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Friday, September 12, 2014

Servo 5:3

Servo 5:3

The alarm clock went off way too early for me. I rolled over and gave it a smack, sending it to the floor. It bounced around a few times before falling silent. Today we would be made to go to school. As I lay there in bed, rubbing my eyes, I wondered just what the teachers would teach us. Didn’t they realize this was totally absurd? What could they teach us?
My feet hit the floor and I staggered from bed. Rory yawned and stretched. “Come on, get up,” I said, trudging to the chest of drawers to find something to wear for school.
“Do we have to?”
“Unfortunately.” Down the way I heard Suz’s door open. She must be making a mad dash for the one bathroom the house contained. That would mean the rest of us had to wait what would seem like hours for her to emerge. At least in Philadelphia, our apartment had three bathrooms, and Suz claimed one for herself. Rory and I didn’t mind sharing, it meant getting her out of our way in the mornings. “Crap!”
“What?”
“Suz is gonna beat us to the bathroom.”
“Oh,” Rory said in a lackluster tone.
“She’s gonna make us late for school.”
He sat up. “Do you really care?”
I took a shirt out and pulled it over my head. “I suppose not.”
“I mean, what are they going to tell us?” Rory threw off the covers and got up. He went to the window, parted the drapes and looked out. “Nothing here, absolutely nothing.”
We dressed and were just getting ready to head downstairs for breakfast when we heard a ruckus below at the bottom of the stairs. “Children!” Grandma called. “Breakfast!”
I peered down the steps. “Coming, Grandma.”
“Where’s Suzette?”
“Probably still in the bathroom.”
“Tell her to get a move on. You’ll be late for school.”
“She won’t listen to us, she never does.” I scratched my head. How could Grandma have missed Suz? The bathroom was right next to the kitchen. The aroma of something greasy hit my nose. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but it actually smelled good. Taking in a deep breath, I decided that maybe there was food out here worth eating. Supper last night had been something called beef ribs. They were terribly messy, but tasted like nothing I’d ever had in my life. There was a sticky brown sauce that Grandpa called barbeque. It was smoky and sweet in flavor. And we had to tear meat off bones with our teeth! Suz was appalled, of course, and tried to use a knife and fork. All of us just laughed at her. She finally got mad and stomped upstairs to her room. Rory and I didn’t mind, that left more for us.
“Come, boys, get your breakfast before it gets cold.”
Rory and I thundered down the steps, anxious to see what morsels of delight would greet us at the kitchen table. We weren’t disappointed. Grandma had prepared a feast. My rather sensitive nose picked up several tasty scents. I could smell some sort of fresh baked bread, the greasy aroma that met me on the stairs, and something that was vaguely toasty and starchy in nature. My mouth started to water.
“I hope you boys are hungry,” Grandma said, standing at the stove with a plate in hand. We said nothing but took our places at the table. I watch as the old woman opened the oven and removed two round shaped pieces of bread—or so I thought. She cut them in half and arranged them on the plate. Next she put some rich golden-colored shreddings next to the breads. I was clueless to what it was. And from a cast iron frying pan, I saw her pluck two strips of something that looked like meat. Over most of it, she ladled some sort of creamy white goo. I thought it looked like adhesive. It was very thick and had little dark flecks of something in it.
Grandma placed the plate in front of me. I looked up at her, giving my best impression of naivety. Everything smelled good, but what exactly was I eating? She must have sensed my apprehension. “This is a farmhouse breakfast, Jonah.” She pointed to each item. “It has biscuits, country gravy, hash browns, and bacon. I’m sorry, I don’t have any eggs.”
I reached and picked up a strip of what she called bacon. “Never seen this before.”
“They don’t have bacon in the Inner States?”
“This is the first time I’ve seen it.”
“Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll like it. You went crazy on those ribs last night, didn’t you?”
I said nothing but brought the strip up to my mouth and opened gingerly. So far Grandma’s cooking had been very enjoyable. I wondered how she’d learned to cook like this. Sticking out my tongue slightly, I let the crispy strip touch it. My senses were assaulted with a salty, greasy flavor that had a smoky hint to it. Ah, I was in love again!
“Well?” she said.
“Mmmm!”
Grandma laughed and went to make Rory’s plate. I knew he’d enjoy this as much as I was. There had to be some reason that bacon wasn’t available in the Inner States—probably because it was deemed bad for you by the dietary directors, and hence, would not be served to the population. I began to wonder what other delicacies I’d been missing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Servo 5:2

