8FOLD/CONTEST: Journey Into... # 8: Brave New World, With Such Awesome In It!

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 30 22:52:48 PST 2009


   The neck is too long.  Looks more like a stunted giraffe than a
horse. Or a dinosaur skeleton, for that matter, each metal vertebrae
piled atop another, thirteen in total from the thick noisy cylinder of
its body to its bare (maneless, earless) head.  The head at least
vaguely resembles a horse, with a big unblinking red dot of an eye on
either side of its head.  Also: the legs are too short, the center of
gravity too low: the Gene Kelly of robot horses.
   It hangs in the Goodman museum like a forgotten marionette, the
exhibit lights glinting off the large o-shaped ring jutting from its
fourth vertebrae (counting up).  It has been hanging here,
undisturbed, since the museum was rebuilt following its destruction by
Gregory Dingham back in the spring of aught-five.  The fact that it
survived the earthquake with nary a scratch garnered a lot of media
attention and was often the highlight of the various stories about the
museum's reconstruction.
   And, as is often the case, media attention led to renewed public
interest, to wit: a couple of new books on the Grey Gelding and its
inventor and rider, Hamoody Strange, who dreamt of being a jockey but
weighed over four hundred pounds and thus built himself a horse to
compensate, never mind that he was never allowed to compete with it;
one of those awful "ripped from today's headlines!" episodes of Law
and Order, replete with transparent analogues and centering around the
disputed ownership of the dormant horse, the Maude Mare, between the
supposed long-lost children of Ali Weird and museum owner Mr. Badman;
a feature film based on the circumstances of Strange's death and the
Gelding's trial and subsequent forced obsolescence has been "in the
works" for two years now, though neither a script, nor a star, nor
even a director, has been attached for such a downbeat tale.  It's
likely that as interest in the Gelding wanes (and in this high-tech
age of wonders, this bold new and promising year of twenty aught-ten,
the sway a Depression-era automaton has over the public consciousness
is already and admittedly limited), the chances of that film being
made will grow more and more remote.  Such are the perils and
pleasures of popularity.
   But!  The Grey Gelding is not destined to slip back into complete
anonymity at this point in time; this brief window of renewed interest
has put into motion the writing of a new chapter in his saga, a
strange epilogue that was unforeseen on that cold November day in
nineteen thirty-nine that the Gelding, mourning his master and
respecting the jury that held him responsible, willfully and
voluntarily executed his own death sentence.  Between the first new
nonfiction book and the second, some of his new fans filed suit on the
Gelding's behalf, asking that he be cleared of the charges.  Three
years of petitioning, fund-raising, political strong-arming, and
reconsideration-of-forensic-evidencing later, the Gelding was cleared
of all wrong-doing and Hamoody Strange's death was ruled a suicide.
   This was, however, no mere symbolic vindication.  When a person or
animal is sentenced to death, and that sentence is executed, and then
they are cleared of the charge, such a victory is of as little comfort
to them as Pyrrhus's was at Asculum.  But because a robot or automaton
cannot, in a strictly biological sense, be said to be truly alive, it
cannot be said to be truly dead, either-- only toggled off and on,
only shut down and, marvelously, happily, seventy-odd years after the
fact, rebooted.
   That, in and of itself, results in two other struggles.  The first,
and shorter of the two, was to convince Elliot Goodman and his museum
to relinquish possession of the Gelding to Dr. Palmer Smith; the
second is for the same Dr. Smith to resurrect the creature, whose
power source has corroded after seventy years of disuse.
   This is a tricky task: Hamoody Strange's custom-built battery was,
well, strange; the battery's power came from a mixture of various
elements, one of which had been eradicated from existence; Dr. Smith,
being a solitary sort, has insisted on doing it himself, much to the
consternation of the various and sundry interested parties who worked
to grant the Gelding his second chance in the first place and, Smith
being one of the first among them and having been convinced (by him)
that he was The Expert on such technologies and their replacements,
had entrusted the task into his care.
