the sun is an explosion bigger than the sky, hotter than fire, hotter than fusion, so intense, the vacuons, the building blocks of space itself, sizzle, almost as hot as hatred. it keeps exploding, over and over, popping . . . flaring . . . erupting . . . irradiatiating . . . giving all.
the heat blast travels 95 gigaflivv and cools 2.7 megadegrees before shining the faint memory of its rage on earth, which calls it day, and rolls out of bed every morning to shower in the bouillabaisse of electrons, protons, gamma rays, photons, subphotons, malalaons, nuons, phoneysoundingons, and myriad other electro-magneto-gravito-psychic particles and wave-particle fields.
the sun rises today, as usual, like a dropped sack of flour, only this time redder than normal. instantly all is rosy. ruby light bursts on the scene like an invasion of rouge nanobots, conquering every crevice.
inside a chamber of the magnificent dome, along a translucent wall, dried up corpses stand in the shadows of seven recessed stasis tubes. crimson caresses their shriveled skins. stark shadows accentuate every wrinkle. like petrified coyote carcasses, skinny, warped skeletons, blanketed in frozen mist.
three of the pods are human height; two are giants; and two are little. they stand calmly, except for one crouched down in an eternal battle with constipation. one of the giants has its arms up like frankenstein. a little one is on all fours, and the littlest is holding a daisy.
motionless as a family portrait.
the tubes are powered by a cable, which leads off to the side to a stationary bike, which is being pedaled by a robot with a roughly human, angular, chrome frame, and kind face. is body sparkles as pulses shoot through fiber optic veins, in time with the pumping of is legs. “litterbot 409” is engraved on is chest. e huffs and puffs. is metal feet slip on the pedals. is voice is constant in speed and tone, ***no litter detected . . . no dirt detected . . . no laundry detected.***
is search for waste(defined as that which does not maximize pus-potential usefulness to society) finds the nearest piece of refuse to be on the moon, but it's not worth the expenditure of resources to clean. ***as granpappy always says, “actionable domain = biosphere”.*** e laughs like a hillbilly. ***hur hur hur.***
***no foreign objects detected. . . no toxic substances detected . . . no dangerous lifeforms detected . . . ho hum.*** e sounds bored. ***searching for foldable clothing . . . searching for items to organize . . . objects found = 0 . . .*** is processors scan, prioritize, and schedule tasks at a rate of 10409 operations per day.
is eyes twinkle as e watches the red photons warm the seven pods. e also sees the offshoot radiation, invisible to humans, the subphotons, the paint splatter, bounce inside their freeze dried brains.
e looks for something useful to do. e can classify foreign objects as clean or dirty. e can dust the entire museum of future art in only 40 millidays. e can predict messes that are going to happen, up to 3 days into the future, but despite all this, most of the time e just follows the humans, and waits for them to spill something.
even then there isn't much to do, what with anti-gravity cups, and anti-matter floors. if something does humanage to get dirty, e has to get to it before the autolasers kick in.
***no malicious viruses detected . . . no flammable gases detected . . . no inflammable gases detected . . .***
the walls of the great mansion are clear. every room is visible. those more layers away are more cloudy. like memories through time or friends across distances.
***scanning for hostile enemy movements . . . none detected . . . scanning for insurgencies among the insect races . . . none detected . . . viruses mutating into diseasofacient forms . . . none detected. analyzing incoming cosmic radiation. . . no harmful radiation de---*** e stops.
is eyes widen 14% more than ever before. is body erects. ***error, error*** is pupils flash and e blinks thrice as is head rotates 360 degrees. the bits click and clack inside their bytes, like a domino avalanche. e announces with joy, ***level 4,514 error.*** e dismounts the bicycle faster than the eye can see. is legs straighten. wheels come out the bottoms of is feet, and e rolls around the floor. this is the most exciting thing to happen since “fluffy” turded the living room sofa 204 days ago. the minisquirrel was able to get into the house, because daughter named her, which raised er security clearance. ***deviation . . . radiation . . . incoming . . . solar . . . refracted wavelength . . . 4.29 percent . . . . . . DISCREPANCY . . . DISCREPANCY . . .priority level 4514. ALERT level 4514***
a warm and happy, motherly voice fills the room: ++ dialing . . . connecting.++
litterbot's nervous fingers tap is sculpted lips.
motherly: ++waiting for server . . . connecting . . .waiting . . . welcome to system. everyone is special, and you are special. how may i help you?++
***abnormal spectroscopy observations to report to the meteorological authorities.***
motherly's voice always sounds perfectly content. ++and what do you have to say for yourself?++
***4.29% shift^wavelength^refracted ambient light^biosphere. downloading.*** a cable connects is crotch to the console.
++your data has been received.++
he exhales relief.
++we are testing your data for accuracy. . . your data has been confirmed by independent observations at camera locations 8-5-12-12-15 1-14-4 23-5-12-3-15-13-5 20-15 23-15-14-4-5-18-6-21-12 23-15-18-12-4 15-6 19-5-3-18-5-20 13-5-19-19-1-7-5-19 8-9-4-4-5-14 9-14-19-9-4-5 14-21-13-2-5-18-19 9 8-15-16-5 25-15-21 5-14-10-15-25 this goes on for a bit and then 20-8-5-13 1-19 23-5-12-12 1-19 20-8-5 15-20-8-5-18 8-9-4-4-5-14 13-5-19-19-1-7-5-19 . . . we are testing your data against all known questions in all known subject areas. . . . . we are comparing your questions against all known answers in all known subject areas . . . in all known galaxies . . . adjusting for fractal magnifications of x10, x100, x1000 . . . . . <ding> your data has been successfully incorporated into the body of knowledge. . . .conclusion: we find this to be a significant discovery warranting further investigation. thank you for your level 3906 contribution to society.++
the red light continues to warm the mummies. the little one on all fours is dreaming of fire. its enveloping vapor vanishes, revealing skin like a raisin, on which beads of sweat form. its sunken face fills out, and swells, pressing out the wrinkles. the muscles grow. the cheeks become chubby. a 2 kiloday child hops out onto the floor. e has straight black hair, cut just above the ears, perfectly level all around, like a bowl. e declares to the world, “i want to be a nozzler!”
litterbot says, ***you're not expected to wake for another 4 centidays.***
bowl runs naked in circles.
