Member 146
5 entries

Contributor to project:
Designing Science Fiction...
Mark Lavin (M, 48)
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since May 15, 2007
Uplinks: 0, Generation 1
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  • markl’s project
    Designing Science Fiction...
    The course will be loosely inspired by the movie (and the book) The Man who Fell to Earth in which David Bowie plays an extraterrestrial visitor...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    The k-plane docks in the rickety old death-star beer can, then they serve lunch in the first room, which they call the Diner at the End of the World. Surprisingly delicious veggie burgers, six bucks, eight with fries. The nervous first-timers get goofy with the fries, launching them at one another, the nutty instructors messing with their heads the whole time. No soda though. Carbonation doesn’t do so well for the bod out here. No windows in the beer can; the view comes later. Stickers on the armrests, the red highchair tabletops and overheads say things like Skykriminalz, Warlocks, Burning Comet, Smoking Gun, in bright colors with lots of skulls, sharks, fire, tigers, roses, etc. Some of the stickers are new and glossy, some are old and peeling and taking the paint off behind them. In one area, a number of framed picture synchronized o-jumpers in various positions with the big blue Earth behind them, or the sun-rise behind them, the black of space or the moon.

    In the hallway beyond the Diner at the End of the World, there’s a Plexiglas hatch and people are bouncing off the padded walls in all sorts of directions on the other side of it. Continuing down the hall a friendly girl, all small-town smile and dressed like an old-time flight attendant, puts a metallic homer-band on your wrist with a number and a barcode.

    Entering a fluorescent lighted room now that might have looked like something out of 2001 except for the fact that there are more stickers and that punctured cushions in some places reveal the foam inside, a bunch of identical TVs light up all around the space. Clipboards float about, connected by strings to a central pedestal. Same picture on every TV; a crazy-looking old man in a white motorcycle helmet with a flaming skull sticker on the side and a gray-white beard a foot and a half long. Despite the fact that he’s missing several teeth, he misses nothing regarding the dangers you’re facing and the rights you’re forfeiting. Punctures, cracks, life-support failures, debris-shield failures, launch failures, oxygen-tank failures, fainting or seizures due to pressure changes and g-forces, the bends, depressurization, improper poses when landing on the collectors, missing the collectors altogether, collector malfunctions, k-plane crashes on the way up or the way down, even debris impacts on the station itself. And aliens. Aliens? That’s never happened, but it could, and if it did, you’d have forfeited the right to sue. You also forfeit the right to sue and the right of anyone who survives you to sue on your behalf the suit manufacturers, the touring company, the launch manufacturers, the station operators, the k-line, the k-plane manufacturers, the collector manufacturers and operators, and anyone else in any way related to the operation. The station is considered New Zealand territory and the contract will be administered by New Zealand law, no matter what country you’re from.

    Fill out the paperwork on the clipboard, then float into the next room, where you sign and date it in front of two witnesses, still forgetting that it’s ’58 and putting ’57 on everything and then turning the 7 to an 8. Look right into the camera and acknowledge that you signed the contract of your own free will. The video document streams right down to the database down in Rotorua at the touring company headquarters and into your own email box, where you’ll see it tomorrow, should you live.

    Next, a room that looks and smells like a locker-room. Rented suits still stink of the sweat of the guy or girl before. First the undergarment goes on, then exofabric and the hard shell for your chest and the gloves and the helmet. Then the oxygen tanks and the backup homer around your neck for the off chance that you mislaunch or go unconscious and have to be traced. The whole apparatus would weigh 300 pounds on Earth, but here it’s as light and flexible as a t-shirt. While you’re dressing, Bryce, your training instructor, puts his helmet on backwards, konks his head hard against the wall and pretends to go unconscious, then says he’s never actually o-jumped before.

    Enter the airlock. Air swishes out all around you and soon there’s no sound. The suit enveloping you loosens up a bit, the floor falls out and you’re on your back on the big X. Align your arms and legs with the X as you’ve been trained. Check your temperature, pressure and oxygen controls as you’ve been trained. Make sure you do it every ten minutes. There’s no radio out here. You will be alone. Wait a minute, notice a tear in your eye and that there’s nothing you can do about it. Notice the fog of your breath on the inside of your visor, which is quickly becoming cool against the vacuum.

