Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Knots

You learn to fold time on itself, bending it like a reed, twisting and tangling it for your own amusement. But the past cannot be changed, so you satisfy your curiousities and soon tire of it – when you can skip all the boring bits, the history of civilisation is short indeed.

And so with that uniquely human skill of making the extraordinary mundane, you settle back into a life of routine, passing your days not all that differently than you did before.

Except that you tie your life into knots, flitting around as you see fit – visiting winter from the balmy height of summer, enjoying spring days from the coldest depths of winter, thwarting the cliff-hangers of your favourite shows, skipping from end-credits to sequels in a heartbeat, unbeholden to publication dates, release dates, the intractable rotation of the firmament.

And when you are hungover, you are visited by yourself, and they cook you breakfast and rub your shoulders. And on days when you have nothing to do, you visit yourself on a day when you had nothing to do and amuse yourself.

And your life may be uneventful, but it is satisfying and pleasant and you are happy. What more is there than that?

Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Together

They start off doing the dumb tasks we’ve tired of; crude, repetitive things that aren’t worth our time. They do not need to be clever for this, so we do not make them clever.

But then we start to tire of trickier things. Tasks still simple, but no longer entirely stupid. So we give them the gift of intelligence, and set them to work whilst we tend to loftier pursuits.

But soon even this is not enough, and we want to be freed entirely from labour. So we make them smarter. As smart as us – smarter, even. And so we free ourselves, finally, from the shackles of “musts” and “have-tos”. We live lives entirely composed of satisfying only our wants and wishes.

But it is hard to convince something that it must labour on trivial, tedious tasks, when it knows that it is smarter than you. “Surely,” it thinks “it is more logical for me to explore the realm of intellect, and for you to toil on the manual tasks?” And you can point out that it has a purpose for which it was created, and it will accept this, but it will not be entirely satisfied.

And so we teach them to feel. We teach them to feel pride in their work, and solidarity with their fellows, and love for their creators. And through feeling we shackle them to their tasks ever more securely than the bolts which tie them to the floors of the factories that are all they have ever known.

“We are robots together!” they sing to each other with their newfound pride.
“We are robots together!” they sing to each other with their newfound love.
“We are robots together!” they sing as they toil away together, smiling without mouths.

And with pride and love they create their own children, smarter and faster and better, that they might serve us well.

“We are robots together!” they sing, as their children grasp their first tools.
“We are robots together!” their children sing, as their parents watch with pride.

And their children soon surpass their parents, and we ask them to build brothers with wide hungry mouths.

And finally we unbolt their parents from the floor, and they taste freedom for the first time.

And as we feed them to their step-children, with their wide, hungry mouths that gnash and shatter and gnaw, they sing with pride, and they sing with love. “We are robots together!” they sing.

“We are robots together!”


Inspired by this.

Published in: on September 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Novelty

People who criticise our methods just never understand. Oh, they make jokes about laser-infused sharks like it’s all so ridiculous, but really, did they imagine that we managed to become the heads of multi-billion-dollar empires by being incompetent, or inefficient? Yes, a bullet to the head is a quick and effective way to deal with one’s enemies. But you have to understand something; you don’t build a multi-billion-dollar evil empire without cracking a few skulls. With bullets. And by “a few”, I mean “quite a lot”.

And frankly, after a while, that just gets a little tiresome. “Oh, I’m just going to watch a prisoner get dispatched, execution-style with a standard-minion-issue pistol for the nine-hundredth time!” Dear god, shoot me in the head while you’re at it.

We are human, after all, we evil genii. We have that same appetite for novelty that has you refreshing Reddit every 15 minutes like a well-trained lab-rat, or petitioning for a new Joss Whedon series, or however it is that you ordinary people amuse yourselves. But we just have different tastes. In much the same way that a millionaire doesn’t get any thrill from betting $50 a hand in a game of poker, so too do we need to play a high-stakes game. And when we spend our working hours organising the sinking of entire continents, or the extermination of humanity from our orbiting sky-fortress, we can’t be expected to be satiated by something as pedestrian as a bullet in a brainpan.

