Showing posts with label speculative. Show all posts
Showing posts with label speculative. Show all posts

Thursday, March 25, 2021

"Oncoming Traffic" By Stuart Warren

 


There was traffic on West 580, right in front of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. 

Traffic rarely happens. When it does, it usually inspires fascination, even wonder. The passing traffic does not stop. Motorists spying in the moments between moments. Life oncoming, then gone.

This time was different though.

There were two cars hedged off to the right shoulder: a 2038 Tesla sedan and a 2018 Honda Civic. The rear crush points on the Tesla were pancaked—what remained of the trunk space, mostly gone. I glanced out of my window and saw the two drivers in a heated fight, a paramedic between them with her hands up. A police officer was dragging a dumbbell set—ejected from the trunk of the Civic—off the center lanes while we waited.

By 2028, most of the Bay Area was autonomous. By 2032, the rest of the state followed. The current Administration established a buy-out program for manual-pilot autos, encouraging the conversion. But, among the millions, a small minority held out. Mostly older men, and a younger generation galvanized by passionate rhetoric to retain their “right-to-drive.” When accidents happened, it always involved a manual-pilot car. There would be a highlight on the evening news—national coverage if the collision was big enough.

The Civic’s owner was red in the face with anger, spittle ejecting from her mouth. It wasn’t about the car. She stood her ground. This would be on camera, the pavement her stage. Ten-thousand talking heads explaining the nuance of car ownership, the “right-to-drive.”

It was something we debated at work, before our managers would step in to re-establish office etiquette. At church, I would argue the nuance of scripture, how the church adjusted for cultural changes, while others flatly denied my points, on the basis of free will and choice. In school districts some advocated—think of the children, they would say—for manual-pilot school busses, that it was unconscionable to entrust students to the cold will of the onboard intelligence.

But as passionate and antiquated the logic was, we all knew that 94% of auto-accidents involved manual-pilot vehicles. 100% of all autonomous cars were zero-emission, and manufactured by carbon neutral companies. Average commute time was lowered by 30% as the speed limit was raised by 25% across the western United States.

The police officer signaled to the line of stopped cars to proceed after a few minutes. I cracked open my book and thumbed to the page where I left off, feeling the pull of my body into the seat, the scene disappearing from view.

Where 580 merged with 101 North, brake lights crept up along the frontage road.

