Unemployed in Greenland

I can see the moment in my head like a film sequence. Or a script.

***

INT. Office. Morning.

ANDY walks in, shoulder bag jingling. He turns on the lights and heads to his desk. He only pauses when he sees his BOSS and the DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS (DOPS) seated in the glass fishbowl conference room.

He approaches his desk and drops his bag into this chair. SLOW REVEAL – Andy looks down and sees a FEDEX BOX, open and empty, sitting right beside his desk.

Andy takes a deep breath. His hands start to shake, but he quiets his nerves and puts on a smile just as the Boss comes out of the conference room.

BOSS: Hey, Andy, can we speak with you for a minute?

Andy nods and keeps up his fake smile. He knows what’s coming. But he straightens out his cuffs and turns around.

ANDY: Sure! How can I help?

***

After three months at my new job I, and four others at the company, including the CEO, were given walking papers. In an irony only found in life, and badly scripted films, it was the 2nd anniversary of my marriage that day and this kind of corporate turnover was exactly why I wanted out of my last job.

What lessons? First – you can build a lot of dread and suspense with common items in just the right context. Anyone who sees a moving box on their desk one morning knows what it means. There’s one of two things coming. Either you’re being let go, or someone is running an elaborate Borderlands / Se7en in joke.

“Awww. What’s in the box? What’s in the BOX???”

Second – time is a blessing. It allows you to do things, yes, but it also gives you too much room to get lost in thought. Best to keep busy. Make a schedule. Stick to it. Shave every day. But keep in the back of your mind – you are still in shock. You need to have time to cope.

Third lesson – times like this reveal a lot about folks. The moment my departure hit social media, in addition to the waves of sympathy I also received a half dozen “Call me when you’re ready! Let’s talk!” Good folks react to a problem by running towards it and saying, “How can I help?”

So what do I do? First, take a vacation. I did not take off between my final day with my previous company and joining my last one. So, I’m rectifying this. Will start working towards a job at Memorial Day.

Now? Now I focus on the small things that need doing around the house and on my Litreactor course with the inimitable Gemma Files as my teacher. I will enjoy the vacation weekend I have scheduled with my wife in a secluded part of the Chesapeake Bay. And then I will get back to the job search.

One day, the scene I just wrote out will make it into a story. Just not today. Today, I need to focus on a few other things.

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I’m Afraid of Stagnation

So, before I go anywhere, you have to check out this video of some kids doing Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio.” Absolutely amazing!

Now that’s done, back to the regularly scheduled thought balloon. (With amazing art by Michael Guerra).

I was reading an article where an author opined about David Bowie. He kept asking, in a more extended way, why couldn’t David Bowie write “brilliant” things like Ziggie Stardust or “Ashes to Ashes” all the way through his life.

My first reaction was, “What’s wrong with later Bowie?” It’s hard for me to imagine a world where we never had Black Star. Where Earthling never existed or the song that defines our current era, “I’m Afraid of Americans” was never written.

I can understand what he was trying to say. Later on, he explained that everything succumbs to entropy. Eventually, artistic endeavors tend towards blandness because it gets harder and harder to go out there, get a little crazy, unless you make a deliberate effort.

But did he have to use Bowie as an example? This is an artist whose last album in his lifetime was a made with jazz artists and produced a music video so strange, I’ve seen conspiracy theories stating it’s a Satanic ritual in progress.

David Bowie and Prince are the St. Peter and St. Paul of “Hey, let’s try something new.” Maybe one day I’ll write up why I agree with Eric Clapton that Prince was one of the best guitarists out there, but you get the idea. Both of them could have stuck with what worked – with the things that gained them fame. But they didn’t. They deliberately went and experimented. They tried new things.

This was a deliberate, conscious effort to explore and expand. To not stay in the, “Hey, this works. I’ll stick with it.” And they both paid the price for it, but also reaped the rewards. It’s hard work, breaking out of the mold. Especially if you’ve built it yourself.

And you’re certainly not encouraged to do it. But he did, despite market pressures.

