Story: A Glimpse of Tomorrow.

The main board room at Summerwinds Financial was sparsely-populated. White walls, a few florescent lights, and a dark brown conference table big enough for eight people, which had a single corporate-branded intercom phone connected in the middle to a cable that ran through a hole drilled in the middle of the table.

Only three men in business suits sat at the table on the far end. One of the executives reached over and touched a button on the intercom.

“Jessica, you can let the representative in.” they said.

A few seconds later, the door at the end of the hall opened. Colin stepped in, hauling a large briefcase. He wore a black business suit with a light blue dress shirt underneath.

“Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Colin Gear, senior VP of product develop-” Colin was interrupted.

“Get to the point, Mr. Gear. You have five minutes.” said one of the executives.
“Very well.” Colin said.

Colin took his suitcase and placed it on the far side of the desk away from the executives. He opened it up and showed them the contents.

“This is a Phillips CDI 370. It’s a portable CD player made in the early 1990s. At Arcast Technologies, we used to use one of these to display product information to clients.”

Colin took the device out of the case and held it in his hands.

“As you can see, it’s primitive by today’s standards – the screen is only three inches, and you have to be fairly close to it to read any text it displays, but back in 1993, this thing was revolutionary. It cut down on excess weight in a sales rep’s luggage that normally went to paperwork, and two compact discs could hold all of the images and sound that someone would need to show off new products with room to spare.”

“It’s not 1993, Mr. Gear.” the head executive said.
“No, sir, it isn’t. We live in the future.” Colin said.

Colin put the device down on the conference table.

“I like showing this to our clients. It shows how far we’ve come since even a few years ago when it comes to presentations. We used to use these things in lieu of showing off actual product because a lot of it was too hard to set up for any real demonstration – we used to have giant monitors, cameras the size of an engine block… You get the idea. Our new product is compact enough that most of it fits into your pocket.”

Colin reached into his pocket and pulled out a small round object with a USB cord sticking out of it.

“This, right here, is the future of video conferencing.” Colin said.

The executives sat in their chairs. One of them coughed slightly. Colin reached into his other pocket and took out a small portable battery, normally used for charging cell phones. He plugged the other device’s cable into it. A flash of light came from the device. Colin pointed it on the conference table with the light-emitting end away from the executives.

“Watch this.” Colin said.

The light on the device flickered, then got brighter. All of a sudden, Colin was not alone at his end of the table. A brown-haired woman sporting thick-rimmed glasses, a white lab coat and khakis appeared next to Colin and waved.

“Gentlemen, this is Allison Greyloch. She’s the head of Arcast Tech’s engineering wing. She put in a recording of herself to be used as a model for this demonstration.”

“What are we looking at, here?” one of the executives asked.
“It’s a hologram projection device. The tech you’re seeing here is the tech we offer.”
“That’s… astounding.”

Colin shut off the hologram with a push of a button on the top of the device.

“I thought you’d like it. I hope you can understand the potential uses something like this has for your company.” Colin said.
“Yes. We do. But what’s the cost?” the head executive asked.
“$100 per month per unit. Installation is a little extra.” Colin said.
“What else is needed for it?”
“A strong, reliable internet connection. I’m sure your IT department can work it out.”

The executives all talked amongst themselves quietly. Colin began packing his materials back into his suitcase.

“Mr. Gear… Colin, was it?”
“It is.”
“We’re very impressed.”
“I appreciate that, and I’m sure that the rest of us at Arcast Tech do, as well.”

The head executive stood up and walked towards Colin, who finished putting his items away. Colin held out his right hand, and the executive reached in to shake it.

The executive’s hand went right through Colin’s hand, which flickered slightly.

“What the…?”

He tried to shake Colin’s hand again, thinking he missed somehow, but this led to the same result as before. The executive stood for a second to process what had just happened.

“We’ll be in touch.” Colin said.

Colin adjusted his tie and grabbed his suitcase off of the table.

“Alright, Aly. I’m good. Power it down.” Colin said, speaking to someone who clearly wasn’t in the room.

With a slight flicker of light and a faint whirring noise, Colin’s hologram faded away.

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Story: Eight More Hours.

