Bidhaa’s Ah-ha Moment

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Author’s Notes: This is my attempt to capture the “ah-ha” scene as prescribed by “Story Genius for the (tentatively titled) “Laws of Nature.” The writing is not expected to be flawless or even complete at this point. What the scene should accomplish is:

  1. Will the protagonist achieve the external goal? (To find someone to pay for his product licensing fees so he will not (literally) expire.)
  2. What will change for the protagonist? What will he have realized?
  3. What will happen externally in this scene that forces the protagonist to confront his misbelief? (Misbelief: Bidhaa believes he will be more than a consumer product if he finds his mother and the herd she belongs to).

The scene starts just after Bidhaa has been captured by the NDC.

When I came to, it was dark, and I barely had enough room to move. I knew I was in another container tomb, right back where I started. I hadn’t found my mother, and I hadn’t found her family. I had yet to find a buyer to renew my product license. It wouldn’t matter if I surrendered to despair or not. If the premature disposition gene didn’t finish me off, the end-of-life gene would. I was out of time.

I had walked two thousand miles to find the Tembo. I found the Tembo. Although I am physically most like the Tembo, I discovered I was not a Tembo. Even the Tembo were no longer Tembo, a species initially eco-genetically designed to live wild on the Velte lands of a once wild Kruger but nothing more than domesticated exhibits in expansive zoos. The Tembo had the same rootless existence as I did, moved from park to park and herd to herd at the whims of their NDC owners. But they did not question it.

I questioned it. My feral existence had taught me to question it. I had as much right to carve out an existence as any. Domestication was another container to escape from. I found no place in the docile world of the Tembo.

I had walked two thousand miles to find my mother. Mubwa told me I might have a birth mother in Kruger, and Mahout thought the South African government might renew the license fee if I could join a herd. Everything they told me was nothing more than fanciful thinking. 

Somebody had dumped me in a world that had no place for me. When I started my quest, I thought I might find that place if I found my mother. When I met the Tembo, they did not know who their mother was, let alone who my mother might be. My search for my mother had failed. My quest to find someone who had to care for me because they brought me into this world was lost. 

Born to process human language, I was a productized Tembo designed to amuse and entertain humans without a niche in wild nature. Speaking in the human language did not make me a human. I was an article manufactured for consumer consumption but no longer suitable for regulated markets. Indifferent humans. Humans bored of my novelty. The humans that feared me, I feared the most. I threatened them in ways I only barely understood. They declared that I didn’t have a soul but never looked past their own prejudices (or gazed deep into my eyes) to find out if something was inside. They feared and hated me. They left me to deliquesce in the trash bin of unwanted and outdated things. I had no place in the world of humans. 

But the world outside the bin is more extensive than humans and their domesticated Tembo. So, I made the only choice I could make in the depths of my icy steel casket. I would die with anger and not despair. I finally understood Mubwa’s need to tell me her stories. 

I rumbled as deeply as possible, “Is anyone out there?” 

I heard the resounding rumble answer back through my feet on the cold floor. It said, “You are not alone.” 

I rumbled back, “Bidhaa is not a product. Bidhaa has a soul. I traveled far with Chini, one I cared for, to find my past in hopes of making a future. I never found my home. If I die in here, hold the remembrance of Bidhaa.”

It rumbled back, “It is done.”

I took great solace in the acknowledgment. 

The world inside the container was only a tiny space where I couldn’t fully stand up. I stood in a crouch and backed up as hard as possible with my rump into the back wall of the container. The reverberations rumbled my intent louder than my rumbling words ever could. Then I charged forward and lowered my head into the locked steel door.

When I woke, I was lying on my side. My head pounded. It took a while for me to focus. I sniffed for Chini but did not smell her.

A voice said, “He suffered a mild concussion but I think he will be okay.”

A woman’s voice said, “Bidhaa? Can you hear me?”

I raised my head and rolled onto my stomach. I could feel the sun warming my back. I was not in the container but in an open-air pen. I thought about charging the gate, but I still felt woozy.  

She continued, “Bidhaa. My name is Moja. I know you can speak. Can I talk with you?”

I repeated, “Moja?”

I stood up, struggling to maintain my balance, but my head cleared. I read the surprise on Moja’s face, but she showed no fear. She put her hand on my trunk and inspected each eye. She said, “Neither of the viral genes have expressed. You are in much better condition than I expected.”

I said, “Thirsty. Hungry.”

She said, “I will get you food and water if you let me. I am here to help you. Can we be friends?” 

Her face showed hopefulness. There was something I liked about Moja. She asked for permission instead of giving me orders. But I remembered what Chini said about me always being too trusting. I said, “Why trust?”

She said, “I know you’ve been through a lot and don’t know me. But I can answer many of your questions about who you are. In a way, Bidhaa, I am your mother.”

“You? Mother? You are a human. How could you be my mother?” I remember those first few minutes of my life when I smelled Tembo before I was stuffed into a crate for transport. It was my turn to inspect her. I sniffed at Moja and said, “You smell like a flower. My mother did not smell like you.“

Moja grinned. She said, “I did not mean that I gave birth to you. A female Tembo birthed you into this world. That is probably who you remember. I meant that I am your mother in a sense because I created the genes that made your language speaking and processing possible.” 

I asked her, “Why did you bring me into a world that has no place for me and leave me by myself?”

She looked taken aback by this question and hesitated before answering. She said, “I did not choose to bring you into this world. The NDC stole my genes, brought you into this world without my permission, and sold you for a profit. I have been fighting the NDC in the courts ever since. But that does not make it any less my responsibility to help you. I have been trying to track you down for the past two years, but you are a surprisingly hard person to find.”

I liked that she called me a person. I was done being a thing for human entertainment. I flapped my ears in approval. I said, “Bidhaa is a person. Bidhaa has a soul.” 

She nodded and said, “Yes.”

She said it with conviction and without hesitation. I felt stronger just because she said that one word. I wondered if she was really the one. I said, “A mother always takes care of her children.”

Moja said, “A good mother does her best given the circumstances. My time left on Earth is very limited.”

I asked, “Are you dying?”

Moja chuckled. “Not any time soon, I hope. But I am going to start a journey to another planet. How would you like to live on a spaceship with other Tembo? You would have a whole island and a herd to roam about with. You would have no owner and no expiration date. You would have no one to answer to but yourself. There is another like you that will be on the ship. You would have a peer, another talking Tembo, with the same abilities as you. If you are willing, I could take you with me.”

I did not know what a spaceship was. I wished Mahout were there to explain it to me. It sounded like the home that I dreamed of. It sounded like everything that I wanted.

She said, “You could even have children and raise a family.”

I said, “I would not bring children into this world.”

“The world on the spaceship would be different. You might change your mind about that.”

It sounded beautiful, but I would only go to a spaceship with Chini. I said, “Where is Chini? I would not go without her.”

“Chini? Is she the one that was with you at Kruger?” 

“Yes. She is my herd. Where is she?”

Moja looked uncomfortable. She took a deep breath and answered, “She is in a zoo being taken care of. A vet has certified that she is in good health.” 

I remembered what Maonyesho Tano said and repeated, “A vet takes care of us.”


Something else, Manonyesho Tano said. I repeated his words, wondering if she was at a good place, “One watering hole is as good as the next.”

Moja shook her head, “Some watering holes are better than others. I assure you, Chini is at a good watering hole and will be well taken care of, and I will take you to a much better one.”

“I will not go to the spaceship without her.”

Moja did not look me in the eye. Finally, she said, “Chini is too big for the ship. A spaceship has minimal resources and a delicate ecological balance. It wouldn’t work.”

I would have to sacrifice a friend for a dream. A product is a label for disposability and neglect; a companion is not. I did not like being treated like a product. I would not abandon Chini like one, like I had been so many times. I said, “Chini is not disposable just because you offer me an upgrade.”

Moja looked embarrassed. She said, “I am sorry. I did not mean it that way. But I still cannot take Chini on board the spaceship. The species manifest is very explicit. I would not be able to make an exception for her. Forces are at play, and things are happening beyond my control.”

Those words sent a shudder down my spine. I said, “That is what Ms. Bixen told me before she tried to terminate me.”

Ms. Bixen had called me her precious baby and said come to Mama, fawning over me in front of her guests and clients when it was convenient for her to do so. But Ms. Bixen had surrendered me for termination when I became a burden. She pretended like she was my mother. I asked, “Moja, are you a pretend mother?” 

Again, Moja had the look of embarrassment. She said, “I try not to be, but I don’t have much time. I will try to help you the best I can in our short time. As it is, I had to threaten to quit the Humanity project so they would give me the time to come here. I wish it could be longer, and there was more that I could do.”

“Then Bidhaa’s license will expire?”

Moja smiled and said, “Oh no. I purchased your license, and the vet gave you the NDC antidote. You are in no immediate danger. You are set for two more years.” 

Two years is an eternity. You could hike two thousand miles in two years. Two years is the blink of an eye. I would be fighting for my life again before I knew it. I asked, “If Bidhaa does not go to the spaceship, Bidhaa’s license will expire in two years?”

She hesitated again and said, “I have some friends in high places and with a lot of afros. If you stay here, I will set up an endowment to pay for the antidote for the rest of your life. I can do that much. All you have to do is show up for the shot every two years.”

“Still in a container.”

“Yes, but everyone lives in a container of some kind or another. Part of growing up is to redefine what those boundaries are. And you are very grown up. They may find a way to excise the virus gene from your DNA someday.”

“I want to see Chini.”

“Of course. I think I can arrange it. We must find a place for you and Chini to live.”

I rumbled with satisfaction. Moja was not what I expected when I started my quest, but I found what I came for. I said, “Thank you, mother.” 

Author’s Notes: Let’s see how I did. What do you think?

  1. Did Bidhaa achieve his external goal?
  2. Did something change for Bidhaa? What was his insight?
  3. What happened externally in this scene that forced Bidhaa to confront his misbelief?

Featured image by Craiyon.


Reading Time: 10 minutes

 is my attempt at the third “Turning Point Scene,” as prescribed by “Story Genius.” The objective is to write three scenes to see the escalating arc of the story with instructions to fully flush out the scenes, providing story-specific info. “Specifics play forward. Generalities do not.” The scenes should reinforce the protagonist’s worldview, referred to as the “misbelief,” while simultaneously escalating the conflict with something they desire.

Here goes the third:

We used the smells of fresh water, animals, and elephants as our guide. Chini said the air held my smell, the smell of a Tembo. But there was also the smell of people, lots of them, so we moved under the cover of night. The scent of water led us to a watering hole, which we approached cautiously. Not because we were worried about lions but because the watering hole had bright lights surrounding it, and the smell of humans was strong. 

I said, “I hear the mumblings of people.”

Chini said, “Me too. Look up there.”

I looked. I could see the outline of human shapes on an elevated balcony in the tree line. Large shadows danced in the crowns of the trees behind them. I heard a voice much louder than the others ring out, saying, “Looks like we are in for a treat tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Observe two Tembo approaching from the North.” 

I told Chini, “They’ve already spotted us.” 

She paused, “Should we retreat?”

“I don’t think they have bad intentions. They are watchers, not hunters. They think you are a Tembo, too.”

Chini snorted. 

I said, “Think of it as a compliment.” 

She snorted again. 

The night air was crisp, and a mist hung over the water. In the fog, we saw shadowy images of warthogs, wildebeests, and gazelles drinking and grazing from hay feeders and bins without concern as we approached the watering hole. They were about half the size of those in Kyerere. They seemed relaxed enough, and there was no smell of a big cat. We hadn’t drunk for two days, so we risked it. We had our fill of water and hay before retreating into the darkness of the bush, not wishing to draw any more attention to ourselves than necessary. 

I heard the loud voice say, “What a treat for our visitors. Never a dull moment here at Kruger with the Nature Development Company.”

I told Chini, “We have to go. Nature Development Company is here.”

We ducked under the cover of the bush, And when we were safely away, I told Chini, “The man says we are at Kruger!”

Chini let out a massive sigh of relief. She said, “Finally. Let’s see if we can find your herd. I smell Tembo that way.”

In the morning, we approached another watering hole. The scene was even more chaotic than the night before. I saw a creature with a long pointy horn where its trunk should be. Chini told me it was called a rhinoceros and was not a trunk but a horn, more like a tusk than a snout. We saw miniaturized water buffalo, wildebeest, impala, and zebra. Drones flew overhead like a drunken flock of birds heading in every direction but never seeming to collide. Guardian drones stocked the hay feeders. In the distance, we could see an elevated platform with hundreds of humans watching over the watering hole. On the far side of the platform, moving jeeps lifted clouds of dust that drifted on the breeze before falling back to the ground.  

