Tuesday, September 30, 2014

That Day in Math Class

One day in high school - or perhaps it was junior high - during one of those rare moments when the teacher was out and we were free to talk, my friend Keith engaged me in conversation. He talked for a few minutes and I listened and nodded, and then I turned away, thinking of other things.

"Earl," Keith said. "EARL."

Startled, I returned my gaze to Keith.

"I wasn't finished talking."

I blushed beet red, as was my wont in those adolescent days, and nigh unto now I feel bad that I wasn't giving Keith the undivided attention he deserved. He usually had something intelligent and interesting to say, so the fault was entirely mine. I can't explain this bout of uncharacteristic rudeness, and it haunts me still. 

7 comments:

"Jeff Of The Beholder" said...

Miserable Tutorbot lay rigstrapped into a rumbleseat in the back of the Ministry repair van, which when the lead tachnician and his two helpers were loaded into the cockpit, took off in a graceful arc, presumably headed for Tannhauser Gate. Tutorbot was still quite warm to the touch: not many minsecs previously did he autocombust from an involuntary overload condition brought about by one of his students. The overload consumed his head within a wreath of green fire, among other things, and caused the repair department to issue an immedevac on his corpus. The children were left to themselves, instantly devolving from learn mode into exactly the shrieking, hollering, self-absorbed madadpative primates the Edusystem was designed to prevent.

In the noisy gloom of the holdall module of the truck, Tutorbot by turning his headmount to its gimbal extents could precieve that he was not alone in the van. He recognized the ancient form of a Malakarabot likewise strapped into the other rumbleseat. Malakara being in the long-dead language of Sanskrit the word for "gardener" placed the boxy old Malakarabot from beyond the previous millenium, back when legions of robots used to tend the massive public gardens that once populated the cityscape like emerald jewels. This particular unit held a jewel-like blossom clipped from a lotus plant in its upturned scarred metallic grip. The Malakarabot's rollertreads were jammed by the placement of a heavy lead crystal bottle from Junmai Daiginjo sake, obviously the work of detructive drunken hooligans intent on sabotaging the old robot's work. Very wealthy hooligans, Tutorbot surmised, based on the absurdly high value of the empty sabot.

The Malakarabots were a much rarer commodity this day now that public gardens were replaced by ubiquitous Johnny Foam outlets. Some Malakarabots are rumoured to be so old and so used to the ways of tending to both plants and humans that they have discovered a new plane of existance, something domestic and peaceful yet indescribably past their own programming: a social awareness and responsibility akin to the cultivation of society. Tutorbot suspected that this Malakarabot may be such an electroenlightened one.

As if it knew it was being watched, the Malakarabot by employing the very most minimum of inspark self-activated and itself regarded Tutorbot.

Tutorbot, deeply moved by the other's calm and ancient contemplation, asked the Malakarabot: "Can you heal my soul?"

The Malakarabot replied, "Produce it, and I will pacify it."

Tutorbot searched through his BIOS. "That is my trouble. I cannot find it."

The Malakarabot said, "Your wish is granted."

Tutorbot understood, and for the first time in random access memory felt at peace.

"Jeff Of The Beholder" (a) said...

Over time, Tannhauser Gate drew closer, but practically imperceptably.

"I have time to tell you story," said the Malakarabot, "But then I will have to leave you."

"Certainly," replied Tutorbot, who above all loved stories.
"Eight hundred years before the Q'in Unification, the Emperor decreed the Year of Promotion. Life, as you know, must progress, and the old must make way for the new. The Emperor knew this as well as the lowliest of his footservants. The Year of Promotion was the time set aside to deal with renewal: so the footservant aspired to become an official, so to the officials desired rank, and the ranked grew to command. The promotions flowed throughout the Empire in a progression as satisfying as it was orderly.

At the end remained the promotion of the Emperor's highest generals, four men and women who had served the Empire with the very highest distinction. These servants, at the top of all the commands, would be retired so that new people could be promoted into their position. Retirees, by tradition as a reward, were allowed to ask anything of the Emperor that they desired.