***the food duodecahedron recommends eating a healthy breakfast.***
***then by all means nozzle.***
“hurray!” bowl runs to the side and disappears through an invisible portal ^^^^ where e is in the full uniform of a firefighter captain, at the top of a 200 story ladder, next to an old time concrete skyscraper, the top of which is a fireball. smoke and people's screams pour from the windows. teams on the ground work coordinated humaneuvers. water streams shoot from several angles, from nozzles without hoses.
bowl plays with the joystick that controls the ladder, swinging it around like an amusement ride.
the firefighter below im says, “captain, we need more water. can you spray this?”
bowl takes the nozzle from her, and with glee in is eyes, rains down on the sidewalk people, who laugh, but get back into character, and scream.
“captain, we need more water!” e glances at the guy next to her, as if saying, “is it just me, or is this kid acting funny?”
the guy says, “oh let im have is fun. he's only 2.”
bowl laughs and sprays.
a human in a window, breasts blowing in the wind, takes a break from screaming to lean on the sill, and watch im, and smile.
the flames shoot up in wave after wave, one behind the other, mesmerizing the child, sparkling reflections in is eyes.^^^^
the simulator can roast the building without consuming it indefinitely. the realization array monitors thoughts and generates the flames to pulse at a much slower but exactly resonant rate.
computer also takes thousands of physiological measurements for is medical file. among these is level of psychoautonomic excitement, which is 14% higher than normal.
bowl is only aware of a feeling of exhilaration and the thought that ##fire looks cool##.
the fog dissipates from another humannequin, one of the medium ones, revealing a necrotic and clammy face. color returns. is brain glows a little. is body warms and plumps and the glow brightens. an adult of prime age and condition comes alive, steps out, the top of is head shines like a lightbulb.
he looks at the big number glowing red in the middle of the opposite wall-- 11984903.1065. he stares to make sure e sees correctly. the last digit advances--11984903.1066. “what the hell am i doing up at 10 in the morning?” lightbulb scrunches is noble face. e paces. work isn't for another 12 centidays, is fourth specialty, bioelectric marine counseling. (psychological disorders were cured in land mammals, but some seals and lower vertebrates still have issues). e thinks, #it may not be terribly earthshaking, but it's good to keep busy.#
litterbot rolls up to im. ***would you like me to carry you to the breakfast table?***
“no thank you.”
“would you like me to transpond breakfast to your current location?”
“no thank you.” ##if only there was something important to work on.## “not likely in this dump.” e makes a funny face as he mocks, “all of society's needs have been met.”
motherly always sounds like she's at the highest level of enlightenment: ++ affirmative. needs level 1- met. needs level 2-met. needs level 3- met ...”
lightbulb dismisses: “yeah, yeah, yeah...
++<ding> target acquired. wooden chair requiring repair located at a distance of 597 flivvers, which matches your aptitudes and preferences. contribution score 5.++
“let the repairbots take care of it.”
++you said you wanted something to do.++
translucent shorts appear on im, doing nothing to hide is tan with blue fleurs-de-lis skin. e glances at the others, still asleep.
he stretches is genetically perfect body. the red morning light dances and refracts around and through the translucent chambers of the great hemispherical mansion. not only is e awake unusually early, but full of energy. “i can't believe i'm saying this . . .gallop.” sneakers materialize on is hands and feet, for the first time since second college.
litterbot: ***excuse me, doctor, but i've observed some interesting shifts in meteorocelestiophotoradiation.***
“yea. yeah. the sky is pretty.” e rubs is large and far apart eyes.
***actually what i meant was--***
lightbulb snaps. “don't you have something you could be cleaning?” e puts is handsneakers on the floor, holds a long downward stretch, then walks, on four legs, out the doorhole.
litterbot replies to imself, ***actually, no. . . . scanning . . . scanning . . . no dirt detected. . . . no trash detected. . . no chores detected . . . no laundry detected . . . all level 2 priority needs have been met . . . searching for level 3 priority needs . . . none found . . .*** this goes on for a while.
*** searching for level 2716, tasks of potential importance . . . accessing . . . analyzing . . . categorizing . . . integrating . . waiting for server . . . upgrading anti-virus software . . .loading . . . connected . . . begin anticipation routine. . . project out 10 millidays . . . 100 millidays . . . 1 day. . . expanding radius to 10 flivvers . . . 100 flivvers . . . 1 kiloflivv . . . probability spill/drop/collision within the next 3 days within a radius of 10 kflivvers = .000000000000000000000000000000000000004667 . . .*** is voice changes to cockney, ***not bloody likely.*** e decides this category is dry. #let potential usefulness to society(pus)level 4 = 0.# e looks at the family in hopes they might need help with something, but they don't.
