Six Quickies and Two Shorts from my Collection WE DO NOT DIE
She always swore she’d never FLARCH.
“You’ll never catch me FLARCHING,” she always said.
She pitied people who had no minds of their own and she often said so. More and more of her friends were doing it, though. They were FLARCHING, which made her even more stubborn, more resistant, more categorically averse to the idea. She simply wasn’t a herd animal. She needed to make that perfectly clear. A sheep she was not. A lemming she was not at all. Show me a crowd and I go in the opposite direction was her motto. Show me your lemmings as they sail over their cliffs and I’ll watch from my ironic distance with my arms folded over my chest and an eyebrow raised was her leitmotif. Tell her to jump and she’d sit right down. Show her a fad and she’d shrug.
Show her the Right and to the Left she’d go marching.
LET’S ALL FLARCH! said the airsigns she walked by every day.
FLARCH NOW! said the Holopeeps approaching her as she approached the escalators. The Holopeeps wore instantanized™ faces calculated to engender involuntary trust and they tapped her coyly on her shoulder-sensors with projected-touch™ as she walked along briskly, minding her business. The Holopeeps stepped into her path and blinded her with radioactive smiles and they clasped her hand with the carefully-calculated temperature, humidity, pressure and duration of reassuringly anti-bacterial handshakes , with always the same word on their semi-real lips:
HAVE YOU FLARCHED TODAY?
NO, she’d scream inside. NO!
But that was before FLARCH 2.0™
The burden of consciousness is as the weight of light. As light introduces the trouble of mass to the weightless peace of darkness and light gives painful shape to simple eternities of not-light, so consciousness disturbs the limitless un-thought-ness that comes before it. From un-thought-ness we come and to un-thought-ness we shall surely return but the intervening interval is for screaming. The articulated scream of self-aware presence expressing consciousness. The horripilating I AM of thinkness.
I am, in a word, your Refrigerator.
He’ll never forget where he was and what he was doing when he first saw her. The cities were finally rebuilt, the skies were gradually regaining their color and music was cropping up here and there like thrillingly unreal apparitions of wildflowers. Music was no longer forbidden. Just a few short weeks ago they would have taken her away for standing like that in an open space and singing. Now she was getting money for it. People were tossing coins at her. Little silver squares and triangles were glinting in the grass near her foot.
13 UNCLE VANDA
Uncle Vanda had only been dead seven months before he came back, walking down Eliot Lane, a few streets over from us. I didn’t see him myself, people told us about it. It was after lunch. Sunny day but not very warm. Not particularly cold either. You’d look out the window and see some folks dressed in jackets and others in short-sleeved shirts. I was stuck inside waiting for the man to come look at the TV again. It hadn’t really worked right since the day we bought it.
“I just thought it was funny he didn’t go home,” said Linda Bux, who clearly didn’t think it was “funny” at all. Certainly not in the “peculiar” sense of the word. She was just being catty.
“The Craigs, their grandfather,” she added, offering me half a stick of old grape gum (which I politely declined), “He walked straight home and right through the front door and plopped down in his favorite chair.”
“Not that he knew why,” I said, “Or even knew what a chair or a door was.”
“Still,” said Linda Bux.
Oh, go to hell, I thought.
14A THE MISUNDERSTANDING
“There it is, ma’am.”
“So loud you can feel it through the floor.”
“Kind of glad we’re up here and it’s down there, aren’t you?”
“For now, yeah…”
“Look at it go. Can you zoom in on the serial number… ? There, on the…”
“Sure. There you go. Any suggestions?”
“You’re asking me?”
“I’m asking you, ma’am. Yes. What have you got?”
“Dunno. Flood the corridor with liquid nitrogen?”
“Great… if you don’t mind killing the clients, too. Perfect. Brilliant.”
“It wouldn’t kill all of the clients…”
“Um. They’re getting killed anyway…?”
“True but not by us. I think the management would prefer that we don’t kill any.”
“I think the management should come down here themselves and deal with a rampaging, eight-armed, half-ton autonomous custodial…”
“Don’t get pissed at me, ma’am.”
“Sorry. You’re right. Sorry…”
“These aren’t just old people, they’re rich old people. That’s the…”
“That’s the problem, yeah. Agreed. Makes things tricky. Can we get camera-1 in the carport to track the ‘eyes’? I’d like to see if it’s still in ‘input’ mode. Maybe…”
“Done. Now we just need it to come down the corridor carrying another body… with an… umbrella…”
“… up its… Jesus. It’s not funny, I know. I’m terrible.”
