The Automated Man


When I was younger, the idea of having a computerized house was an attractive one. This should be concerning, considering most of my ideas of a “smart house” came from the movie Demon Seed. Thankfully, there were more optimistic shows and movies about computers with artificial intelligence to offset that, even though they weren’t specifically about houses.

Home automation actually started back in the mid-1970s or so. The X10 system allowed one to plug lamps and things into special outlets and control them with a remote control. By the 1980s, you could even use a computer, like an Apple ][ or PC, to control lights and things.

Nowadays, it’s a lot more popular. I guess we can thank an on-line book store for making it popular by using Alexa. Google and Apple have also entered the fray. Hopefully, this is something that will continue to grow and get more useful.

When I bought my house, I had dreams of fully automating everything. I wanted ‘smart’ lights, so I could just tell Siri to turn lights on and off. I wanted ‘smart’ window shades so I could have my computer open and close blinds. Both of these things were really driven by having the birds. I like to open the shades for them during the day, and have a light on for them at night, until it’s bed time. And, really, can I be bothered be open and close blinds or flick light switches? No, I think not.

Another item high on my list was a ‘smart’ doorbell. The idea of knowing when a delivery had been made, or if random people were dropping by while I was at work seemed enticing. Also, during the winter, having a ‘smart’ light bulb by the door would have been great, when it was pitch dark when I got home from work.

I did get the lights and doorbell at the same time. Then the pandemic hit, and I ended up working from home full time. So, not quite as necessary, but still nice to have. Oddly enough, I don’t get visitors coming around during the day. Also, by some quirk of magic, my doorbell only ever notifies me of when I go in front of it. At no time has my doorbell snapped a picture of a pizza delivery person, UPS person, FedEx person, USPS person, exterminator, or Amazon person. But if I run out to the car, or to feed the cats, or look to see the rain come down, I get a notification that I’ve gone in and out of the house.

The ‘smart’ blinds, though, will have to wait a while. For starters, they’re stupidly expensive, even for my level of laziness. Also, there aren’t very many options for use with Apple’s HomeKit, which is my preferred Household Overlord.

One thing I found annoying is, since I wake up early in the morning when it’s dark, the only lights near the kitchen are super bright so being able to see to get my coffee always required going blind for a few seconds. So I picked up a smart outlet and a strip of smart LED lights. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I can say, “Hey, Siri: Good morning.” Then the LED lights up gracefully and dimly and the coffee pot turns on. It’s kind of stupid, but I love it. I also have a lamp and fan set up in the office so I can just tell Siri to turn them on and off, even if I’m on the other side of the house.

I haven’t tried turning things on and off if I haven’t been home. I have no idea if that works or not. I hope it does, as it will cut down on the amount of panic moments I have, wondering if I left something on or not.

I’m not done yet, either. Some things I would like to get in the coming future: smart locks, smart ceiling fans, and smart thermostats. I reckon most of those are self-explanatory. I have some issues with smart locks, though. Like, it’s hard for me to just use the deadbolt and not the lock on the door knob. I’m not even sure why, because I think the deadbolt would be harder to breach than a lock on a doorknob.

Another thing I would be interested in, and it sounds pretty stupid, is an oven range. Something will send me an alert when it’s done pre-heating. Or let me see if the burners are on. Or send me an alert if I forget to turn off the oven. Even better, one with a built-in meat thermometer that will continue to work for years on end.

If I could think of even one good reason to have a smart refrigerator, I’d get one of those, too. But I really can’t think of one.

Oh, one of them smart faucets might be handy. Being able to tell a faucet to fill a container with two cups of water, or to turn it on and off when my hands are encased in the worst bread dough known to humans.

Hell, just being able to say what I want out loud and have it get done would be pretty nifty. I mean, I’d like a smart home like S.A.R.A.H. from the tv show Eureka, but I’d be okay with something a little less.

In The Mystery


Tuesday is trash day. It’s the day when I yank out the garbage bag from the kitchen bin, bring it out to the big trash can outside, and then roll that thing all the way to the road where, at some point during the day, garbage collectors will come by and empty out my can.

But that’s not the interesting part. No, the interesting part is that the kitchen bin will not be filled up with enough garbage to take out again until Saturday. And then, somehow, I have to empty out the kitchen bin on Tuesday again. Somehow I generate more garbage from Saturday to Tuesday than I do from Tuesday to Saturday. Figure that one out.

Back in the old days, when I lived in an apartment. I bought a set of Pyrex food containers. I liked them and used them a lot. Sometimes I would use them to store food in the refrigerator, other times I would use them for food prep. Mix up some herbs and spices in a small container. Chop up some vegetables and put them in a medium sized container. See, each sized container had a color coded lid and that made things easier. I always knew which lid went to which container, just in case I became size-challenged and couldn’t figure it out that way. Life was good.

Sort of like these

And then I moved. I had two containers that used the blue lid, see. And then I moved and, while I had both containers, I somehow lost track of where the other blue lid was. For almost a year I dealt with it. I used the lidded one to store food, and used the one without a lid to temporarily hold things or heat things up covered by tin foil. Eventually, it dawned on me how often I used that particular sized container and not having both lids made me very sad.

So, almost a year later, I bought more containers with lids. I figured if I went that long with only one blue lid, I could live a great deal better if I had a couple more containers of that size with lids and one without. That worked great for about a week. Now I have four blue containers and two blue lids. I have no idea where I lost another lid.

To make matters worse, I now have more red, green, and orange lids than I do containers. I did manage to find some of the containers in the dish washer, which I use so rarely it doesn’t even occur to me to check it. Even still, I have more lids than containers. And, of course, since they’re color coded to size I can’t fit my surplus lids over the two blue containers that need them.

