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“the machine comes to life” (science fiction story)

September 11, 2014 at 2:00 am

well, yikes. everything has been really, really busy. some things are done, but there are more to do (always). I just sorted out my to-do lists and “post story to blog” was the last thing on the “story” to-do list… so here goes! one more list can now be crossed off & put in the folder of “done” lists. (yes there is a folder of “done” lists, it’s highly satisfying, leave me alone!)

This was written for a performative story night that Walker Mettling put together as a fundraiser for the AS220 Community Printshop offset press… to finally fix the second-color head so the press can print two colors at one pass. The story night had the theme: “the machine comes to life”. It’s so short (and a little fragmentary, perhaps) because there was a 300-word limit. Okay!


Three steps up: I don’t extract. The fare alert pulses — I lift my glance and blink to debit. I lean across the boundary (handrail’s roughness) just barely, to make sure I don’t sit in residue.

The bus’s rumbling evaporates as I slip back into the translucent layers, brushing each leaf aside after seeing its contents, descending through the ever-renewing sequence. An image lets me grin, words coax a sigh. One comment makes me chuckle — another I answer quickly —

Oh! new picture! Friends, familiar faces. An alert nudges my awareness, along with the smiles. Ah…!

…the disruption continues, tugs on my attention. I blink to dismiss it. The layers twitch and quaver.

I halt and breathe faster, flick the leaves away in reverse — extricating, impatient now: something other is moving against a part of the body.

I startle through the boundary, gasping at the extraction. The bus lurches, paining old bruises under the thighs. It’s never fun, landing back into the body, present at all its edges, tight stale breaths, abraded skin. Also — something else. Another body. Part of it touches the shoulder. Its hand, on the shoulder, my shoulder — !

Around us, each passenger is deep within their own softly leafing world. Nobody has seen the violation — there is no one to come to my rescue. The other turns towards me.

Its face unscreened, no phone. Its eyes’ dark centers leap at me. No. Too difficult, it’s dangerous, the warnings… No. I don’t want it. I swipe for the boundary. I can’t feel the layers. I look back at the other —

— then — entanglement. That depth. Too much. It’s too much. It’s what I’ve always — it’s too perfect, it’s —

The flesh of the body — my body — grips me in its trembling thickness.

The other’s eyes are infinite.

Nobody will report us.


I thought a lot about smart phones when I was visiting the bay area, and riding public transport… where not *everybody* has a smart phone, but a lot of people do. (Also, after my old beloved dumb phone finally snapped in half after being semi-broken for more than a year, I got a smart phone back in February, and it’s definitely changed my life in some good and some terrible ways…) It struck me that the era when people “hold phones in their hands” will someday be looked back on as a weird anomaly, an incomplete proto-form, like we might look back at early cars without roofs… That’s what this story is partly about. And, eye contact.

to_do_lists

Also, I know nobody really looks at self-hosted blogs or websites (like this one) anymore, but I still love them, so if you are like me, and hope for some kind of internet that isn’t all conglomerated onto one or two monopolizing web$ite$$$ who happen to have the money to pay the cable companies for fast transmission, please take a moment to send a message to your lawmakers and the FCC about protecting net neutrality and classifying internet access as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act. I promise you, it will take you less time than it took me to write the above sentence! YES!

Here, for example, is the great self-hosted website of Cathy G. Johnson, there’s lots to read & see; Cathy is an amazing artist & narrative-maker. She’s also been nominated for the “Promising New Talent” Ignatz award at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD this weekend… if you’ll be there, you can vote!

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