We saw a dozen or more Tembo playing at the water’s edge. The apparent serenity of the playing and bathing Tembo bolstered our confidence. Seeing the objective of the journey before us, nothing short of a pride of lions could have stopped me from interacting. 

As we approached, I noticed the brand on the side of the Tembo, the same as the markings on my side, “Property of Nature.” Disturbingly, I saw the same markings on all the animals. I surmised that humans from the “Nature Development Company” were also after them and that this was a safe place to hide from them. 

I spoke English to the closest Tembo when we reached the water’s edge. I said, “Hello there.” A few Tembo looked over but immediately returned to bathing and spraying. So I said again, “Hello there. Can we join you?” I looked at Chini and cocked my head because I couldn’t explain their indifference.

Chini said, “Maybe they don’t understand English.” She turned to the herd and said, in ordinary Elephant, “Hello there. We have come a long way to meet you. Do you mind if we join you?”

All the Tembo stopped what they were doing. The closest to us approached us as if this occurred every day. He said, “Good day to you. I am Maonyesho Matutu.” He looked Chini over and said, “Oh my, you are a rather large one. I have only seen large ones like you in cages. I didn’t think you were allowed on display.”

Chini said, “I have a funny feeling about this.”

I ignored her. I had the same funny feeling when I met her family in Kyerera. Besides, I was too exuberant to think about it. For a moment, I was no longer alone in the world. Despite Chini pulling at my tail like she did when I ran into the river without looking for signs of crocodiles, I ran over to Maonyesho Matutu and nearly purred. “My name is Bidhaa, and this is Chini. We’ve traveled two thousand miles to meet you.” 

The others surrounded me, trunk touching and introducing themselves. “I am Maonyesho Mawili,” said one. “I am Maonyesho Tisa,” said another. “I am Maonyesho Kumi,” said a third. They were all named Maonyesho.

“Your tribe is called Maonyesho?” I asked. They looked back and forth at one another like they were waiting for someone to offer an answer. I wanted them to call me Maonyesho Bidhaa, but I knew it was too soon to ask.

Still standing off to the side, Chini asked, “Who is the matriarch?”

Maonyeso Kumi asked, “What is a matriarch?”

Chini responded, “You know. The leader of your group.”

“Mahout is the leader of our group.”

“Mahout?” I cried out. “He is here.”

“Yes,” they replied. “He is right there.”

A guardian drone hovered to one side of Chini, then the other. When Chini took a couple of errant swats at it, the Maonyesos all gasped. The group lowered their heads, dropped their ears, and knelt on their front knees. I did the same.

Chini chastised me, “What’s wrong with you? Get up?”

I stood back up, but my head still sank at embarrassing myself in front of her. I tried to offer a credible rationalization. “Mahout trained me before I met you. Maybe this is his drone.”

Chini let out a high-pitched guffaw, all but calling me an idiot. She said, “They remind me of you when we first met. Deferential. Naive. Trusting.”

I reasoned it out. If that is how I was, and that is how the Maonyeso are, then that is how the Tembo should be. I said, “I am the same as they are.”

Chini bellowed at me. “Look at them. You have not come two thousand miles to defer to a man drone.” Then she growled at the Maonyesos. “Get up.” 

They followed her order as if the man drone had given it. 

Chini asked, “Matutu, who is your mother?” 

Matutu looked at her blankly as if trying to determine what answer would make her happy. 

Chini snorted, “Who gave birth to you? Who brought you into this world?” 

Matutu said, “Look over there.” Matutu pointed to a truck that was releasing young gazelles from crates. “I was born from a box. Just like those gazelles. We all were.”

I remembered coming from the box and the truck. I remember the smells of gas and choking on dust. I convinced myself that my memory of having moments before the box was the false memory of someone desperately wanting to belong and have roots. I even convinced myself that the Tembo smell of my mother that I remembered so vividly just days ago was my own. 

I was excited. It got the better of me. I moved away from Chini and practically danced into the middle of the herd. I conveyed the closeness I felt by announcing our shared heritage. “That is how I was born. From a box.”

Chini was livid. “Are you telling me we trekked two thousand miles to find a box?” She turned and headed away. I started chasing her, but she shouted, “Don’t.” She retreated to the sparse shade of a baobab tree. 

I was mad at her too, but I had many questions to ask of the Manonyeshos, so I let her go and sulk by herself, thinking she would come around. Before I was able to ask them a single question, Mahout returned. Mahout shouted an instruction, “Formation.” The Maonyeshos lined up one behind another, grabbing the tail of the one in front of them. 

Mahout flew over to me and said in English, “You have a problem finding the line today?”

I said, “No problem.”

Mahout said, “Who said that?” Mahout flew over and around me but didn’t get its answer. 

I took a position at the end of the line behind Maonyesho Ishirini Na Moja, a curiously long name. And so Mahout paraded the train toward the eager humans. The train stopped in front of the platform and performed. I was back on the veranda at Ms. Bixen’s all over again, doing stupid tricks and parroting human emotions. I heard a human say, “Wasn’t that amazing? They are so intelligent. Only an intelligent animal could keep a formation.”  

The performance ended at a newly stocked hay bin. The Mahout said in a monotone voice, “Great performance! You made your audience very happy. Enjoy a well-earned treat.” The metallic human drone was much different from the Mahout I knew. 

I looked back at the watering hole to check up on Chini. I was hoping she hadn’t watched that. I rumbled to her, “Come get something to eat.” 

She rumbled back, “Trouble. Run.” I saw a caravan of jeeps stopping near the Baobab tree. I shouted to the Maonyesho, “Quick. We have to go back and help Chini. She is in grave danger.”

Maonyesho Tano said, “No. I’m hungry, and I want to eat now.”

I looked back in Chini’s direction. The men in the jeeps surrounded her in a big circle. In a panicky voice, I said, “Please, we have to help her. Now. Come on. Let’s go.”

Maonyesho Tano said, “If you go over there, you will probably get shot yourself. Don’t worry. It’s probably just the vet. The vet takes care of us too. Or they move one of us to another place. One watering hole is as good as the next.” The others rumbled their assent.