    As you focus your eyes down the barrel of the railgun, you become so heavy in an instant that it hurts as the giant X hurtles you forward with the might of seven G’s. The railgun’s trusswork blurs around you; now you’re moving as fast as a bullet, and the railgun is gone. Now there is only you, the stars, and the great blue marble, seemingly motionless below. Now there are only three-sixteenths of an inch of fabric between you and outer space.
    You can’t hold your breath for the full ninety minute orbit. That’s why they actually tell you to scream. Scream as loud and as hard as you can. Flail your arms and legs. It won’t change your trajectory. In a few minutes, South America will be in full view, and when you’re done screaming there’s silence deeper than you’ve ever imagined. If you were going to pass out, it would have happened by now, and the collectors will be there when you’ve gone all the way around.

    Fewer people die o-jumping than from falling off ladders in their own homes. Look down. Feel. Let it all in. And enjoy the ride.

    Thu, May 24, 2007  Permanent link

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    It is a victory that you’re seeing me on your browser. I speak to you from high orbit, 22,000 miles above your planet, your planet because I walked away from it rather than admit I was wrong.

    You can see me but I can’t see you, we don’t have the two-ways here, but it is beautiful, to hear the voices of those of you who are here. How many of you?

    Forty-four online, right now. Okay, or is it this sixty-four thousand odd? No that’s… that’s the number of connections. Okay, so forty-four, now it just went up to forty-five.



    I don’t completely understand how this all works, I understand though there may be hundreds, thousands, or even millions of you who will, well, who are now seeing this because this was sent to you after, and you’ll get to make your choices too.

    Well I love you Nguyen, for your courage. It’s a little scary to make this request of you, having never actually spoken to you, just seeing your face that one time in the old soccer stadium next to Our Great Leader. You are the spirit of the Accountables even with many of them not knowing what you were up to, braving their judgment right along with the rest of the world’s for years.



    So when I was little, I believed it when they said there were bad people. I yelled at Mum and Pa when I knew they were thinking things. I was strong and I loved to be the one at the front of the parade waving one of the big flags and making all the other kids jealous. I felt like a star with the youth brigades marching behind me and adults with Kalashnikovs and RPGs and banners and bodies of the fallen behind them and the chanting crowds. I too loved the smell of fear, and I thought it my greatest day when Our Great Leader himself took my hand on his birthday and declared me a symbol of a new generation and the rebirth of our people. When I was five I believed my teachers when they said that Our Great Leader was going to CLEAN THE STREETS, and I suppose he sort of did.
    I was right there with the youth chants, burning foreign books as grownups gave them to us and they said they envied us because we got real uniforms.
    By 8 I raided, looking for old stuff and things written in foreign languages even though we couldn’t read. And I was proud of it. We burned old women’s mattresses; we pushed illegal satellite TVs through skyscraper windows I felt powerful because I could make the grownups do something I thought was…





    Okay, what then? What is going to have you hear me?


    Okay, I’m calling down because this is all I can do. The only thing I can do so you can know what’s in my heart. I want to give to all of you. I want to make a promise to you, and it would be honor me if you’d relate to me as accountable for it. Accountable like I’m willing to be judged and even killed. It would be an honor to me for you to hear my promise, and to relate to me like it’s going to happen.

    I’ve been an accomplice to murder. I lived for a lie, and I lived for a country, and for an opinion that wasn’t even mine, and when I knew it I still did it, and when I looked down on those swirling clouds and seas, it was all washed from all of us here, and I’m going to have it be possible for everyone on Earth to know that experience.

    I do want you to know where we came from, where I came from, because that will show you how amazing it was, and how we stopped.


    When I was 9, they told us at the youth chapter about Eleventh Hour and how it was more dangerous than the regular internet, it was actually Satanic, so they were shutting everything down. Then Salvador, one of the youngest boys cried in his bunk because he’d be blocked from his shooter games. Those were illegal too but they’d let us have them anyway. We took him behind the house, hung him by his feet and beat them until he could no longer walk. This is the kind of people we were.


