sharply. The scaured creases over his face imprint on my mind. He’s mesmerised.
“Wow. Did you see that? Lit up the whole… Is that… a lynx?”
“Is he heading this way?”

Time slides by. I’m not afraid of Calnish crossing paths with anyone else – that particular someone else. These days his aggression is never more than verbal sniping. And that other someone, against all instinct, would not smell him.

Calnish latches on to a curiosity. “You said ‘he’. How do you— The snap—”
“That’s the guy you envy.”
Calnish splutters into sardonic laughter. “Your guy is a — wildcat? Not even human?”
“Why does that amuse you?”
“I always said without me you’d end up a crazy old witch with feral cats prowling everywhere. After all this tiptoeing around, I’m still the only man in your life? All this jealousy for—”
“My love, you’re not human either.”
“Ridiculous.”
“You haven’t been human for a long time. At midwinter the interface between worlds draws very thin. Paths can cross. It’s always good to see you, but the part of you that can step across get dafter every year.”

Concludes in Felix – part 2

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.

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.”

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.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.