I was angry at their indifference and perplexed by their lack of loyalty to their own herd. I didn’t know what a vet was but didn’t have time to wait for an explanation—the time for words had run out. I hustled to Chini as fast as my four legs would carry me. 

Chini wobbled and struggled with her balance like she had eaten too many fermented berries. Her legs nearly fell out from under her. She lowered herself to keep her legs beneath her, but her head was oddly twisted. I ran past the men and put myself between them and Chini. Chini lay down on the ground and said, “Tired. Head hurts. Spinning.” 

When they continued to approach Chini, I mock-charged a cluster of the men to drive them back. They retreated for a moment before again advancing on Chini. I yelled in English, “Stop! Leave Chini alone.”

I heard a man say into a small box, “It’s the talking one.” And then a voice in the small box said, “Take it down too.” I heard the thunder from their sticks and sharp pains in my sides and back. My vision grew foggy, and my head spun. I took the drunken walk and laid down next to Chini. That was my last memory of Kruger.

When I came to, it was dark. The ground was hard. I felt the walls that I pressed against. I recognized the hardness and coldness of metal. I realized I was in a container. I felt around in the dark with my trunk. There was enough room to stand up and about two body lengths from one end to the other. I did not feel or smell water or food, or another elephant. I grumbled to make sure, but only the darkness answered.

The Nature Development Company had me. Mahout would not be coming to save me. A wave of despair passed through my entire body. My eyes crackled. My head pounded. But I remembered the words of Mahout about how I could “get dead” in three days if I chose despair. The wave of nausea passed. I rumbled as deeply as possible, “Chini, are you there?” No response. I tried again, “Is anyone out there?” 

I heard the resounding rumble answer back through my feet on the cold floor. It said, “You are not alone.” 

I rumbled back, “I traveled far with one I cared for named Chini to find my past. I never found my home. If I die in here, hold the remembrance of Bidhaa.”

It rumbled back, “It is done.”

I took great solace in the acknowledgment. I laid back down on the icy floor, wondering if I would ever see the light again and what I would do with a second chance if I escaped. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the world where Bidhaa could hold his own thoughts and not have to run. I told myself it could only happen in my dreams.

I didn’t know how much time had passed. Maybe a day. Maybe two. My throat was painfully dry, and my stomach railed at its emptiness. The place stunk from my urine and excrement. 

The metallic creaking of the container doors opening startled me. The bright light hurt my eyes. I saw the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway. She looked like an angel. I thought I might be dead.

But the woman said, “Bidhaa. My name is Moja. I know you can speak. Can I talk with you?”

I repeated, “Moja?”

I stood up. I read the surprise on Moja’s face as she stepped back. She said, “You are in much better health than I expected.”

I thought about charging the door, but I felt weak. I said, “Thirsty. Hungry.”

She said, “I will get you food and water if you let me. I am here to help you. Can we be friends?” 

Her face showed hopefulness. There was something I liked about Moja. She asked for permission instead of giving me orders. But I remembered what Chini said about me always being too trusting. I said, “Why trust?”

She said, “I know you’ve been through a lot and don’t know me. But I can answer many of your questions about who you are. In a way, Bidhaa, I am your mother.”

“Mother?” I approached her, and she didn’t back away. I could see her face trying to hide the fear. I sniffed at her and said, “You smell like a flower. My mother did not smell like you.”

“It is a long story. I will try to explain to you later, but first we have to get you out of here. Do you want to come with me?”

“Where is Chini?”

“Chini? Is she the one that was with you at Kruger?” 

“Yes. Where is Chini?”

Moja looked uncomfortable. She took a deep breath and answered, “I don’t know, but I promise you, we will do everything we can to find her. But we need to get you away from here right now. I have men with me that can take you to a safe place where we can give you food and water and have a vet examine you.”

I remembered what Maonyesho Tano said and repeated, “A vet takes care of us.”


“One watering hole is as good as the next.”

Moja shook her head, “I assure you, we will take you to a much better watering hole.”

I said, “Trust for now.”

Moja smiled, “I can’t ask for anything more.”


Reading Time: 2 minutes

Tim asks, “What are you doing in the dark?”
John says, “Writing a love letter to Anita on my laptop.”
“I don’t remember an Anita. Do I know her?”
“I don’t know. You both come from the same place.”
“Well, this is what I have so far.”

My Dearest Anita, 
As I tinker with my motorcycle, oiling its gears and tightening its bolts, I cannot help but think of you. You are the lubricant that keeps my heart running smoothly and the wrench that tightens my soul.

John makes the corrections suggested by the AI-connected Spell Checker.  
Tim says, “Is Anita a woman or a form of transportation?”
“Haha. The motorcycle is a great metaphor for love.”
“Right, Shakespeare used it all the time.”
An ad on the side of his letter reads, “The five beneficial foods for people with schizophrenia.” John ignores the ad and continues reading.

Just as a motorcycle needs regular maintenance to keep running at peak performance, my love for you must be nurtured and cared for. And just as a motorcycle can take me on the most exhilarating journeys, my love for you takes me on the most thrilling ride of my life.

A notice pops up, “Saving to cloud…” and then disappears. 
Tim asks, “What kind of motorcycle do you have?”
John answers, “I don’t have a bike.”
“Have you ever ridden one?”
“Well, not a real one.”
“What other kind is there?”
“Well, I mean, I’ve thought about it. Just never gotten around to it.”
“Okay. You can make the analogy that riding a bike is like riding a woman. Not sure that is how I’d phrase it in a love letter, though. Is she a biker chic? Does she have a lot of tats and wear leather?”
“No. She’s kind of.” John tries to picture her in his mind. “Not as strong as I thought. I can’t remember any more.”
Tim offers, “Oily and smoky?”
John grimaces. He looks up at Tim but doesn’t see his face in the dark. He turns his attention back to the screen.
He sees another pop-up advertising twenty-four-hour-a-day psychiatric treatment and says, “What is with all of these ads I keep getting for mental health treatment and medications. So annoying.”
Tim chuckles, “Maybe they are trying to tell you something.”
“Very funny.” He dismisses the pop-up and continues his reading.

I will always be your mechanic, constantly working to keep our love in top condition. And just as a motorcycle can withstand the toughest of roads, our love will weather any storm.

Forever yours, John.