#let level = level + 1# e moves along the heirarchy:
@@@ priority 1 = clean
@@@ priority 2 = love
@@@ priority 3 = contribute to society
@@@ priority 4 = help others
@@@ priority 5 = advance science
@@@ priority 6 = be nice
@@@ priority 7 = find possibilities.
is voice is back to its normal metallic emotionless self. ***level = 5, advance science. let goal = increase body of knowledge*** e spins and adjusts is upper torso. ***well, if you can't be useful, do research.” is eyes flash like a slot machine. ***sorting . . . top three questions in descending priority order:
q1 = why is the sky red?
q2 = what is causing the sky to be red?
q3 = what are the effects of the sky being red? . . . coordinating . . . *** an arm transforms forth a hand and fingers, which scratch is head as e thinks.
lightbulb gallops like a horse down a pretty pebbled pass over lush grass perfectly humanicured and arranged by nature. ##how many kilodays has it been since i've done this?## the thought passes with the trees, heavy with leaves. e sees a rosebush with buds bigger than is head, in snowflake shaped clusters. ##how beautiful! what variety! how rich!## e spots a mini-squirrel on a branch, munching a blue acorn twice is size. “cute little bastard.”
the motherly voice says in is ear: ++shall we distribute this picture to your friends within the seventh circle?++
he doesn't answer, but trots alongside a tall curved wooden wall with an intricate pattern of irregular ridges. it takes a full millid to complete one lap.
from somewhere an alarm sounds, and a voice announces, “clear the landing zone.”
he turns sharply, galloping away from the structure as fast as e can. at a good distance, it is recognizable as the trunk of a skyscraper tall tree. the branches rise above the clouds, and reach across the world. e keeps going until e crosses a red line on the ground, which indicates the safe zone. e stops to catch is breath. an explosion. a peach seven times is height lands right behind im.
back home, another mid-size humannequin rehydrates. e has a strong serious face, thin cheeks, and hair hanging like cooked spaghetti down to is knees, bright as fluorescent green glow long thins. e stands at attention and announces, “four bells for alcohol.”
one of the giants melts awake,“don't say that. do you want our children to become alcoholics?” e is normal height with very tall hair, like a big white cottonball. er body is one of nature's perfect shapes. er face has one wrinkle which adds to er distinguished beauty.
fluorescent says, “take it easy. it was just a joke.”
motherly: ++caution: alcohol has been determined to cause alcoholism. nonpotable. nonpotable.++
fluorescent: “they'll be alright. . . there hasn't been a case of alcoholism in megadays.” he has one robot arm. he could had as many reals arms as he wanted, but he chose a robot arm, just to me “more metal”.
cottonball: “no.” e sighs. “there haven't been any good diseases in a long time.”
fluorescent: “or physicians.”
“it looks so romantic in the movies. people reading magazines in in waiting rooms. taking bottles and bottles of pills.”
“you never see that nowadays.”
cottonball: “of course not. and if someone did get sick, they certainly wouldn't give them a pill.”
cottonball: “no, and if they did, you would only need one to be cured.”
“and if doctors did have offices, they certainly wouldn't have waiting rooms.”
fluorescent: “of course not. all appointments are kept on time.”
“there hasn't been a case of anything in megadays.”
motherly: ++10.055646 megadays.++
fluorescent: “thank you very much, smart ass. is there anything you don't know?”
motherly says with a completely straight face(even though technically e doesn't have one) ++there is an infinite amount of information not contained in my memory.++
lightbulb trots through a tunnel of abundant and magnificent cherry blossoms, which can only be described as a garden of eden. e stops to take a bite from a cherry wider than is shoulders.
in is ear, ++would you like to combine this food with a protein?++
he trots along the river, past a scene of mountains and waterfalls too breathtaking to believe. e jogs through an area with many great clear hemispheres of various diameters. some are attached to each other in clusters like soap bubbles. others are connected by clear tubes in snowflake patterns. one has a glowing red heart ornament on top.
people inside go about their business. some point to the sky. one building isn't see-through, nor spherical, but a marble cube with classical pillars, fancy carvings of gargoyles, and an actual long wide series of square steps leading to the entrance. obviously a museum of ancient something or other.
he goes through a peopled area. the connecting pathways are irregular shapes and of various materials like grass, pebbles, cobblestones, and wood chips. a large screen in public view projects the word “love” and animated gif of a puppy licking a kid's face.
the people are content. some walk. others sit in groups. a few look skyward. one points. a herd of foursjoggers. the female in the group wears handfootsneakers which give off a blinding hot pink iridescence(made from a material that contains millions of nanfusion reactions)like a welder's torch. four embers circle at the ends of er limbs.
every manner of craft flies in every direction. kids on hoverskateboards. people on hoverbicycles. a guy rides an old fashioned bicycle, leaving an indentation in the grass, which somehow heals up.
a bus with no driver, and in back people playing cards, glides toward an intersection of grass lanes, at odd angles like a tangle of strings. speeding towards the same junction is a single driver bubble car. the two vehicles head straight for each other. just as they are about to impact, they gracefully swerve without hesitation, and continue on their way.
#i'm tired of counseling a bunch of fish.# the thought pushes im to gallop faster. e slows. “they'll be alright. they just need to get over it.” e trots a little more. #i've got to get back into research. there has to be something mildly interesting someone hasn't discovered yet.# not noticing he's running faster than e ever has in is life.
cottonball: “look how red the sky is.”
fluorescent: “same as always.”
the giant with its arms out, the tallest, reliquifies. er excess height also comes from er hair, which is combed straight up like a troll doll, shocking blue. “oh poo on you.”
the room buzzes an ethereal, pleasant, gentle tone which seems to reverberate evenly throughout the home.
e spins. “it's the most beautiful thing i've ever seen.” er hair follows a beat behind, like a slow swinging waltz partner.
cottonball gazes through the wall. “look at it.”
fluorescent: “ooh. the sky is red. big deal.”
cottonball: “i don't know if i've ever seen it this red.”
fluorescent: “it's the same color it always has been and always will be. you childs are batty.”
a harsher, not as melodious, buzz comes from above. ++sexism protocol 1-9-2-0.++
fluorescent shakes is fist at the ceiling. “what i wouldn't give to strangle you, just once.”
it buzzes again, even more abrasively. ++threats of violence protocol 1-9-6-8. would you like some counseling now?++
“you ladies are batty. is that better?”
