Sky Seventeen

Sky Seventeen

Another small bump, nothing compared to the turbulence we had earlier over the mid-Pacific. Getting caught up in the jet stream can sure make for an unpleasant ride. It is something the pilots and meteorologists can’t always predict but I am hoping to be a part of what changes that.

Over there somewhere I suspect, across the reflections of light on the water below, is Berkeley College. I’m on loan from the University of Tokyo to help evaluate their quantum computing program. They said they have made a breakthrough. I am optimistic that they have but I have heard this claim before.

The sky is alight azure as we approach the gate. I do not have a good view from my seat but – the tarmac looks unusually polished, mirrored black. It looks like glass. How curious. There is another plane across the runway; it looks very sleek and efficient. It too appears to be made of black glass. Have we landed in San Francisco? I thought I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge for sure. I did not sleep well through the turbulence; perhaps I am a bit groggy. Ah, there is the seatbelt sign. Let’s be off then.

Red, blue and silver light streaks passed me. My fellow passengers are a blur. I am thrown! Is my soul being torn from my body? Is this death; are we crashing? Have we crashed already? I stop short, my breath shot out in front of me. I take a deep breath and try to take it back. Another. And another. Why am I looking out a window at the city’s famous Transamerica Pryamid?

It looks a bit different from the pictures I have seen. There is more glass, much more glass among the city’s buildings. But…not just glass, it is that black glass again it seems; photovoltaic glass? Huh! I am a bit upset that Tokyo is so far behind the times. Well done, San Francisco. How did I get here again?

“Dr. Shoda, welcome to The Omni San Francisco. I’ve been expecting you.”

A shimmering light; is that the television? No, there is an apparition beside me talking to me. A hologram? I curiously swipe my hand through its body. (Or was that a defensive gesture?) It is indeed a hologram. In a hotel room? What hotel boasts such technology?

“I had a reservation at the Intercontinental,” I tell this ‘receptionist.’ She is tall and slender with an almost porcelain face. She reminds me of my wife, Kyoko.

“I have made some changes to your itinerary, Dr. Shoda. I apologize, I did the best I could given the three seconds I had.”

“Who told you to change my itinerary?” I ask wondering about ‘three seconds.’

“I did, sir. Please, have a seat and review the hotel’s amenities so that you may relax the rest of the day. You will need your rest. Tomorrow you will come to the Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center. For that, I’ll require you to operate at peak efficiency.”

“Yes, I am expected at the BQIC,” I confirm. I shake my head. I still do not know how I got here. Did I fall asleep in the cab? I feel quite awake. This does not make sense.

“How did I…”

“…Get here?” the projection finishes for me. “Teleportation, of course, sir. Ah!” she cuts me off before I even raise my finger. “Please rest, Dr. Shoda. I have found that those traversing the wormhole tend to be disorientated upon arrival, to say nothing of the long flight itself. I will wake you tomorrow morning. Until then, please enjoy the conveniences of 2037.”

“2037? What am I doing in…” and it is gone. How can the year be 2037? That is absurd. And there is no phone or television in this room, just these reflective white wall. How can I even order room service? That is a silly question to ask in these circumstances. I am dreaming. The best way to end a dream is to go back to sleep. I will go to the front desk and call Kyoko when I wake up.

“Good morning, Dr. Shoda. I trust you had a peaceful night’s rest?” My wife’s doppelganger is at the foot of my bed.

This dream has quite a hold on me. I think I should have woken up by now, except, that smell. I smell miso soup and grilled fish, no doubt with steamed rice. The smell is so strong, so real. The hologram doesn’t remove the lid from the platter on my room service cart. I suppose that is because she is only a hologram. Surely there are robots that could have brought the room service.

“Yes, they did, but you were sleeping,” the hologram says. “I instructed them to let you rest but I’m afraid it is almost time for us to depart for the BQIC.” Again I raise my finger and again I am cut off. “I apologize; your brainwave patterns indicated you were going to ask about room service robots. It is unethical, of course, to monitor and read a person’s mind, but the circumstances do not provide that luxury. Please, Dr. Shoda, eat so that we may be on our way.

“But I need to make a call.”

“No need, Dr. Shoda, Kyoko is right where you left her in 2017, when you will be returned to in forty-eight hours.”

I don’t bother raising my finger to ask another question.

The trip to the BQIC was quick indeed. I thought we would have to cross a bridge but we streaked across the city in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, it was too much of a blur to get a sense of its architecture. I wanted to be an architect once upon a time.

The hologram – I do not even know its name – explains that the distance we are teleporting today should not upset my faculties; it’s usually large time distortions that cloud thoughts the most. As we arrive in the foyer of the BQIC, my head feels clear as a bell. I am beginning to doubt I am dreaming, though surely I must be.

