Sunday, January 23, 2005

Future Sum Zero.

This is my first short story in about eight years. Inspired by an interview with Alice Munro yesterday, here's a 2-page version of the novel I was going to write in 1994.

Future Sum Zero.

They met at a party the night the world ended. With all the sirens going off and then the quiet that followed, he found her on the out-grown swing in the backyard, musing about 3-D worlds that weren't like this one, conceptual spaces and art.

Why'd she sleep with him? Maybe because she was distracted.

Continue reading FSZ.

He never talked to the real Sheryn, he figured; just a
buffer-persona between her thoughts and the real world. After she’d disappeared, James heard she was smart: 98th percentile smart. A person like that, maybe biological needs like sex and food don’t even figure in to what they want out of life.

He made them coffees, realised the power wasn’t on. Digging out his shitty transistor radio he found one station broadcasting music from old LPs and saying that the computers had gone down.

True. His laptops had died. When Sheryn said she had to leave, go down south, James offered to drive. After all, working in IT he either didn’t have a job today or was going to walk up 28 floors and step into a crisis. Wouldn't it be better spending his time trying to make Sheryn laugh – or even have a functional conversation?

When the petrol ran out, Sheryn accepted a lift, said she’d be back. Or rather, he filled that part of the conversation
in for her. And then he waited while no traffic passed him for nine hours. He decided to walk rather than starve to death beside his car on the side of this country road.

The first farm he came to drove him away with a shotgun.

Stories from the road – most explaining the end of the world as a technical glitch, some of the more colourful stories went biblical.
For a long time no-one recognised his description of Sheryn.

When he found her, he didn’t know if he’d fit in. Everyone at
The Compound had worked together for years; the leader – an enormous man by the name of Van Mees – despised everything about James except his ability to maintain computer networks; and Sheryn and Van Mees were involved in a psycho-sexual relationship. He was dom, she was sub - but with her buffer, James wondered if she noticed.

Her work was important to The Compound. An enormous hemisphere where 3-D movies were being created. Van Mees called them ‘surrounds’ and spoke about finding a new editing-
style to direct the audience’s attention without cuts – which in this hemistheatre would cause viewers to fall over.

One night he took Sheryn out to a field. He had a picnic, a blanket and all she talked about was the single satellite that crossed their field of vision. That was the only thing she said, one sentence, “Look.” In the hours of silence after, he kissed her and she kissed back. So he counted it as a success.

She continued submitting to Van Mees.

They bartered for food with local farms. As the least essential to the creative project, James did the trade. The American who stopped him asked if he thought it was odd that Van Mees’ computer were still running.

So now James had two secrets to keep from Van Mees. Sheryn and an investigation into the network he supervised. It was decidedly uncinematic. He transferred files, compared numbers. When Van Mees discovered him, James almost passed off his espionage as updating an Excel spreadsheet. But Van Mees was already suspicious.

Just smart enough to realise what he was missing out on, James knew whoever designed the computer virus was a genius. 98th percentile. This thing moved faster than anything ever written. When people on the outside found out it was going to spread from his country, they quarantined it. No satellite uplinks, no fibre-optics, they’d even deployed an experimental short-wave jammer that would incidentally cause the skin on peoples’ skulls to expand with lumps in about fifty years.

Sheryn described it as a by-product of her work but what did a virus have to do with 3-D cinema? Everyone had to have a hobby, she said.

He tried to get Sheryn to leave with him but couldn’t find the words. The heart-felt scene he wanted didn’t seem natural. Their physical connection wasn’t enough to get through her buffer. When he pointed to the worthlessness of their work in the hemistheatre and said, “Look,” it made her smile and at least that was something.

And then The Compound was a memory from five minutes ago, ten minutes ago. And then he was passing his car and the farmer with the horse and cart giving him a lift asked what he did. He was a network administrator, James said.

The farmer nodded

1 comment:

hix said...

Redrafted the original post, cut it down by at least 10-15%.
Gave the guy a name so that the language wasn't so clumsy.
Made changes to the conclusion so that it actually has a point. Still feel it's a little too slight.
Interested in what the situation would seem like from Sheryn's POV. Possible sequel there.