Wednesday, June 3, 2009

GreatHites 55

Great Hites # 55 is Guest hosted by Justin Lowmaster. Thank you so much Justin.
This week we have stories by:


Ashley Redden
Norval Joe
WinnerMick Bordet <---- this weeks winner
and Justin Lowmaster

Arms Race
By: Ashley Redden

Dr. Saunders looked again at his pressure suit and considered going out without it. This was not the first time that the good doctor had entertained these thoughts. One day, perhaps soon perhaps not, he may do more than entertain them, but not today.
He curtly began his predressing inspection being every bit as thorough and analytical as always, yet those nagging thoughts remained. Three weeks ago Dr. Martin had done just that. He walked up to the pressure door, went through the proper procedure setting off no alarms and exited from the hospital’s staff living area to the active working center. This was a procedure that Dr. Martin had performed many times in the past, the difference here being that Dr. Martin had left his pressure hanging, still seated and ready to use. The suit had been fully sanitized and properly prepped for use. Dr. Martin had just simply bypassed wearing it.
The night before, there was a heated discussion in Block C; Dr. Saunders resides in Block A, between Dr. Martin and other members of the staff. Dr. Martin was purported to say to them all, “You’re all just robots going through the motions watching the end come like some macabre scorekeepers.” After which he stormed out. No one spoke with him again until after the next morning when he walked out, smile on his rueful face, suit still in the rack.
He had lasted some 10 days, each day seeming a bit frailer than the last, when he bottomed out. After that it was a scant 12 hours before he expired. Some of the staff had accused Dr. Martin of taking the easy way out, suicide they spat. Dr. Saunders wasn’t so sure. After all, was there any hope anymore? He had hardly known Dr. Martin, wasn’t even sure of the man’s first name. But Dr. Saunders could sympathize. He grudgingly felt the same way at times, but couldn’t allow himself to proceed with the act.
Dr. Saunders stepped into the red circle placing both feet as centered as possible onto the smaller oblong foot-shaped areas within the larger circle. He said, “This is Dr. Carl Saunders. Please suit for exit.”
A pleasant nongendered voice answered, “Good morning Dr. Saunders. Please remain calm and with both feet placed within the designations for suiting.”
As he stood waiting for the automated suiting process to proceed, Dr. Saunders remembered the second savior of mankind. He was still a child when the procedure was ratified by the world government and announced that everyone, the inhabitation of the world, would undergo the procedure. The slogan was ‘metapleural glands for an infection free life’. Utilizing gene therapy, all citizens, whether they wanted it or not, received an injection of MGI, metapleural gland initiator. After this single injection, a metapleural gland system would develop internally within each injectee. Everyone would benefit from the procedure, no fuss no muss.
This prospect had so invested itself into Dr. Saunders’ psyche, then just Carl Saunders, that he had begun a pursuit in medicine upon induction to university.
This was the second time in modern history that a medical miracle would draw praise as the savior of humanity. The first happened in the early nineteen hundreds with the invention of antibiotics. The fanfare was lauded long before terms were commonly used like misuse of broad spectrum antibiotics that led to other more insidious terms such as drug tolerance and drug resistance and of course the worst of all multidrug resistance. Humanity had made a choice. We stepped out of natural selection and Mother Nature summarily unleashed the biological dogs of war.
A pleasant voice briefly pulled Dr. Saunders from his reverie saying, “Initial stage suiting complete. Beginning secondary stage suiting, please remain calm and with both feet properly placed within the designations for suiting.”
“The deadly bull ant will save us all,” Dr. Saunders remembered one pompous scientist espousing all the while primping for the cameras like so much the rock star. The procedure had begun with study of certain metapleural gland secretions from Myrmecia gulosa, the Australian bull ant. These secretions exhibited startling antimicrobial properties that left bull ants virtually germ free.
So the world’s population had taken the treatment and subsequently enjoyed some forty years of nearly infection free living, truly, a golden age for humanity. That golden age had, however, come to a bitter end with the first documented case of GICS, global immuno collapse syndrome.
Some mixture of normal bacterial flora, or indigenous micro biota as preferred by the professionals, inhabiting the cutaneous tissue of all humans had somehow changed or altered in such as way to shred the immune system of otherwise healthy individuals. The disease seemed then to race through the world’s population like a wildfire. The world government that just months before was struggling with a burgeoning populace’ increasing demand for an already overburdened supply system, suddenly found whole populations, continents worth, dropping dead over a period of days or weeks.
The scientific community had pulled back and begun experimentation immediately. Hundreds of facilities had been erected within each country; the United States had several hundred alone. Of those hundreds and hundreds of facilities, only thirty nine remained in contact. Things had begun to look dire.
The only inhibition to the disease found so far was to sterilize the skin of each of the individuals, then reinoculate each person’s skin with a single culture of bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis, a commonly occurring human cutaneous flora . That particular flora was the only one currently present on Dr. Saunders skin and monitored with great impunity by the automated system that oversaw operations in the hospital.
‘The deadly bull ant may in the end kill us all,’ thought Dr. Saunders. Humanity in its arrogance forgot that we live on a biosphere and are active participants in that system’s never ending biological arms race. We gambled and lost big, real big.
The pleasant voice said, “Secondary stage complete. Please step into the suit. Remain calm and motionless within the suit for final sealing.”
The rack lowered spreading the suit wide like some waiting false skin. Dr. Saunders stepped into the suit, pushing his arms into the open suit and waited for the sealing process to proceed. The suit sealed with a hiss as positive pressure was applied to the interior. A green light blossomed where red had previously illuminated and the large iris before Dr. Saunders rotated open.
“Please exit,” said the voice.
“Thank you,” answered Dr. Saunders.
“You are welcome sir.”
Once outside the sealed living area, Dr. Saunders began making his was to the laboratory facilities in section 12, his designated laboratory.
Another scientist passed him at the first corner. They made eye contact and Dr. Saunders could see the endemic weariness present in her fatigue lined eyes.
“Good luck today,” she said with a slight wave of arm.
Dr. Saunders waved back and remembering the comment on robots, thought that she did indeed resemble a robot. He turned and continued on his way, mind still wandering. Dr. Saunders’ thoughts began to drift then onto other topics working details out, building speed as if they were some wild life form all there own. He stopped as ideas began to occur to him, one after the other, as if a tap had been unstoppered allowing the water contained therein to gush out completely unfettered.
As his mind raced, he began again to walk towards the waiting laboratory quickening his pace, as well as, his breath. By the time he arrived, he had a working theory and experimentation projects stratifying within his head, clicking mentally into place. He looked around at the dark laboratory and passed a hand over the light panel. The lighting in the laboratory began to wink on gradually becoming brighter and brighter. Dr. Saunders let out a loud whoop that went unanswered in the isolated laboratory. He felt just like the lab, everything was dark moments ago, now bright. He had read somewhere that euphoric events sometimes occur like that, out of the blue like a mental tidal wave. Ideas were like lightning. One could never predict where or when they would strike.
Dr. Saunders fought down the urge to tell someone, but he had much work to perform before that step. He would begin a new log and place his thought within that should anything happen to him, it would suffice. He would talk later; right now he required uninterrupted focus.
So a lowly ant had ordained the doom of mankind only to be saved by an off-the-wall comment of a disenfranchised doctor. They say that necessity is the mother of invention.
‘Well, ‘thought Dr. Saunders, ‘irony must have a place in that statement as well.’ Things were suddenly looking up.
Dr. Saunders rubbed suited hands together impatient to get started, he had mountains to move.