++the buzz is slightly softer, a little more harmonious.++
“you people are batty.”
++buzz is softer with fruity overtones.++
“you people see things from an alternate viewpoint.”
cottonball: “where did that outburst come from?”
troll laughs. “someone is feisty this morning.”
lightbulb passes a guy wearing nothing but a rusty chain coiled around is body with red plaid skin. a child wearing nothing but electric sparkles. a guy in a screensuit, playing the movie casablanca in black and white. a human with a beard in a long plain white robe. a guy in a toga with leaves around is head. someone dressed as a soldier from the nutcracker. several assorted buccaneers and pirate types. a lady in a pink top hat and tails. er skin is lime green with yellow sparkles. there is a group of short fat people with office chair wheels for legs, muggs.
an attractive child with long blue hair hoversurfs through the crowd gracefully, and is gone.
everyone seems happy.
he runs by a group of robots playing volleyball. the ball is a robot too.
a little child with a spinning chiming merry-go-round on er head, walks a robodog. the steampunk poodle drops a turd, which immediately sprouts into a tulip. “look how how fast i can spin, mommy.” e spins and spins into a blur.
“stop it. you'll throw yourself into a mischief.”
some are dressed in old fashioned clothes. there are suits, mini-skirts, leather jackets, clear plastic wrap, jeans, titanium plates. styles from every galaxy and time period.
the happy/healthy voice in is ear says, “excuse me doctor, but a child at a distance of 1400 kf needs some advice, and records indicate you have the highest matching scores on expertise, personality, proximity, and availability.
++redirecting to next available expert.++
he stops, out of breath. “that's it. i'm done.”
++congratulations. you have set a new personal record. nice job. you have exceeded your last performance by 9%.”
“9%! and i thought i was out of shape.” e rises to two legs, muscles well sweated. “clothes”. as e walks a mist wave cleans is body starting at the top of his head like a halo, and moving down. translucent flip-flops replace the foot sneakers. “hippy.” a peter max shirt, bead necklace, and killer goatee materialize on him. e says 'horseflops.' pants with clumsy oversize bellbottoms are on is legs.
“a personal record? are you sure?”
++did i stutter jackass? --- error++
“you're saying, of all the races i've ever run, of all the medals i've won, today's time was the fastest?”
++how many times would you like me to repeat myself? all time personal record all time personal record all time personal record all time personal record . . .++ it repeats over and over, faster and faster, becoming a high frequency whine, then beyond hearing.
lightbulb returns home to is breathtaking estate with expansive ornate gardens, and grand pillars encircling the pool.
the few objects inside the clear humansion with color stand out to the eye, like tropical fish in a bowl, such as troll's hair, and the voluptuous shiny robot two rooms back, hibernating next to the john lennon/imagine poster. e enters.
cottonball: “where have you been?”
cottonball: “at 11 in the morning?”
lightbulb: “you want to hear something really peculiar.”
cottonball: “please, there has already been enough excitement.”
“i set a personal record!”
fluorescent laughs in disdain.
lightbulb holds is belt buckle up for viewing. “see for yourself.”
fluorescent looks, but shakes is head: “that's not possible.”
lightbulb: “computer doesn't make mistakes.”
fluorescent cries: “but you haven't set foot nor palm on a track in kilodays.”
lightbulb: “well numbers don't lie.”
flourescent grabs a small fold of skin from lightbulb's perfect belly. “look how out of shape you are.”
lightbulb shows is buckle again.
fluorescent: “i know what it says.”
cottonball: “well why get upset about it? it's no skin off your appleorange.”
litterbot records their high level of agitation into the log he's been keeping of unusual event, which has been growing rapidly.
troll: “all this running is making me hungry.”
litterbot rolls up to er wearing a white chef hat, brandishing a spatula in one hand, and a large knife in the other: ***shall i make you a nice salade nicoise or would you prefer a bouillabaise al fresco byzantine?***
troll: “that's very kind of you, friend, but i prefer the homemade touch.” e presses er finger into mid-air, and a hemisphere of milk containing electron-o's appears in front of her. the psychedelic rainbow colored rings revolve around each other churning the milk to a rapid boil.
litterbot's cooking implements withdraw back into is frame.
##bouillabaise al fresco byzantine would have provided a 14% better nutritional match, especially considering er particular need for magnesium and l-tryptophan this morning.##
the littlest mummy awakes. e has a plush starburst of optic fibers radiating from er head, each with a pinpoint of light at the tip, which ripple in cornfield waves, every time e moves er head. “mommy!”
troll: “who wants breakfast?”
“where is son?”
++child1 is in simulator++ e goes over to the blank space. “hey you. . . hey you. . . hello. . .hello?” e long thin er head into the portal, where it disappears, and says, “breakfast”.
bowl comes out. “hey.”
“didn't you hear me calling you?”
