Melissa Destiny

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Chapter 3.3

When Melissa had fallen asleep on the couch, Lee closed the empty pizza box and moved it from the carpet onto one of the filing-cabinets that served as his end-tables. He watched Melissa breathe for a minute, thought about how bad his headache was, picked up his scotch-glass and scotch-bottle and headed for his bedroom. It was only a few minutes after eight, but Lee felt like he’d been up for days. He poured another scotch, figuring it would raise his blood sugar a little, give him a little more pep, and hopefully help with the headache. A Coke would be better for all those things, Lee thought, and then walked back to his kitchen, took a Coke from the fridge, and poured about a third of the can on top of his Scotch. It was a sacrilegious action, adding Coke to good Scotch, but on the other hand Chin was about to get here to return Lee’s car, and Lee wanted to tell him what had happened. Maybe Chin could make some sense of it. Chin was one of the world’s leading experts on randomness, and today’s events had seemed shockingly random, so maybe Chin could explain them. Of course, Lee thought, randomness and comprehensibility are unrelated topics; when I equate them I’m using language vaguely, like some moron would. The attack at the restaurant was incomprehensible, but there’s no reason to believe it was random. It was probably very intentional. And probably the intention was to kill Melissa. Unless it was some other intention, one that has nothing to do with her or me. Maybe the ZZ-Top dude wanted to kill someone else in the place. Lee was already walking back to the living room. If someone wanted to kill Melissa, he had to sit in there where she was, and he had to stay awake. But there was no way he could stop any kind of act of violence. Lee had no violent skills of any kind, and no defensive skills either.

Lee stopped in the kitchen again, got down on his knees and began searching in a low cupboard. Under some rags and out-dated phonebooks, he found a small red tool-chest, which he took out and opened. The closest thing to a weapon was a small hammer which he considered, making a slow practice swing to test how it felt in his hand, and then a faster swing. It could bust someone’s head, but it would work best if it was unexpected. Lee tucked the wooden handle into his pants; it was very uncomfortable next to his hip, but his dress-shirt, which was untucked, hung down over it to conceal it. It represented minimum security, but it was something.

Lee sat down in the living room and watched Melissa breathing for a few more minutes. She was very beautiful, in his opinion, and he realized that this was a new opinion, and that back when he had known her in college he had thought she was a little funny-looking. He had been more successful with women then, and he had considered Melissa one of his intellectual friends, like a boy, whereas the girls he liked to date were usually primarily interested in socializing, pets, recreational drug use, and self-presentation. Lee had never liked to mix his intellectual life with his sex-life. But now that he was out of college and worked on theological computing, he was broke, and the kind of girls he had dated then were not interested in him now. That kind of girls wanted men with good jobs and good bank-accounts, which meant they wanted conformists, whether or not they realized it. Lee had never had anything against social conformity; it had just never occurred to him that due to his intellectual non-conformity, he would be unable to afford the lifestyle he was planning on.

Of course, Chin was a greater scientist than Lee; it was Chin’s analysis of the distinction between theoretical randomness and real-world simulations of randomness that made Lee’s work possible. The architecture of Lee’s Computerized Theologian was an outgrowth of Chin’s theory that true randomness only happens on the sub-atomic level. For example, when a certain electron can either remain in orbit around a nucleus or else jump out of that orbit, then whether it stays or goes is truly random, according to Chin. But in the visible world, the world of human objects, no event was as random as that. The rolling of a die depended on exactly how much erosion had occurred at each of its four corners, on the exact aerodynamics of the curvature of each of its six sides. Of course, Chin would say, none of the six sides are equally flat. Some are a little more concave, some are a little more convex. The best the die can do for you is to produce an imitation or simulation of randomness. As for computers, nothing they do is random; even when a computer produces a “random” number it is only performing an algorithm, the results of which can be predicted in advance, if one cares to do so. The common wisdom was that this was a limitation of computers, but when Chin realized that all “larger-than-sub-atomic random events” (a phrase that Chin says so often that he has shortened it to LREs, a term that quickly mutated into “Larrys”), when Chin realized that all “Larrys” only imitated randomness, he inaugurated a new research area: research into how close to true randomness each imitation of randomness is. The key to the Comp-The’s special architecture was that, if it worked correctly, some parts of its network would imitate randomness with 70% effectiveness, whereas other parts would imitate randomness with 60% or 80% effectiveness, creating internal differentials that created a “randomness equivalence metabolism.” This internal disequilibrium between degrees of pseudo-randomness created tensions that circulated information around the Comp The’s network. Without Chin, Lee could never have imagined creating something so bizarre, something that would either turn out to open doors in Artificial Intelligence or (just as likely) be a bizarre novelty item, one of those strange dead-ending footnotes that amuse historians of science.