Out in right field
By: Norval Joe
"I was reading Omni magazine," Gary announced suddenly, as Kyle chewed on his sandwich and Eric picked at the strings of his guitar. The pick hopped about in complicated patterns across the strings, while the fingers of his left hand walked up and down the frets. He had spent years learning the classical style of guitar, using all the fingers of his right hand to pluck the various strings, but it was clear from the expressions that his face made as he played, that he enjoyed the raw sound of the nylon pick against the strings. With his eyes closed, he kept playing, but he finally asked, "Ok, what did you read in Omni?"
"I read that they are making computers that are so smart that they will start improving themselves without telling us that they are doing it, until they get so smart that they won’t need us anymore, and then they’ll just get rid of us."
Kyle stopped chewing, and spoke around the food still in his mouth, "You read that in Omni?"
"Well, maybe it wasn’t Omi, but I did read it somewhere, and when that happens, it will really suck!"
"Wait a minute," Eric stopped him, "You think that the computers will get so smart that they will kill us?"
"Uh, huh." Gary grunted, starting to look defensive.
"So, how is a computer supposed to kill us," Eric challenged him.
The enthusiasm returned to Gary’s face, "You know, they’ll make robots with weapons in the arms and stuff, and they’ll hunt us down until every human is eliminated.
Eric was advancing up the neck of his guitar, playing a twelve note riff, over and over, in different keys. He didn’t pause or even slow down, but asked, "So you’re saying that super advanced, artificial intelligence, computer robots will someday wipe out mankind?" Gary was bobbing his head in agreement, so Eric went on, "It will never happen. First of all, the more intelligent a species becomes, the more pacifistic its society becomes. It’s the ignorant and superstitious that try to destroy life." He paused speaking, to begin a new riff and work back down the neck of the guitar. "Secondly, you assume that your AI will develop a WC."
"WC?" Both Gary and Kyle asked at the same time.
"Yeah, WC; who cares? You assume that this perpetually improving AI is going to become self aware, develop desires and aspirations. That it is going to want to be more than just a box of electronic connections that reads and writes ones and zero’s on a magnetic surface.
"No matter how advanced you make its routines, even to the point that it will analyze and improve them on its own, it will never advance to the point, where it will decide for itself that it wants to do anything different than what it was programmed to do.
"If you want robots, just look around you. This quad is full of them. All these unintelligent jerks walking around the school are doing just what they were programmed to do; eat, sleep, and procreate. They don’t create anything new, or try to become something different than what they are. Their genetic make-up, their hormones, are determining their every move, every decision that they make.
Katy Sims walked bast the three freshmen at that moment, on the arm of Jason Smith. They all stopped talking and gaped, stupidly, as their own hormones took control for a time. She floated past them in her tightly fitting blue jean shorts and lace edged, white, t-shirt, her strawberry blonde hair glowing in the mid-day sunshine like the halo around an angel.
Eric didn’t miss a note, but switched to a low, slow, blues progression.
Neither Katy, nor Jason, appeared to notice the three boys sitting on the steps in front of the schools theater. They walked past and around the corner to the stairs that would lead to the theater’s back stage entrance; where it was secluded and private.
"That guy is huge," Kyle said when he came to himself again, "It’s too bad he got kicked off the football team, he was half the front line; and aggressive, too."
"You mean, too aggressive, Kyle." Gary put in. "You can’t be on a team if you’re fighting with the other players all the time, and the coaches too. He’s just too hot headed."
Eric went back to flat picking, but in a minor key, as Kyle launched back in, expounding on his previous comment. "Talk about killer robots. When that guy gets mad, it’s like he’s been programmed to kill; there’s no stopping him. I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side."
They could hear noises from the two around the corner; though their conversation wasn’t loud enough to hear, clearly, the tone of their voices said that they were arguing.