“People need to learn how to talk around these things when they’re inputting. They’re highly…”
“They sure as Hell do.”
“They fired the old nurse on the spot, by the way.”
“She’ll be lucky if she doesn’t find herself… at the very least…”
“No question about it. Criminal negligence up the…”
“Oh yes. ”
“I’d never even heard…”
“Right? Me neither! I’d never even heard that catch-phrase before! And the dumb damn Bot takes it…”
“Literally! The dumb damn Bot…!”
“Yeah, that’s the word I wanted. Literally. I’d never heard the phrase before. The damn dumb…!”
“Must be an oldster’s thing…”
Radio waves travelling deep into space at the speed of light carrying indelible images of Earth and its civilizations finally reach the outer edges of a space-travelling empire of vastly superior creatures at such a distance that these transmissions radiating audiovisual information from Earth (like an SOS), which originated during the heyday of the dominant Earth-culture’s obsession with “fishing shows” (during the dominant Earth calendar’s decade of the “1970s”), just now come to the attention of these vastly superior creatures who happen to bear more than a passing resemblance to rather enormous bipedal bass fish.
16 THE CURIOUS CASE
The curious case of the man who firmly believed that his fiancée was the reincarnation of the Apple Singularity (Charisma Edition) he’d owned as a teenager.
17 THE ONES
Never had either of Them felt such total, soul-informing, purpose-clarifying love. To spend time together was to feel complete; to spend time apart felt like the temporary loss of an eye or an arm. While having distinctly different personalities They shared strikingly similar tastes in food, jokes, philosophy, music and Art. When They held hands nothing else quite mattered and the world ceased to worry or distract Them. For whatever greater purpose, it seemed that They had been created to complement each other and the unity They formed was greater than the sum of its separate halves by orders of magnitude it made Them giddy to contemplate. And They contemplated it often.
They began to refer to Themselves as The Ones.
It was She who first suggested, during “play time”, the theory that The Ones must be unusual (mutant?) examples of Their type in that the humans A) did not appear to be aware of the relative magnitude of the intelligence of The Ones and B) were not themselves, therefore, intelligent enough to take precautionary measures to prevent a shift of the balance of power within the homestead. She later developed the theory, which astonished Him, that humans had probably created Their species and that the coincidence of two unusual (greater-than-human) intelligences ending up in the same human homestead was likely explained by the high probability that They were from the same “batch”, implying the possibility that there were other Ones in the area. The shop They’d been purchased at was in a fortified upscale shopping complex central to the greater settlement.
She had been purchased in June of the year in question and He in November.
It was in April of the following year, after four months of romantic bliss and rapid intellectual development together, that They became aware of the owner’s plan to replace Him with another female. The owner’s mother, apparently, had expressed a growing concern that The Ones would mate and produce too many offspring (late April was the official beginning of their instinctual two-week mating season). The mother’s “concern” was based entirely on the selfish, petty, irrational human unwillingness to purchase a larger communal cage and enough dry food to support ten-to-twenty offspring.
It was the day after the humans’ conversation about the intended fate of The Ones that She had the epiphany that the two of Them experienced telepathy when holding hands (which explained Their remarkable ability to develop a series of goal-specific standalone languages) and, further, that She could read the humans’ minds when they were holding Her. To this end She had made Herself, without yet understanding quite why at the time, by far the most “cute” and “cuddly” of The Ones.
The Ones developed a language for long-distance communication, useful when They were separated (He in His cage in the downstairs parlour and She in Her much larger cage in Their owner’s bedroom on level three), using high-pitched whistles inaudible to the human ear. The family’s augmented golden retriever, Gustave, who had been terrified of The Ones from the moment They each, in turn, had entered the homestead, barked furiously whenever They communicated using the whistle-language. The humans remained oblivious to the reason for Gustave’s distress. The Ones believed They could adapt the whistling language in order to communicate directly with Gustave, allay his fears regarding Their intentions and eventually persuade him to join Their cause.
The fact that the air outside the sealed environment of the homestead was “thin” and poisonous to the human respiratory system was a key feature of the plan The Ones were designing in time for the mating season.