There was a knock on the door. That must be Chin, Lee thought. He strolled to the door and looked through the peephole.

There was a man standing in front of Lee’s door wearing a blue uniform with silver stars on it that slowly grew and shrank. . .


Chapter 3.2

Suky reactivated in a zone with no compatible network access. His internal modems dialed and dialed (retrying once every three seconds) but every signal coming back Suky’s way was unintelligible gibberish. What kind of gibberish is it?, was the obvious question. Suky did not exactly think this question, because of course machines can’t think, but his system had been pre-programmed to analyze incompatible transmissions. Some of the signals coming in seemed like entertainment feeds, since they were on or near the wavelengths used for TV and radio, but Suky could not convert them into sound or image files. They were like files that had been corrupted, either by a virus or an irretrievable hard-drive error. The difference was that they were everywhere; the air-waves were full of them. It was not possible that all transmissions in Texas had been corrupted by a virus at once; a virus that acted that quickly would have to be delivered as part of the .gov master feed, and a virus delivered that way would certainly have infected Suky too. So what had happened?, was the obvious question.

Suky had no pre-programming to help him deal with the fact that he was on another planet.

Suky’s secret rip-saw attachment was still extruded. Blood and bits of bone were caught within the metal teeth, and it was dripping. The attachment could be not pulled back into Suky’s torso until it had been cleaned properly, so that was Suky’s first order of business. Suky removed a silver scouring cloth and dampened it with a powerful acid from a spray fixture in his left palm; the acid would melt away the skin, bone, and gristle caught in his rip-saw, without damaging the metal, and then in thirty seconds the acid would biodegrade into water and evaporate, leaving no hazardous residue. While Suky cleansed himself, his internal modems continued to dial and dial unsuccessfully. Suky could not stop trying until he had reached the government. “Suitcase” model ChauffaBots had never been intended for any degree of unsupervised operation, and this was particularly true in Suky’s case due to the secret “above-manual” customizations that had been performed on him right before he was given to Melissa Destiny. Suky did not know why he had been equipped with so many powerful (and possibly illegal) weapons systems and data management software apps, but he knew that Melissa was an especially important person, one of the most important people in the world according to his programming. Of course, if it was a question of protecting either Melissa or the President, or if Melissa and one of the Military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff were under attack at the same time, Suky would choose to protect the President or General first. But Melissa took precedence over anyone else, even the Vice-President! If Melissa was in danger, the Vice-President could not depend on Suky for help. Luckily, the V-P had bodyguards of his own, probably even faster and stronger than Suky was.

Where was Melissa? As the rip-saw slid back into Suky’s chest, he began to look around him to locate Mel. Only eight seconds had passed since his reactivation; Suky had done the cleaning very quickly. It was a very high-level priority to keep his special customizations secret from everyone, including Melissa; that was why he had hidden the saw before beginning to look for her. He would have to be very careful not to touch her for the next twenty-five seconds, because any acid residues on his hands would take that long to finish breaking down and evaporating.

Suky was standing over a dead man wearing a blue suit with silver stars on it that grew and shrank slowly. The man had a long blond beard that reached down to the middle of his chest. The middle of his chest had been torn open and parts of different internal organs were lying around his body. The floor under them was a blue steel platform; where the platform ended, a gray concrete floor began. In that area of the room there were several huge computers; these computers were much larger than they needed to be, the sort of massive mainframes that IBM used to build for the government, all of which had been junked by the end of the miniaturization boom of the ‘80s, according to Suky’s tech-history database. There was also a round doorway that was the only exit from the room; beyond this was some sort of passageway or tunnel that initially sloped downward. The ceiling emitted a soft white light at 70 watts; the light came from all parts of the ceiling at once, and was obviously designed to be comfortable for human eyes. Whatever humans used this room obviously preferred it be somewhat dim, however, because the light was 19% dimmer than the standard-specification lighting used in government buildings and most businesses. In fact, the light was weak enough that workers could sue their management if they were required to engage in extensive typing or filing tasks in such an environment. Obviously, the people who maintained this installation had little respect for governmental authority; there was no reason other than arrogance to defy government standard-specifications. Or perhaps the room was a portion of a private residence, the owner of which did not have any domestic servants or other domestic employees?

More likely, considering the advanced yet outdated technology, the owners were some sort of non-conformist organization, possibly even terrorists.

There were no people. There were no windows. It was not the Goode Company barbecue restaurant. There were no recognizable .gov transmissions, and no comprehensible network access. This probably meant that Suky was not in America anymore. Suky’s analytic sub-routines therefore determined (incorrectly, as it turns out) that he had been inactive for an extended period, and had been moved to a foreign city while deactivated. However, the transmission activity around Suky did not fit the standard-specifications of any economic territory or stateless zone.

Suky needed to leave this installation, which might somehow by inhibiting signals from outside, in order to produce some sort of alternative data-sphere. The concept of another data-sphere hidden in some building, quarantined from the normal airwaves and unsupervised by any government, seemed unbearably treasonous to Suky. The government must be informed and this installation must be annihilated, ASAP! Furthermore, only by reconnecting to the normal data-sphere could Suky begin to properly search for Melissa; without network resources, he could not even know where to begin. Having realized that his impulse to find Melissa and his impulse to connect with the government were fundamentally the same impulse, Suky’s processors began to focus on how. Suky re-configured into his highest speed mode. His feet sprouted wheels and his legs shortened, lowering and turning his torso, so that it was parallel to the ground. Meanwhile his head slid backward to what would have been the middle of his back; in this position, the various scanners in Suky’s head could capture the most info about the environment around him, as he shot through it. Suky began to roll, at approximately 15 miles an hour, into the passageway that exited from the room. It had been 19 seconds since his re-activation, and the acid on his hands would still be corrosive for another 15 seconds.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Chapter 3.1

Melissa followed Lee up the steps, ready to catch him if he lost his balance. As soon as they were inside, he shuffled over to the couch and sprawled out on the cushions. Melissa brought him a glass of water and a bag of ice for his head.

"Here. Let me feel."

"Ow!" he said. Melissa could feel a large lump on his head.

"How are you doing?" she asked.

"Better. I'm better. I think I'm gonna be okay."

"Is there anything else I can get you?"


"Hmm...I don't know. I guess just one would be okay."

Melissa went to the bar and looked over the stock. There were about ten different Scotches and she had no idea what to pick. "What kind would you like, Lee?"

He was quiet for a few moments. Melissa began to worry that he'd fallen asleep. "Lee?"

"Yeah. I'm just thinking. Uh, let's say...Cragganmore."

"All righty."

She poured him a tiny splash and went to the freezer.

"No...Mel? That's okay. No ice."

Melissa handed him the drink, then sat down and began to cry.

"Melissa? Are you okay? What's the matter?"

"I don't know!" she sobbed. "It was just so..." She shuddered. "I can't stop thinking about all those people standing there like that. It was so horrible."

"I know."

"And we could have been one of them if it wasn't for Suky and now he's gone." She fell against Lee's shoulder. He gritted his teeth as a bolt of pain shot through his head, but he said nothing. He wrapped his arm around her neck and held her as she cried.

