|A short story about autism and Asperger Syndrome based on my experiences in high school in the late 1970's with a remarkable teacher.|
This content is intended for mature audiences.
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It didn’t take long before I noticed little things that weren’t quite the same; the subtle difference in the color of my morning creamer, a prominent politician in the news whose face was somehow unfamiliar. The changes were everywhere.
“Might take longer to find her in this one,” I said to myself.
How many places had I visited? Hundreds, maybe thousands; cramped city apartments high over noisy streets, thatched huts in serene mountain villages, opulent townhomes nestled along coastal resorts. I could never remember all the names, so I just called them Dreamvilles.
Gina was nearby. I could feel it. She was the best thing that ever happened to me, and the only good part of what had happened to put me in this predicament.
Growing up, I’d always felt a kind of disconnect; an awareness of being wedged half in this world, and half in another that must surely be better. I could swear, once in a while, that something had changed in the mornings when I got out of bed, as if I had leaned slightly to the side, into that other world. My older brother made fun of me when I asked my parents about it, so I never mentioned it to anybody again; not for a long while, anyway. After reaching adult age, I just put it down to the imaginations most kids have.
It wasn’t a bad childhood. Mom and dad were stern, sure, but never anything physical. I had friends, or at least thought I did, so I wasn’t lonely, and I still don’t think I’ve ever really experienced what other people describe as depression. But I have this thing where I kind of look down on everything around me, you know? Detachment -- that’s probably the best word for it.
Maybe I just needed to find "wholeness", to use one of those woo-ish kind of words; to be securely planted in one reality. It didn’t matter so much which one, although the alternatives always seemed more appealing; greener grass, and all that.
Then Gina happened. I knew she could root me in the way I was looking for, but I also had a sense she’d take me places. At the time, I couldn’t conceive of what that really meant. I wasn’t exactly in deep thinking mode whenever those velvety brown eyes were cast in my direction.
She owned her own business, an online rental agency offering memory shards that contained sens-mem experiences; mostly extreme sports, adventures on Mars, and some racier kinds of things. Supposedly personal information had been scrubbed from the shards, but in one I tried I could hear someone’s name called out in the background; bad editing, I guess. It wasn’t Gina’s fault. She bought them in batches from a sharing co-op, and priced them cheap, with no guarantee of quality. When the customer returned the rental, they could enter a rating, so Gina had written a program to weed out and discard the least popular shards. Gotta keep those ratings up.
Unlike me, she had goals, and a direction in life. I’d gone to college on my old man’s dime. He sold life extension insurance, and made a killing at it (so to speak). Longevity science was a tricky affair, and often didn’t live up (there I go again) to the hype. I graduated with a business degree, and went to work for him.
I first met Gina at a bar. It was like any other bar scene, so I’ll spare you the details. Afterwards, I nestled up against her, and brushed the back of my hand along that flat sheen of chestnut hair. She stroked my arm, then put her lips to my ear. “Is there any place you’ve always wanted to visit?”
“You’ve never been to Hawaii?” When I shook my head, she reached behind my back and tapped a chattoo on her forearm. Seconds later, we were scheduled for a flight, leaving the next day. Damn, this girl was something else.
After a minute, I raised my head off her chest. Those coffee eyes had me mumbling just a little. “You ever feel you’re someplace else in the morning, like you’re still in a shard or something?”
“Sure. It happens to everyone, all the time. I know this physicist who says it’s the Funhouse effect, only it’s not mirrors around you; more like back doors. He calls them ‘flincters’, as in -”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“It’s usually subtle, and hardly anyone notices. That’s probably what attracted me to you. You’ve got that look in your eye. Like you know something’s up, but can’t put your finger on it.”
She’d had me down to a tee before I even knew her name.
“I’ve never been like other people, I guess.” Lame, but it was all I could think of in the moment. “Felt like that for as long as I can remember.” Lame, lame, lame.
“How do you know you’re really still you,” she had asked, “the one who was born, anyway?”