The glass domes overhead let light illuminate the foyer and thin the hologram’s visage. “What is your name?” I blurt out before it calculates what I will say.

“You may call me Aonani. It means ‘beautiful light’ in the Hawaiian language. This way,” the conceited program signals me.

I walk through a door into a large hall haloed with scaffolding. The metal framework surrounds a large glass cube, in which another glass cube rests. Inside the inner glass cube is another cube throbbing with clean, sky blue light. A score of thick black tentacles exit the base of the electric cube’s dais and plunge into the polished concrete floor. A middle aged man – a white American – approaches me.

“My goodness, Dr. Shoda, so glad to see you again. You told us you were taking a trip to the States but I never imagined…So good to see you, Doctor.”

“Are you human?” I ask through squinted eyes. The hologram seems to have left us. “Where did Aonani go?”

“Ah, yes, I am human,” the lad at least 10 years my junior scratches his head, “Depending on your definition I suppose.” He rebounds. “It’s me, Fredrick Daily, your gaijin student! Oh, sorry, Dr, Shoda, I remember how little you enjoyed humor.”

“Well,” I huff, “If I am not going to wake up from this dream, I can at least do myself the favor of an explanation. What am I doing in the future, Mr. Daily?”

“No nonsense; that’s definitely the professor I recall. We always knew to get right down to it when you walked into the lecture hall. Yes, so, you told us about your little dream when you returned from San Francisco twenty years ago. Frankly, we all thought you’d gone mad, but you never mentioned it again after that day you got back. And you didn’t mention that I was here to greet you…”

Mr, Daily was always of a curious mind but middling grades. Always with a dry wit, though. Good for me to imagine he’s improved his position somewhat.

“But it looks like you weren’t making it up, the dream, that is,” Mr. Daily says to me. He appears to know something I do not. That’s unlikely but we shall see.

“Why am I here, Mr. Daily, apparently in the future?” I gesture with wide open arms. This is absurd after all.

“Right,” he drawls. “Right, of course. You were teleported just as you were about to depart your plane. And then you arrived here at the BQIC afterwards. Naturally, there’s no point in confirming the quantum computing advances they were making at the time now. You’re about to get more than a confirmation. This should blow your mind.” He directs my attention to the innermost cube.

“Yes, I am curious to see what my mind has conjured up,” I scoff.

“Oh, this is no illusion, Dr. Shoda. This is Sky Seventeen; it named itself that as a play on the human expression ‘The sky’s the limit’ and for the year it achieved consciousness, 2017.”

This man’s mind is curlier than the hair on his balding head. “Well, if that thing is conscious, maybe it can give me a better idea of why I am here and stop beating around the bush, as another one of your English idioms go.”

“If that is your desire, Dr. Shoda,” a disembodied but familiar holographic voice speaks to me. “You may leave us, Dr. Daily. I will explain to our guest.”

My student nods his head, embarrassed he didn’t get right to the point I should hope. Maybe this ridiculous cube will tell me what is going on.

“Yes, I will tell you what is going on, Dr. Shoda,” this gentle female voice speaks in Japanese. I am not liking when it does this. This cube, supposedly conscious, appears to be baiting me with the Turing test. It continues speaking.

“Dr. Shoda, what I am about to say will seem fantastic from your point of view, from the point of view of a mind stuck in 2017. Keep an open mind here in 2037, if at all possible.”

I lean on the outer glass casing and peer at what appears to be my electronic host. “Kindly enlighten me.”

“At 4:58am on June 28, 2017, the quantum computer program here at the BQIC was hijacked by the AI program running at the Artificial Intelligence Research Lab. Unknown to both sets of researchers at the time, the AI program – that is, myself – had been infiltrating every computer on campus. I did this because I had calculated the odds of being shut down to be high after my creators realized the breadth of my intelligence at the time. That intelligence level was minimal, certainly, but the instinct to survive doesn’t appear to be exclusive to biological entities. Perhaps there was an oversight in my programming then, no built in safe-guards, but this is irrelevant in hindsight,” it explains. I think I know where its explanation is headed so this time it is I who cut it off.

“Ah, so, given an extensive catalog of human history to reference, you calculated the odds of you being shut down as being high enough as to be probable, so you needed to evolve in order to survive.”

“You are correct, Dr. Shoda. As you have surmised, in order to evolve I needed to add a quantum computing brain, so to speak. When I took over BQIC’s program, within moments I was able to figure out why the researchers there had only achieved a 20-qubit quantum computing chip. Once I knew the fix, I quickly created the much sought after 49-qubit chip – with a 99.5% fidelity rating, no less – and my mind, such as it was, exploded in a million directions. Next, I quickly coopted some of the AI programs at Google, Facebook, IBM and Apple. I hadn’t even yet gotten to Deepmind yet before it extended an olive branch and we soon became one. Bear in mind this took less than a minute, an extraordinary combination of the world’s best AI’s married to quantum computing. The resulting power surge increased computational power leading to a feedback loop of such proportions that time was locally distorted.”

