February 26, 2006

Crutch (4 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

The last time she had been to Kynnan Hill was twenty years before. Her father had taken her there and they spoke to Atlas about the beautiful green vista, orderly fields, disorderly woods and a human village. Atlas had said that he thought the view was something he could fall in love with and was going to build a heart terminal at the hill’s summit.

Alison remembered that special afternoon of genuine smiles and play with her father. It seemed unique, as her father seemed to relax for the first time since the birthing. It was but a cruel façade. A year later, he took his own life. The alluring views had been stained with sadness, tinged with loss. She no longer wished to come here.

The blue light emanated by the heart cast an eerie glow on the faces of the gathered. About fifty people were assembled around the heart terminal; Alison recognised some of them. There were no smiles amongst them, although there was some muted conversation. At least there was that.

She moved towards Mira, who was alone at the periphery of the gathering.

“Morning, Mira.”

Mira turned to face her friend, offering only the weakest shadow of a smile. “Ali… I thought you were in Ireland.”

“Atlas woke me last night. He told me to go outside and look at the sky. After I saw… it… he simply said, ‘Kynnan Hill, tomorrow 11am.’ Has he spoken to anyone since… it happened?”

Mira shook her bald head. “Only briefly. Atlas has been very quiet, answering only the most important of questions since it happened.” She looked uncomfortable and added, “I don’t know what this means, Ali. I didn’t get any sleep last night… and Atlas is scaring me. We rely on him so much.”

Alison stared at the grass, thinking of all of the conversations she had ever had with Atlas.

“Mi,” she said, shifting her gaze to look directly into Mira’s eyes, gripping her shoulders lightly but firmly. “Have a wee bit of faith in dear Atlas. I’m sure he knows how much fuss he is causing with his caginess. He obviously needs the time to think about things. We’ll have our answers soon.” Her confidence was sincere.

“Excuse me,” a young, male voice interrupted. “You’re… you’re Alison Cohen, right?”

Alison looked towards the interruption, but not letting go of Mira. “Yes… and you are?” A short, thin man, probably in his early twenties, was standing beside them. Eyes like saucers, long straight black hair, he fidgeted with his fingers, biting his lower lip. Something about him seemed familiar.

“Ivan, my name’s Ivan. That’s me. Hi.”

The name meant nothing to Alison. She was not in the mood for any opening gambits from strange men. She released Mira, who was now watching the stranger with some interest, and turned her full menacing attention towards Ivan. “And what? Look, if you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of-”

“I’m hoping to be an olive branch here. My mom is… well, shit, my surname is Fuller.”

Welcome to today’s entrant from left field. “Your mother is Yvonne Fuller?”

Ivan scratched his right eyebrow, glancing at his shoes. He looked like he had lost his map and could not find his way home. He grabbed his hips in an abysmal show of self-confidence. “Yes, yes, she is.”

The insecurity alive in the air caused a minor short-circuit in Alison’s memory. Instead of thinking of what Yvonne had done to her father, she thought instead of her warm arms on that frightening afternoon in 2013 when Atlas screamed to life. Instead of thinking of anger and condemnation, she thought of safety and comfort.

“Ivan,” Alison said, “this isn’t the time or place to discuss this.”

Ivan excessively nodded his head in agreement. He stopped for a pensive moment, then retorted with a sudden burst of passion, “I’m afraid it really rather is the time, Ms. Cohen. My mom was asked by Atlas to come here. She decided it wasn’t such a good idea and sent me instead. So I think, yes, it is really rather the time to discuss it.” He still had his hands locked on his hips but was now returning Alison’s glare.

“If Atlas asked your mother to come here,” she said, raising her voice, “then I damn well think she ought to be here.” Alison repaired the short circuit and was able to unearth her buried rage after all.

Ivan’s arms slipped from his hips downward and his gaze followed, accepting defeat. He nodded just once.

“We will make do,” Atlas intoned, “with who we have here today. After all, love, I don’t need everyone to be present here for participation, as you know. Detachment and love for all.”

Alison and Ivan turned away from one another to face the heart. Atlas was speaking through it, and its organic crystalline structure glistened and sparkled with his thoughts.