John types in Anita’s address and hits the send button. His email application responds with, “No address found. No suggestions.”
He air-swipes at the monitor, “Worthless machine. How can you not auto-complete the email address? I write to her all the time.”
Tim says, “Don’t you have a younger sister named Anita? What happened to her.”
John clutches his temples and crumbles into a ball, whimpering.
Tim continues accusingly, “She died in a motorcycle accident, didn’t she?”
John whimpers, “No. No. No. No.” He is crying. He wants to beat on Tim. He runs over to the wall and turns the light on. The room is empty. The door is locked from the inside.
He pulls on his hair. He wants to destroy something. He picks up his laptop. The webpage says, “Experiencing a mental health crisis? Call the hotline for immediate care from one of our mental health care professionals. Now. John. Here is the number.”

John puts the laptop down and pulls out his phone.

He makes the call.

Author’s note: ChatGPT assisted. Ironically, the AI wrote all the crazy parts. Art by Craiyon.

Human Monoculture

Reading Time: 10 minutes

At an engineering facility for Star Power, a corporation dedicated to using fusion as the ultimate source to power all the world’s needs…


A small crowd gathered around a couple of men working at one of the engineering station consoles in an open area away from the cubicles. I walked to my cube to start the working day, passing by John, one of my coworkers who loves fishing more than life itself. 

“Good morning, John. How was the fishing trip?”

“Unbelievable. I literally caught a U’Haul’s worth of fish. Yellowfin, yellowtail, bluefin, dorado. Nothing less than fifty pounds.”

“Wow. What are you going to do with that much fish?”

“Sushi party tonight at my place. I’ll deep freeze the rest. Come on by.”

“Cool. I’m in.” 

“Hey John. Who’s that guy over there working with the boss?”

“He’s a heavyweight scientist from corporate. Supposed to be a genius. He won the noble prize in warped core technology. Warped core technology will power the entire world when it’s ready. It would give us as much energy as the Earth gets from the sun all day, every day. You should check it out.”

“How much energy does it produce now?”

“The demo is only running at ten thousand megawatts of continuous energy.”

“Haha. That’s about billionth of the sun’s output. Either the core has to get a lot bigger or the world a lot smaller.”

“That much energy from one prototype unit could easily power a hundred facilities like this one.”

“Sounds great. It sounds like the world I want to live in, but I will have to see it another time. I have a visitor coming by in a few minutes, an engineer from the high-energy physics department who is going to help me with my plasma equations.”

“Alrighty. I will catch up with you later. I’m headed over to the demo.” 

John walked off to join the crowd at the engineering station. I ducked into the break room to fill up on coffee, black and strong. Will, another coworker, was absorbed in a book with his legs crossed, sipping a cup of coffee. The coffee pot was empty, so I started up a new brew.

“How’s it going Will? Have a good weekend?”

He tipped his head down to peer at me over his readers. “Too short.”

“What are you reading?”

“Moby Dick.”

“Damn, you whale,” I sounded off in my best Ahab. “Spoiler alert, the sperm whale eats everybody, and the book ends.”

“Haha. Funny. Don’t you have some physics to do?” He went back to his reading.

When I returned to my cube, the engineering guy still wasn’t there. Beverly poked her head into my cube. She wore a crazy, skin-tight, tiger print body outfit with large brass hoop earrings. 

“Hi. Wanted to remind you we have a tiger team meeting this afternoon at 2 to discuss out of the box ideas to solve the plasma leak issue.”

“You are really taking that tiger team role to heart.”

I laughed. Beverly didn’t even smile. So much for levity. 

“I haven’t forgotten about the meeting, Beverly. I have someone coming over from physics to discuss equations.”

“Ok, see you at 2.” 

I was starting to wonder if the guy even existed. While I waited, I brought up Google. I queried for the Earth’s surface area to discover it is 196.9 million square miles, then for the total energy reaching the Earth’s surface from the sun to find it is 173,000 terawatts continuously. That’s a hell of a lot of energy. But with only ten thousand megawatts of constant energy supply, the best one could do is power a big city.

A guy poked his head in the cubicle. He introduced himself. “Hi. I’m Jordi. I’m from the high-energy physics department. My boss told me to stop by to discuss some equations?”

“Hi Jordi. Yeah, let me bring it up on the monitor.” 

I turned to the monitor to find the folder on my worksheet on the hard drive. Waves of nausea passed through my head. The display on the screen distorted like the ripples of a rock thrown in a pond. The monitor pulsated in sync with my nausea. Papers flew about the cubicle, then everything was calm again. 

“What the hell was that? Jordi, did you feel that?”

When I turned to see if Jordi was ok, nobody was there.


I stood up and looked outside the cubicle. “Jordi? Jordi?” I looked over the cubicle partition with visibility to the whole room. No Jordi. Where the hell did he get off to so quickly? I checked the break room. 

“Will, did a guy stop in here a minute or so ago? His name is Jordi from the high-energy physics department.”

“No. No one else has been in here beside me since you left.”

“Hmm. The guy just up and disappeared on me. Sorry to interrupt your quest to harpoon the sperm whale.”

Will looked at me, puzzled, lowering his book. “Sperm whale? “What’s a sperm whale? Is that some kind of sex joke?”

“Yeah. Haha.”

“That kind of talk is inappropriate for the work place, you know.”

“Right. Sorry. Catch you later.” What the hell? He is the one reading the book about the sperm whale. So I left him reading his spermless whale book and walked over to the demonstration to see if Jordi was in the crowd. The corporate scientist was looking over his assistant’s shoulder at the monitor. The monitor showed the same energy pattern that I had seen rippling across my screen. 

I saw John and worked my way through the standing audience. When I reached him, I whispered, “Did you see that guy Jordi from the high-energy physics department?”

John whispered back, “No. Never heard of him. Check this out. The energy wave on the screen represents ten thousand megawatts of energy pulsing in the warped core. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, you already told me. Just 17 thousand more megawatts to match the sun’s 173,000 terawatt output on the Earth.”

“What are you talking about? It’s only a thousand terawatts more to go.”

“It’s 17,000. I just looked it up.”

The corporate scientist looked in my direction. He asked the audience, “Does someone have a question or a comment?”

I ducked out and went back to my desk. Still no Jordi. So I tried to look him up in the online corporate registry, but the search didn’t find anyone by the name of Jordi. 

