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.

Advertisements

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.

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…

13/08/2017

Fossoway Flora and the Pacifist Extremists

Fossoway Flora quickly became tired of life at tree pace—or, more tactfully, she’d learned what she needed and it was time to move on. Prince Tiahmin was adorable, but also became tiresome every time his baddies threatometer lurched and he reached for a stick. Repeatedly she had to remind him that sticks had an original purpose before they became handy weapons. He was leaving her disfigured.

Such irritations all come to the same thing: Flora has learned the various ways we live and let live or let die. That old tree is a canny beech. The way it manipulates everything that enters its space, deciding who to encourage, who to repel. She feels the urge to visit Uncle Umbel. This could be problematic, given that her genome has merged with Fagus sylvaticus fossowaii, and currently exists in a firmly rooted way. However, she reasons, every cell carries the complete genome and her uncle is an open-minded sort.

Uncle Umbel has an allotment that appears to have been trampled by a navigationally-challenged herd of migrating aurochs, pulverised by glacial moraine, and finally kept at perfect conditions for putrefaction by the lukewarm outflow from a more-alcohol-less-taste whisky distiller. An extremely quaggy mire.

“Umbel? Umbel? I’m quite bored and if you don’t show yourself I’ll plant something with flowers on!” …calls a thrawn twig, swirling across the mire.

A three foot diameter octagon of mud opens via eight triangular petals, carefully draining slime outward, and reveals a spartan subterranean bunker. The clipped voice of one who aspires to have served in the RAF c.1940 dots and dashes forth.

“Wotcha. Get a move on, girl. Hatches to rebatten T minus three!”

The twig daintily pivots into position to surf a gust-stream and thereby dives between the gnashing metal petals.

“Cocoa?”
“Er, not really practical, thanks.”
“No. Hah! You’d get sticky! Hah! Sticky!”

Fortunately, a twig is also excused from having to disguise disrespectful facial expressions. Flora grabs for the conversational initiative to avert any further grocerial puns.

“Ahimsa, Umbel.”
“Gesundheit!”
“What is your understanding of it?”
“Your what-what?”
“Sanskrit: harmlessness. As in: toward self and other living beings.”

Flora gulps in horror at the contagious nature of the abbreviated style. She reassures herself that she is merely applying ‘mirroring’; a clever technique of neuro-linguistic programming. And she’s doing it unconsciously so she must be good. Still, she hopes producing puns won’t be necessary.

Umbel blinks repeatedly as distant, neglected circuitry is recommissioned. His amphibiously protruding eyes swivel and his ears twitch back an inch, stretching his forehead. On grocerial subjects you can get an interaction in real time, but anything even vaguely philosophical requires Umbel to shut down and dedicate all cognitive resources to the matter. His head lolls, lip slackens and cocoa teeters precariously on his chest.

Flora patiently scrutinises the bunker’s interior: piles and piles of dust-besmothered…shapes. She really can’t identify any of it, apart from the odd protrusion of wire or single sheet of paper, revealed only by apparent overwhelm, tilt and subsequent dustalanche.

A fragile connection sparks. Umbel’s cocoa hand twitches. Cocoa inevitably splashes on his shirt. Umbel powers back up.

“Ah. Just logged off pro tem, chaps. Buggeration.”

He blots himself with a towel placed at the ready for such regular eventualities, thereby scattering a portion of crumbs he carefully collected earlier.

“Clean on today, of course. Irretrievable. I shall have to disrobe forthwith.”
Umbel chuckles and lurches into unsteady motion. Flora’s patience was never good during pantomime. “Ahimsa?”
“No. Not a flicker.”
“Nothing?”
“Refer to the Conflict Chaps.”
“Who are..?”
“Thomson, Tim, and… and… Tarantula. You get the idea. Cheerio, folks.”

Flora is nowhere close to getting it, and rather thankful for the implied shreds of sanity. There are some peripheral gene puddles she’s keen not to paddle in. With Umbel retiring for a post-cogitatory nap—’cocoa’ is merely a vehicle for a substantial sugar and cream component—Flora is unattended in the elves’ factory. The fact of being trapped holds little concern as yet. Her leaf stalk flits investigatively along the bench, enticed by a curiously shuddering tin. A little probing releases a lid to reveal three blinking figures, of similar stature to herself in her current twig incarnation.

To be continued…

06/08/2017

My Neighbour’s Baby

The parents’ squabbling catches my attention. My quiet Sunday breakfast with a wildlife magazine shattered. Peer Gynt capers on in the Hall of the Mountain King. The squabblers slam from room to room, swatting and shrieking at each other. I lean to the window and pull back the gauze curtain, searching for explanation. One of their children sits on my front grass. Just sits, not playing, not eating, not moving, not seemingly hurt, but I don’t read children well. The parents barrel on. Another figure slinks by – another neighbour, inspecting the unattended child. My gut flips – some pre-verbal fear. In a reflex I knock the window. The neighbour starts and glances at me. I wave. Frustratingly her momentum carries her out of my sight. The parents separate, hurling only intermittent complaints. The child remains immobile.