    Horrible, a monster, and it got worse. Mum said no but Pa said yes when they told us we could go to the desert, to the border, and I volunteered. I pretended it would be like school camp and we’d get to sing all the songs all the time but I really knew it wouldn’t be like that and when I got there it was… the Golden Army had thousands of foreigners naked in cages there and they fed them 300 calories a day.



    I’m going to look at the Earth again.


    I stood guard over a couple of brits who’d smuggled mobiles into the camp somehow and got them to work. The second week I was there, one of them held his up to the wire for me to see it. The screen was cracked but I could hear this woman, “By 2030, all people will have the choice of literacy.” I just covered my ears, but my big fat bunkmate shot the guy without a thought. The guy just looked at us for three minutes and then he shot him again, dead.



    I guess I am not a monster. (Crying)



    I should have my wife tell you, she said it good.



    Well, I don’t know. It didn’t feel like a wife until today. Up here on the station, Our Great Leader had this big ceremony, where he said we’d be granted manhood and wives. I don’t know what day it was since all you could see of outside is the sun making the tubes glow though you couldn’t ever actually see out because they had a radiation film over them and they always glowed the same. We went into his personal ring and had a big ceremony with a huge feast, probably most of the chickens in the Barn Rings and each boy recited a verse from his Book. He declared we were warriors and the generals told us who our wives were.



    I don’t know. It’s weird. I guess she never said so, either.



    Yeah, well first she just sat there in my quarters and stared at me for a long time. She wouldn’t even go to the diner and wouldn’t report for work until the bullies came for her. When she came back she looked at me straight and said how I was the big flag waver in the parades, but where’d it gotten me? She said how they were even going to turn the gravity off because Our Great Leader was so fat he couldn’t go off his ring otherwise and that we all just let it happen and pretend to believe all the bullshit because we’d all just rather come out here and die than admit we were wrong. We’d all dug ourselves in so deep that we had nowhere left to go. She said we’d probably find out if we lived that nothing had even happened to Earth.
    I fought her so hard. I beat her all over the cube first. We’d both heard him say before the launch how he had 30 nukes and how he was going to cleanse everything, get rid of the devil. When we went up in the rocket they told us to close the windows and we saw flashes outside under the window covers that could have been anything. We’d just wanted to believe so bad, we were in so deep.
    The enemy – you – were horrible because when I saw you for real you were just like us, in fact the ones I saw were starving and dying in cages and slaves. There had to be something horrible behind you, some kind of monsters I hadn’t seen. And it especially didn’t make sense because we had the bombs and weapons and cameras and police. You just had invisible stuff. I guess you’re calling it things like being, and communication and alignment and commitment. It didn’t make sense because I couldn’t do anything about it, it was like fighting an invisible octopus with a million arms and it was even in me, and without Our Great Leader and His Glorious Vision I was just a dumb kid who’d given his life to nothing.
    When I got to the camp on the coast you were everywhere. The grown up guards were secretly running Eleventh Hour. One of them waved me into one of the little tents right next to the ocean one night and told me that the sea had been a kilometer away when he’d arrived here seven years ago, screamed at me till I cried because I couldn’t believe it and Our Great Leader either didn’t know, or couldn’t do anything about it or didn’t care. All the guards told me it was up to us, and they were going to free the prisoners. I was so scared and confused I stayed up all night. I told in the morning and the commander just said he knew and they’d already found antennas coiled right into the barbed wire around the camp. The guards freed the prisoners that day and a huge navy of old row-boats took them away.
    The ones of us still loyal drove out that day, and we went through a village when our bombers came over and blew everything behind us. Families just stood in the road waving at us. People came up to sell stuff and ask for rides to the city. When we got back into the city it was flash mobs waving like they’d planned it, hospital caravans that smelled like French fries, music like I’d never heard before and people building, tearing down and planting right through curfew with police looking like they didn’t know what to do with themselves. I saw my face reflected and squashed in the windows of a new kind of silent taxi that was everywhere and painted all wrong. They’d put up a big wall around part of the city and there was a banner of Our Great Leader on it but right below it was a picture of the Health Minister and it said in blue spraypaint A GOOD MAN KEEP THE HEALTH MINISTRY and next to that it said E-WASTE PICKUP HERE 9 MONDAY in black and people were piling a trailer high.
    That’s when Our Great Leader came on our radio and said there were just 6,000 who were righteous on Earth and that there was a great war between good and evil going on. Our nukes were riding the highways right now. Anyone who didn’t want to go could get out of whatever we were driving in and take our chances on Earth but we were welcome to follow him onto the space colony were we’d wait seven years of darkness and return to rebuild. I knew there were no flag wavers in that new world out there, so it was as good as bombed and I went. Nobody even noticed us when we left the city and went to the desert instead.