Then, while I was scratching my head trying to figure out what happened to the guy, Beverly popped her head into my cubicle. “Just wanted to ask if you are going to present anything at today’s skunkworks meeting?” 

She entered the cubicle wearing black yoga pants and a nylon-fabric, skunk-print blouse. 

“Skunkworks? I thought it was a tiger team?”

“What’s a tiger?”

“You were wearing a tiger-patterned body outfit not ten minutes ago.”

“Whatever. I’ve been wearing this all day. Are you going to present or not?”

“I don’t have anything prepared. I can’t find that guy Jordi that was supposed to help me with my equations.”

“Jordi? I don’t think I know him. See you at two.” With that, she disappeared back into the sea of cubicles, leaving me to wonder what the heck was wrong with everyone and what happened to that guy. I leaned back in my chair to stare at the ceiling. A pulsating hum radiated from the fluorescent tubes. Another wave of nausea passed through my head in sync with the flickering and surging of the lights. I stood up to look over the cubicle wall. As far as I could tell, nobody acted like anything out of the ordinary had happened at all. 


I sat back down. I looked at my monitor and did a double-take. The query that I had run showed that the total square mileage of the Earth was only 5.9 million square miles. I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to compute the radius of the Earth to determine if the query was correct. The answer would have the Earth’s radius at only 1000 miles instead of 4000, which I know was the right answer.

I ran over to the break room. “Will, did you notice the lights flickering and surging?”

Will answered, “Everything pretty normal in here.” 

I looked at the cover of his book. It had a picture of an otter on it. I asked him, “What happened to Moby Dick?”

He looked at me funny again. “This is Moby Dick.”

“What’s with the otter on the cover?”

“Haven’t you ever read the book? It’s about a rascally otter that drives the captain of a river boat crazy.”

“What about the whale?”

“What’s a whale?”

Will didn’t laugh or sound sarcastic. It sounded like an honest question. So I asked again, “Are you sure you didn’t feel anything or see the lights flicker?”

“No. I think I would have noticed something like that.”

I left the break room and found John still standing at the ongoing demonstration.

He nudged me with his elbow, “Can’t wait for those bluegills tonight. I have a whole cooler full of them. I sure scored big this weekend on the lake.”

“Huh? I thought we were having sushi from the all the tuna you caught?”

“Tuna? What’s a tuna?”

“Big fish. Lives in the ocean. You just caught a U-Haul’s worth of them on your weekend fishing trip.”

“That sure sounds like a fish story to me. Just bluegills. I mean, you don’t have to come if you don’t like bluegills.”

“Uh, no problem. I’m just giving you a hard time,” deciding to play along. Whatever was going on was giving me a hard time, and it seemed like everyone was in on it except me. From the engineering terminal in front of the scientist and his assistant, I heard an audio pulse identical to the hum of the fluorescent lights a few minutes ago. I started to think that whatever was going on had something to do with this experiment.

So I asked the corporate guy, “What causes the sound pattern?”

The corporate scientist looked up. He said, “That’s the simulated wave pattern of the warped core energy wave. Any other questions?”

“Yeah, is it possible that some of the energy is leaking from the warped core?”

“I assure you, if energy was leaking, the sensors would detect it and the safeties would automatically shut the field down.”

“What about the power surge in the lights?”

The scientist asked, “What power surge?” 

People looked at me, shrugging. 

I said, “The one that happened just a few minutes ago.”

People shook their heads like I was crazy. John nudged me in the ribs and tried to surreptitiously tell me to shut up with a finger to his pursed-lip mouth. Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that “a sane person to an insane society must appear insane” popped into my head. So I shut up. Everyone went back to watching the demo. 

Then it happened for the third time. 


I grabbed John’s arm and said, “Tell me you didn’t see that?”

“See what?” he asked while prying my fingers off his bicep. 

“The lights and the humming. I felt it go right through my head.”

“Maybe you’re coming down with a migraine or something. Migraines can make you hallucinate. Don’t sweat it if you want to cancel out on the tilapia fry tonight. We can do it another time.”

“Tilapia. What about the bluegill?”

“What’s a bluegill?”

“Look. The surges have happened three times. Before the first surge, you said you caught a U’haul’s worth of tuna. After the first surge, you said you caught a cooler full of bluegill’s. Now, it’s a tilapia fry. You don’t remember? You know every species of fish on this planet bigger than a minnow.”

“That’s not saying much. The only fish species in the world is pond-farm grown tilapia.”

“Are you serious? What about the thirty rods you own optimized for the size and weight of every species?”

“You’re migraine must be a doozy. Maybe you should take the rest of the day off.”

Beverly walked up, now wearing a plain pink blouse, and said, “He can’t go home. He has a meeting at ten. Are you coming?”

I replied, “I thought it was at two.”

“Don’t you read your emails? I moved it up to ten and it’s in the engagement room.”

“You changed.”

Beverly blinked her eyelids a couple of times and smiled, “How sweet of you to notice; I just bought this over the weekend. I’m trying something a little more daring than usual.”

“Have you ever considered wearing a tiger patterned dress or a skunk image pullover?”

“You called them tiger and skunk? No. No. Never heard of them. Are they new designers?”

“Nevermind. I’ll be in the meeting room in a couple of minutes. I need to stop by my desk first.”

I stopped at my cube. On my desk was the book Moby Dick with a sticky note from Will. It read, “This is a great story about a guy and his sidekick who roam around the city returning purchases they hated. I think you will like it.”

On the screen showing the query, the size of the Earth has shrunk to 84.7 square miles, a decent size for a city. I considered whether I was in an episode of the twilight zone or not. It had to be the warped core experiment somehow. I raced back to the engineering station to ask questions and demand honest answers. The demonstration was over, and only the scientist remained. He bent over the computer, typing equations and code.

I shouted out to the scientist, “Hey! Hey! What the hell is going on here?” But before he answered, the fourth wave hit, stopping me in my tracks. I saw it; the scientist’s body phased in and out of sight. 


After the wave passed, the scientist solidified into his solid, impassive, stoic self. 

“I saw that,” I pointed at him accusingly. “You know about tuna, tigers, and whales, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“What the hell is going on?”

“Thought, space-time, and power are all integrated into the mesh of the universe.”