I unlock the front door to look closer. Mostly I want to help, but I need more information: what happened? I seem to be too late. The neighbour is out of sight. The child sits on the grass, freckled and bewildered. I don’t want to approach in case this aggravates the situation. I don’t want to interfere. Or should I move her to a safer position? What would be safer? In my house is far too ambiguous. I have no relationship with this child. Her parents seem to be calming. I return indoors and glance out the window. The child still hasn’t moved. I can’t settle back to breakfast; I wander ineffectually about the front rooms, reviewing the incident, assessing my choices. I keep glancing out the window.

Suddenly the parents launch a fresh bout of shouting. I check the window: the child is gone – in a matter of seconds between my glances. I can’t see anybody, any movement. I open the front door and see the parents hopping and shrieking along the pavement. I can’t read their distress. Still no sign of the child. My eyes flit to another movement. Beneath the bordering hedge I see my neighbour’s legs saunter up the path and out of sight. The parents are hysterical. Why didn’t they do something for their child before? Why didn’t I? I peer again between the trunks of the hedge. I look very carefully to catch a glimpse as my neighbour’s path curves back into view. In a moment I see what I’m looking for: the shape of the child, carried away.

There was a moment when I could have acted. I chose not to. To let others’ choices play out. I may have delayed things by rapping the window, but that’s as likely to have increased the suffering as not. If I had the chance again, I’d lift that baby and bring it indoors. I’d suffer the guilt of upsetting the parents. My experiences lead me to believe that my neighbour simply wanted to play with the child. A distorted behaviour that has its roots in natural instinct but has become torture. I have some responsibility for that. I could do better.

If it had been my neighbour the sparrowhawk who found the young blackbird, I would be more comfortable with that. A reasonably quick death for food. A domestic cat I’m much less comfortable with. It doesn’t feel natural to me. Still, I have too little information. I had a moment and I only half-intervened. Bless her.

01/08/2017

Cold Call: Day 19

The last in a series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1

SOUND: PHONE RINGS, REPEAT, REPEAT
LACRIMOSA: You know I know how to escalate nuisance calls.
SìMON: (D) I wasnae a nuisance till you found out I wasnae a total stranger. That’s no’ even rational.
LACRIMOSA: You were a nuisance, even when you were funny.
SìMON: The end justifies the means. Just like it did for you.
LACRIMOSA: You kept calling me! I was lying in self-defence!
SìMON: You could’ve hung up. You did, even.
LACRIMOSA: And yet here we still are! You’ve created this whole idea of me in your head that’s not real!
SìMON: Aye, no’ like you’ve any experience of making up fantasies.
LACRIMOSA: Why did you call me?
SìMON: It really was because of the whale thing.
LACRIMOSA: No, I mean why did you call me after I left Dalry’s? – if you weren’t after a job.
SìMON: (PAUSE) I like speaking to you. You speak about interesting stuff, no’ boring shit like soap operas and celebrity gossip. You’re funny. Why did you no’ call me?
LACRIMOSA: You scared me. I don’t know why. Probably my subconscious alarms bells going off: here’s a guy that thinks you’re someone else!
SìMON: You cannae imagine someone just liking speaking to you? OK, listen: I’m sorry for the way the conversation went yesterday – and this conversation seems to be going.
LACRIMOSA: It’s not your fault I’m like this: shit-abled.
SìMON: What I was gonnae say was: it turns out it doesnae matter.
LACRIMOSA: It really does.
SìMON: No’ to me.
LACRIMOSA: You have no id—
SOUND: DOORBELL
LACRIMOSA (CONT’D): How can there be someone at the door?! I used to live a peaceful life then I started getting these nuisance calls.
SìMON: And those were just the ones fae me.
LACRIMOSA: They were all from—
SOUND: DOORBELL
SìMON: You should answer it. Could be important.
LACRIMOSA: No, it won’t be; it’ll be some chancer with a flat-bed wanting to mess up my path or mutilate my trees or ruin the roof or something.
SìMON: Could be Gordon, checking on you.
LACRIMOSA: He just walks in.
SìMON: Still, you should maybe just check.
LACRIMOSA: OK, but it might take me a while.
SìMON: I’ll wait.
LACRIMOSA: No, hang up! I don’t care. I want my life back.
SOUND: DOOR OPENS
LACRIMOSA: (OFF) But you’re on the phone!
SìMON: (OFF) I ken you willnae have much experience of these devices, since you’re no’ ‘mobile’, but—
LACRIMOSA: (OFF) Are those your aunty’s dead daffodils?

ENDS

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.