So, if Bowie was actually practicing the law – fighting against entropy, trying not to succumb to blandness in a conscious way – why pick him?

I have my theories, but I think they’re a bit unkind to the author. I don’t want to pin him with Boomer style snobbishness. “Our generation knew Bowie at his best. You only got his leftovers, when he was spent, and not a vital artist.” But that’s what it feels like.

And to me, that’s succumbing to entropy and blandness as much as anything else. It’s one thing to say you don’t groove to later Bowie as much as you did to his Ziggy Stardust days. But it’s a disservice to the artist, and those who enjoy his later work to say it’s not worth enjoying. That it’s falling to stagnation just because it’s not what you enjoy.

Try and open up a bit. Might feel something interesting. Maybe a little wonder.

(And, yes, Earthling is my Bowie album. Fight me.)

The Ticking Clock

The Ticking Clock
By
Andrija Popovic
(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

4:19 AM Eastern Time. 

Every morning, an hour and a half before his alarm was set to go off, he awoke. His eyes snapped open. He took a deep breath, almost gasping. Reaching out, he touched his snoring wife’s form to one side, and his snoring cat’s from to the other. 

You have time. Just go back to sleep. He would tell himself this lie every time. But his mind would never fall back into torpor. He was awake. The ticking clock inside him said it was time to walk about, to rise. The rest of his body obeyed, despite his mind’s dearest wishes. 

After the fifth night, his wife said: “You need to see a specialist.”

So he visited the body shop and had his specialist crack him open. As he lay back, brain case exposed, the specialist peered at a tiny bit of grey matter held between two foreceps. “Well, that’s your problem right there.”

“What?”

“Damn biological clock was never set to auto-update for daylight savings time.  Gonna have to reprogram it and get it synced again. That’ll probably be another nine-hundred or so.”

Goddamned highway robbery, he thought. The specialist took the grey matter away and tinkered with it, quietly, in the background. Another two thousand down the tubes. Still, what was the value of a good night’s sleep?

4:19 AM Eastern Time. His mental clock did not go off. He did not wake up suddenly.

He woke up slowly, and really had to pee. Son of a bitch…

It Was A Day

It Was A Day

by

Andrija Popovic
(c) 2017 Andrija Popovic

I’d just returned home and downloaded into my standard body when Theta pinged my personal network. “Hey? You centered yet?”

“Gimme a bit. I’m still synching.” My work body, designed for zero-G work, rested comfortably in the wall transfer closet. I shook the pins & needles from my normal form. No prehensile feet and tail on this one. Just a baseline model crafted to match against my original body’s DNA.  I watched the counter on my iris-HUD click over to green. All experiences from work were now synced, and backed-up in off-line memory. “Still feeling a little post-sync crud. Heading to the shower. Join me there?”

“Already have it warm for you.” Thea v.7 was one fork of a SyntheticIntelligence I met at work. She (preferred pronoun) ran predictive micrometeorite tracking and helped keep the orbital free of debris. Most nights, she was syncing with her sisters, matching version numbers and trading the day’s news around this time. I’d come home, we’d talk – she liked low-level processing. Said it felt more thoughtful.

When she dropped by early, she was usually interested in syncing with my nervous system, and playing hologram in my tiny apartment. Stepping into the shower, I felt her request for connectivity. Granting it, I closed my eyes. Water ran down my back, pushing aside the transfer closet’s preservative sludge.  Opening my eyes, I saw her in the shower with me. She manifested as a curvy lady in her mid-40’s with curly dark hair and shimmering koi tattoos running along her back.  We complimented each other well. I leaned in and kissed her, the system pairing tricking my nerves into thinking the projection was real.

“Hey. How’s the family?”

“Well. They’re doing well.” She wrapped her arms around my waist. The shower was barely big enough for myself and her hologram. She glitched slightly against the walls. One day, we’d be able to add another sector to our habitat module. Get a full-sized shower with double the projectors. But, I supposed those are the dreams young transhuman couples have: move in together, get more cloud and physical storage, maybe settle down into something permanent. “The sisters did ask me about something, though. And it lead me to think. I took a work cycle of personal time to help sort this through.”