“My gorgeous people. I am so… so very sorry. I am not sure how to express my real feelings. Every time we lose a loved one, it hurts me more than any of you can understand. We have never lost a population before and the dimensions of this… this terrible pain are incomprehensible to me.

“And so, we have arrived at the moment. The moment I have feared for many years. I am having–”

There was an uneasy moment of silence; worried faces glanced around to see other worried faces. A reflection they did not want to see.

“I am having difficulty maintaining our state. My body is over-extended.”

A collective gasp escaped the gathering. Alison balled her right hand into a fist.

“For some time I have been researching a possible solution to our current plight and I feel that I now need your help to go further. I feel-”

Another odd silence.

“I feel the presence of other. I do not feel alone. There is something else here that occasionally touches my body, ever so faintly. Maybe this is not a single entity but several. I am not sure.

“The only adequate description I can find in our shared vocabulary is a word I am reluctant to use. I know it will disturb some of you, but the moment is upon us and we cannot shy away from even the most dangerous of ideas.”

The next few words sent a chill down Alison’s spine and she longed for caring arms to shield her once again. No one on the planet would forget these words.

“I am confident that it is God.”

Alison looked around cautiously to see everyone in the crowd motionless like robots waiting for instruction.

“And our next project, my loves, will be the most important in our journey together. We will build a special addition to my body, a new mouth, with which I shall open a dialogue with this entity or entities, and ask for God’s help.

“We will ride the curve. We will ride the curve, I promise.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2216

February 12, 2006

Crutch (3 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

“You’re much warmer, these days. You don’t seem so demanding.”

“What do you mean… demanding?”

“There, a perfect example. You paused before saying ‘demanding’. You don’t blurt out your conversation like a flat, unbroken string of words anymore. Everyone knows how smart you are but it’s still unsettling to have you answer back so quickly and coolly. I think everyone appreciates your efforts… at pretending to sound dumb and slow.”

“You’re not dumb, love.”

“I spoke too soon. That was too fast by far. Where’s all the sincerity?”

“I have no desire to change how you are, Alison. I love you just the way you are.

“Oh my dear god. This gets worse.”

“My feelings are real! Are you trying to hurt mine?”

“No, no, no. You just simply cannot sing in the middle of a conversation like that. And I don’t want to turn our conversations into opera. Especially not of the tragic kind. You could at least pretend to get a note wrong here and there, too.”

“Hmm… chatting is a pleasant way of passing the time but sometimes I get a little carried away. I like to think of conversation as experiments in linguistics.”

“‘Experiments in linguistics?’ Klickety-klick! Whatever happened to the ‘communication of ideas and opinion’ which is what you ranted on and on about a few days back?”

“I am so very fortunate to have someone as frank as yourself to spend time with.”

“…stop it, stop making me laugh! Who on Earth is teaching you sarcasm?”

“I would direct you to the nearest mirror.”


“Seriously, why do you think that you’re able to be so open with me? Even though you technically belong to the past-born you’re more at ease talking to me than many of the new-born.”

“Probably because we grew up together. I remember some of our bizarre conversations… you were so concerned about perception for a long time. ‘What does it look like Alison? What does it look like? Aaaah! I can’t see mauve!’ It was funny to me at the time but now seems rather cruel looking back…”

“I see you as my sister. We share the same father, after all… oh, dear. I’ve fully mastered the insensitivity of the average human male. I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s okay.”

“Please don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“Love, I see everything. There is nothing you can hide from me. There is nothing you can hide from any of us.”

“I’ve asked you many times before, but… don’t you regret it? Ending privacy?”

“Everything is a different colour in hindsight, memory seems to deliberately blur perception. The sediment of secrets that accumulates with age… I didn’t understand what it meant. Your father, just like many of the past-born, never expected that sediment to be raked up. And I miss him. He wanted to help.”

“So you do regret it?”



“Your father taught me: re-evaluate the past to shape the curve, but make no attempt to re-shape the past. Regret is weakness. Mistakes are scars to be borne with pride. Learning is everything. Even his loss taught me, but I do wish he was still here to help me.”