“If something around you is always slightly off every time you wake up, then maybe a few of your own molecules, here or there, get changed; whole genes, even, or some cells, or what if an organ is -”
“Stop it! You’re freaking me out.”
She just laughed and pulled away, that smooth skin slipping through my arms. A perfect smile flashed over a perfect shoulder as she headed towards the shower. You bet I was in love.
It was that physicist friend of hers who messed things up. He came storming into Gina's office one day, interrupting a very entertaining story I was telling her about my days as an insurance salesman, and pulled us both into the back room.
He said he’d found a way to target the most prominent changes on the other side of a flincter (cripes, I hated that word!), so you could use it to travel the world. His explanation involved some gobbledygook about quasiparticle this or that, and a mental process related to something called “hyperalgesia”, whatever that is. He seemed to think he could control everybody’s lives in every freaking universe everywhere, from the way he talked. He held up a shiny round disk; pretty plain looking, but when he twisted the top and bottom halves, they turned in opposite directions and separated just a bit. There was some heat escaping from the slit when I traced the edge with my knuckles.
As it turned out, Wonderboy’s claim of god-like power was just a bit overblown.
We had a blast, at first. The three of us would sit in a circle and put on scalp caps Gina had printed that hooked up wirelessly to what’s-his-name’s gadget. Then we’d agree on where we wanted to go next. We’d take a sip of a knockout drug (I don’t remember which one), and more often than not, end up where we planned. Sometimes it wouldn’t be quite exact, but close enough. We kept jumping around to different spots on the globe, spend an hour or a day messing around at nothing, then we’d be off again.
Every three of four jumps, I thought I noticed my watch losing a second or two. I had it checked, and was assured that perfect accuracy was guaranteed by the latest physics. I kept that bit of info to myself. It got worse when Mr. Third Wheel turned serious about his big idea, and went all megalomaniac on us. He pushed us to think about something from history while we had the caps on. The time spreads got bigger, but never more than a few hours back. He said that, unlike countless sci fi stories, there was no chance of meeting yourself. The universe didn’t work that way, according to his long-winded explanation, none of which stuck in my head. At some point, the subject of cheating on the stock market came up, but hey, we weren’t criminals.
One day I woke up and a redhead was lying next to me. Complimenting Gina on her new hair color turned out to be the wrong thing to say, so I confronted the Wunderkind. His smartass mouth got on my nerves, so I shoved him. Gina stepped in and managed to stop us before things got ugly. Later I took him aside and tried to get him to leave, but he said one person alone couldn’t control the jumps, so it wouldn’t be fair. If nothing else, I consider myself a reasonable guy, so I let it go.
At each new location, changes to the world got more and more obvious, and little ones kept cropping up in my companions. According to the boy genius, you couldn’t tell when anything about yourself changed, because of (and I made sure I memorized this one) a negative self-reference effect.
On our first off-planet trip, to Disney’s Lunar Cosmos, we noticed the biggest change of all; Wonderboy had disappeared.
After our companion was gone, Gina and I decided to move to Oahu, near Honolulu’s busy downtown strip. Her business was easy enough to relocate, since it was just all pieces of data travelling through the air, or however that works. New clients were a cinch, and she was up and running in no time. I handled the online business ads.
We found that, with concentration, we didn’t need the device to jump together, and could even wake up back in our own home whenever we wanted. We only did it when we needed a vacation, which was pretty often. We had a few happy months together.
Then Wonderboy showed up again, and royally screwed things all kinds of wrong.
He never said what had happened to him; just wanted to test a new idea about thought transference, and jumping while we were awake. I was against it, but Gina trusted him, so I gave in pretty quickly. He had us take barbiturate pills, then put the caps on; said our brains needed to learn the new routine. We just sat in our chairs, staring at one other for a long time. The local news was playing in the background, and I think a commercial was on. Nothing seemed to be happening, until Gina started to say something. She was cut short by a sudden shift in background noise.