Janet stood behind the closed door that led outside her apartment, as her friend Colin laid out on the couch in the living room, half-asleep, half-awake.

“I didn’t know you’d be back so early.” Colin said.
“It’s Labor Day, Colin. Azure Planet Software had a half-day today.” Janet said.
“Oh. Right.” Colin said. He adjusted himself to sit properly on the couch.
“Rough night?” Janet asked.
“Not really. Though I did lock myself out earlier this morning when I went to get coffee.” Colin said.
“How’d you get back in?” Janet asked.
“I found the key under your mat.” Colin said.

Colin tossed a small patina-covered key at Janet’s general direction, which landed at her feet.

“A word of advice, Tron. Get a thicker doormat. You can see the outline of a key from a mile away with the one you have now.” Colin said.

Janet picked up the key and placed it in the pocket of her jeans. Making her way to her bedroom, she turned on the lights in her living room and kitchen.

“So, Tron, what were you planning to do today?” Colin asked.

Though Janet’s door was closed, her apartment’s walls were thin. She raised her voice and spoke freely:

“Well, I was planning on meeting a few co-workers for a couple of beers at The Viridian Room.” Janet said from her bedroom.

“Really? You hate beer.” Colin said.

There was no response from Janet. Colin continued:

“And the last time you went to The Viridian Room, they messed with your tab and overcharged you by $200.” Colin said.

The bedroom door opened and Janet appeared soon after, having changed out of her work clothes into a comfortable outfit of a black t-shirt and a pair of pink cotton pajama pants.

“Oh, yeah. That’s right. I guess I’ll just have to stay here with you until your flight later tonight.” Janet said.

She promptly sprinted to the living room couch and jumped on the cushion to the right of where Colin sat.

“Was the Viridian Room even an option?” Colin asked.
“Of course not. When is your flight, anyway?” Janet said.
“10:35 PM.” Colin said.
“So that gives us around eight hours to do whatever.” Janet said.
“What did you have in mind, Tron?”

Janet grabbed her television remote that was on a table to the right of the couch.

“Law & Order?” Tron held the remote up to show Colin her suggestion.

Colin put his arm around Janet, who pointed the remote at the television in front of them.

“Great idea.” Colin said.

Janet turned on her TV and began navigating through her DVR archive.

“Y’know, Tron. Uh…” Colin said.
“Hmm?” Janet responded.

Colin cleared his throat.

“I love this. Everything. Being here. With you.”

Janet put down the remote and looked at Colin.

“I do, too. Colin.”
“I don’t want to leave, Tron.”
“You’ve got a job back in California.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m not skipping out on them. I, uh, just wanted you to know that I’ve really enjoyed my time here. It’s been a welcome respite from all the stuff I deal with over at Arcast Tech. It’s going to be a nightmare to get back to work, to have to have my suits ready, to give all of the product demonstrations to our clients, to cram that friggin’ CDI into my suitcase along with the presentation discs… We’ve got one client group in Fairway Grove that we’re meeting with on Wednesday that… Hell, I’m rambling.”

“You’re fine.” Janet said.”

“I, uh….”

Colin took a deep breath.

“I think I love you, Janet.”

Janet’s eyes widened.

“You called me by my name. My real name.”
“I want you to know that I’m serious.”
“I… I believe you.”

Janet rested her head on Colin’s shoulder.

“What airline are you flying, anyway, Colin?”
“Ooh, perfect!”
“I have a friend who works as a check-in agent for Delta at O’Hare. I’ll call her later and see if she can get you a seat upgrade.”
“You don’t have to do that, Tron.”
“Too bad. I’m going to.”

Janet sat up and looked at Colin.

“Alright, Mr. Gear. We’ve got around eight hours to kill.”
“Yeah, we do, Ms. Blue… Damn, that sounds odd. Even more odd than calling you by your real name…”

Janet laughed.

“We should probably get started.” Janet said.

She grabbed the TV remote and hit the enter button on her DVR selection, which made the familiar opening to their show begin to play:

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups…

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Story: A Gift For An Android.

As the sound of vacuum cleaners drowned out most of the sound in the cubicle grid that comprised Azure Planet Software’s R&D department, Janet Blue sat at her desk, tapping away at a jumble of computer code that the layman would find incomprehensible. Her large mechanical keyboard made a loud, pronounced click with every keystroke.