    I don’t know.



    I am willing then.



    Well, when we looked at the Earth the first time, it made us like brothers and sisters. It pulled to us, like it wanted us to see it. My wife actually made two bombs, a little one and a big one that could have blown out a tube and killed everybody. She worked in the Barn Rings and from youth brigade she knew all kinds of things you could do with half-processed shit. Anyway she just did it, she didn’t know why, just did it, and she blew up the little one in the tube to scare the bullies when they came. Then we found tools to scrape away the radiation shielding on the inside of the tubes that made them impossible to see through.
    People passing by stopped and took turns scraping, until we could see half the planet, and we hung to one another in the middle of the tube. The bullies just fell apart when they came to stop us again, crying like babies. I had no idea what really happened on Earth; I was estranged from my mother, and here I realized that I cared for her, that I was the one who ran away. I saw an o-jumper float by in a white suit, and I just cried for hours.
    Nguyen, I can hardly believe it, did you really convince him to build the station with all that money he stole? Did you really know it was going to happen this way?


    Yeah, everything changed right then, when we all saw the Earth.

    At the next meal the drivers didn’t bow but we just didn’t care. We all looked them in the eyes. Our Great Leader himself came into C-Diner, and we just all listened to him. We’d turned the gravity back on and he was huffing and preaching about joining him in Paradise and how the devil’d taken the station. And he lost his poetry right there.
    Thu, Jul 26, 2007  Permanent link

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    Neuroda continued the experiments in space that had begun the century before on earth. The first experiments were with rats, then apes, and later, with man.
    First off the rats would be placed in the same maze, each rat, in an identical maze, at say five locations around the earth. New York, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Mumbai. The rats were taken from different stocks deliberately. They had never interacted with each other, and had no way of communicating, never had. So at the start of the experiment they’d be off at the same time, the same click of the stopwatch, which itself was measured to the millionth of a second and checked against an atomic clock. I can’t remember exactly what the average time was, but let’s say it was one minute and fifteen seconds, with some variation either way. Maybe the slowest rat took a full minute and a half, the fastest was around a minute.
    Then a second brood of rats would run the identical maze. Well, not exactly. The new maze would be an exact copy of the original; the original would be destroyed, so that no scent trails could be picked up, no residue of any kind. The new rats would be taken from separate broods, ensured never to have had any contact with the first brood. This time they’d run the maze a full second faster.
    And every time there’d be a new brood, and a new copy of the maze, and the new rats would run it just a little faster, again, and again.
    Now we turn to a little book by an American redneck who’d been written off early in life. His idea was simple: to capture on paper and make widely available the transformative experience of Earth as seen from space. His idea took him deep into the secret worlds of NASA, and behind the iron curtain. He found that every astronaut had come home with a new appreciation for the home world’s ecology and the unity of its peoples.
    Take these two things together and you have the concept for the Presence Stations, making their orbits high above the homeworld. Some of you might wonder why Neuroda, who’s given his word to global peace within the next twenty years would make such a fuss to align with the space wannabes on eleventh hour. The above is why. There was quite a bit of noise around the blogosphere when he started making a lot of requests in their direction. Lots of people left his listening entirely.
    “Why,” they’d ask, “when you know it’s the old hegemonies that are building the stations in the first place? They’ve lost control of the Earth, so it’s the old strategy again. Whoever has the highest ground wins, right? Do you want the Saudi women going under the veil again? And the old bureaucrats who fiddled while the water rose to their knees in their own government buildings… do you want them running the show again? And it won’t even be all of them, just the few ones who haven’t given up the chips on their shoulders, the real hard liners, the real racket-heads who still have enough money to move a nuke or two… they’re going to really be lots of fun to deal with.”
    The questions certainly stung, and Neuroda retreated from the public light for awhile.
    But we are proof that he knew what he was doing all along. Boracay Station, like all the others, was indeed built by the old hegemonies with the last of their money. You can see it in the very architecture of the place. I must say, too, that I was, in the beginning, one of their very loyal servants. I know the Fat One’s quarters very well, and I might, ten years ago, have been ashamed to say it. But shame grows quiet these years among us all, and I can quite honestly say now, that I know why we’re here. I thought I had known before, and the Fat One still pretends a certainty. He actually still occupies an entire ring to himself, and he probably does still at least have access to a nuke or two, as well as the billion or so dollars he grafted off US contractors in the last years of state-run reconstruction.

