Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Mad Scientist has a new work that has merit. it is a return to the "Jesus in Hays, KS" storyline. It has merit.
The first - way too rough - draft is done. The story is reasonably tight and is the first work of any "literary merit" that has come out of the pen for a while. By that, we mean it is the first work in a while that has any potential of appearing in commercial literature mags.
So, we have a bit we like and we're polishing. Of course, the first transcription pre-edit will appear here.
We're off to get the "1st 150" in line so the pit bulls of critique will not rip it to shreds.
I think this is ready for the light of day be weekend.
Nothing like a Jesus in Hays story to make it work.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I can feel this one.
Now, I swear I'm not going to let it go all balls up into the shit can.
1) Kay though 12 is book for adults in commercial literature with a protagonist who happens to be a freshman girl.
2) The protagonist is not a conformal or expected characterization of a freshman girl ...rather she is a satirical realist who has the observation powers of a fully formed and mature mind but whose temporal age is that of a freshman.
3) The conflicts need to reflect mature themes ...why read a story about a kid and homework. Let's read a story not about fantastical evil mad scientists doing brain experiments ...but truly unpleasant and non-comical evil mad scientists doing scary brain experiments ....
4) The universe I create is a character in the story. Sure. But the character roster needs to work. Make a model ...build on it.
5) First person omniscient works as long as the reader can perceive in this story the two characters of Kay ... the Kay whose voice and speech is the freshman girl because ... she is physically expected to be a freshman girl AND the omniscient depiction of Kay in the first person narrative who is darker, more mature, and perhaps a touch sad.
What is the language ... does it reflect the mood, does it drive the plot, does provide and illustration in the nature of conflict ...
We're not writing about egg timers ...we're controlling brains and ripping psyche's apart ... sometimes, there is no happy ending. Kill a couple well loved characters ..paint it black. Let Kay emerge to the reader as grounded in chaos and at home among the murderers and despots of the world.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Kay Through 12. Chapter One.
I was doing just fine working on my trigonometry homework and minding my business. Jenny Miller was next to me and she was working out the probabilistic distribution of planetary masses in a randomly generated solar system. I had already decided not to take any science electives before meeting Jenny.
“Kaitlyn – Kaitlyn Angel. Can I see you, please?” The deep voice echoed across the tables.
He was tall and red bearded and clad in tweed. Dr. Xavier Sidon was the school shrink and he wanted to see me. After class. During detention. Nothing good was going to come from this.
Trouble called me Kaitlyn. Everyone else called me Kay.
In the pit of my stomach I knew that my plan of just blending in and going along in school was going to be a problem. Ms. Sutley’s English Composition class was just the beginning.
I gathered my textbook, papers, and my sketchbook and walked to the door. Every eye in the place burned into my back. My new notoriety needed limits.
Harold Edgerton High – the borough of
The Edgerton images lined the dining hall. Not all the accomplishments Henry inspired were above board with this crowd of misfits. I’d already learned that the unofficial school mascot was inspired by the paparazzi strobe. “Fred the Flasher” was as rude an interpretation of technology as was possible. The administration hated his mention but there he was there all the same. No basketball game was complete without a sighting.
Mom told me about “streaking” on the college campus in Grandma’s day. I guessed Fred was the more vulgar stepchild of that motivation. HEH was a different place in other ways as well.
Most high schools had a cafeteria. HEH had an oak-paneled dining hall and it was my after-school home for two hours each of my last fifteen school days. Ms. Sutley called it “study focus seminar” on the disciplinary recommendation to the vice-principal. Her first assignment to me was an autobiographical essay. Her response to the creative satire of a realist was less than enthusiastic.
There was an upside to detention. Trouble was a powerful equalizer. As the “new girl” freshman starting term two weeks late, the instant acceptance from being on Ms. Sutley’s list of underachieving students was the best I could hope for. It was a gold pass of acceptability. The dining hall at lunch was welcoming after her intervention.
I read the horridly self-promoting fiction that was Ben Franklin’s _Autobiography_ as part of Ms. Sutley’s assignment. My essay in response was constructed as a literal geographic description of my daily trip uptown. The topic was assigned as “How I Came To Be Here.” I thought my approach and observations clever.
Ms. Sutley did not believe my descriptive narrative. It was her first term teaching at HEH and I don’t think the purpose behind the security clearance necessary for her job ever registered.
Maybe starting the location of the essay at the minus twenty-second floor of 34th and
Some families of students at HEH were pop-star famous or third-world dictator rich or diplomatically infamous. My family was scary smart. Well, except for me.
We moved to town so we could all be together and so my little brother could complete his doctorate in physics at
My mother had a medical degree, a doctorate in aerospace engineering, and a doctorate in neurology. She was properly a rocket brain surgeon.
Oh , and she was just naturally doorman-stunningly beautiful in a city of glamour. A cab driver ran into the back of a delivery truck the first week we were here. He was staring at mom in the rear-view mirror as I sat beside her in the back seat. A load of ice and a tuna carcass slid right onto the hood. The whole cab instantly smelled of fish. I wanted to be cold, headless, and gutted right then, too.
My father held another half-a-dozen degrees and worked for agency-without-a-name. He spent most of his time on bio-mechanical engineering and the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee. Moving to
My special ability in this family of chronic over-achievers lay in my super identity : Invisible Girl. I didn’t need a secret identity to hide behind. With a family like mine, I was pretty much Invisible Girl full time. Except for the holiday picture we sent friends, I barely existed.
I tried to make light of it. My mother seldom understood. When I asked for a postal uniform for my birthday to use as my super hero costume she just blinked at me across the dinner table as the robotic bowl of mashed potatoes marched about in circles.
She had no idea what it was to be normal in a family with the genius gene. I took piano for years to play Billy Joel songs. She played Rachmaninov at five.
The woman had a brain the size of a Volkswagen and woke up every morning in
Luckily, Atlas - the dog - was mine. That saved the rugs. He was a former research subject of my father’s. I adopted him. “Dog that saved the world” I called him. At least in
How was Ms. Sutley going to believe the truth about my family ? Or my dog ? I loved my parents and my brother with the passion only approximated by pack of tail wagging
I invented a story that we were from
Of course, that was before Dr. Sidon took an interest in me.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
He discovered his vision is degrading. Sad.
The more meaningful revelation is that it is degrading from 20/10 to 20/15 and there's really no reason to correct it. The mad scientists still sees in age better than most individuals with corrected vision ever have.
It's the discomfort with the loss of exceptional vision and its transition to merely outstanding vision that has prompted a concern.
The mad scientists feels like an idiot. He just needs to get used to not seeing as well as he did 20 years ago. Moron.
Back to the work. Jesus needs to come to terms with Hays, Kansas. Mad Scientist needs to come to terms with the pyhsical consequences of aging that have not hinderance effect whatsoever.
We're not needing the thousand yard stare much anymore. It just scares the locals.
Maybe Jesus should scare the locals, too.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I can't say the end product will be as satisfying for the reader as it is to the writer ; but, the story feels damn good to write. It has substance and merit and allegory and illusion and all those things in school we learned constituted meaningful literary fiction.
I have no aspirations to literary fiction. I'm not Ernie. I'm not _Islands in the Stream_ good let alone _For Whom the Bell Tolls_ good. This story however feels damn good.
It feels like reading "A Clean Well Lighted Place" for the first time. The story feels right. Now if I can get my head out of my ass and continue to execute.
Monday, October 29, 2007
It has literary merit.
