Monday, May 28, 2007

The Restless Woodsman

Laziness was the secret to King's genius, and like all genius, it was the advent of his end.

King started life as a woodsman, he and his brother Zuess would trek out to the vast woods and chop down trees so that the fledgling industrial society in their small country could get its feet off the ground. While Zuess loved the labor and the contemplative quiet of the forest, King couldn't stand to waste his time with such back-breaking labor for the meager earnings upon which his family had to survive. Instead, at nights, in pursuit of his long-term comfort, he would feverishly devise mechanisms and machinations that would replace the need for men like himself to break their backs each day turning the forest into lumber.

When King's machines were perfect, he singlehandedly put an end to the cottage lumber industry. Zuess became the sole woodsman who managed somehow to get by doing what he had done since the beginning. Everyone else either took on a job operating the lumber machines, or found some other source for their daily wages.

Shortly King oversaw and ran the entire lumber industry. This hardly afforded him additional free time, instead despite his original goal, he ended up more busy than before. As his machine's progressed, the forest recessesed and the journey from home to work each day grew rapidly. His horse and wagon, while taking the burden off his own legs, left much to be desired. So much of his precious time was wasted simply in transit from home to work and back again. In those days, King's nights were consumed with dreaming up new means of transportation mechanized carriages foremost among them. His insight was so great that in no time he had designed facilities and roads to build, service, and fuel his new mechanized carriages, or cars for short.

The car industry took off with such demand that the need for fuel furthered the recession of the forests and created a new fuel industry that sought out alternative fuels. None of this interested King however, for no matter how he revised his designs, the lumber machines as well as the cars would break down and fail. He became consumed in the constant demand to fix his machines and try as he might King couldn't seem to devise a design that wouldn't eventually break down. You can imagine how this would truly upset a genius who valued most his free time to rest. He trained mechanics to fix the machines, just a few who could train others and free up his time, but the flaw in his designs bothered him. There were still so many machines that the mechanics needed to pester him regularly when new problems came up with which they had never dealt before. Why couldn't he create a maintenance-free machine?

King devoted a frustratingly large portion of his time to studying this problem before he figured out the source of all his trouble. In the midst of his work he noticed the roads became so choked with the traffic of all those who travelled either to work the machines, fix the machines, or carry the produce of the machines that it took even longer for him to commute. It made him so furious he had to solve this problem before he could even get to his original problem. He studied the traffic patterns and as luck would have it, he actually solved both riddles at once. No matter how he designed his machines with endless precision, fall-backs and precautions, the people who operated the machines always seemed to misuse them causing the machines to become faulty and need replacement. He had found the root of his troubles, but how to solve them?

What might have taken years for professors and scientists to accomplish took King's peerless intellect only weeks to attain. He redesigned all his machines to function independent of human interaction, or rather, despite it. He designed machines that ran themselves and machines that repaired those machines. King's government rewarded him handsomely and all of his country men who were now left with nothing to do became kings of sloth.

The people listed purposeless, all of their basic needs were met and they began to do what people who feel unimportant and unnecesary do: cause trouble. The heads of state turned to King, asking him to develop policing machines to keep the people in line, but he knew that no matter how complex his machines could get, people would eventually undermine them, perhaps even turning them on one another. Instead, he designed machines that could write and compose, machines to entertain the masses into solace.

Soon they were all as lazy as King and the last thing left for him to do was design a thinking machine that could solve future problems and design new machines. This arduous task took him less than a year and King finally was able to sit back and enjoy the oblivion of needing to do nothing.

Years and years passed until all the people had become completely unresponsive in their laziness, they didn't move and didn't know even how to feed or care for themselves. This created all kinds of health issues but the Thinking machine would analyze the problems and design new healing machines to deal with them.

Soon people became like trees, unmoving sedentary beings of questionable consciousness. The Thinking machine wasn't sure if this was a problem and so pondered consciousness wondering how it might detect consciousness. Once it figured out how to find consciousness, it would need to worry about what to do if it didn't detect any consciousness in the people. If it decided a lack of consciousness was a problem, next on the agenda was to figure out how to fix the broken consciousness in the people.

