Visions of odd, p.1
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       Visions Of Odd, p.1

           S. A. Barton
 
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Visions Of Odd


  Visions Of Odd

  An Anthology of very short stories by S. A. Barton

  Copyright 2012 S. A. Barton

  ***~~~***

  Contents:

  1: All Flesh Is Grass

  2: Fermi Person Omniscient

  3: Sleep

  4: Consent Of The Governed

  5: Mine Of Men

  6: The Circle Of Grass

  7: Ignorance Of The Law

  ***~~~***

  1:

  All Flesh Is Grass

  By S. A. Barton

  Copyright 2012 S. A. Barton

  Author’s note:

  After reading this, you may suspect that I wrote it solely to justify the last line, but it’s not true. I didn’t know that line would end the story until I wrote it. This setting is more the fantasy of an especially omnivorous author.

  The business calls it 'Vegan Meat'. Like every advertising brand, it's an accuracy-optional term. Yes, it's entirely cruelty-free and animal-death-free, but still definitely meat. Only a segment of tissue is grown, not the animal; there is no brain to be conscious of being a cow or a chicken, however conscious those creatures might be. Unless, of course, brains are on the menu. We don't advertise that option but it's obvious. It's true that a brain without input of some sort is just a lump of flesh, but the uninitiated can't help but think of it as an innately thinking thing.

  Vegan Meat is a controversial name. The current thinking is that the controversy is an asset. It keeps the name in the public ear, keeps people talking and writing about it. It's the opposite of the thinking of the last generation of PR experts who repeatedly tried to change the name, which stuck the moment it came out of an uncredited technician's mouth. People simply ignored the new terms. Granted, some of them deserved to be ignored. 'Neat', short for 'New Meat' tops the deserved-it list. 'Cruelty-free Meat' was too dry, too factual. Also, few customers want to buy something with the word cruelty on the label no matter what the next word is or how good the product tastes. 'Cloneburger' was too weird, but collectors love to find the old packaging with Moink the patchwork mascot, a puzzle stitched of cow and pig sporting huge neon green neck bolts. And so on.

  In the early days when my father was laying down footsteps for me to follow in, VM was a hard sell. Anything made in a lab was, and sometimes for good reason. Oversight was less consistent than it is today and a little too easy to sway if the right palms were greased. Vegan Meat never really fit in the much-feared frankenfood category, no matter what Moink looked like. The DNA of a piece is pure unaltered cow or chicken or whatever it is you're buying. Any blending is accomplished not by tinkering with the blueprint of life, but by growing two or more pieces of different tissue next to each other. But it's still close enough for some to distrust.

  Twenty years of creeping-slow progress, of market growth measured in fractions of percentages, and suddenly-- boom. Sales double in a year, then double again the next year. Five years to pass the sales of animal-grown meat, which is mainly a boutique product now. No reason for the sudden change that anyone can agree on, though there are plenty of theories. I fall into the 'it was a teen fad that caught on' camp.

  So R&D budgets explode along with the profits, and we can afford to tinker and play, to start coming up with things like beef tenderloins with a vein of pork fat cells down the middle to relieve the culinary monotony of lean that is the natural cut. We grow them with perfectly even dimensions, avoiding the difficulty of figuring out what to do with the skinny, oddly shaped ends of the muscle as it grows on a cow. We turn out Thanksgiving Turducken grown in neat three-layered sheets shaped to fold bonelessly around the traditional stuffing like a flesh burrito. Soft bone marrow in rectangular 100 gram sticks for half the price of butter. Billions of chicken wings without the complication of what to do with the rest of the bird, for which there is lower demand. Foie gras, made by the adjustment of a liquid nutrient mixture rather than a funnel jammed down a goose's gullet, regained its old appeal.

