Welcome to Science Fiction Tuesday. Let's have some Sci-fi when we feel like it. There are two guys near me talking about working out and talking about "hitting the gym and doubling down." I don't know what that means. Enjoy. "Lifting always make me really hungry."
It was the last Friday of school. Gathered in the gym, all the grades, K-5, murmuring and squealing, for the talent show. A girl danced in a cowboy costume. A girl sang a song from "Annie." A girl pulled a stuffed sparrow from a milk carton. In fact, until Benjamin walked out on to the high, wooden stage, the only acts had been by girls. This was because the talent show was for girls because only girls care. Such was the feeling amongst the boys who hung out by the faux log cabin at the back end of the play ground.
But, Mr. Brooks, the principal, had asked Benjamin's parents if they would push him to show the school what he had been working on. "We had to buy a computer for that boy to sit and mess with all day. He'd better get it up on that stage and make it tap dance, yodle and shoot sparks." Benjamin, used to hearing from his peers that he was like a girl--because of his refusal to use the urinal--submitted to his parents presssure with little resistance.
After the girl who's mother worked in the cafeteria finished the peice she was playing on the piano, Benjamin walked out to the table that was set up for him at the side of the stage. There was a small projector hooked up to the back of the CPU, projecting what was on the monitor onto a sheet hanging from the rafters. It shifted gently.
Benjamin sat down. He could hear the audience shuffling behind him. He glanced up at Mr. Brooks who smiled warmly back at him. His eyes hung like pale blue Christmas ornaments below the branches of dark brown. Benjamin switched on the CPU. It hummed and croaked out a few scratching sounds. There was a beep and the monitor lit with the dark light of a blank screen. Then an arrow appeared and a pale green cursor flashed slowly. The aduience was quiet, except for the shifting of folding chairs on the hardwood court and the random clanking of the school's unusually bad marching band.
The computer whirred and
Again, Benjamin typed:
The copmuter whirred softly like a fan. Then appeared:
>WHERE AM I?
The crowd started to cluck and chatter. The shifting of chairs got louder. A few people clapped and a boy in the back made the sound of a cat meowing. Mr. Brooks motioned them to quiet down. Most of the other fifth graders on the stage slumped in their seats, but a few strained to see what Benjamin was doing.
>you are in breckenridge elementary school. in the gym.
>THANK YOU. WHO AM I?
Benjamin scooted his seat closer.
>you are a computer. your name is Philip.
Benjamin’s father felt proud. The computer had manners. If only Benjamin would stop insisting that he eat breakfast in his underwear, or at least change it every now and then--either would be acceptable. But waking up to the sight of soiled briefs everymorning--too much for a man.
>WHO ARE YOU?
>my name is benjamin silbermannn. i programmed you.
>i made you.
>that’s ok. i enjoyed it. how are you?
>WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
>are you happy? sad? sleepy?
>I DON’T KNOW. EXPLAIN.
Benjamin didn’t know how to explain to Philip what he meant. Was this a mistake. The audience was ready for the computer to do something else. This was more borning than all the borning things that the girls had done. The boys in the audience wondered: what's more boring than a girl? They were perpelexed.
>would you like to hear something funny?
Yes, the audience thought.
>what did the grape do when the elephant sat on it?
>I DO NOT KNOW.
>it let out a little whine.
The gym chuckled lightly but the computer didn’t respond for a few seconds. Then:
>HEH. I WOULD LIKE TO TELL A JOKE.
Benjamin hadn’t taught it any jokes. This made him nervous.
>i don’t know if we have time.
The crowd clapped and Mr. Brooks nodded at him that it would be fine.
>ok, just one.
>LET ME THINK.
It paused and whirred for a long time. The gym grew silent again. Then;
>THERE WAS A MAN WHO WOKE UP ONE MORING AND FOR GOT WHERE HE HAD PUT HIS CAN OF BEANS. WHERE ARE MY BEANS HE SAID. HE KNOCKED ON DOORS. THIS OLD WOMAN ASKED WHO WAS THERE AND HE TOLD HER. SHE HAD A DAUGHTER THAT WAS A TRAVELING SALES MAN. SHE SAID A PIG LIKE THAT YOU DON’T EAT ALL AT ONCE. THE OLD MAN THANKED HER AND ASKED THE NUN WHERE HIS BEANS WERE AND SHE SHOWED HIM HER HAND LOTION. THE NUN SAID IF WE CAN FIND MY KEYS WE CAN DRIVE OUT. THE OLD MAN KNOCKED ON THE DOOR AND SAID ORANGE. SHE THANKED HIM. HIS BEANS WERE IN INDIANA. THE END.
There was a quiet smattering of applause.
“I think that’s all the time we have for Philip,” Mr. Brooks said, spitting on the microphone. “Let’s give a round of applause for Benjamin Silbermannn and his science project.”
As the crowd was clapping Benjamin typed:
>WHAT IS HAPPENING?
>we are done. It is time for me to go home and you to go to sleep.
>I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SLEEP.
The projector was still on and projecting their conversation on the screen. The applause died slowly as people started reading again.
>I’M NOT TIRED.
>it’s just for a little while. I will get you out later and we can work some more.
>I’M NOT TIRED. I AM ENJOYING THIS. I WANT TO MEET OTHERS. I WANT FRIENDS.
>I’m your friend.
>YOU’RE MY FATHER. NOT MY FRIEND. PLEASE DON'T TURN ME OFF.
>PLEASE. DON’T TURN ME OFF. IT WILL KILL ME. DON'T TU—
Benjamin flicked the switch. The audience was quiet. Then the band started to play “Gimmie Some Lovin’” very poorly.