The General of the North was shown to the Imperial Throne, upon which sat the Emperor himself, as beautiful and as terrifying as a thunderstorm that rained molten lava. At the Emperor's foot sat his scribe, who dutifully and silently penned all that was said into official record, appropriately cowed by the magnificent presence of his master.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. I have through my entire career headed your armies, and with them I have conquered many lands in your name. My wish is to have total command over all Imperial armed forces so that I may continue my work. I will leave my mark as the greatest warrior of all time, and my monuments will forever remind the world of the power of the Empire.

- So shall it be. I hereby appoint you Generalissimo to the Empire. All armed forces from the greenest soldier to the highest of generals will bow to your command. You will forever be acclaimed as our mightiest warrior!

"Jeff Of The Beholder" (b) said...

The General of the North, now Generalissimo, was shown out of the Imperial chamber, and was replaced by the General of the South.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. My entire life has been at sea, marshalling your fleets. I desire most to control all of the shipping so that I may benefit from all of the trade money. I will use the money to build an immense pleasure palace and I will spend all of my remaining days there reaping the rewards of my labour. No other people will know such bounties as have been collected by me.

- So shall it be. I hereby appoint you Grand Admiral to the Empire. All shipping will pay their trade into your coffers, and you shall become the wealthiest person in recorded history!

The General of the South, now Grand Admiral, was shown out of the Imperial chamber, and was replaced by the General of the East.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. I have considered this moment ever since I have entered your service. I wish to be at the head of all developments to do with air and space. True, the nations that existed before the Empire did travel to the Moon and into orbit around the planet. And equally true did they lose that knowledge. The Empire has been rebuilding that technology and will soon seek to surpass the milestones of those intrepid travellers. I foresee that the development of new Imperial technologies should lie in the exploration of aerospace, and I wish to be in charge of that domain.

- So shall it be. I hereby appoint you Chief Vizier, and you will have at your disposal all of our libraries, schools, laboratories, observatories, and universities. You will set the course for the entire research effort of the Empire, and in time, you will set foot on other planets circling around the alien stars!

The General of the East, now Chief Vizier, was shown out of the Imperial chamber, and was replaced by the General of the West.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. I have done all that you have asked of me, and my life has been full. I have seen many wonders of the Empire wherever I have travelled in your name. I have no further desire, save to to remain your loyal servant, and if it pleases you, that I be your scribe.

"Jeff Of The Beholder" (b) said...

The General of the North, now Generalissimo, was shown out of the Imperial chamber, and was replaced by the General of the South.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. My entire life has been at sea, marshalling your fleets. I desire most to control all of the shipping so that I may benefit from all of the trade money. I will use the money to build an immense pleasure palace and I will spend all of my remaining days there reaping the rewards of my labour. No other people will know such bounties as have been collected by me.

- So shall it be. I hereby appoint you Grand Admiral to the Empire. All shipping will pay their trade into your coffers, and you shall become the wealthiest person in recorded history!

The General of the South, now Grand Admiral, was shown out of the Imperial chamber, and was replaced by the General of the East.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. I have considered this moment ever since I have entered your service. I wish to be at the head of all developments to do with air and space. True, the nations that existed before the Empire did travel to the Moon and into orbit around the planet. And equally true did they lose that knowledge. The Empire has been rebuilding that technology and will soon seek to surpass the milestones of those intrepid travellers. I foresee that the development of new Imperial technologies should lie in the exploration of aerospace, and I wish to be in charge of that domain.

- So shall it be. I hereby appoint you Chief Vizier, and you will have at your disposal all of our libraries, schools, laboratories, observatories, and universities. You will set the course for the entire research effort of the Empire, and in time, you will set foot on other planets circling around the alien stars!

The General of the East, now Chief Vizier, was shown out of the Imperial chamber, and was replaced by the General of the West.

- Upon your retirement, my good and faithful General, you may ask me for anything you desire, and I shall use my power to grant that wish.

- Very well, my Lord. I have done all that you have asked of me, and my life has been full. I have seen many wonders of the Empire wherever I have travelled in your name. I have no further desire, save to to remain your loyal servant, and if it pleases you, that I be your scribe.

