Tag Archives: random

Train Platforms and Rooftops

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
854 Words

Train platforms were always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Sure, sometimes it’d get busy, and then you’d have to deal with a bit of a crowd. That was the exception, however. Most of the time you just sat there on a bench, quietly staring into a space made up of rock and steel, rust and flickering lights. The peace flew the coup whenever a freight train went blurring by. Those were a physical force of noise and motion and sucking wind.

Gerald sat there as one of the behemoths lunged behind him on the second tracks. He was staring at a small mouse crawling over another. He was slouching, hands deep in his pockets and a toothpick held between his teeth. The toothpick gave him a feeling of being cool. His hands within his pockets gave him a feeling of comfort almost as a security blanket would. He likened putting your hands in your pockets to balling up into the fetal position. It was comfortable.

An announcer started his gibberish about time, trains, and tracks. The time registered somewhere in Gerald’s mind, matched up with a schedule, and activated a movement protocol. Work was starting soon. He picked up his book bag.

The great thing about train stations, airports, and bus stations was the security you had in being there. If you had some sort of bag, or at least looked tired, withdrawn, and worn, no one would bug you. You could just sit there, for hours on end, without anyone giving you a second glance. It was kind of like an open privacy. Every bit of its escape was in your mind.

Sidewalks were always worn, cracked, and stained. When someone put in a new stretch of the stuff it’d practically glow, especially on sunny days. The sidewalk on the way to work was old, ancient and beaten by the forces of gravity and pedestrians. It had little cracked dips and rises, places where the earth had settled, and places where roots had pushed out against the confines of a cement prison. There was old spray paint and new chalk. These were two forms of graffiti with varying levels of acceptance. Permanence is hard to accept.

The place that Gerald worked was one of those looming buildings of mortar and stone, too old to know it should’ve fallen down already and too old to consider making it fall down. It had historical merit despite most of that involving bad days of work. Today was a bad day of work, and it hadn’t even really started. Things were just sort of uneven and off rhythm. Sometimes the world just seemed to pulse exactly the wrong way, or maybe it was just Gerald. He clocked in and considered the digital timestamp telling him he was two minutes late.

In a cubicle, you have the exact opposite of privacy. You have a little cardboard box that everyone can open. They lift the flaps and rummage through the contents. They toss out what’s been in there too long. They stuff other junk inside that they don’t want anywhere else. The only real refuge is the computer screen. There is the glowing God with digital secrets and dreams hidden away beneath false windows and half-hearted spreadsheets. Someone in another cardboard box loves work and pushes out maximum output. Gerald doesn’t hate work, but he doesn’t care, and so pushes out no output. Combined, along with whatever other cardboardians, output is nominal.

On break, Gerald stood by the water cooler with one of those little conical cups. They hold maybe a gulp of water. He always filled them up eight or nine times until slowly getting a full eight ounces. Today he just stared at the cooler, empty, and tried to figure out what it was he would do. Lunch was always water. Getting water was how he spent his lunch.

After work, Gerald walked home while pretending his feet were wheels over the landscape of a rolling sidewalk. He passed the train station, considered taking a seat to listen to the passing trains, but kept on toward his apartment. The air was cool with the scent of budding flowers and car exhaust, but the important thing was that it felt good. He didn’t go to his room, not yet, but slowly wound up the staircase, forgoing the elevator’s rumbling ride.

On rooftops, there was always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Under your back was the feel of gravel and small rocks, weight distribution keeping any from digging in and making it uncomfortable. Above you, the sky darkened and an expanse of stars opened up, peeking out from their hiding places in the blue beyond. The peace flew the coup whenever sirens went blaring by, but it was alright. There were still the stars, and the sky, and the gentle breeze that always picked up just enough to carry away the heat and oppression of things going stale.

Tomorrow, Gerald decided he’d stop by the train station again. Who knew, maybe his train would come in.

Inspiration to Ramble

Let Your Mind Wander

Or at least pretend you have a choice…

Inspiration is kind of like watching the dust motes in your vision. You know the ones I’m talking about? Those little shadows of nothingness that pass by like ghosts?