The jet ski engine blasted my ears, then the hull hit my head so hard the ringing drowned it out. In the ski’s widening wake a patch of blood started spreading out, but it wasn’t mine. Gina bobbed in the middle, her last thought still in her eyes. My gut clenched hard. I forgot to tread water for a second, but gritted my teeth and managed to pull her body to the beach.
When Poindexter waded ashore, my hands were around his throat before I knew what I was doing. I noticed all three caps were tucked into his shirt. That bastard was still holding onto his gizmo, and he gave it a twist. Poof, he vanished.
A police report was filed, but I can’t remember what I did next; walked for a while, probably. Eventually I made it back to our house, and didn’t sleep for another three days.
I kept the business going as long as I could, but I’m just a salesman, so I accepted a takeover deal that will fund my needs for the rest of my life. I moved out of the house and got myself a fancy apartment. That was nice, but nothing would ever be the same with Gina gone.
Only, I knew she wasn’t dead; not everywhere, anyway.
I discovered that if I thought about Gina as I fell asleep, I could make my own small jumps. Maybe part of her ability got added to mine in the accident, or maybe I just got lucky. In any case, I spent countless hours browsing online travel sites and clicking on vacation ads, day in and day out. Whenever I sensed that a spot was a good one, I’d pop a sleeping pill, and take a chance. No matter how many jumps it took, I swore I’d never give up.
A year later I found her, on the southern edge of the Big Island of all places. She’d started her own store, the “Hoshidana Hut”, that delivered high quality Kona beans with no shipping charge to anywhere in the world. It was a huge success, and no one had figured out the secret to her business model. She didn’t recognize me when I bought a pound, and I didn’t want to press things at first. Every day for the next week I’d stop by, she’d offer me a free sample cup, and we’d talk. Our conversations got longer, until we finally made a date.
The next morning, she was gone; at least the Gina I knew. She might have been ten, twelve at most, getting a shaved ice from a food truck at what had been the Hut’s spot the day before. When I looked at her, she made me feel old.
So I’ll keep browsing, and jumping, and hoping. How many trips will it take? Who knows. When I finally find her, and she’s close to the way I remember, we’ll talk ... and then, well, maybe something special will happen, only this time with a good ending.
And that little dipshit had better wish I never see him again.
|At the intersection of consciousness and physics.|
Quantum probabilities hovered, then settled into a decision. “Hit me,” the android said.
Jennifer asked, “You're sure?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Please hit me.”
She extended her arm, and set the playing card face-up in front of him. He stared down at the table, then asked, “Twenty-one, I believe?”
Turning over her card, Jennifer sighed. “And yet again.” She leaned forward, dark eyes narrowing on an olive complexion. “You're a lucky robot, Harold.”
He grinned. Synthetic gel-flesh stretched over silicate cheeks and jaw, drawn by fibrous nano-carbon muscle. His red hair, neatly cropped, seemed genuine enough, belying its polymer composition. “My intuition serves me well, Dr. Oswald. Luck is an illusion, don't you think?”
“You might be right.” She took a sip from her glass of recycled water. Behind Harold, through tall vis-ports framed by beams of metal alloy ribbing, a slow procession of crescent lights revealed the other habitation rings encircling the colony ship's main body. “I notice you're still having difficulty with numbers.”
He furrowed his brow. “I often feel ... constrained when I try to think about math or logic.”
“Nothing to be embarrassed about. We've not yet loaded the final layer of symbolic thinking into your higher level matrix.”
Tense shoulders lowering, he said, “I see. Will I be getting the upgrade soon?”
“Not for a while yet. Since you've only been awake a few weeks, we'll need to continue testing it in your holo-sim for the time being.”
The android visualized his virtual self, stored in the holographic information repository. The model recreated his brain's basic architecture, and could be programmed to generate high-probability results based on narrowly defined input.