After some time, Leslie, the worker in the cubicle to Janet’s right, stuck her head into Janet’s cubicle to see her hard at work.

“The cleaning crew is coming to our row next.” Leslie said.
“I’ll be done soon.” Janet said

Leslie looked at Janet’s computer, which was displaying an odd programming language.

“That isn’t our new app code.” Leslie said.
“Nope.” Janet said without looking away from her monitor.
“That doesn’t even look like real code.” Leslie asked.
“It’s something proprietary. It’s for something I’m working on at home.” Janet said.

Leslie walked into Janet’s cubicle completely.

“You’re using company time to work on a personal project?” Leslie asked.
“Of course not. Michael gave me permission to come in today to work on this.” Janet said.

Satisfied with the explanation, Leslie made her way back to her own cubicle. Janet kept working. After another five minutes, Leslie spoke up over the noise of the vacuum from her own cubicle:

“What are you making, anyway?” Leslie asked.
“I didn’t make this. Well, not all of it, anyway. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Janet replied, straining her voice over the volume.

Janet typed out the final lines of her program and saved multiple copies to multiple USB drives. Leslie walked over to Janet’s cubicle to see her cramming five drives in her pocket.

“I think you may have a problem, Jan.” Leslie said.
“I like to be thorough.”
“Still? Five backups?”
“You know how much of a pain it is to lose your only copy of something.”
“Still, though. Five?
“We get the drives for free, Leslie. I can take home a box of them if I really wanted to.”
“I suppose. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Leslie made her way toward the door as Janet shut down her workstation.

Outside, the two co-workers walked to their cars. Coincidentally, they parked within two spaces of each other.

“You hungry at all?” Leslie asked as Janet was unlocking her car.
“Nope. I need rest.”
“Suit yourself. After a day like this, I need to relax. I’m off to the Viridian Room.”

Leslie jumped into her car and sped off.

Janet entered her apartment after enduring a 45-minute commute home. Traffic was still nightmarish, even at the late hour of 9 PM. Janet walked into her living room to see her recent house guest, which happened to be an Arcast Technologies Model-1 Android.

The android sat still on the living room couch, but came to life as Janet walked into the room.

“Ms. Blue!” The android jumped off of the couch and proceeded to embrace Janet as she was putting her belongings down on the floor near the couch.

“I hope you kept yourself busy while I was at work.” Janet said.
“I did!” the android said.
“What did you do?”
“I looked out the window, mostly.”
“Really? For ten hours straight?”
“The skyline is quite lovely.”
“I see.”
“Oh, and your smoke detector in your kitchen gave a low-battery signal. I fixed it.”
“You fixed it?”
“I saw that you had spare 9-volt batteries in your pantry, so I replaced the one in the device.”
“Huh. Great. Thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome.”

The android stood in one place as Janet walked into her bedroom to change out of her Azure Planet work clothes. Janet spoke from across the apartment.

“I wasn’t planning on staying so late at work.” Janet said.
“I understand.” The android said, unmoving.
“I think I’ve put something together that can help you out, though.” Janet said.
“Oh? What could that be, Ms. Blue?”
“I’ll let you know in a few minutes, once I get out of the shower.”

The next sound that the android heard was running water going through the aging pipes of the apartment’s plumbing system.

The android continued to stand in place.

After five minutes, Janet emerged from her bedroom, dressed in her evening attire, which consisted of a large black t-shirt and cyan pajama bottoms.

The android stared at the design on Janet’s t-shirt.

“They’re a band. This is actually my boyfriend’s t-shirt.”
“That is interesting.”
“Yeah. Nada Surf wasn’t my thing originally, but Colin showed me that their recent albums are really nice. Their sound’s bright and optimistic. I like that.”

Janet walked up to the android and showed her one of the small USB drives from work.

“Do you have a USB port?” Janet asked. She thought for a second afterward of what she had just said.
“There should be one near the vocal replicator port.” The android said.

Janet turned the android around and opened the expansion bay at the back of her neck. She inserted the USB drive into a vacant USB port inside the bay, then closed the bay off, leaving a barely-noticeable break in the skin at the back of the android’s neck.