Maybe I could paint them blue? I see no reason why that wouldn’t work.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you like to warm things up in your microwave. Maybe you put a bowl of soup or spaghetti sauce in there. And, because you know the way microwave ovens work, you know that in order for it not to be cold, it must be hot enough to melt lead. That will make it boil, which will splatter the inside of the microwave with whatever you have in the bowl and be hard to clean. So, you try to be smart and take a sheet of paper towel and drape it over the bowl. You enter the time, press start, and watch as mystical winds are raised inside the microwave causing the paper towel to shift. One corner dips into your soup/sauce and starts soaking it up. The other side of the paper towel raises up and lets molten hot whatever splatter everywhere. And you do this every time, despite knowing that the result will always be the same.

So I bought one of these babies. It’s plastic dome that fits over the turning plate thing and keeps your super heated spaghetti sauce contained. I can’t believe it took me this long to get one. It’s changed my life forever. At least, in as far as it comes to re-heating liquids and semi-liquids in the microwave.

A Gift From The Gods

My Crock Pot gave up a while back. I told my mom and she said she had a spare one I could have. When I went there and picked it up, she also gave me a small food processor. And a large food processor. Today I decided to make dinner that required quite a lot of shredded cabbage. I didn’t feel like buying five bags of coleslaw mix, so I bought a head of cabbage. I sure didn’t feel like shredding the cabbage by slicing it up and figured it was a good time to unpack the giant food processor.

I cut the cabbage into quarters and then put the slicing disk in, and then put the cover on. Then I gave it that little twist that locks everything into place and allows you to have a spinning blade of death. I put a cabbage wedge in the big opening and pressed the Pulse button. Nothing happened.

It turns out, you are required to use the plastic thing that presses the food-to-be-processed down into the bowl. I was a little annoyed by this, but I jammed in the top, pressed down, pressed Pulse, and it was gone.

I mean, the cabbage. It was just… gone. In it’s place was a bunch of shredded green stuff. But, wow, it took no time at all. If I didn’t have to stop and empty out the shredded cabbage and then put everything back together again, it would have taken less than ten seconds to slice half a head of cabbage.

So, thinking back, I’m rather glad that the presser part is a requirement. Without out, I’d probably be missing a few fingers.

I have a glass measuring cup. I also have a plastic one. Since I’ve moved in, I used the plastic measuring cup exactly once. I have no idea where it is. Not a clue. I would like to find it.

Oddly enough, everything here is related to kitchen stuff.

The Start of 2021


It’s not 2020

You might be wondering why I didn’t start the year by making a post in January with a list of New Year’s resolutions. It’s because I don’t believe in making them. They tend to be broken within the first month. Then you spend the rest of the year feeling bad for not sticking to them

Instead, I’d rather make a list of things I’d like to accomplish over the year. This way, I have all year to not get things done and, at worst, have a day to feel bad about it before the next year starts. So, let’s see what we can come up with.

Now, I could make a list of these things I would like to get done and show it to all of you, but then the six people that read this would probably give me a hard time about me not caring enough about certain things and caring too much about other things that don’t matter. And who wants to deal with that?

Instead, I think it’ll be far more fun (and easier) for me to just mention the things that I have accomplished throughout the year. This way you’ll only ever see my successes and none of my failures. Yay, me!

For instance, when I first moved into Casa De Entropy, it was pitch dark by 5pm when I got home for work. I had to fish out the correct key to open the front door in the dark and that made my life difficult. I swore that I would buy “smart” lights that I could turn on using my phone. I also wanted one of those video doorbells so that I would know when a package was dropped off or if someone came by and rang the doorbell. Being at work, and not at home, this would have been a very good addition to my life.

I’m happy to report that after almost a year of working from home, I have finally gotten some smart lights and the video doorbell. I may not be getting as much use out of the light for the porch, but the doorbell is still handy because I always end up missing the UPS guy because I wear headphones for most of the time. Actually, the smart lights are still handy because I have them in the bird room and they’re set to the color red. This way I can see in the mornings when I change their water and food and don’t have to worry about blowing out anyone’s eyeballs with a bright white light.

The End Of 2020


So. It’s been a year, huh? I started this year having just moved into a house after living in an apartment for an eternity. I was enjoying the slightly less traffic to and from work. I was single, living alone, with no furniture. There wasn’t a global pandemic or, even, the thought that there was going to be one and that it was going to change the world in several ways.

What’s changed over the year? I work from home, now, so I deal with even less traffic going to and from work. This has its upsides, of course. Less wear and tear on the cars and saving quite a lot of money on gas. It also has its downsides. For instance, I see less people now than I ever have before. If it weren’t for the trips to the grocery store, I could almost believe that I was alone in the world. It also gives me less time to sit in traffic and think about things, which was a big crimp during this year’s NaNoWriMo.

I accomplished some things this year, though. Like, I’m not totally devoid of furniture. I did get my dining room table out of storage, and it has been a great help. Unfortunately, ten years in storage has not done it any favors and it is slowly falling apart. But I also managed to clear out both my storage units and closed those accounts. I had one for only a few months, while I had the other for ten years and rarely looked into it. Very few people know how much it bothered me, having that unit. It was a huge relief to finally get rid of everything in it and not have to worry about it, anymore.

Working from home has allowed me to make dinners that I would not usually make. Mostly because they use a slow cooker, and there was no way I could get myself to let a slow cooker run all day if I weren’t there. I have had some pretty spectacular foods and I genuinely feel bad for all the women who won’t go out with me, just because they missed out on some good eats. And I have missed out on having someone decorate the interior of my house.

A year ago I had planned on having a mostly smart home. Or, at least, a less stupid one. Smart thermostats, smart blinds, smart lights, and things like that. I have accomplished none of those. Not a one. I can, however, have Siri turn on and off my living room television, so that’s something. Maybe this year will be a smarter one.

I did get Cyberpunk 2077, a game that’s been in the works for, well, ever. This is a game that, if you want the maximum armor at any given time, will force you to dress yourself as if I dressed you. So I approve.