Christ comes back to Kansas. He just doesn't know he is Christ. Water and wine have been done. However, when the Christ himself is without faith and tries to conceals his gifts - the results unfold with a surprising clarity of action. It isn't the idealized holiday splendor that is the Christ. It is the mystery business...
If you discovered you too were a divine offspring of the Almighty in Hays, Kansas - you'd have issues too. Especially when you recall the story about your older brother, Jesus. That worked out so well - didn't it ?
The Vampires did it to me. The tragedy of the undead is being ...undying. The tragedy of being the Christ is being the lamb of God.
Mint sauce, anyone ?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Adenovirus 21 Infection in an Isolated Antarctic Station: Transmission of the Virus and Susceptibility of the Population
1Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Wisconsin Medical School Madison, WI
5United States Naval Support Force Antarctica Port Hueneme, CA
7Ames Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Center Moffett Field, CA
Reprint requests to Dr. Peter A. Shult, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, University of Wisconsin, 465 Henry Mall, Madison, WI 53706Natural dissemination of viral respiratory illness to susceptible men may occur with surprising difficulty. This was especially evident during a 1977 outbreak of adenovirus type 21 (Ad-21) at McMurdo Station, a US research base in Antarctica. The unique circumstances at McMurdo allowed 125 men from the US to join and intermingle with 75 men who had wintered for 6 months in complete isolation. For an additional 5-week (September 2 to October 4, 1977) isolation penod, respiratory illness etiology and transmission were monitored in the combined population. A total of 89% of the population was susceptible (neutralizing antibody titer, <1:3)> Illness spread very slowly (1.5 cases/100 persons/week) with no epidemic peak and was much less severe than Ad-21 outbreaks in other settings. The incidence of infection (17.3%) and illness (9.6%) was low even in men who had wintered over, with values very similar to those of the newcomers (13.9% and 8.9%, respectively). Thus, despite a harsh environment and frequent prolonged gatherings of susceptible personnel, even a respiratory virus type with known epidemic potential was surprisingly difficult to transmit.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
So I have a fantastic idea for a character and a setting and a rudimentary plot.
I can't get the first 300 words to work worth a damn. I'd really like to master a decent hook.
I've managed to write for years without actually mastering the craft. Turning towards more commercial works from bits I've composed for myself is a bit harder than I would have thought. My editing is however improving. It now is at the same level as that held by a drunken squirrel.
Off for the next fifty openings.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
It occurs to me that I like elements of character which represent the nobler ends of our conflicts. The "rise above to do what mortals cannot" perspective has enlightened my thoughts since a youthful encounter with _The Odyssey_ . Homer had the vision.
I enjoy Ender from Card's _Ender's Game_.
I enjoy Magnus from the series below. I also enjoy Felix - the anti-hero of _Armor_ by John Steakley. To me, these characters along with Smiley of le Carre's _Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy_ , are the balance of insanity versus the reality of their surroundings.
I am going to try and summon this character outlook for my protagonist in "Kai through 12." I rather like that idea.
Oh - and buy the book:
- "You are
- What you do
- When it counts"
- - Armor
Friday, October 12, 2007
I've always regretted the lack of a category for "Mad Science."
The self-heating waffle was such a lovely device. It would have made a delightful citation in the award letter.
Off the perform biomedical research on Beagles. Tonight : the strange attractive power of peanut butter on diminutive quadrupeds.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
1) Present tense is distracting and doesn't contribute.
2) Tighten tighten tighten. Chop the opening and move the "something wrong with brother" bit along faster.
3) "personal life bleed over" statement . Ditch.
4) Remove 2/3 of the speech attributions. Look at best selling pulp - they use virtually none and the readers can figure it out ...
5) Tighten tighten tighten.
So , we're at work now on a slightly different diversion. It came to us on the spur disturbing the process of "legions in space."
The work will be patterned after my daughters. They have complained about the "mad scientist for a father" routine and the "cyborg beagle" we have as a pet. What can I say? I needed a subject for the bio-mechanical interface trial and the beagle was available. The daughters weren't home.
So, a story about what it is to be a freshmen with .... a mad scientist in the family. (That's mad scientist ...not evil overlord tyrant. Those are folks who fund our work on occasion.)
Saturday, October 6, 2007
It isn’t that I don’t care. I’m just late, again.
I run outside the diner for a minute. Jeanine, my best friend, is leaving me for her sixth grade class. I see Roger – and he’s one of mine.
“Roger?” I call. He stops. He’s pushing a kid’s bike with a wicker laundry basket tied to the frame. He’s clean shaven but his hair has a wild and wooly look to it. Salty gray and wiry, it pokes out from under his John Deere ball cap.
“Roger? I haven’t seen you all last week. Are you O.K.?” I ask.
“I’m fine Nichelle,” he says not quite looking at me. “I’m fine.”
“Now – have you eaten today?” I ask.
“Eggy and bacon at the Lutheran’s today. It’s Wednesday.” He says.
I reach out and hold his left wrist. His hands remain firmly on the bike’s handlebars. I circle his wrist gently in both my hands.
“You’re going to come by the center today – right? I want to see you at the center today.“ I say.
He seems right enough. It takes more than a chance meeting on the street to know.
“O.K. Nichelle. I like your coffee. You have cream.”
“I have cream. That’s right, Roger. Now I’m going to see you – right?” I squeeze a little.
“O.K.” he hesitates. “This afternoon?”
“Yes – this afternoon, the drop-in center. It’s on Elm.”
I’m a little loud. Roger doesn’t hear too well. He doesn’t see too well. He has glasses but he doesn’t wear them. Vanity, he admits.
I let go and Roger pushes the bike to the stoplight on the corner.
I go back inside after watching him long enough to make the other customers uneasy. People don’t stand and stare on the street much in
I’m just back in my seat and a short man in a dark jacket slides into the booth behind Jeanine’s half-eaten French toast.
“Excuse me?“ I say. “Do I know you?”
The man across from me in the booth looks like one of my drop-ins in the booth across from me. I try to be generous but I have a hard divide between my social life and my responsibilities. There is enough bleed-over as it is.
“I asked you a question, mister.” I say.
“Your brother.” He says.
His hair is up under a stocking cap and he hasn’t shaved this morning. He looks like every other middle-aged white man in this town. They’re all white pot-bellies here. It is
“You told the other woman your brother was missing; but, he’s back now.” My uninvited guest continues. His voice is a little short.
I work with enough people who have disabilities to know the speech of one. Most of the homeless have some physical disadvantage. At least, they have something that manifests itself as a physical disadvantage. This man has a speech issue. He’s worked on it for a long time.
“And he didn’t recognize you,” he continues.
“Excuse me?” I repeat awkwardly hitting the fork on my plate. It clatters as in Kabuki.
“I don’t see how my brother is your business and I don’t appreciate you just sitting down. You need to go away now.” I say, my voice rising. “I will call the police.”
I look around for the cop at the end of the counter. Of course, he’s gone. I am late.
“Your brother didn’t recognize you. Has he ever not recognized you before?” He asks.
“I said that is none of your business. You’ve been eavesdropping on a private conversation and that’s rude. I don’t appreciate you being here!”
“Your brother was missing. He hasn’t told you where he’s been, has he? He’s been in trouble before; but, it wasn’t anything too serious. He sometimes works freelance for the Salina Journal. He has a little band and turns out bad demo cd’s. No one has any idea where he was when he was gone and he hasn’t contacted any of his normal associates since he’s been back. That about covers what you know doesn’t it, Nichelle Thompson?”
“Who are you?” I ask.
“You brother – he’s sick.”