“It should kick in after a minute or so.” Janet said.
“What did you install?” The android asked, turning to face Janet.
“A fairly small file that was emailed to me by the head of Arcast Technologies’ engineering department.” Janet said.
“What sort of file?”

Janet smiled and put her hands on the android’s shoulders.

“A firmware upgrade.”

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Story: The Conference.

“Mrs. Gear?” said the principal.
“Hollett.” Corey said.
“What was that?” The principal asked.
“My name is Corey Hollett.”
“…And you’re Dana’s mother?”
“We must have a mistake on our records-”
“It’s no mistake. I gave Dana her father’s last name.”
“Oh. For what reason?”
“A very personal one that I’m not willing to divulge, Miss…”
“Penny Caldwell.”
“Got it.”

Principal Caldwell opened up a small file folder that was sitting on her desk. It was marked with a label at the top: GEAR, DANA, A.

“Mrs. Hollett-” Principal Caldwell was interrupted.
“Don’t call me that.” Corey said.
“…Okay. Miss-”
“‘Corey’ will suffice. I’ve never been a ‘Mrs.’ in my life.”
“Very well.”

Principal Caldwell shuffled through the papers until she got to a page with handwritten notes on large, mostly-empty white paper.

“Dana isn’t normally a problem student…” Principal Caldwell said.
“I hope not.” Corey said.
“It has only been recently that she has acted out.”
“Acted out?”
“Well, this particular incident is fairly disturbing.”
“We’ll wait until Rebecca’s parents arrive to talk about that.”

Corey sat in the office chair that the principal provided for her. Occasionally, she looked at her watch – a cumbersome LED timepiece given to her by her daughter after she overheard her mother discussing how hard it was to find watches that kept working after a day of constant physical stress.

A few minutes later, the office doors behind Corey opened, and in came the mother of Rebecca Owens, a fellow student. Trailing behind her was a man wearing a suit that he probably thought looked decent enough for the meeting.

“Sorry I’m late, Penny. Jim couldn’t make it, so I brought our attorney instead.” Rebecca’s mother said.
“You’re fine,” Principal Caldwell said, “Dana’s mother is already here.”

The attorney sat in a chair near Rebecca’s mother, who stared at Corey.

“So you’re the mother of that maniac?” said Rebecca’s mother.

Corey stood up and and stared the woman in the eye, as if she was a gazelle wandering into the den of a lion. Corey cleared her throat and spoke, half to the parents and half to the principal:

“I’m going to be very, very clear here: I would like to see your security footage of this incident. And I would like that to happen immediately.”

“Why bother? Your daughter-” Rebecca’s mother was interrupted.
“Shut up. Not another goddamn word.” Corey said.
“We don’t have any security footage-” The principal attempted to speak, but was interrupted.
“Your school is required by law to have security cameras in every hallway on the campus.” Corey said.
“That’s only a requirement of-” the principal said, clearly startled.
“Crighton Anderson is your school’s security officer, correct?” Corey asked.
“How do you know that?” The principal asked.

Corey reached into her pocket and took out a small square of leather. On the other side was a metal badge: OFFICER CORIANDER HOLLETT, FMPD

“Don’t mess around with me, lady.” Corey said.

Corey put her badge away and sighed heavily.

“Call Crighton and tell him to bring footage from yesterday’s ‘incident’.” Corey said.

The principal made a few phone calls. The first was to make sure Crighton Anderson was still on the property. The second was to ensure he could bring the footage from the day before into the principal’s office, and the third was for a television, because Halter Lake High School didn’t think that giving their principal an office computer with a working audio/visual input on it fit their budget for the quarter. After an eternity of awkward waiting, Officer Crighton Anderson came in with a mobile shelf containing a television and the school’s security system DVR.

After a few minutes of hooking it up and finding power for the TV and DVR, the footage played. Crighton set it to the proper time for playback, plus a few minutes before.

“Crighton, can you stand between me and the other two?” Corey asked.
“I was planning to.” Crighton said.
“It’s for their safety, not mine.” Corey said.