Monday, June 1, 2020

"Thought Experiments" - An Original Short by Stuart Warren




“What’s he doing?”
                A woman, behind Jack, pointed down the line at a frumpy young man in his late twenties fumbling with a phone and a half eaten sandwich. Jack focused on the smartphone’s display and saw a lively procession of emoticons and ascending praise.
                “He’s an influencer.
                “A what?”
                “An influencer.”
                “What’s that?”
                “Someone wealthy enough to have free time, but too poor to sustain it indefinitely.”
                “That sounds awful.”
                Jack nodded. It was awful.
                The line snaked along theoretical lanes inside the crowded government facility. Etched into the bones of an aging strip mall, the Department of Motor Vehicles exuded an odor of wet drywall and day old urine. False hope abounded, embodied in the musty d├ęcor and hopeless faces of employees required, by law, to work inefficiently. Above Jack, a sign fixture dangled perilously from the ceiling:
USE OF MAGIC PROHIBITED
UNLAWFUL EXPERIMENTATION WILL RESULT IN REMOVAL FROM THE PREMISES
The woman beside Jack groaned.
                “Christ!”
                Jack chuckled. He would’ve liked to see Jesus here, kicking over desks and whipping frightened attendants like weary cattle. He was the first Magus, the supreme Mesmer. He would have burned this all down were it not for the brief detour back to the realm of immaterial.
                “Are you here for the certification too?”
                Jack turned around and saw the woman for the first time: a retro embodiment of sixties kitsch, replete with beehive hair and a tropical muumuu. She saw the surprise in Jack’s expression and shrugged. “I’m in theater. You know? Plays… This is art, okay.”
                “I’m not here for a certification,” Jack replied, slyly. “I’m here for a License to Think.”
                The woman sputtered jealously. “Lucky guy.”
                “Correct,” Jack agreed. “But it’s not all glamorous.”
                “That’s bullshit. Magic is awesome. I wish I could do magic.”
                “It has its perks. Not all of them good I’m afraid.”
                The woman snickered.
                “I haven’t seen you online, have I?”
                Jack shook his head.
                “When Experimentation Goes Wrong is one of my favorite shows,” the woman continued. “It’s like screwball comedies, if everything was on fire!”
                Jack smirked.
                “My name is Annie.”
                “Jack.”
                Jack shook Annie’s hand. It was sweaty.
                “This makeup makes me burn up. Sorry.”
                “Nothing to apologize for. Far be it from me to judge another in this desolate place. You might as well be Cleopatria in the nude, compared to the ghouls they have here.”
                Annie frowned. “That’s sexist. You’re sexist. Of course you are. You’re a fucking magician.”
                Jack wrinkled his nose.
                “I’m not a magician. I’m a philosopher,” he replied smugly. “And it’s a profession that precludes manners.”
                “Asshole,” Annie grumbled. “I’m always next to a creep…”
                Jack looked ahead, unmoved by the altercation. A ghoul, with layers of foundation caked on to her putrid skin waved him forward.
                “Nnn… Next…” she croaked.
                Jack approached the counter and flopped an envelope onto the plastic shield, protecting the faux laminate wood. “I’m here for my license.
                The ghoul looked down, straining her failing eyes. A valid birth certificate was splayed out with a social security card and a utility bill. She ground her teeth, snarling thoughtfully.
                “Ahhh… arrrr… are you pruh... prepared for a vuh… verbal test?”
                Jack placed his phone faced down on top of the documents and emptied his pockets of loose change. The ghoul looked down, identifying the rhetorical objects and growled.
                “Duh… door, four.”
                Jack smiled. “Thank you, my dear.”
                The ghoul smiled, worms crossing between blackened teeth. She dragged her arm across the countertop, sweeping the contraband into an iron lockbox. It would be returned after the assessment.
                The examination rooms were standing compartments: cubby holes with irritated, bespectacled gentlemen shuffling tarot cards and organizing talismans. Jack entered the booth, placing both hands—palms down—onto a blue stencil outline, while “Steven” carefully categorized the mystic paraphernalia with sterile precision.
                “With your hands bound, and relying only on verbal commands, you will be tasked with transmuting three objects,” Steve recited, speaking dryly from a memorized script. “You will be timed and all tasks will need to be completed before this undisclosed time expires. Do I have your consent to proceed?”
                “Yes, yes. Please, I’m ready,” Jack replied.
                Steven drew out one yellowed card from a dispenser. He reached into a box of bric-a-brac and grabbed a pewter soldier and placed it in the center of the space between them. Steven flipped over the card.
                “‘If matter is material, then what is consciousness?’”
                Jack looked down at the soldier and frowned.
                “It is the immaterial made material.”
                As Jack spoke, celestial energy coalesced around the inanimate object. The soldier flexed, the cracking of bones and flesh faintly audible, and its green skin became pink and soft
                “Oh my god,” the soldier wailed, thrashing on the ground. “Not again… Please god, make it stop!”
                Steven quickly slapped down an opened Styrofoam cup onto the homunculus and slipped the dialogue card underneath to carefully remove the figurine from the surface.
                “That’s actually my specialty,” Jack murmured whimsically.
                Steven looked at Jack, unamused. “Whatever it is that you people do, I don’t want to know.”
                Steven drew another card from the dispenser, retrieved a feather from the box, and flipped over the card.
                “I… also know this one.”
                Steven paused, tapping his finger on the countertop. He flipped over the card.
                “‘How do you make a feather weigh eight hundred pounds?’”
                Jack shrugged playfully.
                “You move it to Jupiter, obviously…”
                The feather flexed against the countertop, warping the plastic fibers of the manufactured wood, until it ripped through and crunched into the linoleum flooring below.
                Steven left the side of his booth and motioned for Jack to follow him to the next cubby over.
                In the second booth, Steven took out a dollhouse, placing it off to the side. With a swipft, Steven took another card and cleared his throat.
                “Why is there a global housing shortage?”
                Jack took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “I hate this one.”
                Steven, who probably lived alone in a one bedroom apartment, nodded bleakly. He turned to the side, looking over at someone and silently shook his head. Jack, meanwhile, focused and breathed through his clenched teeth.
                “Not too much time left…” Steven muttered.
                “It’s because people don’t share,” Jack said, though not particularly to Steven. The dollhouse shifted sideways, a transparent weave embodying the structure of the original, only minutely as dense. Steven took out a telescoping pointer and prodded the copy, which firmly resisted. He unclipped a pen from his front facing pocket and jotted down a signature on a blue receipt.
                “Bring this voucher to desk 12F.”