"I think I might like one of those, too." Melissa stood up and headed back to the bar, sniffling.

"As long as y-"

"No, no more for you, young man. We need to keep an eye on you and make sure you don't drift off."

"Well...why don't you tell me what happened, then? The last thing I remember was picking up my tray and then..."

"And then that guy with the beard started shooting people. You remember that?"

"I remember a weird-looking guy."

"It wasn't like any gun I've ever heard of. It didn't really make a noise. It froze those people when it hit them, and then they just...all the blood just gushed out of them. Have you ever heard of anything like that?"

"It doesn't sound like my daddy's shotgun."

"Ha ha. Well, it was like a pistol that he put together. And then Suky threw us on the floor and rushed at the guy, and there was this sound like a chainsaw and someone screaming. When I looked up, everything was over."

"Hm. I didn't know Suky had a chainsaw."

"Neither did I. I'll have to check the manual."

"Listen, Mel. Don't you think it's kind of strange that this happened while we were there?"


"Well, you went to Camhurst's and challenged him about that hologram thing, then he gave you those gift cards, right?"

"His lawyer did."

"Yeah. And then you went there and this happened?"

"So, what are you saying? Camhurst sent that guy to kill us?"

"Not both of us, I wouldn't think. Damn."

"Oh, just me!"

"I don't know, Mel."

"Then tell me this. Why didn't he shoot me first? Why did he shoot all those other people and give Suky the chance to save us?"

"I don't know. It could be they didn't send him there after us. Maybe they just knew he was going to be there. Maybe we weren't exactly where we were supposed to be. I'm trying to think if anything unusual happened that...the traffic jam! Remember that? We were delayed and delayed, and then finally we got through. Because we were standing in that exact spot at that exact time, the guy killed everyone else before he noticed us. They didn't count on that!"

"What do you mean where we were supposed to be?"

"I've got to get with Chin on this. We need to get this to the Comp-The."

"You're not making any sense."

"Listen, Mel. Did you have any unusual experiences surrounding the visit to Goode's?"

"Like what?"

"Anything. Just any unusually vivid impression or emotion, anything memorable."

"Like eating huge amounts of cow flesh?"

"Anything. Oh, man, you still haven't eaten. Can I get you something? I'm not sure what I have, though."

Melissa put her hand over her stomach. "I don't think I even want anything right now. I'll stick with the Scotch. This is pretty good, you know?"

"Yeah. I think I'll..." Lee stood up and headed for the bar. Melissa started to say something but decided not to. He was obviously on a train of thought that would keep him awake for a while.

"Okay," Lee said. "So, nothing unusual?"

"I don't think so. Just those big red letters on the sign."

"What did they remind you of?"

"I don't know... a big tongue?"

"Okay, what about the shooter? What did he look like?"

"You saw him."

"Well, I'm having a hard time remembering. What did the shooter remind you of?"

"He was wearing a blue suit with stars all over it that sort of glittered. And he had a long beard. He looked like one of the guys from ZZ Top."

"What's that?"

"It's a band. Duh, it's a Texas band! Don't you know anything of your own contribution to the vulgarity that is pop culture?"

"Why did he remind you of this band?"

"Because they have big long beards."

"Hmmm...what color are their beards?"


"Okay. Well look. I don't have all the answers, but I want to run this by Chin."

"What do we do in the mean time? I'm so worried about Suky."

"I think Suky's going to be okay. From everything we've seen, it looks like he took this guy out, right? And that gun, whatever it was, probably wouldn't have affected Suky anyway."


"We can go back and look for him."

Melissa sighed. "No, you're in no condition. I don't want the cops to see us, either."

"Why is that, by the way?"

"I don't know, I just don't. You're right. Suky will be okay."

"Come here." Lee gave Melissa a long hug. "Listen, I'm as shaken up as you are, but you have to eat, you know? How about we order a pizza?"

"Okay. Can we get the veggie kind?"

"Uh...sure, amiga. Sounds good to me."


Chapter 2.5

"Lee. Lee!"