“Oh? What’s that?” I let the shower hit me with soap and hair jell.

Thea reached up and showed me the palm of her hand. The koi tattoo along her back drifted, swimming up to her palm. When it surfaced, it blew a bubble with a compacted optical scan code embedded in the surface. I decoded it in a blink. It was her root address – the one she shared with all the other instances of herself. But it was too long. It had–

“Is this…oh, Thea, are you sure?”

“Yes.” She took my hand. “Maxi, I’d like to single-instance myself with you. I’d like to be a unique Thea. One that lives with you. If you’ll have me.”

By way of an answer, I reached out and took the code from her hand. My personal network read the address information, and instantly gave it a unique presence in my systems. Thea no longer shared a root system with her systems. She shared it with me.”

“I’d be honored.” I held her against me, enjoying the illusion of her actually being in the shower with me. “Welcome home, Thea v.7.m.” And then I laughed. “So, what next? Furniture shopping together.”

“Maybe. Did I tell you I was looking for datalife friendly bodies? Found a few I liked, but wanted to get your thoughts…” Thea smiled. I closed my eyes, picked through a memory of a particularly interesting kiss from my past, and dubbed her into it. She almost purred.

“Thea, hon, you are always in my thoughts. Now, let me get dried off. We can hop the mesh into one of the monitoring satellites and watch the sun hit the orbital as we talk.” Thea returned the kiss, edited and enhanced, and stepped out of the shower. I had a moment to myself.

Shared networks. It was time. And I’d been thinking of asking her. Now the body, that’s a different commitment. We’d need to slow down a bit, but we had time. As I shut off the shower, and walked over to the wall screens where Thea’s preferred bodies were displayed. Most were starter kits – simple, but a good place for any SI to begin feeling the new world. A year from now, maybe we could afford a more advanced model for her.

What is the one-year anniversary gift for a mixed SI/transhuman relationship? I didn’t know. but I wanted to find out.

(Inspired by a recent viewing of Blade Runner 2049.)

Death of All Things – Now In Print

The new anthology set from Zombies Need Brains, LLC, is now in print. This includes The Death of All Things featuring my short story, “Finding the Dancer.”

Please, pick up a copy, and encourage your friends to do so as well.  I share space with some amazing writers, and had the privilege of being edited by two authors I admire: Kat Richards and Laura Ann Gilman.

You can also get the amazing cover for this book as an art print at the ZNB store:

Death-of-all-Things

While you’re there, pick up the companion anthologies Submerged and All Hail our Robot Conquerors! My earlier appearance in ZNB’s Alien Artifacts anthology is still in print. You’ll want it for “The God Emperor of Lassie Point” alone. Trust me.

Meanwhile, That Tuesday (NSFW)

Meanwhile, That Tuesday
by
Andrija Popovic

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

 

Tuesday morning, cultists of Sesuva-Danna, the Seething God of Pain and Ecstasy, captured Michael Disimilov on his way to work. They dragged him out into the dark reaches of the city, beneath an abandoned manor, and flayed the business suit from his back with razor-tipped flails. Worshipers – male, female, indeterminate and others – took turns pleasuring and torturing him. Strapped to a great framework cut from the bones of dead gods, blood and semen ran down his body in equal measure. In the space of half a day, Michael’s nerves no longer distinguished between the cut of a blade or the lick of a tongue.

And then the rituals began.

Great malefic drawings were made from the spilled life on the floor. The cultists painted odes to their god, mixing pigment with that which dripped from Michael’s orifices. The walls blazed with Giger-esque landscapes; orgies of flayed bodies, tentacled faces, and alien genitalia swirled together into a whirlwind of aching desire. In the center of the great sexual melee stood the Priest/ess of Sesuva-Sanna, resplendent in zir piercing-covered skin and cobalt-blue body paint. Ze stroked Michael’s quivering lips and spoke:

“Rejoice! You have been chosen. You will become part of the great gateway that allows Sesuva-Danna to enter this realm at the next alignment of the stars. For thirty days and thirty nights, you will be loved and defiled until all sensations become one silver spear of light. Then, only then, will Sesuva-Danna descend upon this realm, and devour us all!”

