Lemniscate

“Are you sure?” Remiel asked.

The old woman before him nodded.

“Place your hand here,” he continued. She followed his order and placed her hand on the smooth tablet he held before her. Then he ushered her to the door behind him. The door closed with a thud that echoed through the great room. It was all white. Even the lone table and two chairs. There were no windows or lights. The whiteness of the walls, floor, and ceiling seemed to reflect each other in a way that illuminated every inch of every surface. No shadows existed anywhere.

He sat down to find another dossier had replaced the last. He rested the tablet on the table then picked up the file and flicked through its contents reviewing the information inside. The information that would allow him to pass judgement on his next guest.

When he was satisfied he had seen enough to make an accurate decision, he dropped the dossier onto the table and rose. The human named Francis Nguyen arrived through the door in front of him. A hint of confusion was visible on the small man’s face as he strode across the large room. Each footfall echoed within the chamber and Remiel made an adjustment that softened the noise. Then, as he approached Mr. Nguyen, he reduced his own size to be identical to his guests by shrinking a few inches and thinning himself.

“Mr. Nguyen,” Remiel greeted his guest and showed him to the lone table. Mr. Nguyen bowed graciously before taking his seat. Remiel took his own seat before formally beginning the conversation. Mr. Nguyen had been composed so far, which was an excellent sign.

“Do you know where you are Francis?”

“I do,” Mr. Nguyen said, briefly taking in more of the modest room. “It is good to see you again, Mr. Remiel, though I do not seem to recall the last or first time we met.”

Remiel smiled. “That is to be expected. I am familiar because we have met on multiple occasions.” Remiel himself did not know this until a moment ago when he reviewed the dossier and regained his memories of the previous Francis Nguyen, who had been called Lindsay Williamson. She had been eighty-two years old, whereas Francis was thirty-eight.

“Can you remind me why I am here?” Mr. Nguyen asked.

“Your time has ended, for now, in the land of the living.”

“Ah, I see, and I am here for my final judgement.”

“Not yet, Mr. Nguyen. You have lived just over two hundred years across five lives. You have a few more to experience before the final judgement is given.”

“I will go back then?”

“Not as you are currently.”

Mr. Nguyen’s eyes narrowed and he turned his head ever so slightly.

“What do you remember of your previous lives?” Remiel asked.

“Nothing.”

“That is because you cannot take your memories with you. You must start again. A clean slate. No prior experiences and under new circumstances. You have done this several times already. Only when you have lived your three hundred and thirty-three years will you be ready to receive your final judgment.”

Mr. Nguyen nodded. “Yes, I’m beginning to remember, but please forgive me. Why so many years?”

“One life is too short to accurately pass judgement on a soul. Multiple lives are required to collect the necessary information to make a proper assessment.”

“Then I have no choice to accept?”

“There is always a choice.” Remiel picked up the tablet and rose from his chair. Mr. Nguyen stood as well. They walked a few paces before Remiel turned to face Mr. Nguyen and present the tablet.

“When you place your hand on this, it will absorb all of your memories. Then you will pass through the door behind me to begin your next life. The choice you have in this moment is where you will be born and how long your life will last. You cannot choose who your parents will be or how you will be born or any aspect of how your life will be beyond where it will begin and time it will take. You will have no control over how your life will end and no memory of the length you had chosen. You will be born into the world you just left. Nothing will have changed. You currently have 129 years to live before we meet for the last time. Knowing this, make your choice.”

Then, as if from a particle of dust in the spotless room, a miniature earth grew into existence above the tablet until its surface could be seen in detail. Mr. Nguyen examined the moon slowly circling the planet and was tempted to pluck it out of orbit and look at it closer, but he quickly returned his gaze to the world before him. He remembered everything he could about what the world was like. After a few moments he made his decision. Niue. A small island in the Pacific Ocean. He loved the water and hoped to have a simple, yet enjoyable life there.

“Seventy-two years.”

“Are you sure?” Remiel asked.

Mr. Nguyen nodded.

