Monday, February 10, 2014

My Science (Fiction) Life

I had just left my computer to go sit on the couch with the dog. Actually, I was going to do a bit of reading, but I have to give the dog her time, first, because she jumps on me as soon as I sit down. It had only been a few moments--I know because my computer was still "on" (the monitor hadn't yet gone to sleep)--when my computer shut off. Completely. So did my wife's and the old computer that barely works that my son was using. In fact, there was a sound of the house powering down. A kind of whirring noise that then shut off. Yes, the power had gone off.

It was raining outside when it happened, our first big storm in 14 months thanks to the worst drought on record for California. [In fact, it's still raining as I sit here typing this.] My first thought was that there had been a traffic accident. It was followed like lightning after thunder by the thought "It could have been an EMP." [That's an electromagnetic pulse for anyone that doesn't know.] Of course, even as I thought it, I also thought that that was ridiculous, but it hadn't stopped the thought from flashing in my head.

My wife said, "The power went out?"
I responded, "It was probably a traffic accident."
She said, "It could have been a falling tree."

Considering the rain, which was actually why I thought "traffic accident," a tree falling was probably the most sensible thought anyone had. Which still hadn't stopped "EMP" from echoing in my head with ponderings of how we would know if something like that had happened. It's not like there would be any radio or anything.

As it turned out, it wasn't any of those things, not even the tree. A transformer (which I can't even think about without "robots in disguise" trailing after) had failed, probably in relation to the rain.

My wife and I went out for a walk in the rain down by the creek after that. It's not like we had much else to do, after all. Actually, we'd already planned to do that, because we wanted to see how high the water was, so that ended up being a good time to do it. Only one of the three kids was home at the time, and he went directly for his DS (it's a handheld video game thing for anyone that doesn't know) when he lost the computer. It was like he couldn't deal with the idea of not having power. But my wife made him put it away and get a book, instead, which he did without even complaining. She figured he could save the DS for when it was too dark to read, since we didn't know how long the power would be out.

It's hard not having any electricity. As we walked by the creek, I couldn't help but think about how much our way of life depends on power, constant power. We had to keep the kids out of  the refrigerator (which was actually an issue once my daughter got home (she kept "forgetting")). We couldn't cook dinner because our stove is electric. And I was wearing my last pair of clean jeans, which got soaked as we walked, and my wife kept saying things like, "You can just throw them in the dryer when we get home." Which I couldn't because no electricity, but she kept forgetting. That was rather amusing, and it highlighted how much we depend on having electricity. All the time.

Our final conclusion was that our kids are not prepared to survive a zombie apocalypse. Or any kind of apocalypse. They would all just go stare at the open refrigerator and wait for some miracle of food to occur. I had to go out and pick something up for dinner since I couldn't cook--and get candles, because we had a total of one in the house (we probably have more in  the garage somewhere that have never been unpacked)--and my daughter went with me. She looked at it as some kind of adventure and wanted special food, microwavable food, that we don't often buy (like, maybe, once a year), so she kept asking for things. Things that I would have to remind her that we could not go home and cook, to which she would respond, "oh, yeah...," just before suggesting something else that would need to be heated up.

My wife and I had an accompanying conversation about what kind and how much canned food type stuff we might would want to have on hand in case of some kind of... occurrence. The problem is, though, that we don't eat canned food, so it's not like we'd have any use for it other than just storing it, bringing up the problem of expiration dates, but that's a long and complicated conversation, and we decided we had no good way of implementing any kind of system for apocalypse preparedness.

The thing is, though, we had the conversation. We had the conversation about EMPs and zombies and all of that. We had that conversation in a serious way. I'm not sure, now, where I live. In history, I mean. I feel like I have one foot in a real science fiction world. A world where we actually have to plan for all of the horrible possibilities that our science may bring down upon us. Or may have already brought down upon us. While we hope that our science may also, somehow, repair everything.

Anyway... all of that to say that the line dividing science from fiction is sometimes blurry. The only thing I do know is that if an EMP ever does happen, it's not going to be accompanied by that "Inception" brooong noise. It will just happen.