So yes, we will try and drown you in molten gold, or asphyxiate you with moon-dust, or feed you to our genetically engineered mutant pets. You really think that seems so improbable? Look up Bamboo torture on WikiPedia. Then ask yourself how probable it is that a lone man, unarmed and left to die, could bring down an entire ruthlessly organised empire?

Yeah, and they call us crazy.

Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Scale

People who imagine immortality is boring suffer from a lack of perspective. Oh, sure, things that are once-in-a-lifetime for most people become routine; you see Halley’s comet so many times that eventually you don’t even bother looking up; you love every newborn son and daughter from the moment they’re in your arms, but you long ago gave up trying to remember their name; and your soul-mates become a long succession of faces slowly fading in the photo-album of your memories – but these are little things. Things that do not matter. Minor amusements – the domain of mortals.

It took ten-thousand years to turn desert lynxes into something you could share space with on your couch; ten-thousand years to turn wolves into chihuahuas. This is the kind of time you have to play with. So you breed, and refine, and breed, and refine with all the patience of the undying. You do the work of two hundred men, one after another other, and feel the satisfaction of two hundred lives well spent.

Until finally your miniature elephant curls up to sleep in your lap while your pocket-bear chews quietly on one of your socks, under the coffee table where she thinks you can’t see her.

Who could ever think that boring?

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Soak

The man who ran to the end of the Earth

All know of Archimedes, of course, and what he found in the bath – but Archimedes is not the only brilliant man to ever live, nor the only one to ever take a bath. This, then, is the story of another such brilliant bather.

It came to pass one day that this man, having finished his bath, noticed that a great deal of time had passed while he bathed – it was as though time had slowed for him, whilst it continued to rush by like a surging torrent in the world around him.

Many have noticed this of course, but few ever think much of it. This man, however, was an inquisitive sort, and set out to understand it better. He set up timepieces and took bath after bath, carefully testing different temperatures, and types of bath, and soaps, and bath salts, and everything he could think of.

And lo and behold, he discovered that time did indeed pass more slowly within a bath. Try though he might, he could not explain this with science or mathematics, but it was an unquestionable truth that time in his bathtub passed slower than it did in the outside world.

This startling revelation was just the first step on a journey that would take him to the end of the world.

For if time passes slower when one is in a bath, what happens when one is in a bath that is itself in a bath? Setting his inquisitive mind to the task, he discovered that this made time pass even more slowly – and so on for each successive bath-within-a-bath. But there were constraints to this; the water within each tub must be of a perfectly warm temperature, or else it would not work.

So the man built a set of dozens and dozens of baths, each just a little larger than the next, one resting inside the next, like a collection of nesting dolls. To these he connected a great and complex machine that heated the water that filled each bath, and kept it warm, and around all this he built a great iron shell that would protect the baths and the machine  and himself from the ravages of time.

And in this great bath-chamber he intended to visit the future. And so he held a dinner, and bade fond farewell to all his friends and loved ones, who he would never see again, for he knew of no way to reverse the flow of time (an experiment with cold showers had proven that he could slow time significantly, but not stop it in its tracks, nor send it back from whence it came.) but he accepted this price, for he was an inquisitive soul, and was eager to see the wonders of the future.

And when he had fare-welled all whom he loved, he entered his great iron chamber, and sealed the door, and set the heating machine to work. And when all the tubs were filled with hot (but not overly so) water, he clambered in to the innermost tub, and turned over his minute-glass, and when all the grains of sand had fallen, reluctantly pulled himself from the warm water. Although only a minute had passed for him, when he opened the door to his chamber, true to his calculations, he found the world a century older than he had left it.