Servo 5:2

It was Monday a week later when I heard the phone ring. Grandpa was somewhere on the property, so Grandma answered it. I happened to be within earshot of the conversation. It was Mrs. Bagley. She called to inform them that the school had concocted a reasonable facsimile of our educational level, and that we were to report to school on Tuesday. I couldn’t believe my ears. School in this wasteland? What were they going to teach us? We were already smarter than the majority of the faculty in the school. And they were going to teach us? I prepped my mind for what should be immense boredom to come. What could they possibly possess that could educate us? I wanted to laugh aloud.
Rory came downstairs and found me in the hallway. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.
I took note of his choice of clothing. He wore jeans and a pale blue t-shirt. “You’re not going to believe this.”
“What?”
“The school called. They want us in school tomorrow.”
“No way!”
“I overheard Grandma talking to them. Supposedly they have something to teach us.”
“Yeah, right.” He nudged past me and headed to the front door. “Jonah?”
“Mmm?”
“You wanna go check out the barn some more?”
I pondered his invitation a few moments. Having only a brief time in Grandpa’s workshop, I wanted to get a better look, sans the old man. “Where is Grandpa?”
“Saw him go out on that tractor machine. He left about an hour ago.”
Cocking my head, I listened throughout the house. I was fairly confident Grandma was in the kitchen working on dinner—or as they called it here: supper. “Okay,” I said, “but if we hear Grandpa, we hurry back to the house.”
“Why don’t you want him knowing?”
“He may not be happy with us meddling in technology.”
“What do you mean?”
“He might not want anyone in there.” I went to the door and opened it. “But did you see the head and torso of a service bot in the corner?”
Rory shook his head. “No…What are you thinking?”
“I’m not sure just yet.” Stepping onto the porch I scanned the area. There was no Grandpa or tractor in sight. A stiff breeze blew across the land kicking up dust with it. Was there no rain here? “Come on, let’s go.” I ran across the open expanse between buildings. Rory was right on my heels. We weren’t normally known for this type of behavior. In fact, exploring things was encouraged by our parents. They wanted us to learn, to grow, to expand our minds. Grandpa seemed perturbed with our presence in the old barn. It was if he was keeping a secret in there. I had to know.
The doors were open, the tractor no longer blocking our access. We hurried back to the workbench. It was dusty, dirty, and smelly, but I dove in and started rifling through ancient bot parts.
“Do you think Grandpa will notice?” Rory said. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about rummaging.
“He might.”
“Think we’ll get in trouble?”
“Maybe…But do you want to sit here in a wasteland and let your brain rot?”
“No, but I don’t want to get in trouble either.”
I made my way to the corner and unearthed the bot head and torso. “Whoa! Have you ever seen anything this old?” Grabbing a rag I dusted it off. It was beautiful in a rustic way. This bot had probably been produced quite a few years before Suz was even born. Maybe more. Definitely ancient. I was intrigued. The head was smoothly sculpted. Not exactly like a human head, but gave the idea of one. The eyes were small, a nose was placed on the face probably for aesthetic purpose, and it had a small slit for a mouth. The whole thing was a shiny golden color.
“How old do you think that thing is?” Rory asked.
“I’ll tell you in a minute.” I dusted it off better and then tucked the rag in my pocket. With both hands, I grasped the shoulders of the bot and leaned it forward. It was quite heavy. I was looking for the service tag that was usually found on the back just below the neck.  There was one, but it was so corroded that I couldn’t read it. “Help me out here,” I said, trying to wrestle the bot to the workbench.
Rory jumped in and with several grunts and groans, we had the bot on the bench face down. I snatched the rag and went to work giving the plate a thorough scrubbing. It must’ve been five minutes before I could make anything out. This poor bot must have spent most of its life in the barn.
“Now, let’s see,” I said, squinting. “Made by Servidyne Industries…Model 106…Produced May 29, 2022.”
“Wow, that’s old!”
I studied the plate in detail. “Older than Mom and Dad I think.”
“Was this one of the first service bots?”
“Might be.”
“Jonah, you’ve discovered an antique!”
I’m not sure Rory really understood the term antique, but finding a thirty-three year old robot was kind of exciting. What sort of life had it had? Did the memory still work? Was the battery bank still good? Could I even get it to boot up? And how could I hide my work from Grandpa? Something deep inside me wanted to get this bot functioning again. But how could I do it?
Searching around the workshop area, I found a screwdriver. With great care, I opened the skull of the bot and peered inside. Rory appeared and leaned over my shoulder.
“What are you going to do?”
I poked and prodded a bit. “I was thinking of removing the memory cells and taking them in the house. Maybe I can figure out a way to charge and run them.”
“You want the bot to function again?”
“I want to see what the bot was programmed with.” With a few twists of the screwdriver and some creative wire removal, I quickly had the memory core bank of cells in my hand. It was about the size of a baseball and contained the entire neural net. Newer bots had ones about a third of the size.
I tossed the core to Rory and set about putting the bot’s face back on. As I screwed down the last screw, I looked deeply into the expressionless face of the bot. It said nothing, but spoke volumes to me. Something clicked in my head.
“Grandpa!” Rory shouted.
In the distance I heard the tractor approaching. “Help me get it back to the corner.”
We wrestled the bot back and did our best to clean up from our explorations. Then we slipped unnoticed from the barn and ran back to the house.
“You have the core, right?” I said.
Rory handed it to me. “Still don’t know how you’ll make something that old work again.”
I studied it briefly before shoving it into my shirt. “Not sure if I can, but I’ll give it a try.”
We watched as Grandpa drove the tractor into the barn, shut it off, and hopped down. He closed the barn doors and headed toward the house. I nonchalantly nudged Rory and we slipped into the house. As we entered, I looked around for Grandma. Not seeing her, we hurried upstairs to our room. With the door shut, I removed the core from my shirt and tucked it under the bed. I’d take a closer look at it after supper.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Servo 5:1

