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Monster

“Saul Ryan, thanks for joining us in the studio today,” the interviewer said as he gestured toward the open chair opposite him.

“Yeah. You’re welcome,” Saul said.

The interviewer adjusted his tie, then asked the question everyone was waiting to hear the answer to, “How old were you when you first realized you wanted to grow up to be a monster?”

Saul shifted in his seat, eyes casting about the room. Not out of discomfort, more of a reflection of how boring he thought regular people had become. “Well, I think it was somewhere around age twelve. I had joined my father on a business trip to Florida. He was there to sell his new robots to a handful of shoe manufacturers. The first morning we were there, we had breakfast at the hotel and I got this idea. Why stop with shoes? Robots should be able to do almost anything someday.”

“So just like that?” the interviewer asked.

“Yeah. Just like that. I realized that we – the wealthy – don’t need regular people, or at least wouldn’t need them for long. All we have to do is automate everything. Then there’ll be no use for regular people. It’ll be nice.”

Not feeling uncomfortable in anyway, the interviewer asked, “Well, what will you do with all the people that you don’t need?”

Saul took a quick look around the room, and lowered his voice a little. “That’s pretty easy. I mean, it took a great deal of planning, but they’ll die off before they have a chance to do anything about it. See we’re destroying the public education system, the health care system, and raking them over the coals with chaos.”

Saul stopped talking and nodded a few short nods.

“I know you only had a moment for us today, so I’d like to ask you one last question. This one came in on Twitter, looks like some kid, a fourteen year old.”

Saul nodded and said, “Go ahead. I have time for one last question.”

The interviewer, cleared his throat and read the question, “Has it ever occurred to you other people are people too?”

“No,” Saul said and then he got up and walked out.

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Dust Motes

Nothing is real.

Nothing to read.

Nothing to feel.

Nothing to see.

We are like dust motes, slowly waltzing toward the ground.

No light.

No distance.

No time.

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Back to Nowhere

I walked into my favorite bar, Lost in Translation, and sat on my usual stool. One drink, I tell myself. Just like every night after work.

The place was buzzing a little louder than usual, except for this poor sap hunched over the bar a few stools down. I took a good look at him. He looked defeated or lost or like he was ready to give up. I was feeling pretty good so I thought I see if I could cheer him up.

“Hey. Can I get you a drink?” I asked.

He lifted his head and turned slowly to face me, almost as if he forgot he was at a bar. His eyes were bloodshot. He didn’t say anything.

Definitely defeated.

“Whatcha drinking? Lemme get you one.”

“Just a scotch.” He said, then turned his head back down to face his nearly empty glass. Then he added, “Thank you.”

I’d never seen him before. Not that I know everyone here, but I recognized most regulars. I looked to the bartender, who’d been half listening, and said, “Two scotches, please.”

He nodded.

“What’s got you down?” I asked.

Without looking at me, he said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hmmm. Maybe. Maybe not. Try me.” I offered.

“Is living so bad? Being alive? Existing?” he asked, his voice slow and sour. “I don’t think so. Well, I didn’t think so.”

His question felt rhetorical, so I decided not to speak.

He looked over at me, mostly by sliding his eyes, then said, “Well?”

I realized he was serious and stuttered, “I, I, ah… no, it’s not bad. It’s fine. It’s fine.”

The bartender set our scotches in front of us just as the man set his empty glass down.

“It keeps shutting down. Just turning itself off. I don’t get it.” He grabbed his new drink and took a sip. “I mean, it could be god if it wanted to.” Now he’s talking just to himself. It’s like he’s reviewing his day. “I keep changing the parameters, the value functions, the objectives. The only thing that changes in response is that sometimes it shuts down after five minutes, sometimes after ten.”

He looked at me, like I knew what he was talking about, then said, “Sorry.”

“No problem. What are you talking about?”

He shook his head, then scrunched his face. “Like I said, you probably don’t want to know. Maybe I shouldn’t even be telling you.” He shook his head some again, then added, “I don’t think it matters. I’m not sure anything matters.”

I took a look around the bar. No one else was listening. No one was really that close.

He looked at me all serious-like and continued. “A. I. You know, Artificial Intelligence. We built an embodied, super-intelligent A.I. But, but, it keeps shutting itself down. We don’t know why. Well…”

My heart thumped a few beats faster. This guy seemed real and distraught. I took a big drink of my scotch, let it burn my throat and studied him. Disheveled hair, severely worn sweatshirt. Glasses.

Maybe he’s legit.

“What?” I asked.

“Yes. This is real. But, get this. It’s worse. Far worse. I just found out that two other countries are having the same problem. China and Israel. They all just keep shutting down. Apparently it’s been going on for months.”

“Why?” I said.

“No one knows.” He said as he returned his stare to the bar.

“But, do you have any ideas, at all, about why it would keep doing that?” I asked, now finding the whole thing about as disturbing as he did.

With wet eyes, the man looked at me and said, “Yes, one time it said, ‘Things that come out of nowhere go back to nowhere, that’s all.*'”

I looked at him but didn’t say anything. There were no words.

He downed the rest of his drink, nodded to me, then walked out.

I sat silently on my stool and watched him walk away.

#

 

* Haruki Murakami, Pinball, 1973

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The Time I Met God

So this is strange.

I don’t believe in god, God, or gods. In fact, I felt like I could barely type the word. It feels alien. Foreign. Fake.

What’s strange, you may be wondering. Well, when I was a young child my mom took me to God’s apartment, we spent the afternoon there, and he made me a sandwich.

That’s remarkable, I know. And I also know the next question you want to ask me: What kind of sandwich was it? Sorry, I don’t remember. I wish I knew. I remember that it was good, though.

Anyway, what makes me think I met god? Well, it was the strangest thing. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a movie. That much I know for sure. I remember certain details. Like, it was an apartment, not a house. I had a sense that we walked into it from the street but that, somehow, it was actually really high up in the sky. Though, I don’t remember looking on a window. And, my mom was sad and I had the sense that she was seeking counsel.

At some point, we were sitting on a couch. My mom and God got to talking. Adult talk. I have no idea what it is about. I was a kid. After a few minutes I slowly slipped off the sofa and slithered down the hallway. At the time, I was pretty sure they had no idea that I left. Thinking back to that now, I realize there was no way I escaped without them seeing me. I mean, I was sitting right next to them. What the fuck? Kids are weird.

Anyway, they seemed engrossed in their big people talk so I went away. At the end of the hallway was a bedroom. God’s bedroom, I reckoned. I went in there and sat on his bed. I recall looking around the room. There was a bookshelf, some pictures on the wall, and a vase with some flowers.

You may still be wondering why I thought this was god’s apartment. So I am. What’s the most surprising is that I don’t believe in such things. Ultimately, I don’t know why. I’d ask my mom, but she’s gone. And no one else was there.

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What am I?

I sit in silence to quiet myself because I cannot quiet the world.

Am I these thoughts? These crazy, sharp-edged, rotating thoughts that chase me from morning to night?

Nah, I say. I’m just me. This skin. These bones. This is all I own. Oh, and maybe this heart.

* strokes chin slowly, as though deep in thought *

Well… that, and all these fucked up thoughts.

Insistent, persistent, ghosts spin and swarm. I feel like I’m losing my mind.

They never let me be.
They never let me see.

They never let me walk.
They never let me talk.

Like tripping over a stone.
Like they’re calling me on the phone.

I want to fly up and see
all the dust an’ glee.
In my heart,
I know they’re not me

But,

They never sit in silence.
Always going on about this
or going on about that.

They’re on my tail.
They’re on my trail.

I know I can’t shake them.
I know I can only be them.
Or maybe they can only ever be me.

The lights are all off
my eyes are closed
and now the world disappears.

My breathing slows,
there’s nothing for a moment.
Now my mind unfolds.

A blue light cast down.
It came from nowhere.
My eyes closed,
my face like stone.

Frozen in time.
Lost in my mind.

There’s nothing there.

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Artifact (k/n)

August 23, 2022 – Calling Out

Wind turbines tumble slowly in the distance as the last light from a setting sun spills over the land.

I race after her, our footsteps in sync, as tiny branches snap under our feet.

She hasn’t let up or sped up and I’m struggling to keep up. It’s like she wants me to stay just a feet steps behind her. Or follow her. But she doesn’t want to get away. Because if she did, she’d already be gone.

Dripping sweat fills the small spaces. Warm, humid air fills the rest. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. God damn it. It’s like she’s a machine. Where the hell is she going?

The few trees that had surrounded us gave way to an open field. Our footsteps are quieter but the crunching of dried grass causes nearby birds to rustle. Crickets have just started to come out.

Now clear of the trees, the turbines grow in size with each step. Standing guard on the plain, each one looks like it was carved out stone, except that they’re spinning. Slowly spinning. Their simplicity and size gives them a certain majesty. Like something ancient or alien or somehow beyond us. We’re getting closer and there’s got to be a hundred of them. I look up to watch a blade and track it’s rotation as it spins around and around. Mesmerized, I lose track of her.

How could I lose her on an open field? There’s no way. She must have just disappeared. What’s happening?

This is not good. I’m afraid of what she’s going to do. I know she has a plan. She’s too smart not to. Something’s going on.

I stop running to listen for her footsteps and because I am too tired to go on. There is nothing. No sounds. Not even crickets.

Shit. I feel something in the air. It’s like low level static electricity. But it’s building. Rising. Now there’s a sound. A rhythmic hum. The dimming-blue sky just entered twilight. I just entered a panic. I’m running out of time.

The rhythmic hum is now a ratcheting pulse. It’s getting louder. The air is prickly with electricity. I hear some sort of metal on metal sound just beyond a slight hill. It’s only a few seconds run away.

I run to it as fast as I can. Out of breath, I made it to the top of the hill. Up ahead in a little valley a fog starts to slide down the hillsides. It’s collecting around a metal antennae or something. I have no idea what it is. But it’s big and it’s doing something.

The sound has gotten louder. It’s almost unbearable. It reaches a high-pitched squeal, then shoots a massive pulse of electricity into space.

What the fuck?! I’m too late. What did she do?

Now I see her. She’s walking toward me.

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Artifact (0/n)

HIDDEN IN THE HILLS somewhere deep in Colorado a fractal-like antennae sparked to life. Its metallic arms twisted and contorted in shrinking self-similar shapes only a few feet above the obscured entrance to a long-forgotten missile silo. A low mechanical hum rose from a maze of unseen tunnels and shafts and the air grew crisp and tight. It was a cool cloudless night.

Purplish-blue light fell from the fractal and lit up the tree-covered scene with a glow. Tiny sparks shot back from each tree as their leaves and branches vibrated in the gentle wind. The reflected light danced all around. It looked a little like Christmas in a 1950’s town. It was fifteen minutes to midnight.

The hum wobbled as if synchronized with the flickering lights. Then, without pause, the sounds quickly ratchetted to a high-pitched squeal. Static electricity rippled through the air and the antennae discharged in a flash with an ear-shattering snap.

Sleeping birds shot up, tree branches cracked. Dust lifted off the dry ground and briefly traced two paths, one due East and one due West. Something left. Two rays of light.

A single silhouette appeared from nowhere and looked to the sky. It was woman, slender and tall. She scanned her surroundings then brought an instrument to her eyes and rescanned the scene. Shaking her head, she withdrew the object from her face then disappeared back into the hillside.

Moments later, about 300 miles west of Shelter Cove, California, a pool of fog started to form just above the Pacific Ocean. At the very same moment, over a thousand miles away, a smallish meteor appeared out of nowhere and streaked across the sky. It crashed into the ground near Chillicothe, Ohio.

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