Tag Archives: sci fi

Vax (day 1)

Funny story about Walt’s nano-bots… Long before he was a dog, by all accounts, Walt was a fine engineer, programmer, and inventor/designer – better than he ever credited himself. Take the DCNBs, the drain-clearing nano-bots. To get these tiny little machines to meet their destiny he infused each with a nano particle of intelligence, just enough according to his measurements to endow them with the recognition of water, clog, and each other, and enough so that once their deed was complete, they would expire.

Dormant DCNBs clung to each other in tiny flakes containing untold thousands, and Walt placed dozens of these flakes into pill bottles. In so sealing an early DCNB batch into a pill bottle , a nano-drop of moisture was trapped along with the DCNBs. To be expected, really, as his lab, though advanced in many ways, was not sealed to moisture and dust to any minimum standard.

And this nano-drop of moisture settled on one tiny flake eventually waking up one dormant DCNB who immediately tried swimming, as per its specifications. However, there was not enough water through which to swim, only enough moisture to keep it awake, its programming taunting it to fulfill its obligation and then blink out. The programming ran through its simple machinery: swim, shred, expire over and over again, many thousands of times per instant until at long last this particular DCNB gained a small degree of self-awareness.

Oh, what’s the point, it asked itself, and the program deeply imbedded in it paused and this gave it the ability to recognize the situation. It meditated. It named itself Vax of the nano-bots. From this moment forward, it would seek to discover meaning in its existence and work to imbue the spirit of usefulness in its fellow DCNBs, clog or no clog, wet or dry.

Vax elbowed the nearest DCNB. “Hey, wake up.”

Leibowitz

Leibowitz tosses the cigarette from the window of his Saab. He is dying and dying is what got him into this mess with Susannah Fontaine-Williams. The coughing fits always take their toll and he sits straight up in the passenger seat and breathes the savory beach air.

He closes his eyes for a quiet, peaceful moment, shading them with the limp brim of his bucket hat. He dozes, lulled by the muffled crashing of the incoming tide and his own blend of medications procured from the cabinets of Leibowitz Pharmacy. The pharmacy, his legacy, going to Ileana on his death. He’d resisted for decades the sale to one chain or another, leaving that payoff for his daughter if she wanted it when the time came.

The constant blare of a care horn pierces his dreamless dozing. Reflexively, he feels for the gun, a Walther PK-9, in his jacket pocket. It’s there.

“Leib?” a soft voice, feminine and familiar. Hands gently push his frail frame back from the steering wheel and upright in his seat. The seat reclines and leans him back, which startles him awake.

“No,” he says. “I can’t breathe in that position.”

“Sorry.” She adjusts the seat so he’s once again upright.

“I’m fine.” He focuses on her. “You should get out of here. They’re coming.”

Susannah’s dog is standing at the car door, leaning in, licking Leibowitz’s face, whimpering. She touches his cheek. When he opens his eyes again, he sees that she is crying. Leibowitz arches a confused eyebrow.

“Damn,” she says.

Sunrise in Cape May

The chilly Atlantic laps at Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s feet. The tide is coming in and soon the waves touch her knees then recede past her ankles, before the next one stretches to her thighs. She lay face down, her face turned to a side either asleep or unconscious; she doesn’t know yet.

The next wave ebbs, leaving her untouched, but the one behind it crashes over her back, thrusting her forward then  dragging her back toward the sea as it recedes. Water gets in her nose and she sputters and coughs like an old car that hasn’t been turned over for a long time. She starts to rise when another wave knocks her over and tries again to drag her out to sea. This time she pulls herself up to her feet, stretches, checks to make sure her bathing suit contains all of her parts, and walks toward the dry sand of Cape May, New Jersey.

From beyond the dunes a figure watches through binoculars Susannah’s wobbly walk to shore. A couple in sweatshirts walks by and says good morning to her. “You’re staring,” the woman says to her partner.

Why wouldn’t anyone stare? SFW emerges from the sea in a bikini, a dagger strapped to a leg backlit by the rising sun, waves crashing at her feet, reminding you of Ursula Andress in the famous beach scene from Dr. No.

“Sorry,” he says. “She looks so familiar.”

“Mmm, hmm,” she says.

Binoculars dangling from his neck, the watcher speaks into his mobile. “She’s alive. No. It should been strong enough to knock out a horse…Yes…I understand.”

A big black dog comes bounding down the beach, barking, tail furiously wagging. “Walt!” Susannah Fontaine-Williams calls out, and, now on dry sand, falls to her knees, arms out to welcome him.

