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Day Two Hundred and Ten: The Only Real Man

December 17, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Now this should be interesting. My random number generator (courtesy, as always, of the fine people at random.org) gave me a character who has the unique privilege of existing in two universes at once.

Let me explain: when I started going through all the characters in all the stories, I realized that I basically had four universes going on. There was Earth Prime, which held most of the stories, a high fantasy Earth, an Urban Fantasy Earth, and then there was Outer Space. That last universe could well be linked to Earth Prime, or it could be separate. As yet, there are no reasonable connections between them.

Except, of course, for Eddie Holsclaw. And unless he’s an immortal, I can’t really use him to link them together.

Here’s what happened. As you know, I occasionally like to mash random characters together and see what happens. This one time, I rolled up Eddie, from day 9, Reunion, and Jani Morgan, from day 25, Babysitting. The result of this was that I had to make a choice: do I take Jani out of her spacefaring sci-fi setting and put her on 21st-century Earth, or do I move Eddie up into space in the far future? I chose the latter, and that gave me day 110, In Transit.

Now, one could ask oneself, “One, which Eddie is canonical? Which one is real?” Fortunately, One, that’s an easy question – the original Eddie is the real one, since I wrote him first and the mash-up stories are all only canonical if they add something to the overall world. But the interesting challenge was fitting him into two very different environments while still keeping continuity between both appearances. He had to be the same person, no matter where or when he was.

The trait that most defines Eddie is that he suffers from Capgras Delusion. This is a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes that the people around him are not who they say they are. Despite looking exactly like your wife or your brother or your friend, this person is an impostor. You can’t explain how you know – you just know. The most recent research seems to suggest it arises when your temporal lobe (the part of your brain that recognizes the person) stops talking to the limbic system (the part that would normally generate the feelings associated with that person). You see your husband, but you feel nothing for him. The rest of your brain, not knowing how to cope with this, comes to the conclusion that this is not actually your husband, because if he were, you would feel something. Therefore, he must be a very clever impostor.

With Eddie, I took this a little bit further. Not only does Eddie think his friends and family have been replaced with doubles, he believes that they have, in fact, been replaced with robots. Capgras sometimes comes in with schizophrenia, so I decided to go the whole distance with him.

In Reunion, we see Eddie at a family reunion. [1] He is utterly convinced that his aunts and uncles, his grandmother, are all cleverly programmed robots that are trying to get to him. He believes that they not only replaced his family, but tortured them first to learn everything they know. He won’t eat the food, as he believes it’s been drugged, and is constantly looking for ways in which the robots have slipped up on their mimicry. Above all, though, he tries not to let them know that he knows what they are.

Until Rachael Decker shows up. She was one of the few people in high school who was nice to Eddie (who, let’s face it, was a bit weird). The thought of her being tortured and replaced by a robot is too much for him to bear, so he grabs a barbecue fork off the picnic table and starts stabbing her with it. He is wrestled to the ground by family members as the story closes. While it’s not explicitly stated in the story, Rachael does die [2], and Eddie is shipped off to a mental hospital.

The other story, In Transit, involves Eddie being transferred from a secure holding facility outside of Antares so that he can be sent to a slightly more secure prison asteroid. During the trip, Jani Morgan tries to talk to him, only to set him off again. He still believes he’s being targeted by a vast conspiracy of robots, only now he seems a little more free with letting them know what he knows. He speaks openly about it, and starts ranting before one of the guards hits him with a tranquilizer.

Of course, there are two big problems with Eddie as a character, from a writing point of view.

The first is that you have to be careful when you write someone with mental illness. The effects of Capgras and schizophrenia are well-documented, and this isn’t something that you can just make up as you go. [3] If I’m going to hold on to Eddie as a character in the future then I have to really sit down and read about this condition. How do people deal with it? How does it affect the families and friends of those who suffer from it? What are the treatment options, if any? How can the illness be managed? Is it any easier to live with once you know what it is, or does it become more frustrating, knowing that your brain has betrayed you? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but using Eddie will require that I do my best to find out.