This man’s skin is pale but he has a piercing look. His eyes are a little fogged like an old man’s eyes. He appears to be in his uncertain forties but for the eyes.
“He’s not sick as you understand it. He is sick in a special way. I can make sure no one else becomes sick like Toby. You call him Toby, don’t you? “
“I’m not laughing mister.” I say. “Show me some ID or a badge or something real quick. I asked you who you are and how you know about my brother – and yes, I call him Toby like that’s any of your business.”
“I’m someone who was sick like Toby, once. I was lucky. I was cured. It killed me.” He points to the side of his head. “I was hurt – here. I got better. Toby went somewhere and came back. Sick. I think we should go see him.”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“You can call me Eight.” He says.
“That’s not a name.”
“Octavian Cuomo is a little pretentious.” He answers.
“Octavian?” I ask. “Your mother did you no favors. That must have been a lot of fun in school.”
“I don’t remember.” He says pointing to his head again. “Take me to your brother. He might not have much time left.”
“I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you. You’re going to have to convince me right now you’re not a psycho stalker or I’m calling the cops.” I say.
I have my cell phone in my hand. The rape line is speed dial one. Thank-you, mother.
“O.K. I’m a stalker. I listened in on your breakfast conversation. I remember details about your brother. My whole aim in life is to take you to an abandoned hanger at the airbase and tie you up.” He says.
“Or, you brother is sick in a special way no doctor will recognize. I’ve spent two years tracing fragments of leads to … here. I’ve spent weeks trying to find someone with Toby’s symptoms. I have an idea about what is going on. Your choice. Pick one.”
“I don’t like you.“ I say.
“Not a requirement. This isn’t a courtship. Your brother isn’t himself. You know it. Take me to him. If he doesn’t measure up, I go.” Eight says.
“What are you – F.B.I.? “ I ask.
Eight picks a piece of toast off the edge of my plate. “No. I’m not part of that system.” He says.
“Not part of the system? What does that mean? You’re leaning back towards stalker really hard.” I say.
“It shouldn’t be a reach for you,” he comments between bites of my toast. I frown at him. “Every day you eat breakfast here and go to the drop-in center. All those people aren’t part of the system, either.”
He wipes his hands on Jeanine’s used napkin. “I just don’t need the type of help you give them. I do need your help. Now. Your brother.”
“I’m still feeling stalker.” I say. He is a little beguiling in a cute way.
“I’m not a stalker of women. I am the only person on Earth beside you who is interested in your brother. Is that so common in your world that you won’t take help?” He says.
Eight doesn’t look anything like my high school guidance councilor, a televangelist, or my ex-husband. That’s his best recommendation so far.
“I’m not sure it’s help you’re offering.” I add.
“Let’s go.” He says putting a crisp twenty down on the table. “It’s a free breakfast for you either way. You drive. I’ll follow you.”
I watch as he stands up. I’m not moving. “There’s that stalking thing again.”
“Stalkers have you get in the car with them.” He says. “I’m on a motorcycle.”
“That’s the first thing you’ve said that makes me feel anywhere close to comfortable.” I say. “I suppose you don’t wear a helmet, though.”
“Just hang on to that comfortable feeling.” He says. “You’ll want it back later.”
“This is his place.” I say pointing down the driveway past the Victorian three-story.
“The garage?“ Eight asks.
“There’s an apartment above it. The stairs are against the back wall on the inside. The door’s over here on this side.“ I say.
“He has a car?“ Eight asks as we walk around.
“He drives a van – an old mini-van. It’s one of those really boxy types.” I say.
Eight is in front of me now taking two quick steps to the door. “He parks it inside?” He asks.
“No. The inside is the studio. It’s where he does his music thing.” I answer. “He leaves the van in the street; but, it’s gone now. I guess he’s gone too.”
“Let’s ask.” Eight says.
The side door is cute. It’s a Dutch door that’s half glass in little panes. They are all painted black now. That’s new.
“Locked.” Eight says. “You have a key?”
“Somewhere at home. I used it last week.” I say. I hope he doesn’t expect me to go and get it.
Eight pulls a piece of black metal out of his jacket. The metal is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
“Let’s wait inside.” He says.
“Hey! There’s no need to break a window …” I start. It’s too late. Eight has cracked the door jam and the whole thing swings open. The lights are on.
“You said this is a studio?” He asks.
I look inside. The remains of thirty laptop computers are laying around the floor in piles. A group of television sets in stages of disassembly are in the corner. I recognize the remains of a dozen microwaves that have been opened up.
“It’s not how it was last week. Toby isn’t a clean man.” I say. “But maybe an ashtray and few beer bottles are about it. I don’t know about this mess.” I say.
“It wasn’t here a week ago.”
“He’s been busy. Packing.” Eight says heading towards the back of the garage. “Let’s look upstairs.”
I pick my way across the floor and start to go up after Eight. He doesn’t go farther than the landing at the top of the stairs.
“More of the same.” He calls down. “He’s been scavenging.”
“For what?” I ask.
“He’s gathering parts. He has some electrical skills.” Eight is coming down the stairs fast. He goes right past without even looking at me. “He’s going to build something.”
“Toby plays around with sound equipment and stuff.” I say. “I don’t think he has real skills. He flunked out of Vo-Tech. The only thing Toby could do was write. It’s work, though. Toby doesn’t like too much work. He’s got the whole income-substitution thing backwards.”
“Like you.” Eight adds digging about in the shells of laptops randomly. The stuff is all over the floor now. ” A little income means a little work.”
“No. Not like me.” I say. “I work a lot and choose to help people. Helping doesn’t pay well. Toby chooses not to have much money by not working much.”
“He’s a good kid.” I add. “He’s young.”
“That’s a car in the drive.” Eight says standing. “Let’s ask him when he comes in.”
I start for the door. We’ve broken into my brother’s place. He’s going to be furious.
“Wait,” Eight calls. “He’s still not going to recognize you – probably. He might get violent. Just stand back until I see how he reacts.”
“You’re not going to hurt my brother.” I say defiantly.
“It isn’t my plan to hurt him,” Eight says. “I just want to see if he’s sick.”
Toby comes to the door carrying a large box. He pushes through without trying the knob or the lock. He’s one step inside.
Eight moves like a cat in
He has Toby by the neck with one hand.
In three breaths it is over and Toby is limp in Eight’s arms.
“It’s a nerve thing. Chiropractic. He’s just out a minute. It keeps him from thrashing about.” Eight says dragging Toby’s much larger form to the chair behind the small mixing board.
I’m insane and I’m across the room. My fists are beating on Eight’s back. I’m not a violent person. I don’t believe in fighting. Something snaps. This is my brother.
Tears and anger and fear all well up at once.
Eight isn’t there. I’m standing over Toby and the man I was beating with my right fist is gone before the left fist lands.
“We don’t have time for this,” he says from behind me. “Let me look at Toby – then you can hate me.”
“I hate you plenty, now!” I yell. “I want to know who you are and what this is about and I want to know it right now or so help me it’s going to look like a donut convention in here I’ll have so many cops on your ass !”
I’m reaching in my pocket for my phone as I crab across the room. It’s in my purse – in the car.
Eight looks at me. He looks at me two breaths too long.
“Well? I mean right now!” I’m too loud and too angry for any real drama.
“We send messengers to other planets.” He starts. “Robots. Envoys. We send machines to other planets to do the dangerous work of looking around. They send back information about what it’s like there. We decide if astronauts go next.”
“You understand this concept?” He asks.
“I have degrees in accounting and geology from K-State. I’m no idiot. I know what you mean.” I answer.