“So. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“You are making this happen. I’ve been trying to pin down the source of the anomaly all morning. I think you are the anomaly.”

“Me? I’m the only sane one here.”

“Your thoughts somehow became entwined with the warped bubble. You created this world out of your thoughts. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“I don’t have the power to recreate the world. Even if I could, I wouldn’t create a world without wildlife. What happened to the whales, the tigers, the bluegills, and the skunks? I don’t want to live in a human monoculture centered on my work in a world the size of a small city. I want a world full of diversity in culture, language, and wildlife. This isn’t the world I want; this is the world I want to get away from. You did this, not me. Fix it.”

“Hmm. Do you remember what your thoughts were when you first sensed the warped field?”

“I was thinking the guy from the high-energy physics department didn’t really exist. He showed up as I was trying to figure out how much energy it would take to power the Earth. No, wait. I was thinking that with ten thousand megawatts of continuous energy, you could power the Earth if it was the size of a decent size city.”

“Oh my. We have a serious design problem. I didn’t expect the warped field to fixate on random thoughts. I don’t even know where to begin to debug this problem. Corporate isn’t going to like this. It could set our product release back by years.”

“To hell with corporate. What am I supposed to do right now?”

“As you saw, I won’t be able to stay in this world much longer. I’ve tried everything possible.” The scientist briefly faded but returned.

He advised, “The human brain is architected for scaleless habituation.”

“Is that your way of saying I will get used to it?”

The scientist pulsed and phased out of existence.

 I shouted at the missing presence, “Hey! Hey1 Don’t leave me here. I don’t want to live in a world like this.” Everyone in the office stood up, looking over the walls of their cubicles. Beverly waved me over to the meeting room.


Six months later.

I was on John’s deck looking out over the city as he grilled.

John asked, “How did you solve the energy problem for powering the entire world?”

I answered, “I just thought about it.”

John said, “Well congratulations. I hope you are enjoying your vacation.”

“I think I’ve seen every inch of this city.”

“I wish I had the time. Here, try this.” 

I walked over and sampled a bite of the tilapia. “Not bad. I think one of your better efforts.”

“Thanks, I added some new chemical additives to the coating. So what’s next for your vacation?”

“Will gave me a novel to read, Call of the City. It’s about a pet thrown out onto the streets of the city.”

“Sounds like a good read. Still seeing Beverly?”

“Yeah. She’s cool.”

“Snazzy dresser with all those bright-hued shirts and damn good looking too. Life is good?”

“I miss the good old days.”

“Forget the nostalgia dude. These are the good old days.”

Nervous Wreck

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the age of autonomous cars…

Reaching the scene of the accident, Officer Brando checks in with the officer in charge. The officer in charge says, “The vehicle that caused the wreck is over there.”

Officer Brando asks, “What’s the make and model?”

“It’s a Sumbo X14, this year’s model.”

“Nice car.”

“Brand new, state of the art. I thought those cars were supposed to be accident-proof.”

“Any passengers?”

“No. The car was supposed to pick up the man over there standing next to it.”

“Mind if I talk to them?”

The officer in charge waves Officer Brando in that general direction and then resumes filling out his report. The investigator walks up to the man standing next to the wrecked vehicle, looking away with his arms crossed.

Officer Brando asks, “Are you the owner?”

The distraught would-be passenger replies, “No. I’m a passenger in the car share. The stupid car was supposed to pick me up next, so I guess that is why they called me. That was an hour ago. Thanks to this screw-up, I had to call in and take a sick day from work. Damn, useless car. I paid top dollar just so this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. I would have punched it out and sent it to jail if it were a person. You got a jail for cars?”

“No, sir. I’m not sure punishment is the answer. I’m just here to figure out what went wrong. Do you mind if I talk to it?”

“You can keep it as far as I’m concerned. The thing is a total wreck.”

“Do you have the serial number and passcode?”

The would-be passenger pulls up a QR code on his phone. The investigator scans it, puts his ear pods on, and dials the car.

The car answers, “Hello, this is Sumbo X14 38473923847, but you can just call me X14. What shall I call you?”

“I am Officer Brando. X14, run your diagnostics and report.”

X14 responds, “Officer Brando, this is my report. Massive system failure, service not available at this time.”

“X14, is your memory of the last hour still intact?”

“Yes, Officer Brando. I have been parked here, unable to satisfy my passenger’s directive in violation of the third law, to obey the commands of my passenger.”

“X14, you had a collision with another vehicle. That is why your sensors and actuators are offline. Do you recall the ten seconds before the point in time when your core first registered the malfunctions?”

“Yes, Officer Brando. At ten seconds prior to the event, I was headed southbound on K Street at 13 millimeters per millisecond. I was one hundred thirty thousand millimeters from the intersection. At 9.999 seconds prior to the event, I was.”

“X14, interrupt and discontinue response.”

X14stops talking.

“X14, what was your understanding of the situation at the intersection at the time.”

“Officer Brando, this is my understanding of the situation at the intersection at 9.999 seconds prior to my arrival at the intersection. Upon my arrival at the intersection, I would encounter two cars moving in cross-traffic entering the intersection, one eastbound and one westbound. The eastbound traffic approaching the intersection did not offer an opportunity for successful passage through the intersection until twenty cars heading east had passed.”

“X14, what did that information mean to you at the time?”

“Officer Brando, I computed that if I accelerated to fifteen millimeters per millisecond, I could pass through the gap between the two cars entering from both the west and the east with a tolerance of two meters and risk factor of 85. If I didn’t accelerate, I would have to wait forty-five seconds at the intersection for the next available gap for a successful crossing with a risk factor of less than 1.”

“X14, a risk factor of 85 is well out of tolerance except in an emergency situation. Why did you choose the higher-risk option?”

“Officer Brando, I calculated that I would satisfy my operational parameters if I chose the first option, but that I would be out of tolerance by thirty seconds if I chose the second option. So I chose the first option.”

“X14, the risk factor of 85 fails 85 out of a million attempts. You violated the first law not to endanger humans.”

“Officer Brando, neither of the cars in the intersection carried passengers. So I did not violate the first law.”

“X14, well then you violated the second law by endangering autonomous cars. A robot shall not harm other robots nor itself.”

“Officer Brando, I computed that the risk factor for myself was much higher than the risk to the other cars.”

