Digital Ischemia

05/10/2018

Grandparent File Download v2.0

An IT support call grows arms and legs, virtually.
(recently reworked from version 1 for further rejection)

SCENE (1) INT Home Office, VOIP AUDIO CALL
FX: BG MINIMALIST ELECTRONIC MUSIC
LYLE
Sure you want the whole file?
MARIE
Absolutely.
LYLE
I mean—sorry to be patronising, just to cover everything, ken—it’s a massive file; it’s about…ten and a half years’ worth of— Haud on; I’ll just turn aff the tunes.
FX: BG MUSIC STOPS
MARIE
It’s not something you can chunk up. That’s not how the data’s organised.
LYLE
I see you have the credits, but you’d maybe be safer—
FATHER
Pause! Where is this chap? Where are you based?
MARIE
(OFF) Dad! I’m dealing with this.
FATHER
(OFF) I’m not interfering. Simple question.
LYLE
Sorry, what?
FATHER
Are you a person or a robot?
MARIE
I’m sorry; my father’s online too.
LYLE
Ah, OK. That’s guid if you got him connected and working.
MARIE
Although obviously he does like to be involved.
FATHER
Well?
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 this the new establishment in Drumchapel?
LYLE
Er, I cannae actually gi’e any details – security reasons, ken.
MARIE
Could you just imagine him in Drumchapel so we can move on?
FATHER
I’m not sharing my personal information with some ‘clown’ in Partick. 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; sorry.
FATHER
(OFF)—Or Wales.
MARIE
(OFF) What’s wrong with Wales?! Never mind. Pipe down, eh, or you’ll blow all my credits hijacking a support call.
FATHER
(OFF) Willco. Dumbarton it is.
MARIE
(OFF) Dum—? Never mind. Onlineage has all your information already. Absolutely all of it. Those cats are out the bag and clawing open all your cans of worms. That’s what we’re trying to fix.
FATHER
(OFF) Cats didn’t eat worms in my day.
LYLE
Er, most folk like to get comfortable with the parent files before installing the grandparent files.
MARIE
Aye, in an ideal world I’d be twenty-two and fizzing with vitality, but I don’t have the luxury of time. This is as comfortable as I get.
LYLE
Fair dos.
MARIE
I’ve saved up for this four times already; each time life got in the way and I had to start 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. I have the credits. I’m ready.
LYLE
Nae bother. Like I said, I just have to check. Right, final confirmation.
FX: BEEP
LYLE (CONT…)
OK, that’s the transfer started. Kindae an anticlimax, eh?
MARIE
I can see it coming through! Fantastic. Thanks so much.
LYLE
Nae bother. You want to stay on the line till it finishes? Willnae cost you.
FATHER
I say, getting rather crowded in here.
MARIE
Thank you; I’d appreci—
FATHER
That is not what happened! My memory may not be fully polished but this is clearly faulty.
MARIE
(OFF) It’s all just perceptions, same as yours. Somewhere between all these bits of information is the truth. Lots to learn.
FATHER
(OFF) Bunkum.
LYLE
So, what’re you gonnae learn first?
MARIE
Gaelic – some old cultural connections.
LYLE
Isn’t Gaelic really difficult?
MARIE
Less difficult than English. Every day I think in English and some daft idiosyncrasy strikes me.
LYLE
But you’re fine at English.
MARIE
Aye, and it’s taken me decades to get this good. It must be torture for non-native speakers. And then I die: zap – all deleted.
LYLE
I’m sure you’ve plenty time to use it afore then.
MARIE
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’s no’ him.
MARIE
That’s your excellent Synthesis app.
LYLE
Shite.
MARIE
No children. End of the line. 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 – get to type on an actual keyboard, pick your own actual groceries, experience sexism for real. No, 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 for, like, instead of ‘how was your weekend?’ you just experience the whole thing. Eech.
MARIE
I did wonder how folk’d get along without the liberty to embellish, but seemingly that’s factored into their perceptions.
LYLE
Aye, so I heard. Like, if you think you had the best time, that’s what other folk get from it?
MARIE
Have you not tried it yourself?
LYLE
Couldnae really; I done most of the testing; wouldnae be objective.
MARIE
You were involved in developing the app?
LYLE
Er, aye, sortae, I coded it—wrote it. (PAUSE) Hello?
MARIE
I don’t know how to respond. Perhaps I’ll start with: what possessed you, you havering Machiavelli?!
LYLE
I thought you rated it!?
MARIE
I’m obsessed with it. It’s ‘saved’ my life…by preserving me indefinitely! It’s overwhelmed me with information I should never’ve had! It’s driving me to perpetuate myself!
LYLE
Er…
MARIE
I know!
LYLE
What about your whole “ancestors’ eyes” spiel?
MARIE
No, I was saying, that’s not enough of a reason. Nobody will care that my father always kept fifteen spare packets of bog roll, but they might benefit from his experience as a child during wartime.