“Place your hand here,” Remiel continued.

Mr. Nguyen followed the instructions and placed his hand on the tablet. Every memory withing him transferred to the tablet. As did Remiel’s memories, through his own hand placed on the underside of the tablet, until both of their collective memories had been extracted.

When Mr. Nguyen removed his hand. Remiel looked up at him and smiled. Then he guided his guest to the door behind him and ushered him through. The door closed and Remiel returned to the table and placed the tablet on its surface. All memories of his previous guest were gone. A new dossier was sitting on the table. He sat down and flicked through the pages absorbing the memories of his next guest. Remembering each time they met and the lives this one had lived. Once he felt prepared, he placed the information back on table and rose to greet his new visitor as she walked through the door.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. This was one of my required readings in high school (or was it middle school?). Either way, I absolutely loved it. I need to read it again.

This book was originally released in 1939 with a very different title that was changed for obvious reasons. The original title, Ten Little Niggers, was apparently taken from a song (or possibly a nursery rhyme). It has another title, Ten Little Indians, but when introduced in America in 1940 it was given the name that it has since been known by. Obviously the title change was needed and in no way would be seen on shelves today. Luckily it escaped its title issues because it is truly is a great read and has gone on to sell over 100 million copies, is the most popular of Christie’s books, and back in 2009 was listed as the sixth best-selling novel of all time.

The story takes place in the late 1930s. Eight strangers are invited to a house on an island where they are met by two others. After dinner, a recording is played that accuses each member of a murder they have committed in their past. Then one of the guests is killed and what ensues is an intricate game to discover the killer and survive.

Many stories have used this premise since this book was published, which just goes to show how popular and influential it is. The first movie based on the book came out in 1945. The most recent adaptation I found was a few years ago in 2015 which is a television series. I won’t be surprised if we see a newer movie made about this book in a few years. After all, we just got another remake of The Murder on the Orient Express which is another of Christie’s novels.

If you like mysteries, or just like being drawn into a book where you can’t stop reading, then read this one if you haven’t. It is on the Great American Read Top 100 list for a reason. Christie is considered a master of mystery and is a popular author whose works have and will continue to entertain readers.

Happy Reading.

Prototype

Mathias followed his detector over the ridge of scrap to find the target, but it was not what he expected. Before him wasn’t a Viper II or a Leo IV, it was a small shell rummaging through the junk pile. It was one he didn’t recognize, which put him on edge instantly, but there was something about the machine that he couldn’t quite place. It was the strangest sight he had seen in a long time. Perhaps that is why he didn’t kill it right away. Instead, he chose to observe it. Gathering intel on new series was vital in any scenario. The little machine hadn’t noticed him and his detector hadn’t picked up anything else in the area.

Byron caught up to him and quietly readied his rifle putting the small machine in his sights. Mathias placed a hand on the gun and shook his head. Byron gave him a quizzical look and Mathias pulled a comm unit from his pack and typed a message.

‘Never seen this model before. Observe.’

Byron took the unit and typed a message back: ‘Copy. New series?’

Mathias shrugged. Whatever it was, he was sure it wasn’t good. They watched it for an hour before Byron messaged Mathias he was going to rest for a bit and to wake him should anything happen. He retreated down the scrap heap a few steps and found a comfortable piece to rest on. With his dirt stained jacket and boots, he blended into the rusted landscape. Mathias could feel the grime coating his own clothes and knew he was also invisible to the human eye as long as he remained still. He even thought he might be invisible to the scanning eyes of the machines as well. He smirked at the thought, knowing that such thinking would surely get him killed. He checked his detector again to make sure no other machines were nearby.

He observed the little machine for another hour. The entire time the little machine was simply digging through the scraps. Mathias began to wonder what it could be looking for, or if it even knew what it was doing. Perhaps it had malfunctioned. It stood at roughly three feet, had a spherical head, bulky rectangular body with large square feet underneath, and thin, hydraulic arms that were so disproportionate that it almost suggested it wasn’t constructed to hunt humans. This thought scared Mathias into shouldering his rifle. He intended to observe the machine a little longer before making it a permanent addition to the scrap piles. But, he thought, if it is malfunctioning, perhaps we could capture it for analysis.