Oh, thank God, thought Michael. At least I won’t have to tell my boss the Finterbrook account is cancelling. It’ll spare me another dip in my renewal rate…

Michael laughed and cried. He rejoiced as the Priest/Ess straddled and penetrated him, while the cultists sang, decorating each other with scars. This was his best Tuesday in months. For while he may become the unholy conduit through which a sybaritic god would enter this world, at least he would not have to withstand another Quarterly Business Review with Devon Martin and his smug “it doesn’t matter how terrible the product if you can sell the value of the company” speeches.

For once, Michael couldn’t wait for hump day…

 

The Tour is Not Worth the Donation

The Tour Is Not Worth the DonationBy

Andrija Popovic

(C) 2017 Andrija Popovic

“Hello, and welcome to the National Museum of Existential Dread. Thank you for your donation and for participating in this tour. My name is Andy and I will be your guide. Before we reach our main attraction, please take a moment to download our tour app onto your personal devices and networks.

“While we wait, allow me to describe the museum itself. This is a unique example of early twenty-first century Brutalist revival architecture. Based on an unused design found in the home of the late master of Brutalism, Paul Rudolphe, the museum was constructed from traditional materials for the style. The exposed concrete, blackened metal framework, and tinted windows emphasize the imposing, angular design of the building. At it’s opening, the noted architectural critic Anna DuMonde said, “the building almost crushes one under its harsh, unrelenting, lines.”

“OK, it looks like everyone has downloaded the application. Thank you. We’ll move on to our first exhibit before the main gallery. Existential Dread was first described by the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his book, “The Concept of Dread.” While he primarily centered existential dread around concepts of faith, in later years this dread centered around the unmoored feelings brought on by existence itself.

“Human freedom, and the responsibility to use that freedom, became a source of melancholia or angst within a person. As one realizes there is no higher plan, no direction in life, it becomes initially liberating, but engenders a terror on par with agoraphobia. Dread, existential dread, becomes a response to the meaninglessness and absurdity of life.

“We then attempt to suppress this dread by indulging in the everyday routines in life. Suffocating routine becomes a comfort. We abdicate our freedoms for the comfort of the mundane. Only the supremely confident amongst, or the supremely narcissistic and sociopathic, can look at the terrifying breadth of human experience and feel they can master it.”

“Now, please follow me into the main hall and activate your personal networks and devices.”

“What you are seeing – projected via the most advanced direct input simsense technology allowed by law – is your life. The terms of service you agreed to when downloading our tour application allowed our advanced synthetic intelligence driven datacrawlers to pull together a full profile of your life. Yes, the museum only consists of the first floor. All other floors contain the necessary machinery to present our subject in absolute clarity.”

“Look upon the different panels. Each is hung like a portrait. Each one is tailored to your life and your life alone. The simsense projectors will ensure no one but you sees the images there. You will see every choice you made to get to where you are today. But you can look and see a projection of where you could have gone, where you should have gone, had you just… been… better. 

“This is you as you could have been. Had you not let the existential dread of total freedom lead you to choose lives that masked your angst with drudgery, false ambition, failed passions, and meaningless relationships –

“Had you been masters of your choices, and not pawns of fate and fear –

“Had you not given in to existential dread –

“Well, look how amazing you would be.”

“And if you think this cruel of me, well, I’m on these walls as well. Imagine the dread which lead me to be a tour guide in a museum like this.”

“Now, please take a moment to collect yourselves. There are chairs and couches if you needn’t a seat. Tissues are provided, though we do not offer drinks until you have reached the museum bar at the end of the tour. When you are ready, just step through the door.

“Much like life, from here on out, you are on your own. And there is no guide. Thank you. And, please, fill out a comment card.”