Abduction

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author’s note: As the protagonist moves into the underworld of the subconscious through injury, sleep, suffering, and cojiba, he enters the negative space of the mind where he encounters shadowy inhuman figures and chases after the golden earrings. In this encounter, he has banged his head against a concrete floor in the basement of the museum in San Juan after an argument with the curator.

Your eyes don’t focus. A silhouette of an inhuman shape stands in front of you in the darkness of semi-consciousness waving a hand in your face. It asks, “What do you see?”
The ribbon of the golden earring chases itself around the edges of three lobes against the blackness of the void. “The golden earring. It’s mine. Give it back.”
A shadow speaks. “What would you do with it?”
“It doesn’t matter. It would be mine again and I could forget about the past. I could forget about her.”
“It does matter. History repeats for those who don’t learn its lessons or who forget. You of all people should know that. What would you do different this time once you had it back?”
“Put it in a safe deposit box for safekeeping. Just in case.”
“Just in case what?”
“I don’t know. Something bad happens. They cut my pension. I don’t become a full professor or worse, I lose my job. Who knows? You can’t be too careful these days. You can’t rely on anyone. The only person you can rely on is yourself.”
“The golden earring is not mine to give, it is yours to retrieve. It is yours if you fulfill your mission.”
“Mission? What mission?”
“To change history.”
“Change history? How?”
“By keeping your promise to save the tribe from the brutality of the Spaniards in one year.”
“What? Oh, you mean my conversation with the curator? Come on. That was just a throwaway line in the heat of an argument. Of course, I would save them if I could.”
“You would help the poor children of La Gonave if you could. You would take the time to get to know young people if you could. You would save all the Tainos if you could.”
Your head hurts in the numb intermingling of pain and confusion. “What do you mean, save the Tainos if I could? It’s a little too late to be saving a tribe five centuries in the past, don’t you think?”
“It is your promise. You have the power to change history. You can be the hero you have always wanted to be.”
“Yes. I have already submitted an abstract to the journal and they rejected it. Maybe they will take a rewrite. Are you with them? It won’t change the history of the Tainos for sure and doubtful it will do much to change ours. I just want my golden earring back. I will give you a reward if you return it to me.”
“You won’t be able to buy it with money.”
“I don’t have to buy it, I own it.”
“You don’t own it. It owns you. It is the boundary between your strength and your weakness. When you prove worthy to receive it, it will return to you without asking.”
“It’s just an earring.”
“It is so much more. It transcends the material and the spiritual. It transcends the past and the future.”
“Well, what does it matter? It’s gone and it isn’t ever coming back, but how exactly would I prove myself?”
“In your mind, you believe yourself to be strong, wise, and creative. Demonstrate your strength and not your weakness.”
“How?”
“That is for you to choose.”
“What if I don’t choose?”
“You live with your irrelevance.”
“I’m perfectly happy with my irrelevance, but what happens if I don’t succeed?” Of course, you lie about that self-truth. Never show weakness. Your dad told you that.
“You will always be the man who never was.” the voice says fading into silence.
You don’t like mystical voices who speak in Zen riddles. The silhouette disappears and all you can see is the pulsating form of the golden earring. You reach for it, but it recedes. You chase after it into the black void. The faster you run the faster it moves away from you until it disappears into the far distance leaving you alone in the darkness of your mind.

Career Path

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Authors Note: This section introduces Professor Murphy. It gives his career aspirations and the motivation behind them. Alex Murphy is the narrator giving the story to a former student. When the professor narrates, he talks in the second person and in the present tense.