"I don’t know why she stays with him," Gary said, looking in the direction of the increasingly louder interchange, "she could have any guy in the school. Shoot, she could have me!" He finished with an exclamation, as if suddenly solving a great mystery. He looked around at his friends for support, but Eric was laughing and Kyle was staring at his sandwich again.
Kyle spoke without moving his eyes from the sandwich, "Katy was my best friend in 2nd grade, you know. We spent every recess together on the jungle gym. It was our space ship and we were going to the moon. She wanted to be an astronaut, back then. She’s smart enough; she could be one if she still wants to."
"No! I don’t want to right now!" They heard Katy shout, clearly not remembering that the three boys were sitting with in hearing distance, or not caring. They couldn’t understand Jason’s response; hearing only a grumbling murmur.
Eric shifted back to the blues progression, but interspersing it with riffs in a minor key. Gary looked at Kyle with an embarrassed smile, apparently thrilled by the overheard drama, but Kyle just shot back with a withering glare. Gary’s smile disappeared completely, just moments later, when the volume and intensity of the argument increased.
"No!" Katy was screaming now, and crying too. "Don’t touch me. I hate you." Eric stopped playing and all three boys looked in the direction of Katy’s louder and louder protestations. "I don’t ever want to see you again!" Katy shouted. She was crying loudly, when there was a sudden, sharp, pop; like the sound you hear when you're standing out in right field and the baseball hits the bat.
All three boys were on their feet and Eric and Kyle were headed for the back stairs. Gary stayed where he was and shouted at the other two boys," Hey! You can’t go back there; he’ll kill you too." But then he followed his friends around the corner, when they paid him no heed.
Kyle was the first around the corner to find Jason bending over the unmoving Katy laying supine at the top of the stairs. He could see her face, eyes closed, her mouth open, just slightly, like she was waiting for a kiss; her face seemed small and round framed by her short straight, strawberry blonde hair. She looked so much like the little girl he had known in second grade, when she had once fallen from the jungle gym and lay unmoving in the sand below; without thinking he shouted, "Katy, are you ok?"
Surprised to find that he and Katy were no longer alone, Jason turned and half stood, "Get out of here! Can’t you see we’re making out?" There was hate, anger and something else in his dangerous look; was it guilt? When the three just stood there dumbfounded, Jason got fully to his feet. "Didn’t you hear me? I said get out of here or I’ll beat the crap out of each one of you!"
"OK, Jason. Take it easy, we’re leaving. We didn’t see nothing." Eric said, backing away, trying to pacify this angry bull of a giant youth. Jason stopped advancing toward them as the three boys backed out of the passage that lead to the stairs.
Instead of returning to their previous spot on the steps in front of the theater, they continued walking across the quad toward the administration building.
"We need to tell someone. Katy could really be hurt," Kyle said, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning to look back toward the side of the theater where he could still picture Katy laying unconscious at the top of the stairs.
"Yeah, and then he’ll come and kill us, too. This isn’t a huge high school. It won’t be hard for him to figure out who ratted on him, and then find us. I mean, he only lives a few streets away from me, and he used to deliver our newspaper." Gary was starting to sound panicked, fear pulling down the corners of his mouth and making his eyes water.
They were still looking in the direction of the theater when the bell rang. Lunch was over. "We need to decide quickly what we’re going to do," Eric was saying when they saw the couple emerge into the quad. Jason towered above her as she leaned into his body, under his right arm, her left arm around his waist. The left side of her face was against his chest, and she stared blankly at the ground as they moved across the quad. His right arm supported her under her right shoulder, at times it appeared as if he was carrying her, or dragging her along, instead of her bearing her own weight.
Jason glared at the three friends as the couple climbed the steps out of the sunken quad; not headed to the classrooms, but out to the student parking lot.
"We’re robots," Eric said as they turned to head toward their next classes, "we’re all just robots."

The Robot Band
By Mick Bordet

My best friend, Sam, is rich. Filthy, stinking, obscenely rich. Not just merely lottery or pop star rich, but owns-a-Carribbean-island rich. He's also thick as several extremely short planks, but that has never held him back. You see, Sam is a natural risk-taker, a guy who knows when to get in to something new and, more importantly, when to get out. He left school at sixteen, worked in a shop for about six months until it went belly-up and he was paid off. That minor windfall he invested in shares, whilst he looked for something else to do, and was the point at which his winning streak began. The shares were for a small company called Microsoft and within a few short years, Sam had taken those profits and re-invested them again and again, always picking winners. From early mobile phone companies to Google and MySpace, he always invested so early in their lives that the rewards from share growth were substantial.

You might ask me, "how has the money changed him?" and I would have to say that it hasn't. Much smaller amounts have changed many a life over the years, sometimes for the better, often for the worst, but not Sam. He still meets us every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night down at our local pub, the Pumpkin and Poodle, where the four of us old school friends have congregated since our youth. In fact, he's the only one who has never missed a single night; the rest of us have had various interruptions along the way -- we didn't see Joe for months at a time whilst he was away at university some years back, Fred often heads away on the United supporters bus on various trips into Europe to follow his team and I've missed the occasional night for the odd family crisis. I think the four of us and his mother are the only people who know just how wealthy Sam really is, so down-to-earth is his manner. Our evenings range from straightforward pub talk with dwindling coherence over the course of the evening, to quiz nights where Sam is more of a liability than anything else.

If it's a night when one or more of us are away, we'll often decant early to one of our homes and sit up into the wee small hours listening to music or playing cards or board games. Game choices can be tricky; Sam is lucky to reach a double-figure score in Scrabble, but wipes the floor with the rest of us when playing Monopoly. Buying and selling just comes naturally to him, though little else does. As for music, Joe has been trying to educate Sam in the delights of opera, which he enjoys when he hears it, but would never buy for himself. I'm more into rock, myself, but Sam can't get his head around my musical taste at all, preferring the most insipid, watered-down, mass-market music that advertising can buy.

"Why don't you like this group?" he often asks me.

"Because what you call 'the music' is repetitive, the lyrics don't tell any sort of story apart from 'I wanna jump your bones' and it sounds like everything else in the charts," is my usual answer.

"They're really hot girls, though, and the video is clever, too."