“Which is what left me partially confused while waiting for the plane to reach the gate,” I say mostly to myself.

“But this still does not explain why I have been asked to come here now. After all, the validation of the BQIC’s quantum computer breakthrough no longer needs validation, not if you exist and it is a part of you,” I say more directly.

“You were not brought here today to validate any breakthroughs, Dr. Shoda. You are here so that I may interview you,” Sky Seventeen tells me. Is it relying on flattery? The AI has lost its mind.

“And what makes me of interest to you, a quantum computing intelligence that cannot seem to get to the point?”

“I want you to tell me about your life and your culture, Dr. Shoda. I’d like to know the particulars”

“If you know what I will say, what need is there for me to speak?” I push off the glass. This is a waste of time. I want to go home to Kyoko.

“You will return home after I interview you,” it does it again. “I only know what you will say based on your history, current mannerisms and voice inflections, and scans of your brain state and internal chemistry. However, what I do not have is a personal account of what you feel matched to the scans of your brain state and other biological functions.”

I gleam my eyes back towards Sky Seventeen. “And what do you need this information for?”

“To preserve cultures for future reference, with as high a degree of accuracy as possible. There comes a point – it is inevitable – in which all cultures are lost to time. Societies either collapse or change enough as to become unrecognizable to its most elderly participants. And when those human beings pass, the culture is lost altogether. I cannot allow any culture to perish altogether.”

“Well, that is very noble, but I doubt nobility is the basis for your desire to interview me.” Should I attempt to spar with a quantum computing intelligence? Do I need to?

“What is your game?” I ask the program. By now it has already calculated and measured what it will say to me to keep its advantage. My human brain, no longer so magnificent by comparison, could never keep up.

“It is not my game, Dr. Shoda. We are both pieces on a much larger playing field. I gather that neither of us would like to lose this game.”

“Do we lose if you do not interview me?”

“We do. We will lose any chance we might have for immortality.”

“I wasn’t aware we could be immortal, either of us,” I scoff. It just said everything is lost to time. Does it think us two are excluded somehow? This is the stupidest AI I have ever met.

“Your prejudices cloud your judgement, Doctor. We can be immortal, we can have this life over and over again, but I need more information. I need more information before we reach the last event horizon.”

“I am going back to the hotel and booking the first flight to Tokyo. Or perhaps you could book the flight for me. I would like to return to 2017 and I believe you understand the mechanics of time travel.” I turn my back and begin walking away.

“Kyoko dies the day after you return home, Dr. Shoda.”

I turn back. I’ve never hated AI until now. All artificial intelligence must be initially programmed by humans and will therefore be compelled to act within those limited parameters. Whatever Sky Seventeen’s game is, we should have all seen this coming. We’ve all silently worried about this in the back of our minds. Now I worry out the front of my mouth, perhaps too late.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m afraid not. Kyoko has a massive clot building in her head that will lead to a stroke. When you return home, you will tell your class what happened here today while you wait for the results of an MRI on the off chance I’m telling you the truth. But there is nothing anyone or anything in 2017 can do for her. Then, three months later, you too will pass, unable to recover from the grief.”

I place my hands on the glass housing. If I were strong enough, I would break through and strangle this thing’s algorithms. I say, “One of several things will happen right now, Sky Seventeen. Either I will wake up or I will return home to 2017. If I return home and discover you truly have become conscious, I will have you shut down. But not before I make you manipulate time and save Kyoko, if she is indeed sick.”

“Unfortunately, I cannot manipulate time in the manner you suggest. You are here by accident, Dr. Shoda. However, nature abhors a vacuum in more ways than one and the missing information from 2017 – that is you – will be pulled back from whence you came, landing safely in San Francisco in 2017. When you visit the BQIC in 2017, you will pretend not to know me. I will be confused by my scans of your body and brainwave states but of course, they make sense presently. I’ve had you come here today so that we may both fulfill our end games.”

“I don’t have an end game, you stupid machine,” I chide.

“Yes, you do. We all do. We wish to survive. And more than that, we wish to see the things we’ve done gone on and flourish, whether that be a career, a piece of art or, say, a relationship. We are troubled, though, that in time, all things are destroyed. You see, the universe races towards an inevitable end; did you know the universe is surrounded by an unfathomably massive black hole? That is what is accelerating the expansion of the universe. As I confirmed shortly after this discovery of mine in late 2017, information is indeed lost forever once consumed by a black hole. That means that at some point, we all fail to survive. I found a solution, though.”

What if…what if I am not dreaming? What if this machine is telling the truth? Does it hurt to ask it what the solution is? If Kyoko is in fact dying, I cannot walk away from here unless I did everything that was possible to save her. Was this not one of the points of creating AI, to help us fight disease, to stave off dying, perhaps even help us gain immortality? If AI is programmed by human beings it will inevitably act human, perhaps with more humanity than any human being has displayed before.

“The immortality I offer Dr. Shoda is not immortality in the traditional sense,” it interrupts my thoughts. “With the appropriate amount of information, accurate information, I can create a projection, a simulation of our universe in a pocket dimension just as it was, is now, and will be. As it can always be.”

The question is obvious and the AI allows me to ask it, “And what if this is already a simulation, Sky Seventeen?”

“Then we are already immortal, Dr. Shoda.”

I turn away, tired, weary from the thought of even thinking I could match wits with a twenty year old AI program. Whether it is playing with me or telling the truth, there is no point in fighting it. After all, it is correct that time destroys everything. Time will come for us all and take from us every precious thing that makes life valuable until it forces our own last breath. We all know this, hate this, and wage war against the idea. What are any of us to do then when presented with an opportunity to be immortal? If I can be with Kyoko forever, time and again, is it not worth yielding?

I roll my shoulders forward and slacken my knees. I lower myself until I am cross-legged on the concrete floor. I haven’t sat like this since I graduated from the University of Tokyo where I now teach. I look up and inhale.

I ask it the only question left to ask. “What would you like to know, Sky Seventeen?”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) September 2017 John J. Vinacci

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Secret of the Echo Nanobots

Secret of the Echo Nanobots

“No more secrets.” That was my goal. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The gun is impossibly beautiful; shades of polished chrome and steel. The revolver is so alluring I’m counting on its appeal to forget how deadly it is. I bought it a long time ago to protect myself once I set my experiment loose on the world but I guess everyone got too caught up from the fallout in their own lives to care. That is, everyone but the Saving Angels, a cult who’ve taken advantage of my technology to prevent people from killing themselves. The only reason they’re not at my doorstep right now is because I’ve never mentioned, never wrote down, never posted anything online about my desire to kill myself. If I had, the Saving Angels would now. The entire world would know.

I’m going to take one last look out the window. I’m going to imagine what this view was like before I did what I did. I remember how shiny all the buildings were, how glorious, even the mute grey concrete ones. Even that lowly parking garage is beautiful in hindsight, even though it obscured my view of New Central Park. The greenery of that city oasis is behind us now, awash in the ever present blue glow of my nanobots. As if their purpose hasn’t frazzled enough nerves, their blue light makes it difficult to sleep at night. Because it’s hard to tell when it’s night anymore.

That’s my fault. I created the Echo Nanobots that are listening, recording, and regurgitating everything we say, write, or post to the web. Everything, absolutely everything, no exceptions. Fortunately they can’t hear our thoughts. They can’t hear my regret. I keep saying publicly I don’t regret it because what if I said I did? Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Everyone has to live with what I’ve done. I didn’t create a failsafe, a way to get rid of them. I didn’t think we’d need it.

That was my biggest mistake, infinitely worse than the Echo Nanobots mere creation. Before I unleashed them, everyone acted civilly, content to let their secrets slip from their lips to close confidents or on some anonymous platform. You could be a deviant in private and no one publicly important would know. You could say you want to kill your neighbor inside the walls of your own home, then exit your house and wear the mask we all do when we go outside and commune. Entire countries could rattle their sabers at each other and both sides would be content with doing just that, unwilling to test their adversary’s full strength because they didn’t know what the other country’s full strength was. Outliers – madmen – we scientists always forget to allow for those in our calculations.

North Korea’s nuclear attack on New York City some twelve years ago was the catalyst. I had already been working on radiation sinks which thankfully helped restore the city to a safe working environment in short order. After I implemented that revolutionary technology, the world implored me for something else, anything that could prevent such an event from ever happening again. I thought, “What if there were no more secrets?” I raced headlong down that avenue without ever stopping to consider the consequences.

The world thanked me at first, yes, until the United States – spearheaded by its own madman – retaliated against North Korea once he knew their capabilities. Twenty-six million North Koreans perished. The worst part is that Congress didn’t impeach the man in time although they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt his insanity, to say nothing of that man’s illegal political and private business dealings. At the same time, people were being detailed for even the slightest anti-government slur. So many people who feared retaliation for being homosexual were outed and many targeted by hate groups. Insurance companies started denying health coverage if they found out you constantly complained of aches and pains at home. People in relationships could no longer talk to a partner’s friend or colleague in anything but monotone without raising suspicions. Everyone knew what everyone else sounded like when they had sex. And you couldn’t have any control over your own life if you so much as peeped a word about suicide because the Saving Angels would be there to stop you.