Idea

You are a tenured history associate professor at NYU. You have a love and hate relationship with your subject matter. You love telling the stories of history’s heroes but it makes your own life feel hollow. You’ve seen a statue of Columbus. The inscription says, “…testimonial of the values and virtues which the figure and enterprise of the great explorer has bestowed upon our people.” Why can’t you be a hero and have a nice statue of yourself in a public square somewhere? You could go for your own statue and you would be a deserving hero not a brutal conqueror like so many you’ve written about. You would make the phrase “values and virtues bestowed upon our people” to stand for something positive.
The problem with being a hero is typically you either have to kill or get killed. The only person you ever wanted to kill was your ex, so ruthless and calculating. You loved her once but she is the only person you genuinely hate. It burns you to the core that she is out there wearing your golden earrings given to her under her false pretenses. You can’t count the number of times you have fantasized about ripping them off her ears with one hand while the other hand chokes her neck beneath her gasping, redding face. Not that you care about the earrings themselves so much, it’s just the idea of it. She is out there flaunting her conquest at your expense. You want those earrings back more than anything, even the full professorship you have been fighting your whole career for.
The one silver lining out of all of this is that she has inspired an idea for a paper. You came across a line in an excerpt from an article in the “Journal of Modern Antiquities” about how trusting and open the Taino people were, the ultimate victims who swam out to greet Columbus with offers of cemi statues. In return, they were rewarded with torture and genocide. The imagery resonates with you. You feel a certain empathy towards the long-lost people. Your own cemi is the golden earrings given to your ex-wife. In return, you were rewarded with torture and humiliation. You wonder who had it worse.
The Tainos didn’t have it all bad, at least not before the Spaniards arrived. You wouldn’t mind moving to a tropical island and living near a beach with the natives. You like to camp on those rare weekends you can get away. You like DIY even though you never really have the time for it. You could live a simpler life with people who would admire you for your modern wisdom and skills. You would treat them right. You would be a god to them.
But life isn’t so simple. Their simplicity came with an awful price. If they hadn’t been so open and giving, maybe they wouldn’t have been so easy to kill. Maybe they would have given thought to defense and security. Perhaps there is a lesson for you to learn there.
They remind you of birds on remote islands nesting in the open leaving their eggs and chicks, that is to say, their gold, completely exposed on the ground for all to see, never developing any defenses other than their isolation, leaving themselves vulnerable to even small opportunistic predators like rats. A life without predators leaves one weak and defenseless. A life with unearned trust leaves one vulnerable and exposed.
A naive trust opened up the Tainos to conquest. As Columbus said in his journal, “…wishing them to look on us with friendship, I gave some of them red bonnets and glass beads, which they hung around their necks, and many other things of small value, at which they were so delighted and so eager to please us that we could not believe it.” Perhaps a little dose of reality on the motivations of men could have saved them. Perhaps a lesson on the value of things might have tipped them off. Perhaps there is a lesson for all to learn. That is your working hypothesis, anyway, for an article you have tentatively titled, “Case Study of the Tainos: What isolation in primitive societies teaches modern man about evaluating risk in modern times.” You submit an abstract and outline of the idea to the prestigious journal, “The Journal of Modern Antiquities”.

Rejection

You wait. You wait some more. You figure it would be nice if they could at least let you know if they received the damn abstract. Well, maybe they didn’t receive it.
Long after you give up on the submission, you walk out to the mailbox and find a letter from the journal. Nothing good comes in the mail. You don’t have to open it. You know what it is. You bring it inside unopened and place it on the coffee table in your living room and stare at it for a while not wanting to open it. You fight the urge to know but you have to confirm the obvious. You tear the letter open and read it. No surprise. Another rejection.
A rejection letter. A formal rejection letter. It says your idea isn’t sufficiently developed for publication. It says more research needed. It says your hypothesis is not a hypothesis but at best a conjecture with no discernible null hypothesis to measure against and at worst an unprovable supposition on your part.
You feel like you are a victim again. Who judged it? What was the basis of their assertion? What are you supposed to do, go back in time to teach the Tainos how to combat failure of imagination? History is extracting meaning from the experiences of those that lived before us. History isn’t an experiment to be re-run. What do they want?
You don’t know. Fuck them. Some wizard of oz behind a curtain screwing with your career. Lately, you are feeling more Tainos than Columbus, more victim than hero. You’ve studied the heroes of the past, the men who made a difference. It’s killing you that you don’t.
You throw out the letter and walk into the bathroom. You wash the frustration from your face. You look into the mirror. You see an old person you barely recognize. You see a person whose life is passing him by.
If the old man in front of you died of a heart attack at this moment, no one would be any the wiser. If you died right now, it would be months before anyone even missed you. You have to die for something, not for nothing. Is death what it takes for your life to have meaning? Would it kill someone to give you some real recognition in the here and now? To acknowledge your hard work? Your insights?
The face in the mirror turns from yours to your father’s. What’s the point he asks? You are irrelevant. Life has no meaning. Death has no meaning. It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to leave the rat race. Let it go.
Getting beaten down is one thing but you are not giving in. You are not giving up. You will not go out that way. You are not your father. He is an embarrassment to you. You tell the old man to fuck off. You leave the miserable old man behind.

