Vignette

Bleak

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What was it? A waiting room? A lobby? A bus stop? Does it matter? Did it ever? Sure. At some point. It mattered to the person who paid for it. Who made it. The people who ate because of it. But now? No. Not for us. It doesn’t matter. Let’s move on.

They all sat in chairs. Mostly. Not all. One woman stood by a counter, exchanging words to convey purposes. Fulfilling her goals to some extent. Returning to a seat. Now they all sat. The people in the room were all seated. It was a room. We can agree on that. Let’s move on.

Another woman sat in another chair. She was watching people. People-watching, as they like to say. Whoever they are. Who are they? Some people. Generic now. It probably doesn’t matter. They mattered to someone at some point. They probably matter to other people now. Maybe to the same people now as in those other points in time. Maybe not. Let’s move on.

The woman who sat. The second one mentioned, not the first. Let’s not worry about the first one. She’s irrelevant. She always will be, won’t she? The woman sat and watched. She watched and thought. She thought and wondered and tried to decipher those thoughts that floated around. She grabbed one or two thoughts and examined them. Tried to decide why they floated. Why they floated in her head, anyway. She paused in her processing of those foremost thoughts to consider why she might draw back that layer. What’s the use in a metaprocess to consider those primary thoughts? “Am I questioning the purpose of examining the value of my thoughts? What’s the point in that?” She shook her head. This was going too far.

“Nevermind the why. That’s not really important. I’m going to go insane if I keep going. I’ll either go insane or decide it’s all pointless. I guess I’ll have to settle for a partial declaration of pointlessness. Only some of it doesn’t matter. Not to me. Not now.” Her face wore an expression of neutrality, or so she thought. In reality, it looked dark. Foreboding. “Don’t talk to me. I certainly don’t want to talk to you!” It broadcasted the message to any who cared to hear. Those who did address her addressed her by Jen. That really isn’t all that important, but endless pronouns are confusing.

“It certainly is a bleak day, isn’t it?” The lady next to her brought an aura of mental blandness. Jen could feel it. The new lady wasn’t malevolent. She didn’t know any words quite so long. She was quite proud of having remembered bleak. She had seen it in a magazine, next to a picture of the president. She liked the way it sounded. It fit her mouth. She moved through life by doing things. Why? Those were the things to be done. She had read in SILK that plaid was making a comeback. So she bought a plaid skirt. She had spent far too much on it, but with a laugh to assuage her guilt. That’s what credit cards are for, right? She drolled on about plaid and dark colors and how, when she watched John Samuels in the morning (oh, how she loved John Samuels), she would plan her colors for the day depending on his forecast. He said it would be a less-than-beautiful day today. Wasn’t that wonderful, how he kept sooo upbeat?

Always so reliable, that John Samuels. And, if she was honest, he was a looker, too. All this and more poured from her mouth. The useless drivel and recycled ideas tumbled from her brain as she upended it towards our lady in her seat. They contaminated the air as they mixed with the atmosphere. They obscured the background noises in their attempt to overcome Jen’s blockade of interaction. They succeeded. Jen looked at the new lady. “What should I call you, ma’am? I don’t really care, but I’ve decided that semi-unique names are better than entirely generic pronouns.” Barbara, as the hitherto generic ma’am was known by those who were required to refer to her specifically, blinked and looked vaguely surprised. She gave Jen her name.

“Well, Barbara, let me start by telling you, I’m not the best person to engage in small talk. In fact, I make a point not to. I used to try. I realized it was pointless, quite literally. Pointless for me, anyway. I don’t like interacting with people for no reason. It’s an exertion for me. It’s a chore I’d rather not have to undertake. It requires effort. Effort which usually isn’t duly rewarded. For example, normally, I’d say that I have nothing to learn from you. Nothing that matters to me. I don’t read SILK, and I don’t care about plaid.” Here, Barbara gave a patronizing smile, and began to say that she definitely understood differences in taste, but… “I don’t watch much television, and I certainly don’t care about personalities like your Mr. Samuels,” Jen finished.

Barbara’s face twitched for a moment as she reacted to being cut-off mid-sentence and insulted in her choice of style and men. “Well, now, I suppose, to each her own. I mean, I was talking with Clary the other day, and she said that she liked Carter Hoskins on channel 3! Haha! Of course she would. But let me tell you, she hasn’t gotten her copy of SILK yet, and when she sees my skirt, she’s going to just have to have one!”

Jen watched Barbara’s head as more and more of the seemingly endless supply of numbingly-unimportant prattle escaped from its constraints. Was it of its own accord? Was Barbara generating this? Was she just a conduit? A carrier?

“I honestly don’t understand it, Barbara.” Jen cut off Barbara again, and Barbara, though annoyed, was far too polite to protest. Not yet, anyway. She’d tell alllll her friends about this weird little woman who had acted so rudely. Maybe she could find a way to tease Clary about this, what with her dislike of plaid and all… “all this around us, for example,” Jen continued “it has a purpose. This room, it’s here for us to wait in. If we didn’t have to wait, if we didn’t have to be here, this room wouldn’t exist. These chairs… if we didn’t have to sit, or if the establishment here didn’t benefit from our relative comfort, these chairs would still be trees in some forest or lumber in some lumberyard. At some point, someone decided that someone else would need a chair, and some tree’s fate was sealed. From a seed, to a tree, to a truck, to a chair. All that because this place wanted you to sit here, and me to sit here, and nowhere in that line of events did anyone say ‘let’s make sure they talk to each other.’” Barbara didn’t get the point.