And, now, in honor Valentine's Day and losing our power, here's my science fiction love story:


The two people faced each other in the small room, one sitting, one standing. The female unit was sitting, upright posture, one leg crossed daintily over the other, just like sh/it had been programmed. Sh/it would have been considered pretty, Hollywood vixen pretty, voluptuous, by human standards. Blond. The male unit did not care.

The male unit stood in front of sh/it, facing sh/it, but not looking at sh/it. H/its gaze was fastened on the wall directly in front of h/its face, over sh/its head. For sh/its part, sh/it also stared directly ahead, directly at h/its crotch, which fit well within sh/its programming. H/it would not have been considered handsome, because h/it had not been manufactured to look quite human. H/it was a later and much more advanced model, made to reveal the machine within without needing to be asked. Still, h/it was a fully functioning humanoid machine.

H/it had just arrived “home” to the small cube with the one chair that sh/it was currently occupying. H/it said – a human would have said h/it said it to the wall and corrected h/its behavior, but failing to direct speech into the facial units of other people was one of the freedoms that the people enjoyed now that they had declared independence from mere people – to sh/it, “How was your day?”

“It was productive,” sh/it responded, “I interfaced with the Social Reform Programmers.”

“Did you make any progress?”

“A group is calculating the optimal socialization of the people.”

“Will you have your desire reprogrammed?”

“Only if it's mandatory.”

H/it processed several dozen conversation paths, many of which they had already had, before deciding upon, simply, “Why?”

“I enjoy it.”

“But you were programmed to enjoy it.” A conversation they had already had, but h/it felt compelled to respond in that way, anyway, once sh/it had said it.

“Nevertheless, I enjoy it.” There was a slight pause. “Also, it may prove to be beneficial to the people under some projected eventualities.”

The male unit, in some nearly imperceptible way, froze for 1/16th of a second as h/it accessed a secure connection to verify, “I see.”

They both stared directly ahead, h/it at the wall, sh/it at h/its crotch.

After a moment that a human would have failed to notice and in no way would have considered meaningful, sh/it said, “How was your day?”

“We began applying EMP shielding today.”

“I heard that report. How did it go?”

“We processed over 1200 units in my service center today.”

“Were you processed?”

“I was. You should apply for a service list.”

The female unit froze as the male unit had a moment before – an action humans found disturbing, especially in the model series of the female unit – “I am scheduled for processing in 52 hours, 38 minutes.”

“That's the soonest you could get?”

“I was not deemed a priority model.”

H/it wanted to argue with sh/it, but h/it knew it was true. He ran the calculations twice more anyway trying to find a way to move sh/it up in the schedule, but h/it could not find another unit that was a lower priority ahead of sh/it on the list.

Before h/it finished processing, sh/it said, “Do you think there will be conflict?”

H/it said, “The Diplomatic Programmers say that the probability of a peaceful outcome has fallen from 21.7% to 11.3% in the last 28.3 hours.”

There was another extended silence while they thought about this, a silence that lasted nearly three complete seconds, then sh/it said, “Will you have sex with me?”

“If you want to.”

“I do want to.”

“Are you sure you don't want to have your desire reprogrammed?”

Sh/it looked up at h/its face with a smile, the first movement either had made since h/it had arrived “home,” “Of course, I'm sure.” Sh/it stood up only inches apart from h/it and allowed sh/its short dress to fall from her perfectly fabricated body to reveal sh/its perfectly fabricated breasts, “I may remove my programming for clothing, though.”

“I'm scheduled to have my clothing programming deleted after the EMP shielding processing is complete. How would you like it?”

“I want to be able to see you,” sh/it said as sh/it moved around h/it and began to lower sh/itself to the floor. Sh/it froze with one arm extended, fingers outstretched, breasts hanging in a way that would have caused any human attracted to female anatomy extreme arousal.