Snazzy!

Another thing of note, to me, is that after two years of being denigrated, the new Atari VCS was mailed off to the backers of the Indigogo campaign that made it possible.

The first new Atari designed hardware in 35 years?

Seeing what will happen in 2021 should be interesting. It’s not quite as neat a number as 2020, but maybe that’ll be for the better. Perhaps mankind will become infertile? Perhaps we’ll land a couple of men on Mars and have them disappear? Maybe we’ll discover Bulerite? Who knows? The year is wide open.

The Time I Nearly Died


I was washing the dishes while Zoey pecked at my hair and tried to measure the width of my nose with her beak when I was reminded (for no reason that I can fathom) of the time I nearly died. I think I’ve only ever told one person about this, and I’m not sure they believed it.

It happed long ago. I guess it was a hot day, or something, because I popped an ice cube into my mouth and then headed into the garage to play some games on either the Atari VCS or the ColecoVision (I don’t remember which). There was, I think, a short step down into the garage which I probably forgot about and stumbled. This caused the ice cube to slip down my throat.

The wrong Ice Cube
No, no, not this Ice Cube

I started gasping and choking, just trying to either get some air in past the ice cube or to cough it up. Neither was happening. I’d like to say that I saw my life (such as it was at the time) flash before my eyes, or realize how stupid it would be to die by ice cube, but I was really much more interested in trying to breath.

The actual murder weapon
The Murder Weapon

Luckily, the ice cube melted just enough to slip down the rest of my throat and I was able to gasp and wheeze, happily sucking in new air. The whole ordeal lasted just a few seconds, but it was a pretty scary few seconds.

It wasn’t until later that I realized how bizarre it would have been if it had killed me. The family would have found my dead body, asphyxiated, with no obvious cause. It would have been the mystery of the century. Unless it’s happened to other people; in that case, I’d just look like another person who choked on a cube of frozen water.

My dad was big on mysteries. Maybe he would have figured it out. He used to get me books with “One Minute Mysteries” in them. Short stories that were more interested in the how of people being murdered, rather than the why.

Now that I’ve thought about it for a few minutes, I guess if I had passed out due to lack of air, I would have fallen down and hit my head on something. They probably would have ruled the bonk on the noggin as cause of death, without looking any further. That would have been a bummer. For several reasons.

So, the next time you feel like chomping on an ice cube, remember this story. And beware! Or, at least, chisel a hole in the ice cube first.

NaNoWriMo 2020 Wrap Up


You’re probably wondering what happened since day 17. Nothing much, really. I just found myself writing late into the night and, by the time I was done, I was too tired to update the blog. Then it became a choice of writing in the blog or writing for the story. So the story won out.

I did not make it to fifty-thousand words. I ended up with 33,876 of them, though. Some days I just wasn’t feeling it, so only managed a hundred words or so. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. It’s like a paragraph.

I did, however, learn a few things. For instance, if I do this again next year, then I’ll probably do more planning. The parts that were easy to write were things that I thought a lot about while sitting in traffic. Once I got past that, things got more difficult because I didn’t have a solid plan. Most of what I write are short-short stories, and they just fly out of my head in one stream. That’s easy, because they’re short.

Longer things, for me, would benefit from a good thinking about what is going to happen.

Scrivener’s analysis
The NaNoWriMo Analysis

So how do I feel about failing miserably yet another year? Pretty good, actually. This time I didn’t ditch it halfway through. I wrote something every day, even if I didn’t like it or feel like it. The first time I did NaNo, I did “win” and the story was absolute garbage. This time, I feel like the concept has legs (so to speak). It won’t win any awards, but that’s all right. It’s barely a first draft.

Day 17: Bump In The Road (26,434/50,000)


It’s late so I have to hurry this up. Didn’t write much today, for various reasons. But at least I got something done. I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out how to wrap up the whole parasite thing and get back to the waking world.

The inside of the cabin was surprisingly nice. A table, a couple of comfy chairs in front of a lit fireplace, and rustic looking knick knacks adorned the place. He had to hand it to the nanites, they really knew how to decorate a place. He set Mr. Lamp down on one of the side tables and fell into one of the chairs. It was pretty comfortable, but he was too keyed up right now to fall asleep. He wondered how far along the nanites were in cleaning out his system. Or if they found a parasite. 

This definitely wasn’t the Earth he had left, so many years ago. At least, he was pretty sure there were no suicidal parasites living in apples. How would something like that even come about? Was it nature doing its thing? Was it a science experiment gone wrong? Larry didn’t think he’d ever find out the answer to that.

It also meant he couldn’t be as careless as he’d been. Even the nanites couldn’t protect him from everything, it seemed. This wasn’t his Earth, anymore, and there were probably a lot of dangers he didn’t know about. He didn’t really belong on Morto, with their odd way of living. Now it’s looking like Earth isn’t his place, either. Maybe he didn’t really belong anywhere. Except floating around in space by himself. 

But, he’d only been here a couple of days. He hit one snag, he probably shouldn’t be making judgments so quickly. He’d see how it went if he recovered from this current thing. 

Now he was getting bored, just sitting around looking at the fire and feeling sorry for himself. He looked around to see if there was anything he could do. Nope. Not a thing. This wintery cabin was too authentic. Larry pushed aside a curtain and looked out the window. There was a lot of snow out there. Nothing but snow as far as the eye could see. Except for that polar bear that was ambling around.

He watched it as it trundled towards the cabin. He could see it was wearing a yellow sun hat as it got closer. It got to the door of the cabin and knocked on the door. “Herroo neighbor, do you have a bowl of oatmeal I could borrow?”

“Well now this is just getting silly,” said Larry. He went over to the end table.

“Hey, Mr. Lamp?”

“Yes?”

“I think it found us again. There’s a stylish polar bear at the door.” 