Servo 5:1

The next day, Grandpa took us into town. He made a stop by a bank and drew out some money. His intentions were to purchase new clothes for us so we looked a little less like Inner States kids. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with our clothes, and the ones he bought for us were very uncomfortable. Suz was absolutely appalled by her options for dress. She moaned, groaned, and grumbled the entire time. I at least scored the proper power cord to charge our tablets.
Once back home, I attempted to put on the foreign clothes. The blue jeans were stiff and rough against my skin. And the plaid shirt Grandpa selected was short sleeved and had little pearl colored buttons that I had a hard time fastening. Honestly I thought I looked absurd. Why did we have to blend in? Why was it so important to strip us of our identities? None of us wanted to be here, so why were we being forced to change?
I sat on the front porch gazing out over the dusty landscape. A wire fence stretched into the distance, dry weeds were snarled in parts of it. There was no greenery. If Grandpa was a farmer, he sure wasn’t growing much more than dirt and weeds. How could he make a living here?
Rory wandered out. He was dressed in our usual clothes. “Jonah?”
“Yeah?”
“How can you wear that stuff?”
“I don’t know. I figured I’d give it a try.”
“How does it feel?”
I scratched my right thigh. “Itchy.”
“Grandma said it will get better after the clothes are washed a few times.”
“What’s Suz up to?”
Rory plopped down in a white wicker chair. “Crying.”
“Oh.”
“I don’t think she’s going to survive this.”
“She will. It’ll take time.”
“Your tablet was charged, so I plugged mine in.”
“That’s fine,” I said.
“What are you going to use yours for?”
“Listening to Dad.”
“What?” Rory leaned forward slightly. “What do you mean?”
“I took all the data sticks from his office…I miss him terribly.”
“So do I.”
“It was the only way I could think of keeping his memory alive.”
“Would you share some with me?”
“Yes, yes, of course, Rory.” I stood and walked around, the denim material chaffing my skin. “I’ll happily share with you.”
“Do you think Dad was murdered?”
Rory’s comment floored me. I’d figured that he’d have accepted what the police told us. This caught me completely off guard. “Why would you say that?”
“Don’t you think so? It seems fishy.”
I approached him, bent over, and rested my hands on the arms of the chair; my face only a few inches from his. “I do indeed.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I’m still not sure, but I have a gut feeling.”
“Me too.”
I drew away, choosing to stare into the distance again. “So what are we going to do?”
Rory shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno.”
“I wonder if there might be clues in those data sticks on why Dad was killed.”
“I wish he would come back. I miss him; I miss Mom.”
“We all do.”

