Friday, February 22, 2008

Jim's Life, the sequel to The Big Bang; Notes From Looking Within

I'm really excited to be getting back into Jim's Life. I started this sequel when I had finished writing The Big Bang; Notes From Looking Within and was waiting a few months on the publisher to do their work. Then I got sidetracked with life and family and excuses - basically didn't write one word for almost two years.
But things are picking up and I'd love to share the opening scenes and concepts. The following describes the rescue of James Ranck, Jim's next incarnation, by his robot assistant. Iggy, or Ignatious, is an interesting choice as the present soul to accompany Jim into his next incarnation. A robot (or computer) saving the life of a human who was a computer in his past life. Hopefully the philosophy discussions started with The Big Bang will pick right up where they left off.

An Excerpt from Jim’s Life

1pm. Iggy trudged heavily through the sandy terrain of the Australian desert under a blazing sun, one footstep at a time. It was a painfully difficult labor. He realized right away this was the hardest thing he had ever done. Twenty to thirty percent chance of returning, Iggy thought. Better odds without the load, but when would I make that choice? Could I?! It was late summer, clear and exceptionally hot, which made things worse. His golden metallic form absorbed the sun’s powerful rays. His internal wirings became sensitive and fragile as they heated up, and they were under extreme duress. Plus, the crash had damaged him badly, inside and out. None of his transmitters worked. Less than half of his circuit panels were functioning properly. He had lost the ability to make speech. Wires hung from a broken shoulder joint, dangling down to his waist. Smeared-in dirt covered most of his face and body. A warm breeze blew coarse particles into his sight sockets, irritating him. Walking through the desert for hours in this condition was bad enough as it was. Carrying his master made it almost unbearable.
Master James lay like a bag of sand in his arms. Iggy had carried a few humans before, but they had been babies or small children. James’ lifeless limbs hung downward like no one Iggy had carried, straight to the ground with zero resistance. Iggy was horrified by the look of it. No muscle reflex, broken bones, blood. His emotional programming would have brought about a moaning, a low hum of distress from Iggy’s voice box could he have made the sound.
It angered him, this feeling of helplessness. Everything about the ordeal was bothersome. And yet, there was something else about it that was stuck on his mind, something he couldn’t quite understand. Iggy realized he didn’t want to cry, but he had to. His master was most likely dead. Even though he had never cared that much for Master James, death was still death, and mourning came with it. He contemplated the irony as he made steps across the barren landscape.
Iggy thought over and over, how long had we been riding? He tried to remember everything. Master James shouted, ‘Quickly, Iggy!’ I hurried, jumped on the rover. Off we went. Into the desert. ‘What’s the matter?’ I demanded repeatedly. No response. The desert. The boulders. The jumping. That tree! Watch out!
Had the ride not been so frightening, it might have seemed like a shorter trip. Iggy knew the time when he and James had boarded the rover. He looked at the sun momentarily, estimated the date from the angle, and determined an approximate time.
Less than fifteen minutes, he thought. Maybe ten kilometers, maybe more.
Iggy wondered if a search party would find them before reaching home. Damn the crash, he thought. If only my transmitter was working. Hopefully there’s time. There must be enough.
Walking so slowly gave the unit ample time to think, perhaps too much. Iggy had never thought to the point of annoying himself, but he was now. For hours on end, he debated if he would make it and what the odds might be. He also wondered what the reception would be. If Master James was dead, how would his parents respond to that? What would the others in the community say? Surely, there were those who didn’t like James. How odd, for such a young person. But there were also those who would do anything to keep him alive. His parents, of course. Even Missy. How could Missy care so much for him? After all the things he did to her? Some elements of human emotion were a constant source of confusion to him, that Iggy decided he would simply never understand.
Iggy looked down in his arms at his burden of flesh, lying there so helplessly. He might be alive, I think. Oh, how did I ever get assigned to this?!
James should have been someone else’s charge. Iggy was expensive. He had been programmed for high level thinkers, for mathematicians and engineers, to be used as an assistant in their creative processes. Instead, he got offered to some mechanic on a work trade thing and then given to the man’s son, a youth at that.
Iggy! He protested the name. For a thousand times, it was Ignatius! Couldn’t a master offer one simple concession? I’ve never asked for another lousy thing, and still he can’t even do that!