“Already? All right. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Say, how far along are you with the poison and possible parasite thing?”

Mr. Lamp seemed to think a minute. “Well, we’re doing pretty well with the hallucinogen. We’re pretty sure there is a parasite and that it works with the fruit, somehow. There’s a squad digging through your brain right now, searching for it.”

“You could probably phrase things a little better. How long until I can go to sleep? I’m pretty bored.”

“Neighbor? Are you ignoring me?” Called the polar bear, still at the door.

“Also, it probably won’t be long before it realizes it can just bash the door down.”

“All right, hang on.”

They were on a tropical island. Palm trees waved in the slight breeze and the sound of the ocean lapping on the shore drifted over them.

“Well, this is nice,” said Larry.

“Thanks. Well, try and keep yourself occupied for a little while longer. Then, I think, we’ll be in a better place and you can get some sleep.”

“Is it safe to go swimming?”

“Um, sure. Should be. At least until the parasite shows up.”

Day 16: Halfway To Home (25,824/50,000)


This was a strange night. I actually fell asleep at the keyboard earlier. Then I woke up and figured I wouldn’t get any writing done because, obviously, I was very tired. Then I got up and moved around and sat down again and pounded out over two thousand words. Sadly, this does not get me caught up yet. Happily, it does mean I’ve passed the halfway mark.

Today’s entry is all about the mind, of which I’m fascinated by the idea of. I wish I had one. I’ve always like the idea of virtual reality being in the mind, where just about anything should be possible. Sort of like a Holodeck, but using way less power.

How can I not be caught up?
It’s nice to see a big upswing after a huge drop

Larry stared at the lamp. The lamp stared back. “Who are you?” Asked Larry.

“We are the nanites, Larry.”

“You’re the robots in my body?”

“Yes.”

“There’s only one of you,” he pointed out.

“We are a collective, Larry. Like a hive mind. The one speaks for the many.”

“Then why not just say ‘I’ instead of ‘we’, if you’re speaking for everyone?”

“You know what, Larry?” The lamp asked peevishly. “On a scale of one to catastrophic, what I call myself doesn’t even register.”

“Why do you look like a lamp?” 

“I don’t look like a lamp, I just remind you of a lamp you saw once. Look, it doesn’t matter what I look like. What matters is that you’re in trouble.”

Larry looked around again. “This is a dream, isn’t it? I’m dreaming this.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Yes, technically, you are dreaming. To be more specific, I’m using the virtual reality construct to talk to you directly. You remember the games you played on Morto, right? Well, it’s kind of like that.”

“All right. That makes sense, I guess. Why are you talking to me now? And why didn’t you before?”

The nanite representative took the equivalent of a deep breath. “There was never a need before. Also, normally we can’t. This is a special situation, though, which, while bad for all of us, does allow us to communicate this way.”

“Oh my God,” said Larry. “What’s going on?”

“Finally, he listens!” Crowed the representative. “Those fruits you’ve been eating, what you keep calling apples? They aren’t apples. They may be descended from them, but they aren’t. And they are very hallucinogenic.” 

“Okay, well, that sounds bad, but it doesn’t sound panic inducing bad,” said Larry.

“They’re also highly toxic. There may be a lot of us, but right now we’re stressed out with trying to keep your blood clean, your living from exploding, and stopping you from doing some really stupid things right now.”

“What do you mean ‘stopping me from doing stupid things’?”

“In the interest of self preservation,” explained the representative, “we can try and influence your actions a little bit. Like earlier, when you wanted to eat another not an apple and then felt like you shouldn’t.”

“Ah, I see. Like, creating a general bad feeling about doing something.”

“Yes, just like that. That was us, trying to minimize the damage.”

“So what stupid things am I trying to do?”

“Well, right now, you’re trying to get out of your dwelling and run around the forest. Earlier, you tried making out with one of your guns.”

“Oh. I see. Running around the forest doesn’t sound too bad, though.”

“Sure. Not until some wild animal, if there are any, takes you down. We’re not sure, but with the analysis we gained so far, the hallucinogen  in the fruit is meant to get you to get killed so your body will decompose and feed the seeds.”

“But I didn’t eat the seeds,” said Larry.

“It doesn’t know that. It’s a fruit.”

“Oh. Right. Okay, so, what do you want me to do?”

“I’m glad you asked. We need you to stay here, in the ‘mind realm.’”

Larry considered that. “That doesn’t seem so hard.”

“Yeah, you would think so. We need you to stay awake.”

“Again, that doesn’t seem too hard.”

“Larry, right now you’re high as a kite and tripping balls, bordering on an overdose. Your body is very stressed. You will get tired.”

“Understood. How does staying here help and not just being asleep?”

“The drug in the fruit makes you want to move around, mostly in a self-destructive way. As long as your consciousness is here, and awake, your body is easier to control. This means we can spend less resources keeping you still, and more resources filtering this crap out of your system. At least until we can get it down to manageable levels.”

“All right. I’ll do my best to stay awake, then.”

“Good man,” said the representative. “We’ll let you know when we think we’re passed the danger zone.”

The lamp went silent. Larry stood there. 

“Hey, robot guy?” He said after a few minutes.

“What?”

“If you want to stay awake, maybe you could make the scenery a little more interesting than just an empty black room?”

“Oh. Mental stimulus. Good idea.”

The room changed into a brightly lit house. Sunlight streamed in through windows.

“That’s better,” said Larry. “How about some furniture?”

“Really? Fine. Just don’t get comfortable!”

The house filled with furniture.

“Thanks. Okay, I’ll try and keep myself occupied or a while.”

The lamp looking representative was incorporated into the scene, sitting on an end table. Larry amused himself by exploring the house, which looked like your basic 1960’s cookie cutter suburban home. He checked out the upstairs, poking his head into the bedrooms. The master bedroom had a bathroom attached to it. It seemed a lot nicer than his apartment in the city and he was impressed with the robot’s furnishing. He wondered, if he ever settled down and got a house or whatever, if he could convince the nanites to influence his decorating. Seeing the bathroom, he also wondered how the little robots were filtering out the poisons in his body.