“I want to go home.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Servo 4:2

Servo 4:2


After dinner, Rory and I helped dry and put away dishes. Really, it should have been Suz doing that, but I didn’t mind helping. It also gave me a better chance to talk with Grandma and find out more about why they left the Inner States.
“Grandpa told us he’d always wanted a farm, is that true?” I asked.
“It was our dream. As nice as it was, paradise didn’t live up to its name.”
“How can you say that? You had not a want or care in the world. Everything was provided for you and you didn’t have to toil physically.”
Grandma lifted a rinsed plate from the sink and handed it to me. “I like to work with my hands. Where do you think all the curtains and lace doilies in the house came from?”
“You made them?!” I was astounded. The only manual labor I’d ever done was to help father put bots together. And while it was a pleasant diversion, I much preferred to use my brain rather than my hands for work. The only exercise my fingers received was typing. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not overweight slouches. School had a rigorous exercise program that kept us fit, and our service bots always prepared the healthiest meals for the family. But when I wasn’t forced into playing field ball or running distance, I preferred to be happily sedentary.
“Is there such an aversion to manual labor in the Inner States?” she asked, handing me another plate.
“You lived there, don’t you know?” I glanced at her, taking my eyes off the plate I held. It slipped through the towel and crashed to the wood floor, breaking into hundreds of pieces. “Oh, sorry.”
She paused and let out a long sigh. I could see in her eyes the remorse of my accident. Without a word, she turned off the water, dried her hands, and began to pick up the broken pieces. “It’s okay,” she finally said, taking a handful of china shards and depositing them into the garbage can.
“Was it old?”
Slowly she nodded. “Almost eighty years.”
“I’m really sorry.”
Grandma went to the pantry and got a broom. Within a few minutes she had the rest of the pieces swept up and thrown away. “These dishes belonged to my mother.”
“Mmm.” I was at a loss for what to say. At home, we didn’t have dishes that were used for any length of time. Usually we ate from containers that were recycled. The Inner States had become the epitome of a reusable society. Solar panels dotted every available surface, cars ran on hydrogen—which was a byproduct of the solar energy conversion process, and our food for the most part was pre-packaged for ease of use. There was very little in the way of “garbage” in our world. Even outdated service bots were recycled for their base components. We didn’t waste.
“It’s all right, they’re just dishes. The memories I have are locked safely away in here.” She pointed to her head. “Most important thing is the memories.”
I nodded. Maybe she would understand my need to get my tablet running. “Grandma?”
“Yes?”
“Do you have some sort of power cord so I can charge my tablet?”
“Why? It doesn’t work here; no internet.”
“I don’t need it for that. I can do things on my tablet without the net.”
“Check in the drawer over there; you might find something that will work.” She handed me the last dish and I made sure to keep a firm grasp on it while drying. Then I handed it off to Rory who carefully placed it in the cupboard. I gave the towel a shake and laid it over the edge of the sink where I’d found it. Without showing too much enthusiasm, I wandered over to the drawer and opened it. There was a jumble of wires, lids, and a host of other items that would probably remain unidentified. My eyes locked onto a cord that held promise. It was horribly tangled with several others, and my fingers worked to untangle it.
Once freed, I inspected the cord. The portion that inserted to the wall seemed correct. It had prongs matching what I’d seen throughout the house. My problem was the other end; it had a strange, wide, flat connection. The physical connections on our tablets were much smaller and not as flat. This was looking like it wouldn’t work.
“Will that do, dear?” Grandma said.
“Probably not.”
“Why don’t you go to the barn and see if Grandpa has something that will work?”
“The barn?”
“Yes, he has a workshop there.”
“Are there any animals in the barn?”
She chuckled. “No, no, there aren’t any animals there.”
“Can I go with you?” Rory asked.
I looked out the window and saw it was getting dark. The barn wasn’t far from the house, but it was old and rickety. There was serious doubt in my mind as to the structural integrity of the building. Did I dare go in there?
“Jonah?” Rory pestered.
“Yeah, okay.” I thought maybe there would be safety in numbers. “Come on.”
We headed outside and across the open expanse between the house and barn. In the distance I saw black clouds and a brilliant flash of lightning. Would the storm hit us? I hated lightning.
“What do you think we’ll find?” said Rory as we covered the distance.
“I don’t know. But Grandpa used to build battle bots.”
“No way! Think we’ll find one in there?”
“Probably not. He gave all that up.”
“To be a farmer…”
“Yeah, crazy, huh?”
“They left everything in the Inner States to move here.” Rory stopped at the barn door. It was closed with a heavy latch. I think he expected me to open it.
I stepped forward and worked the latch. There was a good amount of rust on it and I had to rattle and jiggle in order to get it open. Once the door was unlatched, I grasped the handle and pulled back. The door swung open with loud creaking. We were met with darkness and an unusual filthy odor. “This is a workshop?”
“I guess.” Rory slowly ventured in, keeping to the side wall. I could hear him fumbling about, probably searching for lights. After a few moments, he found success. The lights came on, revealing a massive piece of wheeled equipment that was parked in front of us. It was painted green and yellow and had larger tires on the rear.
“What is it?”
“I think that’s what they call a tractor,” I said, sidling past in favor of what was behind. I was greeted by several workbenches piled high with a dusty assortment of mechanical parts and wires. Much of it I recognized as being decades old. Little of it held interest for me. I was only hoping to find either an adapter or the correct power cord for my tablet. And this wasn’t looking good.
“Looking for something?” Grandpa said in a loud voice.
Rory and I about jumped out of our skins. I spun around. “Grandma—”
“Yes, yes, I know, she sent you out here.”
I held up the cord with a shaky hand. “I was looking for a power cord for my tablet.”
“Won’t find it here,” he said, approaching. “All this is old.”
“Really old,” I replied.
“Yes. If you need a cord, we’ll go into town tomorrow and try and find one.”
“Thank you. I know I can’t use the net on my tablet, but I do have other things I can make use of.”
“Very well,” he said, “If that will keep you out of mischief.”
“Mischief?” Rory replied, scratching his head. “What kind of mischief can you get into here?”
Grandpa wagged a finger. “Plenty! Now how about you boys get inside and dress for bed?”
“Yes, Sir.” I looked at the parts piled on the counters and something in my brain clicked. As I scanned the dark barn, I saw what I thought was the torso and head of a service bot tucked away in a corner. Perhaps this would warrant further investigation.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Servo 4:1