“Our envoys – our machines – they aren’t too smart yet. Humans on the ground tell them what to do and where to go. The robots are just hands and eyes on another planet – yes?”
“What about Toby?” I ask.
Eight is still talking though he’s found some electrical tape and is wrapping Toby to the chair. His head is drooped over his chest. He’s really out. I didn’t even see Eight hit him.
“Well,” Eight starts. “This is the part I’m going to have to show you. You’re not going to believe me if I don’t.”
“What?” I ask.
“I’m going to explain what’s going on with Toby. Then I’m going to prove it to you. Once I tell you, you’ll never be the same.” Eight says absently. He’s busy with the tape. “Are you ready?”
“You’re some sort of an alien? A terminator? You’re a spaceman?“
“No. Everyone in this room is the same. We’re all biological humans. Two of us have something else inside us, though.” Eight says. “You get to guess which two.”
“That’s not funny, mister.” I say. “I think its time for the cops – and don’t you try and stop me.”
I’m nearly to the door now. Eight hasn’t done anything to stop me; but, I saw him move before.
“The police won’t help you. Stay right there. You can see from there, can’t you?“
“You can see me. See Toby. What color are my eyes?” Eight asks.
“Good. You can see everything you need from right there. If you don’t believe me when I’m done, you can walk out and call the cops. I won’t stop you.” He says.
“You believe that, don’t you? I haven’t lied to you.” Eight gestures around the room. “Everything I’ve suggested is true.”
He stares at me. The old high school wrestling mats hang from the walls and ceiling to block noise also block out light. The floor is padded with layers of old carpet. I’m shifting towards the open door again.
“O.K. Say your spiel.” I say.
“We aren’t alone in the galaxy. You accept that might be the case?”
“We send machines ahead. Our machines are primitive. We’re new to this. They – we’ll call them that – they send machines ahead. Only, they’re old experienced travelers. Their machines are intelligent. They’re not just eyes and hands. Their machines think and reason all on their own.”
My hand is on the door frame.
“These machines – the intelligent machines – scout planets that might be useful for colonization.”
“You mean like in the movies?” I ask.
“Something like that. Only the piece the movies get wrong is that space travel is very resource expensive. These machines have to travel long distances as they scout out planets. They are very very small.” Eight continues.
“Little robots? “ I say.
“Very small. All the resources are used for the interstellar travel. The machines are very low mass.”
“O.K. Tiny machines. Now, Toby” I say.
Eight wipes his lips with the back of his hand clumsily.
“Right. The intelligent machines have to use what they find at the destination planet. They have to use the technology on hand through the creatures on hand. They bring very few resources with themselves.”
“Toby’s one of these machine things? It’s in him?“ I ask.
“Not quite. The machines use a different logic system. They aren’t binary logic interfaces. You – our – computers are all either ‘on’ or ‘off.’ The logic trees are all binary. Our brains work like that too.”
“And,” I say. “My brain is running out of patience.”
“The intelligent machines cannot interface with our brains directly. They build proxy implants to affect us at a deeper level than surface logic. They influence the deep core of our brain through brain-stem implants.” Eight says. “It’s chemistry at the molecular level. The influence becomes an instinct. Geese fly south for winter without reasoning why. They just do it because it feels right.”
“The implants have side-effects.” He continues. “Side effects like Toby shows.”
“Toby has an implant.” I say.
“I think so.”
“Prove it.“ I say. “And if you’re going to open up his head or hurt him …”
“Shave his head.’ Eight interrupts. ”That’s it. Cut off his hair.”
Eight has his hands spread apart in a half-pleading fashion. He’s calm.
“Toby ever have surgery on his head – ever have a bullet wound or anything like it?”
“He had a concussion in football during high school.” I say.
“Did the doctor operate – drill holes?” Eight asks.
“No. I don’t think so.” I answer.
“So any fresh wound on Toby’s head – that might mean I’m right?” Eight asks.
“Maybe. I don’t want you cutting on my brother’s head, though.” I say.
Eight produces a small plastic razor from his coat pocket. “Safe enough?,” he asks.
“You just carry a razor around with you?” I ask.
“Today I do.” He says.
“Just watch a minute,” he adds.
Eight’s strokes with the razor paint Toby’s head with streaks of smooth brown skin. I want to call for it to end; but, the artistry of Eight’s control binds me too. I can’t look away. It feels almost sensual.
I’m holding my breath.
“Can you see?” Eight calls. “Do you see these entry points here-here-here and here?”
I shake my head. My eyes begin to tear.
“You see the marks?” He asks.
“Yes,” I stammer.
I can’t see when I open my eyes. A wet towel is across my forehead clumsily covering down to my nose. Dave Brubeck plays in the background.
I pull at the thin knitted cotton and lean up on an elbow. The lights are dim. Sunshine streams in beams from very high windows but it doesn’t descend to me. It smells industrial.
“You.” I say. It’s Eight. He’s at a long table part way across the room. “Where am I?” I ask.
“Toby? Where’s Toby?” My tone is frantic.
“You’re at the airbase in an abandoned hanger.” Eight says. “My place – this hanger is where I stay. Toby’s over there. He’s awake and fine; but, he wouldn’t shut-up. I couldn’t hear the music so he’s gagged. Otherwise, he’s fine.”
“How’d I get here?” I ask.
“Think back – the garage.”
“Oh.” I feel a little weak again. “This is a bad dream.”
“No. it’s real. Toby has four implants. You fainted. He came to…” Eight says getting up to bring me a bottle of water from the table.
I’m on a bunk that is little more than a single blanket across plywood.
“Against better judgment I emptied Toby’s minivan and brought you both to the hanger. The police wouldn’t have been amused to find an unconscious woman and a bound man in your brother’s vehicle. The tags are expired. The electronics are stolen.” His voice is steady.
“How long?” I ask pulling on the water. It’s cool and a little sweet.
“Close to two hours.” He says. “It can be a shock to anyone.”
“Maybe those marks are something else.” I say. “Maybe he hit his head or something.”
Eight looks down on me.
“Well?“ I ask. “It could be, couldn’t it?”
I’m looking around. There is a big wall of electronic equipment behind a chicken wire cage. The wire mesh is really small. In the corner is a bunch of industrial machinery and a drill press, a welder, and a couple of tables with things I don’t recognize.
The hanger is strangely shaped. It’s like half a hanger, really. The doors open along the wide side instead of the narrow front.
“They used to work on B-52’s here.” Eight says. “The tails would stick out. Only two thirds of the planes were covered in here.”
“You can read my mind, too?” I ask.
“No. I just guessed what you were thinking.” Eight says. “Telepathy doesn’t work on DC – direct current.”
He’s still looking down at me.
“DC – your brain works on DC. The refrigerator, the radio, the washing machine – they work on alternating current: AC. You remember the difference? “He asks.
“Sure. “ I say. “But Toby – it could be something else.”
Eight squats down in front of me. He isn’t a large man. He’s maybe an inch taller than me. Maybe five foot six. He’s muscular but no one would call him large.
“I’m going to show you something. I don’t want you to pass out again.” Eight says looking into my eyes. “Can you stand it?”
Eight reaches up to his stocking cap with both hands. He pulls it forward over his face in an odd gesture. It’s something a Bob Fosse dancer would do with a top hat.
Eight’s scalp is tilted forward. He’s looking down at my feet. Five large scars stand out from amidst the uneven stubble of hair. They spiral down from the central crown. It looks tribal as the ridges have a symmetric precision. The left side of his head is a little different from the right. It’s a little asymmetrical.
“You see?” He asks.
I’m reaching before I can catch myself.