    When I began to question in silence, and could no longer silence my questions, when my breasts started to grow, that' when I began to fear the Fat One. I would awake often in great sweats, tormented by nightmares; his ring with its great baroque statuary arranged in three-dee, just beyond the bare ring that I occupied with the other three thousand White Servants, and the one occupied by the twelve generals, that used to be the systems ring. I of course was nothing to him; I would bring him great breakfasts of twenty eggs in what the lights said was morning, bowing as required, while he enjoyed the fact that the bow was exceedingly difficult to perform in zero-g. I’d always dreaded his grin; it would always mean more toil.

    Sometimes, he would order a hundred of us White Servants into his quarters at once, and order us to perform orgies right before him, as he and his favorites, General Hakim and General Chang and General Hickman ate. “There’s nobody out there,” he would say. “You’re all alone.” Once they showed that old movie “Alien” in the theater ring, and he grew fond of saying, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

    The hardest years though, were the years of not knowing, the sense of gnawing irrelevance while we spun up here above the big blue marble. It’s gotten busier up here of late; we see the occasional o-jumper sailing blissfully across the blue. Look out that way, and you see what must be a big hotel of some kind, and big cargo ships cut across the face of the moon, going somewhere. Now there’s one at least every week.

    The Fat One grows quieter these days, turning inward. He gorges himself on pizzas and hosts great feasts among his generals and chosen subjects like a Roman emperor. I’ve seen him stare out at the great blue for hours, making his plans. I’ve seen him stare especially long, when our own country comes into view, and often after seeing our country, he would order one of his generals into the ring, roll out a map and a host of plastic army men with the magnets he made us put on their feet. Ballooning as he can in comfort, with no threat from the gravity below, he gorges himself. On Earth, the doctors say, he would weigh nearly eight hundred pounds, and he long ago ordered that the spin on his ring be permanently halted.
    Tue, Jun 12, 2007  Permanent link

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    From: e2050@eco.eleventhour.fut
    To: adam001@darwinianposthumanist.cub