Servo 4:1

Two days later, Grandpa loaded us up in the truck. He drove into Broken Bow and the local school. As he pulled into the parking lot, we got our first look at Outer States children. They didn’t look so dissimilar from us. Their choice of clothing, however, was quite different. The girls wore dresses in various colors. Most had their hair tied up with ribbons. The boys were outfitted in what Grandpa called “blue jeans.” I suppose it was the fabric of choice for the working class.
He parked the truck and got out. The three of us were rather hesitant. I knew from what little reading I had done on the plane that these children were not GEE. They had been conceived and born like had been done for thousands of years. There was nothing special about them. I was confident they were nowhere as intelligent as we were.
“Come, children, let’s get you enrolled in school.” Grandpa led the way to the office. Along the way, I could see the kids giving us funny looks. It was as if they’d never seen school uniforms before. The three of us were all dressed similar. We wore white shirts, gray pants, and black shoes. Suz wore a dark gray skirt instead of pants. We all felt quite naked, however, without our tablets. In our society they were used so much they literally became an extension of the body.
Grandpa found the admissions office. He held the door open for us. I entered first. There was a middle-age woman sitting behind a desk. She didn’t have the most pleasant of expressions on her face. I can’t imagine I did either, considering where we were.
“Hello, Mrs. Bagley?” Grandpa said, closing the door once Suz had shuffled in.
“Yes.”
“I’m Abe Cranwinkle. I spoke to you the other day about three children.”
“Oh, yes, have a seat.”
I looked around, there was only one chair. Grandpa quickly occupied it and left us standing against the wall.
“As you can see,” he continued, “they come from the Inner States.”
“Do you have transcripts for them?”
“No, they only showed up here a couple of days ago.”
Mrs. Bagley looked at me. “Can you tell me what school you attended?”
I straightened up. “The New Philadelphia School for Enlightened Students.”
“Mmm, you’re one of those, huh?”
Never before in my life had I heard someone berate a GEE. We were held in high esteem because of our enhanced intelligence. Here it seemed, we were going to be looked down upon. My emotions and still tender psyche weren’t ready for that. “Ma’am? Why is being intelligent so wrong here?” I finally mustered the words.
“Because you’re so smart, we don’t have a teaching curriculum for you.”
Rory spoke up. “You mean we’re too smart for school?”
“Probably.”
“So what can we do?”
She nervously shuffled some papers on her desk. “I’ll have to make some calls and see.”
I glanced at Suz. From the moment we arrived at the school, I could see her beginning to boil. This was not a place for her, and now it had been confirmed. She began to laugh. The laugh grew louder and more hysterical until it nearly went out of control. I reached over and swatted her. “Suz, knock it off!”
Of course she ignored me. All she could do was laugh and point a finger at Mrs. Bagley. My sister knew she was too smart for this school. And she was probably twice as smart as the woman sitting behind the desk. I secretly think Suz liked that. She had power over these commoners. After a few minutes, her laughter died out.
Rory was nearly as bright. His IQ had been tested at 188. But he used his brain and applied what he was taught. Suz just seemed to let her intelligence seep out along with her stupidity. Such a waste. Strangely enough, I was the dumbest in the family. I was the one with great aspirations, and yet my IQ was only 170. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
Back in New Philadelphia, we all wore our IQs like a badge of honor. Sure, I was one of the less intelligent in my class, and I even got teased on occasion. Surprisingly, it was usually Rory who came to my aid. He would tell the class bullies that I’d been dropped on my head as a baby, so the lower IQ wasn’t my fault. Eventually they backed off and left me alone. I wonder how the dumb kids in this school are treated?
“Mr. Cranwinkle, can you give me a few days to figure out what to do with them?”
Grandpa stood and ran his hands down the front of his shirt. “Well, I guess I don’t have any other choice.” He went to the door, opened it, and waved us out.  
Once in the hall, Suz piped up, “So, we’re too smart for school!”
“Don’t get so excited, Sis. This may mean we have more housework to help out with,” I said. That answer zipped her lips and made the smug grin on her face rapidly disappear. Touché! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Servo 3:2