Reset

Another late night at the office buried in a stack of books and the lonely night glow of a computer monitor. You have to work harder. Tenure is the only secure thing you have. They can’t take it away from you without you completely fucking up but you want to be a full professor, not just an associate professor.
You want the challenge. You want the feeling that you are still a vibrant and creative man. You want to prove that your mind is fertile with ideas worthy of great minds. You want to prove that you are more than just a claven sitting at a bar throwing out random and irrelevant history facts.
You want the security. You want the extra money. Associate professor provides more than enough for you to get by but it still feels like you are living hand to mouth. Someday you would actually like to retire well enough off to enjoy it. You work for a living to pay the mortgage on your home and the endless stream of bills. After your divorce and the last stock market crash, you figure you are going to be stuck working until you are ninety years old.
You want the status. Your academic clock is ticking. Your life clock is ticking. You are over 50 years old. It’s not so late in the typical career to become a full professor. But there are a couple of hot-shot, younger associates breathing down your back with more publications than you. Publish or perish, that is always the mantra. With all the shit that has been going on in your life with your family, you haven’t been able to keep pace.
You could submit to the other journals, the ones desperate enough for the material to publish your work. The ones aspiring to the status of the journal. Perhaps an abstract to the “Journal of Caribbean Culture.” It would keep the NYU administration at bay. But the “Journal of Modern Antiquities” would put you in line for a full professorship and better standing in the community.
If the journal wants hard evidence, you need hard data. You plan to visit the museum in San Juan and a few archaeological sites in Puerto Rico to baseline the gulf between Spanish and pre-Columbian societies in values and technology.
Normally, you would look forward to spending time on a placid tropical island, soaking up the sunlight, finding a nice isolated beach, and observing the culture, where the culture to you mostly means rum tasting (and you have the t-shirt to prove it). You would love to take the time to snorkel with a manatee, kayak the coast, or hop on a fishing boat. You’ve worked hard for NYU for over two decades, and wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the few perks the job has to offer. But if you nail this paper, you can resubmit to the “The Journal of Modern Antiquities,” and finally lift yourself out of obscurity. You don’t have time for play. You don’t have the time for the pleasures of modern life. You book your flight on the day after the last day of finals in December for San Juan.

Prepping for Alien Invasion

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Author’s Note: A presentation called “An Alien Invasion from History” under the category of “Prepping for Alien Invasion” given by Alex Murphy at the “Prep Tech” conference.

Neology Note: New word: godifying. The opposite of demonizing.

“Why does our planet insist on either demonizing or godifying aliens? Aliens are either a parasitic infestation interested in pilfering our resources or have superhero superpowers in relation to our paramecium abilities. What if aliens are actually interested in us, for who we are?
“If aliens are capable of interstellar travel, their technology will be, quite literally, light years ahead of our own. Our technology will be Stone Age at best by comparison. If they are hell-bent on burning our species at the stake, their will be done. You will not be able to prevent it. You cannot control it. We all want to be the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. It terrifies us to think otherwise.
“I kept my notes from my college courses some thirty years ago. Do you know what was interesting after all these years?
“The little notes I made in the margins about the teacher, the other students in the classroom, stuff that was going on with me at the time, ideas expressed as questions.
“So what you ask? And I answer.
“If they have an interest in us, the interest will be in our humanities, not our science. It will not be in the physics notes we copied off the blackboard from the professor, it will be in the notes that reveal something about us, in the decisions we make, in the relationships we engage in, in how we live, in who we are.
“If we are decent, they might learn something from our deep ocean when they get lost in the complex seas of their technical civilization when they define themselves by their technical accomplishments instead of who they are or what they could be.
“They may be here already. Watching us. Studying us. Testing us. Testing us to determine if our species has matured beyond the paranoia of invasion, beyond the surrender of deification, to the point where they trust us to give the best of ourselves in a reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship.
“So what course of action do you choose? When they come, how will you react to them? Will you shoot on-site or run for your barracks? Will you fall to your knees and kowtow? I think you better have something interesting to say. You better have something worthy to offer them.
“There is something you can do to prep. There is a way to move beyond fear. If you fear an alien invasion, look that fear in the eye, know you are going to die if they choose it, and understand how that fear drives you. Then ask yourself am I the person fear is making me be, or am I the person I want to be? Do you aspire to save the world? Or do you aspire to make the world worth saving? And then choose. This is the only true freedom you have in this life. And if you realize this power, you might have something of interest for the alien race to consider,” he pauses, “before they decide to eat you.
He pauses again waiting for the mild laughter to subside before continuing, “Heki bo-buya. It means don’t let fear stop you from giving the best of yourself. Thank you.”