  When I was starting out, just a few years before father retired, it was getting really interesting. I made my reputation in SCUBA gear scratching a dozen whales' backs-- for the skin cells we used to make a fortune in Japan. Whale sashimi without whaling. Chefs began to explore the possibilities of anything we could get a cell sample of. Rhino, eagle, sea turtle, manatee, cheetah, panda, mammoth. Sometime after the dozenth 'exciting new star of endangered cuisine' it gets boring.

  Which is why I've spent a year separating myself from the company my father built and I fattened. Why I've disentangled my finances from theirs, sold my stock, divested my options, transferred my retirement fund, switched banks, fired all of my insurance carriers and found new ones. Why half of my net worth is tied up in a dark-windowed storefront in the middle of the edgy-trendiest neighborhood in this decade of the Big Apple's long history. Why the other half is tied up in the machinery of Vegan Meat-making and a chef who knows-- really knows-- what to do with anything I can coax out of it. We open our doors Friday night.

  Come eat me.

  ***~~~***

  2:

  Fermi Person Omniscient

  By S. A. Barton

  Copyright 2012 S. A. Barton

  Author’s note:

  My earliest known surviving piece of fiction is something dating back to grade school and involving dinosaur time machines. I had forgotten about it until it resurfaced in a box of memorabilia in my mother’s house only a few years ago. This story isn’t quite about dinosaur time machines, but that grade school story was very much on my mind when I wrote this.

  “I don't think it's possible,” the Sauroid in the long white lab gown said, scratching his dim and faded dewlap with his thumb-talon. His graduate assistant, dewlap still bright with youth, puffed the organ in question up slightly with the intellectual challenge.

  “Well, why not? We have an identified alternate, we can establish a larger wormhole, perhaps even on a scale visible to the naked eye...” he trailed off, plucking at the fabric of his shorter gown, the cut and the charcoal color symbolizing the subordinate status he was so close to discarding for the dress of a professional peer.

  “We've tried a hundred different variations, each one with the same result. It always closes after the smallest measurable unit of time. I'm not convinced we've done anything wrong any of those times, we've been successful. We need to look elsewhere. So, discard the mechanics of the wormhole. What else is there, Ithlith?”

  “Professor, if we could only see the same alternate twice, we might have an answer.”

  “The problem there is that the number of alternates is functionally equal to infinity.”

  “Maybe we're looking for the wrong thing. We keep trying for a glimpse in the visible spectrum, and what has it gotten us? A single photon each time.”

  “And that is curious as well, is it not? It is too consistent a result to be anything but the product of the opening of the wormhole itself.”

  “Unless, professor...” Itlith began, pupils widening, his dewlap expanding so dramatically it was nearly a mating display. The professor chuckled. Scientific inquiry was exciting, but it had been decades since he had been excited in quite that way.

  “Yes?” he prompted his protege, after an extended pause. The younger reptile drummed his blunt fingernails against the opposite thumb talon several times, gathering his thoughts. Finally he spoke.

  “Why do we never observe any evidence of intelligence, anywhere we look in our own universe?”

  “We do. There are several species of colonial shrew that can be said to have intelligence of a sort. Ants and bees certainly have a different quality of intelligence than ourselves, but one can hardly deny that as a hive they displ
ay a sort of cognition. Our own species' distant ancestors display the ability of a hatchling of two or three years, and the most intelligent of them can recognize themselves in a mirror, even groom with it.”

  “But nothing like us. Nothing that can produce technology beyond a termite-eating stick or an unmodified stone to beat open coconuts. Nothing that can ask, “why do I exist?””

  “Ithlith, are you saying the photon...?” An idea was gathering in the professor's mind like a thunderhead, expanding rapidly. It was blind speculation, of course. If they could somehow prove it, it could make a career, possibly a place in the history books.

  “A universe will tolerate only one class of intelligent observer. The instant we observe an alternate, we introduce a second. A second observer demands a separate universe. The alternate splits, leaving us, if you use the crude metaphor of a tree, looking at the empty space between two diverging branches. The wormhole, left literally opening into nothing, ceases to exist instantly.”