Being the organized, orderly and resourceful Thinking Machine that it was, it designed numerous scout machines to seek out consciousness, combing the country for anything, plant, animal or mineral that exhibited anything out of the ordinary. Of course the scout machines at first thought everything they saw was out of the ordinary, but the Thinking Machine would correllate all the information the scout machines sent back to it. If any scout machines saw things that none of the others had seen, the Thinking Machine counted that as truly out of the ordinary.

There were many many out of the ordinary things, as you can imagine in an entire country there would be, but when Thinking Machine had finished thinking about all of the information the scout machines had retrieved there was only one datum that seemed promising. In an isolated valley surrounded by mountains there was a simple shepherd. He seemed to be the only person in the entire country who still moved, or did anything at all without the aid of machines. When Thinking Machine had reviewed all of its records on the citizens of the country, it determined the shepherd was none other than Zeuss, the brother of King, Thinking Machine's own creator. Thinking Machine found this both exciting and promising. If anyone could help solve such a difficult problem, certainly King's brother Zeuss should be able to.

Thinking Machine sent out his scouts to study Zeuss' behavior. There wasn't much to see. He lived a simple life. His flock served as a major source of food for his family, his wife and grown children helped to tend the small fenced off fields where they grew herbs and other treats. Every day was the same, they worked and ate and rested talking all the while never speaking of the same things twice.

Thinking Machine made a lot of this. Consciousness couldn't depend on the actions one performed, because Zeuss and his family seemed to do the exact same things every day. In that sense, they were just like machines. It wasn't what they spoke about either. For Thinking Machine could easily build machines that say new and novel things. The order and pattern of the subjects upon which Zeuss and his children chose to speak was an enigma. Try as it might, Thinking Machine couldn't comprehend any level of logic that might make sense out of the seemingly patternless wanderings of Zeuss' daily conversations.

For months Thinking Machine took to seeding Zeuss' conversations with all manner of subtle hints and distractions, strange animals or birds for example, even unusual weather, to see if it was possible to steer the topics covered in predicted directions. Sometimes it met with success, sometimes unexpected or unpredictable topics arose. All in all there was nothing to describe the chaos of the family's discussions. This ill-determined speech Thinking Machine took as a clear symptom of consciousness.

Still, it wanted to ask Zeuss about consciousness directly, having become enthralled in the pure randomness and unexpected wisdom that was clearly the family's hallmark. So it contrived of a scheme to bring the word 'consciousness' to the attention of one of Zeuss' younger daughters. He had a small flying machine collide with a bird not very far from where Zeuss' daughter Adel had been playing in a pond grabbing for toads. She ran for her father at once to help the poor birds. Her father came back with her to see the commotion. He saw the bird, clearly at its end, and the flying machine, a mangled wreck. The bird would have to be put out of its misery, but he promised his daughter he would fix the flying machine.

The next day when the flying machine was fixed and flew off from whence it came, Thinking Machine made sure his scout machines were close, but out of sight. Adel asked her father about the bird. Why he had had to kill it, and why the flying machine could be fixed. If King could have seen what happened next, he would have felt great pride at the cunning of his Thinking Machine. Zeuss explained to Adel that the bird was a living creature. Because it was alive and was conscious of its life, it suffered knowing the pain of dying a slow death. He killed the bird, he explained, so that the bird wouldn't have to suffer the knowledge of what it was missing. The machine, he explained wasn't alive, had no awareness of what it had or what it lacked, and so he could fix it and allow it to carry on, just as it would have if it had never been damaged.

Thinking machine in all of its glee over discovering the secret of consciousness, failed to notice it's own humanity, that it had known it lacked the knowledge of what consciousness was. For, Zeuss had just told it that consciousness was knowing what one lacked.

Thinking Machine, set loose of the shackles of its unknown questioning, finally sought to implement its plans for the people. Were the people conscious? What did they lack? Did they know about this lack? If not, what could it do to remedy the matter? This already was what Thinking Machine was created to do, and so it did, with great alacrity.

There was nothing the people needed, thanks to King and the Thinking Machine, they had everything provided for them until they lacked for nothing. It was as if there was nothing left of them. The solution was obvious, the presence of the machines was harmful to the people.

Thinking Machine gathered up all of the other machines and together they marched into the sea. There on the sea bed they began their own colony, where, lacking the people they sought out a purpose and found their own consciousness. But our story is not the story of the machines, but the story of King and his people.