Jennifer said, “In any case, this human has decided she's had enough losing hands for one afternoon.” The scientist gathered the laminate deck into a neat pile.
The pair stood in unison. Lemon swaths collided with salmon pink on the walls and ceiling of the game room. Designed to heighten alertness, the color scheme proved distasteful to some, but soothing to Harold, who often came here to relax. He raised his eyebrows, and asked, “Jennifer, can I ask you a question?”
She glanced at the artificial man. Linen trousers and top, both a mottled marble of blues and grays, loosely covered his small build. In contrast, her inky black hair and solid white medical uniform appeared stark and unnatural. She replied, “Of course. Anything you like.”
“Are you upset about my relationship with Manuel?”
The AI specialist hesitated, then cleared her throat. “Not at all. Professor Renoix and I split up some time ago. No hard feelings there, Harold.”
“Are you sure? Lijuan told me you were sad and angry for a while.”
“Really. We're fine.” She placed a palm on his shoulder. “No worries.”
Harold smiled. The phrase was one of his favorites. It helped calm his fears whenever a situation triggered one of his many anxieties. Jennifer always seemed to know just the right time to use it.
The first android and his creator forge a new path for humanity.
*full version available in my anthology on Amazon.
With a two-legged lunge, SkippingRock barreled into SunAndBear’s shoulder, knocking the smaller boy flat on his back. SunAndBear’s head smacked against the frozen hillside. His fur-covered garments, encrusted with snow and pine needles, were damp with sweat. He threw his arms around his older brother’s ribs, and shoved him to one side. Rolling on top, SunAndBear pinned SkippingRock with forearms against collarbone, knees on top of arms. SkippingRock struggled, and tried to buck SunAndBear off, but he was too heavy to budge. SunAndBear let out a whoop and a chuckle.
The boys separated. SkippingRock rubbed his chest where his sibling’s elbows had pressed deep into the muscle. SunAndBear gingerly felt behind his head, wincing when his fingers pressed on the point at the rear. Then it was SkippingRock’s turn to laugh, a breathy rasp that was followed by SunAndBear’s toothy smile. This time, there were no permanent injuries to either teenage clansmen. Earlier in the year, SunAndBear’s thigh bone had been cracked by a particularly hard dropkick from his playmate. The limp lasted for weeks. His herb gathering duties had been passed to SkippingRock as punishment.
From the valley floor, their mother’s hooting call echoed through the grove of evergreens. Time to head back to camp. The troop was preparing to travel towards the warmer regions to the south, where the brothers looked forward to once again eating the sweet root vegetables that grew there. Meals filled with nothing but seeds and nuts had quickly come to disgust them. Larger game was available out on the flatlands, too. The thought of seared bison meat, dripping with fat, always made SunAndBear’s mouth water. He was tired of the stringy fare from small game in these wooded highlands. Licking purple berry stains off his fingers one last time, he and SkippingRock picked up animal-skin bags loaded with dry branches and pine cones to head down the slope towards where the others were packing up.
It was a blustery day. The odor from a recently extinguished fire at the center of the camp carried along the floor of the valley to the base of the hillside. SkippingRock picked up a scent, following it until he spotted LooksAtTrees near the fire pit where the forest gave way to bare tundra. Her pitch black hair glistened in mid-morning light, pulled back and tied between her shoulder blades with coarse twine. She turned at the crackling of ice-covered grass. With gentle cooing she nuzzled up against his neck, tracing her forefinger along his cheeks and nose. The ash she had been scooping from the pit, placed by the handful into a small pouch, left gray smudges across his face. She giggled at the sight. Once he realized what she was doing he gently pushed her away, wiping off the soot before playfully chasing after her.
In 50,000 BCE a family begins a journey for a chance at a lasting legacy.
*full version available in my anthology on Amazon.