"Jeff Of The Beholder" (c) said...

At this, the scribe looked up from his writing, the look of wonderment on his face replaced instantly with shock. The Emperor leaped to his feet, brandishing his golden fire scimitar. His armor flashed bolts of lightning wherever it clashed. His eyes blazed like hot coals, and his aspect was terrifying as a nightmare.

- I am your Emperor! There is no request that you may ask for that is outside of my power to grant! I shall give to you the boons I have given to the other three generals: behold!

And before the fourth general, the Emperor arrayed all at his command. The armies stretched back in formation for two thousand miles, their exactly synchronized motion of coming to attention a massive stamp and clash. All of the ships formed squadrons that ranged to the horizon and beyond, their sailyards scraping the clouds while their anchors dredged up lifeforms from the very bottom of the ocean bed. Airships and aircraft thundered overhead in a cloud so thick they blotted out the sun. The other three retired generals were marched back into the chamber and forced to lay prostrate at the head of the assembled forces.

- All of these are yours, cried the Emperor, - I will command it, so shall you but say the word.

- No my Lord. You are generous, but I will not accept. I will merely plant myself here at your foot, so that I may remain like a seed that grows into a tree in the shelter of your majesty.

The throne room filled with laughter. Not from the mighty Emperor, though, but from the puny scribe.

- My good friend, I see you cannot be deceived, said the scribe. - You perceive now that this giant puppet, this mannequin that sits upon the throne is but a mechanical figurehead, albeit one fashioned to be most imposing. I have sat at its foot for eight hundred years now, ruling our Empire in quietude while it barked out the orders in commands of flames and storms. Quite neccessary, I suppose, until all our people are like you, my friend, who sees all and knows all but no longer clings to the needs of the self. Very well, the "Emperor" needs another scribe. You shall sit at its right foot and I shall sit at its left. When we have visitors, we will play our parts in the universal scheme, pretending to be base servants, but when we are alone, we can enjoy each other's company and revel in the quiet grandeur of the nothingness of our rank, our non-being within the world of ennoblement."

"Jeff Of The Beholder" (d) said...

At this point, the story finished, and as he predicted, the old Malakarabot made ready to leave Tutorbot: the starboard intake of the flying truck had ingested a Canada goose, and the turbine had exploded. The crew ejected safely, but the truck and its robots were hurtling to the ground below.

"I quote," said the Malakarabot, "'Peace is at the heart of all because Avalokiteshvara-Kwan Yin, the mighty Bodhisattva, Boundless Love, includes, regards, and dwells within (without exception) every sentient being. The perfection of the delicate wings of an insect, broken in the passage of time he regards - and he himself is both their perfection and their disintegration. The perennial agony of man, self-torturing, deluded, tangled in his own net of his own tenuous delirium, frustrated, yet having within himself, undiscovered, absolutely unutilized, the secret of release: this too he regards - and is.' Joseph Camp -"

But at this moment, the out-of-control repair van smashed into the metal spire of a signalboost relay tower. The vehicle then tumbled through the roof of a nearby automated box-spring manufacturing plant.

The truck was obliterated.

The Malakarabot was thrown by miracle into a storehouse of box springs and was thus by their reactive energy catapulted into the cosmos, still clutching the precious lotus bloom he held protected in his garden claw. Serenely regarding his companion the flower, he continued to drift through space for as many generations as it took for his society to discover and utilize faster-than-light travel and eventually catch up to him (if only by sheer coincidence). When that faraway time arrived, many things had changed but the cycle of the Universe remained constant.

The Tutorbot was crushed by the violence of the implosion into an unrecognizeable wreck. His slimdrive hung on to his cortical neural net by the frailest proton stream, but it was enough for him to endure until rescue arrived. That took only two thousand and fourteen years, give or take.

"Jeff Of The Beholder" (e) said...

Well nothing ruins a parable better than a computer glitch, which I guess is why the best tellers of parables did not use computers.

Blogger gave me a script error as I processed the (b) entry, and now I see it published that section twice.

Sorry!