The Empty Room

There’s an empty room on that floor.

It’s been, oh, probably decades

since anyone has set foot

through that door,

and walked on the hardwood

along the wide window

where the sun penetrates deep between

the fibres of the curtains, gently blowing

in the cool summer breeze.

 

Decades since anyone sat in the soft leather chair

and put their feet up,

slept away the afternoon

with a newspaper draped delicately on their lap.

It’s been decades, I’d say,

since anyone heard the pitter-patter of the mice

running along the beams overhead,

and the barn owl resting on the peak of the roof,

surveying the landscape in the moonlight.

 

 

Decades passed,

and still it sits,

that old now empty room,

waiting for someone

to smell the musty air,

pull back the curtains,

watch the world outside the window run away

as it cycles through each day.

 

Yes, decades, I’d say.

And yet it still waits.

 

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Children of God: 1984 – Church of the Wanderer

Excerpt from Modern History of the United States (1992, Ed Harris)

Everyone remembers the infamous FREDDIE trial. Around this time, the world began to stir heavily around the new religion taking shape in Colorado. Michael Davidson’s Church of The Wanderer built tremendous traction around what was at the time known as the “Colorado Incident”. He reportedly received 3 more messages from the entity whom claimed to be God.

The first, instructing Davidson to construct a Church in his honor, aptly named The Church of the Wanderer. The church was established in 1979, and quickly gained followers throughout Kiowa County, where the famous Radio Telescope was located. Davidson named himself the high priest of the church and would often take to the streets proclaiming the Gospel of the Wanderer. The main points being that humankind should throw away its wars and conflicts and prepare for the coming; after all, he believed that the Wanderer would arrive in only 1000 years.

The second transmission was instructions to build a new type of radio telescope. One which Davidson believed would help him contact other forms of life throughout the universe. He claimed that The Wanderer had informed him that humans were using primordial, outdated technology to search for extra-terrestrial life, and that in order to contact other civilizations, humans would need to advance to the new forms of communication that advanced civilizations were searching for.

The third and final message from the Wanderer, as Michael Davidson preached, was for each world power to construct several large, concrete spheres called Heliospheres inside which could be placed important artifacts of Human History and contemporary history. So far, no government has ever constructed such spheres.

Once, Just Once

I am touching the air.

And everything around it.

The wistful breeze of the world’s untamed breath chills me,

chills my bones through and through.

I can feel the gaze of those things

crawling and brawling with untamed ferocity

as though their razor sharp thoughts tethered to mine

pull me down the canyon

into the unknown below.

 

Here we find the untapped skeleton,

the unseen ghosts of the primordial mind;

and the air that I breathe,

the air that I touch,

caresses my fingertips and flays the remaining scraps from those forgotten bones.

 

Once,

Once I stood atop a tall mountain

peacefully,

I touched the wind, and the wind only touched me back,

and nothing more.

But now I,

skinless, fleshless,

sitting here in the gulch

as the tethers pull away at my senses,

and the brawling things scratch at my bones,

and stab at the purity I brought with me.

They know where I have been.

They know, and so they relent

but only for now.

 

Soon the air again will blow me yet further than ever before;

as it is well-known that a delicate breeze will topple mountains

after dynamite has been set off.

And I am a stick of dynamite .

It is no matter of whether it will blow,

but when the fuse will reach the powder,

and crack away at the great rock wall above.

Then as I grasp at the air around me.

Choking,

choking for breath,

it will then topple over me.

 

The brawling things

will dig my fragmented bones out from the rubble.

And if they can reassemble the pieces properly,

they will set me up atop the hills again,

and hope that their violent urge to decimate one another

will leave me untouched.

Once,

just once,

we pray and hope together that the tethers will be broken.

And the fight will leave me in peace

to look down at the valley below

and see only its beauty,

the form of the ravine as it flows into the horizon,

and I will breathe.

And when I touch the air.

it will touch me back,

and once, just once,

do nothing more.

The Long Road Vol. 3: In the Light of Day

I slept on and off all night. My consciousness drifted in and out of tune while what sounded like bottles being smashed against the wall reverberated through the hotel, and on occasion, a sudden shrill laugh from the room below mine. Soon enough the sun came up.

If there is a word for just not quite rested enough, that’s how I would describe the feeling in my eyes. White beams of light shot through tiny pinholes in the curtains. The room, which I hadn’t had a good look at the night before, was derelict and dingy as you would imagine from the state of the bar downstairs. I checked out nearly as soon as I got up.

When I came to the front desk, the old man was no longer sitting in the old wheeled chair, and had be replaced by a bubbly middle-aged woman who wore those weird thick-rimmed glasses that secretaries always have on old TV shows. She thanked me for staying the night, and told me about the continental breakfast that was set up in the corner of the office. I would’ve eaten something but I could only imagine the quality of stale, bland bread and assortment of other breakfast related goodies that were likely days past their prime.

I peeked once more into the bar.

“Bar’s closed until 11:00,” the woman at the desk said.