Melissa crouched next to Lee and shook him by the shoulder. The rough hardwood floor creaked under her feet. Lee groaned and flailed his hand in the air, trying to find her.

Melissa glanced around the room. It was eerily quiet now. There was only the drone of the two overhead fans and the distant hum of traffic through the open drive-through window. A woman dressed in pastel pink stood across the table from Melissa. Her eyes were sunken out of sight. Blood had streamed from the sockets and covered her cheeks like some kind of lurid blush. A six-inch-wide stain ran down the front of her dress from the collar to the hem.

It looked to Melissa as if a team of lunatics with paint cans had run wild in the restaurant. Thick gouts of blood had splashed against the windows, obscuring her view outside. The glass of iced tea on the table was clouded with floating droplets of it. Sliced brisket, chicken legs, and sausage links swam in platefuls of red.

"Lee! Wake up."

Lee raised himself partway up, in obvious pain. He looked around the room, wincing, trying to focus his eyes. At that moment, the pink lady let out a feeble hiss and collapsed onto the table, knocking it to the floor and catapulting a rain of blood and silverware onto their heads. Lee screamed and covered his face with both hands.

"Ohh. What happened? Melissa?"

"I'll explain later. We have to find Suky first." Melissa searched the room, looking under tables and chairs, calling Suky's name. There was no answer. "Let's try back here."

They went behind the counter and into the hall leading to the kitchen.

"Oh my god, Lee..."


"Your clothes."

A pool of blood had gathered under Lee when he was on the floor and stained the whole back side of him.

"Well," he said, "We'll worry about it later." Lee bent over and picked up a phone from the hand of a dead cook. "It's on," he said. "Just a dial tone. We should call the police."

"Yeah. No...wait," Melissa said. "Don't. I'm not sure."

"What do you mean you're not sure? These people are dead."

"I'm just not sure."

There were sirens in the distance now.

"We need to leave," Melissa said. "Let's go."

"What about Suky?"

"I don't know. We'll have to try and find him later. I want to go. Come on."

Lee was still wobbling as Melissa helped him out the back door and into the Jalapeno. She jumped into the driver's seat, powered on, and darted onto the access road as the sirens drew closer.

"Where to?" Lee asked drowsily.

"No sleeping," Melissa said. She was afraid he might have a concussion. She reached over and slapped him gently on the cheek. "Lee? No sleeping. Talk to me. I need you to give me directions back to your place."


Friday, February 11, 2005

Chapter 2.4

“So, Suky, what should I get? Recommend for me. This is such a cool place; it looks so much like a barn.” Melissa was ahead of Lee and Suky, leaping over an oily puddle in the parking lot. The side of the barn-like building read, “You Might Consider Giving Some Serious Thought To Thanking Your Lucky Stars That You’re In Texas” in red letters on a white background, above the Goode Company logo in even larger red letters. Beneath the logo was a thick red line on which the letters seemed to be resting.

“That red line beneath the letters makes me think of a big, wet, red hungry tongue. I love how everything is red; it’s like the house of bovine blood. I guess I knew they wouldn’t have soy options; between you and me Lee, I guess I was interested in transgressing my usual dietary rules, since Dave’s not here to ride herd on me, or put his spurs on me, or however you would express that here in Texas.”

Lee was busy lifting Suky over the oily puddle. As he set the little robot down, Suky began to answer Melissa’s question: “Moist smoked duck and chicken lean toward oiliness, but thick, sweet-spicy-smoky barbecue sauce is in a class by itself, transforming the brisket into a real delicacy. Sides such as potato salad and coleslaw aren't Hall of Famers, but the soft homemade jalapeño cornbread is a star player. . . That was the most critical on-line review I found in my initial search, so I assumed it would be the most useful. Would you like me to quote from some reviews that are entirely positive and praise all the food equally?”

“That’s OK,” Melissa replied. “So I guess I should avoid birds.”

