Mr. Buttons

“You don’t have enough points,” the receptionist said, waiting a beat before adding, “sir.”  She glared at me then glanced past me to the door.  I could only guess that the beefy security guard standing sentry at the entrance was now striding silently towards me, readying to place one of his paws on my shoulder.

“How many goddamn points do I need?  That guy had less points than me!”  I pointed behind her desk to the closed door.  It had just sealed shut behind Kwade.  He had stepped into the darkness and looked back at me with a sneering sideways grin.    She watched me with pursed lips, clearly out of patience as I kept my arm up, trying to make my point.  Just then I felt a flash pain at the base of my neck and in an instant I was down, supporting myself like an injured football player on a hand and knee, staring at the black wingtips of the security guard.

“Alright, alright!  You don’t need to do that – I’ll leave.”  I stayed there on the cracked tile floor until his grip loosened and his other hand curled under my armpit, lifting me up.  Still struggling to get my feet underneath me,  I was propelled to the front door that slid open with a hiss as I crossed the sensor and onto the sidewalk.  Another hiss as the door closed.  A speaker over the door crackled at me in an authoritative female voice, “Good day, Mr. Buttons.”  I had exactly three seconds to step away from the door before it dumped a torrent of icy water on me.  I stepped away towards the gutter.  I turned around and looked up at the monster that held my fate and the fate of so many others.

It was tall enough to break through the blanket of dark clouds, ancient stonework architecture covered in green moss, broken only by black windows that started thirty feet up.  Retrofitted with modern security doors and military grade glass after the revolution, it had once been a lifeless municipal building; presently it contained the secret to all of our lives.  It loomed over a dying city.

“Good day, Mr. Buttons,” the speaker repeated.  I was not foolhardy enough to stay any longer.  I quickly shuffled away, pulling a thin corduroy jacket tightly around me.  Cool air pushed its way through the building unceasingly, pulling along a cloak of cold, soaking mist.  I tucked my chin to my chest and wondered what to do next.

Modules, Merps, and Orby

I’ve been an operator for a little over a year now.  I operate what is known to the public as an Ambassador.  My Ambassador’s official name is 28105-ORB.  I call him Orby.

It goes something like this.  There are many ways that a citizen can make a complaint about a crime or a quality of life violation.  We’ll focus on an emergency call, let’s say a robbery in the park.  A man has just walked his son to a friend’s house, and is now on his way back to his house.  He decides to take a shortcut through the park.  He is set upon by an unknown assailant, who approaches his victim, knocks him to the ground, then goes through his pockets and takes his wallet.  The man is understandably stunned and shocked, and he takes a few seconds to get his bearings and realize what has happened.  During this time, the robber has been making a hasty getaway, on foot, through the park to his block.

The man simply gets himself to his feet, if he can, or crawls no more than ten feet to a small circle that sits in the ground.  It is an alert module.  It is circular and red, six inches in diameter, and is attached to a web of sensors that connect it to the underground network.  We also have wireless modules, but the response time is somewhat delayed, and for our example in an urban setting, the wired version is appropriate.

The sensor immediately reads the hand of the crime victim and senses an elevated heart rate – indicating a heightened stress level.  It also pulls fingerprints and a DNA sample.  An identification of the man is made nearly instantaneously.  At this point all surrounding sensors are activated within a 100 yard radius and the modules begin pulling DNA samples from any airborne particulates – sweat, saliva, hair, skin cells – and processes them for identities.

The man can speak and tell the module what has happened – each module has a boundary microphone which is activated and will record and whatever the man says.  Language algorithms will interpret whatever the man says and respond appropriately.

Module Response Porters – or Merps – will have been dispatched immediately.  Merps are quick and nimble, brightly colored, lightly armored, upright machines; running on two rubberized tracks, a humanoid torso and head a Merp has two crane-like arms with articulating fingers designed for aiding humans, and high-definition cameras for eyes.  There are porters stationed throughout the city in regular intervals.  They do not move but to respond when summoned by the modules.