The security footage continued. It was in full color, unlike a lot of other school camera footage in the area. Halter Lake wanted to ensure students’ safety, and this was ostensibly a way to do it. After three minutes’ worth of no movement at all, suddenly the clock struck 2:30 and all of the students left their classes to get to their lockers. Dana’s was in the middle of the screen. As Dana was retrieving her books from her locker, someone came walking up to her with a math textbook.

“This is it.” said Rebecca’s mother.
“Shut it.” Corey said.

The girl with the book was Rebecca Owens, a relatively-popular girl at Halter Lake High School. Rebecca’s parents had initially wanted her to go to a private school when she graduated middle school, but they hit some hard times financially and had to scale back. Still, Rebecca treated herself and her friends as if they were a cut above the rest of the students.

Not that her parents would ever know that, anyway. As far as they knew, Rebecca was a straight-a student who had a flawless life. And, to their credit, they weren’t wrong. Rebecca was more or less the top of the food chain at HLHS. If there was ever a problem, Rebecca dealt with it. This included a number of things: Most notably, she spread rumors about people she didn’t like, and people believed her. It was Rebecca’s word over someone else’s, and the other person’s arguments didn’t matter. High school is cruel like that.

Imagine the surprise on the face of Rebecca’s mother when she saw her only daughter, the flawless, straight-a student, slam a large algebra textbook right into Dana’s head. The impact caused Dana to bump her forehead on her side of the locker, with the metal door-locking mechanism barely missing her left eye.

The video feed stayed crisp and clear for the next part.

Dana turned around and landed a large right hook square into Rebecca’s jaw. It was probably at this point that Rebecca realized that she had bitten off significantly more than she could chew; especially since that right hook was going to require her to have her jaw wired shut for a while.

Dana didn’t have a bad life growing up. She was raised by her mother, as her father wasn’t in the picture. That particular fact is not by choice, mind you, but suffice to say, he wasn’t around. Dana was always fairly quiet. She spent a lot of time at the precinct after school, doing homework and watching television on an old CRT set in her mother’s office. Occasionally, Dana would put a few quarters into the Bosconian arcade machine that was housed in the precinct break room, which often lead Dana to wonder how such an obscure arcade game made its way into the breakroom of a Southwest Florida police department.

Her school life was fairly generic, but her mother always worried about her safety since Dana opted to go to a public school. Corey briefly enrolled Dana in self-defense training to keep her safe, and, needless to say, it left an impression. Dana would probably have a decent rank in Krav Maga had she stuck with it for more than a month or two, but schoolwork was more important than learning how to beat the hell out of someone. The short time learning the art taught her one very important thing, however: “Girl fighting” is useless. If you’re going to fight, you fight. Not like a girl – no hair-pulling, shirt-ripping or bitch-calling. You just fight.

And, in Dana’s case, you win.

Whenever a student attempted to pull Dana off of Rebecca, she came back, hit after hit, despite Rebecca’s fruitless attempt at hurting Dana by moving her legs or grabbing at her hair. Dana eventually stopped her barrage when she thought Rebecca had finished, and returned to retrieving her belongings from her locker, only to have Rebecca try to grab at Dana’s hair and push her to the ground from behind her.

Once again, this didn’t end well for Rebecca. Dana landed a few swift shots to the stomach, which prevented any more retaliation from Rebecca from that point on.

The footage kept going after that, but the incident was done.

Rebecca’s mother was speechless. Her attorney spoke up:

“If you’ll excuse me…” the attorney said.

He promptly got up and walked out of the office.

“Now, Penny, was it?” Corey said.
“Yes.” Principal Caldwell said.
“Well, Penny,” Corey said, saying the principal’s name as slow as possible with as much disdain as she could conjure, “It looks a hell of a lot like Dana was defending herself.”
“That appears to be true, yes, but-” Principal Caldwell said.
“But nothing. This is self-defense.”
“Self-defense or not, we can’t have this sort of violence in school.”
“This sort of violence wouldn’t have happened without Rebecca starting with it.”
“Who started what doesn’t matter, Ms. Hollett-”
“For the last goddamn time, it is Corey. Corey Hollett.”
“It doesn’t matter who started the fight.”
“Are you kidding me? Of course it does!”
“Our school runs a zero-tolerance initiative, which means that during a physical altercation, both students are to be reprimanded.”
“Dana was defending herself!”
“She still attacked a straight-a student.”
“She defended herself.”
“It doesn’t matter.”