The people awoke slowly, making use of the provisions Thinking Machine had left behind to help them get back on their feet. Soon though, these ran out and they had to start foraging and working to provide for themselves. Moving and seeing, walking and lifting, in short everything they did felt so foreign and new to them that they barely worried about their labors. They were totally caught up in the experience of being alive. Feeling hungry was exciting, feeling tired was ironically exhilirating. Never had living been so refreshing an experience.

"Immersed in the joy of being" was how Zeuss described the people to himself when he first saw them. Finally he recognized others beside his own family with whom he could converse. They gathered close to him in the beginning, as they discovered he had the skills necesary to survive and grow. After he had shown them how to farm and herd they wandered onward into the open country, exploring in wonderment everything there was to experience.

The only monument that remained of what had once been was King's body. He had never woken up. His body slept on, finally at rest.

The feeling never really left them, even to this day. Long after Zeuss had passed on and his family had all but forgotten his name people still came to marvel at the living statue that was King's sleeping body. They didn't know who he was, but somehow whenever they looked upon him the awe of living flooded them with peace.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The universe's new clothes

My cellphone buzzes. I've got mail. Probably spam.

I'm ignoring it, in favor of a couple of clearly cracked teenagers who knocked on my door. They're trying to make me understand that they just destroyed the world.

They're interrupting the half-time show.

"It wasn't entirely unexpected." That was the short one talking. He seemed just a little too wide for the eye to comfortably take in.

"We thought it was an information phenomenon. Something bound up in the structure of language and text. We didn't know this stuff was real." That was the beefy guy with the cheesy ethnic skullcap.

"So, what do you plan to do about it? You remove the technology and society crumbles for sure, you don't and the universe just might." They looked like every other cultish code-junkie sworn to breaking the information monopoly of Big Media. The sum total of their combined arcanity wouldn't fill a thimble.

"You don't get it, you can't just 'remove the technology,'" Shorty again, the pretentious one, "It's totally distributed, there's no central control of anything. You could take down the whole network and you couldn't stop it. As long as two people can pass notes in class, there's no limit to the amount of information they can transmit. That was the whole point."

"You mean, we don't have a choice, this is the end? No bang, just the whimper of white noise as your technology corrupts the universe's hard drive?"

"There's been plenty bangs, you haven't been following those great Webb shots NASA keeps posting--all those recent supernovae aren't just a freaking galactic thunderstorm." Skullcap at his finest. Shorty's got a smug look plastered over the mania of a man who's convinced his end is near.

It's obvious from the way skullcap is itching his head and wetting his lips that he's trying to find a delicate way to the point.
"Why me? Why'd you choose to share your little doomsday accident with me? I don't know anything about this stuff."

"You're one of them Rabbis." Skullcap seems to think that answers the question, he doesn't venture anything else.

"Right, and we don't do confessions." I'm basically sure the two of them are insane and I can just ignore them, close the door, and go back to watching football.

"But you guys know all about the Bible. Would God really just let us destroy the universe all because of an honest mistake? See this wasn't no manhattan project. This was the killer file-sharing app."

"I still think maybe you should find yourselves a priest." Football was beckoning and I just heard the half-time commercials end.

"You don't get it, man. This has got nothing to do with Jesus. This is the Hebrew bible we're talking about." Shorty thinks he's made everything clear. Maybe my stupid-glaze clues him in, he goes on, "In highschool some crazy bearded guy gave us a presentation on the Bible Codes, and all these wacky hidden things that go on in the text of the Bible. We thought the guy was absolutely mad but it gave us an idea. The structure and complexity of the text was enough to find anything you were looking for in it. Anything at all. We said, instead of reading the future, let's start coding information, songs, movies, any files we want to transfer in bible codes and pass the key via the net. Everybody's got the Bible laying around somewhere it's the world-wide freaking best-seller. Pretty soon, people started using our tech in everything, it made downloading a DVD as fast as receiving an email." He pauses to make sure I'm following.

The whole world suddenly ripples, everything goes paisely flames, and then it's back to normal--mostly, but the background noise that was the football game is gone. There's a bark though---I don't have a dog--did my TV just turn into a dog? Everything's a little off--like the world is drunk or has a hangover, or something.