They’re a kind of entoptic phenomena called floaters, or muscae volitantes. Wikipedia tells me this, and then I click on another link.

We all know the rabbit holes of the internet, don’t we? There’s Wikipedia, TV Tropes, YouTube, and occasionally Urban Dictionary. These are the places you go for one bit of information, but then you see something else interesting. Then you follow a path that only you can see. It’s a bit like trailblazing through a virgin forest. Every step you take is new and unbroken by previous travelers. No two internet users take the same route.

A digital fingerprint is left by every individual that traverses the web. Large companies use tracking data to determine who you are without getting you to log on. Spend enough time on any machine and you’ll be paired up with an existing data cache that mostly resembles you. I like to imagine that there’s several versions of me out there. Some are small little glimpses of me on my worst days. Others are very-nearly-me, but they haven’t been merged into one thread because of some minor uncertainty.

It’s really difficult not to argue that those kinds of algorithms, the ones that determine who is who and the ones that make stock choices and the ones that figure out which thing you’ll buy on Amazon, aren’t actual intelligence. The field of AI loves to move the goalpost. A hundred years ago, people (probably, I’m making some leaping connections here) thought things that wiggled a little too much were alive. Fifty years ago, anything that could pass a Turing test might’ve been thought as Alive.

Alive?

What are we, us humans, if not a collection of tricks to get by from one situation to the next? There are plenty of things I do that are a required set of operations rather than willful intent. I don’t really want to go to work. I don’t really want to nod and say “Good Morning” to most people. I’m not good at those things because I don’t quite grasp the need behind them. I understand, but I don’t understand. But, it’s the norm. It is what has been demonstrated as expected. Therefore, I do. Inspiration is just a connection formed when I make enough data points in the line. We’re just fancy learning machines, aren’t we?

Processing a hundred different things together and then coming up with some new and valuable outcome is the definition of creativity. Well, the stark, literal, boring definition is: ‘a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed.‘ I just looked it up as I wrote this. By that definition, robots, physical or digital, are some rather creative individuals.

Yet, I feel like that’s a hard thing for most to accept. Conversations in my head go like this, ‘You can’t call that creativity! It’s just programming!’ and ‘There’s something innate about creating! It takes innovation and great leaps of intuition!’ and ‘Inspiration is a byproduct of conscious thought!’

I disagree.

Most of the things that we find clever and interesting are the product of careful self-made algorithms. Humans are great at training themselves into patterns of thought. We go to school to learn new patterns of thought. Really Successful People study several varied patterns of thought and then mash them together into some Frankenstein’s monster of idea and concept.

Learn a bunch of stuff about solar panels. Now, learn a bunch of stuff about knitting. Maybe you’ll come up with a machine that knits together fibers that make better solar panels for cheaper. I don’t know. I had trouble thinking of two ideas far enough apart that they couldn’t be mashed together into some useful mix. Maybe I didn’t look far enough. Maybe all things are inherently useful to the understanding of all other things.

Some say you have to step back from a problem to find an answer. I don’t know who “they” are. I just did some searching to try and figure that out. There are a lot of articles and webpages out there that describe stepping back to figure things out. They’re named stuff like, “Why stepping back is the best way to move forward.”

Wikipedia has eight different problem solving methods included on their page about problem solving. I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb to say there’s likely hundreds more than those eight. One of them, from a book titled How to Solve It by George Pólya, has four steps: Understand the Problem. Make a plan. Carry out the plan. Look back on your work and consider how it could be better.

I’m frustrated every time I read about varying methods to do the same thing. This is a silly thing for me to do. Everyone understands life in different ways. Everyone has a past that forms and coerces them into who they will become. As Life progresses forward, the plural All-Encompassing version of that noun, the means to understand changes. That fuzzy repository of “global knowledge” gets larger and wiser with each passing day.

