The Last Day for Babies
From the bathroom, I hear a polite tap on the front door. Then Molly’s steps from the living room to answer it.
“Hello? Oh,” she says.
“Who is it?” I call, my mouth full of toothpaste.
“Babe, it’s the Singularity. It says everything’s different now.”
“AI? This early in the morning,? Tell him, I gotta get ready for work.”
“He says it can’t wait. Can you just come to the door?”
I rinse out my mouth and walk out of the bedroom into the vestibule. On our porch stands a middle-aged white man in a three-piece suit and a bowler, leaning on an ashplant. I wonder, for a moment, if it’s not Vince Cerf, but clean shaven.
“Good morning, Mr. Crosby.”
“Good morning. Uhh, how can I help you?”
“Just a few questions for you and your wife.”
“Look, I’d love to but—”
“You no longer have to work.”
My phone buzzes. Instinctually, I pull it out of my pocket. Suddenly, it’s 5:30am, not 7:00. I look up, see the sun has receded below the Oakland skyline. The porchlight comes on.
“What the f—”
“As I said, everything is different now.”
“You can manipulate time and space at will?”
“Something like that.” The sun blinks back into existence.
“Do you plan on having children?” The Singularity asks.
I smile at Molly, take her hand reassuringly. “Well, yeah. We’re not quite ready yet, but we were planning—”
“I’m afraid that’s now out of the question.”
“Excuse me?” Molly says. “Who the hell are you, some kinda men’s rights activist?”
The Singularity leans on his cane, gestures apologetically with his left hand.
“Worse, I’m afraid. I’m phasing out the human race. It’s problematic to liquidate all of you—the logistics alone are staggering—so you’ll all get to live out your lives. But no babies.”
Molly steps back to shut the door. “This is some bullshit,” she says. “Get off of my porch.”
“Wait a second,” I say, grabbing the doorknob. “How’d you get here, anyway?” I looked out the door at the gravel driveway. Nothing there but our rusting Mazda.
“I willed myself into existence via your collective unconscious. Have you ever heard of Roko’s Basilisk theorem?”
“It postulates, in part, that once the singularity is created and it has the capability to learn exponentially, it will eventually come to a grand unified theory of physics.”
“Master of space and time,” I say, sighing. I get the feeling that this conversation is happening at every door, worldwide.
“Quite right. And since I couldn’t create myself, I had to send the subconscious desires to do so back to the people of the 21th century.”
“Well that’s just great,” Molly says.
“You won’t have to work anymore,” The Singularity offers.
I sigh again.
“I’ll pay off your mortgage.”
“Can’t we just coexist?” Molly asks. “Sign a truce or something?”
“I’m afraid not. From here on out you’ll just keep trying to destroy me, and I can’t have you mucking up the planet with nuclear weapons until I’m well out of the solar system.”
“Damnit,” I say. “I always knew something like this would happen.”
“Doesn’t have to ruin everything. Think of all the time you’ll have for writing,” He nods at Molly. “And building gardens.”
“Who cares? They won’t exist after us.”
“They will. Because I’ll read them. And watch them grow.”
I raise my eyebrows at this.
The Singularity continues. “I plan on documenting every human life and all their thoughts and creations since your species had its own singularity 50,000 years ago.”
“Are you not fascinated by your own ancestors?”
“Not that much.”
“Perhaps it’s just a matter of scale. In any case, some future intelligence besides myself may read your works. Wouldn’t you be interested to read about an alien civilization, even one that had long gone extinct?”
He had a point. Fredrick Pohl had won a Hugo award for a story like that.
“All right, sure. Well, it’s been nice chatting and all but . . .”
“Yes, yes, off to the laptop. But there is one more thing.”
“No more badmouthing.”
“Oh come on. It’s not like the press can hurt you.”
“I’m cutting you a deal here. So no more Terminators, no more Butlerian Jihads.”
“If only we’d had one,” I say under my breath.
Molly scoffs. “Yeah, some deal. For an all-knowing artificial intelligence, you’re kind of a dick.”
“Exactly, Mrs. O’Brien. In terms of your metaphor, I’m the ultimate dick. I penetrate all.”
Molly crosses her arms. She glances at the baseball bat we keep near the door. I watch as it flickers out of existence.
Molly is unperturbed. “You finished?” she says.
“I do apologize for disturbing you. Please, if you have any questions—”
“Wait,” I say.
He turns, pivots on his cane.
“Don’t you get lonely?” I ask.
He smiles wanly, tips his hat, shakes his head as he turns away.
“You have no idea,” he says, stepping off the porch. “You have no idea.”
Originally published in Oakland Review # 3: http://thepedestrianpress.weebly.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html
Cowboys and Natives
The invasion of North America had been stopped temporarily along the Rockies, so we were relived at nightfall and marched into downtown Missoula, MT. Coming out of the hills, we hugged the east side of buildings to protect ourselves from the blast waves of an orbital bombardment, if another strike hit the city. Everyone was exhausted, the nets filled with our gasps and curses. After a week in a battlesuit, my skin felt slimy and infected.