“Can I?“ I start. “May I touch them?“
The scars feel tight. The skin has no play to it. It feels unnatural.
“It doesn’t look like Toby.” I say.
“It did, once.” Eight answers pulling back. He replaces the cap with a quick and practiced motion. He stands.
“I told you I was hurt.” He says pointing again. “Here.”
“I remember.” I say more question than answer.
“This is the fix. I was Toby; but, when my cranium was compromised – when my brain was injured – the implants were replaced.” Eight says.
“Hungry?“ He asks. “Apples are on the table.”
“Repaired?” I say following him.
“Can we have Toby’s taken out then?” I ask.
“No. They’re in the core brainstem. They’re in the place where surgeons won’t operate for cancer. Too deep. Too delicate.”
Eight is across the table from me. “Mine killed me when they were removed. I had to be revived. It took some time. The damage was extensive.”
“Who did the surgery? Can we ask him?” I ask.
“It.” Eight says. “Can we ask it?”
He’s looking into my eyes again. I’m holding an apple in both hands.
“I was implanted by a high function synthetic of one of the machine intelligences.” Eight says. “My van – we’ll take it. We need to go.”
He points to a large brown van at the back of the hanger. It’s the sort of vehicle that package services use. Gold letters on the side say “Network XXIII.”
It looks like a UPS cast-off.
“Another machine intelligence – one of its adaptive replicants – they replaced my implants after a fight. I became who I am today. I’m not who I was. That was the price. I paid it.”
I think I see him draw himself up a little taller with that last bit of information.
“I don’t get that part.” I say.
“The machine intelligence ...there’s more than one?” I ask.
“Sure. Many. They came together but they act independently. Sometimes they don’t agree.”
Eight looks around the hanger taking inventory.
“While you were unconscious I discovered where Toby has been when he was gone. We’re going there now. The Van’s packed.” Eight says.
“I’m not leaving Toby.” I say.
“Your Toby is gone. We’re not getting him back. The machine that fixed me – it isn’t around to do that for Toby. He’s fine for now.”
“Take the gag off.” I say. “Be a little human about it.”
Eight stops for a breath or two.
“O.K.” he says. ”He’s going to yell. He’s going to scream. He’s going to struggle to get free until he passes out. Then he’ll wake up and do it again.”
“You understand what I’m saying?” Eight asks.
“Yes!” I scream. “He’s my brother and I’m not going to let him be tied up like some animal.”
“Let me make it easier. Really.’ Eight says. He’s walking to Toby. He turns and has his hands in that half-pleading gesture again.
“You’re not going to ‘let’ Toby do anything. This isn’t a democracy. You don’t get a vote. Now – Toby is an MIA. This thing is just the shell of your brother. He’s there – locked inside. We’ll never be able to get him out alive.”
He’s staring again.
“He’ll never leave this hanger alive.” Eight says. “As brave as you can be, you know I won’t let you leave here alive if you try to free him. Don’t you?”
“I believe you.” I say. “I believe you’d kill us both.”
“That’s a good start for today. Belief is close to trust.” Eight answers. ”Take the apples and get in the big van. I’ll make Toby a little more comfortable and we’ll go have a look.”
I grab the mesh sack off the table as I see Eight genuinely trying to prevent the binding tape from cutting into Toby’s arms.
“Where?” I ask. “Where has Toby been?”
“He had a map in his minivan.” Eight calls back. “Toby has been out west to
“Little town. It’s past the Garden of Eden.” Eight is trotting across the floor towards the van. “It’s just this side of
I look at him.
“Really,” he says. “You can’t make stuff like this up.”
“This looks so …
Eight glances over at me from behind the wheel.
“Just farms and cows and brown grass. It’s so
“You’ve lived here all your life ?” Eight asks.
“Mostly – but not here. The is
“You do know what you’re doing?’ I ask. “Right ?”
“I’m driving. I understand that well enough.” Eight says flatly.
‘You’re going to have to explain that.” Eight says.
“Are you crazy ? You ruin my breakfast. Tell me aliens are on Earth. Show me that my brother has some sort of implants. Now we’re headed off to
Eight glances over again.
“It’s been a while since the machine intelligences on Earth became clear to me. I’m comfortable with the facts.” Eight says. “It’s been so long that it seems all I’ve ever known.”
The section dividers of the two-lane mark the time of our silence beneath the wheels. We pass a brown sedan on the side of the road. It has a hand-lettered sign in the back window : U.S. Mail.
“Why do you do it?” Eight asks. “The drop-in center. It doesn’t make any money. It doesn’t pay you well. You’re clearly intelligent. You’re educated. You could do better. Why do you do it?”
My indignity is back. “How do you know what I’m paid? The little green men tell you?”
“Your shoes,” he says.
“You’re a real bastard.” I want to answer. I want to swear again. I’m not going to let this asshole make me do it.
“Why do you do it?” He asks.
“I like helping people.” I nearly spit the words at him.
“There are other ways to help.” He says. The sing-song of his speech has a child-like approach to it. I’m still mad.
“Most of the people who use the shelter,” I say. “They just don’t have any love in their lives. I was like that once. I was a foster kid.” I say. “I got lucky.”
I’m not ashamed. I don’t need to impress him. He’s nothing to me.
“I was loved. I try to show them love. You don’t show love by just writing a check once a month.” I add.
“You believe it matters then?” He asks. “Love?”
“It does to me.”
“Love is the endless illusion,” he says bobbing his head to look in the mirrors in an exaggerated style. He’s looking back a long way. The is western
“I do for others,” I say. “That does something for me. It’s a win-win.”
“You’re familiar with game theory, then ?“ He asks. “You know the zero-sum game?”
“No. I know the term.”
“Hmm…,” he grunts. It is the first time I’ve seen him do that. It sounds funny – as if he swallowed a baby chick or something.
“What’s that supposed to mean ?” I ask.
“It means – obviously.” He answers. “You don’t understand a zero-sum game.”
“You are a real bastard.” I say.
“You have no idea.”
“What do you mean by that altruism bit, anyway?” I ask.
“It’s the key.”
“To what – the aliens?”
“The aliens aren’t here.” Eight says. “The machine intelligences are. These are entities able to think about problems a hundred different ways at once. They have immense reasoning.”
“So, they’re really smart. I get it.” I say. “Why do they need Toby.”
“They don’t come with much of an entourage. They have to use the tools they find here. For a long time, humans were too technologically backward to be of any use at all. Now we’re getting better – probably because they’re helping.”
“How do you know they’re helping?” I ask in a mean-spirited tone.
Eight shifts his hands on the steering wheel.
“You’re one of them.”
“Something like that.” He says. “Humans are a problem. The Earth is a little cold; but, that can be fixed. It is however infested by humans. We clog the works. We have to go. At least some of the MI’s reason that way. We consume too much – like rats. Roaches. We have to be exterminated.”
“They’re going to nuke us.” I say. “Like the movies – they’re going to nuke us !”
“No.” Eight almost laughs. “They can’t that style of weapons. They want the planet pristine. Nice. Ready for the new race. The seed.”
“Then how?” I ask.
“Altruism. We’re inherently self-destructive. We hurt each other. Sometimes we do it for sport. Eliminate the social constraints of altruism and we drive ourselves to extinction. The job is done. We’re gone.”
“That can’t work – can it?”
“Sure – what happens to these people you help when you’re not helping them ?” he asks.
“Well … other people … other organizations.” I start.
“Really?” He interrupts. He’s looking to his left now while slowing down the van. “Somebody else will really help? It works that way ?”
