It was all Pumpkin’s Fault: Chapter 1


Chapter 1: Cookie of Consolation

It was half-past five. The half-past-five train, which has nothing to do with our story, had just heaved into the station; and Johnnie, who was nowhere near the station, had just walked into someone she knew. 

“Why, Sam, old fellow, where did you drop from?” she began with a smile, pulling up her hair into a quick ponytail. 

“You can’t expect me to answer a question like that,” replied Sam, offering her a cookie. 

“Well, at any rate, I do expect you to answer my next question. Is it true that Pumpkin ate three pieces of pickle-and-peanut-butter pie and didn’t leave any for me?” 

“Quite true,” Sam replied, with a melancholy air. “I only got two. Pumpkin’s a horrid fellow.”

Continue reading It was all Pumpkin’s Fault: Chapter 1

It was all Pumpkin’s Fault: Prologue

The briefcase closed slowly, the pages inside crinkling and crackling like a winter fire, peeping out of their cage like they wanted to let the world know what the dark, threatening black ink on their pages said. 

A hand pushed them gingerly back in, touching them as little as possible, as if it knew that with only a spark they could set the world on fire. 

Mr. Semmes paused, his hand still on the briefcase, and stood looking absentmindedly at the bitten cookie on the refreshment plate that lay on the paper and dust crowded desk. 

He closed his eyes and thought for a moment. 

Was it really that easy to get away with such colossal crime?

How is it that in less than the space of time it takes to finish a good old fashioned homemade cookie, everything can change?

Mr. Semmes found a back exit out of the WAS building, pulled his coat closer, and borrowed a light bender from his Executive Protection Agent, who said in reply to a startled question from Mr. Semmes, “I sent it home an hour ago, sir. My Winton blur detected a DGR device on it. Evidence points to the substitute limousine never making it. You have our apologies, sir. A walk seems quite safe, though it will be a long one, sir.”

Mr. Semmes felt all in a moment that it was too awful to live like this. 

“We’ll walk to the yellow house on 24th St. then,” he remarked, in a depressed voice. “It’s only a few blocks away. Unfrequented streets too, is it good?”

The EPA nodded.

A few days ago, Mr. Semmes would have wound his way along the streets carelessly; would have never glanced backwards; would have never asked his Executive Protection Agent to pace up a bit; would have never been afraid of the dark.

Tonight, the very air had subtly changed; he knew he was being followed, somehow, someway, he knew harm was coming fast, and swift, and sure, and would find him at last. 

Continue reading It was all Pumpkin’s Fault: Prologue

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 6

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding
4: Cold, Cold Steel
5: Down to this Wire

6: The Last Sunset

Malcolm had made no errors in his calculations, and he knew that rescuing Savannah from her addiction was the easier part of his task.  As a Unit, he could only ignore the code by overriding his core programming.  But though Savannah was cured and he knew it, the code knew no such thing.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 6

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 5

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding
4: Cold, Cold Steel

5: Down to This Wire

On the far outskirts of Place was the trash heap.  In Place, most material was recycled—the system was a closed one, with few new raw materials entering—but some years trash production exceeded recycling capacity, and the leftovers ended up on the trash heap.

The heap was an unsorted pile of anything from food wrappers to broken appliances to splintered lightbulbs.  There was even the occasional defunct Unit.  All things considered, the trash heap was an unsightly mess—to most people.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 5

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 4

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877
3: Hiding

4: Cold, Cold Steel

Savannah grew up—and grew out of hide and seek.  Malcolm, learning as she learned, but not growing as she grew, was always ready to follow her interests, and they were almost inseparable.  But every now and then Savannah said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and would give Malcolm some complicated commission while she roamed through old unused warehouses, empty office buildings, or any out of the way spot in Place she could gain access to.

One afternoon Savannah came back from a ramble and found Place buzzing with excitement.  Knots of people stood on every street corner, whispering.  Savannah, glancing from face to face, caught the curiosity tinged with horror and stopped in front of her apartment building, lending an ear to the gossip.

“They said it was a bloody mess,” a neighbor was saying.  “His hand was chopped clean off at the wrist and he bled to death.”