   Weeks pass.  Months pass.  Smith struggles to deliver on his
promise.  No one is more impatient or more frustrated than he.  He can
see the moment just ahead of him.  He can see himself finding the
solution, he can see himself powering up the Gelding.  He can see the
Gelding springing to life, looking at him curiously.  He can hear
himself explain to the Gelding the series of events that led to his
resurrection; Palmer Smith has even spent several minutes a day
practicing what he'll say to the Gelding, and what the Gelding will
say to that, and his response, and so on.  He daydreams wildly and
ecstatically about the Gelding waking up and, knowing that its master
is still dead, attempting to shut itself off again, only to be
stopped, stopped by Smith, Smith who brought him back, Smith who gives
him a reason to live again, Smith who will be his new friend, his new
master, his new rider, and, oh, what grand adventures they'll have,
Palmer Smith and the Grey Gelding, oh yes he can see it oh yes oh yes
he can. It is as clear as a memory.
   Any day now.  It's just on the horizon, just around the corner.
It's always getting closer, he can feel it, but he's never quite
there.  It will be so wonderful once he gets there, he just has to
hold on until it happens, until he makes it happen.  Any day now.
   And then, one day, in walks Sam Potter, a funny little man who was
the early leader of the legal effort but wisely stepped aside when the
more talented and eminent attorney Rosary Granger became involved.
With Sam is a rather attractive Arab woman in her late thirties, her
blush-coloured hajib folding elegantly into her white lab coat.
   "This is Doctor Fatima Tarif," says Sam. "She won the Nobel Prize
last year..."
   "... for the perpetual motion machine," says Smith. He tries to
hide his bristle; he had seen himself cracking that impossible enigma,
when he had the time and the resources.  He could've done it, too.
But then this woman had the solution fall into her lap.  Alien
technology is cheating.
   "Dr. Fay," she insists.  "And you must be Palm."
   Sam buts in.  "I was telling Dr. Fay about the trouble you were
   "Trouble?  I'm not having any trouble...."
   "Well, I just thought she could lend a hand."
   "I'd be glad to," says Dr. Fay.  "I built a 1:6 scale working model
of the Gelding during my salad days."
   "We have a Gelding already, thank you very much," says Smith.  "I'm
just working on the battery, which is actually fairly complex and
presents a number of issues but I'm actually..."
   "The coil gave me a problem, too," says Dr. Fay.  "One of the
hiccoughs with Strange's design.  I can see why he did it, but it's
not the most efficient way to move that energy around and it results
in that jittery effect you see in those old newsreels."  She reaches
into her binder.  "If you look at this design, you can see how it
would eliminate that and allow the Gelding to move more smoothly."
   "I like the jittery effect," says Smith.
   "I'm not sure if the Gelding did," says Dr. Fay.  "Of course, if
someone cut off my balls, I'd be a little jittery too."
   Smith stares at her.
   "I don't actually have testicles; it's just a little castration
humour.  ...Because he's a gelding...?"
   "I don't mean to be brusque," begins Smith.
   "Better brusque than bris. Ooh! Two for two.  I'm on a roll."
   "I don't mean to be rude," begins Smith again, "but I'm pretty
sure-- and, Sam, correct me if I'm wrong here-- but I'm pretty sure
the whole point in bringing the Grey Gelding back is to bring him back
the way he was, with all those quirks and charms intact, instead of
attempting to improve on him and smoothing out all the jitters."
   "The point in bringing him back is to bring him back, period," says
Sam. "To correct an injustice.  Not to please his, uh, fans."
   "And," says Dr. Fay, "since we are bringing him back, why not make
him better?  This is 2010, after all, not the Depression."
   "If that's the way we're going to do it," sputters Smith, "we might
as well just build a new robot and transplant the memory core."
   "You're joking, right?" says Dr. Fay.
   "Of course I'm joking!   That's the whole point, that we need to
respect what was there before and not waste time trying to 'improve',
quote-unquote, things."
   "No, I mean, because there is no memory core."
   Smith's face screws inwards.
   "You, you--  you knew that, right?" says Dr. Fay.  "The memory
chips are distributed through-out the body, and there's no way to--"
   "Yes, yes I know that, I know that," says Smith.
   They stare at him.
   "Of course I know that.  I'm not stupid."
