Author Topic: the beginning of nothing  (Read 572 times)

tyrannosaurus vex

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the beginning of nothing
« on: April 11, 2017, 06:13:19 am »
just something i'm starting... not much here. posting to shame myself if i don't keep working on it.
______________________________________

They call cops "pigs", and that's what they've always called them. For as long as anyone can remember, anyway. It's a funny enough epithet, I guess, but the image doesn't really fit. Maybe it made sense way back when cops were dumb and fat and sloppy, if cops were ever dumb or fat or sloppy. If it was up to me, I'd call them dogs instead. They're a lot more like dogs than pigs. Strong. Persistent. Mean. Once a cop gets a hold of something or somebody, he won't ever let go. Loyal like dogs, too. Maybe even more. This country is rotten with corruption, but you no matter who you are, you can't buy a cop. Loyal, but not to anyone I'll ever know. But it isn't up to me, so cops are pigs.

The car rolled to a stop at the Business District checkpoint and the all the windows descended automatically. The glare of flashlights immediately flooded the interior and I tried to shrink into the rear seat, but I couldn't slouch any lower without looking suspicious. Sid was sitting up front at the console as the officer poked his pointy face in through the window.

"Route log, please." He asked, not politely.

Sid sneered and held the car's detachable navcom up at the officer's face, saying nothing, equally not politely. The blinking display was too close for him to read it, and she knew it. She was obviously looking for trouble.

He reared back disgustedly and his hand darted into the cabin to swipe the navcom out of Sid's. This was only the first checkpoint, and I was sure it was about to be the last. I held my breath as the officer scanned the navcom and his buddies scanned the car's occupants with their flashlights. No noise except the purring motor. We all sat perfectly still, hands visible and motionless, staring straight ahead at nothing. None of us made eye contact with each other, or with the cops. People had been shot for "threatening eye contact", right here at this very checkpoint, more than once. Really—they are a lot like dogs.

Navcoms are simple things. They just list the destinations programmed into a car along with every stop it had made in the past 48 hours and a record of all the ID chips that had been in the vehicle during the same period. It doesn't take very long to learn everything a navcom could possibly have to teach you. The officer outside the car was apparently trying to learn something the navcom couldn't teach him. Centuries passed.

"Mmmmm," the officer sang, finally. "You'll have to make good time if you're going to make it in time." The officer's tone said he was weighing whether or not to intentionally delay us so as to hand out citations for violating curfew, as if the navcom wouldn't report us anyway. Smiles stretched out behind the flashlights.

Sid's hands almost formed two fists, but she caught herself and forced her fingers to relax. "Yes. Sir." I heard the blatant sarcasm in her voice. I was praying it flew over the officer's head.

The officer's angled face appeared once more through the window, grinning a little. He eyes pierced Sid's for just a second before craning his neck to sweep the other three of us in back disdainfully, as the navcom in his hand found its own way to the slot on the console and replaced itself. He inhaled sharply, no doubt hoping to detect contraband, and his mouth straightened out of its grin as he failed. We knew the car was clean, but you can never know how much that really matters. The officer withdrew himself abruptly with "Well, what are you waiting for, citizens? Move along, we have a million of you to inspect tonight."

Grunts came from the other officers as the flashlights swept out of the cabin and away from the car, finally. Sid tapped the green "RESUME DRIVE" command on the navcom and the car lurched forward and rolled down the street.

This checkpoint scene replayed itself no less than five times that night, each one eerily similar to the last, right down the the sing-song disdain and pointy face of the officer in charge. A couple of times I even wondered if we we had driven around the block just to get another look at the same bunch of uniformed thugs. Not once did I catch a glimpse of where that epithet "pig" had come from. We got to Sid's place just before curfew.
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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2017, 01:06:30 pm »
I'd read more of this.

Cramulus

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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2017, 02:51:25 pm »
I like it, it feels like a blend of Phillip K Dick and Kafka.

I'm reminded of Foucault's Panopticon - that control over society is established by dividing us all up into little cells which are subject to observation and force. "Discipline", means control of our bodies, on the individual level... and this is what keeps societal order chugging along. It's how the current modality of power is preserved whole-cloth -- during your contact with The Power, you are very vulnerable, so you have to behave. You have to show, with your body, that you are docile, nonthreatening, submissive. And the theory is that if we are all subject to this correcting force, we have to internalize the rules, become good inmates.

tyrannosaurus vex

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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2017, 05:17:21 am »
I'd read more of this.

Thanks! There is a little more now, but not enough for a followup yet. I'll keep tapping away.

I like it, it feels like a blend of Phillip K Dick and Kafka.

I'm reminded of Foucault's Panopticon - that control over society is established by dividing us all up into little cells which are subject to observation and force. "Discipline", means control of our bodies, on the individual level... and this is what keeps societal order chugging along. It's how the current modality of power is preserved whole-cloth -- during your contact with The Power, you are very vulnerable, so you have to behave. You have to show, with your body, that you are docile, nonthreatening, submissive. And the theory is that if we are all subject to this correcting force, we have to internalize the rules, become good inmates.