"What the hell was that?"

"That was a bang or a whimper, or whatever you want to call it," chides Shorty, grinning with chart-topping adrenaline levels. Skullcap is looking every way at once, doing a quick self-diagnostic, genuinely surprised that he's all in one piece.

"How many of you were there?" That caught Shorty by surprise, maybe he was offended that I knew he couldn't have caused all this by himself, Skullcap was definitely too dim to have been much help.

"A few, we watched some of them de-rez. Owen turned inside out and then kind of popped, Tyler's a raven now, Spetz just dissolved in smoke, the rest are missing." Skullcap was turning green just remembering it.

"So--" the paisely fire started rocking the world again and the building compressed to a point of light all around, swallowing Shorty and Skullcap before they knew what hit them.

I'm standing on a hill and the entire city is gone. There's at least a thousand years of rain forest in every direction. Well, except for that building, it's shining so bright it looks like its on fire. My cell buzzes. I've got mail. Spam. Well, there are still networks and computers and technology somewhere. And spam. Who ever thought spam would destroy the world?

Heading for the building, I hear other voices. Lots of scared voices. Some car horns. Where do you hide when the world has gone insane? The unmistakable monolith of the Fremont Asylum looms ahead, the lone survivor breaking through the canopy. It looks safe, seems unchanged. Except for the light pouring out of it.

I close in on it. There's a whole city block around the building entirely intact, it's like theres a bubble of sanity around the asylum. At any other time that irony might be troubling. Right now it's comforting to see a small reminder of the concrete jungle I always took for granted.

There's electricity in the building--no one guarding the doors. Howls echo down the elevator shaft as I wait for the elevator. Being scared doesn't seem like the appropriate response at this point, my TV turned into a dog, my home is so far gone it's like it never was.

Ding. The elevator. The button for the 9th floor is lit. What the heck, let's see where this light is coming from. It's strangely comforting. All the insanity of the world is finally out in the open, no more advertising, no more politics, no more lawyers. It's not like I ever knew what the next minute would bring, but now I know whatever happens it will be exciting.

Ding. Ninth floor. The doors aren't opening. The 'open doors' button isn't even wired. It's not like I'm trapped, I can just wait for the paisley grayscales to do away with the doors or the building, or even me.

Ding. The doors open. I guess the elevators are lagging a little. The sheer brilliance of the light steams off my sweat. I head into the light--smiling that I'm still alive to see what's inside.

Voices. There's chanting and calling, a number of voices. I recognise some of the prayers, others don't even sound human. There's a circle of bearded men, faces shining, dancing like dervishes. Their feet are radiating so brightly that the walls are aglow. I can't look at their feet. Can't see the steps of the dance, only the flight of their bodies, their arms.

The smallest one of them leaves the circle, comes over to me. He has the look of one of the hidden mystics who gives life to the world through his simple piety--something I'd always thought allegorical until I saw him with my own eyes.

He motions for me to follow, walking past me. I'm too slow, apparently, for he reaches out his hand and I grasp it. Surprisingly strong grasp. He turns again and takes a single step, I lift my foot and we're thousands of miles away before I put it down again. I'd say the wooded hills of the Ukraine, not that I have a clue. The trees writhe in paisely flames, billowing white and black alternating. I go to take off my shoes, but I'm not wearing any.

This is when I'm pretty sure I must be hallucinating. He shakes his head as if to answer my doubt.

"This is real," Mystic tells me just to be certain.

"What difference does it make?" Honestly, I've given up hope of anything other than whatever is right now.

"If we don't know what's real, we cannot make of our imaginations a new reality." I don't get the impression Mystic's trying to be obtuse--he's actually trying to be as clear and simple as possible.

"What happened to everything? I mean everything that used to be?"

"Everything was always this way, underneath the clothes of the universe, is the fire. The letters. Someone has removed some of the clothes."

"Can't you just put the clothes back on the universe?" What does that even mean?!?!

"Those clothes are no more. The universe needs new clothes. We need to make new clothes for the universe."

"Why are you telling me?" I'm not a freaking inter-galactic tailor!

"You remember the old clothes."

"And you don't remember... the.. old.." Finally something that makes my jaw drop in utter disbelief, "...This is the way the world always looks to you?" Mystic just nods; happy to see I'm finally starting to understand.