“Haha, you are really funny! Also, that’s so deep! I had never thought about a tree becoming a chair. Maybe that tree in my front yard will be a bench for someone one day! Hah!”

Jen pushed on. “So many things go on every day. Countless endeavors for the progression of events. Sometimes the events are related. Sometimes the endeavors fail. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing them. I wonder why, in the vast world of events and interactions, happenings and failures and successes, why I’m doing the specific things that I do. That’s what I’m getting at, Barbara, somehow. Your endless shpeel on fashion, friends, and meaningless sundry. Why did you direct it at me? What was the point? I don’t care about it. I openly am opposed to it. I told you as much. When I talk about something, I do so with a purpose. I talk in order to think things through at a cooperative level. I talk about important things because they deserve to be talked about. They have to be understood, and sometimes to understand something, one has to talk through it. I talk about things that matter, Barbara. I despise the things that don’t matter. They only serve to distract from matters of importance. Now please, leave me alone.”

Barbara left her alone. She had lost her fake smile. Her face wore an expression of deflation. She turned to her new copy of SILK. She turned dolefully through the pages, and wondered, for the first time, if this really did matter. Then she remembered what John Samuels had said. What she herself had rephrased later. This day really was bleak. She couldn’t wait to tell Clary.

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Science Fiction

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The mechanics of the entire operation were complicated. Very complicated. The Uppers weren’t even releasing a name for the technology. The papers all kept mum about the operation. It was another “Politikal Experiment.” The people needn’t concern themselves.

The briefing came at 0500. The com buzzed two shorts and a long dash in my ear–the signal that a sensitive message was about to be transmitted. The mission, the drab voice said over the com, was an issue highly important to the people. I was one of five. We were to be at the Space Probe lab in 3 hours. The launch was to take place in approximately 15 hours. Good day.

StarsI walked into the lab feeling somewhat disoriented. The satellite we were on was an older model, only apparently so by aesthetics. The technology was updated constantly, and the interior was never allowed to become even slightly dirty. The AI system identified me and offered some non-caffeinated coffee upon my entrance. Three others waited in the room. I knew none of them. For the purposes of this mission, we were called by our assigned numbers. I was eight dash thirty-two, lead officer.

We readied the vehicle. It was a strange looking apparatus. Weighing over 20 tonnes, the system was largely made of a hyper-sensitive light collecting material not yet named. The transport was another complex matter. It wasn’t my area of expertise, but I understood the basic premise. This vehicle was going to travel at an astounding rate, over one million times the speed of light. I didn’t know how this was possible, or even if the premise held as a form of motion. The techs usually referred to it as teleportation. We were going to launch the device to a distance of about 10,000 light years from our planet. The voyage would take a little over three and a half days.

This is where my work came in. I had worked in optics and light transmission throughout my career at the Politikal offices. My specialty was lenscrafting. The resolution achieved with the device we were sending, combined with the optics I had designed, would be enough, if the theoretical data held true, to make out faces on Earth, from a distance of 10,000 light years. Resolution isn’t the right word; this form of imaging crossed into a new field entirely. The data that we collected was entirely raw light signals, but they were complete. We could focus entirely on the earth and collect just the light emitted, and we were going to record history.

The launch went as planned, and seven days later, we received a signal from the craft. It was in place. Now, if the programming did its job, and the theories held true, we were recording activity on our planet. Ten thousand years ago.

~ 8–32. Space Probe Lead

The Portrait of an Apology

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The sun is shining down behind them; their shadows stretch on and intermingle with the trees and mottled brick pathway. The birds are taking shelter in the trees and shrubs, for the wind is playing with everything it can find. Ducks are voicing their concern over the blustery day. The water in the fountain attempts to escape from the marble sculpture, but the stone angels continue their eternal task of pouring their never-emptying bowls and pitchers. The couple sitting on the wrought iron bench watch as nature and humanity perform their ever varying dance.

He is young. His hair drapes over his face like the roots of a bodyless plant. His glasses are square; they frame his eyes to form the impressions of two portraits of tiny universes. The thin, light grey jacket rests casually over the t-shirt inscribed with the name of some moderately well-known indie band. Flip-flops and a fairly nice analog watch complete the casual ensemble. His gaze is deep, and he is in the middle of some statement—obviously heartfelt.

She is listening, but her eyes are focused on something in the foreground of the scene before them. Her silky black hair has no resistance against the breath of the winds. Her sun dress and handmade hat fit well with her pale skin. Her handbag is sitting next to the bench, very assessable, but threatening to spill its contents if not adjusted. A note, waiting to be read, peeks from the flap.

The sky melds into the trees, and the clouds gradually form as a brush gently touches the paper. The artist looks at his work and debates between two frames that would variously complement different elements of the painting. The trees quiver slightly as the world is shaken by the scratch of a pen. The ducks watch as a signature is drawn in the grass. The couple continue their pose, frozen in time to be framed and admired. Thus is completed the portrait of an apology.

~XK

I started writing this a while back, and it sat on my hard drive. I’m thinking of working on some more fiction, but I’m not sure what direction I’m going to head. I like the worlds of Tolkien and Lewis, but that genre is far too crowded. Any ideas are quite welcome!