Rebecca’s mother spoke up, which led Corey to look at her:

“You better believe that I am pressing charges against Dana, and the school as well if you are planning on reprimanding my daughter.” Rebecca’s mother said.
“Go ahead. No jury in the world would convict my daughter.” Corey said.

Rebecca’s mother clearly didn’t expect to hear that.

Corey turned to the principal.

“Are every one of your conferences a goddamn ambush like this?” Corey said.
“What do you mean? Principal Caldwell asked.
“Having Rebecca’s mother bring her attorney? Intentionally playing dumb about school policy?”
“How was I supposed to know-”

Corey slammed her hands on the principal’s desk.

“The hell with that. Know this: If any punishment comes to my Dana, I will sue you and this entire school district, and personally call for your resignation in a public goddamn forum.”

Corey turned to the door and walked out of the room.

“Dana is suspended until further notice.” Principal Caldwell said, just before Corey was through the doors.

Corey looked back and briefly moved towards the door, but she ultimately stayed away from it.

Principal Caldwell’s secretary sat outside the door, and spoke to Corey:

“They usually make these decisions in a week or so. You’ll have a final answer from them on Monday.” said the secretary.

“Good,” Corey said, “I think Dana and I need a vacation…”

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Story: Waiting ‘Til Monday.

Corey Hollett walked out the front doors of her daughter’s high school. She stepped into the driver’s seat of her car, where her daughter, Dana, sat in the passenger’s seat.

“Christ, Dana…” Corey said.
“What? Me? I’m in the wrong, here?” Dana said.
“Dana, this is a pretty big problem-”
“Rebecca whacked me upside the head with a goddamn math textbook, Mom! I-” Dana was interrupted.
“Let me finish, Dana. Please.” Corey said. She took a deep breath.

“By all accounts, you did the right thing. You defended yourself.” Corey said.
“Then why are you-”
“Dana. Let me finish.”

“You defended yourself. You had to. I get that. I saw the footage. Plain as day. No jury in the world would convict you. But this is serious. That girl is in the hospital. Her parents are saying they’re going to press charges.”

“Why didn’t they tell me this when I talked with the principal?” Dana asked.
“Because they didn’t want to make a decision until meeting with me.” Corey said.
“So what happened in there?” Dana asked.

Corey opened the driver-side window and took a pack of cigarettes from her shirt pocket.

“Rebecca’s mother wanted your head to roll.” Corey said.
“Yeah. I figured.” Dana said.
“I didn’t say anything one way or the other until I saw the security camera video.” Corey said, lighting a cigarette.
“Didn’t know they had cameras.”
“All the schools do now. It’s part of their security overhaul. Nobody wants another Columbine.”
“What did the cameras show?”
“Pretty much the whole thing, Dana.”

Corey took a drag of her cigarette and sighed.

“Dana, you beat the hell out of that girl.” Corey said.
“She attacked me! I mean, I feel awful about it, but still! She did this, not me.” Dana said.
“I know. They don’t care. Most schools have a zero-tolerance policy on this sort of stuff.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that they see you as being just as responsible as Rebecca was.”
“That’s….” Dana paused.
“It’s a whole lot of bullshit.” Corey said.

Dana sighed.

“So what did they decide?” Dana asked.
“They didn’t give me an answer.” Corey said.
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll know next week. They said by Monday.”
“A week?”
“What do I do until then?”
“You’re suspended.”

Corey put her keys into the ignition and started the car.

“Suspended? For defending myself?” Dana said.
“Yeah. For defending yourself.” Corey said.
“How could they even convince themselves this is my fault?” Dana asked.
“They have to right now.”
“Because you put someone in the hospital.”
“I didn’t do it intentionally, Mom! You know that.”
“Yes. I know. But they just see a quiet girl lashing out at a straight-A student.”
“What was I supposed to do, Mom? Let her beat me with a textbook? Bash my head in?”

Corey didn’t answer immediately. A tear came to her eye.

“I’m sorry, Dana.”
“For what?”
“For teaching you all of that stuff.”
“You don’t need to apologize, Mom.”
“If I didn’t teach you self-defense, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Dana spoke loudly.