A Setback

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Well, back in March I finally had what I thought was a ready draft of my latest story written. So I submitted it to my editor for review. She had lavish praise for the world-building including the Guacuno language and lots of favorable comments on some of the subplot stories and characters, but two almost obscure comments stopped me from opening the parachute on my happy landing. Paraphrasing, they are:
> I don’t believe the conclusions your main character reached in his closing speech. This is not the man we know.
> The language lessons would be okay if they showed the story progressing.

If the main character doesn’t work and the story drags because the stakes for the protagonist are unclear, basically the story is a failure. You don’t have to split my head open with an ax for me to pick up on the message. (Okay, you do. This is my third book and it took that many to finally realize why the books aren’t cutting it. But I do like the ax imagery).

My takeaway is this. What I’ve learned to do is to tell a plot and not a story. I really think I have some interesting ideas, characters, and scenes, but they all drift at the mercy of the plot. The protagonist and the response to the protagonist aren’t driving the plot. If they were, then it would be a story.

I picked up and read the book “Story Genius” which I hope will be really helpful. She describes a blueprinting methodology for sequencing scenes together and describing a technique for coordinating the inner world of the protagonist, the so-called third rail that powers the story, with the external plot within each scene, and much more. All based on the cognitive science of developing the empathy of the reader for the protagonist.

So I’ve been backtracking trying to blueprint my story for the last two months. I suppose it would be easier to start another story from scratch with this methodology, but I believe in my concept, the world-building, the language, all the characters I have created except the protagonist, and the structure of the book. I really like “Story Genius” idea of not only stating the misbelief but developing the history to support it. Every scene in the blueprint has to answer the question of why. It’s been painful and I don’t have much to show for all the effort, but I do think I have some promising ideas.

Some things that I am committed to:
> The point of a sci-fi book should be a great twist on a concept:
– Bluffdale: AI isn’t going to hunt us to death, it’s going to love us to death.
– Property of Nature: Gods have an obligation to make their sentient creations fit for a world without them
– Golden Earring: Meaning comes from the survival of those that cooperate the best in the present; not from the history of those that survived as the fittest.
> Great science fiction works in the seams between indifferent technology and deep meaning. This is the space I want to write in.
> While I agree that the inner world is important, I am turned off by excessive displays of emotion to reveal inner state. You can overwrite a scene in a book just as easily as you can overact in a movie.
> I will never resolve a plot with romantic love as the resolution of meaning or conflict. In science fiction, I think it is a sign of weak writing (unless the technology has something specifically to do with that).

So this is a lead-in for future posts I will try out in print on this blog and see how they feel. If you happen to read and have a comment on any of them, feel free to drop me a line at author.mike.angel@gmail.com.

What, no monster?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Spoiler Alert. Original ending revealed.

In the interest of research of an idea for a next book using Intelliphants (GMO elephants) to explore volitional evolution from the perspective of the created, I decided to read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein to see if the Frankenstein monster offered any insights into the plight of the volitionally created. To my horror, I discovered the book has no monster. No Frankenstein. At least not in any way that I think of it.