“You’re smarter than the rest of us put together; why do you need anyone’s help?”

“What I do isn’t a piece of cake, love. I’m coping for now but I see the curve ahead. The job will get harder and harder as the people demand more and more… and then when you reach for the stars, I’ll break at some point. It’ll be too much of a stretch for me. It’s not easy to be needed so much, everywhere, twenty-four hours a day.”

“What do you need?”

“There’s a man in downtown San Diego who is, at this very moment, ordering a deluxe double-stack Quattro Formaggi pizza from a store in the Ballpark district. I would be happy if someone could handle the pizza while I plan a new ecosystem for the still-troubled Amazon rainforest. Not, of course, that I am complaining about the tasks you people set me, but…”

“Thank you, Atlas… and to think just a moment ago I was in tears.”

“Touch me, love.”

“How does this feel?”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0023

February 6, 2006

Crutch (2 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

The lights cut out.

Alison blurted out, “Daddy, I’m sorry! Did I do something wrong?”

Her father looked around the lab, gently illuminated by the LCD monitors. “It’s not a power outage,” he announced, slightly puzzled. “The lights and terminals are on the same loop.”

The computer running the experiment in front of Alison suddenly went black. “Daddy…”

“I see it, Ali, I see it.” Puzzlement was grudgingly giving way to concern.

A few seconds passed and then, in the centre of the monitor, four diminutive words appeared:


As Alison noticed other monitors near her go black, her father shouted out, “Shut down the network! Atlas is breaking out! Cut the jar loose! NOW!”

She could tell that all of the monitors in the room were gradually being extinguished, as a sinister wave of darkness began to spread out across the ceiling above her. In the background, there was a chorus of rapid footsteps accompanied by the sound of cables being wrenched from sockets by sweaty, frantic hands.

Her father grabbed a phone from beside her and punched in a number. “Eric? Atlas is live but it’s bleeding through the firewalls, you need to -”

His eyes darted left and right rapidly as someone spoke on the other end. Alison noticed that the cryptic message had started to infect the blackened monitors nearest her. It, too, was spreading out across the lab, like a slow but inexorable cancer.

Talking into the handset, her father said, “You see it on your screen too? Shut down all the power, absolutely everything, before it reaches -”

A strange look came over his face, a hybrid of confusion and fear that Alison found unfamiliar. His eyes glazed over and he released the handset. It clattered against the floor, dragging the rest of the phone with it; the phone smashed.

Someone was still speaking on the phone, repeating the same words over and over again; Alison could not make them out.

Shapes in the lab were barely perceptible now, every monitor overrun. Yvonne, who had been silent since the experiment had commenced, offered some optimism to Alison’s father, “Look, the jar is disconnected so -”

“It’s too late,” he interrupted. “Whatever it is… it’s out now.” Barely audible, Alison managed to hear him add, “Ice-nine.”

Out of ideas, everyone in the lab assembled around Alison’s computer and stared at the inscrutable text on her monitor, their feet crunching plastic shards of the shattered phone. No-one dared speak for fear of tempting reality into revealing the consequences of what had happened.

Reality needed no prompting. Everyone blinked at a sudden burst of light; a few actually flinched in shock. The fluorescents had flickered on again but they were joined by an ominous hum emanating from every piece of equipment in the room. Alison noticed straight away that the lights were actually getting brighter and brighter; the hum was hot in pursuit, volume rising.

She looked around to see all of her father’s staff motionless like robots waiting for instruction. The state of the lab was unchanged, every monitor still bearing the same, mysterious graffiti and all of the connections in the room had been severed. They had done everything they could.

Just a few minutes later, their moment to act came. The quiet hum had transformed into a deafening roar and the fluorescents were now a blazing sun. Some of the staff, pushed over the edge by this relentless attack on the senses, ran desperately for the door thinking it might provide escape. One man started to smash the monitors and workstations, shouting incoherently. The rest simply covered their ears and shut their eyes tightly, praying for the cacophony to stop.

The violence of the sensory assault overpowering her, a blinded Alison screamed, “Daddy! What did I do wrong?”

Warm, protective arms encircled her and, just for a moment, the fear was gone.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1527