Brison Ranck flipped the meat on the barbeque to expose the raw sides to the heat. He sprinkled salt from a shaker and worked it into the sizzling slabs with his fingers, then he licked them. He angled the solar receiver to better catch the light of the setting sun. Brison loved free energy, but cooking steaks with the sun’s rays often forced him to eat a bit earlier than he preferred, especially in the heat of summer.
Flow, his wife of twenty years, chopped the carrots and greens while watching him through the kitchen window. She reached over the stove to stir the rice pudding that would be dessert. James’ favorite, she thought. She sipped her glass of red wine, then checked the clock. Almost eight. Almost thirty minutes after James usually set the table. Damn that boy. Shouldn’t get any pudding for being so late. Her knife took some of her anger out onto the carrots.
Brison caught her eye and held up a broad hand showing five fingers, indicating the time needed for the meat. Flow nodded, hoping instead he was letting her know their son was home. She wiped the hanging threads of brown, curly hair from her face. That boy’s gonna turn me gray before my time.
Flow checked the clock again. Eight pm straight up. James had his faults but being late for supper wasn’t one of them. Why hadn’t Iggy responded? She had called the family unit several times. She assumed James had taken Iggy on one of his favorite rides through the canyons, where reception was often limited.
Brison came in with a platter holding three steaming steaks, cooked to perfection and bleeding juices into a large puddle about to run over the plate. He walked slowly, giving care not to spill any of the glorious red liquid on the carpet as he made it to the dining room table. Smells divine, Flow thought. She watched him in his balancing act, appreciating her gentle giant moving so delicately. Inside the convection oven, the greens and carrots simmered.
He asked, “How we doin’?”
“Two minutes, love,” Flow said as she stirred the pudding. She pulled the hot bread from a small oven and handed it off to Brison.
“No response?”
“Not yet.” Flow took another drink of her wine. She stared at the clock and became lost in thought until the timer sounded, snapping her out of it. She took the greens and carrots out and placed them on the table.
“Anything else?’ Brison asked, looking over a table set for three, complete with candles.
“No. Nothing, love.”
Brison thought of his caring wife, their son, and all the little things that made this place a home. Not bad for a working man.
Flow added the veggies to the plates, then placed fresh rolls in the center of the table. Brison served himself the largest of the steaks, Flow the smallest, and the middle one for the absent boy. He poured wine for himself and added some to Flow’s. James’ setting had water placed above his meal. Brison checked the time. Darkness was quickly descending upon the desert terrain outside.
Flow asked quietly, “What do you think, Bris?”
“He’ll be in,” he assured her and sat down. “Let’s eat while it’s warm. Looks good.”
“Not like him to be late,” she reminded him.
“Something must have happened to their transceivers. Iggy’s with him. Not to worry.”
Flow took her seat in compliance. Brison sawed quickly into his steak and placed a large piece in his mouth, chewing impatiently. Flow sipped her wine, then stabbed at a carrot. They ate in silence.
Minutes later it was completely dark outside. Flow’s steak had a few bites in it, while Brison had nearly finished his, leaving the bread and veggies for last.
Then a dog barked.
Brison leapt from his seat and went straight out the door. Flow followed. They stood outside together on the threshold of their home, peering out into the desolate, dark terrain.
“See anything?” Flow asked.
The barking persisted.
“Shep tied up?” she asked.
“In his pen.”
“What’s that?” Flow pointed at an object that appeared to be moving towards them. Brison squinted and scanned the horizon, finding nothing.
“Right there!” Flow insisted, extending her arm out in front of his face.
Brison found it. Sure enough, something was a hundred meters away, slowing coming toward them. Brison and Flow walked cautiously out.
Brison demanded, “Who’s there?!” No answer. He continued to squint as his feet slowly moved further out toward the entity. “Answer me! Who is that?!”
The dark figure persisted to move closer. It made no sound except the shuffle of dust under its walk.
“This is private property!” Flow added. “Who’s there?”
The curious figure remained silent, while closing the gap between them. Brison felt his fists tighten instinctively.
“Want me to get the laser, Bris?” Flow asked, holding him at the shoulder.
Brison shook his head. He didn’t know what it was, but he wasn’t afraid. He sensed something important. Shep continued to bark as Brison moved ever closer towards the dark figure.
Within a few moments Brison realized he was looking at the family unit, Iggy, trudging awkwardly through the desert night. It’s Iggy, he thought with relief. Why’s he moving so slowly?
“Iggy!” Brison shouted, now moving quickly with Flow just behind him. “Where’ve you been?!”
As they came to him, they noticed Iggy was carrying a lump in his arms and looked like he had been through hell, with dust all over him and several wires hanging out. How odd everything seemed. It took a moment in the darkness for them to realize that the lump in Iggy’s arms was their son.
Flow screamed, “Oh God, no!”