The closest Merp will respond directly to the activated module.  The remaining merps will surround the module at staggered 20- and 40-yard intervals in 360 degrees to collect visual information, enhance the air analysis already begun by the modules, and to begin an initial pursuit of suspects if necessary.  Response time is no more than twenty seconds to the initial module.  If suspect pursuit is required, a Merp can command the response of one or more Crisis Intervention Specialists, or CriSpecs, to engage.

The responding Merp – now known as Alpha for case purposes – will locate the victim and instantly determine the proper protocol to execute in the following order: access victim’s memory, render aid, transmit description of perpetrator, determine crime committed, analyze victim’s skin and clothing for trace evidence.

Assuming no apprehension is made on the scene, this is where Orby comes in……

Jumping Between Comets

Lance wandered out into the meadow.  His large black eyes followed the terrain of the rolling hill in front of him.  His ears were an exercise of motion, flipping backward and forward as they detected a sudden rustle of branches, or an unexpected disturbance nearby.  The mist had settled itself onto the pavement, deciding as it sometimes does in the early spring to hang around until the morning sun became strong enough to burn through it.

The first flyers came winding around the bend of the blacktop that bordered the meadow.  They came in a parallel pair, as they always do, all bright and dazzling white, as bright and sure of themselves as two tiny suns, whizzing right towards the meadow before following the turn of the lane and retreating into the distance, the brilliant white transformed to a smoldering red in an instant.

The flyers came and went like this every so often, and Lance would raise his head each time.  Lance would let his mind wander as he bowed his head to the ground, his nose and lips searching for the grass that was most tender.  The watering hole in the western woods was especially busy today; all the animals were hopping with excitement over the early spring; the dough he had run into on his walk back to the den was shy and avoided his eye, but he hoped that she might turn up at the meadow tonight.

As they flyers whizzed by the meadow, Lance noticed that each time he raised his head to watch their meteoric approach, he found himself a little bit closer to the mist-covered pavement.  He knew the black curve that separated this side of the meadow from that side of the meadow could be dangerous.  Too many of his friends had met their fate at the hands of the flyers.

But Lance found the flyers hypnotizing to watch, like the ripples from a stone thrown into a quiet pond.  The flyers careened into the bend like comets, and as close as Lance was, they seemed to be coming straight for him.  Lance stood tall and stoic, his black eyes locked on the fiery flyers, and as they sped towards him, a thought flashed through his mind – a revelation, really.  It seemed impossible yet simultaneously unavoidable.  Lance wanted something at that moment, more than anything in the world, to be the first of his kind – maybe the first of any kind.  He wanted to stand in between the flyers as they flew by.  He wanted to feel the air moving on his ears, to see the exact moment they changed from blinding white to red, to know that at that moment he could be not only in between the two meadows he had known his whole life, but also in between the lights of fear and wonder he had beheld his entire existence.

So he jumped.

Edgar and the Maple

Edgar sat on the white porcelain ring, a familiar seat that had grown warm underneath his ass.  The pins and needles in his legs had given way to blissful numbness.

He hadn’t turned on the light – he never did.  He had lifted a paper shade over the window just a few inches and he could crane his head over the sill and peek out like a sentry armed with bow and arrow.  He watched life pass.

Low clouds – endlessly gray – pressed down on him and a lone crow taunted Edgar hiding behind his shade.  A maple leaned and shushed in a sharp breeze that ripped red leaves from their stems and deposited them on the sidewalk below.

The sidewalk was a narrow row of unassuming concrete squares running parallel with his window; it was littered with broken twigs and decaying dogshit.  The street beyond was black with rain.  A small circle beneath the maple retained its grayish concrete hue.

A man wearing a pressed black suit and a bowler hat hurried past on the sidewalk.  He carried a large black umbrella.  Edgar watched as the man lingered underneath the maple and adjusted the chain of the watch in his pocket.  The man in the bowler looked up and rested his eyes on Edgar’s window

Edgar ducked his head below the level of the sill, cursing at himself.  He clenched his hands into balls in his lap and chewed on his lips as he rocked forward and back.   He listened for a sound – the soft pressure of a palm against the glass placed there to shield a reflection, or the click of the paint breaking as the window is lifted from its frame from the outside.  Edgar was too terrified to look.  He imagined the man in his black suit and bowler hat would be leaning over him, at once demanding and expecting an explanation from Edgar.