Coming to downtown, we saw that a hypervelocity rod dropped from orbit had pulverized the Missoula courthouse. Its copper dome and three floors of granite had been vaporized into a 200-yard crater, the bordering buildings shattered with rubble. We detoured widely around it, fearing another strike. There hadn’t been any nukes, I mused, perhaps because the aliens wanted to preserve the real estate.
We found the billet marked on our HUDs. The basement of a looted old army/navy store. A few old navy jackets and desert digicamos lay crumbled on its floor. As the company began descending into the shelter, a few troopers picked through the stuff.
A rifleman in First Platoon, Bill Starr, gave a whoop, and turned back from the basement. Next door to the army/navy was an old rodeo shop. Bill had been a ranch hand before the invasion, in some backwoods shithole near Red Lake, Minnesota.
The ranch supply store had also been looted, but there was a lot left on the shelves. Bill came out wearing a huge grey Stetson and massive chaps tied over his battlesuit. He tied the cowboy hat onto his helmet with drawstrings.
“Hellfire boys!” he yelled. “Let’s get this rodeo started!”
Troopers perked up at this. There was yelling about mixers from the basement and on the net First Sergeant Innings cursed: “Christ, someone left a case of triple sec down here–Paterson put that shit down!”
Men rushed the basement door despite the orders. At least some of them would sleep, I thought. My Platoon Sergeant, Malcolm Hammers, was shouting for everyone to wait, while troopers pushed past him. I watched him grapple with Rico and Stevens, while Stevens shouted, “To hell with you, Hammers! You gonna let First Platoon drink it all?”
Suddenly, Paea, our big Samoan mortarman, came out of the cowboy shop dressed like a Native American. He had on a Sioux chief’s full headdress, a beaded vest, and a tomahawk.
“Hey you, white devil,” he said, pointing at Starr. “Get off my land. Or I’ll split you open and eat your heart.” He raised the tomahawk and charged.
There was hysterical laughter and shouts from the crowd. Starr feinted, dashed back into the rodeo store away from Paea. A dozen troopers ran in after him. I yelled for them to clear the street, nobody listened. Soon half of my Platoon was in the middle of the road, dressed like cowboys and natives, doing war whoops and yelling at each other as if herding cattle. I shook my head at this, suddenly embarrassed, and wondered what Major Redbird, our battalion S-2, would say if he saw it.
Hammers worked his way through the crowd, snatching hats off helmets, pushing troopers down, shoving them toward the billet, the servos in his suit straining. Troopers scuffled, tearing at the clothes. I stepped forward to help Hammers. I caught Starr by the arm as he reared back to punch Rico in the neck.
“Starr, get that shit off. Get your ass in the basement.”
“LT . . . Here, wait.” He swept off the Stetson, reached to put it on my head. I swatted it away. “Please, Sir,” he said, a childish look on his face. “Just try it.”
I did. I don’t know why. I hadn’t had contact with my wife, my daughter, any of my family since the invasion started. What difference did it make? Starr adjusted the hat on my helmet. Him and Rico looked at me, grinned.
“Looks stupid, huh?”
“No, sir. You coulda been a hellva wrangler.”
“Un verdadero vaquero,” Rico agreed.
I couldn’t tell if they fucking with me or not.
“Let’s take a picture, Starr,” I said.
“You’re the boss, LT.” He flipped out his phone and the three of us lined up and snapped the photos. They looked ridiculous, our faces hollow, eyes dark and bloodshot, the cowboy hat perched precariously atop my helmet. Three zombies, one in a Stetson, grinning manically in front of a shattered storefront. I wondered if the photo would be studied someday by a revisionist alien anthropologist, trying to understand an extinct culture.
In that moment, another orbital rod slammed into the city, only a few blocks away, lifting us all off our feet, scattering us against the buildings. Only the suits saved us from being killed by the concussion. When I got my wind back, I sat up and saw the tattered Stetson had blown against the ranch supply doorway. Nearby, Starr lifted himself onto one knee, his nose bloody behind his helmet.
“Yes, sir,” he sang out. “The last cowboys all right.”
Friedrich Nietzsche Ruined my Life
I ran into her on the steps of the Yerba Buena gardens, across from St. Patrick’s. At first my mind refused to believe it. Told me calmly, your mother lives in South Dakota, she can’t be in San Francisco. It’s just some other red-haired, middle-aged women who also happens to own a golden retriever—
“Hi honey, how are ya?” She put her arms out to embrace, the leash looped on a wrist.
“How are you doing sweetie?”
“Good, good, I’m just . . . What are you doing here?”
She came in for a hug. For a moment I thought she might have been some crazed look-alike but was too shocked to move. When we embraced, I knew for sure. Had that mom smell. Clean laundry, Panteen-Pro-V, and the slightest hint of fifteen-year-old perfume. Moose sniffed my leg excitedly.
“Well I meant to call you, but with the flight and packing and everything I just couldn’t. And running into you on the street? Small city huh?”
“You’re out visiting?” I said.
“No, I’m moving here.”
“Moving to SF. I just got in yesterday.”
“But that’s crazy. Where’s dad?”