  “So the reason there are no intelligent aliens or terrestrial species to see in our own universe...” Ithlith cut him off in the excitement of his conclusion.

  “...is that there are no aliens here, no other intelligences. There cannot be. It's strictly one universe to a customer. The moment a second intelligence arises, a new alternate is formed, segregating the two. There is no mechanism possible for one to visit another, the mere act of observation forces a divergence.”

  “And therefore there appears to be intelligence everywhere, multiversally. We've opened more than twelve hundred wormholes. Every one of them has displayed the same behavior. Who knows where those photons were from? Suns shining over worlds of self-aware fish, insects, mammals, extra-terrestrials. If there were any barren alternates we'd have found them by now, unless they are outrageously rare or we are outrageously unfortunate. Either that, or we've merged them with our own, becoming their observer.”

  “So intelligence seems to arise at every opportunity, but only once in each alternate. Professor...” Ithlith's dewlap and crest both darkened a bit at his daring and his hope as he continued, “...may I be listed as co-author, rather than contributor when we publish?”

  “Write the paper,” he said, biting off the words. “List me as contributor. Call when you need me, when you figure out how to go about demonstrating any of this. I need a rest.” He exited abruptly, leaving his student wide-nostrilled with surprise.

  It is bad enough, this growing old, the Professor thought, but now I am lonely as well.

  ***~~~***

  3:

  Sleep

  By S. A. Barton

  Copyright 2012 S. A. Barton

  Author’s note:

  Between high school and roughly age thrity-seven, for nearly twenty years, I wrote almost nothing. I loved reading, I loved stories, I often thought about stories and writing… but something always held me back. Sometimes that something was a simple lack of confidence. Sometimes it was active alcoholism, now thankfully in remission.

  But I never stopped loving stories. This is one of the first things I wrote when I began writing again. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to actually do with this. Complicating the matter is the fact that this isn’t really a story, it’s a vignette-- a descriptive piece, showing the reader a setting but lacking a proper plot and character development. As a form of written literature, the vignette seems to be out of vogue, if it was ever in vogue. But it’s a form I enjoy, and I think it has value.

  Based in Taiwan, there is a company that very few know exists. Even Taiwanese who have lived in the west coast city of Chang-hua are unaware of it, although its offices, unmarked buildings of smoke-darkened native stone, have been there for centuries. Those in the know, know it as "Long Dragon Slumber Trading Company". Originally a local concern like many others of the same kind throughout the globe, in the late 1800s it began to expand throughout the world. First trading in Hong Kong, via the British Empire it soon secured loyal and eager customers throughout the world. By the halcyon (in the United States, at least) years of the 1950s it had, officially unseen and unregulated by any government, become a monopoly in its field. Even Japanese occupation and the Communist revolution that led to the estrangement of Taiwan and mainland China had no effect on the expansion of the Long Dragon. One way or another, by official channels or underground ones, someone was ultimately prevailed upon to facilitate trade. And trade, as we know, is like any show, and the show must go on.

  Daily, old, gray, stooped men and women make their ways to Long Dragon in the cold gloaming. From their lonely, single-person dwellings, unmarked by any sign of family or friends, they come unnoticed like wisps of fog, flowing through the paths and channels and ravines of the dark landscape. Throughout the night, their co-workers have piloted wind-worn ships of ancient wood grown smooth and silvery into deserted coves in the rough coastline, pregnant and wallowing with loads of cargo from all over the world and shipping out the same to those who can afford it. Only an elite few, the most illuminated of the Illuminati who, being truly secret, bear almost no resemblance to the popular conception of Illuminati, know of the trade and fewer still have the resources to participate.