Servo 3:2

With our first disturbing night in the dilapidated house behind us, I decided to explore a bit. The structure was surprisingly big. Everywhere I went, there was another door. Just when I thought I’d run out of doors, another appeared. Stepping up to it, I smelled an incredibly musty, what I would consider, stench. It seemed to be emanating from behind the door. Did I dare open it? Was there a body of someone hidden back there? The house was pretty creepy.
I reached and grasped the smooth, round brass knob. It was worn from probably hundreds of years of use. Giving it a gentle turn, the knob made a loud squeaking sound. I froze, afraid of being discovered in a place I wasn’t supposed to be. My ears heard nothing except wind whistling through the screen on the window to my right.
With a little more effort, I finished turning the knob. It clicked. Then I leaned close, put my other hand against the door and pushed. The door scraped open and I thought the whole world would hear. Again I froze. Nothing. Not a single peep from Grandma who I was sure had to be just down the hall.
The door opened to near darkness. The moldy reek hit me full force, almost making me ill. I’d never smelled anything that bad before in my life. Peering in, I could see little. There was a window in the room, but a heavy curtain was drawn across letting in only a sliver of light. My eyes began to adjust. I ventured slowly. The single ray of light was highlighting the dust particles that hung in the room. They looked like little gnats hovering about.
I stopped in the middle of the room and slowly circled. I was surrounded by books! Books that rarely anyone of our influence would have seen. Everything in our sphere of existence was digital. The only real book I’d ever seen was in school. Our English teacher brought in a tattered copy of someone called William Shakespeare. I remember him as some dead Englishman who wrote odd poems. The teacher was even so brave as to pass the book around the class, letting us all touch and smell it.
That was my first and only experience with a printed book. Now I was in a room surrounded by hundreds—maybe thousands of them. I wanted to take in a deep breath to fill my young lungs with all this information. Did I dare? Mother had always taught us that old things could make you sick. I wondered just how given that we were genetically engineered in a lab to be resistant to most illnesses. I’ve never been sick a day in my life.
My eyes fully adjusted to the dim light. I began to wander around, looking at the books on the shelves. They were all so foreign to me. And it was bizarre to have to crane my head to the side so I could read the titles. With our reading tablets, there was none of that. Everything was aligned to our anatomical comfort.
I reached out and touched a couple of them, feeling the rough, grainy covers. They seemed to be bound in some sort of brown material. With a shaky hand, I slid one from the shelf. It felt heavy despite being only a few inches square. It was much heavier than our tablets. As the book came into my hands, I noticed the edges of the pages were colored in a rather pretty mosaic of colors. I’d never seen anything like this before.
Carefully, I cradled the book in my left hand and with my right, drew the hard cover back, revealing a title page. A Christmas Carol was written in funny lettering. Below it was evidently the author, one Charles Dickens. Hmm, never heard of the guy, I mused, turning another page. When I saw the date on the book, I realized why. It had been written over two hundred years ago! Things written before The Great Separation were seldom taught in schools.
I closed the book and gently returned it to the shelf. Then I wandered, looking at a few more. One title caught my eye: I Sing the Body Electric. Such an odd name for a book. I had to see what it was about. This book didn’t appear to be as old as the other, so I plucked it from the shelf. The cover was definitely unique. Splashes of purple and black and what appeared to be a gold-colored woman in profile. Stories by Ray Bradbury. Who was this guy?