Jack was out and back into the world a half hour later, holding in his hands a provisional license to think in the State of Oklahoma. As he walked out to his car, he shuffled through his pockets, feeling for the familiar shape of his key fob. As he did, a blinking light on the seat caught his attention. The fob was laid out across a pile of junk mail and a half eaten energy bar.
                “Is there such a thing that I don’t lock my keys in the car like some pedestrian simpleton?” Jack bemoaned. As he did, an identical fob took shape inside his clenched fist.
                Jack grinned. “Imagine that.”
                When he opened his hand the fob was half materialized through his knuckles.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

"In Observance of Space Time" - An Original Short By Stuart Warren


 Seems like everyone is doing a video with DeepFake these days: a technology that allows the over laying of a digital face onto a real body. (But of course you know that.) It made me think, “why not a DeepFake for reality?” Once we know the ingredients of the universe, what’s to stop us from baking?


In downtown Santa Barbara, in the Neon District by the train tracks, venture capitalists gather at a coffee stained countertop, cramped with cracked cell phones and money clips. Across from them a haggard grad student in a threadbare T-shirt—once red, now pink, perforated around the neckline—types into a simulator awash in cyberpunk highlights. He’s about to change the world.

It couldn’t be possible, even in Frazetta-scaped science fiction rags, they said. The universe is made of strings, infinitesimal and taught with reality. One needs only to equalize the frequencies, mix spectrums across the dimensions, and you can be an astronaut-ballerina, that puts out fires and has x-ray vision. For one hundred million dollars and change, pocket dimensions fit in your coffee tin, palmed like a silver dollar populated with sentient life.

Anthony sits in his living room, plastered with melting clocks and anorexic giraffes. The Napa valley sun, wet with dew, stabs rays through the crystal endtable. In his hands is the DeepReality™ projector. It’s shivering in 5 dimensional light, and Anthony can’t shake the image of liquefying porn stars from his mind.

Madeline is on her way into the office, lying on a pristine private beach in French Indonesia. On her customized planet, orbiting three suns at the edge of the galaxy she named “M-243”—M for Madeline—she is the majority shareholder of Fabian Micro Technologies. She is experimenting product rollouts there, and in sixteen other dimensions to predict Fall projections. Platinum lily sells better in the Asian markets. Chrome olive didn’t test well in QA due to poor color retention.

Thugnanimous is at a golf resort with his menagerie of publicists and promoters. In the hotel sitting room, a pound of cocaine is being haggled over. Out on the impossible green—an emerald island outside of Phoenix—his girlfriend is training for the US Women’s Open. Far away from his lawn chair perched on the deck, he is a child, running across a beach with his father (who stayed) and his brother (who wasn’t killed in a drive by shooting when he was 3 years old). Afterward, they are going to get ice cream in Cardiff, and then drive back to Carlsbad.

Despite the personal testimonials by tech moguls and pharmaceutical companies, the premier success of DeepReality™, as reported by the New York Times, is the testbed of constitutional reboots and experimental politics. “Despots, 39% of the time, avert ecological catastrophe by implementing climate change policies at the onset of the industrial revolution, whereas democratic socialists have a mean of 85 years before open hostilities between constitution adopters and anarchists erupt into full-scale genocide. ‘DeepReality™ succeeds where all speculative fiction and philosophy fails,’ said the company founder, Horus Cort. ‘It’s the ultimate thought experiment, the wet dream of R and D firms everywhere…’ When asked about the controversy over the sentience and preservation of life within these fabricated dimensions, representatives for Cort declined to comment.”

There is no actual way to escape into the facsimile realms, according to experts hired by the DeepReality™ Board of Directors. Despite the advancement of aggressive bacterial strains, overpopulation, and radioactive contamination, “We are here to stay. This is our world to fix, not to escape and do it all over again.” Outside the DeepReality campus protesters wear lead lined ponchos and pound the gates ineffectually. Horus’s son is escorted by military contractors to and from school. Melanie Cort is putting flowers on her parent’s grave at Hollywood Forever. Within minutes they shrivel and boil like salted snails. She is thinking about her husband, and his dirty secret.

By the time the last leaf falls on to the polonium caked earth, Osmund Cort, steps into his private projector with his girlfriend, never looking back. The sky is oily and metallic. The air is phosphorescent. Vacant skyscrapers covered in ash stand silent, their skeletal remnants melting together on the horizon like Lovecraftian horrors. Here, on Earth Prime, not even the cockroaches survived.