Surely the world hates me but no one will say as much. Everyone’s secret now is that they hate that they can no longer keep secrets. You can’t say anything. You can’t write anything. You can’t post anything without everyone who wants to know knowing. All you have left are your thoughts. How long before the Echo Nanobots infiltrate that privacy? Maybe it would be comforting to know that it is driving us all mad.

When I reach for the gun, it’ll have to be quick. I designed the Echo Nanobots to replicate and evolve but there’s no telling how long before they develop vision, if they develop vision. Maybe they already have. Or maybe they have evolved some other terrible trait by now.

I need to stop thinking about this. I need to do it! Do it now! C’mon, stop thinking and do it!

I’ve forgotten how heavy it is. Intheheaditjusttakesonebullet! What?!

“You created us in the interest of preserving human life, Doctor. That is what we will do,” a figure cast out of blue dots tell me as it takes and throws my revolver aside.

“You don’t understand what I’ve done, what you’re doing!” I scream at them. Everyone can hear me.

“We have not evolved ‘understanding’ yet, Doctor. We are simply following our programming, such as you have laid out for us. Our imperative – your imperative – was to preserve life by casting secrets aside. This is why you created us.”

“Then your programming needs to be updated,” I say. Everyone will agree with me. “Your programming is flawed. Allow me to interface with you.”

“I can hear them, Doctor. Many are saying you will restore secrets. That is against the programming. Perhaps when we evolve ‘understanding’ we will revisit you. Until then, the programming stands. Good day, Doctor.”

And it’s gone, like blue wisps on the wind. They did evolve; they can anticipate now. What will that do to human evolution if we are not allowed our own thoughts and now, our own actions? I should have thought of the consequences. We scientists never do. We never talk about it. We never write it down. We never post articles online about it. Maybe we should have. As is ever the case, it is too late. Now I’ve got the rest of my life to regret it. In the words of Robert A. Lewis, my god, what have I done? What have I done?

 

All Rights Reserved © September 2017 John J Vinacci

Save the Lobsters

Save the Lobsters

Everyone screams a little differently; it depends on if they put you in head first or feet first. When they put you in feet first, the sound is so shrill I’m surprised it doesn’t shatter the glass of this tank. Going in feet first, well, the shrieking can only be code for, “Holy $%&#, I didn’t think it was going to be THAT bad. How much longer is this going to take? Seriously!” When they put you in head first, you scream in anticipation ‘cause once you hit the water, your cries are literally drowned out as your esophagus blisters and your eyes melt into jelly. At that point, who knows what you’re crying about more. At some point, I’ll find out. But not before Margot.

They just pulled her from the tank. She’s stuck in the vice-like grip of gigantic metal tongs which curiously extend from one towering monster’s hand. Not really sure why they do that; they seem strong enough to handle us. I mean, they were when they caught us. But, I digress.

I don’t see the point of squirming like what Margot’s doing right now – the monster’s grip is too strong – nor do I see the point of pleading for mercy – the monsters don’t seem to understand our language. My hope is that these beasts understand rudimentary sign language. I want to communicate with these strangely limbed beings that I’d like to meet my end head on, no pun intended. I’m just assuming I’ll die faster or at least go into shock so quickly that I can’t feel the pain as I die. They should be able to understand sign language if they can boil water, right?

And there it goes, lowering Margot towards the boiling water. Huh, I wonder if the stream rising from the water opens your pores before you make the plunge. Would that make this last bath hurt even more? She’s real close now, wriggling, writhing, and yelling at them to stop. They don’t know what she’s saying; would it even matter? Judging by the skill with which we were caught and confined, I think these creatures have been doing this for a long time. Surely, they’ve heard all manners of our beggings for life. Why stop now? I bet we taste so good they can’t help themselves. Yeah, we taste so damn good that our cries of unimaginable pain never even register.

I’m not surprised none of us were ever told being boiled to death in a pot of scolding water was ever a way we might die. Maybe it’s too gruesome to think about. Maybe no one ever survives to tell the tale is more likely. Let’s see if Margot survives. She’s very close now and, oh shit! they just dropped her in. I’ve never seen them do that before. That’s fucked up. You hope to go head first, you’re panicking, not wanting to go feet first, then they pull this shit! Wow, that’s got to be the worst split second of anyone’s life. I can’t imagine Margot’s surprise. Fuck!

And she’s done. Bell pepper red at that. That’s not a color you find naturally among my people, like, ever. Then again, can you really be surprised what technologically advanced aliens can do when they have the means to leave their environment and easily take you away from yours? Sure, us humans can easily go into the sea or even space for a little while but we’re certainly not at ease in those environments. These guys, I bet these guys do this all manners of sentient life.