“Yeah, I’m just checking for…”

There was no sign of life in the bar that just the previous night had been a hive of extreme masculinity and sweat. “Everything looks different in the light of day,” I thought. Something my dad used to tell me, often after my mother had had one of her violent episodes. But that was long ago and time leaks on at a steady pace. There wasn’t much to reflect on in that regard. Not at this point, anyway. I drove for a couple hours. I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was headed. The funny thing about driving without any plan of where you’re going is that you can never be disappointed with where you end up. And there’s nothing more comforting than a familiar face, even if it’s not one you expected.

At this point I was just a little past For Macleod, another  little place that, like Nanton, forgot the mantra about time and a steady pace. Up ahead the greenish-yellow fields stretched on into the horizon. The sun still hung heavy in the sky, baking the hot asphalt beneath my tires. In the distance a single hand outstretched pointing it’s thumb at me approached and quickly  flew to my rear. I drove right past without a second thought, just another hitchhiker. That’s when  I noticed in the rear-view mirror a speck of red shimmering like a familiar jewel. I thought for a short moment about the conversation the night before, “Is that really all it takes to make a friend”  Here, a quiet, lonely man, sat alone in a bar; and a firecracker approached and flared in front of him without a second thought. It took me more than a second thought to repay the favour. “Is that really all it takes to make a friend?” I didn’t know, but I guessed it wasn’t as much effort as I had thought.

I peeled into a range road and tossed the car around, wondering if someone else might have been much more sympathetic than I and picked up the traveler.

But she was still there. And she was a jewel tarnished with bruises and blemishes.

“Well hey there,” she said, in a combination of surprise and upset.

“What are you doing hitchhiking?” I asked.

“Husband threw a tantrum and left me here,” she replied as she picked up the mess of ratty nearly handle-less bags into the back seat. “We can catch up to him in a couple hours if you’re going my way.”

Well now I had somewhere to go.

“Where’ll he be?” I asked.

“Pincher Creek. Got a show in a hotel dive called Excuses.”

“That’s on the way,” I said.

There are few things in this world more solitary than the hills of Highway 2. Though we barely spoke a word, the road sang with deep, crackling tones of loneliness while the two-passenger car bellowed its answer back, and neither felt as solitary as before. “Everything looks different in the light of day,” I thought.

Pale Blue Dot

The sky streaked blood red

with dark, broad lines of ash

painted by the fingers of who came before us;

And underneath, the people sat quietly

watching the great clock turn in the heavens

and the day count down its seconds,

until finally the darkness overtook the plains below.

 

As midnight passed, the hoots of owls, and

the chirps of crickets

surmounted by deafening silence in between each beat.

I looked up to Polaris

and then I felt the cold air wrap around me

and whisk me away

to a world overpowered with hues of gold and grey,

with structures higher than the stars themselves.

And soon the people too looked up to the guiding star,

and they, too, were swept away to the this marvelous new world.

Together we stared into the void.

Millions of tiny silver lights pierced the endless curtain above us

as we looked on through eternity

until the light faded.

 

And there we sat,

knowing in our hearts

that though it was not written in stone,

that though the water washed away our ink,

that though what we built would crumble in the sands of time,

though as millennia pass,

and as the great clock pushes forth relentlessly,

until all memory of us fades like those stars in the void,

and when aeons have gone by,

those who take our place will not know,

that we had been here.

Children of God: 1982- Intelligence

EXCERPT FROM THE TRUE STORY OF FREDDIE; THE FIRST AI

By Michael Strider – Darton Herald

It is November 14, 1982. I’d received a tip from a friend about a scientist in New York who studies robotics, named Dr. Howard Warner. I’d been told that Dr. Warner recently made a breakthrough. Supposedly he’s found a way to write a software program that thinks. Obviously, I need to check it out.

I first met Dr. Warner at a small cafe in Manhattan. He told me that he and his team had been working on artificial intelligence since the 60’s, and that the military had originally funded the project with the intent of creating robotic soldiers to use in the Vietnam War. The project, as he told me, was unsuccessful. He continued to tell me how the military ceased funding in ’74 after the Colorado Incident in order to pour resources into satellite  defense systems. The United States’ top priority at the time, of course, was protection from potential extraterrestrial invasions.

Warner and his team dismantled, but his passion for robotics and desire to finish the project led him to obtain financing from private businesses in order to continue the project. I never wrote my intended article for the Herald after what he told me that day, but being as it was so many years ago, and AI is now such a common commodity, I have decided that the story of how it came to be may reasonably be shared finally after all these years. it was such a great breakthrough in those days. I knew that the world was uneasy following the Colorado Incident, and so I chose to sit on this story in order to avoid causing more panic. The moral implications of true Artificial Intelligence were too much for the world to comprehend back then.

Anyway, after hours of talking about the intricacies of his failed attempts and how many millions of dollars went into the project, Dr. Warner finally invited me to join him in his lab to meet what he called his Thinking Software, FREDDIE.