Linda would go crazy for an operational unit to plug into. She was always asking for one. Complaining that they could never bring her anything intact. Stating she could learn more from a live unit than one thousand fried ones. Maybe today was her lucky day.

The little unit stopped rummaging and held a thin piece of metal in its similarly thin fingers. Then it brought the piece in front of its lenses and scrutinized it. Then the machine let out a laugh that made Mathias freeze. Adrenaline rushed through his body but he remained frozen. He had never in his twenty-four years scavenging heard a machine make such a noise. Mathias kept his eyes glued to the unit below as it giggled again. Then it held the piece of metal aloft and swung it through the air.

The arm moved in a swift, flicking pattern and the box-shaped unit stepped forward. “Fight me you coward.” The word emitted from the spherical head. Mathias almost open fired when he heard the words but soon realized the words were not directed at him. They didn’t seem to be directed at anything. The little unit giggled again, then swung the metal shard through the air. “You cannot beat me,” it echoed. Mathias dropped his rifle and stared at the machine.

Byron was beside him once again. The noise had surely stirred him from his nap. They were used to only the wind when scavenging on the surface. Anything else usually meant a tracker hunting them down, which meant a fight.

‘What is it doing?’ Byron typed into the comm unit.

‘It seems to be’ Mathias paused, thinking for the right word, then typed, ‘playing.’

Byron gave him the confused look he was expecting. A look that could not hide the tinge of fear.

The little unit kept swishing the thin piece of metal through the air and talking to itself randomly. Then they heard the rattle of a tracker through the rubble. It had a distinct sound. Metal on metal as it raced over and through the scrapyard. They both instantly shouldered their rifles. Mathias peeked at the detector. His eyes fixated on the screen as the noise rumbled in his ears. Finally, a green dot appeared from the north. A tag appeared next to the dot. Leo IV. Mathias nudged Byron and showed him the screen. Byron nodded and they both readied their rifles to the north. A Leo was too quick to outrun. They would have to destroy it.

Mathias glanced down at the little unit then had to look again. It was looking toward the north also, but had placed its thing arms atop its head and was rapidly moving from side to side, as if it were quivering.

He looked back toward the approaching Leo. He could see the landscape shifting, bulging as the hunting machine made its way through the pile of metal. It was nearly upon them. Mathias felt lucky the Leo had to exit the scrap in front of them and into the small valley where the unit was playing. Lucky that they had high ground.

The raging machine burst forth from the pile of rubble and was aimed directly at the small, quivering unit below. To Mathias, the next few seconds seemed to extend themselves allowing him to see and assess everything. What he saw was the Leo unit emerging from the scrap pile in front of the small unit. It was already swinging one of its large paw-like limbs. Mathias knew too well the force behind such a swing. He’d once seen a man get caught by one and it had cut through the man’s waist as if it were simply air. The swing would have cut right through a human’s chest, but was too high and missed the little unit. The Leo soared past the unit. As it skid across the dirt and readied itself to leap again and destroy the little unit, Mathias open fired. Byron quickly followed suit and they were able to destroy it before it was able to fully change its momentum. It fell to the ground and became another fixture among the scrap.

He turned his attention to the little unit, which was now looking at them.

“Quickly,” Mathias risked a whisper, “gather what you can from the Leo.”

Byron looked at him and nodded toward the little unit.

Mathias nodded and gestured Byron toward the still smoking Leo. They both descended the ridge of metal and parted ways at the bottom. Byron toward his objective, and Mathias toward the little unit.

He slowed as he neared the boxy figure. The lenses in the sphere followed his movements. He noticed the unit was still quivering slightly.

“What are you?” Mathias whispered. He looked around them to make sure nothing else moved nearby. “Answer quietly,” he added.