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 4

Huset, Hiorthfjellet, and the Vikings

Isaiah D

The fog showed no signs of breaking as the longship sliced through it, turning up the bright water at its bow in little ripples, its strakes creaking under the strain of the low, irregular gusts afflicting the fluttering mainsail.  Why, it was so thick Olaf Adrejalsson could have cut a path through it with his axe.  He had a mind to, too.  He smiled slightly as he whirled the double-bladed weapon dexterously before sending it flying into the massive, decorated stempost in the bow, just an inch away from Jørlsson’s humiliatingly flat nose, disregarding that aggrieved personage’s angry growl.

“Och, ye dunderpate-!  Meanin’ it honorably, of course, chief.”

Jørlsson was sore upon the point of his nose – it had no point – and was in constant apprehension lest his over active and unpredictable neighbor should split the ship in half with his volatile cleaver, even if it were his ship and he were its captain.

Adrejalsson straightened himself up with his foot resting on the raised fore-deck in evident enjoyment, and sucked up the fog which sailed through the air.  It was the kind of fog that you could breathe – the kind of bright fog that fills up your lungs with that damp, fresh taste and makes your nostrils dream of snow. 

Olaf turned away and uttered a sigh. 

Only, it had been too long.  Far too long.

In fact, it had been so long, that no one knew just how long it had been.  They had entered the fog just after sailing out, and it had been months now since they had seen the sun.  Once or twice a glimpse of its rays shone through the mist, but never more than that and never for long.  Never for long enough to get their bearings.  Never long enough to get another chance at the sea monster they had set out in pursuit of.  They might have been in that fog for years – decades, for all anyone could tell. 

He passed his hand through the foam leaping up around the bow and pensively lifted and dropped a handful of frigid water.

The helmsman strained his eyes to see beyond the fog, but caught little beyond the glimmering lantern hung on the mast, barely being able to make out the figures of his comrades leaning out over the bow thirty yards ahead.  He stroked his mighty beard with a muttered imprecation in Norse. 

But then Olaf suddenly tensed up, staring out beyond the carved figurehead, and a cold shiver ran down his spine.  Jørlsson stood laughing as he poured a handful of icy water surreptitiously down his chief’s back.

But to Jørlsson’s surprise Adrejalsson did not even seem to feel it, his eyes peeled, his whole body strung as taut as a bent longbow.  He thought- he thought he had spotted something.  What he hardly cared at the moment – it was something, anything!

Continue reading Huset, Hiorthfjellet, and the Vikings

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 3

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877

3: Hiding

The dews that rose and fell in Place carried the months and years with them; and Savannah grew up.  Eleven-year-old Savannah wasn’t tall for her age, but she was healthy and active.  Unit 877 spent a good deal of time sewing up holes in her clothes.

Savannah’s favorite game was hide and seek; none of the children of her acquaintance (and certainly not Paulie-across-the-hall) could beat her in creativity for finding good hiding spots, athleticism for getting into them, or patience to stay in them.  And although Paulie said sarcastically to her mom, “Her Majesty is awful annoying sometimes,” she joined the others in meekly following her lead—so a small generation grew up on hide and go seek.

One day there was a half-hearted rebellion.  “It’s Malcolm’s turn to count,” Savannah had decided, and Paulie grumbled.

“Malcolm likes to play just as much as the rest of you,” Savannah said, taking fire instantly, “and you snobby kids had better let him have a turn.”

“But it’s not fair,” Paulie grumbled.

“What’s not fair?” Savannah snapped.

“Being a Unit’s not fair—not really fair, you know—he can see everything with the security cams.”

“Malcolm doesn’t cheat.”

“He always finds you last,” someone dared to say.

“Everyone always finds me last,” Savannah retorted.

“One time—” Malcolm began.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 3

Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 2

1: Welcome to Place

2: Number 877

On a dark, humid night in July, human 877 was born.  Off in the underground Unit manufacturing plant, a new Unit was being commissioned at the same time.  But no one celebrates commission day.