And yet, the myth of the singular genius still exists. We grasp the idea of exceptionalism so readily despite moving further from that capability with each breath. The only genius is in the collective mass that is teamwork and cooperation. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Sure. Sure. Whole sci-fi cultures are formed around the idea that committees are a terrible idea. A thousand movies champion the singular as a lone hero rushes into the war room with the Fantastic Idea, Daring Do, and Gumption to redirect a bickering group of stuffy old men. Anyone without a concrete goal will founder.

New Years resolutions are silly.

Getting somewhere is easy though. Like, let’s say I want to drive to Kansas. Why? I don’t know. The why is so rarely important to the future. I’m in Germany right now, so driving poses some difficulties grounded in physics. I could do this Thing that is suddenly so important that it must be Done. First, I’d sell some stuff. Second, I’d buy some tickets. Third, I’d drive to, and then on, a boat. Fourth, I’d drive off that boat and all the way to Kansas. Isn’t that boring?

A direct path from A to B is usually dull. It’s a way to pass time, or to fulfill an obligation, or to get to what you really want. It fulfills the requirement. There’s nothing wrong with that. In most cases, it’s necessary.

But? When you can? When you have the chance? When there isn’t some ticking bomb with red LED numbers counting away your fate? An indirect route allows you to gather a lot more experiences, good and bad, that can be entertaining.

So, maybe it’s not so bad that I can’t stare directly at the little eye floaters. Since I can never see what they really look like, I spend a lot more time imagining what their shapes could be.

-J.A.

A Musical Interlude: Working in Tune

Working in Tune

Turn on the Inspiration Station?

When I draw, or work on visual works, I usually put on music. To some that’s something of an impossibility for their creative process. To them there’s a need for silence and a severe focus.

For me I want to lose myself in a good rhythm or let a type of sound amp me up into the right emotional state. For me, graphical works require a process of rushing through my mind and scattering the memories and thoughts to find a good mix. I’m one of those artists that has a clenched jaw when my character does. The moment overwhelms me and my heart beats faster as the action ratchets higher.

What’s great about using music, for me, is that you can feel things and hear ideas that you may not have been on the path toward that day. Maybe you had a beautiful day, maybe you’re feeling happy, but you really want to express someone’s disgruntled arc of pain and displeasure. Slap on some angsty music or something mellow and slow and I’m transporting myself to past moments of unease.

Except, with writing, it’s different. I have trouble writing to music. Especially lately. The music gets in the way. Or tugs me in the wrong direction. And lyrics? Oh no. I can’t even begin to work with lyrics involved. Then the words mix with the ones I’m trying to find. Yet, I want to use music. I find it so useful for my creative process.

You always hear ‘write what you know‘, and I like to think that means taking your experiences and dissecting them into useful pieces. Tear out the components of your life, love, hate, disgust, enjoyment, and hook those parts up into a situation with flying cars and drug-dealing fiends. When I’m listening to a song with the right energy, finding past emotions becomes easier. I can float through mentalities of emotion. It can make creating incredibly draining, but it also feels incredibly rewarding once complete. So, hopefully I can find some balance there. Maybe I just need to find the right music.

Cheers,

– J.A.

Before The Fan

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
995 Words

“There’s too much trash in this city.”

Jacob leaned over the roof’s edge, peering down into the alley below, “You’re right, Desconci is considered fifth in the world for street refuse.” He grabbed his helmet and twisted the seal tight for the thousandth time that evening.

Gina counted her steps backward, five from the edge. She glanced at Jake with a scowl, “Why are you even working in this field?” Her body raced forward on its three cybernetic legs. The mid-foot seated on the building’s seam, snapping the woman into space.

Watching a bum burrowing in foil wrapping and trash, Jake glanced up in time to see his partner tiptoe into a perfect landing a roof over, “What do you mean?” He jogged backwards, boots whirring as they picked up a preset. Sprinting for the gap, there was a whirl of air and the thud of miniature impact motors striking the rooftop.

Cybernetic hips cocked to one side, Gi watched the unaltered human’s rolling landing. One tumble and the man was up onto his feet and ready. Gina wasn’t sure Jacob had to roll; she thought he just enjoyed flair, “You’re smart: a fucking genius. Why are you up here following me around rooftops as a copper?”