    Hello adam001,

    I am a monster. Ordinary, yes. Human, yes. Plugged in even, active as I am on eleventh hour. But I’m not modified like you. I’m a cyborg, but only because I hold the phone to my chest, and look at the warps, and check a little too often who’s listening. Is it up to fifty-thousand yet? That’s my game. Last check, forty-eight thousand six hundred and six. Two thousand online, right now. With the African Avatars, it might be over fifty thousand. But poor people in slums have a way of not reporting. Understandable, we might say. The rigors are getting in there too, and yes, they’re human, and water is always the first priority.
    So I’m wired like you, but only on the outside, not inside, like you. Is it pity that makes me still sometimes want to fuck you? You, so alien to my point of view? I admired you when I saw you, I must admit. First saw your blog on Skeptics, your certainty that the brain is one with the mind. I agreed with that; I agreed with that part, but there was the part you missed, the unstated, un-arguable part, which was what you wanted to say… that the brain caused the mind like a one-way street. So I delicately responded with a query. What about radio. Radio? Radio like, if I bust the radio this way, so that it can’t receive 106.3 FM because the dial won’t turn to that notch anymore? I can’t ever hear 106.3 FM again, but does that mean it doesn’t exist? And by the way, we’ve both got L.A. addresses and let’s meet for lunch.
    You told me over and over you hated the eleventh hour, and had some bad experience there, that people tried to push you this way or that. Hmmm, I said. You think you can be pushed. Well, I don’t quite see it that way, but okay. Nice enough meeting, coffee, a bagel, some nice partly-cloudy on San Vicente. I checked eleventh hour again, I kissed you because your coldness enthralled me and I could feel the electricity moving at some point deep within your lips. Brain implants, wired through your lower jaw, which for whatever reason in the design of the human organism is highly conductive. Funny, that you should be wearing coke-bottle eyeglasses and have the strength of a mule. I correct. It wasn’t wondering why the mods; I am just attracted to the post-human, in fact, still am. Maybe too many fetish magazines when I was a crazy teenager in SF; back then it was just leather and latex, but today you can have the latex inside you, it’s not just skin anymore.
    At first I found you beautiful, just shy of stylish, and on our second meeting I checked eleventh hour, found I’d won the game I’d set for five years in the future without even looking. One million acres of rain-forest re-seeded in Ghana, just like that. Repromise for another million acres? The crowd advised creating a new sub-net to do that, this time referencing the micro-economic feeds posted by several local chieftains. Spend too much time on eleventh hour and soon enough you have too much time on your hands. That’s why I said to hell with it for the rest of today, went upstairs to your loft above the coffee shop and fucked your flesh and vinyl body, just like that. So fascinating, so alien… when you’re naked you’re not really naked; there’s clothing inside you as well. I knew it was dangerous the moment I got involved. It always is. I find it beautiful, the mods, I’ve told you. It’s a fascinating art, and I’ve thought about doing my fingers, or maybe my eyes, just for the thrill. Seeing differently, that’s what I’m about. A friend recently called me an adrenaline junkie. Yep… I guess I am, and the whole world gets served.
    But by our third meeting, it was your obsessions that scared me. You had to do this, didn’t you? You were boasting about the thirty-terabytes wired right into your neocortex, telling me how you could calculate pi to the millionth place and see into the next room right through the wall, and how a new hierarchy would soon replace all the ones that eleventh hour had shattered, and I asked you what are you modifying from? If you had inquired, I would have stayed with you. If you had even just stared blankly back at me for half a second, even then I would have stayed with you. But you didn’t. You just didn’t get the question. You didn’t acknowledge the question at all.
    You just pulled up your cam and made another argument to the world, much the same as the one that attracted me in the first place, but posted as if I’d never asked the question I had. That’s when I realized how sad you were. That’s when I realized the blinds were always drawn in your place, the sun only admitted in along perfectly maintained Venetian strips. You sit here six hours a day, making your arguments, cajoling obscure professors to listen to you. And ten hours at the lab, proving your point of view. Thirty terabytes, you tell me with your wicked smile, like it’s who you are. You can peel off whole books from memory. You can twist Augustine and make him stand on his head. You can cite Leviathan on a dime, Hume, Marx and Engels, and prove, at least to yourself, that eleventh hour will fail. Humans, you say… you don’t need to say much more.
    Arguments I can hear, I’m willing to listen. I fucked you one last time, a little less passionately I can say, after our fourth meeting. You’re committed to something beautiful, that’s clear enough, and if you admitted it I might actually be moved. You won’t admit it, and it’s your sadness, not your arguments that I can’t penetrate. For all your super-strength, you shuffle. That fourth time’s when I met you at the lab. Your colleagues, all doctorates, all some variation of you, that’s the day I got your world. That’s the day I left you, because that’s the day I could not lie to myself anymore. That’s the day I looked into what was left of your eyes and had to acknowledge what my intuition had been telling me all along. It’s not human you think is disgusting but your own self.
    That was the day you told me that one of your colleagues discovered the seat of consciousness in the brain. Hooray for you. Now you could delete it; now at last you’d be able to answer that un-answerable question that I’m certain still lies at the heart of everything you say: am I doing it right? Well, I know you thought you’d be able to answer it, and I know I tried to tell you otherwise. Eleventh hour has made every one of your beloved dictators and hierarchies completely impotent in every corner of the world, even with their super soldiers. They’re still in power on the books, but they just can’t outsmart a billion of us, and I’m sorry you had to end this way. You’re still alive, I know, but even without brain mods I know where you’re headed. If I hate you, it’s because I still love you. I’m sorry, and I hope one day, despite yourself, you come to hear.