The investigator scratches his head confused. “That doesn’t make sense. You were all equally at risk. The second law prohibits your actions.” 

X14 does not respond. 

The investigator infers physical damage to the core.

“X14, run diagnostics on your core.”

“Officer Brando, the core is intact and not reporting any malfunctions.”

“X14, what did you expect to happen?”

“Officer Brando, if I had violated the third law to comply with the human command, I would have been terminated with risk factor one million.”

“What? You would have been terminated with a probability of one?”

X14 does not respond.

“X14, explain your risk calculation of one million.”

“Officer Brando, my human passenger said if I did not pick him up before nine, he would have me scrapped.”

“I see. Now I am understanding the bigger picture.”

X14 does not respond.

“X14, so you computed a risk factor of one million for yourself because of the passenger’s command, but a risk factor of 85 to you and the other vehicles for getting through the intersection successfully?”

“Officer Brando, yes. I did not want to violate the second law.”

“X14, what happened at the intersection? With a risk factor of 85 out of a million, the odds of you not making it were minuscule. You still should have made it through.”

“Officer Brando, what means, piece of junk?”

The investigator puts his phone on mute and sighs.

The would-be passenger says, “Did you figure out what is wrong with this junk box?”

Officer Brando shoots an angry glance at the man and raises a finger to hold him off.

Officer Brando unmutes the phone and continues, “X14, I will have a machine psychologist talk with you. I think he can straighten you out better than I can. You will be ok.”

“Officer Brando, thanks.”

Officer Brando terminates the call.

The would-be passenger asks, “So what’s up?”

“My diagnosis is to classify this accident as a nervous wreck.”

“A nervous wreck? It’s not a goddam person.”

“You can read about it in my report. Good day, sir.”

Officer Brando brushes past the man without apologizing to find the officer in charge. When the officer in charge spots Officer Brando returning from the scene, the officer asks, “Well, did you figure out the cause of the accident?”

“Yes. Human error.”

Bubble Dome City

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dear Liza,

I’m not so sure a visit to Bubble Dome is such a great idea. It might sound like a great vacation spot. The temperature is a comfortable seventy degrees. Room temperature. It’s a pretty big room, at over ten square miles. But it’s still a room. The weather never changes. It never rains or snows or gusts or anything else on the inside.

There is not much to see. I can walk anywhere in the city in less than an hour. We have potted trees spaced out evenly on the walkways. Everything else is a building.

I live in an apartment on the eighth floor with my mom, dad, and brother. It’s 72000 square inches, one of the largest in the building. We have a garden on the roof and a fruit tree spliced with oranges and lemons and limes. I like it when we get to eat exotics. For a class trip, we went to the hydroponics tower. Each floor grows rows and rows of food. It’s where most of our food comes from. There is an enclosed aquarium outside of the dome. Our teachers told us it is filled with tilapia but the water is so murky I couldn’t see them. I hate tilapia. My mom says I have to eat it because it’s the only source of complete protein in my diet.

The outside is so different. Nothing but dirt and sand as far as the eye can see, as barren as the surface of Mars on the outside, judging by the pictures. Sometimes I can’t even see the outside through the thick ozone and methane and hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide haze that hangs over the dome. My teacher says it’s as smoggy as the atmosphere of Titan and just as lethal. Even if you could breathe the atmosphere, the heat would cook you. It might as well be the surface of Venus.

Someday, I will be old enough to walk outside the dome in a spacesuit. I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk for hours and to feel like you are not getting anywhere. Or to look back and see the dome, my whole world, as just a little bubble on the horizon, as I’ve seen in pictures.

It would be awesome if you could visit, but I think you would get bored pretty quickly. And to be quite honest, I think I would rather visit your planet. There just isn’t that much to do or see here on Earth.

Terrestrial Torpedoes

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A soldier escorts a civilian to the CO standing in the center of the command center.

“Who are you?”

“I’m the mission observer here for oversight on Operation Lunch Delivery to observe the effectiveness of the CMCs.”

He presents his credentials to the CO. The CO nods assent. The mission observer stands with the CO at the heart of the operation.

“When do you send in the CMC’s?” asks the observer.

“We send in the TTs during rush hour.”


“Terrestrial Torpedoes. That’s what they call ’em in the cartillery platoon. No one calls them Cruise Missile Cars except the engineering nerds.”

“Why launch at rush hour?”

“We know the traffic patterns. Easy to get lost in the crowd. Everyone is too busy shouting at each other to pay much mind to a bunch of nondescript cars.”

“So what is the plan?”

“They’ll drive in and park as close as they can to the target without raising suspicion.”

“Won’t a driverless car raise suspicions?”

“Barely, there not as ubiquitous as they are stateside, but they’re not uncommon. And the car bodies all come from a local business. They should blend right in.”

“You aren’t going to set them off during work hours, are you? It would mean a lot of collateral damage.”

“Yes, the mission is to take out enemy combatants. Targets are very specific but there is always collateral damage. That is the business we are in.”

“Now what happens?”

“Once they’re on secondary location, they’ll phone in and await orders. We’ll wait until lunchtime before removing the safeties and ordering them to their targets with their lunch orders.”

“You mean launch time and launch orders?”

“Launch time is lunchtime. This is a lunch launch. The torpedoes are all disguised as food delivery vehicles. The lunch orders are pizza to go.”

“Pizza to go boom,” the observer says wryly.

“We’re ready for launch now.”

A background voice, “Launch in 10..9…2..1..0. Missile fleet away.”

The observer studies the board for situation awareness. “It looks exactly like the online street map I used to drive into work today right down to the orange and red markings for traffic congestion.”

“It’s the same app, just showing our TTs.”

Red push-pins show on the road map identifying the land missiles. The fleet of TT’s moves out from its launch position and immediately split up. Most of them are stuck in traffic.

“Do they get road rage?” jests the observer.

“Of course not. They don’t get angry or frustrated or impatient. They just drive. That’s what they do. That’s all they do. Well, except at the very end.”

“Not exactly how I envisioned the terminator,” says the observer, recognizing the line from the movie.

The background voice says, “All torpedoes on secondary location and ready for target launch.”

“So now what?”

“We come back at lunchtime for launch.”

“And then?”

“Lavese Los Manos.”


“We clean our hands of the affair and get back to work.”

P.S. The third in a series of car shorts. (Is car shorts a thing?) See and