The little unit stopped quivering. “Are you a scavenger?” it said.

“Quiet,” Mathias whispered sternly, then answered, “yes, we are scavengers. You know about us?” He couldn’t help but shake a feeling of dread welling in his gut.

“Father used to speak of your kind,” it said at a slightly lower volume. It wasn’t low enough for Mathias’s liking, but he let it continue. “You are fighting against the progress.”

Mathias pointed at the Leo, where Byron was picking through the remains, and said, “That is not progress.”

“That is what protects us,” the unit said.

“What do you mean ‘us’.”

“The real humans. The ones still working.”

“What?” Mathias caught himself from raising his voice. “How can you count yourself among those beyond the wall?”

“You mean within the wall? Of course.”

“But,” Mathias couldn’t understand, “How? You aren’t even human?”

“Of course I am. I was part of the proty type test that father was in charge of. He said I would become the next type of human. The first one, and everyone else would follow me.”

Mathias felt his head spinning. The rumors were true. “How did you get out here?” he asked.

“I don’t remember,” the little unit said, “I was talking to Father when they poked me. Then everything went dark. I woke up outside the wall in a pile of machines. I’ve been wandering for a few days now. I’m terribly hungry sir. Do you have any food?”

Mathias stared at the little unit. Byron had finished scavenging parts from the Leo and now stood beside him. No doubt he had heard their entire conversation. “What is it?” he whispered into Mathias’s ear.

“I don’t know, but we need to get it to Linda. It was an experiment beyond the wall.”

Byron nodded and Mathias turned back to the little unit. It stared at him with its mechanical lenses. They were void of emotion yet he couldn’t help but feel the fear and hope hiding behind them.

“Come with us,” Mathias whispered, “We have food back at our camp.”

He offered his hand to the little machine. One of its thin, metal arms reached out, hesitated, then finally took his hand. They turned and headed back up the scrap-heap. As he helped the small machine navigate the metal landscape, Mathias couldn’t help but remember his son.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Andrew.” The machine said.

“Nice to meet you Andrew,” he replied, “I’m Mathias.” He stared as the little machine struggled along with its box figure and wide, metal feet. His heart sank. He didn’t need to wait for Linda’s examination to confirm what he already knew. This little metal box contained the mind of boy. A boy who had once been human. Now trapped inside a rusting piece of metal. Used and discarded like every other piece of trash that littered the surface.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This book was released in 2008 and is the first in a trilogy. It became a popular movies series (of four movies) in 2012. I first read the books in December of 2011 after I received the trilogy box set as a Christmas gift. I promptly read all three books within a few weeks. My favorite of the trilogy is actually the second book, Catching Fire. This book is well written, captivating, and intense.

In a dystopian future where America is crippled by a war, the land is split into thirteen districts. Every year, two children from each district is chosen to participate in the games, which is a battle royale fight to the death. Pretty insane, I know (and this was well before Fortnite blew up and made the battle royale thing popular). You may have seen the movies. If you have, I hope you read the books as well, though I do think the movies did a good job following the source material.

This book series is surprisingly aimed at young adults, but I think it does a great job focusing on the characters versus the violence and allows the reader to become engrossed in the events that lie outside the main character’s control. Obviously the whole system if messed up, but Katniss, though limited, does everything she can to protect what she loves and improve the dismal world she lives in. She may not go about things in the best way, but it’s never easy going against an established societal norm. This is why I think this series will endure as a popular story. The battles these characters face can be applied as reflections of what we see in our own world.

I know sometimes people don’t want to give something a shot because it was super popular and possibly over-hyped. If you haven’t read this series because of one of those reasons, try it out. I think you may be surprised.

Happy Reading.

 

Against the Current

Garreth picked up the metal pipe that had fallen from his overloaded leather bag and kept going. He was late with his meeting before the Thinkers. He hoped that he would be able to join their ranks should they accept his invention. It had been a dream of his since he was a boy. To be a Thinker meant he would be given access to all resources to improve the city. He could travel to nearby cities as well and be given the same treatment.