Nurses and units went to and from the room, setting up the boy with a multitude of devices and medications. From the office of Sandra Maynard, the head of surgery, Brison and Flow sat on a leather couch and somberly watched a hologram image of their son lying deathly still in his bed. With the activity about James, his face was all that they could see of him. It was bruised and badly cut, more like a blob of purples and reds than a human face. Even inside of the comfortable office, the sounds of buzzing machines, the sterile smells of formaldehyde and ether, and the bright lights from the other side of the door were a stark contrast from where they had just recovered their son. Flow wiped her red eyes with a cloth while she mumbled to herself all the reasons why this shouldn’t have happened. Brison squeezed her free hand.
Doctor Sandra Maynard came into the room. The parents stood eagerly. She removed a thin latex hospital gown, and wore civilian clothes underneath as she had been called in from home for the emergency. She tossed the gown and the gloves in a nearby receptacle, then faced them with her best energy at a difficult time.
She introduced herself, “Mr. and Mrs. Ranck, I’m sorry to have to tell you this. The accident was severe. He’s alive, but just barely.”
“Oh, thank God,” Flow exclaimed.
Brison spoke stoically, “Do whatever you have to, Doc. Just keep our boy in the living.”
“There is some bad news, however. Please have a seat.”
They hesitated and looked at one another. Maynard repeated her request, and the Rancks slowly sat back down. Sandra sat in a chair facing them.
“Unfortunately, your son’s accident was very severe. His body is being kept alive by our equipment, but we’ve failed to achieve meaningful electrical activity in the brain. Right now he’s in a state of extreme neurological dysfunction.”
Brison asked, “How severe?”
“EEG showed preserved activity, but he has no reactivity to external stimuli.”
“In English, Doc.”
“At this time, no meaningful brain function.”
Flow began to express her panic in mumbled fragments, “No… oh no… this… this can’t be.”
Brison wanted clarity, “What exactly does that mean, doctor?”
“Clinically, your son is brain dead. I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you.”
Flow burst out in tears. Brison held her more closely and asked, “Surely there must be something that can be done?”
“We will do everything possible, but I can’t make any guarantees. The next twenty-four to seventy-two hours will be crucial. He’s lucky he got to us when he did.”
“His unit, Iggy, got him out of there,” Brison added. “Saved his life for sure.”
Maynard smiled in half agreement.
Flow’s sobbing stopped as she had a thought. “What can we do?” she asked.
Maynard said, “Think good thoughts. Visualize him healthy. Prayer always helps.”
Brison knew there wasn’t anything he could really do, and he hated that. For all his strength, he sat on that leather couch feeling about as useless as a man could feel. At that moment, he questioned himself as a good father. Maynard was about to head back out of the room.
“Thank you, Doctor,” Flow said.
“I’ll be in touch with you tomorrow,” Maynard added. She squeezed the couple’s hands with hers.
Brison led Flow down the hospital corroder. She was numb, moving in a daze. She thought of the night’s irony. Two hours before she was angry at her boy for being a bit late to dinner. Now she was wondering if she would see him alive again. Why was I angry about that? How stupid!

The car settled down into the Ranck property, hovering a few feet over the ground. It set down entirely in front of the walk. Brison looked over to Flow in the passenger seat and caught her staring at something.
“Who’s that?” Flow asked.
Brison faced forward, surprised that he hadn’t noticed the Federation car parked just off the driveway to his left. “Dunno.”
Flow and Brison got out of the vehicle. Just then the front doors of the unknown car opened, and out came two men, dressed casually but nice.
One of them held out an illuminated image displaying a his credentials as a Federal police officer and asked, “Mr. Ranck?”
“Yes?” Brison said. He and Flow moved closer as the men came to meet them in the middle of the drive.
“I’m Officer Hutchins. This is Bellregard,” the elder man said in a slight Aussie accent. Brison glanced at each of the id’s. The two looked like negatives of each other. One old and white, the other young with very dark skin and platinum eyes.
Brison said, “Something I can help you with?”
“Do you have any idea why we’re here?” Bellregard asked in a neutral accent. His eyes and teeth more visible in the night than his exceptionally black skin.
Brison looked at Flow. She returned a blank expression. Brison answered, “No, Sir.”
“It’s about your son,” Hutchins said.
Brison was confused. “Is it about his going to the hospital?”
Hutchins lowered his eyes. “Yes, we’re aware of that. I am sorry, but no.”