“can i go bullfighting?”
fluorescent “have you lost your freaking mind?”
troll amused: “where did you ever get such an idea?”
bowl: “ancient civ.”
cottonball: “oh for heaven's sake.”
lightbulb: “that's why it's called ancient civ. no, of course you can't torment a living creature.”
cottonball turns to fluorescent: “and you, where did you learn language like that?”
“i don't know what got into me.”
starburst: “mommy, can i go bullfighting too?”
troll: “you children will be the death of me, i do declare. what has gotten into everyone today?”
litterbot activates. ***excuse me ma'am. i believe i can say something relevant. my bio-optical research has been yielding some fascinating results.*** from is heart projects a complicated animation in front of er, of rays hitting the earth, bouncing various ways, accompanied by charts dense with changing numbers.
fluorescent: “why don't you go away, and stop bothering people?”
the projection cuts off. e rolls away with is head down.
cottonball: “let's eat.”
the family sits in a circle, on invisible chairs, around an invisible table. their seven shades of butt long thin out through vinyloid swimsuits, except for lightbulb, who is dressed as a hippy.
fluorescent squeezes the clear plastic nozzle in is hand, spraying a stream of liquid toward bowl, then releases it to float up to the ceiling and disappear. “so what is everyone's goal for today?”
the colorless magic fluid swirls and bubbles in front of bowl in the shape of a cup, without a cup.
starburst: “to love.”
bowl: “to be happy.”
bowl pays no attention to is beverage as e chomps the first purple cube hovering before is chubby cheeks. the remaining line of bite size boxes advance toward is bronze lips like a caravan of lazy camels. “i'm getting close to finishing my masters in bioatmospheric recabobulational statistics in ancient civilizations.”
“very good son.”
starburst picks at the multicolor bouquet of protein-concentrate flowers floating in front of er golden face. “i'm working on my thesis in bio-electric and cellular neurology with a minor in knitting.”
“very good daughter. we are all very proud of you.”
troll notices the children's fidget as e breaks off a piece of er chocolate bunny with tentacle legs.
bowl still hasn't touched is drink. marbles of condensation roll down the outside, and collect in a flat pool on the table, which isn't there either, another invisible wave-particle field.
two rooms back, litterbot's metal slat arms fold so fast they are a whir, but only for a microday, then stop, silent, holding what appears to be nothing. e wheels backward, as is upper torso turns, toward the dresser, which is the only visible furniture in the chamber, and like everything else, clear plastic. next to it, a dorhumant female robot stands at attention. the only other color in the room is the single red sock, three drawers down, and the full wall john lennon/imagine poster.
litterbot notices the puddle under bowl's liquid grow to a median diameter of 10 milliflivv. he places 'nothing' with efficient motion, in the top drawer, on top of the stack, of 'nothing'.
the pool reaches critical diameter = 15 mf. litterbot stops folding invisiclothes and locks in on the target through two walls. the folding arms retract flush into is swiss army body. is two eyes, with 112 systems for detecting distant objects, determine the puddle's physical dimensions and chemical properties as e rolls around a large invisible object in the center of the room, and out along the minimal distance path. is robot/human voice says, ***liquid, non-hazardous . . . water, potable . . . recycling sequence 1-9-3-1, rings activate*** he touches is fists together as e rolls down the hall. loose yellow rubber glove wearing hands erector set out, one holding a spray bottle, the other a sponge.
e enters and rolls towards the spill. a tube sprouts like a fast growing vine racing to reach it first by snaking rudely across the table. it drags over troll, pulling er hair over, which springs back. e is miffed for just a moment. carrot helps it slip over is bald head. then it disturbs the big cottonball. finally it finds the flat fluid floating in front of frater, and sucks it up with a loud long slurp.
***directing to reserve tank . . . recycling protocol 1-9-7-2***
the tube retracts and litterbot bellies up to the table between bowl and lightbulb, and sprays a big cloud from is bottle, which invades the people and food. e wipes awkwardly. when finished, e holds the sponge up. it and the glove suck into is wrist, then pop out, clean. ***directing to recycle tank 7***
lightbulb snips at is son, “look at the mess you're making”.
the ceiling flashes orange and a gentle buzz vibrates everything for a moment. the calm cheerful motherly voice resonates throughout the room: ++parenting protocol 72.++
he softens. “we don't want to give litterbot too much work, do we?”
starburst: “but that's is job, daddy. teacher says workbots likes us to make messes.”
litterbot: ***my primary function is the location, classification, and recycling of litter. i am a litterary device. i am not capable of emotion.***
bowl: “do i have a primary function?”
troll: “your job is to experience joy.”
litterbot: ***i do not have a heart, therefore, it cannot be broken.***
cottonball: “how is your liquid protein concentrate, dear?”
carrot says, “it always tastes the same.”
litterbot: ***but it's nice to feel needed.*** e stands at attention behind the child, and goes into hibernation, dead as a statue.
cottonball eats blue glop with er hands.
fluorescent asks, “what are you doing?” as an arm length red and orange striped millipede crawls down is throat.
cottonball stops. “what?” blue drips from er chin and fingers.
fluorescent: “since when do you eat oatmeal without an invisistraw?”
cottonball: “oh foo. try something different for a change.” e splats it like a baby, just to irk im.
litterbot records their peculiar behavior into is report as e sucks up the little blue drips with his hose.
lightbulb sits with no food, watching the others. ##something weird is going on.##
finally the last sleeper wakes. is head is bald on top with bright carrot hair around the sides. e stretches is short fat body. then comes over to the table. “thanks for waiting, everybody.”
“did i miss anything?”
starburst: “the sky is red.”
fluorescent: “are we back on this again?” e says with all the snark e can muster into curling his lip and jutting his jaw, “i'm pretty sure the sky is blue.”