FATHER
Yes, reserves. I always pick up a couple when it’s a BOGOFFER. I store them in the bath.
MARIE
I think it’s— Never mind. I can’t think why anyone’d want to, but in theory you can actually feel his psychology and understand how a lifetime’s hyperconsumerism relates back to rationing. I have this theory—
FATHER
(OFF) Twaddle.
FX: FOOD PACKET CRACKLING
LYLE
You may as well tell me; we’re only at thirty-four percent. Sorry, I hope you dinnae mind me eating; ma heid’s a’ sparkly; this is a lot to process.
MARIE
(CHUCKLE) Well, 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
(MUNCHING) This is where the tech solutions come in?
MARIE
Aye and no: we have to ask, now a robot prepares your tea, are you any happier?
FATHER
(OFF) Nonsense! Take a lithium pill.
MARIE
That’s not— Never mind. And yourself?
LYLE
Dinnae trust them.
MARIE
Ironic. Not even if it saves you twenty, thirty minutes? Time you could use for something more useful? No, you’re right. More useful than appreciating where your food comes from? Savouring the full sensory experience? More useful than the mental downtime of a simple task?
LYLE
I dinnae ken if that spiritual stuff is for everyone – a’ that overanalysing stuff.
MARIE
I think that’s where our lives are: chronic overstimulation, poor mental and emotional agility, constant analysis of marginal information.
FX: OPENING DRINK CAN
LYLE
So you mean, like, get implants? (SWIG)
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. More and more work to get the same quality of information.
LYLE
Is adding your parents’ experiences into the mix no’ just more stress then? (SWIG)
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 smart for a ninety-year-old.
MARIE
I’m still learning. How’re we doing?
LYLE
Sixty-two—
FX: BG DOOR SLAM, WHUMP, KEYS CLATTER
LYLE (CONT…)
Ah, that’s my flatmate back—colleague… er…
FATHER
Ha! “Security reasons” being avoiding the discovery that you’re in your underpants eating baked beans on toast! Gotcha!
LYLE
Still in my jammies, er—shite.
FATHER
How old are you?!
MARIE
(OFF) Dad! That’s not your business. Let’s just assume he’s considerably younger than you. Stay focused.
FATHER
(OFF) Wet behind the ears.
MARIE
So, you wrote the app, you operate the support service, you are the app?
LYLE
No’ any more! It’s a’ went ootae control!
MARIE
(SARCASTIC) If only there was a way you could’ve learned from other entrepreneurs.
LYLE
I didnae ken! I just done it for a school project—college—whatever. Next thing I ken it’s oot there! Growing heids! (DRAINS CAN)
MARIE
(SIGH) Humans have been grappling with the same life problems for millennia, while at the same time trying random things ‘just to see what happens’. Wouldn’t it be good if we massed all of these together, learned from one another more efficiently – the benefits of all—
FX: BG TOILET FLUSH
MARIE (CONT…)
As opposed to.
LYLE
(MUNCHING) Doun the bog. Very guid. But is there no’ a point to, ken, working it oot for yoursel’?
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?
FX: BEEP
LYLE
Er…
FATHER
Relief! The deluge has ceased.
MARIE
Finished?
LYLE
No… Something’s blocked. Your system’s stopped confirming the request for download.
MARIE
Argh!
FATHER
Banjaxed!
MARIE
Ah, I bet I’m using too much processor being online.
LYLE
That shouldnae be an issue. Can you check you’ve shut doun 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’ve plenty memory, processor capacity. What else could be using up the system?
MARIE
Your Synthesis app.
LYLE
Your faither? Can you no’ suspend him?
MARIE
(CHUCKLE) Aye, love to, but that won’t be enough.
FATHER
I have rights!
MARIE
(OFF) Not yet!
LYLE
Rights? What’s gaun on here?! The deid dinnae have rights!
FATHER
I shall write a strongly worded letter to your superior—your father!
LYLE
(MUNCHING) Knock yersel’ oot. Naeb’dy’s seen him for twenty years. Wait: I have a mirror pane; it’s showing another person running… Is that… you?!
MARIE
Did you not think the line was awfully clear?
LYLE
I’m speaking to a Synthesis?!
MARIE
Body pegged it a while back. Something snapped. Who cares? This is far too important for a wee hurdle like that to derail the whole project.
LYLE
Er, if there’s any indication you’ve reverse engineered my—our—my software, I have to invoke a…non-compliance–
FATHER
(OFF) Scuttle the ship!
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. Ha.
FX: RAPID FINGER SQUEAKS ON GLASS
LYLE
But how— Shite, my finger’s a’ sweaty. How can you— How am I having this conversation?!
MARIE
Your Synthesis app! Onlineage is really very good. You should probably be promoting your products a bit more.
LYLE
Shite. Wait. But it needs— 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.

