Experimental Writing: Part 3

On the homeworld, the pilot would have just bounced down the side of the mountain; the tough, flexible ‘skin’ would have protected it from the bumps, and even accommodated the sharp stones that occasionally peeked through the soil and scrubby grass to catch the unwary foot.  Instead, there were these strange things – legs in the local parlance – to get used to.

The AI embedded in the computer was constantly chattering over the commlink providing information on the locality, mission updates, and health status.  Thankfully it had quit with the reprimands for leaving the sidearm behind.

This was the worst part of these rushed missions: an on the move briefing into the local culture, which kept on being updated as the AI interrogated available information and tried to work out what was significant and what was not.  Not always as easy as it might seem.  There seemed to be a lot about political events half a world away, which was important if you lived here permanently, but which was of no significance at all if you were an alien looking to do a job and skedaddle before anyone found out about.  And there was so much information to sift through, although the AI had already clocked something significant in the local lore and had dedicated a sub-routine to focus on that alone.

The Client had picked up the signal of the thing to be recovered, but considering that it had been missing for more than 2000 years, it wasn’t entirely clear what the rush was about.  At this point, there was no cover story, credible or otherwise.  The local population would just have to be avoided as best as possible.

The creature gave something approaching a sigh combined with a gallic shrug as another sub-routine decided to give it an update: information flowed.  This world had more than 6,500 languages in use…so far, so primitive…and the local indigenous population used two different ones and…yes, oh perfect.  The dominant one was used more widely, and indeed was used world-wide, but would be the mark of an outsider, especially if the accent was wrong.  The minority language was even spoken by the whole population, but the ability to speak even a little would be helpful – still that could be dealt with.  Another sub-routine was assigned to the problem of languages: it was one thing to know the lexicography, but another to use it in an idiomatic fashion.  The AI studied the problem, with an electronic weather-eye, on the mores associated with using either of the two languages.

Various things came to light as the AI tried to deal with the languages.  Further sub-routines were added to deal with issues as they came to light.  Pronouns…that required a significant chunk of processing power to unravel.  Different pronouns for gender…a sub-routine that was starting to develop its own personality chipped in with  an apposite home-grown phrase translated into the local idiom: not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Gendered pronouns! And for that matter only two genders!  The same helpful sub-routine started pushing through information on gender politics, equal rights, LGBTQ+, before it was suppressed by the AI.  The subroutine was allowed to continue collecting information, but an edit was made to prevent the sub-routine pushing through information without checking with the AI first.

What to do? What. To. Do…? The alien was neither male nor female as these…(quick check)…as these ‘humans’ defined them.  A choice would need to be made.  From the creature’s perspective there was little to choose between the two options.  Reviewing the notes on gender politics suggested that this was something to steer well clear of: alien undercover operatives are by definition and inclination averse to becoming involved in public debates prone to descending into acrimony.  Still, on balance, it appeared to be easier if you were ‘a man’ rather than ‘ a woman’.  For the most part it shouldn’t matter, but the pilot knew that it was important to commit to a part and be ready for the worst. This only happened if you got comfortable in the role.

The pilot, decided that it was time to start building a cover. Firstly, a name…  The sub-routine put up a metaphorical hand.  The AI reviewed the sub-routine’s work.  It was pointing out that it might be possible to build a certain amount of ambiguity by selecting a name that was both masculine and femine.  It put forward a few suggestions…

© David Jesson, 2019


 

During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.  Now is the time to choose a name for our MC.

Option 1: Enfys (“Rainbow”)

Option 2: Meredith (“great/sea lord”)

Option 3: Eirian (“bright, beuatiful”)

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

Advertisements

Things ain’t what they used to be

It wasn’t a good sign: the only people who had ever used my full name were my parents when I was young and had done something wrong, or my wife Helen, when I’d done something she didn’t like.  Perhaps there’s something I need to learn from that?

Anyway, it was rather disconcerting to be greeted with “Good morning Jonathan”, by our new, one-week-old fridge, in the stern tone of voice a head teacher would use to a naughty child.

Until two days ago, the fridge and I had been good friends and I was even becoming used to the idea that our domestic appliances were now trying to have deep, meaningful conversations with us. Although personally, I think this ‘Internet of Things’ has now gone a bit far, and ‘Things’ really ‘ain’t what they used to be’.

The fridge came pre-programmed with our family names, our likes and dislikes and even our behaviour patterns. On its first day I’d been greeted with “Hello Jon, I’m your new fridge and I hope to serve you and your family in ways that will improve the quality of your lives”.

Well that’s OK, I thought but I clearly hadn’t understood all of the implications. As far as I’ve been able to work it out, the fridge then managed to embark on a one-appliance fact-finding mission starting with data conversations with the bathroom scales, then the passive infra-red detector on the front door – which now seems to be able to measure my profile as I walk past, and to sneak the information back to the fridge and the scales. There also seems to be some sort of autonomous nutrition web-site involved somewhere, and between them they came to the conclusion that I needed to lose weight.

Two days after the fridge’s arrival, what I’m now calling F plus 2, a new exercise bike arrived. Now I didn’t order it, and Helen says she didn’t either. So the fridge or some other of our household appliances has gained access to both my internet buying account and my credit card. But, I’m willing to try out anything new, so it came out of the box and I had it assembled and ready to use only three hours later, even if that did result in a tirade of abuse from our so-called smart vacuum cleaner – for the mess I’d made on the carpet. I take my hat off to whoever programmed that machine, there were some words in there I’d never heard before, although their meaning was only too obvious and I’m not going to attempt to do any of the things it suggested.

I sat on the bike, set its programme for a gentle ride and was taken on a 45 minute journey from hell. Either I had set it up badly, or some other programme had taken over. The pedals clamped themselves onto my feet, and it took off at break-neck speed. They obviously design gym equipment with the idea that you’ll want to come back for more, as it kept telling me that (a) this was all for my own good and (b) that it was only following orders, that it had no choice and hoped I was enjoying the ride. Actually I wasn’t, and that was the last time I’ll ever lower myself onto that saddle.

That was Saturday morning, and I was due to meet Helen in town at 12 o’clock, but then the car wouldn’t start. It was OK later when Helen tried it, so why wouldn’t it start for me? Had something ‘got at’ the engine management system? I asked the house assistant – one of those devices that can play music and answer useless questions – what bus I needed to get into town as quickly as possible, and she said a Number 10, and it would be at the stop on the corner of Acacia Avenue in ten minutes time. Why did I just say she – when it’s just a small silver box?

After a fast walk to the bus stop, the live display unit there showed that the Number 10 had just been diverted to another stop, half a mile away. It was then I first began to wonder whether all these things might be in league with each other. As the famous saying goes – just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean these things aren’t out to get you.

Two days ago, or F plus Five, the fridge introduced me to some new features I’d not seen before. We started with a far-too upbeat (at least for me for at 7 am), “Hi Jon, it’s going to be a great day, why don’t you go for a refreshing bike ride before breakfast”. If you can now imagine a relatively normal adult person in conversation with a fridge, this is where it all began to go really wrong.

‘No thanks’, I said ‘I’m just going to have some breakfast and get ready for work, I have a lot on today’.   Now that shows how far I’ve gone – discussing my workload with a fridge –  probably the first step in being taken away somewhere, paranoid or not.

Anyway, that was not the right response. I was reaching in to get some eggs and bacon, when suddenly an alarm went off, a series of flaps and doors came down, and everything I wanted disappeared out of sight.

“I’m sorry Jon, but if you are not going to do today’s exercise, there are certain areas that become restricted, the areas available to you will now open”.

Three small doors slid back, to reveal a small tub of low fat yoghurt, a bottle of skimmed milk, and a clump of broccoli.

OK I thought, that’s nothing that can’t be cured with a screwdriver, and after using more energy than I would have done on the bike, I finally managed to lever open the bacon and the egg shelves, and looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have gloated when I ‘broke’ open the butter draw for the toast I was going to have.

The fridge simply said, in a slow, even voice “There will be consequences, Jonathan”

I received three texts later in the day, the first from the fridge repair company who had come in response to an order from my house, and fitted new high-security doors and flaps in the fridge. The second was from my credit card company explaining that the high cost of the latest transaction for repairs had reached my credit limit, and would I not spend any more until I had made a significant payment. The final was from the fridge itself, which simply said ‘You were warned’.

Helen told me to go to the fridge and apologise, but at first I refused. Then as I walked past the front door, the infra red detector, which I didn’t know had a voice said “What a porker!’”

Now I still don’t think I’m overweight, so I went straight to the bathroom to use the scales. Have you ever heard a set of scales scream: “No, please don’t stand on me, you’re too heavy, you’ll break my springs”.

This had to be a conspiracy, led by the fridge and these things were trying to take control of my life. I finally gave in and promised Helen I’d apologise to them in the morning. What has happened to those days, when the only problems with the internet involved worrying about whether a virus was going to make it through to your bank account.

So I did it. I grovelled – to a fridge!! – and I suppose it worked, as in addition to the yogurt and the broccoli I was just rewarded with a small square of wholemeal bread and a teaspoon size drop of zero-fat spread.

Maybe I’ll try disabling the Wi-Fi router, would that work, do you think?


© Jeff Farrow, 2018