  The trade, my friends, is sleep. Not just any sleep. Deep, luxurious, warm and downy sleep, utterly refreshing with gentle and affirming dreams woven through it like warm springtime sun weaves through the drowsy canopy of an apple grove. A precious and rare commodity. It is harvested during the showing of hour-long braying informercials, old black and white movies and polished plastic late-night talk shows while you toss and turn, believing that something is wrong with you. It's not that you cannot stop the rush of your busy mind rehashing yet another day just like the one before, it's not that you've been lazy and slothful and so are not tired enough to sleep, it's not that there's something subtly wrong with your brain chemistry that demands pills and potions and intoxicants to haul you roughly down into unsatisfying unconsciousness. You're being shorn. Like sheep.

  This hazy soft fresh sleep, rightfully yours and uncompensated, is packed into burlap sacks and smuggled out of every country in the world under cover of deepest night by ancient Taiwanese coolies who have been old men since before Columbus sailed. Cunning beyond cunning, they slip through the alleys and dockyards so softly that rats and guard dogs nuzzle the wind in confusion only after they have already departed. Some say they even trick their own shadows into getting lost behind them, fueling legends of shades and ghosts as the poor shadows mourn their lost masters in the cold moonlight. The sleep is shuttled over the waves in junks weathered so deeply that they are in fact of the weather themselves; only meteorologists ever track them and they have never understood what they are seeing. In squall lines, in storms, in mighty typhoons, the junks haul their loads of sacks of newly shorn raw sleep, sailing across the mighty Pacific. Safely ashore, equally ancient women bend over smoky soybean oil lamps dexterously picking out impurities with gnarled fingers like old mahogany before they card the sleep, weave it into gossamer thread, and the thread into the rich but fleeting gossamer dream-patterns of deep, luxurious sleep, lighter than an infant's breath. Through unmarked back-alley offices in the lees of the bustling human currents of Hong Kong, the elite of the world buy it by the bolt for sums that are disguised as social programs; take a gander at the budget sometime and you will realize how very dear this fabric is. From there, it makes its way back to but a few of the nations where it was harvested. The very nature of human trade, whether the locals call it capitalism, communism, or whatever other name, dictates that it will not be at all evenly redistributed. Ah, well, this is the way of the world, is it not? The elite keep nearly all of it for themselves and their families, dreaming sumptuous dreams that encompass whole lifetimes in a single night, awaking refreshed and ready to put forth the vast effort and thought it takes to preserve such a conspiracy for centuries unrevealed, to rule whole countries and continents and the very world.

&
nbsp; The threadbare leftovers they release to the winds, ragged and stained scraps of rich sleep-feasts just enough to keep the masses satisfied, but barely. Bag-eyed, yawning, and coffee-fortified, we stagger through our days never knowing the touch of finely woven sleep, but only of the rags our masters leave us. Yes, we are ignorant, but that is not our fault. When the dog eats his dinner-scraps, he does not think of himself as a dog eating leavings, but as a peer sharing the meal. The smile on his face and his wagging tail are proof enough that he believes he shares the real feast.

  ***~~~***

  4:

  Consent Of The Governed

  By S A Barton

  Copyright 2012 S. A. Barton

  Author’s note:

  This is one vision of ageless humans in a high-population future. Compare it with Mine Of Men, which is next in this collection.

  I'm watching the clock and my heart is pounding so hard the cool azure digits of the countdown wiggle with excitement as I watch. The com is wide open in public mode and nearly the whole of the human race moves around me, transparent and murmuring. Fifty-eight are hermits and not present, but the rest of us number nearly fifteen hundred. It is enough.

  The seconds slip away, slowly eating the minutes, and the murmuring dies as we watch, all remembering the same moment, so long ago, only hours after the Crash. When the planetary AI went silent, all of humanity went to the com, same as today. The Governor had defined everything in all our fourteen billion ageless lives, made everything we needed, provided all the entertainment we wanted, selected who would bear the replacement when one of us died. For all of the distractions of the perfect garden world the Governor tended for us, the children absorbed us the most by far.

  From the selection, the release of the genital blocks by the Governor, through the birth and education of the child, to assumption of full adult rights at the traditional age of one hundred and one years, they were our only true interest. Everything else was just a pastime.

 
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