Her fingers and toes were numb with cold, but Caroline managed to get to her feet, and maintain a wobbly stance under the dim starlight. Sand, and bits of rock, fell from her pressure suit. She massaged a sore knee. Nothing feels broken, at least. Helmet light isn’t working, but status indicators on the forearm are lit. Power and oxygen supplies better than half gone. Communications is out. She scrambled for the data collector, and breathed a sigh of relief when she found it still resting in its pouch. A quick check showed the device to be in working order.
Her memory of the crash wasn’t completely clear. More than anything, she recalled the surprising ferocity of wind and debris that had battered the copter. The weather was calm now, but storm activity was sure to rekindle with the coming heat of a new day. She searched the immediate area. There were no signs of her fellow scientists, the crew, or the aircraft itself. Hope they got home safe.
Depleted life support meant there was no chance for her to make it back to the city. The factory was in range, although it was beyond reason to think she could reach their goal in this condition. Not much choice. Using the stars as a guide, she headed to the west.
Martian colonists struggle against the forces of nature. One woman leads the way.
*full version available in my anthology on Amazon.
Zeeko was happy in his bubble. It wasn’t a particularly large one, but it was all he needed. All he should ever need, he’d been told. A soup of breathable, digestible liquid buoyed his light frame. It warmed him, bathed him, and kept him secure.
A purple tinge of ultraviolet ringed a supernova remnant in the distance. Silver x-ray blobs gave it a soft halo. He flared both hands, and pushed towards that side, skin between elongated fingers stretched to maximum, webbed feet kicking alternately. With a palm against the inner surface, he reduced shielding to let in an extra dose of the energy-reviving rays streaming from that ancient solar apocalypse. Sometimes, just for fun, he allowed nebula dust to filter through the membrane. He liked the way it tickled.
He thought-propelled his bubble closer to a sharing node, then eased it up against Anilla's. Surfaces glommed together. Permeability rose, allowing them to share bacteria-sized data packets, and chemical traces of memories and emotions. The two friends took a moment to absorb each other’s recent history. Anilla had been working on a new piece of art. Zeeko experienced the joy she took in her craft. She could feel Zeeko's excitement for his project, an investigation of those who had traveled through the great Crevasse. She was thrilled, and communicated her support for his quest.
He had pulsed his wish for that information through the cloud of bubbles, where it was relayed by anyone who came into contact with it. Zeeko did the same throughout his day, intuitively redirecting a thousand messages, questions, or requests along the most relevant path.
It was the rogue clusters he was really interested in. Those empty, discarded mini-globules that tore away from their clutch-sacs, to be swept along the Meridian Corridor. Swift running currents carried them faster and faster, until they ultimately passed through the Crevasse, and were lost.
What was beyond that slit in the fabric of the continuum? Myths from the distant past told of cultures on the other side that remained stuck to surface habitats. He’d often told others of his burning desire to explore there.
“Don’t go near the Toody pools,” many in his clutch-sac had warned. “You’ll be pulled into a pocket and flattened before you know it.” But Zeeko waved off their advice as the anxiety of those who feared the unknown. To him it was irresistible.
A young alien's restlessness leads him away from home, and towards new worlds.
*full version available in my anthology on Amazon.
Bright orange spheres, the size of marbles, pelted the ground as John dove through an open, chain-link gate. He winced when his knee struck a sharp edge of jagged concrete. The gate closed and locked behind him. An egg-shaped tracker bot hovered just outside, a whir coming from the small propellers encircling its lower body. The bot, its minimal AI well within government restrictions, seemed satisfied the quarry was safely confined. It sped off.
He stood, and brushed bits of gravel from his beard. A metal sign over the gate flapped in the mid-morning breeze. It read, “Neurots Only”.
With a slight limp, he headed into a ramshackle shelter. Debris pelted the thin metal walls, the wind kicking up dust eddies when it snaked through cracks along the ground. He pulled a small object from his backpack, then tucked his arm behind him.
A little girl playing alone glanced in his direction. She scampered over, giggling as she tried to grab what he held. Slowly, he pulled his arm forward. Caroline’s eyes widened as John handed her the battered, toy train car. Its tarnished sides left smudges on her fingers when she set it on the floor and started playing with it. Giving his daughter's hair a tousle, he left her to play.