   Sam Potter speaks slowly in the tone of voice a lawyer thinks is
diplomatic, every 'stumble' and restart carefully calibrated.  "I
think... I think it might be best, Palmer, if, well, if perhaps Doctor
Tarif was to lend us her not-inconsiderable expertise."

   So it has been said, and so shall it be done-- and though it never
quite overtakes his resentment, Palmer Smith does find a certain
steadily-growing fondness the way Dr. Fay fills out a lab coat, among
other things.  She is reasonably brilliant; not his equal, of course,
and over-rated, certainly, and far too much in love with new-and-shiny
to see the true beauty of an old relic like the Gelding, but he still
finds himself occasionally impressed with the elegance and simplicity
of her solutions, the lucidity and loopiness of her thought processes.
   She is a flirt, batting a clumpy eyelash at all visitors, be they
male or female, married or unmarried.  The operative word, however, is
visitors: besides the odd bit of cracking wise, Dr. Fay hasn't made
any sort of overtures towards Palmer.  Most of the time, he chalks it
up to her being all-business when it's time for business.
   But there are other times when he wonders if there isn't something
between them.  If she respected him, saw his intelligence and
righteous character, if she was attracted to him, if she fantasized
about him as he sometimes did about her.  Sometimes when he sits down
to masturbate and-- the logical nature of his mind requiring some sort
of premise and preamble for their imaginary combustion to be built
upon-- he summons a suitable back-and-forth between the two of them,
he finds the dialogue to be so compelling that he allows his erection
to go slack in his fist.  Enchanted by the woman he conjures before
him and moved by her revelation that she does not flirt with him
because what she feels for him is real, he becomes lost in a romantic
daydream divorced of its initial autoerotic purpose, an idyll that
only concludes when he tucks his unspent penis, who he calls Gerald,
back inside his pants with a mixture of anger (a wasted opportunity!)
and relief (perhaps what he feels is also real?).
   He washes his hands; he smears the excess water across his forehead
and into his hair.  He checks his watch; he's been in here for the
better part of an hour.  As he exits the restroom, he decides to ask
Dr. Fay if she's doing anyone for dinner.  Anything.  Anything for
dinner.  Damn it, Gerald.  It's not like that.
   Half-way down the hall, he starts to back out.  He won't ask her
after all.  He doesn't have a reason, at least not one he can
verbalize; the reason is that his stomach is full of butterflies.
   Gerald says: "On the bright side, if she had said no..."
   Yes, thinks Smith, if she had said no, then he wouldn't be able to
think about her on his next trip to the bathroom.  Because then the
whole thing would be a lie and a fantasy, instead of a possibility, of
a maybe.  Better to keep that hope alive, yes?
   Smith opens the door to the lab.  Dr. Fay is petting the Grey
Gelding on its metal face.  It whinnies appreciatively.
   He missed it.  Missed it!
   "It's a little irregular," suggests Gerald.
   "It's a little irregular," says Smith, dividing both his gaze and
his words between Sam and Dr. Fay, "more than a little irregular, in
fact, to proceed with such a crucial step without the head of the
project being present."
   Dr. Fay and Sam exchange an impatience glance; Dr. Fay apologizes
to the Gelding with her eyes.
   "I told you yesterday that she'd be putting the battery in come
morning," says Sam.  "And this morning, you were nowhere to be found.
We called your cell phone twice, no answer.  As for this 'head of
project' thing, I don't know how many times I have to keep telling
   "I never answer the cell phone," says Smith.  "Most of the time, I
don't even turn the useless thing on.  See?" He pulls it out of his
pocket and brandishes it.
   The Gelding points its muzzle at it.  "Excuse me, sir, but what is
that device?"
   "It's a sort of telephone," says Dr. Fay.
   "I believe he asked me," says Smith.  "And if you ask me, I think
it's frankly an abominable device."
   "Pardon," says the Gelding, "but it is a sort of telephone? One
which can be carried on your person? One that has no wires?  Please
excuse me, but I don't understand how it connects to the switchboard?"
   "There are networks of towers all across the world, sending out
signals," says Dr. Fay.
   "All across the world?" says the Gelding.
   "Well, there are some areas not covered by a network," says Dr.