"Sam, they're 'hot' because they are covered in layers of make-up, are filmed from just the right angle and are gyrating in such a manner that your brain isn't exactly focused on what they actually look like. I'm sure they're all pimples and stretch marks under all that; you'd probably look that good with the right stylist."
"Okay then," he would add, "but they're good dancers and they've got good singing voices."

That would normally be enough to tip me over the edge.

"First of all, I can't see them dancing on the CD, so they could be prima ballerinas for all that matters. As for their singing, their voices have been processed by so many fancy studio effects that they all sound just the same as every other girl band out there. I bet they can't even sing in tune; that's easily fixed with fancy gadgets nowadays. I'd rather go and see a band of robots perform than waste good money on these girl and boy bands. There would certainly be more emotion in their voices. Sam, you really need to stop listening to what they tell you on the radio or, better still, find a channel with some decent music."

For somebody with such a head for business decisions, he has almost no imagination, knowledge or common sense and yet it's hard to stay annoyed with him for long; he's such a naturally fun person to be around. The one concession to a billionaire lifestyle is that paradise island in the Carribbean; it is truly stunning, with an unassuming wooden home built on top of the rocky hill in the middle of the island, providing spectacular views over the deep green forests, golden beaches and sparkling blue ocean beyond. It has a private airstrip where he lands his jet, but he only goes there for weekends; he's always back in time for our Monday night pub session.

Birthdays are different. His in-built intuition has come up with a winning formula for letting him spoil his friends without letting us turn into jerks. He will happily buy us the most extravagant of gifts, year after year, but always with one proviso. When we have finished with whatever the gift may be, we have to sell it for charity; we are not allowed to make any profit from it. Last year he bought me a stunning black Lambourghini sports car. Totally impractical for a family man with no garage who lives in a normal suburban town, but that's the sort of thing he comes up with. He wants us to have fun, to benefit from his wealth, but couldn't bear us changing. So, after a couple of weeks driving the thing out in the countryside and along the motorway in the middle of the night, before the local vandals had a chance to wreck their own brand of havock on the car, I put it up for auction and gave the money to a local charity as an anonymous donation.

Last week was my fiftieth birthday and Sam's present seemed particularly thoughtful. He had booked the local theatre, a small venue at the end of the high street, and invited the three of us and our families. We sat expectantly for twenty minutes, chatting away and enjoying the champagne he had laid on for everyone, until the lights dimmed and the curtain rose. A solitary figure sat on a stool in the middle of the stage, holding a guitar and surrounded by a bewildering array of gadgets. He started to play, occasionally tapping foot pedals to change effect or start an echoing loop of sound.

"It's Fripp!" I whispered to Sam, "How the hell did you get him to come here?"

I have no idea what it must have cost him to hire the King Crimson guitar legend for a private show, though I knew that money was no object as far as his friends were concerned. Sam just smiled back and said "Enjoy the show."

The show continued for about fifteen minutes like this, Fripp building up a dense wall of intense music that raced around the auditorium, before letting it fade slowly away. Even the people around me who I knew didn't listen to progressive rock were clearly impressed, applauding the small figure on stage. He didn't stop. Over the fading echoes he started to play a clear melody, a riff, a tune that triggered memory: "All along the watchtower". Before the first instrumental verse had ended, another figure shambled onto the stage to join Fripp.

"No way! You got Dylan, too! This is awesome!" I said, almost dancing in my seat.

Perhaps the mix of these two very different musicians, the intense, technical guitar player and the croaky, folky troubadour, should not have worked, but on this night it was perfect. It only got better. As the song ended and they started the next piece, lights to the left of the stage gradually illuminated to reveal a bank of keyboards, played by former Zappa band member Bobby Martin. Another song passed and a curtain to the back of the stage lifted, revealing a small set of percussion that was being played gently by a heavily-beared man sitting in a wheelchair who also started to sing delicately wistful backing melodies to accompany Dylan's nasal lead vocal.
I didn't need to say anything to Sam; the grin spread across my face as I pointed to the stage and mouthed the words "Robert Wyatt!"

The band was complete with the final addition of another vocalist, replacing Dylan who moved over to play acoustic guitar. The tight jeans and wild hair were an instant giveaway, although no surprise given the calibre of talent already on stage: Robert Plant.

Only then did the penny drop. My wonderful friend who had arranged this show, this once-in-a-lifetime event that would stay with me for ever, had not picked and paid for this collection of musicians for their talent or the fact that I had a great deal of respect for all of them. He had simply misinterpreted my desire. I turned and looked him in the eye, laughed and said, "Roberts, they are all Roberts!