“Mom, if you didn’t teach me this, I’d have brain damage right now. I’d be in a goddamn hospital bed breathing through a tube, hopped up on morphine, and Rebecca would have gotten off because her parents would have just made some donation to the school to make the situation go away. And you know what? If I managed to get out of it, I’d probably have still been punished because of their zero-tolerance policy.”

Corey didn’t speak.

“Let’s get out of here.” Corey said after some time.

Corey put the car into reverse to leave the parking lot. The two remained silent until they got home. When they finally got inside the house, Corey gave Dana a hug.

“You know, you’re pretty much all I have left.” Corey said.
“I know.” Dana said.
“I already lost the other person I loved and I don’t want to go through that again.”
“You won’t.”

Dana headed to her bedroom. Corey followed.

“One more thing, Dana…”
“Consider this a break from school, not a suspension.”
“What about the principal? And the school policy?”
“I’ll deal with that next week. You’ve fought enough.”

Corey left Dana’s bedroom and headed to the kitchen, where she poured a large cup of coffee from a half-full pot that was still on the burner.

Corey wouldn’t sleep any time soon.

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Music That Inspired “The Grieving Process.”

I tend to listen to music a lot when I write, as you’d expect, and a lot of the music can bleed into the writing. It’s just as much of an inspiration as any number of other things.

The music that I’m posting here may not necessarily have had a direct influence on the story itself (some did, especially the first three!), but they are a good start at getting into my head and see where I was at when writing and polishing “The Grieving Process.”

If you haven’t read it, here you go. That’s the first part. I encourage you to check it out before continuing.

O Positive was a rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, that has one hell of a cult following established since their breakup in the early 1990s. Their first EP, Only Breathing, contained the introductory track “With You”, a song that is about dealing with a loved one who is going through drug addiction and rehabilitation. That part isn’t reflected in the story (nor do I want it to be: drugs are bad, kids), but one of the lines from the song definitely is.

Feeder’s track “Whooey” is an interesting one. The track got its name from the “Woo-hoo” non-word sounds made during the chorus, while the vocals made the statement that “we’re just floating by…” I sort of fell in love with a line from the first verse.

Nada Surf’s “The Plan” is a great track from a band that became successful due to a fluke hit in the mid-to-late 1990s. Most of their stuff sounds nothing like their hit “Popular”, though that isn’t a bad thing. “The Plan” comes from the same album as that single, High/Low. It’s a song that I can relate too a little too much, as it’s a song about a desire to leave your hometown, and the restlessness that occurs when you can’t do so. I used a little bit of this song’s lyrics in the title of another story I wrote, called “Hardwired”, but that’s for another time. A line in the chorus is used in the third part of “The Process”, mostly due to the visceral edge that it had.

“Leave”, at its core, is about dealing with the death of a loved one. More importantly, it’s about dealing with their presence around you and the intrusion they can be on your life when all you want to do is move on from a dark time in your life. The lyrics in the bridge are particularly chilling:

Apparitions still won’t leave me alone / It’s as if you’ve never left
How am I supposed to remember you / If you won’t let me forget?

You can sort of see why I’d choose this song as an influence.

This one isn’t a direct influence, but it’s just something that I was listening to at the time for some of it. It’s, uh, well, it’s definitely an Elliott Smith song.

I’ve always thought of this as the music that Arcast Technologies would play over their speakers. It’s calming, it has a bit of a retro vibe to it, and there’s a bit of irony in the lyrics that people could pick up on if it were being played in a huge tech company’s lobby. I’m a huge sucker for Stereolab, too. It’s like a band traveled from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The third part of “The Process” was originally called “Outside”, named after this song because it was what I was listening to at the time, as well as being a pretty generic title and description of the story. The song itself doesn’t have much to do with the story, but I’ve always imagined it as the exit music for the story itself. Kind of an end credits sort of thing.

As a last note: that band mentioned in the story? That is a real band. Here is one of their songs, on the SoundCloud page for the band The Vivs, which you could sort of consider the spiritual successor to Edith, as the same woman is writing the songs and most of the original members are still in the band. Just putting this here in case you were curious about that.

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Story: The Android In Janet Blue’s Apartment.