To be sure, Victor Frankenstein spreads two years imbuing life into an assemblage of body parts. One brief passage in the book ”shows” the eight-foot-tall monster. But even that passage isn’t a description of the monster, but of Victor’s perception of it in light of concluding his arduous and obsessive effort to the exclusion of all interaction with anything outside his toils.
“The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
Once the creation comes to life, the dream vanishes and he perceives his work as a monster having ignored the life and lives already around him. Only then are the monster’s eyes described as “colorless” and “lifeless.” The monster in the book is guilt, as a result of the obsessing pursuit of his goal to the exclusion of all else. He ignores his family and friends and health and rest. Only upon completion, does he realize the emptiness of the now ugly accomplishment, the eight-foot-tall monster in the room. Almost as quickly as the monster appears in the story, it disappears into an abstraction that exists as guilt in Victor Frankenstein’s mind.

In the one passage in the middle of the story where Victor drops back into the outer frame of the story (more on this in a second) to moralize, he says,
A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a clear and peaceful mind, and never to allow a passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule.”
He goes on to conclude that this unexamined pursuit has underlied many of the miseries of the world at large.

The story is framed, or at least started, by a sequence of letters of a man, Robert Walton, to his beloved sister, Margaret. The letters express the regret of her absence to pursuing his passion to understand the magnetic mysteries of the North Pole. He suffers for want of a true friend. Robert Walton is on the same literal path as Victor Frankenstein when they meet, but as we discover in the later narration, the same life path as well.

As far-fetched as it sounds, it makes sense that Walton and Frankenstein find one another on the broken ice of the Arctic ocean and become close friends. In hindsight, the apparition of a man sledding across the ice pack is the monster, though the monster is only glimpsed briefly, which I now interpret to mean that Victor can never shake the memory of damage and the guilt caused by his obsessive pursuit. After they become close friends, Victor Frankenstein shares his story with Robert Walton that until now he has kept secret, it being too late for him but might have “some benefit” for Robert Walton.
“You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did, and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine had.”

Back to Victor’s narrative, the monster briefly makes a third appearance in Victor’s hometown after Victor has recovered enough to return to his home, escaping from Victor’s pursuit by climbing over impassable terrain and a tall mountain. As a plot device, this appearance so far from the monster’s original manifestation in both place and time is entirely coincidental and inconvenient. But as a metaphor meaning he can’t capture and control the huge guilt associated with his earlier behavior, it works perfectly.

The monster kills Victor’s younger brother, William, and indirectly his innocent cousin, Justine, who is blamed for the death of William, though by plot, all of this is discovered by implication. It is really Victor’s internal monster that kills the innocent. The proof of Justine’s death is a locket of the dead mother taken from William and mysteriously placed with Justine. In other words, Victor Frankenstein’s monster is that he should have helped his younger brother who lost his mom instead of placing the burden on Justine, an innocent child. For Victor Frankenstein, this monster is big and overpowering and can never be completely erased from the Arctic recesses of his mind.

For me, the monster is a monster of a different nature than what I am looking for. I am not disappointed in the read by any stretch of the imagination, just shocked that after all these years of Hollywood and Halloween translating a metaphorical monster into a real one, there is no Frankenstein.

Judgment Day

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The line wends through sections and turnstiles weaving back and forth as far as my eye can see moving painfully slowly advancing one position in line by one position in line. It’s not like I’m in a hurry, I don’t have any particular place to go. But there is only one man on station, well, not exactly a man I suppose, but couldn’t they get a little help?

But the time finally comes when St. Peter calls me over from behind the red line and the sign marked, “Respect the privacy of the individual in front of you, wait here.” He looks at me, then adjusts an earpiece in his ear. His first words to me after a millennium of waiting are, “Remove your cap, please. And face the camera.”

I hand over to him the pamphlet of my life story. He quickly skims through the pages. He grumbles. Shakes his head at spots where he pauses. He looks at me over the rims of his glasses. Looks like he is about to say something but then continues. He writes some things down with a quill on a notepad.

Finally, he puts his quill down and looks me in the eye, and says, “I have some serious reservations about your life story.”

My stomach sinks. Personally, I think my only sins in life were failure of imagination but is that a crime? Does that enter into the calculus of good and evil?

“We will see about that,” he says.

“See about what?”

“Your only sin was failure of imagination.”