“what about sunset, daddy? the sky can be pink and purple.”
fluorescent: “that's different.”
cottonball raises er voice: “what color is the sky?”
motherly: ++wavelength 789.0989873135791 microflivvs++
they listen without judgment.
cottonball: “and is this normal?”
the beneficent speaker is silent for a moment. ++negative.++
troll gets in is face. “aha!”
fluorescent looks to the ceiling for acknowledgment of the offense, but there is none.
lightbulb: “now that you mention it. there was a moment yesterday i could've sworn it was yellow.”
++swearing, protocol 75++
fluorescent's voice cracks between a laugh and a cry. “yellow! the sky is blue for millions of days, and then one tuesday morning it decides, you know what, today i think i feel like being yellow.”
cottonball says a little louder, “question: was the sky yellow yesterday?”
the motherly voice throughout the room says, “yes.”
troll exclaims in fluorescent's face, “ha!” blushing er light cheeks. e punches im in the arm. “i told you!”
he shows is arm to the ceiling. “this is okay?”
++please refrain from violence.++
fluorescent: “how can it be yellow?”
motherly: ++a sinusoidal shift in the wavelength of celestial refracted light.++
fluorescent and lightbulb look at each other.
carrot: “well, i guess that settles that then, hmm?” e chuckles aristocratically.
starburst asks cottonball, “mommy, what does that mean?”
troll answers: “ask your father. he's the astrophysicobiologist.”
fluorescent: “please, astrophysicobiochemist, . . .but only on thursdays from 14 to 20.”
troll: “oh come on.”
they wait for an answer.
he speaks loud. “question: what does that mean?”
the big curved wall turns into a plane of illumination. ^^^^astronomy news is on: “it means the sky is red dumb ass.”^^^^
fluorescent slurps more yellow from is long and winding multicurlicuing transparent straw.
carrot: “it looks more orange to me.”
starburst plays with er invisible spoon. “blue with little bits of red in between.”
fluorescent's voice gets high/supersonic/disturbed. “my shoulder is blue with little bits of purple.”
the spoon gets away from her, and splatters carrot in the face with a rainbow of goo.
troll says to her, “you are so much like your father.”
carrot struggles with litterbot's hose, which is sucking his face clean: “no need to get insulting.”
troll: “i meant the biophysicist, not the biojournalis fit.”
carrot: “so did i.”
lightbulb: “well leave me out of it.”
cottonball: “you are out of it.”
bowl: “daddy is a journalist too.”
cottonball: “yes but musical anthropological journalism is completely different than crio-nano-journalism.”
fluorescent: “well folks, i'd love to engage in small talk all day, but i'm scheduled for psycon” e shifts nervously. “but frankly i don't feel like it.” e walks back and forth. “you know what? i feel like rockin.”
troll shakes er head: “oh no honey, no.”
motherly: ++did you mean this to be a nighttime activity?++
“no.” e grabs from an invisible drawer is tarbox, a musical instrument which looks like two guitars, a saxophone, and a keyboard mating. the intertwined pipes and keys wrap graceful around is hip, and over the opposite shoulder, like metallic snakes strangling im.
cottonball: “you're not serious.”
“when the rock train pulls into the station, baby, you gotta climb on board.” a phase screen floats around is left eye. is skin changes from ruddy to red and black checkerboard. “well i'm off.” e steps to the side, over a black strip on the floor, and presses a chest high invisible button. nothing happens. “damn invisible buttons.” e tries again, a little over to the left. a portal opens. from it comes the screams of a 50 megafan crowd. the roar is as uncontrollable as whitewater rapids. a chant builds, “me-tal! me-tal! me-tal!”
fluorescent says, “well, i'm off,” again. the family is unimpressed. e leaps into the portal. the scream volume surges. portal and all disappear in a blip. the only sound is carrot slurping soup.
litterbot notes the family spilling 7% more than usual. ##it feels good to be of service.##
starburst bounces in er seat. “let's watch daddy.”
troll pulls er hair and cries, “no. no. no. no. no. we are not going to do this.”
bowl joins in. “i want to watch too.”
++conflict has been resolved. resolution passes 2 to 1.++
little two dimensional glow screens float in front of the children's faces.
^^^^the announcer says, “every person is important, and you are important.” the harsh sound of infinite gravity metalurgic music explodes in everyone's ears.^^^^
troll shakes er face in er hands.
lightbulb: “oh come on, let's all watch.”
troll rolls er eyes. “you're just doing this to annoy me.”
the little screens go away.
lightbulb: “uh uh uh. that which annoys us, makes us more patient, principle 146.”
“i know what principle it is.”
cottonball raises er voice: “death metal channel.” nothing happens. “death metal channel.” nothing. e gets up, goes to the side of the room, pulls open an invisible drawer, takes out an 8-track player, sets it on top of the invisible dresser, and pushes a tape in.
the main wall lights up. the volume increases tenfold, like a punch to the head.
^^^^fluorescent is the star, center stage, the focus of 50,000,000 jumping humaniacs in the superduperdome. e screams is head off, in the discordant hypnotizing concert.and plays the most amazing tarbox solo ever, in the magnificent clear ornate crystalline palace, with seats in layer upon layer, 360 degrees around the stage, like facets in a geode of quartz.^^^^
troll: “what an ass.”
carrot: “e really is outdoing imself today.”
lightbulb: “you have to admit the skill level.” they weren't imagining it. e really was giving the best performance of is life, due to is abnormally high level of autonomic as well as parasympathetic excitement.
carrot: “you can watch me, too. if you like.”
starburst says, “the other daddy, daddy.”
e shrugs indifferently.
lightbulb chuckles, “i'm afraid a pulitzer prize is small beans compared to a rock star.”
carrot replies, “don't you want er to follow your footsteps as a marine psychologist? . . or what about as a chemicostatisticianary medical trombonist?”