11pm. Flow poured fresh coffee into four mugs as the men sat around the kitchen table. Though it was too late for coffee, Flow didn’t expect to get much sleep anyway. A police recording device was placed openly in the middle of the table next to the sugar, making note of not only sounds but emotional vibrations.
“Thank you,” the officers said in unison upon receiving the mugs. Randall Hutchins breathed in the aroma, knowing it would be a good pick-me-up to a surprisingly long work shift. He wondered where the coffee was grown. Java? Africa? He was addicted to coffee and usually had a keen nose for origins, but he couldn’t quite place it. He scratched the thick, white, two day stubble under his chin.
“Smells good, Mrs. Ranck,” Randall said. “Is this African?” Small talk always helped get the conversation going.
Eventually Flow responded, “Indonesian.”
“Hot and fresh is all that matters,” Ivan Bellregard added.
Flow sat next to Brison. She put a hand on his shoulder as he caressed her leg under the table, two light embraces offering support to each other on the worst night of their lives.
Randall sensed the Rancks knew nothing of his visit before he began. “We realize you’ve had a terrible day. Honestly, Ivan here and myself are sorry to hear that your son has been hospitalized. Something no parent or boy should have to go through. And yet… your family being Simplists, we have to do our jobs.”
Brison stated, “We appreciate that, Officer. We just can’t believe you’re talking about our son.”
“Has James been friends for a long time with Abigail Walkins?” Hutchins asked.
“She goes by Missy,” Flow said. “They’ve grown up together. Her folks live a few kilometers down the road. Not many others around.”
Bellregard added, “The Walkins are also Simplists. Are your families close?”
“Not really,” Brison said. “They’re good people, but they like their space. We like ours.”
“And the kids?” Hutchins asked.
“Missy and James have known each other for years,” Brison said, looking to Flow. “Being kids, they’ve done the things kids do.”
“Such as?”
Brison felt lost for an answer. “Whatever kids do. Toss stones in the creek. Make up games. I dunno.”
Hutchins began slowly with the difficult subject, “Does it surprise you then, that we got a call from Federation that alleges James raped and attempted to strangle Missy?”
“That’s not our son!” Brison insisted, slamming a hand down on the table sending a shock wave through it.
Flow asked, “So her memory has been checked of what you say happened?”
“That’s correct,” Hutchins answered.
“And what did they find?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ranck. Even if I had that information, I wouldn’t be able to disclose that.”
“Officer,” Flow said calmly. “There’s something you should know about Missy.”
Flow hesitated. It wasn’t like her to sound judgmental, but this was different. “She’s not altogether there. James is always coming in, telling us some of the things that Missy says, and it boarders on disturbing.”
Brison summed it up. “She’s nuts.”
“How so?”
“She’s got a twisted sense of reality,” Flow said. “There’s no other way to put it.”
Bellregard asked, “Twisted enough to alter her perception of reality?”
“I believe so,” Flow said.
“That’s possible,” Hutchins mentioned. “Anything’s possible right now. That’s why Ivan and I are here, asking you questions, asking the Walkins questions. Missy’s at the forensics unit right now having tests done.”
Flow immediately thought of Missy being tested for semen, bruises, pubic hairs, something that might add credibility to her story.
Bellregard added, “And James is also being evaluated by Fed investigators.”
“In the hospital?!” Flow cried.
“There’s no other way.”
The elder Hutchins tried to calm her, “Mrs. Ranck, please don’t worry. Fed investigators are used to the needs of hospital patients. Happens all the time. In some ways, they’re better suited for it than nurses and doctors.”
Brison ran his hands through his ruddy brown hair and lamented, “Oh, Christ. This is just what my son needs now.”
“He’ll be fine, sir.”
“How do you know that?!”
Flow needed him to be a rock. “Well,” she reasoned, “if something happened, I can’t believe it was rape.”
Brison muttered, “Wouldn’t be the first time two kids had sex.”
“For your sake and for James, I hope that you’re right,” Hutchins added.
“Was anyone else with your son at the accident?” Bellregard asked.
“No,” Brison stated. Flow shot him a look and pinched his leg under the table.
“How did you find him?”
Brison said, “His transmitter came in. I tracked him in the car.”
“Being Simplists, you have your rights. But as Simplists, we’ll need to do what we can to get our data and conduct a thorough investigation.”
Flow sipped her coffee, eyed the recording device, and wondered, what the hell is he doing?

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