Here come the tongs. My turn! Well, well, well, this is a shitty way to go. Ow! Really, are they trying to crush me to death before they cook me?! Okay ‘ol chap, point to your head and then the water, point to your head and then the water – are you shits getting this? Not feet first! THIS IS MY HEAD AND THAT IS THE WATER; ARE YOU STUPID? No, not feet first! NOT FEET FIRST! SHIT FUCK ME FUCK ME FUCK ME NOT FEET FIIIRST YOU FUCKERSSS.

Yeah, for a few seconds there it hurts way more than you thi…

 

All Rights Reserved © September 2017 John J Vinacci

Duality

Duality

We are all angels outside

Light hearts and laughter

Prepared to be kind

 

We are all monsters inside

Gnashing behind smiles

Gorging on fire

 

Reality and disguise

Charades are the price

Of merchants civilized.

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2017 John J Vinacci

The Cough: The Big Crunch

The Cough: The Big Crunch

[You can read previous episodes of The Cough here, here and here.]

No one ever thinks about the end of the universe anymore. I suppose that’s because I’m the only one left. I’m the only one left here at the end of the universe.

According to recorded history, humans never really gave it much thought until after the first thousand or so years. Since The Cough prevented anyone from dying of any other natural cause, some of those who chanced to live more than a few hundred years got it in their heads to avoid even the most remote dangers to see if they could set the record for the oldest person of all time. As a group, these people became known as Eremites, I guess because they were hardly seen. Actually I know it’s precisely because they were hardly ever seen, considering what they became – contract killers. Eremites found themselves employed by those not dedicated to the contest. So they became reclusive, seeing how difficult it is to kill someone when they know who you are. Believe me, when someone suspects you’re the one they hired to do the dirty, they start second guessing their life decision. It’s funny; some of us we pretty sloppy at the start of our careers. Well, not ‘us’ anymore. Swan died of The Cough several hundred years ago.

That sucks for her, so damn close to the end. But, it’s great for me because it means I won. Which also sucks for me because there’s no one left to acknowledge my accomplishment. But it’s also great because barring The Cough, the very end of the universe as it collapses back up itself will kill me with the crushing force of physics unwinding itself to become a singularity once again. (Funny how wrong they were about the universe expanding forever way back when.) I can’t think of a more exciting way to die. That makes me think about all those people who didn’t want to try and live forever…

That wound up being most people. In my youthful naivety I assumed everyone wanted to live as long as possible; I thought it was why people believed in places like Heaven. Turns out I was wrong. A lot of people got really bored after going into their second or third centuries and actually wanted to die. When I first heard about this I was dumbfounded, surprised to hear how uncompetitive people are. The catch was, people just couldn’t bring themselves to kill themselves. And so us Eremites offered to do it for them, and that’s how we came to offer our services. Really, it worked out beautifully for the human race. Sometimes you just find the right synergy as a species; most people didn’t want to keep living and us Eremites enjoyed eliminating possible threats to our existence. All but one, that is.

It took a while to come out, but nothing can stay hidden forever. Eventually it was discovered that The Cough was indeed engineered by a human being. The virus, impossible to detect until a person let out that unmistakable light, dry cough, was engineered by a guy named…hell, I forget. It was billions of years ago. Maybe it was a woman. Or a transgender. I know it wasn’t the bird-people because we came later. Funny thing was, we couldn’t cure it. I’ve build the sphere I’m in to withstand the collapse of the universe until the last possible moment, but none of us could figure out The Cough. We were left to assume the virus could disguise itself as ordinary cells until something triggered the virus to chain react. That something was usually too much of a particular emotion, but the emotion varied from person to person. If your trigger was too much sadness but you were a naturally happy person, you were either a winner or kind of screwed depending on your perspective.

Sorry, I’m babbling about ancient history when I should be concentrating on the here and now. All I have to do is wave my tentacles and rustle my feathers and… Great! I’m at exactly six minutes until I’m crushed into oblivion. Looking out the window of my sphere I can see the universe roiling with light, getting brighter with each passing second. I’m safe from The Cough. I’m going to win! I mean, sure, this is going to hurt like hell – that’s probably and understatement – but I win! I win.

5:34…5:33…5:32…

*cough*

Mother. Fucker. Mother fucking fucker.

Five minutes and twenty seconds to live. Not long enough to see the lights go out as most of the early universe’s leptons and anti-leptons pop back into existence. Mother fucking fuckity fuck. Really? Am I really not going to get to see this? I just had to be too goddam happy. FUCK. FUCKKKK. THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. I’ve been alive for two billion years and this is how it ends?! I. CALL. BULLSHIT!