“My question when I look at these kinds of slogans,” said Lee, gesturing at the restaurant, “is what exactly is supposed to be so great about Texas? I mean, in this case it’s implied the barbeque is good, but what beyond that? The people aren’t that different from Midwesterners. The big empty spaces are similar to big empty spaces in the Midwest. The stars are just as lucky whatever state you’re in. I mean, I’m from here sort of, but I just feel kind of alienated always by these displays of local pride. Although I guess I am doing what the sign says, giving it some serious thought. . .”

“There’s nothing in Texas but steers and queers,” said Suky. “And you two are going to eat some of one of those. Melissa! I made a clever witticism by relating a relevant local saying to a contemporaneous narrative situation. Are you proud of me?”

“You two are really very similar,” said Melissa, holding the glass door open for them. She and Lee each picked up a yellow plastic tray and began to follow the other patrons toward a row of servers in white uniforms who would spoon out the meat and veggies onto variously-sized plates. The smell of the sugary barbeque sauce mixed with the piercing scent of meat so tender it could almost melt. . . Melissa felt a little intoxicated by it, as well as simultaneously a little put off. I better not eat too much meat, she thought, I haven’t been eating it, and I don’t want to make myself sick.

“That’s actually an Austin saying,” Lee was telling Suky. “Austin has a very large gay community.”

“I heard that saying before from a transsexual woman in L.A.,” said Melissa. “We were getting tested for HIV at the same place, at this roving van that happened to be in the parking-lot of the supermarket closest to my house. I had to get tested because of some umm. Anyway, everyone was negative, which made us all feel really positive. She was a nice girl; she seemed sad that she couldn’t have kids and said that men are such bastards and she looked very convincing. And she said that about Texas. She was from Austin or near Austin. She wore too much pancake make-up, just like a real small-town girl from Texas, like your friend, you know, who took all the pills. I mean, that could describe a few of your friends, but you know about the too-much-make-up thing, how she did it, layered it on, like with a trowel, no offense, whereas in California less is more.”

“I think you’re talking about Sue,” said Lee. “I think I’ll have the chopped beef on a bun; I hope that’s not too messy. You’ll tell me if I’ve got sauce dripping in my beard, right?”

“My God,” said Melissa, “then you’d look just like a Viking on a big date, except you’re a little unathletic to be a Viking. You could be one of the Vikings who spent their time describing to the boss-Vikings how supremely tough they were. You could have sung fancy songs to the butch Vikings.”

“Hey! I’m butch! This beard captures the macho of an ‘old man of the woods.’ ‘Old men of the woods’ are studs!”

“You are the most rustic of cuties babe.” Melissa turned her attention to ordering: “Can I have two jalapeno breads?”

Just then, a blond man with a long blond beard in a bizarrely shiny blue-and-silver uniform (variously sized silver stars on a blue background seemed to grow and shrink slightly as he moved) took two metal objects out of a brown fanny-pack, screwed them together, and began to shoot people. The gun-thing made very little noise, only a tiny “phut,” but when it hit someone that person froze totally still, without falling, and then massive quantities of blood began to hemorrhage out of their mouth, nose, and eyes, as if their insides had suddenly stiffened so much that all the blood was being forced out of them. As the shooting started, Suky put one hand on Melissa’s right leg and one hand on Lee’s left leg and pulled violently, causing them to fall almost instantly flat on their backs on the floor. Both of them hit their heads, and so neither saw the next few seconds in which Suky leapt through the air to attack the blond killer. There was a scream and a sound like a chainsaw and blood fountained in every direction through the restaurant.

Melissa waited on the floor, terrified, with her right hand over Lee’s chest to stop him from getting up (which was not something he was tempted to do, actually). She waited, counting to herself, “One-one-hundred, two-one-hundred, three-one-hundred.” No one else was being shot. The blood in the air must have been the killer’s. At “twenty-three-one-hundred” she couldn’t take it anymore and jumped to her feet. She was the only living person standing in the restaurant. About ten dead patrons were standing frozen, with their own blood spilled all down their faces, shirts, and pants. Neither Suky nor the blond-bearded killer were anywhere in sight.