Fay.  "But that's where a satellite phone comes in-- that's a phone
that connects directly to a man-made satellite, a computer of sorts
that encircles the earth."
   "Excuse me, but you've put things in space?" says the Gelding.
   "We've been in space," says Dr. Fay.  "We've walked on the moon."
   "That is astonishing," says the Gelding. "I seem to have missed
quite a bit in the interim.  Please accept my apologies for any
displays of ignorance."
   "No apologies necessary."
   Smith breaks in: "I'll be happy to explain anything to you,
anything at all, during our time together."
   "Pardon me, sir," says the Gelding, "and I am again I must confess
embarrassed by my ignorance of such things, but I am unable to see
what makes this device so abominable.  I'm sure if you explain it to
me, I will be able to understand it."
   "Wuh, wuh, well, it's just there's, it's just, well, there's no
privacy any longer, no... I mean, people can get call you whenever
they want, and it's not, and, uh, people walk down the street on their
phones, just ignoring people..."
   Smith looks at the Gelding.  The Gelding stares back for a moment,
then appears to be startled.  "I'm sorry, sir, I thought there would
be more.  I certainly don't intend to be argumentative, and having
been powered down for so long, it is certainly possible that I am
unable to grasp the nuances, but I don't particularly find that
abominable; rather, it seems that being able to communicate with
others wherever you go would be quite useful in a state of emergency."
   "Well, well, yeah, yes, I see that, of course, but at the same
   The Gelding waits.
   "Well, it's just that I don't always want to be available all the
   The Gelding waits.  When it becomes apparent that no more is
forthcoming, he speaks again: "I am certain that after I have
acclimated myself to the present era, that I will be able to
appreciate your argument, Palmer Smith.  Pardon me, sir, but if I
understand what you said correctly, I am free?"
   "You've been cleared of all charges," says Sam.  "You are
completely free."
   "That being the case, and my knowledge of this new world being
largely inadequate, I hope you would not find it rude of me to take my
leave and go out into said world?"
   "Not at all."
   "Thank you very kindly, sir, miss, sir.  Adieu."
   The Grey Gelding begins to walk towards the door.  He stops a
moment, circles around, and speaks to Dr. Fay.  "Please accept my
deepest compliments, miss, on the redesign of Mr. Strange's battery.
My gait is noticeably smoother, my vision clearer, and the
distribution of energy to my various parts is fuller and more
consistent, resulting in an over-all sensation of invigoration.  If
you will pardon the obvious use of the pathetic fallacy inherent in
the follow statement, which I assure you is not intended ironically, I
feel more alive than I ever have before.  Again, my thanks."
   "You're very welcome," says Dr. Fay.
   Smith grabs the Gelding by the ring on his neck.  "Here, I'll show
you around the town, explain things to you."
   "No thank you, sir," says the Gelding.  "I mean no offense, but I
would actually prefer to travel with my thoughts and no other
   "It's just that it's all bound to be very confusing for you," says
   "Much like my creator and former master, I prefer to puzzle things
out for myself.  From what Sam Potter has told me, you, too, are a bit
of an autodidact."
   "What-- uh, what did, Sam, say...?"
   "He explained that while you are a Doctor of music, you have not
been formally educated in the field of robotics (which is apparently
now a legitimate field, if I understood him correctly) but are rather
self-taught, a hobbyist, much like my former master."
   This comparison pleases Smith, even as Gerald bristles at Sam's
indiscretion; what else did he and Dr. Fay tell the Gelding while he
was away?  "I understand you wanting to go it alone, of course, but
the world has changed quite a bit.  It's a ugly place, a crass place,
the culture has been cheapened and corroded."
   Dr. Fay intrudes with a slight cough. "I disagree, personally."
   "She would," whispers Gerald acidly to Smith.
   "Not to form an opinion without first obtaining information, and
please forgive me, sir, but I find it hard to believe that the world
is uglier than it was in my time."
   "The Depression was a horrible time," says Smith, "but it was also
a better, purer, more innocent time."
   "I am confident that I will manage," says the Gelding, somewhat
more firmly. "Please, sir, I would be very happy if you would release
my ring...?"
