Monday 16 May 2011

The Automatic Marlboro - Section II, sub-section (b)

The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your regularly bathed host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the fifth installment.

1a|1b |1c|2a|2b|2c|2d|3a|3b|3c|3d|3e

Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds

And now, the story continues:



Ares is changing. That's what they say.

It's a bigger world, nowadays -- there's Jupiter to consider. Earth may be content to fade but the Galilean moons are feisty. On top of that nobody knows what's going to happen with Saturn.

It makes people uneasy. I can't bear watching the news. I probably won't even vote when the time comes.

History moves too fast, I think.

But sometimes you're lucky enough to be able to touch something that endures.

That's what I'm thinking when the loading bay door draws upward to reveal a hooded figure bent over a cane. It is with agonizing patience that the figure moves, shuffling one withered foot forward and then carefully leaning everything into the cane. The cane lurches ahead with a grinding sound, then the foot shuffles ahead once more. It goes on interminably: grind and slip, grind and slip, grind and slip...

Air stares from her desk, then blinks and looks at me. "We should help."

I shake my head. "Leave her be. She can make it. If that's who I think it is, she's been budgeting energy since before your great-grandmother was born."

Foot slides ahead, cane grinds to catch up. Halfway down the ramp now.

Pulse furrows his brow and looks to me. Air says, "It's cruel to just stand by."

I shake my head again. "This is her last walk. This moment belongs to her. Our part doesn't come yet."

"Our part?" prompts Air.

"Angels of death," says Pulse.

Down in the lab now, the cane grinds along one last time and comes to a halt. She leans into it and lets her cloak fall; beneath it she wears no carapace, her fundamental body exposed and skeletal. She is broken and crooked, her limbs desiccated, her spine tight. Her spotted skin reveals the contours of crude bypass cables and jury-rigged organs beneath the sutured surface. She's kept herself going single-handed, any way she could.

Dust rains from her neck as she turns her head.

"Selladore," she whispers. "Strain twenty-three. I have logged one point eight million hours, and I opt for continuance."

I nod to her. "Good afternoon, Ms. Selladore. We're prepared to facilitate your continuance."

Slowly, carefully, she slides to her knees. Her chassis creaks. "I am ready."

"Please turn off your pain if you haven't already."

The robot crumples. We hop to action. For a smooth transition it's important that we image her memory before it decays into noise. Pulse is already swinging the scanner into position. He gets down on the floor and cradles Selladore's head in his lap. He gently peels back skin like tarnished copper from her scalp. He connects two thick cables to the exposed cortical port as he strokes her cheek. "Okay, darling...just close your eyes, relax, and think of every detail of everything that ever happened to you."

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Sheik Yerbouti said...

Sweet! Another peek into Zorannic existence (before they took up the mantle of Executives), and a bonus ref to the whole military operation around Saturn.

It's also gratifying to know I guessed right about Lallo and certain pieces of his ultimate destiny. He would probably call that redemption.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

I knew you'd appreciate that.

Cheeseburger Brown

SaintPeter said...

1.8 Million Hours = 205 Years, 4 Months, 2 days, 1 hour
That's a while. I wonder if that is her body's lifetime or her memory span? Either way, I'm guessing that Marlboro knows her body type preferences based on other Selladore models coming in, which implies there are a heck of a lot of them if he has enough to know her preferences.

I'm intrigued by my reaction to her description. I was not icked out by it, as I thought I might be. I think she has a really presence, a weight of years. The fact that the two "kids" who service her treat her with respect goes a long way towards that. Air, though, doesn't seem to get it. I'm betting she thinks of the Zorannics as her charges, someone who needs taking care of. But that's not it at all - they provide an important service, like a doctor, but not as a parent.

I wonder about the strain numbers. I'd have thought that once Selladore was combined with the other memories that she would get a new strain number or something. Is she being combined with only the other Selladore 23s that have reported in, or ALL Selladores? I guess the strain is the original starting strain number, but it's not clear how numbers 1-22 would have been permuted.

Fascinating . . . As they are "reborn", they suddenly have a multiplicity of different perspectives on some of the same events. It's like becoming a crowd.

"...just close your eyes, relax, and think of every detail of everything that ever happened to you."
And hurry up about it, I don't have all day . . . haha . . . Great line!

Another fab chapter/subsection!

Smiley K said...

Truly enjoyed this one. I could almost smell 'grandma'. Thanks CBB!

gl. said...

i love how you showed us the two boys at their best. i was irked at their attitude toward air when i had seen nothing competent from them. it doesn't make their misogynistic behaviour okay, but i have more sympathy & respect for them now. one of the things i really like about your writing is your ability to make complex characters out of seemingly straightforward ones.

Teddy said...

"This is her funeral," she adds quietly.

I slam the lid on the incinerator and dog the latch. "You don't have to think of it like that," I tell her as I crank the candles up to full heat. "It's also her birthday."

I loved his response. I smiled when I read it. And this was a very enjoyable chapterlet as a whole too.


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear SaintPeter,

From a certain point of view we might say the strain numbers are the "proper" names of each line, assigned by Zoran and his team back on Earth when all the numbers represented were simulation tanks running self-perpetuating programmes that seemed to show promise.

That is to say, all Twenty-Threes are Selladores and all Selladores are Twenty-Threes. When the twenty-third strain was being groomed for sentience it was encouraged to choose a word-name for itself, and it chose "Selladore" based on readings it had found interesting.

Once confirmed as a successful strain, new "23rd-style" consciousnesses can be respawned from cloned initial conditions at will, thus creating any number of instances of Selladore existing and operating simultaneously. The accumulated memories of all of these models are pooled and shared when the opportunity arises. Thus, any given 23rd strain machine incorporates the experiences of all other 23rd strain machines that have been pooled up until the point of her last sync.

As SaintPeter says, "As they are "reborn", they suddenly have a multiplicity of different perspectives on some of the same events. It's like becoming a crowd."

…Which is exactly right.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Smiley K.,

Thanks very much. Though I do admit, in a frazzled state and unable to automatically grasp the context, upon initial reading I was very confused by your comment. But a moment's thought cleared that right up.

The most recent I have is of my grandmother smelling like hospital machines and fluids.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear gl.,

The chief difficulty in representing misogyny in science-fiction is that it can too easily be mistaken for the status quo.

This might especially be true in a serial, in which we don't necessarily get to see the consequences of the characters' attitudes come to fruition right away. The reader could be left to assume that the sexism goes unchecked.

(It doesn't, though.)

This story's didacticism, if any, does not turn on the point of the systemic underestimation of women however, but rather a broader point about the lack of clarity and the burden of prejudices which might go into the making of a decision by a human being.

Whether you feel the issue of misogyny is well-served by the conclusion or merely sidelined is something you'll have to let me know when all is said and done.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Teddy,

Thank you kindly. I'm glad you've enjoyed it. I figure anything that focuses on the executives will always put some smiles on the faces of the regulars.

And you definitely can't have a birthday without candles!

(Though I do favour piƱatas.)

Cheeseburger Brown

gl. said...

"Whether you feel the issue of misogyny is well-served by the conclusion or merely sidelined is something you'll have to let me know when all is said and done."

if i didn't have faith in your stories, i wouldn't still be reading them. :) you're a writer who reveals more with each chapter; i don't have to understand it all at once. and your characters are so wonderfully mixed it's a pleasure to discover their nuances.