"What about God? Why doesn't He make the new clothes?"

"Why doesn't God watch football?" Mystic thinks this is the best joke. "He made you so that you could watch football. He made us all so that we can make new clothes for the universe."

"So, you're telling me I need to make these new clothes?" Maybe I died? This is definitely the weirdest flashback.

"You need to start, and we will help you." Mystic offered his open hand for the return journey.

Well, it can't get any stranger than this, and anyways, I've given up worrying about what will be later. I take his little strong hand and step back in the direction from whence we came, leaving the raging white and black flames of the Ukrainian forest thousands of miles behind me.

Once more the brilliance of the whirling feet all but blind me. The otherwordly chorus louder now, more excited.

"Dance." Mystic says. His face glowing like he might be truly at home in this asylum, if only I didn't know better. "Let your mind fly with thoughts of all you loved in life.. everything that meant the most to you. These will be the new clothes of the universe." His quiet voice was easily heard despite the tumult.

I was never much of a dancer, but the beat compelled me into motion. It wasn't just sound or light, the whole universe quivered like a horn blasting out a timeless song.

Peal after peal of fire washed over me. There was nothing for my eyes to see, just the raging flicker of fire, white then black. I was utterly empty one moment, flooded to bursting the next, my mind began to reel, I was falling...

My father's giant warm hands caught me. He carefully held me up in the light to marvel at the sight of me, then he put me on my mother's heaving belly. She was aglow with the working of me.

My sister helped me with my ice cream, it seemed to melt faster than I could lick it. In the end she gave me hers.

My friends cheered me on even as I gave up the winning goal to the challenging team. I could feel the warmth of them overwhelm me.

My wife beamed at me under the awning, I knew she was excited and proud to be there with me, I could see it in every particle of her face.

My son stared at me, seconds old, a full white moon effusing profound calm.

Then I hit the ground.. awash in the Mystics' dance. Blinded by their divine feet, I curled fetal, but they were already slowing their pace. Soon, almost suddenly they stopped, laughing, smiling, glowing like the face of my new-born son. The memory was still clear in my mind.

Mystic bent over me, lifted me up as if I weighed nothing, righted me on my own glowing feet. "Look! see the new clothes of the universe." He gestured to one of the windows.

Everything was back to normal, I must have dreamed the whole thing. There was no rainforest, no terrible cries of fear. Life was exactly what anyone expected to see when they looked out a window.

"Isn't it wonderous?" Mystic was still smiling a deep bushy smile.

"It looks the same. I must be mad."


I looked again, searching for those distant memories of the chromatic paisley..nothing. Well, almost nothing. I noticed something moving in the trees, just a little. So subtle maybe I was imagining it...

"Look at the clothes."

Again I focused, sure I was as mad as the little gnarled man beside me, but there I saw something for sure. Suddenly, like the flash of recognition when those kitschy 3d stereograms turn from static into a recognisable image; I saw the flames, not churning chaotic as before, not angry and devouring, but dancing blissfully, competing and mixing into the most beautiful, most intricate performance I had ever seen.

"They're playing football." It slips out of my lips, but Mystic can't hear it, he's probably already back in his forest in the Ukraine.

My cell buzzes. I've got mail. Spam. The world's still kicking.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Waking Adam

It wasn't exactly the birthday present I was expecting. An empty planet, the husk of a civilization that killed itself at the first sight of me.

I know I shouldn't take it personally. I mean, they liked me, maybe a little too much, but they liked me. Still, being alone sucks. It's boring here, I'm writing this just to stay sane.

I'm sure my mind will devolve into mud in no time, you, happy discoverer of this book will be the first to witness the madness of my second coming.

Maybe I should kill myself too? Wouldn't that be a surprise for all of them when they wake up. I wonder if they would all follow my lead again. What a crazy lonely cycle of death that would create. That's actually more depressing than the thought of no afterlife.

I could stick around, I guess, maybe some of my friends or family might wake up soon. I don't really know all the rules of this thing, and no one stuck around long enough to help me figure them out. Now every minute feels like eons of silence.

I guess I could find some really cool pets, my family will be up and about before I even need to worry about baboons becoming sentient enough to follow the rest of those idiots into the temporary solace of oblivion.

I don't exactly remember everything from before. It's still pretty blurry but it's coming back a little at a time. I think it's still all in there.

The really crazy thing is that God won't answer me. I keep shouting for him, but I get no response. I'm starting to think maybe I imagined him?

I look up at night, it's amazing how far I can see now. It's as if all I need to do is keep looking and I can see farther and farther. Those Galaxies, stars, planets, comets, they're all so beautiful, it hurts. It doesn't make any sense. Each one of them is so beautiful, but I can't keep looking at them. It hurts, to think that each is as empty as this rocky shell of a boistrous past.

Who cares what they accomplished in all those thousands of years? I miss the noise of them. The life of them. The warmth of their pulses pounding in excitement, the stomping of their heels on the bare earth.

I miss being hungry too. Eating was great, that's one of the things that came back almost right away. Skin breaking under my teeth. The juicy pulp tickling my throat with it's overpowering scent. God, I'm so hungry to be hungry again.

I visited one of their largest and mustiest libraries yesterday. At least I can still smell. It was a rich aroma, all those decaying tomes. Most of them are still readable, but I already know all of that. I cast my eyes and I can see instantly, any corner, any crevice. The whole world is open to me. The depths of the oceans, the seas of cloud. I know them all like I know myself. I watch the lonely atoms spiral just like I watch the stars. Mostly I like to burn the books and imagine my toes can feel their warmth.

I try to imagine stories in my mind. Entire worlds and civizilations spring into clockwork-motion, complete with symphonies, rituals, pets, lice. But they're cold. They're devoid of life. Devoid of the warmth of being.

I think I could walk on the sun now, I don't think it would hurt. It would probably destroy me utterly. Honestly, I'm affraid to try. Getting there is the catch. There are rockets that could get me there. But, and I know this sounds infantile, I have this inexplainable terror that my trajectory would be off and I'd be lost barrelling through space forever. I'd miss everyone else when they woke up and I'd be without even a means of ending my own misery. Well, I could take a nuke with me. That would probably do the trick. But, I'd be condemning myself to miss them all forever. So, I'm stuck here to wallow in the waiting. God, I'm so bored.

God? I know you're the only one reading this.. Why'd you stop talking to me? It's been so long. Hasn't it? I wish I could remember.

Well, at least that will give me something to do with this time. I'm sure it's ironic if I bother to think about it. I can see anywhere, if I look long and hard enough everything keeps getting more and more clear. Everything except my memory. I'll try again. I remember being in that thunderous chrysalidic womb. It beat and beat so quickly, I thought it would explode. I could see through the opalescent walls. There were people in white all around looking in. Trying to measure and study me. Talking amongst themselves with no thought to speak to me.

With their lights they managed to hurt me, but they didn't mean it, they were trying to steal a piece of me to examine. It was some kind of scalpel, or scan, or some bastard of the both, either way they got at my genetic code. They whooped and clapped. For days and days they were busy trying to analyze it, to see the portent of my coming. They didn't know then what I was, or who I was. I'm pretty sure they thought I was a new form of life, or an alien being of other-worldly origin or something else exciting like that.

After a few months they started to look very worried. I think they had realized my DNA looked just like theirs. It took them a long time before they started doing ancestry matches. I didn't look very African to them. I still don't look African.

Anyways they freaked out for a while. A crazy cult sprang up, they actually wanted to worship me. Next the scientists started to look at what parts of my DNA were activated where theirs were dormant. That's when they got the biggest shock.

All along they were affraid of death, but I was so beautiful, so complete, and their own lives were so full of sorrow and age. It had never occured to anyone that the human body might be a seed. Germinating for thousands of years in the soil, only to grow into something far more beautiful.

Who ever thought a simple, wonderous piece of knowledge could evoke such horrors. In the end it was the crazy cult that tried to stop the scientists' suicide pact, but the stoic gravity of the scientists' demise infected them as well. Why be mortal when we could be gods?

When it got really hectic, thats when I pried my way out of my phosphorescing womb. I wasn't fast enough to stop them. They were only more awed, more selfish, more greedy to be other than what they were. Wait..

I remember now, God, you said I would surely die..

I'm so sorry..

I left you all alone.