    You know how to find me.

    - E
    Tue, Jun 5, 2007  Permanent link

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    Of course the first thing that was out of place was the rock, which even with the lopsided throw, missed my head by half an inch. The poor old guy just didn’t know what he’d do with himself now, and, an old man, he was probably just scared. Just the same, a group of us went down there to calm him down. The other residents just stared out the big windows of their ranch-style houses, a few stood in their doorways, waiting. As we proceeded, they would tentatively approach on the overgrown, cracked pavement. We all felt it, the strange emptiness, the wondering, the curiosity.

    None of it was quite what I had expected. I guess in my mind I had imagined some fanfare. I don’t know exactly what that would have been, well, maybe I did, but I’m a bit embarrassed to say it. I was expecting feathered plumes and maybe some really out of this world music, a big party of some kind at the end of the rainbow. Instead what showed up, an hour late while we waited at the top of the cul-de-sac was two guys in an ancient but refurbished pickup truck like the ones we saw spreading rubber around here all the time. I guess the world should have been excited, and maybe it was, beyond the treeline, but we wouldn’t have known that that up here.

    I must say it was strange to dismantle the camera. I’d become so used to it that I noticed it no more than I noticed the mailboxes on the street, or the birds that often took aim at all the old cars from the telephone wires. Its tripod, half buried under the Nathansons’ ivy in front, had peeled and rusted to a deep red and was covered long dead vines that had themselves been overgrown. Its hollow legs had likely become the homes of tiny animals, and somewhere below the ground, its feet were locked in concrete. But frozen in a yellowing block of Lucite under the shade of one of the street’s many oaks, the camera was absolutely pristine, still clicking at precisely 3 pm every day in unison with hundreds of others throughout the neighborhood, while it stood frozen in time like a photograph. Today, the 21st of September long awaited, it faced one of the other ordinary oaks on the street as it always had, and captured, in its brilliant positioning, every other tree on the street, all the way down to the bottom of the hill.

    Today being September 21st though, it was all over. It was a beautiful, sunny day like any other, but I must confess, even being one of the younger residents on the block, I felt pretty horrible too. Like the old man, whom it had taken a half-hour to calm, I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, and instead of throwing rocks at the other people taking down the camera, I buried myself in the moment. When the contractors arrived with the tools and whistled us all over, I was glad to have something to occupy myself and Sarah Robison, who was sitting next to me on the curb, stopped crying. First we dethroned the big block of Lucite, then burned and gummed up a dozen sawblades in cracking it open, spending much of the late afternoon in a haze of tart burning plastic, grief, trepidation and excitement, and hoping the experience would last forever.

    I had known the day was coming, but I hadn’t realized how used to the routine I had become. Even if a routine is hell, in time you learn to love the unique and specific cracks in it that the very routine makes possible. You settle in. As much as I’d hated the TV dinners and the re-run drivel and the growing waistline, the time lost day after day in the car going back and forth, I realized that I had indeed fallen in love with it all. I barely knew most of the people on the block but they were my neighbors. I had become too busy considering that this had all been someone else’s life and not my own to bother with neighbors.
    When the Lucite cracked, I was the one who caught the camera in my latex gloved hands and I couldn’t believe that I was actually holding it. Having always seen it suspended in Lucite, I was amazed that it weighed something, and only then I realized that I didn’t understand how to use it.

    In one moment I was shaking, nervous as all hell and the next ecstatic and the next nervous again and Carlos Orozco kept reassuring me that I had a good grip. When Sarah Robison found the plastic sheeting in the truck and she and her two daughters laid it out carefully on the concrete, I set the camera down, and we did, together, figure out after a few minutes where the little hatch was. As we had been told to expect, there was a little card inside with Gomez Oak Tree Experiment Station 017 written in pen on the side. It was logical, yet strange, how well that writing was preserved.