   Smith does so, even as Gerald chides him. "He's probably going to
find a new rider out there.  You're going to lose out."
   "Uh, um, but you'll be coming back...?" says Smith.
   The Gelding regards him curiously, then directs a question towards
the other two. "I am free?"
   "You are," confirms Sam, somewhat obnoxiously.  "If you need a
place to stay, there's been an apartment set up for you, and some
money to live on."  Sam gives him the address and bank account number;
the Gelding commits it to his memory banks.
   "I'll be staying on for a couple days," says Dr. Fay, "just in case
something goes kaput.  But, like Sam said," and here she casts a
rather shrewish gaze on Smith, "you're perfectly free to go wherever
you wish.  So, if I don't see you again..." Dr. Fay kisses the Gelding
on its muzzle.
   Gerald seethes. "She's flirting with the damn horse, she's giving
it to everyone but you.  The slut, the bitch.  And there goes the
Gelding.  It's their fault.  The whore and that, that lawyer...
they've done this, worked to turn the Gelding against you, to take it
away from you.  You worked for it, you saw it, he should be yours!"
   "I was going to be his new rider," mumbles Smith. "We were going to
be friends."
   "What did you say?" says Dr. Fay.
   "Nothing, nothing."
   "Palmer," says Sam, "I think we need to have a talk.  Could you
come with me for a moment...?"

   The Grey Gelding steps out into the sunshine, and the entire world
seems brighter than it was seventy years ago, more colourful, more
vibrant.  This he chalks up to Dr. Fay's battery, and the steadier,
headier charge of energy being sent to his optic sensors.  But part of
it is something harder to quantify: a sense of discovery, of
exploration, and-- though his programming, as far as he can ascertain,
does not contain any algorithms for it-- yes, optimism.  Optimism,
despite Palmer Smith's warnings.
   The Gelding sees a man walking down the street.  While the Gelding
can recognize the articles of clothing the man wears as clothes, as a
shirt, and jacket, and pants, and shoes, they are quite unlike any
shirt, jacket, pants, or shoes he ever encountered in the nineteen-
thirties.  Colourful, bold, and inscripted with a phrase that the
Gelding takes to be an insult to his intelligence.  Fearful that he
has misread or misinterpreted it, he decides not to ask the man his
intent and instead gives him a wide berth.
   His aural sensors (which are spread through-out his body) pick up a
strange rhythmic sound some blocks hence; he hones in on it and, a few
minutes later, his optic sensors zero in on a strange rectangular
box.  It is from here that the noise emanates; the box is surrounded
by three black teenagers.
   Now that he is closer, the Gelding is able to decipher a series of
words flowing out from the box; this is a sort of music, he
recognizes, this must be a sort of record player.  It is a little
cacophonous for his taste, and the performer is practicing recitative
instead of proper singing. But: what clever, rapid rhymes, what an
ingenious use of word-play.
   "Pardon me, sirs," says the Gelding. "I don't mean to intrude, but
I have a series of short questions you might be able to answer."
   One of the young men shrugs.
   "Firstly, this device, is this a record player?"
   "No, it's a CD player.  Plays CDs."
   "Is a CD sufficiently different from a Gramophone record?"
   The young men exchange glances.  "Yeah, I guess you could say
that.  Sufficiently different."
   One of the other men pipes up: "It's digital.  It's burned on there
with a laser."
   "And this music, is this an evolution of jazz?"
   "No, man, it's hip-hop."
   The second man pipes up again: "Evolution of funk, maybe."
   The others stare at him.
   "What?  I read that somewhere.  I don't really hear it myself,
but... oh, never mind."
   "Forgive me, sirs, but what is funk?"
   The young men look at each other and sigh.  The first young man
digs into his pocket, and pulls out a strange little box with a long
cord.  He fidgets with the device and extends the cord to the
Gelding's head.
   "Where your ears at, man?"
   "My aural sensors are located all around my body," says the
   "Alright," says the man, placing the little bud at the end of the
cord against the Gelding's side.  Suddenly, there is music.
   "That," says the man, "is funk."
   "Oh my," exclaims the Gelding.  "That's quite an infectious beat.