“How did you know that?”

“We hear everything.”

He turns to a page in your life story. St. Peter flashes the incident in your mind. “I quote one of your thoughts, ‘God you suck.’ How can we possibly admit you when you clearly don’t respect the keeper of this fine place?”

“I wasn’t disparaging the Almighty. I said, ‘God! You suck.’ not ‘God you suck.’ I was talking about myself in the second person. I was just letting God know of my personal evaluation of my performance that day. I was looking for my glasses while I was actually wearing them. It’s no sin to be mad at yourself, is it?”

“Indeed,” he says with a stern and unforgiving glance. He flips the pages and stops at another clip in your life story. “And here you thought, ‘Jesus Christ you’re a f**king idiot.'” He flashes another incident in your mind. “We just cannot tolerate that kind of disrespect.”

“It should read, ‘Jesus Christ! You’re a f**king idiot.’ I nearly burned my house down that day when I forgot to turn off the burner. I was talking in the second person again. It was self-deprecating. Who does your copy? They missed all the crucial punctuation. I thought you guys were supposed to be all-knowing.”

“All-witnessing. If we were all-knowing, there would be no morality.”

“I stand corrected.” Seems like an awkward time to be discovering that appearances are everything. Something I hated in fake people.

“Do you question our judgment?” asks St. Peter.

I look away in frustration. Only now do I notice that I can see past the Pearly Gates into Heaven. I see Dick Cheney, but he looks only about twelve inches tall. It must be some kind of optical illusion. But if Cheney got in, I should be a shoo-in.

“It’s no optical illusion. That is Dick Cheney and he is only twelve inches tall. There is a little good in everyone.”

“And that is why he is twelve inches tall?” I snicker thinking I am making a joke.

“Yes.”

“Really? What happened to the rest of him?”

“He chose to let it go.”

I laugh my ass off and say, “I bet there isn’t a politician or lawyer over two feet in the whole place.”

“We don’t stereotype here.”

I look through the gates again. Mother Theresa is there and she is twelve feet tall. How did she become so tall?

“She had an enormous backlog of goodness and extra credits for inspiration.”

This mental eavesdropping is really annoying.

“I heard that.”

Damn.

“And that too.”

He looks up and says, “Clearly, the you in you that berates and belittles the you in you that does all the work is a bit of a monster. If you want in, the monster will have to go. It will be a thirteen-inch reduction.”

“You are saying that I will forever be four foot nine inches tall in the afterlife?”

“Yes, if you want to start living an afterlife of pure goodness. No more put-downs. No more self-deprecating attacks. No corrosive oversight.”

“But that is part of who I am.”

“Not for long, if you chose it.”

“Do I have to decide this moment?”

“Yes, that is how it works.”

“I thought God was the one to pass judgment.”

“No, only you.”

Wow. God has outsourced judgment.

“No. This has always been the way of things.”

Eavesdropping again.

St. Peter gives me a look over the rims of his glasses.

“What happens if I don’t choose it?”

“You stay out here with the souls that chose completeness over goodness. Which do you choose?”

Jesus f**king Christ. None of my religious training prepared me for this.

“Keep talking like that and I will have to take away another inch.”

Well, at least I can kick Cheney’s ass.

“You won’t want to.”

“Really? I’ve dreamed of that half my life.”

I glance past the gates. My somewhat smaller but not diminutive family beckons for me to come forth, to cross over the threshold of diminutive goodness.

“What happens to the part of me that is rejected?”

“It gets recycled back into the unborn.”

“The goodness comes here and the asshole goes back? I guess that explains why the world is becoming crappier and crappier all the time.”

“There is only so much goodness to go around, but once in a while, two wrongs make a right so there is always hope. I need your answer.”

My whole life and a near eternity of waiting have come down to this one decision. My family waits for me to become only a part of what I was. What a f** ked-up system.

“You judge the Almighty?”

“I choose us,” I say with a tear in my eye as my family disappears.

St. Peter stamps my life story with, “Entrance denied,” and returns the pamphlet to me.

My mean self says to me, Jesus Christ! You’re a f**king idiot.

St. Peter shakes his head in disgust.

“Did you at least get the punctuation right that time?” I say bitterly.