With a little less care, I opened to the page where the date would be found. It said 1969, first printing. Okay, so what? Then I flipped to the index. This was such a strange feeling. Our tablets had an index readily available, if you wanted to go to a particular place, you just touched the text and zing! you were there. Books and all this paper seemed such a waste. This was the year 2055, things could change for the better.
As my finger drew down the line of the index, I saw the same name as the book title. It was then I surmised this was probably a collection of what was called short stories. Locating the one that shared the book title, I leafed through the pages until I found it. It didn’t take but a moment or two before I was engrossed in the abstract prose of the author. No book I’d ever read was like this. He minced words, split sentences, and had me by the tip of my brain.
“You like science fiction?” Grandpa said, scaring the life out of me.
I stood dead still, afraid of the punishment that would come from breaching the inner sanctum.
“That’s Ray Bradbury.”
“Uh, yes, I saw that.”
Grandpa approached. “He was one of the greatest sci-fi writers of the twentieth century.”
“Oh,” was all I could squeak.
“Take it, read it, if you want. Just put it back when you’re done.”
“Really? You’re not mad that I’m in here?”
He waved his hand as if to dismiss me. “No, no, these books have been here for years without someone to read them.”
“Have you read them all?” I asked.
“Yes. Some I liked, some I didn’t.”
“Where did you get them?”
“Well,” he said, settling into a brown heavily padded chair. “Because I’ve been around since before The Great Separation, I knew where all the libraries were.”
“Libraries?”
“Where they kept books—so folks could check them out and read them.”
“Oh,” I said again, taking a seat across from him. I was quickly realizing that Grandpa was a fascinating old man, and I longed to know him better through his stories. “There were no tablets?”
He chuckled. “Not until early in the twenty-first century. Books were all our ancestors had.”
“How primitive.”
“And after things went bad, I rounded up as many books as I could and built this library.”
For some reason, I felt restless, so I got up and wandered around again. “All these books?”
“Yes, I had a couple of truckloads that I salvaged before many burned.”
“Burned?”
“Millions of books were lost when the cities burned. I saved what I could…These are some of the last known specimens in America.”
“I read that the war was terrible.”
Grandpa leaned forward. “It divided this country. That why it’s no longer called the United States of America. Now it’s just plain ol’ America.”
“Did you fight in the war?”
“No, but I had a hand in the killing of hundreds of thousands.”
“How?”
He folded his arms and rested them on his stomach. “I worked for the same company as your father.”
“You worked for Servidyne?”
“How do you think your father and mother met?” He gave a purposeful wink. “You mother was my daughter.”
I vaguely remembered my father saying something about how they met. But there was a bigger, deeper question burning inside me. “Grandpa? Did you build battle bots?”
“I was one of the chief designers.”
There was fear, wonder, and awe enveloping me. My Grandfather had been one of the primary instruments in the death of this country. With his battle bots, he turned the tide of the war and created the dual cast system of today. The rich lived in walled cities of splendor, while the working class and poor toiled to feed them. All my life I had known nothing of what existed outside the walls.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why were Grandma and Grandpa living here? “Grandpa?”
“Mmm?”
“If you were a designer, then you were rich. Why did you come out here?”
“After the war I realized there was nothing for me in the city. I wanted to breathe the air as it flows across the land, not cleaned and filtered.”
“So you moved to Nebraska?” I was stunned.
“Yes. The land was cheap, and I have always dreamed of having a farm.”
It was at that moment I fully believed my Grandfather had lost his mind. No one leaves paradise for the filth and stink of the Outer States. My mind was blown.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Servo 3:1

Servo 3:1

That evening, after a rather unusual dinner, we were getting ready for bed. I heard a panicked cry from Suzette. Fearing she’d encountered a venomous bug or ferocious rodent, I ran to her room and banged on the door. “Suz? Are you okay?”
A moment later she opened the door, her tablet in hand.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It won’t work!”
“What?”
She handed it to me. “It doesn’t work!”
I poked at the screen; all I got was fuzzy static. “Hmm,” I said, turning it over in my hands a few times as if attempting to find the source of the problem. “I dunno.”
“Make it work, Jonah!”
“Sis, I don’t know what’s wrong with it.”
Grandpa Abe must have heard our exchange. He came from their room. “What’s going on?”
I held out the tablet. “Suz’s tablet isn’t working.”
He chuckled. “It won’t.”
“Why not, Grandpa?” she asked.
“There’s no internet here.”
I watched Suz’s mouth fall open. “WHAT??!!” she screamed.
“Our lovely little farm is far away from the Inner States. Internet signal doesn’t reach here.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Suzette put her hands over her mouth, crumpled to the floor, and cried like a baby. My dear sister couldn’t live without her precious net.
Rory heard the commotion and came from the room. “What’s wrong?”
“Have you tried to use your tablet?” I asked.
“No, my battery died and I was trying to figure out how to charge it.” He pointed to the wall. “Where’s the wi-tricity antennas?”
Again Grandpa chuckled. “There aren’t any.”
He scratched his head. “Well, then how do you make the lights work?”
“Wires,” Grandpa said. “This house has wires that bring electricity to everything.”
Rory looked at me. “Didn’t they mention something about that in school?”
“Vaguely.”
“Well how am I going to charge my tablet?”
“Why bother? It won’t work anyway,” Suz grumbled.
“Huh?”
“There’s no internet here. This place is the middle of nowhere. We’re marooned!”
“No internet?” Rory echoed. I could see his face going pale.
“That’s what Grandpa just said.”
Rory slouched to the floor. “No wi-tricity, no internet, no tablets. What are we gonna do?!”
It seemed that I was the only cool-headed one in the group. “Grandpa, how do kids here learn?”
He rubbed his hand across his white-whiskered face. “When you get enrolled in school, they’ll issue you a tablet that has all your learning materials on it.”
Suz stood. “So there is internet here.”
“No. The tablets are pre-loaded with everything you need.”
“What good is that? How will I do my homework and reports? How will I communicate with my friends back home?”
“You’ll adjust…And this is home now.”
She scowled. “This is not home! How could Daddy send us here?”
“Suz,” I said calmly, “Daddy didn’t have a choice. He died. Grandma and Grandpa Cranwinkle were the only relatives alive. We aren’t old enough to be on our own.”
“I’ll be seventeen soon; I want to go back to the city.”
“Eighteen,” I added. “You have to be eighteen to be on your own.”
Suz huffed and stomped off to her room, slamming the door. I looked down at Rory, who was still sitting on the floor in shock. “You need to get to bed.”
“I don’t wanna go to sleep. I hate this place.” He got up and went to the room, closing the door loudly behind.
Grandpa regarded me. “How come you’re not upset about all of this?”
“I guess I am kind of. But part of me knows that if I don’t accept this, things will be harder on all of us.”
He put his leathery, wrinkled hand on my shoulder. “You’re a good boy, Jonah, and I think you’ll grow up to be a fine man someday.”
I looked into his tired eyes. “Daddy was a good man.”
“Yes, he was.”
“And I don’t think he died accidentally.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I just have a feeling.” I paused for a moment, gave a polite nod, and headed back to the room. Without the use of my tablet, how was I going to hear my father’s voice?