He’s pulls the van over on the shoulder. He’s staring at me.
“Maybe not.” I say.
“Now you’re making it up.” I say accusingly.
He looks at me while pulling binoculars out of a bag between us.
“You don’t have the language of mathematics to understand the probabilistic history of the outcome. You haven’t discovered the field of study – yet. They know it. The MI’s do.” He says. “Remove the relevance of altruism and we’re all dead. Shortly.”
“That’s the plan – at least for this MI.” Eight says looking out his side and scanning the distant river valley.
“How could you know that ?” I ask.
“I was part of this particular MI’s troupe a long time ago.” He says. “When I was injured another MI reconstructed me.”
He turns back to me. “I’m in the class of high function synthetics. I’m augmented heavily. At the bottom are the individuals like Toby -low function synthetics. They’re drones. Above that are the high function synthetics. This is the class of cybernetics, androids, synthetic biologicals, true reasoning robots, and me – adaptive humans. Augments.”
“Wow.” I say. “So this is revenge.”
“Survival. This is human survival.” Eight says. “You are compelled to act on what you know. You know how to help people – so you do. I know how to fight the MI – so I do. Understand ?”
“Maybe. Maybe a little.” I say. “What’s above you ?”
“Adaptive replicants – nanobot fabricators who made the trip with the MI. They’re so advanced the materials to synthesize themselves aren’t available in Earth’s technology. They’re very precious to the MI. They also very few in number.”
“That isn’t helping me.”
“It doesn’t mater for now. Look down there. Downrange.” Eight says handing me the glasses. “See that building and those tanks ?”
“Looks like a sewage plant.” I say.
“Then what are those barrels the workers have stacked all over the front drive ? Ever see anybody ship barrels out of any sewage plant ?”
“Well, no. I don’t spend a lot of time watching sewage treatment, though.” I say. “What are they ?”
“Those power lines, the transformers,” Eight says. “I’d guess it was some sort of separation process using electrolysis or something like it. Maybe gaseous diffusion or evaporation.”
“For what ?”
“Deuterium.” Eight says. “Heavy water.”
“What do they need that for ?”
“You need lots of it in a reactor as a moderator if you aren’t using enriched uranium as fuel. That way you could build a neutron source without attracting too much attention. You use low-grade uranium ore without enrichment. It wouldn’t arouse much suspicion.” He adds. “Its processing is too expensive for anyone to think it would be used for a serious weapon. It is basic slow-rate fission.”
“Why neutrons ?”
“Let’s go ask.” Eight says. “Ever see the evening news ?”
“Of course. I’m not an idiot.”
“Good.” Eight says. “We’re almost to
We turn off the highway and onto the single paved road that is main street in
The sun is getting low in the west and the long late shadows make everything seem angelic. The sky is a golden hue to match the rock of the water tower.
“That’s something new.” Eight says pulling into the church parking lot. “Half the hill is out. How big is that hole – two hundred feet across ?”
“Sure. Maybe bigger.” I say.
Massive excavation has created an enormous hole in the downhill side of the church which itself is nested right under the crest of a hill.
“That’s the one the plant was on back there ?” Eight asks.
“Should be. It’s the only big river in this part of the world. “ I answer.
“Big?” Eight asks. He’s parked the van in front of the church sign: St. Brigid’s Hope Catholic Church.
“Runs through the summer. Most of the water out here dries out on the surface in the summer.” I say.
Eight has pulled the curtain to the back of the van aside. He’s digging in the cargo compartment.
“Geology.” He says from the back.
“We did field work out here and in
I look in the back after him. A large stainless steel tube about two feet in diameter runs down the middle. It looks like some sort of porcupine with the mumps. Small three inch cylindrical protrusions dot its outside every few inches with cable leads snaking from their center to a large black box.
“What is that thing ?” I ask.
“You know Teddy Roosevelt – walk softly and carry a big stick ?”
“ I’ve heard that.”
Eight points to the contraption. “Big stick.”
“O.K. What’s it do ?” I ask.
“It makes a magnetic field. A strong magnetic field. It can help us if things go badly.”
“Can things go badly?” I ask.
Eight reappears with a large camcorder. He’s wearing a jacket: Network XXIII News.
“Pretty up.” He says. “Someone has to be the talent and that probably isn’t me.”
“What are we doing ?” I ask.
‘You’re doing a towns-in-the-outback piece for a
“What ..What do I ask?”
“Why there is a two hundred fifty foot hole that’s a hundred feet deep next to a church that can seat – what? - seventy-five people? Seems a bit excessive.” He says.
“Yea.” I say. “ You’re right, aren’t you. There’s one of those things here.”
“Somewhere. Let’s go see if anyone’s home. I don’t hear any equipment.”
Eight hoists the camera on his shoulder and hands me a wireless microphone. We head for the door.
“Network twenty-three, got it.“ I say. “Who is Saint Bridgid ?”
“Saved the Irish on the west coast.” Eight says. “Saved them from the invading Vikings.”
“Figures,” I say. I knock on the door.
“You just go into a catholic church.” Eight says.
“Nobody’s perfect,” I say as I push on the door. The sanctuary is ahead and to the right. Nobody’s there.
“Where now ?“ I ask. The Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is working on me. Too much polished stone and wood.
“Back there.“ Eight points. “Stairs.”
The double doors are unlocked and we go down. A turn on the landing and we are in some sort of basement activity room. It’s active.
“What is this?” I ask.
There are racks of crudely constructed electronic components filling the space. The appearance is of something overstuffed but organized like a neighbor’s garage with twenty bikes and three canoes hanging from the ceiling. Everything has a place; but, clearly the occupancy is exceeded.
“Processing banks. Logic arrays.” Eight says. He puts down the camera and follows the bundled cables to the back of the room. It isn’t as big as I first thought. It’s appearance is magnified by the small size of the individual components in the racks.
I step around and see Eight at the back corner. He’s found a set of doors.
“What do you think ?’ I ask.
“Remember that good feeling you had this morning when the waitress brought your eggs and toast ?’ He asks.
“I guess. Sure.”
“Hang on to it. This is the looking glass,
He’s in. The cat is back.
This room is large. It is also deep. The floor is down a distance of maybe two flights of stairs. The walls are exposed stone. A trestle system supports very bright lights suspended above the machinery. A wooden ramp leads down to the floor.
Eight strikes a man on the ramp. The fellow is large. He’s maybe seven feet tall. His features are plain. He’s got bad doll hair.
Eight is a flurry of blows. He’s dodging. Their hands and limbs move together in a dance of incredible speed. Unhuman speed.
Eight lands two crossing slashing blows simultaneously across the fellow’s midsection. He breaks. The fellow breaks as if his spine is jointed. He falls.
The sound is my scream. It’s high and gasping and completely ineffectual. I stop.
There are two more at the end of the ramp. One is a woman. They look normal size. Their features are human.
Eight is on them. He fights differently now. These two are clumsy. Eight isn’t. He’s moving at three – no four – times their speed.
He’s behind them. He puts something at the base of their heads. There’s a pop and they fall over in complete collapse.
He’s not breathing hard.
“What? What did you do?” I scream.
“Any of this look like a church basement you’ve ever been in before ?” Eight calls up the ramp.
It is a kind of cavern. There are long stainless steel pipes and a very large diving bell at the back wall. A large screen of metal mesh is suspended – an electrostatic mechanism like Toby's speakers – from some framework along the side wall. It is as large as a movie screen.
“Where do they put the buffet for the potluck?” I ask.
Eights coming back up the stairs.
“hey!’ I push him in the chest. He’s solid. Not well build “I work out” solid but brick wall solid.
“What is he?” I ask.
“High function synthetic. Android. Completely artificial.” Eight says as a matter of fact. “It’s a bad job, too. He’s got manikin hair.”
“What about those two?” I say.
“Humans. High function adaptive humans.”
“You’ve killed people.”
“Yes.” Eight says looking at me. “They were in the service of the MI. We need to go.”
“No. Not yet.” I push his chest again. He looks surprised in a disjointed way.
“This – what is this?” I ask.
“Imaging system.” He says. “Gravimetric particle based imaging system. There are the colliders -.” He points to the large diving bell-looking components. “Resonance field. Beryllium alloy screen.”
“You know about this stuff ?” I ask.
“I know something about it. We need to go.” Eight answers.
“Then what’s it for?”
“You like movies?,” he asks. “Remember the Spielberg film?” He holds up an index finger. My finger is still on his chest. “Phone home.”
“That won’t work. Radio takes years.”
“Millions of years, actually.” Eight corrects. “Gravimetrics. The propagation of gravity is instantaneous throughout the universe. If you listen, you can detect the signal.”
“You means faster than light communication ? These mechanical intelligences can build a phone that sends a signal faster than light ?” I ask.
“Einstein said nothing goes faster than light – he proved it.” I say.
Eight has my arm now. He’s got my arm in his hand delicately – but firmly.
“Al was wrong.” He says leading me out.
“Wait a minute.” I stop. “Those people – you killed them – how? I mean, how do you move like that ?”
Eight’s hand shoots out an crushes a cinder block in the wall of the activity room. It crumbles away. He shows me his hand. The skin is shredded. A nail is pulled back and oozing blood.
“Magnesium alloy has replaced most of the calcium in the bone at the cellular level. The skin is infused with silicone – so it’s tough but not quite tough enough. When I was helped to recover from my injury, I was helped rather substantially. Understand?”
“Sure. You’re Superman.” I say. “What about those people back there ?”
Eight starts walking me again. We’re going up the basement stairs. He holds up a curved piece of metal. It looks like the door handle off my first car : a 1974 Ford LTD.
“It’s an induction generator. Works at close range. It changes molecular behavior for organic interfaces.” Eight says. “It’s an off switch for implants in humans.”
“And they just die?” I ask.
We’re four steps from the van. I hear sirens. The tornado warning system is starting.
“Company,” Eight says. “The MI isn’t perfect and doesn’t use a broadcast system or telepathy. It does understand surveillance and security. We passed until the basement business.”
He’s got the back doors of the van open and is man-handling a small motorcycle to the ground without a ramp.
“Get on.” He says. A portable generator in the back corner of the van starts running. It whines even above the siren wail.
“Get on,” he repeats.
“No helmet.” I say. He starts the bike. “What if we wreck.”
“Then we die. Get on.” Eight answers.
“What did you do?” I ask sliding onto the back. He twists the throttle. “What does this stuff do? It’s a nuke, isn’t it?”
“Looks like it. Works a little like it.” He starts slowly on the gravel parking lot. “It’s a magnetic flux compressor. Not much time – hold on.” His voice is much firmer now.
We are driving down the main street hill. There is an old high school –
Eight twists the throttle and we’re across the railroad tracks, the bridge, and on our way south.
We ride for about ten minutes. Eight has the motorcycle on the side of the road on the gravel shoulder. There are cows, and fields of newly planted wheat, and brown grass, and clouds, and us.
“What are we waiting for?” I ask him. I feel a little sick. “That was a bomb, wasn’t it?”
“It is a little like a bomb. It’s a little like this.” Eight holds up the handle contraption. “But larger.”
“Yea,” I say. “Magic.”
“Pretty simple, really. Move a conductor through a magnetic field and what happens ?” Eight asks.
“Faraday’s law.” I answer. “It generates a current.”
“Well, the flux compressor does the same thing but it generates a moving magnetic field that passes over the conductors.”
“How?” I ask.
A loud crack fills the air.
Eight gets back on the motorcycle.
“The generator coverts the chemical energy of explosives into a magnetic field as it compresses a capacitor field very quickly. It’s all public domain stuff, really. I’m surprised no one is using it against banks or the phone company. It’s quite simple.” He says.
“I found it on the internet.”
“And?” I ask.
“It’s a bomb. A magnetic bomb. Single use. At close range it will kill all manner of circuitry. At longer distances it takes a more substantial conductor to be affected. Transmission lines are vulnerable – like sunspots. The surge will blow out the transformers before the shunt circuit breakers will trip.” Eight adds.
“What now?” I ask.
“We’ve blinded the MI’s field systems. Most of them, anyway. We’ve probably shut off the all the organic implants in
“I think the MI will send in the top-of-the-line models to see what is going on. There is a lot invested here. I’m not sure it would abandon everything without having a look around.”
“Will it kill the M.I. ?” I ask.
“No – the M.I. is not based on a conductive circuit. It isn’t a ferromagnetic alloy. It’s made of things more exotic than we have here.”
“So it’s magic, too.” I say.
“A little. Technology looks like magic to any sufficiently backward observer. Sure.”
“So we go back?” I ask. “How’s that help Toby?”
“It doesn’t. Toby is done. All we can do make life difficult for the M.I. and see if we can stop it. I doubt it’s in town. I’d guess it is somewhere close by. If we get a chance, we’ll ask the high function synthetic it sends.”
Eight plays with the throttle.
“You don’t have to come.”
“I paid for the show.” I say. “It’s easier to face robots than it is to be the only black person for a hundred square miles stuck out here in pasture land.”
Eight rides back into
“See anything?’ I ask.
‘Not yet,” he calls over the engine. “Let’s stop here.”
The gravel flat is between the bridge and the railroad tracks. It is part of the grain elevator complex of bins and augers that define the edge of town.
“Will they look like humans?” I ask. Eight looks at me as I stretch my way off the bike. “They’re my fist alien robots.”
“I’m not sure. I would expect some sort of construct that could pass for human at a distance. This M.I. doesn’t have a habit of investing in too many adaptive humans. It doesn’t think much of humans, really. It prefers all synthetic.”
Eight looks at me with a puzzled expression.
“It never occurred to me that you could be an adaptive human – like
He pulls the small razor from his pocket again. “We could find out quickly.”
“You stay away from my hair!’ I yell at him.
He smiles. It is the first time I’ve seen him do that. He has a nice smile for a leopard with a brain injury. He teeth show a bit too much like a grimace. He’s leaning against the parked motorcycle, grinning.
“Tell me you just didn’t make a joke !” I yell again.
“It’s only a little joke.” He says still smiling. “I just never considered the possibility.”
“You haven’t told me how those implants are put in,” I say. “While we’re waiting…”
Eight holds up a hand. “We’re not waiting anymore. Here – up those stairs.”
Eight has us trotting across the railroad tracks and up the half-flight of stairs of the Paradise Feed and Grain office building. In front of the building is the large semi-sized set of scales built into the road used when farmers bring trucks of grain to town.
“There,” Eight says. “Down the tracks.”
“It looks like a short truck.” I say. “Is it riding on the rails.”
“It’s not a truck. It’s some sort a autonomous military vehicle. It’s an armored rover. Clever.”
“It’s a tank.” I say.
“Well, armored.” Eight says. “Some sort of recon in force. The M.I. doesn’t pull its punches.”
I’m kneeling behind the corner of the building. Large windows on three sides of the ticket-booth jutting out for the scales let me look through the structure. The concrete is especially rough as it cuts into my skin through my jeans.
“O.K.” Eight says. It’s coming slowly now. “It’s going to be looking in the infrared and it’s going to be looking for movement. I think the whole town was implanted by the looks of that school we drove by. Anything moving is going to be hostile to you. The M.I. is using a scorched Earth policy if it’s sending armor.”
“What can I do?” I ask. The words come out as a surprise. I’m offering to help. That’s a tank.
“Stay here.” Eight says and my heart starts beating again. “See those cylinders on trailer wheels ? Those are filled with fertilizer. I’m going to see if any of them are full.”
Eight is gone. He’s around the back of the building going the long way to the trailers parked on the side of the feed building nearest the tank. It’s still coming, slowly.
I chance a look through the glass. The vehicle coming this way has wheels – large ones like on earthmovers. It’s driving on top of the railroad tracks. It has the appearance of a giant misshapen old Buick squashed down without windows. It’s painted in an odd geometric pattern of red and orange and yellow and black. From a distance, it looks like any other piece of construction equipment.
It’s closer now. A dome appears out of the top. It’s coming towards the motorcycle behind me. It isn’t on the tracks directly anymore; but, it isn’t completely clear of them, either.
It’s nearly even with the feed building. I’m on the outside. In a minute I’m going to be in plain sight beside the tank. Eight said not to move.
I hear a train whistle. Close. The vehicle makes a turn. It’s going to leave the tracks.
The whistle again. I shift my feet to a squat.
There is a hiss and a horrible stinking cloud fills the air. A terrible crash echoes with a resonant ping as a hammer on a very big nail.
The cloud covers everything and I begin to cough. My eyes are burning.
The train whistle – long. It’s a coal train coming fast. I lived in a terrible duplex beside the tracks in
There is another sound like a can of soda ripping. Loudly.
Something touches me. My fists are to my eyes.
“It’s ok – take down your hands,” says Eight.
I‘m coughing still. He pries back my head and cold water runs onto my face.
“Flush your eyes.” He says. “It’s irritating and it smells bad but your aren’t injured. Flush your eyes.”
The world of twilight comes back through aqua haze. I’m reminded of swimming at
“Anhydrous Ammonia,” he coughs. “Smells like hydrogen sulfide – rotten eggs.”
“What happened?” I ask looking around for the tank. The train is still rumbling past. The twilight is getting dim but no street lights are on – even if there are street lights in
“I hit the rover with an anhydrous wagon. I put a hole in a nearly full tank and it jetted off like a rocket.” Eight says.
He holds up a hand white with chemical burns. He’s wrapping his hand with a dirty wet rag.
“The train did the rest.” He says. “ I think the rover was heavily armed. I saw the aiming end of a particle beam weapon.”
“A ray gun.” I hit him. I’m laughing. “Can’t you say ray gun ?”
“You watch too many movies.” Eight answers standing up. ‘We need to go to – the train is breaking. He’ll be calling in the collision. The civilian authorities will be here soon – then others will follow. We need to go.”
“Hell yes they’ll be cops here !” I say with the excitement of winning my sixth-grade science fair. “They’re going to need to see this. We’re going to be the news.”
“There are a couple hundred dead people lying around this town.” Eight says calmly. “There’s a panel wagon with the cargo section blown off. There’s the beginning of an unlicensed CANDU nuclear reactor right next to the church. There’s a rover with a particle accelerator on it full of exotic circuitry under a three hundred car coal train.”
Eight looks at me and points to the motorcycle.
“We’ve lost this one. There won’t be a news. There won’t be an understanding policeman looking for heroes. They’ll be a black suburban convention and soldiers without name tags. This town is going to be crawling with the wet dreams of every conspiracy theorist in
Eight finishes tucking the end of the dirty cloth into itself. He’s testing the movement of his fingers.
I’m shaking. His tone is pure anger.
“Is that in the common vernacular enough for your understanding?” He asks. “We go – or you end up going away – forever. You understand?”
“I’m a little more practiced at being a chameleon than you.” He adds. “It will be harder for you. You’re pretty. You’ve been mostly invisible for thirty years. Being a chameleon isn’t too much harder.”
“You’ll leave the M.I. – now” I ask.
“It’s gone.” He says. “It won’t wait for a negative report. Silence is danger.”
“So?” I ask.
“We’ll go west and double back to the hanger. We get you to safety.”
“I don’t understand you.” I say. I’m tearing and I don’t understand why.
“You killed hundreds of people. You blow up a tank-thingy. You just give it all up and say it’s for me?” I’m not letting myself cry but my eyes are leaking.
“It’s about saving people – remember? Altruism.” Eight says. “I save the ones I can. Today, I’m starting with you.”
Eight arm is on my shoulder and he’s walking me to the motorcycle.
“I’m a bad driver.” He says starting the engine. “There’s a fair chance I kill us yet tonight.”
“You aren’t funny.” I say reaching for his waist as I slide onto the back.
“I’m working on humor. It’s different now. It used to be watching the Christians be eaten.”
We’re on the motorcycle. We drive back up the hill and it does look as if a bomb went off. Bodies are everywhere – even on the streets. The van is still at the church. The back is opened up like a tuna can in a cartoon. All the structures are unchanged. The lack of movement makes it seem unreal. It’s a painting by Goya.
We head west chasing the last of the fading twilight. The segments of the two-lane are not my friends on the motorcycle.
“Why West?” I yell into eight’s ear.
“We’ll double back.” He says. “ I don’t take the same road back as we took here. I don’t know if the M.I. is vindictive. It hasn’t been so far.”
The trip is brutal. The air grows cool but Eight loops around to follow the interstate back to Saline without a pause. I curl behind his back and the wind misses me. Mostly.
We pull up to the hanger and the headlight flashes over the small door built into the much larger bay door that retracts for the airplanes. I’m stiff and stamp my feet.
“Is Toby a threat?” I ask. “ I mean is he in contact with the M.I. ? Telepathy ? Radio ?”
“No. Not like that.” Eight says. He’s puling the makeshift bandage rag off his hand. “He’s only a threat because he doesn’t know what else to do. He’ll keep trying to drag bits of electronics to
“So – he’s a slave to the M.I.” I say.
“Yes. He doesn’t see it that way – but yes.”
“You can’t fix the instinct thing ?’ I ask again.
“No.” Eight says. “ I’m sorry. That’s something I don’t know. I’ve tried. I’ve worked on some of the implants. I can’t crack the encoding.”
“What now?” I ask.
“I turn Toby’s implants off. I go off to do what I can. You become somebody else, go someplace else, do something else. You should leave here.”
“Just like that ?” I ask. I have to pee. “You kill my brother?”
“The implants killed him. The M.I. killed him. I’m just turning the implants off.”
“Where do you go?”
“That is not really something to tell. You.” Eight answers.
“You’re not killing my brother and you’re not getting away without telling me where we’re going next.” I say.
“Give me the off switch.” I demand holding out my hand.
“Your part is altruism. You help people.” Eight says. He turns the motorcycle’s key and it goes silent. I see his eyes clearly from the exterior hanger floodlights. The place is lit up as if it’s Broadway in the old movies.
“It’s called love., not altruism. I love people. I love my brother.” I answer holding out my hand.
Eight produces the handle-device from his pocket. “Now I’m going to take care of what’s left of my brother because I love him – and that isn’t my brother in there anymore.”
I turn to go inside.
“And then ?” Eight calls.
“Then we’re going to go find your alien friends and introduce them to a new human concept they don’t understand yet : tough love.”
The door handle is rusty and rough on my palm. It turns easily enough.