Interesting concepts that might find their way into the story. I'm trying my best to avoid exposition on a large scale, but we'll see how well I manage to keep it engaging while only dropping clues about the bigger picture. I've written up a world background that's nothing but boring exposition to keep the story confined to a definite universe, hoping that will help. I Haven't yet decided whether to place the story in the middle of the Big Bad State's totalitarian heyday or around the edges either as it forms or decays. Probably depends on where the story ends up going, which at this point I have absolutely no idea.
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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2017, 05:59:14 am »
The idea of traffic stops with automatic vehicles is REALLY VERY UPSETTING to me. It's damn nicely written man! Keep on it  :)
You can't get out backward.  You have to go forward to go back.. better press on! - Willie Wonka, PBUH

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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2017, 12:01:41 am »
Oooh, creepy near-future dystopia! I love it.
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”


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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2017, 12:12:33 am »
I like it. Saw the vehicles on a grid backlit by muted neon. City became circuit board, route log turned into cookies, then dog biscuits. Very fun.
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tyrannosaurus vex

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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2017, 06:03:25 am »
So... I hit a wall here, and decided to do a reboot already.

The car knew what was happening before we did. We had been cruising along 144th Parkway in the dead of night. No other traffic on the road, not that it would have mattered the way everything was automated. We didn't say much, mostly just listened to music as the car sped along the dark urban highway punctuated at regular intervals by the dashing glare of streetlights. I heard the car shift downward, and before I could decide to look out from my daze and focus on anything, the full-spectrum dome light had arced across the cabin and the car came to a complete halt. The music we had been listening to was swallowed by a sudden silence, dwindling to a barely audible hiss from the speakers.

"THIS IS A CHECKPOINT. PLEASE REMAIN SEATED." The voice, terrifyingly calming and so emotionless it was nearly incomprehensible, poured out of the speakers in the cabin where our music had just been preempted. Then a short pause, which I would swear was done intentionally to lull and then shock us, "THIS IS A CHECKPOINT. PLEASE REMAIN SEATED."

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuck. My eyes shot around the car's cabin, making contact with three other pairs of eyes doing the same thing. No one spoke. No one could speak. What was there to say, anyway? Almost in unison, four hands shot across four laps, fumbling for seatbelt release clasps. Mine was stuck. No, it was really stuck. Jammed? No. Just... locked. This strip of nylon was doing its cheerful little Happy Citizen job and detaining me. All of us, I saw, as I took another look around the cabin. Fuck.

"THIS IS A CHECKPOINT. PLEASE REMAIN SEATED." The car intoned again, as if we had any choice in the matter.

All at once, the car's windows hissed down into the doors. There was a stereophonic clunk as the locks disengaged. Hot, dusty air rushed in from outside the car, dragging foul city odors in with it. Then, silence. Silence, the penetrating, full-spectrum dome lights, and four people breathing in rapid bursts, for what felt like the longest, brightest, loneliest silence that had ever been.

The first sounds I heard outside the car were not reassuring. Gravely, grinding footsteps approached. A slightly irregular gait. Human. That might be good, or it might be bad. Probably bad. At this hour? Definitely bad.

There were only five audible steps before a face faded from the dim background and was framed by the window nearest Sid. A tight-fitting police helmet with fully-secured chin strap wafted slightly through the window, carrying a sharply defined human face beneath it. The officer exaggerated his natural frown, the corners of his mouth slowly reaching for his jowls as he surveyed the occupants of the car. His bright eyes met each of us directly and confidently, starting with Sid, whose face was only inches from his own, taking time to size us up before deciding what to have stopped us for. His nostrils visibly contracted as he inhaled in quick draws, and flared out again as he exhaled in long, not quite angry gusts. I saw a cartoon bull getting ready to pounce on a red flag.

No one had said a word, and he hadn't asked a single question. As far as I could tell we were all equally shocked and paralyzed, but Officer Bright Eyes correctly identified Sid as de facto leader of our little troop. His intense, searching glare melted into something like polite alertness as he squared his attention on her, and she turned her head obediently, but not demurely, and met his attention with a receptive but guarded expression of her own.

"Good evening young citizens! May I ask where you all are off to at such an hour as this?" said the Officer in mocking formality speaking plurally but addressing only Sid. "Mayhaps I can be of some assistance in ... helping you to arrive at your final destination?" At this, he uncurled his frown, flattened it into an obligatory cashier's smile, and held it there.

Sid did not break eye contact with Officer Bright Eyes. She replied evenly, "We are on official business and do not require your assistance. We thank you for your offer, but prefer to be on our way." The recital was rehearsed, but Sid's delivery was at least as passable as the Officer's had been.

