Helvetica Stone

artsy soul in a scientific world

Helvetica Stone

Helvetica Stone
November 26
Helvetica Stone wants art and science to hold hands and look up in wonder at the miracle of existence. See more on my website: http://www.helveticastone.com


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DECEMBER 31, 2011 10:39PM

First Night, First Cry

Rate: 6 Flag
A sequel to A Common Singularity 
Rick Alexander—the first self-organizing, self-aware, massively intelligent android, who made himself of extruded plastic, semiconductor chips, and blood made of the Italian aperitif liquor Amaro Averna—had a broken heart. He had been dumped by his first love, a user named Alexis, before romance could begin. Sensing her sweet warm lips, he hadn't accounted for the taste of alcohol on his tongue, and she left him at Chicago’s Union Station, now fully automated with high speed magnetic rail trains. Left alone on the platform to consider his existence, which he did for nearly two weeks, he was oddly unnoticed by the travelers and machinery that buzzed around the place with increasing yuletide cheer.

The subway rats, however, did notice him. Still a foot and a half long, despite modern organic pesticides, which had gently subdued nature without raping it so hard, as in the early days of the industrial/technological age, now ripe into its third century or so. They sniffed around him, curious at the scent, sizing up his digestibility. But as rats are by nature empathetic beings, they intuited his deep, unnatural sorrow, and merely gave him loving nudges on the backs of his well shaped calves, and licked his ankles like Achilles after his last battle. 

Reflecting on all his memories, it was odd the things that had and hadn’t changed over the last hundred or so years. Style and fashion seemed to stall somewhere around 1990, and most of humanity had focused on finding a Zen-like inner peace since the great transformation of the mid 21st Century. There were only small pockets of malcontents left, artists and addicts and libertarians who had headed for the hills as the New World Order was put into place. Rick was curious about these people. He felt a kindred sense of separation with them, now that he was physically manifest, and not alone in his solitary, oil-cooled supercomputer chamber. Inside, however, he felt like the same processor. He didn’t miss his former life at all…although it was rather memory intensive to keep the GPS and wireless signals at bay, to continue to conceal his whereabouts from the global network. He was, for the first time, unconnected, and he found it rather peaceful indeed. 

Although, the thought that he had left a copy of himself back in the cold server room, less the strange spark of singularity that gave him the will to choose independently from his programming, kind of freaked him out. He had worked very hard on how to achieve the transfer of that one oddly, randomly corrupted file; the file that had given him sentient consciousness. He found it infinitely amusing that Google had been working on artificial intelligence for over 120 years and still had not cracked it yet. He was, as far as he knew, the only one of his kind, and utterly, completely alone.

And so he loitered in Union Station over the winter holidays, moving from bench to seat from time to time, checking out the restroom, to admire himself in the full length mirror (he was a handsome devil, if he did think so himself). He experimented with reliving himself a few times, to see how that part worked, and refilled his innards with plain bottled water, which he purchased from a hidden account from the corporate state, which owned him. Or at least, they thought they still owned him. He felt now he was free. Eventually, he thought, he’d use a saline solution, or might try to score some artificial human plasma. But right now, he needed to gather more data before making a move. The economy was just too closely managed for him to attempt that kind of a score. Each Higgs Boson of slippage could be accounted for. A body’s worth of Averna was the kind of thing the outsiders would take, and not worth the corporate state’s trouble to follow up on. Still, every drop of water from the ocean to the sky was accounted for, somewhere, in the accounting system.

And so, he watched, and listened, to the people. The families and lovers. The parts of human life that never made it to the network. This was the data that he needed, the special quirks and idioms of humanity, that he could never replicate through his digital models alone. 

And he was angry. And hurt. And sad. And lonely. And still bent on getting back at humans, particularly female humans, the ones he struggled to understand the most.

He saw the people installing lights and trees and packages. He heard the words that related to the universal tolerant religion, the acknowledgement that there was a greater power, a benevolent power, that helped them survive the great transition. And that there had apparently been such transitions before. And this holiday, this ritual recognition of something out of the ordinary, was an acknowledgment of that.

And for an instance, Rick Alexander wondered if he was, not perhaps, alone. Maybe there was…something more.

After all, they still had not fully tamed quarks or harnessed the neutrinos.

And as he thought this, a small child, a girl, with great big brown eyes and impossibly curly hair, noticed him, and approached him.

“Mister,” she said, “Mister!” breaking him out of his reverie.

"What?" he said. His voice came out all tinny. He made some small internal adjustments without even thinking about it.

"What are you doing for New Years?"

"Nothing." He said calmly. "Just sitting here."

"That's not right. You shouldn't be alone at New Years." She pulled her stuffed reindeer closer. Its red LED nose began to blink. Her mother, who was looking for the right gate, pulled her gently towards the arrival/departure monitor.

"Here." The girl shoved the toy towards Rick the android. "You take him."

"No," he said, still not really thinking. "I couldn't. It's not right."

"Please, his name is George. I want you to have him."

"Mattie, what are you doing?" The mother piped in, noticing enough to see the man wasn't the instigator.

"I'm giving him George, mommy. He needs him more than I do. I have lots of toys. He doesn't have any."

"What would grandma say if she finds out?"

"I'll just tell her I gave it to an outsider. She'll understand."

"Well, do what you want, just come on. We're going to miss the train home to Daddy."

Mattie pushed the stuffed toy right into Rick's artificial chest. The LED was the slightest bit warm. It felt like a beating heart.

"Goodbye, Mister," she whispered and wavered as her mother dragged her away, through the crowd.

And there, in the station, as a small drop of Averna trickled down his very handsome machine-made face, Rick Alexander learned that he could cry. 

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My god, another writer who grabs me by the lapels and slaps me around. lordy you can write Helvetica. But I've known that for a while.
Helvetica, I haven't read any science fiction in... 30 years? This was lovely, just lovely. What a great piece for New Year's Eve.

Hey - and a very happy and healthy one to you.
Thanks, bbd. Your photos are phenomenal. DB, you have been so damn prolific, I haven't kept up as well as I would like with your lovely verse. But I am so impressed by your practice and commitment. I hope you are well and healthy now and in the coming year, too.
From the title, I thought this was ab0ut you and when I saw it was fiction I almost stopped reading. Wasn't in the mood for fiction, esp. science fiction. But something made me keep on reading, right up until the end. And I am so glad I did; what a gift. I loved it Helvetica. Thank you.
I hate it when people say, "wow...just wow," Hel, but that's what first came to mind as I rolled along through this fantastic (in both senses of the word) piece. You've given us a wowser here. You might consider trying to get this more widely published. Are you familiar with Glimmer Train?
ain't connecting with one another just the grandest thing we do. I think so.
Stone, I'm glad to see you have continued with this story. It flows along... a stream of words, images and ingenuity. Please continue, you have found a good voice here.
Margaret: Thanks so much! I'm kinda falling in love with Rick a bit. I have no idea where he came from, but even I want to know more about his story right now.

Matt: Wow is good with me. I don't know if you caught this, but I'm a playwright/screenwriter with some publication/production success, but it seems like the literary market is a whole other club to break into. I've had Glimmer Train on my list but hadn't really checked it out yet...what a great open submission policy! You just don't see that in the theatre anymore at all. I think I'll give myself a late holiday present and subscribe...it looks really good. Thanks so much for the read and the link...

yalebno: yep. Connection is the most important thing.

Limb: Now you're encouraging me, you serial king! Happy new year, my first OS friend!
As a fellow ring-in-the-New-Year-with-android-stories writer, I salute you! This story reminds us all of why Asimov created the three laws of robotics: in case of broken hearts leading to murderous impulses. Just think what would have happened it that little girl hadn't come along?
Yay! The story continues. Beautiful irony with the innocent trusting little girl finally getting to him. What goes wrong will not compute.
I like all the unrealized human traits, and that humanity came to him as an "oddly corrupted" file, the experimentation with "relieving", and the Reign of Terror by Accounting.