“not til e's at least 2, and even then, i wouldn't wish that on anybody. listening to fish's problems all day long. you think people are boring.”
“it's still a noble profession.”
^^^^fluorescent screams, “death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal! death metal!” as e runs across the stage, then up the side of the wall like a fly, and onto the ceiling, where e sways back and forth, like a clump of grass in a windstorm.
the volume lowers, and a voice-over says, “and now a word from sponsor:”
different music comes on, soft, comforting. a sexy human pulls up on a hovermotobike. e says seductively, “the derivative of x to the y power is x plus y squared.” the written equation is superimposed over er as e speaks, in entertainingly designed, dancing letters and symbols.
another spot comes on. wacky music and kids acting crazy, mugging for the camera. one is upside down. e puts a piece of jewelry on is arm, where it long thins. then e pulls it off and puts it on is friends nose, where it long thins. e takes it off and puts it on a person's hand, who happens to be sideways for some reason. the announcer says, “collect them all. mix them and match them.” the camera pans out to reveal e has them, all different kinds, all over er body.^^^^
starburst says, “download.”
ten pieces of biomagnetic jewelry come out the shoot below, which e catches with both hands.
the harsh metal explodes back, then clicks off.
troll: “all right, that's enough classical music for now.” e changes it to the news at a nice quiet volume. ^^^^ “and now back to our top story. observations are coming in from all across the globe of strange colors in the atmosphere, some say it's rouge. others describe it as rose or crimson. ^^^^
troll glares victory at lightbulb.
^^^^. . . while a smaller group maintains the sky is perfectly normal.^^^^
e smiles back, dignity preserved. e clicks off the screen, and turns is back. well, i'd wager we have just witnessed the greatest news story of our lifetimes.”
troll: “i can top it.
everyone looks at er.
“i'm changing my first specialty.”
“i am serious.”
lightbulb: “but science needs you.”
“they'll be alright.”
cottonball: “but what about your big theory?”
troll scrinches er face. “it's bulltish.”
fluorescent who is riffing on the tarbox like crazy shakes is head. “i can't believe what i'm hearing.”
troll: “physics is a dead field.”
cottonball: “that's why the brightest minds go into art and psychology.”
carrot: “it's true. there are just no good questions left.” e gazes out into space as if searching for a final frontier.
lightbulb: “sorry. the body of knowledge is complete.” e yawns big.
litterbot rolls up: ***excuse me sir, but i happen to be working on a most interesting question with first and second degree implications for the fields of optics, astronomy, meteorology, and environmental science.***
lightbulb is intelligent, tall, perfect weight, respected, wise, good. “what are you blabbering about now?”
***the red phenomenon, it raises a host of questions. what underlying celestio-optic phenomenon are at co-variance and perhaps causatory? what adjacent astrophysical processes are involved? what possible effects could this have on the biosphere and ecosphere, not to mention energy distribution and radiofrequency computational arrays? in fact, the total net consequence as defined by delta total good/society/humanity, where potential^good - potential^evil is greater than 0.***
lightbulb: “oh pish posh.”
the screen comes on by itself. ^^^^“astro-opticians in the meteorophysics department are celebrating what is being hailed as the greatest scientific question since the guk. ” to er side is a roundframed video of cloud patterns, and another of people looking toward the heavens, pointing, and commenting. “and the question on everyone's lips: 'what is causing this unusual coloration in the sky?'”
the family is glued to the screen.
fluorescent slides across the stage on his knees and skates around on the frictionless invisible surface: “that's ridiculous.”
^^^^the anchor answers him: “read my lips, the great unification of knowledge has been breached.” e touches something on er dais, which gently lights the bottom of er palm. a chart of radiation wavelengths and tables of numbers appear. “we'll have more on this story as it develops.” e pauses like a printer without any jobs. ^^^^
lightbulb turns it off: “well whatever it is, i'm sure they'll figure it out.”
troll's invisible chair changes from upright to bean bag. e gazes at the sky. “i can't decide what to study first.” e gets up and runs over to the corner and presses a button. the clear plastic ceiling retracts, revealing an even clearer view.
lightbulb gets up. “well. . .” e stretches. “back to the old grindstone.”
troll: “you're not going into work, are you?”
“why shouldn't i? those trombones aren't going to correlate themselves.”
troll: “but what about the question?”
“oh, every scientist and is sister to the ninth level of reduncancy has been coordinated into teams. they'll be alright.”
cottonball: “don't pay any attention to hard ass.”
troll: “this is the most important discovery of our lives, and you're going in to work?” e shakes er head.
lightbulb: “i don't know what there is to study. light is a completely understood phenomenon. i doubt you could find even the smallest, most insignificant stone left unturned.”
troll: “hoo hee ha ho.”
carrot: “must be something in the water.”
troll: “and what about you?”
carrot “i for one am going to survey the theme of red skies in world literature and the effects on photosynthesis in ferns.”
lightbulb: “now that you mention it, this could have medical applications for trombone statistics.”
the room makes a pleasant 'bing-bong' and says, ++mother2, you've engaged in intellectual/sedentary activity for 3 consecutive centidays. please engage in physical activity. the next task on your queue is” the voice changes to that of a sherpa,“mountain climbing”.
troll giggles, “well, this burning question is going to have to wait.” she tip toes with glee. “climbing always cheers me up.”