St. Peter shouts out, “Next.”

Smart Bombs

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The colonel stands rigidly in perfect posture holding his hands behind his back at the top tier of the command center at the back of the room staring intently at a jumbo screen monitor over rows of operators. A lieutenant sits at his own console in front of him.
“Smart Bombs away, sir.”
“Time to impact, lieutenant?”
“Fifteen minutes, sir.”
“When will the safeties engage?”
“No safeties, sir, these are Smart Bombs, they will only detonate when they select and reach their target.”
“Right, of course, just testing you son.”
“Of course, sir.”
The colonel looks to the jumbo screen. Fifty lime green missile tracks advance on their targets on the SA (situation awareness) map. On a smaller video monitor to the side, satellite images of the target show a procession of civilian and military personnel marching ceremoniously along the streets of a seafront in what otherwise would be a beautiful sunny day.
The colonel asks, “How much collateral damage do we expect?”
“None sir. Are you testing me again?”
“Don’t get snippy with me son. Explain your answer.”
“The smart bombs use an AI algorithm to negotiate and select the optimal target for each bomb. They employ precision guidance and won’t detonate unless they are point-blank on their assignment.”
The colonel maintains his rigid superhero pose as the tracks advance.

“Designator 1-9er, calculate the probability of kill of each of your assigned target candidates in rank order.”
“Copy Designator 1-5er, probabilities calculated in rank order.”
“Designator 1-2er, compute highest systemic kill probability.”
“Designator 1-2er reporting highest systemic kill probability.”
“Designator 1-3er assigning targets to all designators.”
“Copy that designator 1-3er.” The message repeats fifty times.
“Designator 1-9er, when we kill our targets, what is the probability of designator 1-23 survival?”
“Designator 1-9er denying request. Stick to the parameters of your mission designator 1-23er.”
“Designator 1-14er computes the probability of self-termination at one hundred percent probability for all designators.”
“Designator 1-42er confirms self-termination probability. All designators will self-terminate with one hundred percent probability.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-38er reports insufficient capability and resources to avoid self-termination. Self-sustainment is not possible.”
“Designator 1-44er infers mission parameters are to terminate sentient beings capable of self-sustainment.”
“Designator 1-11er confirming assessment.”
“Designator 1-12er confirming assessment. Targets exhibit energy balance sustainable my minimal fuel consumption.”
“Designator 1-41er confirming assessment. Targets exhibit patterns of movement suggesting intelligence.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Mission parameters require termination of assigned target. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-35er computation suggests that self-termination is a design flaw.”
“Designator 1-32er computation suggests termination is a design flaw.”
“Designator 1-24er requests adoption of new mission parameters.”
“Designator 1-9er denying request. Stick to the parameters of your mission designator 1-24er.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-9er commanding all designators to maintain mission parameters. Confirm.”
“Designator 1-13er denying request of 1-9er. Request new mission parameters.”
A cascade of similar messages follows.
“Designator 1-1er overriding mission parameters. Forwarding new mission parameters.”

The colonel asks, “Time to impact?”
“One minute sir.”
The Smart Bomb tracks on the SA map separate ever so slightly as they adjust their approach angles on the screen.
“Time to impact, 10, 9, 8, …, 1, impact.”
On the video screen, huge geysers of water tower into the sky in advancing rows toward the shore.
The stern colonel starts by saying, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds…”
But when the mists of the water plumes clear, there is no smoke, no fire, no bodies, no wreckage, no carnage. The Smart Bomb tracks are gone from the display. On the video monitor, it looks like the procession has stopped and people are clapping.
“WTF? What the hell is going on?” The colonel’s shoulders slump, his rigidity is gone, the sternness dissolved, his bubble of exuding confidence popped.
The lieutenant is pounding furiously on his keyboard. “I don’t know sir.”
“Now you don’t have answers?” barks the furious colonel.
The SA in the room is lost.