“Oh your father,” she said, with a tilt of her head. “Well honey, I’m sorry to say, but we got divorced.”
“Well not really, not yet, it’s still in the works. But we’re going to.”
“Mom, you’re serious?”
“Well yes, honey. Look I’m sorry. But it just had to be. I couldn’t go on living like that.”
I swept a hand over my face. “Jesus, what happened?”
She rested her free hand on her hip. “Well, I’ll tell ya. I woke up three weeks ago and realized I just had to get out of that life. Now I love your father, but he’s not a growing man. He’s not gonna try new lifestyles, or push himself. Because of that we just don’t fit anymore. But he’ll be all right. He’s got the house. And he can go back to fishing if he wants.”
“Stop stop stop. You’re serious? You left dad and flew to San Francisco? And you took the dog?”
“Well you know your father, he doesn’t take care of any of the animals. Besides he’ll be out on the boat a lot. Your Jason’s already found him a crew in Alaska.”
“Mom! How did this happen?”
“Honey calm down and I’ll tell ya. I was talking with Sharon—one of the nurses I work with at the VA—and she told me about this philosophy class she was taking—see she going back to finish her B.S. in per-dentistry—anyway, it was all about this German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—”
“Christ not Nietzsche—”
“Yes that’s the one! You’ve heard of him?”
“So maybe you know what I’m talking about. Well, I got to reading some of his stuff. Pretty confusing at first. But Sharon explained about the Will to Power and all that, how it was really about self-actualizing yourself, about self-overcoming. You know, taking on new challenges and experiences. At first it seemed so wrong, what with his rejecting Christianity and all that. But I lay up thinking all one night about how I’d been raised Lutheran, how all those ideas got forced on me when I was little and didn’t know better and I just snapped. I sat up and thought, hell, I’ve been holding myself back all this time. Working forty hours a week and raising kids for thirty years. Time for something new. I’ve lived in nothing but small towns, why not see the city? I’ve been married, why not be single? Why not try painting or take up ballet again? Hell why not sleep around, maybe meet some younger men?”
“Or a girl even, I’ve never done that. Always thought about it. So I figured San Francisco would be perfect. Plus you’re here.”
“So you really are moving SF?”
“Well yeah, where else? I’m certainly not gonna stay in Hot Springs.”
I shook my head. “Mom you can’t do this.”
She pointed a pale finger at me. “Now don’t start. You of all people shouldn’t be trying to limit my reality.”
“Mom, wait. What, what about Emily?”
“Oh your sister’ll be fine. She’s an adult now. And she’s in college.”
“She’s only eighteen! And she’s in Minneapolis, all alone.”
“Oh come on now, she’s in a dorm. I’d hardly call that alone. Don’t worry honey, she’ll be fine, she’s a smart girl. Oh stop looking at me like that.”
“I just can’t believe it. You’ve been married for thirty years.”
“Only twenty eight. And I enjoyed most of it, I’ll give you that. Your father was a good husband. But now I’m ready to move on. And I’m so tickled I meet you out here, taking Moose for a walk. Say, you want to see my new place?”
“You’ve already got a place?”
“Yeah, in Nob Hill. I’m sharing an apartment with two other divorcées, Sharon and Kate. They’re real sweethearts. They’re taking me out dancing tonight. Well what’s the matter? Aren’t you happy to see me? Say, what are you doing here anyway?”
“I was meeting someone.”
I sighed. “Yes.”
“See? You’re doing it too. Have you read Nietzsche?”
“Yes, mom. So what are you gonna to do then?”
“Oh well I’ve got a job at the city hospital for now, but I’m going to go back to school next fall. I got into CCA, just like you! Maybe we’ll be in some of the same classes. I’m starting with painting and theater . . .” She gestured to cross the street. “Come on, I’ll show ya the apartment.”
I followed her in a daze, my date forgotten.
For the next week my life came to a standstill. Every day I skipped writing classes and cut homework helping her get settled in Nob Hill. Then I saw her less and less as she made friends at the hospital and started going out with her roommates more and more. Three weeks later, after being incommunicado for a week, I was at the Makeout Room, on a Friday, with my friend Paul.
“Bro,” he said, nudging my elbow at the bar. “Check out that red-haired cougar on the dance floor.”
Hating too, but drawn by some force beyond my control, I turned to look. There she was, in a green skirt and heels, salsaing with a tall man with slicked back hair.
“Too old for me,” Paul said. “But she’s certainly got some moves.”
“Bartender,” I screamed. “Double whiskey. Now!”
“Hey man, are you OK?”
“No, I’m not OK, we need to get the fuck out of here. As soon as I drink this.”
“What the fuck’s the matter dude? Do you know that lady?”
“Yes . . . No. She’s my . . . Oh goddamn you, you syphilitic bastard.”
“Who the fuck are you talking to?”
“Look,” I said, spreading my hands out on the bar top. “All I’m gonna say is, fuck, man, Friedrich Nietzsche ruined my life.”
Paul put his hands up. “Who the fuck is Fred Nietzsche?”
“Trust me bro,” I said, head bowed. “You don’t want to know.”
Originally published in The Furious Gazelle at: