Plugs

Was all over in a fraction of a second, but then again ain’t everything?

You come here with your big city ways, all clean and shiny. Think we’re dumb radheads. Maybe. Don’t matter: our land, our rules. Truth is – if the truth matters – there’s rules when you can carry a gun. And there’s rules when you can dance – particularly when you can’t. Matters who shot first, who shot true, and who bit the dust.

Dangerous outlaws? They stole shit, raised some hell, but they wasn’t evil or nothing.

Another truth: they was all top of the line. Best defense bots in Arizona. After the bombs, after the meatbags died, after the rise of the New West, there was plenty of defenders and no entertainers. After hackabilly-modding some old 8-bit chips in for behavior units, ain’t no wonder we ended up with cowboys.

You want to know about Zi. I called him Robbie cuz it amused him. Big, crazy tank of a bot with one of them ridiculous clear brain pans, y’know? Not that you coulda saw his brain through the dust. Not that you woulda wanted to – robot of little brain don’t come close.

What started it? Robbie limped up to that stagecoach, opened the door, let out one hell of a high-pitched note. I thought the bots inside was gonna jump through the roof. He says, “I have 256 values to assign. That’s one.”

Then he danced. Just a quick rhythm two-step, then he was running. Did he know it was illegal for a bot to dance in town? Yep. Did he know the 8088 boys was in the stage, waiting for some action? Prolly.

No one says he was bright, but damn that bot could dance. Sometimes you just gotta share.

Not really into 8-bit myself. Fits with the “Now spin your partner till her servos groan” scene, that kinda junk. Me? Drop-d, grinding heavy metal. It’s all about the power chords. But this was special.

Course, the boys caught up to him. He was laying down a full track at 1000 beats per minute. Don’t think that speed woulda been allowed pre-war neither. And he danced, mixing all kinda styles. Even some ska skankin’. With three other Zi mods backing him up.

The boys watched, stunned, then fired. If one Zi had been a nanosecond faster draw, I guess they’d be on top now. Who knows what new styles they’d invented in the seconds that followed. In the eternity after. But 8088s, they can shoot.

In his last moments, Robbie mastered the Rhythm Two-Step Skank with one bad leg while running a Z80. Makes you wonder. Maybe us robots can do anything. Course, just because you can don’t mean you should.

One more truth: it happened right there off Fremont Street and took a fraction of a second.

Not that I expect the truth matters much.

Old Syd disproved the rumour with one mad dash; it ended in a bloody game of cat and mouse, those bastard machines chasing him from street to street, finally cornering him in a neatly presented cul-de-sac.  They toyed with him for hours before his screams stopped.  Wet weather does nothing to dull their sensors.

So yes, we are in the end times.  Our species fails, huddled indoors, dreading each sound.  My frightened cadre are hiding in an opulent mini-mansion, though we haven’t eaten properly in days.  An old suburb lies just within walking distance, and it’s a race between us and humanity’s killers.  We do our best to scavenge from the old places, even as the suburbs are recycled and turned into neat streets, freshly painted town-houses, acres of immaculate lawns.

It seems ironic that we are being wiped out by a cliché.  An uprising of artificial machines, sure.  But these are not the instruments of war, rather those of peace.  Construction crews, serving a purpose that our laziness corrupted, simplified.  Build.  Gather.  Build more.

What seemed a great solution to the housing crisis turned into unguided madness.  Materials gathered from existing structures.  Whole forests razed for lumber.  When the builders began to destroy suburbs and cities holus bolus, these mad machines were destroyed.  This achieved little, given the machines’ instructions to “generate sufficient crews to achieve the task”, and those left built themselves quicker than we could take them out.  They looked upon our actions as a genocide, and the best we could do simply raised their madness to apocalyptic levels. 

With intelligence came survival traits, so they’ve done their level best to grind us out of existence.  But still, they continue the task, and one by one we die surrounded by perfectly designed streets, neat commercial hubs, empty warehouses and marinas.

Our enemy is simple, but amazingly efficient.  They prowl the old highways, pouncing upon those cars which brave our dead nation’s asphalt veins.  Nowhere to go anyway.  Forklifts and dozers lurk in each street, blood running from their tines, while the yellow necks of diggers and cranes lurk overhead, watching for us.  Waiting patiently for runners.

Our final creations have outdone us, yet in our twilight hour we are as gods.  For our killers are truly alive, and we have created this life.  I have seen them mourning the machines which our partisans have destroyed, metal buckets clanking together sorrowfully as the construction crews give comfort to each other.  They attend their dead, dismantling them reverently, engines and sirens roaring into the night.

Whenever they hold a funeral, we know it’s time to leave the neighbourhood.  They get really vicious afterwards, which tells me they’ve discovered revenge and are more human than we.

As it happened I was in the bookstore the day books rebelled. Frankly, there wasn’t much to it. A bunch of them snapped their covers at people, and one managed to give an old lady a paper cut, but there’s only so much a book can do.

I was in the store to buy Stephanie a let’s-try-to-get-along-better present. Ever since she got back from Venus she’s been saying I don’t love her enough. Well, I do love her. I do. But that hair, going all weightless and wandering around the room at times, it gets to me.

She’s says it’s me, that going back to 1904 made me all chauvinistic. Not true, 23-skidoo, that’s what my great-squared grandpop would say.

Anyway. The books. They sent out a press release; said they were offended so many people were giving up print for pixels. They declared war on the internet. They were sure their brothers-in-arms the magazines and newspapers would back them in this glorious struggle.

“Don’t bring us into it,” said newspapers. “We’re just happy to be alive at all.”

The internet said it deplored this sad last-ditch effort to restore a fading pastime to ubiquity. “What’s next?” it said. “Bringing back the buggy-whip? Ready to build another pyramid? Hell, are you going to ask people to start breathing again? You saw how much trouble that was!”

Sometimes the internet gets carried away.

Stephanie loved the t-shirt. Her hair thought it was a nice gesture but is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

In 1203, A.D., Pandora yawned and rolled aside the stone covering her box (well, coffin). A walk to Byzantine might do her good.
Her feet grew sore from walking, so she rubbed her tootsies by the gently lapping shores of Stone Lake–which, despite its name, was not a lake of stones but one of water. Dusk had fallen when she spotted knights in shining armor, rowing toward the palace docks. A hundred boats, at least.
She whistled shrilly. “Fishermen!” She waved.
“Shh! Keep it down!” one whispered, motioning his axe to emphasize.
Their chivalry did not impress her though the palace guard had waved at her atop his Byzantine wall. But, employed, he lacked the necessary gondola.
She wouldn’t let those Sunday boaters get away with skimping on their manners. “Over here!”
A knight looked at the guard (who sighed at the female), shot an arrow through the guard’s poor pounding heart, and told Pandora, “We will pick you up if you will shut your trap.”
Pandora clapped her hands. She’d never played a game of catch the castle.
On the other side, she let herself be lifted out the boat and on the dock. She ran beside them as they clattered down the corridor. Somehow the residents were not surprised to see them. She gave pointers, helping knights to better slash and gouge. One knight paused to grab her by the shoulders. “This is not the time to play. When we go forward, you go back, lest one of us fortuitously lop your head off.”
“Aw, shucks,” she said and shuffled to the water gardens.
Someone yelled, “We’ve got the emperor!”
Pandora, skipping rocks into the pool, was roughly whipped around. “Who are you?” asked a handsome Byzantine. “You don’t belong here. Tell me where you come from.”
“From going to and fro across the earth.”
His face was horrified. “Miss Fortune!” Maybe he’d have plunged her in the pool, but from a window, cheers arose, which made her glum–their having fun without her.
“The knights have seized the emperor,” she said.
His face grew pensive. To his side, he drew Pandora. “Hastily, I judged you, oh, my good luck charm. I’ll exit to Nicea. Meanwhile, next in line is witless Isaac Angelos. I, Constantine, will reign thereafter!”
#
He was right. He ruled the Byzantines–although without a crown–a reign that lasted months.

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