He stumbled through the door to the massive Citadel in the center of the city. It was the largest building ever made, and it consisted of an amalgam of precious metals, solid stones, mixtures that dried harder than even marble, and other mysterious substances that held the structure together in certain areas. Many of which had been lost to time. Garreth believed some of the formulas still lay within the vaults of the structure. Locked up where only a Thinker could gain access.

His mind wandered at the thought of all the knowledge stored beneath his feet. His absent stride echoed through empty halls. A figure burst forth from a room further down corridor and his attention returned to the present. He eyed the figure as he approached and realized it was woman. She had stopped in the middle of walkway with her head held low as the door slowly closed behind her. Before he was close enough to ask her a question, she huffed and threw the object in her hands against the stone wall and stormed off. Garreth remained silent as she raged by. She gave him no mind at all while he observed how her black hair fluttered about her face as she took forceful steps. He even caught the soft green scattered within her otherwise brown iris.

He watched her exit. A sudden sadness came over him. One that made him wish he had spoken to her, but the thought was fleeting. He had come to join the Thinkers and that decision was soon to be made. He approached the door she had left behind. He reached for the handle and was stopped by the sight before him. The object she had thrown. It looked like fabric stretched taught between wooden rods. He found he could only guess as to the purpose of it.

Muffled voices penetrated the large wooden door. Garreth had cracked it open without noticing. Through the slit he heard the Thinkers arguing about the woman.

“The device could be useful,” a high-pitch voice said.

“It doesn’t matter how useful it is,” a deep voice boomed, “no woman will ever be a Thinker. It’s unheard of. No text has ever hinted at such a thing being the case and there must be a reason for it. We must maintain the integrity of our forebears.”

The murmuring of small conversation ensued until a composed voice rose above it. “Perhaps we should investigate the nature of Howell’s argument. If research should show even one idea within the archives was founded by a woman, we will admit Cassandra within our ranks.”

“But even then…” the deep voice sounded, then trailed away.

“You may come in now,” the composed voice called out.

Garreth knew he was the recipient of the command and entered the hall. It was a large atrium filled only with a tall, semi-circle dais and a small platform of stone one foot from the ground. Garreth came forward and stepped onto the platform. He looked up at the Thinkers, all wearing the robes of their rank, and they looked down upon him.

“You wish to become a Thinker?” The composed voice said. It came from the man seated directly in front of him. He was older and wore the signature medallion on his left breast signifying him as the Primary. The head of all Thinkers.

“I do,” Garreth managed.

“Come, show us what you have there,” the Primary requested.

Garreth pulled the pipes from his bag and began assembling them. He began his presentation as he fitted the first few together.

“This model will show you how I believe it is possible to harness the river north to provide water throughout the city.”

“Harness the river? How?” The deep voice called. Garreth noted the man immediately. He was toward his right. A larger man with a mustache which still contains remnants of the man’s breakfast.

“Here,” Garreth said, pointing to the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “is where it begins. We build this structure at the beginning of the waterfall north of the city. The water flows into the pipe where is can be diverted to various spots around the city.” He pointed to several points along his matrix. “Where the water can be stored in containers for regular use.”

“The river would be fully diverted? This would prevent water from reaching the irrigation channels further south.” It was the higher pitched voice. Garreth registered the man. Young, thin frame with large eyes. A genial look on his face that Garreth believed to be both an eagerness to learn despite a deep well of knowledge.

“The water,” he lifted a jug and poured it slowly into the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “would be diverted through the city, past the collection points, and guided back to the riverbed before it reaches the channels, therefore it would not disrupt the food supplies.” The water exited the web of pipes into the collection pan he had set at the base.

“Impressive,” the high-pitch voice said.

“What would this structure consist of?” the mustachioed man asked.

“Marble.”

“Why?” the Primary followed.

“To prevent contamination. The water would be river water, but if the materials were metal or a baser stone, then we would risk particles being released into the water that could be harmful even when boiled.”