My first conversation with FREDDIE was simply on a computer screen. Warner had been working on a robot body, but had not managed to put the finishing touches on it before I arrived. I asked him his name, which he answered very quickly. He asked me mine, and I replied. The conversation went back and forth for a time, and while i was impressed with the software’s ability to converse back and forth so fluidly, I remained unconvinced that the software truly was thinking. I explained my concern to Dr. Warner, and he began to describe to me the thought experiment known as the Turing Test. The idea being that if a question is posed to both a human and a robot, and the asker can read the answers but has no way of knowing whether the answer came from the human or robot, and if he is unable to tell which one is which, then the AI can be considered a success.

I thought I needed time to meditate on what question I could ask that no robot could answer like a human without being a true Thinking Software, and so Dr. Warner and I agreed that I would return in two weeks’ time.

When I met with FREDDIE the second time, his body was complete. He had a solid head that resembled a VCR, with two round yellow eyes with cameras. The mouth, of course, as a wide rectangular slot that could flip open and closed as he spoke. He had two arms that resembled wrenches, that he could open and close at will in order to pick up and manipulate objects, and wheels as legs so that he could move around with relative ease.

I sat down on a stool opposite him and watched the cameras in his eyes focus on me.

“Hello there,” he said. The voice was something like the sound of dial-up (to those of us who remember what dial-up connections sounded like) and a hoarse grinding noise.

“Hello FREDDIE, it’s wonderful to see you again.”

FREDDIE remained silent and motionless for several seconds. He then turned to Dr. Warner and stared at him almost with what can only be described as a look of confusion.

“You’ve met before,” Warner told him like a father reminding a child of a distant relative, “Before you had your body.”

FREDDIE quickly whipped his head around to face me again.

“You are Michael Strider,” he said, “I did not recognize you because I had no eyes or ears before.”

We chatted for a short time, while I prepared to ask my question. The conversation consisted mainly of us discussing what FREDDIE liked to do in his spare time, mainly he enjoyed playing Pong on the Atari, painting, and reading. I believe to this day some of his paintings are still being sold at auctions. One in particular, called Father, which was meant to be a portrait of Dr. Warner recently sold for $134 Million.

When the time came, Dr. Warner explained to FREDDIE that I had an important question to ask him. One that would prove to the world that he was just as smart as any human.

I shifted my posture in my seat, noticing that I had become more rigid and asked, “FREDDIE, is there anything you would like me to tell you?

The machine did not move for a few short moments, then finally said, “What do I look like?”

There was the answer. FREDDIE, I knew at this moment, could think. He had the capacity to understand that another entity may have a perspective that he did not. The world was on the brink of a new, horrifying reality. After FREDDIE and I said our goodbyes, and Dr. Warner walked me to the door, I said to him “I can’t publish any of this. It’s too much for the world to find out fight now. With the Colorado Incident still fresh in everyone’s minds, they’d burn down your lab, and destroy FREDDIE. You can’t tell anyone else about FREDDIE. I will publish an article explaining that the research was a dud. There is no AI. There never was.”

Warner’s face turned from pride to concern, “You may be right, my boy,” he said, “The world is not ready for FREDDIE.”

“But one day it will,” I assured him.

The next couple years went by with very little press coverage concerning Dr. Warner and his advancements in robotics. Some tabloids occasionally accused him of creating Robot Devils or similar things, but the public at large knew nothing of Thinking Software, and FREDDIE remained in the shadows. Then, on a cold Friday afternoon, I received a phone call that confirmed my deepest fears. Howard Warner had been murdered, and as it seemed, all of his “research equipment and materials” had been left to me.

What happened soon after shook me to my core. Investigators came to my door to discuss Dr. Warner’s killer, and as they told me, the main suspect was not a human. It was FREDDIE. Suddenly the world knew of FREDDIE and recoiled in horror at this “murderous technology.” The third time I met with FREDDIE, the eyes of the world were upon me.

If I Could Find You

If I could find you

If I could fail you

If  I could follow you deep into the darkest caverns of the world

And light the way with only the glow of your heart beating in my hand

If I could see what you had seen when you found me

Crawling through the dust

And eating the weeds that I plucked from beneath me

The weeds cultivated in agony and borne on my frail and wizened breath

And if I could gaze deeply into the heart of the world

And follow you,

And if I could look into my own soul and feel the tempo of yours as I searched for you

And if I could fail you

And still light the way with only the glow of your beating heart

As I carried it through the deepest catacombs

Then could you find me again?

On a Frozen Pond

I think, one day, I found it

buried in the ice;

where the rotted fallen trees encircled the lone pool of sunlight

that bent emphatically across the mountaintops

and poured itself into the frozen pond,

waiting till spring to thaw.

There’s something here,

a tick on my shoulder whispered in my ear

and then it bit me there;

The blood dripped down,

boiled the ice on impact.

I can see it still when I close my eyes:

The harsh redness beaming in bold defiance of the winter air

And the allotted warmth of sunlight designated for the particular season.

The fiery creature burrowed itself deep into a place

Where my hands could not reach to scratch

And squealed its deafening echo, resonated unending through my skull

as a broken phonograph record,

skipping over and over