He went back downstairs. 

“Hey, Mr. Lamp?”

“Mr. Lamp? Really?”

“Well, I have to call you something. And you look like a lamp, so…” he trailed off.

“I do not look like a — oh, whatever. What do you want?”

“When you said you were filtering the poison out of my body, how does that work?”

“Why are you asking?” Asked Lamp.

“Do you send it out through, I don’t know, sweat glands? Tear ducts? Or will I just be peeing myself all night?”

“Ah. Sweat glands. Totally all sweat glands.”

“Oh, that’s good. Thanks,” said Larry.

He meandered into the kitchen. It looked nice. There was a small, lemon colored table and chairs next to a large window. He sat down and looked out. It looked like there were neighboring houses on three sides of him. He wondered how extensive the nanite’s work went. Should he go out exploring and looking into other houses? He decided against it, just in case it took their minds off doing more important stuff. On a whim, though, he opened the refrigerator to see if there was anything in there. There wasn’t. Likewise, the cabinets were bare.

Well, he couldn’t really blame them. Fake food wasn’t going to be helpful, and he was only here for a few hours. It’s not like he’d be spending weeks.

Then the doorbell rang.

Larry wasn’t expecting anyone, that’s for sure. He wondered if he should just ignore it.

It rang again. Curious, Larry walked through the living room to the front door and opened it.

A woman stood on the front stoop. Tall, with long black hair that really stood out against the bright red form fitting dress she was wearing.

“Um, hello?” Said Larry.

“Hello neighbor,” purred the woman. “I was wondering if you might have a cup of sugar I can borrow?” She smiled and waved a measuring cup under his nose.

“Uh, I’m afraid I’m a little short, right now.”

“Oh, what a shame,” she said, pouting. “You’re not going to leave me out here, on the stoop, are you?”

“Oh! No, of course not. Please, come in.”

The woman slinked past him and into the living room.

“My, what a nice place you have here.” She looked around the living room.

“Thank you,” said Larry. He wasn’t sure what else to say. He wasn’t sure who this woman was, or why she was even here, cups of sugar not withstanding. He wondered if this was part of Mr. Lamp’s plan to keep him awake. It must be, right? Keep his mind stimulated and all that. He felt pretty stimulated, so it was, in his opinion, a pretty good plan.

“My name is Larry, uh, Miss?”

“Oh, call me Ida, honey.” She sat down on the couch, leaning back and spreading her arms across the back. “Why don’t you come and have a sit down? This couch is very comfortable.”

Larry went over to the couch and sat down next to Ida. “It is comfortable,” he said.

“Very,” agreed Ida. “And relaxing, isn’t it?”

Larry had never known any kind of furniture to be relaxing, but he was willing to agree with this woman. “It sure is.”

“So, how long have you lived here, Larry?”

“Oh, not long. Not even long enough to get groceries.”

“I’m new, too. Say, why don’t you move a bit closer?”

Larry edged closer to Ida. He felt warmth coming from her body, and there was a pleasant aroma that hovered around her.

“It’s why I don’t have sugar, you see,” mumbled Larry.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve got plenty of sugar,” purred Ida. She dropped an arm around his shoulder. “Why don’t you lean your head against my shoulder, dear? This couch is so comfy, I bet someone could sleep all night on it and feel all refreshed the next morning.”

“You think so? My friend, Mr. Lamp, recommended it.”

“He seems a mighty fine friend,” she whispered into his ear. “So, so, comfy.”

Larry could feel his eyelids drooping. Ida was so nice and the couch was really comfortable. Surely he could close his eyes, just for a moment. 

And Ida sure felt comfortable, too.

Just close eyes for a minute.

“Larry!” A voice yelled out.

“Huh? What?”

“What are you doing, Larry? You’re supposed to be staying awake.”

Larry opened his eyes. His head was in Ida’s lap. He tried to get up, but she pushed him back down again. “Go back to sleep, dear,” she said, with an edge in her voice.

“Don’t listen to her, Larry! Get your ass up and moving.”

Ida swept her right arm out and knocked Mr. Lamp to the floor. “Shut up, you,” she growled.

Larry was instantly awake and jumped up.

“What the Hell’s going on?” He said.

“She’s the part of your brain that’s tripping balls,” said Lamp. “Don’t listen to her!”

“Is that true?” He asked, realizing it was a supremely stupid thing to say. Why would Lamp lie? Why would Ida tell the truth?

“Oh, no, baby, I just want to make sure you’re well rested for tomorrow,” her voice going back into a purr.

“She’s lying!” Cried Lamp.

Larry ran to the side of the couch and picked up Lamp. 

“Okay, so what do I do? Ask her to leave?”

“Sure, Larry. Ask the nice homicidal lady to leave. That should work out.”

“Sarcasm is big in the future, I see,” said Larry. 

“Damn it,” said Ida. “Look, you can’t stay awake forever. If I can’t tire you out one way, I’ll try another way.”

“Hold on, Larry,” said Lamp. 

“To what?”

Then the house was gone. So was Ida. He was standing in the snow outside of a cabin.

“What? Where are we now?”

“I just changed the scene. It should take a while for the rest of your brain to catch up to what’s going on.”

“What is going on?”

“Okay, so, the poison is in your brain and is trying it’s best to get you to sleep so it can have better control over your body. As long as your conscious, your body won’t do very much. Once you fall asleep, you’re giving up control to the subconscious. Once that happens, it’s free to do whatever it wants, which is to kill you so your body will fertilize the seeds.”

“That seems, I don’t know, kind of complicated for an apple.”