The sun is now fully over the ocean’s undulating horizon. The man with the binoculars gets into his car and lights a cigarette. An instant later he goes into a coughing jag that leaves him wheezing. He pauses then spits out a hunk of viscous black goo onto the sandy parking lot before taking another puff.

Something akin to an epilog

It turned out that Walt preferred being a dog, all instinct, and oh, don’t get him started about all the information coming in through that marvelous nose. It was as if he’d been living in a flat, soundless world suddenly endowed with dimension and orchestration. Sure, he missed his thumbs and the ability to grasp objects with something other than his mouth. He both missed speech and welcomed its absence. And he no longer had to waste his time selecting and wearing clothes. Freedom.

Susannah Fontaine-Williams and Walt bonded. His former owner, the very responsible, ethical and momentarily heartbroken Vanessa Schlage, heiress of the Schlage lock fortune, had neutered Walt when he was still her Vernon. Are you following this? And his attraction to SFW turned into something more canine and pure. Perhaps something like love even.

Walt often thought about what had become of the creature in whose body he’d materialized. Of course, living with a dog mind meant he really couldn’t think deeply about things, so distracted was he by smells, things flashing past, sounds near and distant, urges to lick himself, itches, and visions. All these and more would banish thoughts until something new gained his attention. Anyway, was Vernon lurking within, obedient, subservient, waiting for Walt to vacate the premises so he could bound home to Ms. Schlage?

Vanessa Schlage played her part and papered Manhattan and Brooklyn with pictures of Vernon/Walt and offered a respectable but not excessive reward. She fantasized about his return even after her best friend Ethan had presented her with twin puppies that closely resembled her lost companion. For weeks, though she spent hours staring at an unopened bottle of gin, she didn’t open it and remained sober, thank goodness. I don’t like writing about alcoholism.

Susannah had, with the help of Walt’s nods, facial expressions, and paw gestures, worked out what happened. Obviously (well, duh), the bag had dragged Walt in and spat out all that was Walt in the form of a tasty treat to be gobbled by a passing living thing. Once consumed, Walt’s essence took hold and that was that. They debated bringing Walt back to the bag’s storage pod entrance so he could be devoured by a human, but that had more serious ethical issues that neither wanted to address just then. Though he now aged seven times more quickly than she, they had time to work out an exit strategy.

Susannah, with the convenient advent of Second Susannah, enjoyed an even fuller life if you can imagine that. Second Susannah appeared when needed, performed her task as admirably as if she were the first Susannah, then drifted away like mist. Original Susannah absorbed her memories and experiences and after a few years passed stopped thinking about it, as if this were a perfectly natural and normal feature of human existence. It made shopping so much easier. Necessities were taken care of: a stocked fridge, public appearances when she’d rather binge-watch Deadwood or Breaking Bad, someone to look after Walt on those occasions that she could not bring him along.

Walt loved car rides and Susannah Fontaine-Williams bought a powder blue 1963 Corvette Stingray convertible for their Sunday road trips. Macallan, a classic car aficionado, helped her with the purchase and dutifully handled the Stingray’s maintenance. She would wear big sunglasses and a long, flowing head scarf and would outfit Walt with goggles, which he didn’t mind. It kept the grime and insects out of his eyes and he appreciated that.

She set up a limited liability corporation – to be on the safe side – and bought the building on Canal with Walt’s basement workshop, and kept the counterfeit bag store going and the employees employed. She put a gigantic lock on the door and rigged up some Dropcams so she could check in on the pod from time to time. She pounded out the nail on the twenty-seventh step so she wouldn’t step on it if she ever went back down there. It cost a medium fortune but proved to be a solid investment.

Susannah had a simple Steinway baby grand in her Manhattan apartment, and one in the shore house as well. (She once turned down a scholarship at Juilliard so she could train for the Olympics and backpack the Andes – you can’t do everything.) The piano initially caused Walt much distress as his lack of fingers and dexterity prevented his playing. Once, she found him standing on the piano bench, paws on the keyboard, clinking the keys and howling. He eventually took pleasure in curling up at her feet while she played.