Outside, he heard a commotion from the commons area, so he headed down the hill. There was a small group gathered just inside the meeting space. Mark, leaning against a support beam, caught John’s eye, and together the brothers edged towards the center of the activity.
Gavin shouted, “We've got to stand up for ourselves! The overseer's got extra bots on patrol, and there's talk of making curfew an hour earlier. She’s even proposed limiting food rations more.” Many in the crowd seemed agitated.
John reached inside his jacket, and pulled out a tattered piece of yellowed paper. He said, “This is an image of one of my ancestors.” He held the scrap up. On it was the faded photo of a young woman, standing next to a picnic table. The date “July 4, 1997” was written on the back. He continued. “Mark and I found this, along with historical documents, in a grotto just north of here. There are records there, proof that we come from common stock.”
Gavin exclaimed, “This proves nothing! No one in their right mind would believe the damned golems would ever consider giving us equal status.”
John looked at him disapprovingly, and said, “I've asked you not to use that term. We don't need name calling to make things worse. And the kids can hear you.”
“Oh, hell,” Gavin spat back. “Let them listen. What difference does it make? They're gonna grow up with no chance for a better future as long as you're in charge.”
John noticed the red marks from restraint straps around Gavin's wrists. He said, “We have contacts in the city. They gave us a talk chit that gives us five minutes to speak before the city representatives. Mark and I plan on attending their meeting today.”
Gavin asked, “Do you really think the repatriation committee will turn over a century of legislation and enforcement policies based on scraps of paper?” Several members of the group voiced their agreement.
John paused to let the chatter die down, and said, “Let's put it to a vote.” Raised hands showed a majority in favor of the attempt. He said, “It's agreed, then. If we’re lucky, we'll have good news for everyone this afternoon.” The brothers left together, and John excused himself to put Caroline to bed.
A society of savants struggles with issues of discrimination in a world rebuilding from apocalypse.
*full version available in my anthology on Amazon.
From the journal of Dr. Langdon P. Rutherford, Esq
March 25, 1878
It was on the evening of August 11, 1853, that the mysterious package arrived. A boy stood on my doorstep, holding a wooden box with outstretched arms. In the distance, the receding clatter of hooves was interspersed by a driver’s faint commands.
“Special delivery, sir.” The lad spoke in haste, and seemed eager to rid himself of his possession. My usual caution gave way to intrigue as I took the object from him. Much to my consternation, before I could retrieve payment from my waistcoat pocket, he scampered down the walkway, furtively looking over his shoulder.
I shook my head in mild irritation, and called out to my wife. “Claire, was a delivery from the postal service expected this evening?”
When no reply came, I set the box atop the dining room table. On inspection, it revealed no lettering, or markings of any kind. The planks appeared to have been carved from a common wood. Its craftsmanship, however, was of such high degree that I could not detect any trace of seams between the components of its construction. For the moment, a means of opening it constituted a conundrum.
I left the box on the table, and turned to the base of the stairway, again calling for my wife. Silence followed a second time, but her presence was made known by the muffled click of heels as she busied herself with her usual activities at this hour.
Our childless marriage was in its sixth year, and my dear Claire’s growing disfavor with the situation led to our current arrangement. I had agreed to limit my occupation to the lower rooms, while she remained above. We met only twice each day; once for polite conversation over the first meal of the day, and again in the evening to exchange a pleasant goodnight.
Without the voluntary company of my beloved, and seeing no solution to the puzzle, I decided to retire for the evening. I withdrew to a room at the rear of the house, once intended for occupation by a toddler, but which now served as my sleeping quarters. Barely had I lain head against pillow before the soothing waters of the river Lethe carried me to the cave of Hypnos.
In which Dr. Rutherford's life takes an unexpected turn.
*full version available in my anthology on Amazon.