“It is,” agreed Lamp. “This is a very sophisticated poison. We haven’t encountered anything like it, that we know of. Without the Hub, it’s hard to tell. It’s almost as if there’s a parasitic aspect that we missed.”

“So, what can we do?”

“We keep going with the original plan for now. But we’ll look through the brain to see if there’s a parasitic element involved.”

“That sounds good. Hey, Lamp?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks for working to save my life. I appreciate it.”

“Hey, no problem, man. It’s our job; it’s what we do.”

“And Lamp?”

“Yes?”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Oh, we’re just pulling vocabulary from your speech center. We want to make sure we’re communicating as clear as possible right now.”

“Ah. Cool. Okay.”

“Why don’t you go inside the cabin, there. We should have some time before your brain figures out what’s going on and where we are. Just remember to stay awake. And don’t open the door to strangers.”

“I’ll take that advice to heart,” said Larry, opening the door to the cabin and stepping inside.

Day 15: Closing The Gap (23,695/50,000)


So close, but it’s ten o’clock and I need to go to bed. So it ends here. I’m still behind, but not by much. If I were in the mood to do some math, I’d figure out exactly how far behind I am. The bar graph looks good, though, so that’s what I’ll go by.

Ooooooh, so close

Anyway, I had no idea what I was going to write today, so I just winged it. I hope it’s readable. Near the end I got an idea for where to go, but I left questions open that I have no idea how to answer. That should be fun.

There was a strange sound in the middle of the night. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Larry lay still in his cot and listened. He was fairly sure nothing would be able to get through the tent, which was less a tent and more like an on-demand building. He thought he’d look out the window and try and see what was making the noise. That’s when he realized there were no windows. One day, he would figure out what the future had against seeing outside of things.

He thought about going outside and taking a look around but then decided that leaving the safety of the tent would be stupid. Instead, he hunkered down in the cot and tried to go back to sleep. Eventually the noise went away and he was able to get back to sleep.

When he woke up again, it was morning. He touched the tent flap and the nanites separated the flap from the edge of the tent so he could open it up. He stepped out into bright golden sunlight, surrounded by trees. He felt pretty good, all in all. Going back into the tent, he pulled a container out of his pack. It contained one of the few food items he had the food maker gizmo make before he left: coffee beans. He opened the container and took a whiff of the contents. It sure smelled like real beans and, he guessed, they were real beans. Just manufactured. Which kind of meant they weren’t real. But they seemed real, and if they were put together molecule by molecule the same way a real coffee bean was made, then that should make it real. Before his head started hurting, he fished out an expanding container from the pack.

He took it out of the tent and went looking for some water. He was hoping to find a small stream or something, so he could collect some water. He was looking forward to making real (or as real as he could get) coffee over a fire. He wandered about without success. He thought he’d try concentrating on water and seeing if the nanites could come up with anything.

He found a fallen log and sat on it. He tried to clear his mind and concentrate only on water. After a short time he thought he heard the sound of a running stream. He turned his head until he figured the direction it was coming from. He was pleased that the nanites were still able to get stuff done, even without the Hub. Although, maybe it was less about the nanites and more about him just sitting still for a few minutes.

Larry opened his eyes. Something was on his knee, looking at him. Whatever it was, it had a lot of legs. Startled, Larry brushed it off his leg and saw it go flying onto the ground, where it scuttled away under a pile of dead leaves. He checked to make sure nothing else was sitting on him and checked the seals between his boots and trousers and gloves and sleeves. After that, he had a good shiver that shook his entire body.

When that was out of the way, he picked up his expandable bucket and trod off in the direction of the water he heard. It turned out to be a small stream of water pouring out from the side of a hill. He put the container under it until it was full. Then he sealed it and headed back to his camp, heady in anticipation of having a good cup of coffee.

Walking back into camp, he fetched the coffee beans. He figured the flat side of his vibrating knife would work for grinding the beans, and he didn’t want the added bulk of a grinder for a one time affair. He laid the beans on piece of cloth that was draped onto a mostly flat rock. He folded the fabric up and placed the side of the blade on them. Then he clicked on the vibration. A few seconds later, he had some nicely ground coffee. He went back into the tent to look for the coffee pot. He stopped in his tracks. The coffee pot he hadn’t thought to bring. 

Larry slapped his forehead. How could he be so stupid! He had everything else! Except for sugar. And milk. But, other than that, he had everything he needed for coffee except a coffee pot. He went out and sat back down on the log. Then he looked at the container of water. He hoped it was heat resistant. He started up the fire, tossed the ground up beans into the water, and put the container on the fire.

While the water heated up, he looked around. He couldn’t see any evidence that buildings had bee here. There were no walls or foundations, visible. But would they be, after a couple thousand years later? It was probably possible that it was covered up by ground and vegetation. 

He looked at his coffee and was happy to see that the bottom had not melted out. He figured it was just about to boil, so he took it off the flame. He was about to fetch a mug and then remembered he didn’t have one of those, either. The container wasn’t hot, which was a technology he would’ve loved in his own time, so he waited a bit for the coffee to cool and then drank it right out of the container. It was an all right cup (so to speak) of Joe, but not really what he had his heart set on. 

He grabbed his pack from the tent and started the de-construction process and then popped things into the bag. It took a while for the tent to break down so he spent that time just being quiet and enjoying the scenery. He poured the remainder of his coffee onto the fire and made sure it was out, collapsed the container, and slipped it into the pack, also. 

When the tent finished packing, he slid the rectangle into the pack, too. Then he sat on the log and wished he knew something about trees and plants. Especially because he was going to be pretty hungry soon. He would probably have to forage for more leaves and berries, although he’d try and stay away from the same kind that he had gotten last night. He was surprised, and pleasantly so, that the nanites had done their job and that he was still alive this morning and not dead from poisoning. He didn’t even get so much as the trots out of it.

He walked southwards picking various things from various plants and eating them. Most of them tasted bad, in one way or another. Eventually, the forest thinned out a bit and he found himself walking across a field. He stopped about midway and looked around. He was, he knew, a city boy, but he was pretty sure there should be some kind of wildlife about. He didn’t remember seeing any birds. Aside from the weird noises during the night, he hadn’t really heard anything. He was pretty sure that was wrong.

He saw a tree, standing by itself, a bit up the way so he started towards it. When he got closer, he could see that there was fruit hanging from the branches. Getting closer, he saw the fruit looked a bit like an apple. They were red with bits of green. He plucked one, and it came off the branch easily. He assumed that meant that it was ripe enough. He took a bite and found that it did taste a little like an apple. He’d consider this a win and took a few more to put in his pack. 

He kept going until field gave way to more forest. He was feeling pretty good about things and decided he’d go ahead and set up camp. Close enough to the forest to grab sticks and twigs for a fire, but without the canopy of leaves blocking his view of the sky at night. He took the tent rectangle out of the pack and started it building. He collected some big rocks and formed a circle and then put in kindling. Lighting it up, he found the flames dazzling. The way it leapt around, the red and orange and yellow colors blending into itself.

He sat on the ground and pulled another apple out of his pack. He wasn’t feeling all that hungry, but he really wanted to eat it before he went to bed. At the same time, he didn’t want to eat it. Larry thought that was strange, so he bit into it and started eating. As the sun went down and the sky darkened, the stars began to emerge. Finally, he could see patterns that he recognized. A thousand years or two might be significant for humanity, but the cosmos didn’t give a fig about it. 

Larry finished the apple and tossed the core out into the field. He watched the stars dance around for a while, although he didn’t remember them doing that back in the old days. He stood up and walked into the tent. He made sure the door sealed behind him. For some reason, he felt like he should be super sure it was sealed, so he checked it again. It was, he found, sealed up quite tight. He stumbled over to the cot and lay down on it. He still felt really good, although maybe a little light headed. The colors in the tent started to swirl around, which he thought looked kind of pretty. He closed his eyes and still saw the colors swirling around. He didn’t remember this happening last night. There was probably a reason for that, but he couldn’t think of what it might be. 

He fell asleep.

Larry was standing in dark room. He didn’t know how he got there, or where he was. He remembered falling asleep and then he was here. There were no furnishings, except an odd looking lamp in the center of the room. The lamp wasn’t lit, yet there seemed to be plenty of light to see by. He walked around the room looking for a door, but couldn’t find anything. Larry was stumped.

He took a closer look at the lamp. He didn’t actually see a light bulb, but it had that futuristic type design of the future, well, now his present, that he wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a light bulb, that it just emitted light from some kind of future type something or other that he wouldn’t understand. He touched it, wondering if it would light up but it didn’t. 

“Turn on,” he said to it.

It didn’t turn on.

He stepped back, considering.

“Are you through?” Asked the lamp. “I hope you are, because we have a situation brewing and you ain’t helping, buddy.”

Day 14: Playing Catsup (21,870/50,000)


I wrote almost two thousand words tonight. That sounds great, but after three days of less than the minimum typing, I’m still a tiny bit behind. I went from being on track to finish on November 28th to finishing on December 2nd. Those bad days really add up.

But I am a trooper, and I am keeping on troopering. Because that’s what I do. Never say die, never give up, never… well, you get the idea.

I’d like to take a moment to thank all the folks who are keeping track of this and, presumably, reading it. Your encouragement keeps me going and is very appreciated. I have to stress, though, that this is a hastily written first draft.

As they approached Earth, Larry kept his eyes glued to the view screen, looking for the distinctive shape of the North American continent. He never did see it, though, because they came in from night side of the planet. He used the view screen because this ship, also, did not have windows. Larry thought windows would be possible without comprising the integrity of the ship, but it turned out they just didn’t think of it. It was like when you started flying and wanted to be on the window seat so you could see the little ant people and cloud castles. After flying a few hundred times you just didn’t give a shit, anymore. 

When they were in orbit, he made sure all the things he wanted to take were printed out. Needler gun, plasma bolt rifle, super-heated vibrating knife, and other assorted items in a backpack. He also printed out clothes, one set, at least, had the chameleon like ability to change color and pattern depending on what he was standing around. It was also puncture resistant. 

He grabbed the pack and walked out into the hallway. Then he walked back inside the room and took another look around, making sure he had everything. Then he walked back out into the hallway. He walked towards the shuttle bay. He saw Beppo, another member of the crew. 

Beppo waved enthusiastically. “Hello, Larry Hunter! Have you got everything you need?”

“I think so,” said Larry. “The pack seems a bit light, and I’m still worried about the food situation.”

“The nanites in your body will take care of anything you eat. You will be safe from poisons and most radiation. They’ll also break down things that you normally wouldn’t eat, so you should get some nutrition from most things. Although, you may have to eat more than usual to ensure you get enough.”

“So, I can eat twigs and rocks and stuff?”

“You could,” said Beppo, “but I would try to leave that as a last resort. Try and stick to fruits, berries, green leaves, and things like that. Oh, you can hunt for meat, I guess.”

“That’s not my thing. I’m more than happy to eat meat, but I don’t want to know where it comes from. Listen, I’m going to drop this stuff off in the shuttle, then I’ll head to the bridge for the farewells.”

“Okay,” said Beppo. “I’ll see you up there.”

Larry headed over to the shuttle bay and walked over to the vehicle that would deliver him to the Earth’s surface. It was shaped like a saucer. He tossed his pack into the shuttle and went on his way to the bridge.

When he got there, Glimram, Sliwal, and Beppo were already there, planning their route for laying down Hub repeaters. He listened for a few minutes, but didn’t understand anything they were talking about. Maybe it would be a good thing to get back to nature, he thought. He wasn’t sure what he could contribute to the future, although it didn’t seem to matter much to anyone what he did. Just the same, he would like to do something meaningful. 

That always seemed to be his lot in life. He worked a variety of low level jobs, just getting along the best he could, but he never made a difference in anyone’s life. It would be fair to acknowledge that other people had made an impact on his life, helping him out when he needed it. The job of being launched to another planet, taking a risk of death, was his idea of doing something useful. If it was useful. He never really found an answer for that. But, he wasn’t first there, anyway. It was just another thing he failed at. Not that he had any say in how that turned out. Still, it was disappointing. Maybe that was why it was so important to go back to Earth. If nothing else, he could tell people he made it there and back again. Not that anyone currently alive would give a flip. But, for him, it would complete things.

“Hey, folks, just gonna say my last goodbyes before I head down into the unknown. Thanks for the lift, I appreciate it.”

Glimram gave him a small bow. “It was our pleasure to help out. Remember to activate your beacon, and if we’ll come look for you when we’re done with this.”

Sliwal gave him a brief hug. “I hope you find what you’re looking for down there,” she said.

“Good luck down there,” said Beppo, giving Larry a hearty slap on the back. “You know how to operate the shuttle, right?”

“Yep. No problem, there. I’ll see you all on the flip side.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s… never mind, it’s a long story. And I’m not sure about it, myself.”

Larry climbed into the shuttle, shut the door, and sat in the pilot’s seat. He looked behind him and made sure his pack was there. There was no reason why it shouldn’t be, but he felt he had to check, anyway. He sat there for a second and then said, “Computer, take me down to the pre-arranged coordinates.”

Lights in shuttle lit up and the vessel rose up and then shot out through the shuttle bay doors. Look at me, Larry thought. I’ve been in the future for a few months and I’m already piloting space ships. It would be something to tell the grandkids, except he knew that he never had them. Never had kids, either. He wouldn’t even be able to look up records to see what happened to his family because he never had one. 

There was a lack of lights on the night side of Earth, and Larry took that as a sign that the place was, indeed, a wild place. Unless all the inhabitants had picked up the good sense to sleep at night. He didn’t think that was likely.

The shuttle flew into the day side and he could see North America in all it’s glory. It was very green. Well, green except for the desert parts. Those still existed, it seemed. Again, unless Earthlings had given in and really took nature conservation seriously, it was another sign that either everyone had left, or they had gone back to nature in a big way. The only thing marring the green were large black circles. He didn’t know what those were, or what they even could be.

Lower, the shuttle flew, and Larry lost sight of the black marks. Now he looked on as the shuttle flew over a forest, looking for an empty space to set down in. Larry wasn’t sure what to expect. He thought he had the right coordinates for his city, but he wasn’t sure if it would still be there. He thought it should be; after all, ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Mayans still had standing buildings in his time, surely some building could still be up? Unless they were torn down, which is something that happened with frequency. 

A blank spot of land was located and the shuttle set down gracefully. Larry fastened his holster, swung the rifle onto his back, grabbed his pack and walked out of the shuttle. Then he stuck his head back into the shuttle to make sure he had everything. Which he did. He left the shuttle again and gave it the traditional two taps to let it know it could take off.

By his reckoning, he landed a bit north of where the city is or was, so he started hiking south. Again, he was amazed at how light his pack was, despite being loaded with stuff. It should take no time at all to get to where he thought he was going and look for remnants of civilization.

By the third hour he was cursing the weight of his pack. He felt like he was hauling the Earth across the face of the Earth. He was getting hungry and decided it might be time to stop for lunch. He looked around for trees with fruit, hoping he’d recognize an apple tree. Then he wondered if apples were in season, because he honestly had no idea how all that worked. His only experience with agriculture was picking fruit from the stands outside of the grocery store. He had hoped to see some dilapidated stores with Twinkies on the shelf, but so far that was a hunger fantasy that didn’t seem like it was going to come true. He would keep on moving while wishing he had his food making thing from Morto.

He walked, on and off, for the most part of the day. The forest was a pleasant place, but it wasn’t easy to see things that he was looking for. If it wasn’t for the nanites, he would have been quite sure he had walked past where he wanted to go. According to his head, though, he still had a while to go. It was getting dark, though, so he thought it would be a good time to forage and then set up the tent for the night.

Stopping at a good looking clearing, he took the tent out of the pack. The tent was the heaviest thing in there, but it was a marvel of technology. It started as a small package but then grew into a large sized living space in the latter of an hour or two. So he set it down and started it growing while he wandered around looking for stuff that looked vaguely edible. For instance, he found a plant with red berries, which he was absolutely sure were poisonous. Then he picked some greens which were almost certainly poison ivy or poison oak. 

He had known kids who were in the Scouts. They would talk about going camping in the woods and living off the land and learning how to light fires and pick mushrooms. As a city kid, a street kid, no less, he didn’t see the attraction. Now he was wishing he had paid more attention. He also wished he had downloaded this information from the Hub when he had a chance, rather than focusing on learning various martial arts. Which, he admitted, were a lot cooler to learn but not so handy when you were hungry.

When he got back to the tent, which had expanded nicely, he set his bounty on a plate and went to start a fire. Thankfully, he had thought to make a D-Wave lighter. He set up a ring of rocks, dropped some dried branches and leaves in it, and then set fire to it with the lighter. He sat on a folding camp chair and picked up his plate and looked at it.

It looked deadly, in the dark and firelight. But he picked up some berries and started to chew on them. They tasted awful. As did the leaves. Right away his stomach started to rumble. On a molecular level, the nanites in his body had flagged his dinner as “Things Not To Eat” and he felt miserable. He was trusting those little guys to keep him alive through the night.

When the fire had died down a bit, he went into the tent and was pleased to see that it had a bed already set up. If it had a commode with a hole digging drill, that would have been even better, but that would have added extra bulk and weight. He set the outside color of the tent to ‘camouflage’ and flopped onto the bed.