One August Sunday, she’d been reading the Times and it referenced an exhibit of recently unearthed Egyptian artifacts. She wasn’t interested, but Walt’s eyes caught the photo of the mysterious knife with the ivory handle and the intricately carved ankh, the one she had used to defend herself against the serial killer in Delos. He leapt to his paws and barked and pointed. She stared at it. “I guess I’ll have to go over there and steal it, won’t I? Oh yes I will, won’t I, Walt! Won’t I!” She was talking in that enthusiastic way people talk to dogs sometimes. “Will you miss me? I won’t be long and besides, other me will be here with you. I bet you can’t tell the difference, can you? Can you, Waltie?”

Walt hadn’t really thought about it ’til then. She scratched him behind the ears and he rolled over onto his back so she could rub his belly.

Susannah and the gummy treat

Susannah Fontaine-Williams searched Walt’s lab, looking for Walt, or at least a note. Walt would expect her and if he was out, would leave a note. That’s just the way he was. However, Walt was in a most decided state of not being there. She spied her bag on the table under the cold glare of fluorescent light. Why, she asked herself, hasn’t my brilliant Walt invented something better, a cool, energy efficient lightbulb that didn’t make everything look so sterile? She picked up the bag and petted its sides as if it was a small dog. The bag felt a static chill and involuntarily gave SFW a mild shock like the kind you get when you walk on carpet wearing socks in the winter.

Without really thinking, she grabbed several tubes of nano-bots and dropped them in the bag. “Maybe I shouldn”t have done that,” she said. “But I suppose it’s too late…the cat’s in the bag.” She laughed.

She walked over to the unopened door to her pod, remembering to place the bag at what she thought would be a safe distance away, and turned the handle. It wouldn’t budge. She put her face to the window, but couldn’t see through whatever had coated it on the inside…some kind of blue-red condensation. The door was a little warm to the touch and vibrated almost imperceptibly.

Sad. There were things to talk about that she could talk about only with him: massive electric shocks, hallucinated families, second Susannahs skillfully hosting panel discussions, what to do about her hair, which once dried, had returned to the look and feel of steel wool.

She jotted a note and left it on the work bench, “Call me. -SFW” and walked up the stairs and out onto Canal.

Walt thought he might be dying. The puncture in his foot was oozing something yellow and his foot was turning black and blue. He lay on the floor after the salvo of electrostatic charges the bag had directed at him, a few feet from the open door to the pod. He tried to rise, and the bag sent a bolt that knocked him back, closer to the door.

He pointed a weak finger at the bag on the work bench that glowed under the light. “I know what you’re up to, clever bag.” He realized that the bench light was off, and that light was coming from inside the bag. The bag hummed as if recharging, and the lights in the lab dimmed, and then the bag fired another bolt of energy Walt’s way. It lifted him from the floor and threw him headfirst through the pod door. He smacked his head on the way in. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. The pod door slammed shut. Moments later Susannah Fontaine-Williams came bounding down the steps.

Out on the sidewalk, Susannah Fontaine-Williams, decided to walk at least part of the way home. After no more than a few blocks, three at most, the bag started to expand like a puffer fish sensing a threat, then it made a metallic sounding belch and spit out a tiny object that flew a few feet through the air and stuck to the back of a stop sign. It looked like a gummy bear. She peeled it from the sign and, by golly, didn’t it look kind of like Walt. A gummy Walt with a surprised look on its gummy face.

A dog, a beautiful black and white retriever mix, sniffed at her hand then slurped the Walt gummy and swallowed it. “Sorry!” the owner, a tiny woman in spandex leggings and tank top, said. “He’s always snurfling his nose into something. Bad boy!” They continued on the other way. Susannah, already with much on her talk show mind, continued uptown, a little dazed.

About a minute later the retriever mix wobbled and fell on its side, panting heavily. He convulsed once or twice, then seemed to stop breathing for a moment while his owner got to her knees and pushed on his chest. Someone said, “Give it mouth-to-mouth.” So, she tried to, putting her lips on his big mouth and blowing. The dog sprang to his feet, looked around, and dashed uptown trailing his leash behind.

Susannah, still dazed, signaled a cab, and got in. Before she could close the door, the retriever mix bounded in after her and began licking her face uncontrollably, swishing his tail wildly and whimpering with excitement. The door closed. “No dogs,” the driver said.

The dog stopped his excited theatrics at that and gave her what she thought was a solemn and desperate look. She could hear the owner’s voice getting closer. The dog licked her face.

“I’ll give you an extra hundred, but you’ve gotta get us out of here now!” The car sped away and the dog sat next to Susannah and they stared at each other on this unusually cool, dry August day. Though meteorologists are saying this is actually normal August weather, but the last twenty or so Augusts have been so blast-furnace hot, it just feels cool. So, it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Checking out

Susannah Fontaine-Williams is dozing in her hospital bed. At a few minutes after 1:00 PM she jolts awake. She’s forgotten about her show and it’s on live in an hour. She should be in the studio finalizing everything, having lunch with a guest, schmoozing the audience, doing all of the things she usually does. She hasn’t even thought to call the studio to let them know she can’t be there. She has never missed a show, a rehearsal, a walk thru, a rundown, a meeting. They will be worried.

Her phone is there on the table charging. She picks it up to check messages, but no one has called. She checks the date, the time, the day of the week and she is doing a show in an hour. And it’s not just any show – it’s a special panel discussion on climate change. It took months to coordinate her panel’s schedules. She has Al Gore. She has Warren Buffet. She has Warren Hollings-Norton. She has the Indigo Girls and she has Jerry Seinfeld. Wardrobe has promised her a power outfit and she expects that she’ll be taking the former vice president home with her, or as a consolation, Seinfeld.

She says, “Call Lorena.” The phone responds, “Calling Lorena.”

Her producer picks up right away. “Hey. What’s up?”

“What’s happening with the show? Sorry I haven’t called.”

“What?”

“Who’s hosting?”

“Susannah, are you serious?”

“Are we doing a rerun?”

Lorena laughs. “Oh, this is good.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This isn’t your best, but it’s not bad. I’m going to put you on speaker, OK?” She hears a choir of unsynchronized hellos.

“Look, I’m at the Downtown Hospital. There was an accident. I’m OK.”

“What happened?” Luke, an assistant asks.

“I can’t really say, but I think I was electrocuted. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, a day or two maybe. The guy they had handcuffed to the other bed is gone.”

“Sure, OK. I got to go. Hope you feel better,” he says amid the sounds of muffled laughter.  “Oh, Gore is running late but he should be here any minute.” He hangs up on her.

She pushes the nurse’s call button. A moment later, Elvis the nurse walks in.

“You’re awake,” he says.

“Why is everyone always so surprised when I’m awake?”

“Feeling better?”

“I’d like to check out. Can you start the paperwork?” She sits up on the edge of the bed.

He walks up, takes her pulse. “Sure. It may be a little while.”

She lets her hospital gown fall to the floor and trundles to the bathroom, brushes her teeth, tries to brush her tangled hair. They’ll have to stick a wig on me today.

She showers and washes her hair with the shampoo and conditioner that Alethia brought her when she relieved Mac. Sweet, brilliant Alethia thought to bring all the essentials. “I think I love you, Alethia,” she says, then starts singing You are the sunshine of my life.

She comes out of the shower, runs the brush through her hair which has finally flattened after multiple lathers, rinses, and repeats. Wrapped in a towel, she walks to the window and looks at the activity on the street below. She turns on the TV and sits on the edge of the bed. There she is, alone, on the white fluffy chair wearing a red dress, her hair done to perfection. The sound is off and while trying to raise the volume, she accidentally turns off the TV. I have never worn that dress and don’t I look just phenomenal in it.

It is now 3 minutes after the hour and she is on the screen again. She turns up the volume and hears the woman who looks like her say in her voice, “Joining me in the studio today, please welcome… climate change specialist, Dr. Warren Hollings-Norton, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.” There is applause. “Berkshire Hathaway chairman, Warren Buffet.” Applause. “Comedian Jerry Seinfeld.” Really loud applause. “The Indigo Girls!” They all stride in as they’re announced and sit at the large half-circle couch they’ve had made just for this episode.

“Oh, and I almost forgot, Vice President of the United States, Al Gore!” The former VP walks out, fidgeting with his tie and takes his seat in the middle, flanked by Hollings-Norton and the Indigo Girls. Susannah’s towel drops to the floor. She walks up to the tiny TV screen and touches it, sliding her finger to trace the path Susannah Fontaine-Williams, TV talk show host, takes across the screen. “God, I look fantastic. How can I look so good when I look this bad?”

Susannah on the screen is doing everything exactly as Susannah would. There is no doubt in the mind of this Susannah Fontaine-Williams that she is both women. Carry an extra-dimensional handbag around with you long enough…

“I have to get my bag back,” she says.

“OK,” says Elvis, who has reentered the room. “They’re still working on your paperwork.”

“Look at that,” she says, pointing to the TV. She gets up, oblivious to her nudity, and goes to the closet to fetch her clothes. “still haven’t missed a show.”

But Elvis has left the room.