Savannah—that’s human 877’s name—didn’t remember more of her first four years than most of us do; unfortunately Unit 877 couldn’t be as forgetful.  It had vivid memories of diaper changes and spoon feeding.  Some Units were handheld devices—there were even a few that snapped around their human’s wrist—but Unit 877 was a fully mobile independent robot.  And there was more to 877’s uniqueness too.  For the first time ever, 877 was equipped with independent AI.  It could make personalized decisions for Savannah, without consulting the data mine unless it chose to do so.  In order to make the personalization effective, 877 had been given every ability to interact with Savannah—talking to her, playing with her, working with her, and learning from her.  Whether this kind of individualized Unit would lead to greater happiness reactions—whether it would be used in perpetuity or end up on the scrap heap—would have to be seen.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 2

The Absent Banana

Isaiah D

It began on a bright and cloudless morning, as the sun peeked over the far off mountaintop, shedding its glorious rays across the wide forests and dales.  The wind gamboled through the trees and the squirrels and chipmunks which peopled the forest scurried hither and yon with a noise that was noiseless.  Suddenly the dense silence was broken by the sound of a furious clamor, and a horse, steaming at the nostrils and bespeckled with foam, dashed with its rider through the thick woods.  The rider was seated on it with his legs crossed (casually perusing a newspaper he held with one hand and munching on a half-eaten banana which he held in the other) when a low bough wiped him clean out of the saddle.  The court jester plummeted to the ground, newspaper, banana, and all.  Leaping up, he gathered his newspaper, forgot his banana, and rushed after his horse.  But as soon as he was out of sight a figure stepped out of the bushes and approached the banana cautiously.  Stooping down he gathered the remains of the banana, pocketed them, chuckled to himself, and fled rapidly in the opposite direction. 

It was dusk by the time the court jester, having caught his unwieldy horse, lost half of what was left of his newspaper, and gotten as besplattered with mud as his horse was with foam, rode in through the gates of the king’s city.  An hour later he was ushered into the presence of the king and his councilors.

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Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 1

1: Welcome to Place

The Hansberg Project.  That’s how the UN writes it in official papers; but to the inhabitants, it’s Place, and for them, the rest of the earth—the UN included—may as well not exist.

The debris left by an experiment of the fifth industrial revolution, Place is a tightly controlled world of computers and math, where everything is precise and predictable.  Back in the day, it was populated by fifty-nine volunteers eager to undergo a social experiment.  Impossibly sophisticated Artificial Intelligence analyzed each participant and manipulated them by a series of stimulants for their greater happiness, ostensibly at least.

The outside world watched with fascination.  TV news covering the Hansberg Project rated only slightly lower than the race to land on Jupiter.  Not that everyone thought it was all good.  There were plenty of warnings of an army of zombie-like manipulated experimental humans being trained to conquer the world.

At the height of the excitement Paul Hansberg went missing.  Six days later, a janitor found the greatest political force in the world dead of dehydration in a malfunctioned back elevator of the UN headquarters.

After the nine days’ wonder, Hansberg’s colleagues remembered his Project.  Six months of arguing and paperwork later, they decided to shut it down.  No one could agree on who should control it.

They could have skipped the bureaucratic squabbles.  Not only was Hansberg gone, the keys to his Project were gone too.  No one could figure out how to control Hansberg’s AI, not even for long enough to shut it down.

Then speculation caught wind of the fiasco, and rumor had a field day.  Hansberg had implanted his AI with his own dreams of world domination; the zombie army was coming to attack society any day now.  Or, someone inside the project had hacked the AI and was keeping UN officials out for his own nefarious purposes.  Or maybe someone outside had hacked it and was building a zombie army.  Or, the AI was just going about life as usual and the participants needed to be rescued before they died of starvation in their isolated world.

Rumor could have spared itself its ingenuity—no one could get in or out, and that was that.  To the outside world, the Hansberg Project is still a mystery—an unknown blip on the map of earth.

All that happened 99 years ago.  Place is now a world of its own, with a population of 876, completely self-sufficient, governed by a central AI with 876 individual ground units each taking care of one single human from cradle to grave.

Continue reading Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 1