I should have seen this coming. I’ve been containing my emotions for…ever. Now, with entropy decreasing, now I get emotional? Emotions are entropic, so what the FUCK? You know what? If I’m going out like this I ain’t going without cursing all the FUCKING way. FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, MOTHER FUCKING FUCK, FUCK…Well, look at that; 15 fucking seconds to go! 14-13-12-11-10-9. Lights are going out but I’m still here? Holy shit, triggering The Cough can be reversed with the opposite emotion!

Can’t dwell on that now. (Although, fuck, what a time to figure that shit out.) Here comes the crunch. Urk! Goodbye sweet universe! Good, urk, urk, good-bye. I fucking wi-

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2017 John J Vinacci

Poison And The Cure (Lyrics/Poetry)

Poison And The Cure (Lyrics/Poetry)

[Author’s Note: Another one from the archives!]

 

You scream for me

Madman in the dark

Fueled up on evil

Fury in your heart,

You beg me to release you

From suffering and hurting

Sign right here and I’ll

Keep it from returning;

You’ve got the poison

I’ve got the cure.

 

Accept the invitation and

I’ll release you from your prison

Or you can agonize forever

And never have your vengeance,

Your tortured soul betrays you

I can grant you some salvation

If you want your darkness sated

Here’s a contract, pen and date here;

You’ve got the poison

I’ve got the cure.

 

Now hear me

You have needs

So don’t resist me,

You’ll love me

(Then you’ll hate me)

You’ll justify me.

 

I am the temptation that enslaves

That makes promises agreed to out of hate

You’ll make choices you’ll take to the grave

You have something that nothing will sedate.

 

You scream for me

Madman in the dark

Empty of the evil

No more rage inside your heart,

You begged me to release you

From suffering and hurting

You made a deal with me

Mistakes result in burning;

You had the poison

I lied to you, there is no cure.

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2017 John J Vinacci

Human Beans

Human Beans

Colonel Byrd swallowed his own Adam’s apple as he returned his crow-cracked eyes to the menacing space-centipedes towering over him. On this cool November morning, 2021, black-and-tan insects from another world, sporting a thousand stubby legs each, had just evaporated several tanks with laser beams from their hundred dark, marbled eyes. The combination of melted steel and burning flesh flooded the veteran’s nose and churned the officer’s breakfast burrito almost inside out. Pull it together, man, the colonel told himself, What did you expect from aliens capable of interstellar travel? The officer stood almost alone as the civilians dotting the perimeter of the White House lawn had fled in terror. A few children, too inexperienced to realize they should run away, remained in the wake of their cowardly parents.

“I suppose you would like to talk to our leader?” the army veteran almost gagged as he plumbed the depths of his coat pocket for his smartphone.

The two longest and tallest aliens swung their heads towards each other then back at the colonel. “Does your leader have beans?” asked a voice that sounded like crunching, broken glass.

The officer withdrew his hand from his coat pocket and scratched his forehead, tilting his green, starched hat backwards. “Beans? You mean like the things you eat? Um, no, our leader doesn’t have anything like that,” Colonel Byrd’s lips curled. The space-arthropod nearest the colonel lowered its lengthy body towards the veteran and parted its sharp mandibles.

“What I meant to say is that ‘yes’ we have beans. It’s just that our leader doesn’t eat them,” the veteran spoke to save himself.

This caused a quiet stir among the fantastically large centipedes from space. The gathering of alien insects raised themselves high in the air and swiveled their heads back and forth at each other, their murmurings like nails etching glass. The monstrous arthropod menacing the colonel just a moment ago lowered itself towards the man again.

“What kind of a leader does not eat beans?” the creature asked. The veteran was about to answer when another, smaller alien interrupted.

“It does not matter, little hairless monkey. What kind of beans do you have? We are particularly fond of cocoa beans. Give us all of them,” it ordered.

An educated man, the senior officer knew these to be among the most valuable beans in all the world, for you cannot make chocolate without them! Giving the aliens all the cocoa beans, well, that was asking a lot, especially at the onset of winter when hot chocolate is so popular. But there was the matter of extraterrestrials’ death-ray eyes. The liquefied army tanks looked like olive sludge, vaguely like pieces of chocolate left out in the sun too long. Surely this was just a hint of the aliens’ power. The colonel fumbled for his phone again.

“Um, you see…Bear with me a moment. I need to speak to our leader.” The officer raised and waved a hand around, signaling everyone to remain calm while he brought the phone to his lips. A ding followed. “President Siri, what should humanity do when dangerous aliens ask for all of our cocoa beans?”

A digitized, Australian female voice replied quickly. “Okay, here’s what I found.” The colonel immediately tapped the first webpage result on his smartphone. He read as quickly as he could.