Officer Bright Eyes' smile broadened almost into sincerity for a moment, and he offered the scripted response colored with what must pass for personality at the precinct office. His eyes were still doing their best to burn holes in Sid's retinas. "Official business? Oh my. I'd hate to delay official business. I'll send you on your way of course," and, pausing for such dramatic effect he was sure to win a Daytime Emmy, "Oh. I almost forgot. I'll have to see your itinerary, please." Without moving his head even a little, Officer Bright Eyes snaked an arm in through the window and presented an upturned palm.

Sid's own hand reached toward the car's console, a low, carpeted pillar topped with info-displays and control buttons, all of which had turned a cheerful red color in honor of the occasion, and crowned by small silver cylinder that had been presented by the car's subservient electronic brain. She kept her eyes trained into the Officer's as she plucked the cylinder out of its port and deposited it into his waiting palm.

"NAVCOM HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE CONSOLE. THIS VEHICLE WILL BE IMMOBILIZED UNTIL THE NAVCOM HAS BEEN RETURNED TO THE CONSOLE AND WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN PERMISSION TO PROCEED." The car's vaguely feminine voice informed us, stating the obvious in a very slow, very painful way.

Officer Bright Eyes closed his hand around the Navcom slowly, waiting for the car to complete its interminable informatory spiel and relishing every moment of our collective discomfort. When the car's warning receded, the Officer withdrew his hand and cheerily added, needlessly, "Now you citizens stay right there while I check this information. Don't go anywhere!" Then his head followed his arm into the darkness beyond the car, and we waited.

Of course, all of this pomp and circumstance was unnecessary. The Officer could just as easily have scanned our car's ID transmitter as we passed and gotten all the same information directly though the net if he'd wanted to. There wasn't even any reason to stop us. We weren't really driving this thing, after all, and if it had been necessary to detain us based on our car's programmed destination, or any of its recorded stops, or any of the fully identified occupants inside, he could have just pressed a button on his own console — probably as overblown and self-important as he was, and with three times the number of blinking lights for good measure — in his cruiser.

But instead, he chose to stop us. Old-fashioned style. He didn't look quite old enough to have been around back when this kind of traffic stop, or something like it, had been necessary. Most of the cops who were that old had retired, and the few who hadn't were too in love with the new, painless, safe way of doing things. This one — any of them, really, who actually physically stopped a car anymore — was clearly looking for excitement. And a cop who's looking for excitement is a cop you do not want anywhere near you while you're strapped safely and immovably into a bucket seat.

Jax started to say something but was cut off before he could make more than a timid gasp by a fierce glance from Sid. Jax, like all of us, knew that the cabin's microphones were all online and streaming a live feed to Officer Bright Eyes back in his cruiser. Cameras too, for that matter. Definitely cameras in a car as nice as this one. He probably didn't mean to say anything wrong, just forgot momentarily that there's no such thing as "not wrong" in this situation. He was new, though. Forgetfulness happens before it's been shot or beaten out of you. All our own excitement out of our systems, we settled in and prepared to sit in silence, forever.

Eternity ended rather quickly, as Officer Bright Eyes once more hovered out of the gloom and into the frame of Sid's window, head and hand both together this time. Something in his expression had stalled, however. His face had deflated somewhat, though it still bore a makeshift grin. His eyes weren't quite as bright. It struck me as a little tragic — perversely so, as if in a world this bad, an overnight thug in polished kevlar armor would have the offensive audacity to claim any tragedy for himself. Still, he was now Officer Not-so-Bright Eyes, and he returned the Navcom cylinder to Sid's now waiting hand.

"Thank you for your patience, citizens. I hope I have not detained you from your business for too long," he said sharply, but sounding thoroughly uninspired. Then, addressing the car more than us, "This vehicle is free to go on its way, voice authorization kilo echo kilo, uniform one seven seven four four."

At the sound of his command, the console's cheerful red lights gave way to cheerful green lights, momentarily splashing awkward Christmas spirit across five uncooperative faces. There was no more conversation. Officer Not-so-Bright-Eyes disappeared from the window as Sid plugged the Navcom back into its port, the windows shot back up, and the dome light dimmed from full-spectrum to an ambient blue probably designed to dispel any residual stress from the encounter.

As the car lurched forward and back into the empty parkway, Sid was the only one to speak. "Well, I was hoping not to test these hacks quite so soon, but it seems like they're good ones!"
« Last Edit: June 15, 2017, 06:13:10 am by tyrannosaurus vex »
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Re: the beginning of nothing
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2017, 08:47:31 am »
I got a very fine creepy feeling from that. It's all too realistic of a scenario given only a slight tweak of the "Internet of Things" thing already being popularized.
You can't get out backward.  You have to go forward to go back.. better press on! - Willie Wonka, PBUH

Life can be seen as a game with no reset button, no extra lives, and if the power goes out there is no restarting.  If that's all you see life as you are not long for this world, and never will get it.

"Ayn Rand never swung a hammer in her life and had serious dominance issues" - The Fountainhead

"World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation."
 - Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality :lulz: