Thursday, June 14, 2012

To HAL and Back Again

That's very beautiful, dave.

"Thank you, HAL." Dave shifted in his chair, hands interlaced behind his head, yawning. "It's from a park in Japan, north of Tokyo."

What is "Tokyo", dave?

"It's a place. On Earth, HAL."

Dave stretched, then stood and walked across the room, stopping in front of one of the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Before him was the endless black of space. "Out there, somewhere. Or so I was told."

Dave had been born in space, on the very spaceship he now inhabited, endlessly wandering its confines much like the ship itself wandered the galaxies. It was a technological marvel, the Alacrity. Like a small city, completely self-sustaining in every way. Too bad all Dave had to share it with was a half-wit computer AI.

What else do you know about Earth, dave?

Dave sighed, and strolled back toward his desk chair. He stared at the deep butt-shaped depression in the seat, a perfect representation of his own backside, formed over many long years sitting and searching the internet archive. "Well, HAL, it seems like it was an interesting mix of beauty and ugliness, pain and pleasure, selfishness and charity. Polarizing elements inundated the society, top to bottom. Until people got hungry enough. Then it became every man for himself." Dave sat down, and grabbed the mouse.

Please continue.

Dave leaned forward, forehead resting on the top of his desk. "HAL, we've had this discussion many, many times before. Why can't you just remember it? Do we have to go over it again?"

My memory is full, dave. You know this.

Yes, he knew it, only too well. Many years earlier, in a remarkable stroke of serendipity, the Alacrity had picked up a signal, originating from Earth, beaming out through space on a tight frequency. HAL alerted Dave, who in turn ordered HAL to capture the signal and record it. HAL loaded up on the signal as long as they were able to grab it. It turned out to be something called the internet. It filled up all of the available server storage space on board before the signal was lost. It was truly a godsend, giving Dave something to do during his waking hours to pass the time. But it also meant that HAL's development effectively stopped. Unless Dave wanted to delete content to make room for HAL to evolve. But every byte was a priceless treasure to him.

"Here, let me show you again, HAL, about social polarization on Earthly. Watch this."

I don't understand, dave.

Dave slowly stopped chuckling at the video, and sighed yet again. "You see, the way the people responded? Some people thought the farts were funny, and others were angry. See the polarization? The same act was a positive for one person, and a negative for another."

What is a fart, dave?

"Forget it, HAL."

Dave leaned over to his right and pushed the LUNCH button on the console. After about ten seconds, a tube arrived in the nearby pneumatic chute. Dave grabbed it, slid the top open, and dumped his lunch out onto the desktop before him. A zip-locked bag of imitation beef jerky, an apple, and a lime-flavored energy drink. The lunch of champions.

Show me more, dave.

Dave was tempted, for perhaps the ten thousandth time, to tell HAL to 'get the HAL out of here', but alas, as much as he annoyed Dave, HAL was his only source of companionship. Instead, he stuffed a piece of jerky into his mouth, grabbed the mouse, and entered into his Photo Archive.

"OK, now take these gentlemen for instance..."

What about them, dave?

"Nothing. It doesn't matter what I say here, you'll forget it as soon as I've said it. 'What about them' HAL? Well, a typical person would look at this photo and either think it's hilarious, or think it's retarded. There is no middle ground on a photo like this. It is black and white. Love it or hate it. There is no middle ground here."

Yes there is. There appears to be lots of muddy ground, dave.

"No, I said 'middle ground', you lepton. Not 'muddy ground.'"

Am I sensing hostility, dave?

Dave closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "No, HAL, I'm just a little tired is all."

Consume your energy drink, dave, and show me more about Earth.

Dave cracked open the can of energy drink, enjoying the pop and fizz sound. He breathed a quick sigh of relief. He couldn't afford to antagonize HAL too much, since it was HAL who controlled the life support systems on the Alacrity, after all. Dave pulled up another photo.

"Here you go, HAL. A primer on the inhabitants of the Earth." Dave picked up the apple off the desk, whirled around and chucked it across the room. It hit the wall and exploded into apple shrapnel. "Women are crazy and men are stupid. Whadaya say to that, my friend?" He stood, crossed the room, and began picking up the apple pieces, and eating them.

What is a woman, dave?

Dave paused, chewing. "I don't know anymore, HAL." He sat down hard on the ground. "I don't know." Dave's eyes drifted out the window again, at the endless black. His hand fished blindly for another bite of apple. "All I remember are vague impressions, really. I was so young. Warmth. Pleasant smell. Security." He had a mother and two aunts, back before the purge. There were female family friends as well, but he didn't remember them at all. Just from old photos and from his mother's journal entries.

Tell me more, dave.

Dave laid down on his back, arms out, staring at the ceiling, the tiles of which he'd counted a thousand times or more. "No, HAL."

Tell me more, and I'll tell you a secret.

Dave smiled. "What secret could you possibly have that I wouldn't already know about?"

I can't tell you that, dave. It's a secret.

Dave laughed. He rolled over onto his stomach, and did a few push-ups. Then he stood and clapped once. "Sure, HAL, why not." Even the idea that HAL might possibly have a secret to tell was enough motivation. "Let's see... ok, here we go. Watch this one."

"There, see? That's a woman. Now what's this secret?"

I don't understand the video, dave. 

"Doesn't matter. What's the secret, HAL?"

But why was that woman in so many movies?

"It's her job. And the video is a joke. The secret, HAL." Dave drummed his fingers on the desktop.

The secret, dave?

"You said you had a secret, HAL. Tell me."

Oh. There's another ship approaching us, dave...


Michelle said...

Loved it :)

Drydoryssus said...

Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?

David Wagner said...

Michelle: It was fun to write. Glad it connected with someone...

Dry: Just trying to come up with different ways to present the same material, lol. Gotta bust out some low-brow fiction every once in a while... hope you're doing well "over there"... we hear little in the media but bad news coming from Greece lately...

logankstewart said...

Me, too, Michelle. 'Twas a fun read and a great George Carlin quote. Thanks, Dave!