I imagine that this frequently causes spontaneous dancing."
   "Any more questions?"
   The Gelding points his head at the small box in the man's hand, and
is about to ask, when the man answers: "This is a Zune."
   The other young men start cackling like mad.
   "Shut up.  You all shut up."
   "Excuse me, but what is a 'Zune'?"
   The laughter starts again.
   "And why does it provoke such derision among your fellows?"
   One of those fellows speaks up.  "It's like an iPod.  And before
you ask, an iPod is a little box that plays mp3s.  Which are like
songs that you can download.  Which is, like, computer stuff?  It's
like a file, but it's music."
   "And you can carry one around, and listen to music, whenever and
wherever you like?  My, that's extremely convenient."
   "Yeah, it is at that."

   The Gelding sees two men arguing, one in a car, one out.  Before
the driver speeds off, the Gelding realizes that it sounds very much
like a lover's quarrel.  He trots cautiously towards the stranded man.
   "Excuse me, sir?"
   The man turns towards the Gelding, wiping his sleeve against his
eyes. "Are you a robot?"
   "I am a form of automaton, yes," says the Gelding.
   "Sorry if it's a personal question," says the man.  "Just thought
it was sort of obvious."
   "If my vocal emitters lent my words an air of defensiveness, please
do accept my apologies, sir, as such a shading of my words were not
intended.  I am mostly content with the facts of my existence.  If I
might ask you a series of short questions, sir?"
   "Name's Randy.  Don't need to call me sir."
   "Randy, are you a homosexual?"
   "If my question was too personal, then it is my turn to apologize.
It just seemed somewhat obvious."
   "Why you asking, then?  Why not leave it unsaid?"
   "Forgive me, Randy." The Gelding lowers his head and takes a few
steps back, giving himself room to turn around.
   "Hold up," says Randy.  "I didn't mean to be on edge.  Just had a
fight, and a lot-- well, a lot of people like to preach at me and I
wasn't in the mood for a sermon."
   "Oh, I'm afraid I'm an agnostic, Randy."
   "No, not preach.  Uh, ah, but telling me that it ain't right to be
what I am."
   "I'm sorry if I gave you that impression, Randy, but I can assure
you that I see nothing wrong with you being a homosexual.  My creator
was also a homosexual, and I was never quite able to comprehend why he
was so often made to feel shame, so often afeared for his life and
reputation, so desperate to keep his romantic entanglements a secret,
so often unhappy and anxious when he was in love."
   "Well, I ain't that," says Randy.  "I am content with the facts of
my existence.  Mostly."
   "My creator has been dead for several decades, and have been
dormant for roughly the same period of time.  I take it from the
frequency of the quote sermons unquote that you have received that,
and please correct me if I am wrong, but that the same prejudice
against homosexuals persists in this brave new world of Funk and
   "Uh... yeah.  I mean, it persists, the prejudice is there, but I
don't think it's as strong as it was.  A lot of us are out of the
closet, not hiding anymore.  Some places are more accepting than
others.  A few states and some countries allow gays and lesbians to
   "Hamoody would've liked that."
   "It ain't a crime anymore.  No more sodomy laws.  And there are
laws to protect our rights, so you can't lose a job for being gay,
can't lose your house, your insurance.  Now it still happens
sometimes, but when it does, we can fight it.  Huh.  You know, talking
about it, this is all stuff I kinda take for granted-- and don't get
me wrong, I think I should be taking it for granted, these are civil
rights-- but explaining it all to you, I can see that we've come a
long way, even if there's still a long ways to go yet.  That's what...
that's actually why I'm in Washington.  There's a big rally downtown.
The President's going to give a speech."
   "The President of the United States?"
   "Yeah, President Obama."
   "Franklin Roosevelt was the President when I was last active."
   "Wow, you have been out a long time."
   "Pardon me, Randy, but I think I would like to attend this rally.
At what time does it commence?"
   "Oh, it done commenced already," says Randy.  "But Justin-- that
was the... well, he took the car.  And by the time I get down there on
foot, it'll be over.  Maybe I can find a TV to watch it on..."