The android made a loud screeching sound as the vocal replicator was installed in her expansion bay, located in the back of her neck. Sitting in her office chair, Janet turned the android around.

“Well? How is the voicebox working?” Janet asked.

The android blinked, and spoke.

“L’expansion a été installé correctement.” said the android.

Janet turned the android around.

“Whoops. Wrong dip switch configuration…” Janet said.

Janet took out the vocal replicator and turned to her documentation, a portrait-style CRT monitor with a rainbow-colored Apple logo in the left corner of the monitor bezel. She double-checked the dip switch on the small circuit board that made up most of the vocal replicator part, made the necessary adjustments, and loaded it back into the android.

After another round of screeching, the android spoke.

“It seems the chip is working properly.” the android said.
“Good. That solves that.” Janet said.
“I appreciate the work you have done, Ms. Blue.” the android said.
“Think nothing of it. I’m kind of amazed that you were even put into production.” Janet said.
“What do you mean?” the android asked.

Janet showed the android a newspaper article on the same table as the monitor with the documentation.

“I saw you – well, your model, at a consumer electronics show last fall.”

The newspaper article showed a trade show floor, with five androids, identical in appearance to the android in Janet’s apartment.

“Those are… Those androids in that photo… Are me.”
“Sort of. Most likely they were un-functional prototypes.”
“That picture is… hard to comprehend..”
“It’s fascinating that you don’t… well, that you don’t really talk like a robot.”
“That is because I am not, strictly speaking, a robot in the science-fiction sense.”

Janet looked at the android.

“No… No you aren’t.” Janet said.

Janet got up off of her office chair and headed to her bedroom. The android stayed in place where she was.

“I just did my laundry. I think I have some spare clothes you can wear. It’s infinitely better than the dress…” Janet yelled from across the apartment.

When she came back, Janet handed the android a grey athletic t-shirt, a pair of dark blue jeans, and a pair of black Converse high-tops.

“Here. Put these on.”
“The dress isn’t subtle, I assume.”
“About as subtle as a fireworks display.”

After putting the clothing on, the android stood in the same spot she was in before.

“You can move around, you know.” Janet said.
“I didn’t want to interfere with anything.” the android said.
“Any other person would find it hard to stand that still for that long.”
“I don’t get tired in the traditional sense.”
“What about battery power?”
“According to the documentation, I run on a solar fuel cell.”
“That doesn’t sound remotely plausible.”
“Perhaps that is because I was created by Arcast Technologies in their experimental wing.”
“Alright, fair enough.”

Janet checked the monitor with the android’s documentation for a minute and promptly shut off the monitor.

“What do you remember before being in that bar?” Janet asked.
“Nothing. I was activated by the bar owner.” the android said.
“But… You know where you were made.”
“It is in my documentation, and I was programmed to know this.”
“That’s so… Well, that’s amazing.”

Janet looked at the android, who continued to stand in the same place.

“Before I got the vocal part installed, you wrote that you left the bar because of mistreatment by the owner. That’s fascinating. Seems like you have some degree of free will.” Janet said.

“Perhaps.” the android said.
“And yet you don’t even have a name of your own.” Janet said.
“I am an Arcast Technologies Model-1 Android Unit.” the android said
“Yes, I know that. But you don’t have a name.” Janet said.
“I do not, no.” the android said.

Janet reached into her pocket and took out her wallet. Inside, next to her ID was a picture of Janet kissing her boyfriend.

“See, my name is Janet Blue. I was born in Boulder, Colorado, but I moved to Chicago to work. My boyfriend calls me by a nickname: “Tron”, because I have seen that movie more times than I can count. It’s what made me into a programmer, and, during part of college and grad school, an engineer. That is who I am.”

Janet put away her wallet as the android spoke:

“How do you choose a name?” the android asked.
“Well, anything, really.” Janet said.

The android broke from her standing position to turn around to face the windows of Janet’s apartment. Outside, ads and billboards dotted the skyline.

“I think I’ve decided.” the android said.
“That quickly?” Janet asked.
“Yes.” the android said.
“Great! Let’s hear it!” Janet said.

The android walked slowly to the slightly-open window directly in front of her, and spoke clearly.

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