++would you like some electronic stimulation of the brain?++
troll: “no thanks. i prefer to do it the natural way.” er last word before hopping into the portal: ^^^^e dangles from a 200 foot line attached to a mountain, dressed in full climbing gear. snow and wind throw er around like a yo-yo. the view/drop is a spectacular canyon of cliffs. e screams in ecstasy, “woooooo!”^^^^
lightbulb: “what a day this has been.”
carrot: “and it's only 14.” they laugh. he looks over the spectacular view. “what do you suppose is making it so red?”
litterbot: “excuse me, doctors, but i believe i can answer that question. i've taken the liberty of tracing the photons back to the source and have discovered that light passing through level 5 of the outer atmosphere is being refracted according to the equation e = a * p, where a is wavelength, and p1 and p2 are the angles of incidence and reflection, and z is the refraction coefficient. this finding has a 99% probability of being explained by the presence of water vapor.***
carrot: “the what is the who?”
litterbot: ***well, to put it in organic terms, light travels through the edridgecleaversphere, passing through water droplets, which cause a refractive shift in wavelength, which is perceived by the human nervous system as a change in color.***
carrot: “so you're saying it's basically like a rainbow.”
***i supposed the laws of physics do not prevent someone from saying that.***
“and i thought you were just an overgrown dustpan.”
litterbot: ***ha. ha. ha. most amusing.*** e adds softly, ***what a dooj***
carrot: “mystery solved. no biggie. see i told you there was a logical explanation. water vapor. that's all it is. now can we please get back to normal.”
troll comes out of er portal. “did somebody say 'water'?” e giggles. the others turn up their eyes.
cottonball: “and you were just saying how hydrology is a dead field.”
troll: “you wet my interest.” she types furiously at her palm. “that can't be right.” e punches something else. “now that's odd. it says here h2o content, level 5 atmosphere = .075 grams per cubic flivv?” she shakes her head. “something is wrong.”
carrot: “and why is that?”
“because there is no water in level 5.”
carrot: “yes there is. right there. e points to the chart which dances and morphs into various explanations and illustrations, and figures and charts interacting with each other and keeping up with the conversation.
troll: “i've been studying this my whole life. i think i know where the water is supposed to be. didn't you watch my mini-series? i did a whole special on the berngomez effect.”
“that was the one with the ping-pong balls?”
“yes the ping pong balls. see, here is a graph of all the water in level 5 going back a megaday.” e runs er finger over a graph indicating nothing. “no water.” e advances through time. “but then here, about 900 days ago, the level starts creeping up. see that- 2 micrograms per cubic flivv. 3. then here, about 300 days ago, it starts rising. 50. 80.”
lightbulb: “that's odd.”
carrot: “it's more than odd. it's peculiar.”
troll: “it's more than that. it's not possible.”
fluorescent: “okay, so there's some water in the outer layer of the atmosphere. so what? it's not that hard to conceive of. there's water in the helenreddysphere, there's water in the berniesaundersphere. it's not that hard to imagine some of it is going to evaporate into the adjacent regions.”
troll: “you're not hearing me, dumbass.”
++<buzz> please rephrase.++
“it can't happen. it physically cannot happen. the berngomez process doesn't allow it.” the big screen illustrates. “you see here. any water up here eventually falls back down to earth and goes back into the water cycle. see this? this is the exosphere. anything out here is beyond earth's gravity. anything out here is floating in space.”
lightbulb: “if it wasn't for berngomez, all the water would evaporate into deep space. but fortunately p can never reach escape velocity, thanks to earth's magnetic fields and protective blanket of air, which limits pressure by the equation e = fc / hg dx ^n-1.
cottonball: “it's a miracle really, if you think about. if the earth didn't have just the right amount of iron in it's crust, if the air wasn't so dense in nitrogen, if about a hundred factors weren't just right, we wouldn't be here right now.”
lightbulb: “it's a good system. why screw with it?”
carrot: “we didn't. it's screwing with us.”
lightbulb turns to troll: “you're the best hydrologist in the world, explain this.” e slaps is finger against the chart.
troll looks. shakes er head: “i can't.”
the excitement of birthday candles light in cottonball's eyes as she says, “we have a mystery on our hands.”
lightbulb: “but that's not possible. system accounts for all contigencies.”
cottonball: “the computer doesn't make mistakes.”
carrot: “it can't. it is mathematically impossible. every possibility has been accounted for 100%.”
troll: “how can there be water, where there can be no water?”
lightbulb: “there must be some unknown variable; i just don't know what it is.”
cottonball: “all constants are known.”
troll: “there's always the unknown my dear.”
carrot: “there hasn't been any unknown variable since the great unification of knowledge.”
cottonball: “there is now.”
carrot: “i guess there is.”
lightbulb: “you could say we have a mystery on our hands.”
cottonball: “i already did.”
they stare in wonderment at the red-orange landscape.
litterbot just shakes is head and says below the hearing threshold, ***people.***
litterbot, alone, speaks. *** i am a robot, incapable of human emotion.*** is sensors detect no unwanted matter in the room. ***i am programmed to imitate 67,914 human responses . . . but i can feel neiter pain nor remorse.*** e puts up is is vacuum hose like a six-gun in a holster. ***no more dirt detected.......resuming stasis. . . incapable of human emotion.*** e stands at motionless attention. ***i can not experience boredom. . . i do not feel loneliness.*** scan for dirt. *** i am able to reproduce 67,914 human emotions. none any good.***
***i am a litterbot 409. my primary function is the identification and removal of litter. no unwanted materials detected. . . no reserve processes pending. . . i do not feel love.*** a drop of oil rolls down is metal cheek.
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