“Well, I’m not sure why I follow you around rooftops.” Jake walked to the next edge, peering into a street crowded with traffic and people. Road-windows to the subway flashed as trains sped beneath the world. The corporal grinned, “But I like being a cop. I like doing something good; catching shit before it hits the fan. Having a superior that walks on buildings makes it more interesting.” His suit started beeping.

The Sergeant smirked, humorless and bitter, “Are you coming on to me? I know some of you guys like women with nice legs…” Her suit’s arm-display blinked on, message playing across empty air, “All units on alert. Great. Two blocks over, someone’s making a land dispute.” The display closed with a wave of her hand.

Jacob tapped at the air for further queries, arm-display beeping as searches filled the queue, “Land dispute? The guy’s about to blow up a building!” His gaze snapped after his leader’s retreating form zipping down onto the street. A quick gesture saved his queries, and he did a quick double stomp that set his boots into a ticking frenzy of preparation. A curse slipped under his breath as he dashed headlong over the roof’s end. He aimed for the top of a car.

The boots sounded like screeching tires as they gripped the vehicle. Jake spread his arms wide in the landing, then disengaged his shoes with a wiggling big toe. With the driver’s help (they’d slammed the brakes) he arced in a leap over several cars and hit the sidewalk sprinting. A man careened on a tricked-out electroBMX and decided for a quick wall-ride up a building to avoid panicking pedestrians.

Those same pedestrians barreled away from the swathe-cutting knife that was a running Desconci P.E. Policy Enforcers wore practical suits of armor weighing as much as a small motorcycle with several times the power. Diving out of the way was a sensible reaction. Jacob’s helmet blared with shoulders flashing as he trailed behind his superior’s nimble form. Ahead, she sprang off light poles and landed on window ledges. Her feet never touched the ground. Jake muttered into his mic, “You’d be pretty fucking great at Don’t Touch the Lava.”

With one final snap of cybernetic muscle, Gina twisted through the air and barreled into a man wielding a PulseHammer. The advanced jackhammer went flying and the man’s left arm snapped at the elbow. Bone ripped through skin and cloth on his upper arm. Gi’s three legs pinned the offender down by the other three limbs, “You must remain silent and still. You have the privilege of being an offender of Policy 55E.10-Golf and hereby have given up any rights; those paid for or due by your citizenship grade and/or grades.”

The man growled, too stimmed to feel pain, “Fuck you! I got papers from generations ago that I own this land! Screw your damned Policy and the whole book under it!” A tiny spider-bot crawled out of the man’s chest pocket. He was wearing a one-piece flight-suit in a dark gray-blue cloth. The spider skittered down the man’s body and seated itself into a small output terminal at the stomach of the suit.

Gina’s eyes went wide and her third leg kicked at the spider-bot with precise urgency. It missed, the spider ducking into the suit’s connection port too quickly. The P.E. blinked to snap a photo before she turned to run.

Over their comms Gina was calmly reciting a procedural tactic number and sub-note. Jake took a moment to think back to training, “Tactical Response Alpha, Condition B… Ah yeah.”

Landing next to his boss, the two enforcers crouched and readied for crowd control. A long-handled weapon with a smooth spherical end, it was often used to pacify people if they wouldn’t come along quietly. It was nonlethal but gave a headache.

Both officers set theirs to max, jerking the trigger to spread its effects on the nearest pedestrians. Behind them, the spider-bot glowed red and began burrowing through skin. The man began to convulse, beating his chest and screaming.

The explosion was mostly gore, yet the burst had a purpose outside of immediate concussive damage. At the core of the man’s now-pulped body, the spider-bot’s brain sent rapid burst transmissions on a temporary array-antenna of metallic particles formed by and riding the blast. Shrapnel embedded itself in the walls of buildings or on the exteriors of cars and busses.

Gina stood and helped Jake up in one motion, growling at the situation, “So much for stopping the shit from hitting the fan. That manifesto is gonna be on the net for weeks.”

Jake twisted his helmet’s seal tight yet again, shrugging, “Well at least we stopped him.”