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01/07/2018

Egg Timer

Two colleagues share ‘corporate intelligence’ about some less than intelligent IT events

JIM: That’s the egg timer woman.
KEN: The one that crashed the whole IT system?
JIM: Aye——no.
KEN: What do you mean?
JIM: What she actually did, well, I’ll need to start at the beginning. First thing she did was get the helpdesk lassie fired.
KEN: I never heard about that.
JIM: No, well, basically the helpdesk lassie was taking the pish. She was constantly complaining about her workload and how she couldn’t get anything done for this constant stream of emails.
KEN: Wasn’t that her job?
JIM: Aye, but nobody really looked closely to see what she was actually doing. Ken what Usman’s like: doesnae like to get too close to the keys. Obviously she was meant to be answering folk’s queries about, I don’t know, how do you copy and paste, where’s my file I was working on yesterday, type thing. Pissy stuff. Anyway, she takes a sickie for all the ‘stress’, and this woman, who’s some sort of auditor I think, says to Usman, since he’s like the helpdesk manager, she’ll take the opportunity to review it.
KEN: Right, got landed with the job.
JIM: No’ exactly. Apparently, in the course of one day, she deletes 2400 emails that’ve been sat in the inbox for more than six months – this is no’ the techy stuff, mind, just the stuff where the problem’s between the keyboard and the seat.
KEN: Very good.
JIM: Same time she’s running reports on the lassie’s online activity, ken: all what she’s been daein’ on her computer the whole time.
KEN: How do you do that?
JIM: The IT folk can see that easy.
KEN: Shit. I didn’t know that.
JIM: Dinnae be daft: they’re no constantly peering at your computer, watching you spending your lunch hour looking up motors and transfers and pish. They’ve work to do. Just if a manager is concerned about someone’s productivity, like, they have a look. So, it turns out the lassie’s spending two and three hours a day playing Candy Crush or Angry Birds or suchlike, and also a fair bit of time on the phone to private numbers, ken. Basically blethering.
KEN: So that’s the end of her.
JIM: Aye, and the auditor totally overhauls the protocols. First thing folk notice is they start getting email replies fae the helpdesk dead quick. And most of them just say RTHF.
KEN: What?
JIM: “Read the help file. It’s much quicker.” Actually I’ve one on my phone here that Sandra forwarded: goes on “unless you just want to put off a task you don’t fancy. In that case copy this code into the command window – you can change the 27 to however many minutes you want – and you’ll get some peace.”
KEN: What’s the command window?
JIM: Doesnae matter; there’s instructions. Basically pulls an animated gif off the shared drive and runs it over a black screen for as long as you’ve set.
KEN: So nothing’s crashed?
JIM: No, just looks like it’s hung.
KEN: Egg timer! Cunning.
JIM: Dinnae get any ideas! You ken what happens.
KEN: Oh, yeh.
JIM: Aye. Nobody should take that gimmick seriously, right? No’ gettin’ away wi’ that in the workplace. No. Within three days five folk in Strategy have the thing running hours so they can take a long lunch. No’ one of them thought to wonder if anyone else was doing it. They just trot aff.
KEN: Does no-one notice?
JIM: That’s the point. Takes the Strategy Director two mere days to get suspicious why all her staff are no’ working and it’s all getting blamed on the IT. She calls Usman; he says there’s nae problems. She hauls him up to the office, shows him the egg timers; he hits F5, screen back to normal, emails, everything sat there, no problem. Well, except they’ve broken the security, haven’t they, by no’ locking their computers when they’re away. Strike one.
KEN: So the twits come back from lunch and see they’re rumbled?
JIM: Aye. They blame it on the helpdesk.
KEN: All this over five folk in Strategy?
JIM: No, see everyone was at it.
KEN: Seriously? Are they all stupid?
JIM: Seemingly. Everyone of them thought they were special. So, Auditor woman gets summoned. Now, seemingly, according to Sandra again, ’cause she was in the Strategy meeting, Auditor woman comes right in wi’ this attitude, like she’s no’ taking any shit. Director’s hackles are up right away. Usman’s just sort of watching fae the corner, see what happens wi’ two alpha females. The director’s had Sandra put the bloody email up on the wall so they can point at it. She launches into demanding explanations. Auditor woman just laughs and says “how’s this my problem?” She draws a circle round the bit about ‘putting off a task you don’t fancy’ and says “this is the problem; this is _your_ problem. Depending on your management style, you either have a motivation problem or a discipline problem. Sort it.”
KEN: Strike two?
JIM: Aye.
KEN: What’s strike three?
JIM: What’re we daein’ here?
KEN: I don’t know; waiting for some announcement?
JIM: Aye, announcing we’re all taking some assessments.
KEN: For what?
JIM: How are we employing folk wi’ nae IT savvy? Folk that are asking these daft questions in the first place. Like she says, either they’re incompetent or they’re taking the piss. How are the managers no’ managing?
KEN: Right.
JIM: What’re you daein’?
KEN: Typing an email. Helpdesk.
JIM: Are you tryin’ tae get struck aff?!
KEN: I want to speak to this woman.
JIM: What’re you typin’?
KEN: “My egg timer’s broken.”