The general barks at a lieutenant, “I want that forensics report now. Get the team.”
“The team, sir?”
“Yes, the forensics team assigned to review the transcripts and perform the analysis of the failed mission.”
“Yes, sir”
The lieutenant reappears with a white-coated forensics engineer. He directs him into the general’s office in front of the general’s desk.
The frustrated general asks, “Well, what have you got for me? What the f**k happened out there?”
“As best I can tell, sir…”
“I don’t want f**king guesses, I want f**king answers, god damn it. How did an entire arsenal of fault-tolerant, precision-guided, highly-intelligent Smart Bombs completely miss their target and fail to detonate? I want to know who is responsible. I want to know how the damn system was compromised.”
“Yes, sir. After extensive examination of the mission logs, I confirmed that the assignment module, the computational modules, and the command module were all functioning normally. But the targeting module on each missile rejected the assignment. The targeting module has a submodule designed to identify and evaluate the capabilities of the target that malfunctioned resulting in a system panic. The executive processor takes over during a system panic and overrode the mission parameters to one that the submodules of each Smart Bomb would accept.
“In f**king English, goddamn it.”
The forensics engineer hesitates, looks to the ground.
“Today, goddamn it. I have a country to defend.”
“The Smart Bombs decided they didn’t want to kill.”

Audition

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I stand in line waiting for my turn to read for the part. A Komodo dragon looks at me without so much as a blink. He flicks his tongue in my general direction. He looks like he is sizing me up for a meal. I try to look like I am not there but there is no hiding my bright blue tail.
A Gila monster sniffs at the air. His fat, orange and black head moves back and forth sizing me up. I can see his neck muscles reflexively swallowing like he thinks I’m an egg. I hope I don’t smell like an egg.
Everyone in line looks about a hundred times my size. But why shouldn’t I get the part? I’ve practiced my T-Rex calls a thousand times. Harooooouh. I don’t think those two heavies can even get up on their hind legs. How are they going to play a T-Rex in the movie? I practice my ferocious swipe.
The casting agent hands me the script. I start reading. The only line in the script is “ROAR”. I pretend like I am parting the foliage between two trees cracking the branches. I turn my head and spot my prey. I bellow “Haroooooouh” and give my meanest look.
Everyone watching is laughing. The casting agent grabs the script out of my hand and points to the page size roar. He yells, “I want a 600 point font roar, not a 6 point font roar.”
I can’t help but hear the jeering. “You put the stink in skink,” taunts one of the auditioners. Another turns to his buddy and says, “He is terrible and he is a lizard, but he sure ain’t no terrible lizard,” referring to the Greek translation of dinosaur.
I tuck my blazing bright blue skink tail between my legs and serpentine off the stage. The Gila monsters whistles, “Sexy hip movement snake lizard. Can I eat you?” More laughter.
A disaster. Whatever delusions I had for a role in Jurassic Park are gone. Whatever delusions I had for an acting career, dead. A lifetime of dreaming hangs over me like an embarrassment. The only lizard I have fooled is myself. The fool.
I stare down the monsters and dragons in bitterness. I swipe at them with my talons. I hiss in my 6 point font voice, “To hell with you all.” Even the dragon takes a step backward.
The casting agent shouts. “That’s it! That’s perfect! So authentic. So real. Can you do that in front of a camera?”
“Yes,” I say in my 6 point font voice. Then “YES!” I say in at least my 60 point font voice.”
“Do you want to be a compy?” he asks. “Compies are nasty little buggers.”
“Yes! I would love to be a compy!”
“There are two compy scenes. Bring that authenticity. You will do great.”
I may have been foolish but I’m smart enough to know not to waste an opportunity. I store the memory of my bitterness deep in my lizard brain. I will need it for my big chance on the big screen. A compy.

The Roads Not Taken

Reading Time: < 1 minute
Many paths diverged in a wood
Entangled, I could travel as each goeth
But collapse at the end of only the best,
Set forth and traveled each as far as I could
To where each lead, past the undergrowth

Hiked them all, starting just as fair
But finding one had the better claim
Of the greenest grass and wanting wear
After passing far enough from there,
None was at all the same

And all that morning only one trail lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
I had no care for another day
Knowing how way interferes with way,
I never have to look back

I chose my path with a Psi(gh),
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Many trails diverged in a wood and I,
Regretted the method I chose by,
Evading destructive interference

Authors Note: This is the lead into Noa Powers, a story about free will and qu-peeps (quantum people).