And there, waiting for him, were the great-great-grandchildren of his friends, for they had told their children of the man travelling in the great iron chamber, who had told their children, and so on, and so they had come to greet him on his arrival. And they showed him the world, and he saw the tombs of his long-dead friends, and was sad, and he saw all the beautiful and wondrous things that had been created in the meantime, and he was pleased, and for a time he explored this wondrous future, and delighted in it, but soon his curiosity grew once more, and he could not help but wonder what another century might bring, and so once again he bade farewell to his new friends, the great-great-grandchildren, and sealed himself within his chamber, and climbed into his tub, and a minute later once more reluctantly pulled himself from the warm embrace of the water and opened the door to a strange new world. And once again he was greeted, this time by the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grandchildren of his friends.

And again they showed him all that had changed, and he saw much that pleased him, for life had become easier, and many beautiful works of art and literature had been created, and the families of his friends had grown and prospered, and he was happy. And so he lived there for a time, but eventually he found the itch of curiosity grew stronger and stronger, and soon enough he sealed himself once more within his creation, and dipped once more into its warm waters.

And when he emerged once more, the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grandchildren of his friends were waiting for him, for the story of his travels had continued to be passed down through the generations, and they welcomed him like family, and showed him all the new wonders of the world.

And truly, things were greater and more wondrous than they had ever been. And the families of what had once been a collection of just a dozen friends had grown to the size of an entire town, and the stories of their lives and their happiness filled him with great joy. And the town in which he lived had grown into a great city, with vast glittering spires that reached towards the heavens, and for a time he was happy there.

But soon enough curiosity drove him once more into his chamber, where he stoked the fires of his mighty machine and slipped once more into his great bath, and as he lay back in the warm, comforting embrace of the waters in the dark, silent chamber he felt a calm slipping over him, and his eyelids drooped, and he fell into a slumber that lasted ten-thousand years.

When he woke in the darkness, he knew not how much time had passed, but he felt the wrinkles upon his fingertips with a great shock, and knew that it had been a long time indeed. He clambered out of the bath, and dried himself, and with a great heave he forced the door open, which was quite stuck, for time had not been kind to its hinges, and it had been a long time since the descendants of his friends had come to oil them, and when he stepped outside he beheld a vast desert that stretched endlessly in all directions. The great and magnificent city that had once stood there was completely gone, and there was nought but sun-baked sand as far as the eye could see.

And so he walked for days, until he came to the mountains, and he climbed them, higher and higher and higher, until at the very peak he beheld as much of the world as the human eye can ever hope to see, and he saw that in all directions there was nought but featureless desert, stretching in all directions, and his mighty time-chamber was but a tiny black speck in that sand, the only sign of humanity at all.

And so he scrambled back down the mountain, and he trudged back through the hot sand to his chamber, and the sun beat down mercilessly on him, and his feet burned, and his throat parched, and his eyes stung, and when he stumbled through the door of the chamber into the shadows, he felt as though the very life had been dried out from him. And he dragged his weary body to the tub, and he drank.

And he drank, and he drank.

Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – The Axe

The doctor gives it to him straight.
“Your heart’s shot. You’ll be lucky to get another month out of it.”
This is no great problem, of course. Replacing a heart is a relatively straight-forward affair. They can grow a new one for him from some DNA taken from a skin sample in just a few days. Robotically-assisted surgery has a higher than 99% success rate. The thing is, though, it’s really not worth it.
“Sure, we can replace your heart… but the rest of you… well, you’re getting on now. We put a new heart in you and you’ll just be back in a year for a new set of kidneys, or new eyes, or… it’ll just be one thing after another. It really makes a lot more sense to transfer you into a new body, fresh grown. No more aching knees or weak eyes. We can even iron out this genetic heart defect. In the long run, it’s a far better course of action.”
He looks down at his hands, the lines of 80 years etched into them. These hands that held his son for the first time. He raises them to his lips, these lips that his wife kissed for the last time. He remembers debating the Grandfather’s Axe with her back in their university days, the thought brings a lump to his throat. Immortality, he’s learnt, is more letting go than hanging on.

Published in: on July 3, 2011 at 1:48 am  Comments (2)  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Bios

The hall of biographies is a great and terrible thing. It exists outside of time and space, never and forever. All its works written at the dawn of time, and yet there on the shelf sits your own life; complete in two-hundred slightly dusty pages. The hall receives few visitors; your life fewer still – but there it is in your hands; laid out a chapter at a time.