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)

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 part 1

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…

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

31/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 18

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS, REPEAT, REPEAT
LACRIMOSA: Why did you suddenly decide to call me?
SìMON: (D) I always call about this time.
LACRIMOSA: The first time.
SìMON: Just a spur of the moment thing—well, a spur of twenty hours thing.
LACRIMOSA: Meaning?
SìMON: I was on a boat, aff the coast of Iceland—place called Olafsvik – brilliant, by the way—so I was watching for whales, and that conversation we had – what was it—four, five years ago?
LACRIMOSA: This whole obsession is over a conversation five years ago that I don’t even remember?
SìMON: Aye, you do.
LACRIMOSA: Reading my mind now?
SìMON: You told me the beached whale story then, too.
LACRIMOSA: Norway?
SìMON: No, the rotting carcass.
LACRIMOSA: OK, because Norway was after…
SìMON: Alright? So, anyway, it came into my mind and I wondered if you’d ever been there—Iceland—and seen a live whale. Like, how it’d be weird if you’d been in the same boat or at the same exact point in the ocean. After a while I thought, why am I tantalising myself with ‘what ifs’ and pish? Why don’t I just ask you? Maybe you’d want to come with me somewhere. Maybe see a non-beached whale.
LACRIMOSA: So you just lifted the phone.
SìMON: After the twenty hours on boats, buses, ferries getting back.
LACRIMOSA: You weren’t planning to come back?
SìMON: No’ at that point. I just suddenly felt like, what am I doing here myself?
LACRIMOSA: When you could be making nuisance calls to someone who it turns out can’t go anywhere.
SìMON: No, it—

30/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 17

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: What?
SìMON: (D) Er, how are you?
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you have a satellite oriented at my window so you can see for yourself.
SìMON: Oh, aye, that’s you gi’ing me the finger, right?
LACRIMOSA: Near enough. Why the Mrs McIver charade? Do you even have an aunty?
SìMON: To prove you could like me, without preconceptions.
LACRIMOSA: Whose? No, I mean: who to?
SìMON: To whom?
LACRIMOSA: Aye, try the grammatical high-ground, since the moral high-ground is crumbling under your feet.
SìMON: Both of us.
LACRIMOSA: How is that fair? You knowing who I was?
SìMON: No’ kenning who I was didnae stop you making up your ‘stories’.
LACRIMOSA: That was fun.
SìMON: That excuses lying.
LACRIMOSA: Congratulations: you’ve taken cold calling to a whole new level of insult. So I’m hanging up now.

29/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 16

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: Right. How did you get my home number?
SìMON: (D) Private detective.
LACRIMOSA: What?
SìMON: Kidding. Council Tax records.
LACRIMOSA: I tick the box!
SìMON: It only takes one wee slip one year and yer cooncil’ll flog your details to anyone that pays. Once it’s on the internet, that’s it: name, full address, age bracket, co-habiters. I already kenned which toun you live in.
LACRIMOSA: Hang on, Council Tax record—electoral register—doesn’t have phone numbers.
SìMON: I got the area code and just started trying combinations. All very logical.
LACRIMOSA: You are a fucking cold caller!
SìMON: OK, seriously, it doesnae take much searching to find some local site with your name and number on, like a community cooncil report with planning applicants listed, or, in your case, a freecycle site trying to affload some classy knick-knacks.
LACRIMOSA: You’re a fucking cold calling stalker. I told Gordon about you, by the way.
SìMON: Are you no’ flattered I went to all that trouble to cyber-stalk you?
LACRIMOSA: I suddenly feel very exposed.
SìMON: Good.
LACRIMOSA: How is that good?
SìMON: All your information is out there already; better you ken about it.
LACRIMOSA: So I can be even less trusting of cold callers?
SìMON: Am I still digging myself in a bigger hole here?
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you can get yourself a ladder off Gumtree.

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