“You’ve tested materials?”

“Yes. Marble proves the best suited for this project.”

“It would take years to complete such an undertaking.” This came from the fat mustache.

“Perhaps too long,” the Primary said.

“No longer than it took to build the bath houses,” Garreth said. He meant it as fact only but could see from the look of the bigger man that offense was taken.

“You know the intricacies of masonry?” the deep voice boomed.

“Not all.”

“Then do not falsely claim to know deeply of things you have only seen in passing.”

“I made no such claim.”

The bigger man rose from his seat on the dais to grow a few feet more above Garreth.

“You dare to-”

“Calm yourself Baron,” the Primary called, “You do not act your station at the moment.”

The mustache rumbled as Baron let out a huff at the Primary’s words and returned to his seat.

“Garreth, is it?” The Primary asked.

“Yes sir.”

“You have brought an interesting proposal before us. We thank you for this. We shall deliberate upon it and make our decision momentarily. We ask that you wait outside the Citadel for our response.”

Garreth thanked each of them and gathered his contraption. He wandered outside before stopping to properly dismantle the remainder of his model. He slipped a pipe into the bag. The clink of metal on metal was followed by a woman’s voice.

“You want to become one of those idiots?”

Garreth turned to see the girl from earlier. Her cheeks slightly flushed from recent tears. The name he overheard flashed across his mind. Cassandra.

“To become a Thinker is great honor. There is much to learn in the Citadel.” He looked up at the large doors he had just left. Cassandra followed his gaze.

“You are right. Too bad it’s all a farce.”

“How do you mean?” He asked it despite knowing she was telling a truth she did not fully understand.

“They are all old men. Too tied up in traditions to live up to the reputations created by those before them. I’d say the Citadel lost its ingenuity a few centuries ago.” She sighed.

“What was it?” Garreth asked impulsively.

“What was what?”

“The thing you left behind.”

“Ha,” she huffed, “It was a device that would let us harness the wind. Turn it into a mechanical force.”

“Really?” He stepped closer to her eager to hear more about it.

“Doesn’t matter now,” she said, “It’s impossible to build anything new without the Thinkers money. It wasn’t even hard to build.”

“Could you show me?”

She stared at him. Slowly the suspicion faded from her eyes as she realized he still held the spark of curiosity. She picked up a piece of straw from the street and began drawing in a patch of dirt at the base of the Citadel wall. She explained the intricacies simply and Garreth found himself inspired. He couldn’t fathom how she hadn’t been granted the robes of a Thinker. Then he remembered the discussion he overheard before his own presentation.

“This is fascinating.” He meant it, and she must have accepted his words honestly because she smiled. “As you said, this wouldn’t be hard to construct. Have you considered building it yourself?”

“Even if I had the money, only Thinkers get permits in the city.”

“What if you built it outside the city?”

She looked at him as if he had asked her to build it beyond the stars. The doors opened behind them and a courier presented Garreth with scroll. The Thinkers seal was pressed into the wax. Inside would be their decision. He held in his hand the answer to his future.

“Have fun being a Thinker,” Cassandra said as she got up. She smiled at him and walked away.

He watched her walking away, then turned his attention to the scroll, then down to the drawing in the dirt. He shoved the scroll into his pack without breaking the seal and ran after her.

“Wait,” he called as he caught up to her.

“What? You want to gloat?”

“I know of a town about a day to the east that could really benefit from your idea.”

A dubious look filled her features.

“I’m serious. You could really improve their lives out there. Isn’t that why you wanted to be a Thinker? To help others?”

“Don’t you have business in the Citadel?”

He shrugged. “It can wait. I’d hate to see your idea lost. It’s a Thinker’s responsibility to preserve ideas. To help those with the spark flourish.”

“You think I have the spark?” she asked with an incredulous tone.

“I know you do, and I know this world can’t afford to lose it.” He smiled in an attempt to convince her.

A moment passed before her own smile spread across her cheeks. “Where is this town?”