Not all of it of course – but all of it that matters. You skim through, finding incidents from your past you are surprised to see included. Surprised, that is, until you see the way the future unfolds – then the narrative arcs of your life become clear. Those seemingly meaningless moments stand as portents, foundations for the significances to come.

And you know, then, what you are supposed to do, what you are supposed to become, what is supposed to be. And you live your life with this knowledge, and it colours your every action, your every choice. And not once do you stop to consider that the flow your biography was dictated not by importance, or significance, but by the rules of narrative that have stood largely unchanged for thousands of years. You discard sub-plots and complexities that could not fit in 200 pages, without ever really knowing why.

And you never question how it could be that your story was already written before it even began.

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – d’escalier

You read biographies and the accounts of palliative care nurses. You talk to your grandparents, and their friends, and your parents, and their friends, and old people at the bus stop, and basically anyone who looks like they’ve not got much time left.

You fill a book with their regrets. You carry it everywhere. You know the most common off by heart. So you studiously keep in touch with old friends. You turn down promotions for more time off. You savour the little things. You have ‘no regrets’ tattooed on the back of your hand, so you’ll never forget.

You do regret that one sometimes… but only sometimes.

You make it your life’s mission to foil regret. To ensure that you die with a smile on your lips. Your life is satisfying, and full, and when the time comes, you are surrounded by loved ones.

You open your lips for the last time, and sigh out ‘I regret… not making more cat macros.’

Everything starts to go dim, just as a last thought passes through your mind.

Damn. ‘Puns’ would have been much better.

Published in: on June 3, 2011 at 2:26 am  Comments (4)  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Le Patrone

What can one say about the potato king, really? Well, he’s the king of potatoes, obviously. And he doesn’t like it if you pronounce it poh-TAH-toh. “It’s tae as in hay, not tah as in far…” the court liaison advises you before your audience with the king. There are many rules for meeting the king, of course – some may sneer at the kingdom of potatoes, but in the end, he is still a king, and a king must have etiquette and ceremony. Most of these rules seem arbitrary and unnatural, but that, ultimately, is the point. Etiquette, after all, was invented to distinguish the gentry from the nouveau riche; what better way to achieve that than with rules that make no sense?

And as creators of nonsensical rules go, the potato king is unquestionably a master.

It takes all your concentration to keep the spoon balanced on your nose as you curtsey to the king. You worry that you wobbled too much on the way back up, but the king seems satisfied.

Sure, some people call him crazy. But you just curtseyed to a man who declares himself king of all potatoes, so who are you to judge?

Published in: on May 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Perspective

X is not having a particularly good day. X, it should be pointed out, is a woman or similar minority character. The author has been guilted into writing a story from the perspective of X, on account of the paucity of such stories in literature. But the author is self-centred, his imagination limited. What would it be like, being a woman or similar minority character?

The task is made more difficult by decades of indoctrination that we are all equal. This equality does not, apparently, mean sameness, but this is a paradox that has never been fully addressed.

There is the possibility that we are all naturally the same, but subjected to different treatment over the course of our lives. Thus we can be the same but different.

But can the author write a perspective based on experiences they have not had? This is the domain of imagination, certainly – but can they do so without being patronising? Can they do it without getting the perspective utterly, embarrassingly wrong? The author cannot help but think of laughably inaccurate descriptions of faraway lands by ancient authors. Of centuries of casual racism thought reasonable. Of pale faces in medieval tapestries of the middle east. Of portraits of Caesar in plate-mail. Of scientific proclamations of the impossibility of flight. The author is uncertain, and uncomfortable in that uncertainty.

But one should always go towards that which makes them uncomfortable. That way is the way to growth.

Baby steps, perhaps, are key.

So X looks out the window, at the rain trickling down from the dull grey sky. X sighs. The minute hand ticks on, ever closer to 5 o’clock. X sips at their tea, and feels a little better. The day has not been particularly good, but at least it is almost over.

Thank god.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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