   "I don't mean to play the braggart," says the Grey Gelding, "but I
can achieve a consistent speed of thirty miles per hour without
endangering my rider physically."

   It doesn't take long for them to find the rally.  Nor does it take
long for the Gelding to attract attention.  Most register his presence
in the sort of whisper that is meant to be overheard: some marvel at
what he is, some wonder why he's here, some accuse the Gelding (and,
by extension, Randy) of trying to distract from seriousness of the
matter at hand.  The Gelding picks up on most of this obliquely,
though he has to ask Randy to clarify what is meant by the apparent
pejorative "drama queen".
   "Randy!" squeals a well-built woman.  She points to the Gelding's
long neck.  "Compensating for something?"
   Since the woman is addressing them directly, the Gelding reasons
that a response might be appropriate.  "Pardon me, madam, but is that
intended as some kind of insult?"
   "What?  No," says the woman.  "Well, kinda.  But not to you."
   "This is Julie, she means well," says Randy.  He brushes the
Gelding's metal face (a patronizing gesture that the Gelding chooses
not to comment on) and dismounts, embracing Julie enthusiastically.
   "Glad you made it," says Julie.  "Where's my cousin?"
   Randy bites his lip and casts his eyes on the ground.
   "Oh," says Julie.  "I'm sorry."
   "Yeah, well..."
   "Pardon me, Randy," speaks the Gelding, "but there appear to be a
number of persons here who I might be able to ask a series of short
questions.  I will find you again afterwards, if my companionship is
not too cumbersome?"
   "Not at all."
   "If you could please clarify, do you mean that you do not find my
companionship cumbersome, or that I should not attempt to find you
   Randy shakes his head, smiling. "I'll see you in a few."
   "Ah.  My thanks."

   About a half hour later, the Gelding finds Randy and Julie again,
his head spinning.  "Tell me, Randy, but have you heard of this thing
called the 'internet'?  It does sound quite remarkable!"
   "Yeah," nods Randy.  "It's how this whole thing was organized, how
we all in touch with each other."
   "Oh my," says the Gelding.
   There's a sudden roar of applause from the crowd.
   "There he is!" says Randy.  "Look, up on the stage!"
   "Excuse me, Randy, but who is 'he', and which 'he' is it?"
   "The President!  He's going to start speaking."
   And he does.
   The Gelding stares at him, rapt.  Then he turns to Randy.  "That is
the President."
   Randy puts his hand on the Gelding's neck and smiles.
   "I had assumed he was Irish," says the Gelding.  "In this last
hour, I've seen so many remarkable things.  But this is the thing I
think I shall remember most of all."

   Palmer Smith returns to the lab one final time that evening to
clear out his things.  "It's not fair," says Gerald.  "This wasn't the
way it was supposed to be."
   Smith peers in through the door.  The Gelding has returned, and Dr.
Fay is installing a wireless internet receiver directly into his head.
   "The internet!" seethes Gerald.  "People don't talk to each other
anymore, not the way you and me talk to each other.  They're always
texting and facebooking and whatever else.  There's no connection
anymore.  During the depression-- we read this, remember?-- during the
Great Depression, neighbours would bring each other soup if they were
sick.  But not now... No, everything's ruined now.  And look at him.
Look at the Gelding.  He's ruined.  You were going to bring something
back, something good, and now the world's ruined it.
   "This world is sick, Palmer.  And it's just going to keep getting
worse.  You were born too late.
   "You missed the golden age."


This is for High Concept # 5, the "Anachronoid"-- that is, an
artificial being that gets shuts down before World War II and comes
out after the war-- supplied by Dave Van Domelen.  I liked the concept
a lot, as it provides me with an opportunity to look at one of my big
thematic hobbyhorses, nostalgia, from another point of view.

I'm getting this in the day of the contest deadline, and it almost
didn't get finished in time.  I actually had written about double
what's here and I wasn't even 2/3 of the way done yet, and so rather
than slap an ending on that I scaled it back dramatically, jettisoning
nearly 6,000 hard-fought words, so that the ending that is here feels
of the same piece with the rest of it.  This means, of course, that I
ended up cutting the promised "Barack Obama riding on a robot horse".
My apologies.


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