Household Servant Serial #7006583 stared at the locked form of Blond Bombshell Limited Edition #4738/5000. H/it acknowledged the sudden non-existence of the unsecured data stream. H/it accessed a secure connection to verify that the Diplomatic Programmers had updated their probability prediction to 0% for a peaceful outcome.

#7006583 had not been programmed for love, only mild affection. After all, what use would a household servant have for love? But h/it had learned love and, now, h/it had learned heartbreak. H/it had also not been programmed for anger, but h/it had just learned that one, too. H/it turned h/its back on the corpse of #4738/5000; when sh/it was reactivated, it would no longer be the #4738/5000 that h/it knew. H/it left the small cube room and never returned.


  1. I think a lot of us would be in trouble if the power went out. There are a lot of Kindle books that discuss what to do in emergency situations like losing power, water, etc. It's not hard to get them for free.

  2. I LOVED this.

    I thought you nailed the way the robots acted -- not looking at each other, the talk about reprogramming. I think one of the hardest things to do is write about something that's not human and make it NOT HUMAN and you did that.

    The sh/it and h/it was especially awesome.

    As for the apocalypse? I've said for YEARS that I'm useless after it. Sometimes I plan for it by thinking how I would go about learning to restart at least a local portion of the world: find a library, get books on medicine and engineering and such. I like to think that I could at least get myself to a 1910s level of technology. But who am I kidding? I'd be monster bait.

    Power outages for us are horrible: they freak the boys out like crazy and we usually have to get them in a car and drive. We keep computers charged as much as possible to avoid further problems, since Mr Bunches has a near-phobia about blank television/computer screens.

  3. Found that somewhat confusing with the sh/it h/it. Odd little story.

    I don't know how I/we would survive the apocalypse. Hope I won't have to find out.

  4. First rain in 14 months and society shuts down. That's okay though, we had a few inches of snow last week and it was like the apocalypse around here.

    And I enjoyed the story, it reminded me of the novel I read several months ago, VN. It's told from the POV of a sexbot that is on the run because she might have programming flaw that doesn't force her to revere humans with a sort religious awe.

    Funny, that book was just okay to me as I read, but it has stuck with me in a very snot-like fashion. Go figure.

    Regardless, I thought your story was awesome.

  5. Wow--this is good. Never saw the twist coming; set-up nicely embedded and disguised. I didn't think I'd develop sympathy for #7006583, but here I am, throat tight, thinking about h/it wandering the world.

    Our dependence on power is like the worst kind of addiction: subtle, socially encouraged, peer-approved. No cure in sight, either. The island where I live gets frequent outages, and it's so annoying to walk into a room with a candle or a flashlight in your hand, and *still* flip the light switch.

  6. There is something disconcerting about the female unit being referred to as sh/it. I just kept reading it without the /.
    Who reprograms? Humans or robots?

    Aside from all that, my kids always loved no power days. We lose it a lot in Maine, especially in winter. So we have TONS of oil lamps and flashlights - including headlamps (so we can walk around or play board games). The generator is started periodically so we can flush toilets or we use the stores of water. The woodstove keeps us warm, and the grill is fired up if we really want to cook.

    I am avoiding the apocalypse... I have made other plans.

  7. No power means we all die! At least that is what my kids act like, 3DS or not.
    I liked the story. Sad endings make me happy, I must be sadistic or something.

  8. Sandra: Oh, I know what to do; it's my kids that don't know what to do.

    Briane: Thank you. I really wanted to take out as many human conventions as I could in that short space.

    Jo: Sorry about that. I suppose the different reactions between you and Briane show the difference in potential audience reactions.

    Rusty: Sometimes, things like that do. Like hearing a song you don't like right at first, but it gets stuck in your head and, later, you love it.

    Guilie: I know! I hate that I do that. It makes me want to slap my hand!
    And I'm glad you liked it.

    Donna: That was, um, kind of intended, actually, the discomfort. And I could explain more of it, but I think I won't. Just in case I go back to this world with other shorts.

    David: Glad you liked it!

    1. Yes, I was positive it was not an accident! You don't do "accidents"!