His fingernails cut into his palms and his back was aching.  He lifted his head.  His eyes slowly climbed the white tiles on the wall.  The man in the bowler is not standing there.  Edgar closed his eyes and released his breath.  He stretched his fingers, opening and closing his hands, feeling the sweat that had accumulated on his palms.

Edgar peered out at his maple tree from beneath the paper shade, and watched the red leaves fall.

Return of the Barking Spider

The air is holding the dampness of late summer while the stars shine their clean light through a blue night that is as crisp as an autumn apple.  The vultures are roosting high in the oaks and maples at the edges of the forest.  Throngs of tourists have thinned as the last pumpkins patches have been picked clean and the leaves have surrendered their vibrant crimsons and solar yellows and settled into the more serene shades of browns and maroons.  Geese have been a common sight in their flightpaths southward.  Our local deer have begun to take on their thicker, shaggier coat to ward off the biting cold that waits in the coming months.  Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

Another signal of winter harkening is the return of the barking spider.  Although this tiny and mostly invisible anthropod calls our little town home the year round, his calls will be heard most frequently as the climate cools and we all spend a little more of our time indoors.  His distinctive calls will echo in our bathrooms and sneak out from under our sheets at night; they will interrupt an otherwise promising first date, and will seem to follow your children around wherever they go.

Although known to frequent senior center TV rooms and high school locker rooms, the barking spider can also occasionally be heard butting in on Sunday’s sermon from the third or fourth pew from the back, or on line at the grocery store, causing many heads to turn to see if they can nose out the exact location of the pesky intruder.

Like the great grizzly bear, he is a loner, and prefers the comfort of solitude.  When taken by surprise, however, he can release his trademark growl – a fiery rip like an industrial-sized zipper being pulled open.  Adept at hiding in plain view, the barking spider will sound his triumphant call proudly in the privacy of his own home.  And while in public places he will do his best to mute his song like a velvet hand, it often escapes like an iron fist, betraying his hiding place in one regrettable toot.

Consider yourself lucky if you find yourself face to face with the barking spider, because though his shriek might bring to mind a wild boar grunting its way through the wild everglades, most will prefer the fearsome sound to his smaller cousin, the “silent-but-deadly.”

City Soldiers

The East River swells and rolls,
while in squads of city soldiers
we fare well a brother fallen,
Winds winding off Jamaica Bay
bring raindrops that hide tears
of fearless men when they tumble from brims
of bowed heads.

Engines rumble like a distant army marching
toward a battle that is lost already.
Two by two on avenue they approach,
a great silverback escorting his band,
clearing a trail for the innocent dead.

We salute as one,
our fists white-gloved fury.
Only today we ignore the fight,
relieve ourselves the burden
of the ungrateful, giving us strength
to shoulder a brother’s share.

Ridgefield in Late October

Ridgefield in late October is the thick skin of summer split open to reveal a vibrant and meaty flesh of a dying year.  It is a last gasp, a final plea, a showcase of potential that inevitably and incredibly will be dismissed for the pale brittleness of a long winter.

It is a small triumph of a long year.  It is an oasis after a journey through a desert.  It is a victory won by battles fought through last year’s winter.  It is the medal ceremony of spring and summer, full of the satisfied grins of children feeling the warm breath of August on their cheeks.  It is a reminder of the short days ahead of us, the bracing first breath of the morning, the snow falling through the light of a streetlamp that cuts through a dark night, the smell of a neighbor’s fireplace.

Ridgefield in late October is the wind catching the burning embers of summer, fanning a flaring blaze of fiery foliage (of fall).

Ridgefield in late October is pumpkins, trick-or-treaters, mothers walking with babies in carriers, thoughts of Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie, warm hellos, the thoughtfulness of strangers.