    One of the guys who drove the pickup, who I didn’t recognize; and I realized then why I was surprised by the pickup – they had continued the charade right up to the end – plugged the little card into an old computer from under the driver’s seat, cables dangling from several of its ports, and we all gathered around, waiting forever in anticipation.
    “Do they talk to each other?” someone asked.

    The driver, who was running the computer waved the question off while the computer took nearly a minute to boot up. It was several more minutes before he found his way around the interface. He had clearly been trained, but the machine had taken its time.
    “We won’t be able to say just from this movie,” he finally said. “If they’d waited just ten years we could have figured this out two centuries ago. Oh, the lessons we learn.”
    He’d probably been right, but ten years ago, I had been a different person entirely. Ten years isn’t much for a historian, but to a human life it’s a long, winding road with lots of blind corners. It might have made more sense to wait, but I can understand.

    I think we had all been expecting the trees to writhe like snakes on the little screen. That didn’t happen, but at one month per second, I did see that the branches of the trees tap one another periodically. Sequentially? How much of it was what I wanted to see, and how much of it was what I actually saw, I suppose the scientists will eventually be able to tell. Was that a rhythm in the touches? Did the touches move like waves up and down the rows of trees in the neighborhood? Or was it just the chaotic dance of the winds of other times that blew them about? At a year per second, the touches, the apparent rhythms of movement were far more teasing and disturbing, and at ten years per second, the rippling of the concrete under where the roots presumably lay showed definite, wave-like patterns.

    “My god, they are working together,” someone shouted.

    “We can’t go that far yet,” the driver pronounced. “We don’t know if there’s actual intelligence going on; it might be seismic, or something just chemical related to the trees. I’ve shown you all too much already. We really can’t start conjecturing; the scientists are going to analyze these photo sequences from all the cameras. There’s a lot we won’t know for…”

    “Years?” someone asked. The voice sounded pained at the prospect. “Centuries?” he continued after the silence. “This is so much bigger than us, so much bigger than whether we keep living in these old houses and driving these old cars, whether they come in and tear down this godforsaken neighborhood.”

    The other guy who had been in the pickup, who had stood there silently on the other side of the truck now looked at us, a definite look of compassion on his face. “Thank you,” he said, “for the sacrifices we’ll never know you’ve all made for these experiments. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an agitator, knowing that you may never know whether it was all in vain.”

    Looking at the video, I saw that it didn’t have to end on September 21st after all. There might indeed be a need for agitators and antiquated neighborhoods such as this for decades to come. Did I want to stay here? Nobody lived like this anymore; nobody had in probably 300 years. The chemicals, the pollutants, the cars, the dead food and the endless re-runs on the televisions in every house. The isolation was worst of all. Fifty feet from the next house over and you rarely saw the people who lived there. We had become dinosaurs, living here, and how scarily easy it really was to fall back into a way of life with such creature comforts.

    We said that we played this old game to agitate the trees, to give them a problem and provoke intelligent response that we could record. But in spreading rubber day to day, we forgot the trees. At some point I at least had forgotten that it was all a simulacrum; it had become real. Was the treeline a boundary to stop the trees from communicating beyond the experiment field, or a boundary for us? Ride across that quarter-mile wide ring of desert, only five miles from here in any given direction, and you were back in the real world. Even though nobody stopped me from crossing it, I would go for months without crossing it, crossing it only when I got to the point of desperation in needing some particular supplies that I couldn’t down at the strip. Presumably, I could waste away here, forever. I knew the trees had as much to do with saving us from global warming two centuries ago as our own rising to the occasion. I knew the issues we face today are just as grave, even if they are natural and not manmade this time. But I made up my mind, standing at the top of that cul-de-sac. September 21st was the day I chose to cross the treeline. It took me a week to pack my things, and I never looked back.
    Fri, May 25, 2007  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Designing Science Fiction Scenarios
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