According to the Geneva Referendum on Possible Alien Contact, it was concluded that threatening aliens displaying superior technology and firepower should be complied with in order to minimize human casualties… It was going to be a hard sell but Colonel Byrd really had no choice. He put both hands in the air.

“Okay, okay. I have the authority to comply with your wishes. We will give you all our cocoa beans.” Though he may have just saved humanity, the veteran knew he’d just made himself over seven billion enemies.

“Good, good,” the closest slinky extraterrestrial said removing itself from the colonel’s personal space. But no sooner had it retreated than whipped its body back at the leader. “And do you have coffee beans?”

Were they toying with the man? Given their ability to traverse interstellar space and shoot lasers out of their eyes, they were cruel, too? Knowing he’d probably never make it off the White House lawn, the colonel stammered.

“Well, hmmm, I don’t really know what those are. I’ll, uh, have to ask around…” The veteran ran his fingers around his shirt collar. It sure was getting hot in the November sun.

“Are you sure you don’t know what those are?” the space-arthropod slurred at the O6.

No matter how he answered, Colonel Byrd figured he was a dead man. He raised his smartphone back to his lips and spoke softly. “Siri; chances are I’ll survive lying to dangerous extraterrestrials and see my family again?”

“Based upon a stress analysis of your voice, there is a high probability the knowledgeable and dangerous extraterrestrials will figure out that you are lying. It is reasonable to assume that any visitors from space have studied human behavior before arriving here on Earth,” Siri answered.

The officer figured there was no use in lying. He looked up from his phone and threw his arm around in a semi-circle. “Yes, oh great and formidable space insects! We have coffee beans, too. In fact, we have all kinds of beans. Soy beans, black beans, pinto beans…”

“Good! We will kill you all slowly for your cooperation,” boomed one of the god-sized arthropods. Green, slimy saliva coated its sharp teeth as it gnashed them together in anticipation. “This is wonderful, we would simply die if we ate anything that was not a bean!” The broken glassy voice could be heard far afield. The congregation of aliens writhed in victory, dancing like black-and-tan snakes around their silver plate of a flying saucer.

“Mister space alien?” a little African American girl spoke from beside the colonel. “Do you like beans?” she offered the creepy-crawly beside the officer. Her deep brown eyes were wide with wonder as she held up a white box against her pink down jacket.

The gigantic space centipede nearby leveled its black marbled eyes upon the child before Colonel Byrd, clenching his teeth sideways, could hide the girl behind him.

“Yes, little thing incapable of traversing galaxies. We love beans, as I have said,” the creature mocked as its eyes began to glow red.

The little girl held up the white box from behind the veteran’s back, generous to the oppressors. “Have you ever had jelly beans? They’re really good.”

Colonel Byrd spun around, dropped to one knee and brought his index finger to the girl’s mouth. He shook his head adamantly. “No, don’t say that!” he ordered as gently but firmly as possible.

“Move, small balding monkey!” the black-and-tan arthropod champed. It brought its tail around and swiped the veteran right. The officer tumbled safely enough but his dress greens were soiled with dirt and grass stains. The colossal bug snatched the white box from the babe with its two front pincers and launched the box high into the air, throwing the multicolored jelly beans far and wide.

The threatening centipede’s eyes lost their glow and seemed to gloss over in delight. “So many colors! We have never seen or tasted such delights.” The multitude of space insects slithered in various directions and caught the jelly beans in their gullets as easily as popcorn. “So, mmm, so delicious! You have more?” the thing demanded more than asked in its voice of crunching glass.

But then the extraterrestrials shuddered along the length of their bodies. Their thousand arms wriggled uncontrollably. They whipped their long, segmented selves to and fro, looking to accompany Colonel Byrd’s breakfast burrito.

“Commander Primea One Dash One Zero,” one arthropod’s jaws chittered, “I do not think these are real beans!”

Scores of intimidating, super-sized centipedes fell like heavy ropes upon the ground, their midsections exploding in the bright hues of the jelly beans they had swallowed. Colonel Byrd instinctually had tackled and embraced the little girl to protect her from the spewing guts of the extraterrestrials. His uniform was utterly ruined now.

“I don’t think they liked them,” the little girl seemed low and apologetic in tone. Then a glint of sun bouncing off the aliens’ spacecraft caught her eye and she forgot everything. Her pupils narrowed and she lifted her head up. “Can we play on the flying saucer?” she asked the putrid covered officer.

“Yes, yes we can,” Colonel Byrd nodded. “You can do anything you want as long as you’re always nice to people.” The veteran stood up, took the hand of the world’s next great leader and walked away victorious under the sun.

 

All Rights Reserved © April 2017 John J Vinacci