The second is that, Capgras Delusion or not, Eddie is still a person. There’s more to him than an unfortunately short-circuited brain, which is true of anyone with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it’s easy for a writer to just wrap a character around a neurological disorder and be done with it. Why? Because it’s easy, especially when the character is not the protagonist. Regardless of the role that your character plays, though, he is more than simply a mental illness with a name slapped on it. So it is imperative that I find out more about Eddie apart from the Capgras and the murderousness, but a lot of that is going to be contingent on the above-mentioned research.

And despite what he became in the mash-up story, I don’t want Eddie to become a villain. I think he’s a decent guy who has been pushed into a very unpleasant place in life, and doesn’t have the skills to cope with it. Maybe the treatment he gets following Reunion will allow him to live a little better.

———–

[1] I still need to work on my titling skills.
[2] She’s my Kenny. I have to put her on the list for a character sketch.
[3] Which I kinda did. My bad.

Day One Hundred and Ten: In Transit

September 8, 2011 1 comment

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

This story features Jani Morgan, who was seen on Day 25 –Babysitting as a space pilot for hire who really kind of regretted her life choices, and Eddie Holsclaw, the young sufferer of Capgras Delusion that we saw in Reunion on Day 9. Let’s see what happens when we put them together…

—————————–

The prisoner was beginning to make Jani nervous.

She’d picked him up outside of Antares, part of a favor that she needed to repay to a friend of hers who ran a series of prison asteroids. Just like everyone else who ever hired Jani, Annica started off by saying the same thing: “It’s no big deal, really. Just a simple job.”

To their credit, most of the time they were right. A little cargo here, some upper middle-class middle manager there. The occasional satchel of narcotics or weaponry. The bureaucracy of the stars was so thinly spread and so entrenched that its only reason to exist was to protect its own existence, and the last thing they actually needed to do was their jobs.

But on occasion, it did get interesting. One time she was nearly boarded by a gang of pirates lurking around some little-used shipping lanes. Another time, the creature she was transporting got out of its cage and tore apart half the electrical systems of her ship. They were stories that she loved to tell over a drink in a dive bar, but she would much rather they just be the tall tales of the space sailors.

This guy looked like he was going to be one of those stories.

He was brought onto the ship by two armed guards, and they had him strapped to one of those Lechter frames. He was human, which definitely caught her interest. There weren’t a whole lot of them flying around space, and any time two humans got together, interesting things were bound to happen. It usually ended in a fistfight or a mad night of sex. Sometimes both. The prisoner couldn’t move much more than his head, but he didn’t have the mask. Jani wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or not. His eyes were blue and wide and flickered around the ship as he was wheeled aboard. She couldn’t tell through all the bindings, but he looked thin.

“He gonna be any trouble?” she asked the guards.

One of them shrugged. He was of a reptilian species – probably the ones out of Sirius. They were very good at not moving when they didn’t have to, and being absolutely vicious when they did. “Probably not,” he said in a voice that was surprisingly melodic. “He’s only dangerous if he gets a hold of something.” The other guard, who was hairy and wide and barely fit into his body armor, just nodded and kept his eyes on the prisoner.

Jani nodded. “Fine. You guys can camp out in the galley. I’ll be back there once we’re moving.” The guards wheeled him through the door and they vanished into her ship. She went the other way, to the cockpit, and started preparing for launch. The new piloting rig she’d bought made operating the ship easier, but at the same time it pointed out just how old and crappy everything else was. It still smelled like burned plastic and stale sweat, and you could tell which letters she used most on the keyboard because she’d touch-typed them off. This gig wouldn’t help, either. There wasn’t nearly enough money in it to pay for anything good, but it did earn her some goodwill.

The ship rattled a little as she spun up the engines, but once it got going, the vibrations stopped. You could still hear it, if you listened. She’d named it Titanic, partly out of a sense of irony but mostly out of her belief that disaster might pass her by if she had enough chutzpah about it. So far, so good.

She reached over and called up the coordinates to their destination. Then she leaned all the way to the other side and entered them into the nav computer, all the while thinking about how she needed to refit everything. The autopilot set, she flipped the intercom. “We’re leaving the dock, guys. Once we’re on our way, I’ll come see how you’re doing.” She clicked it off without waiting for a response.

Once the ship was pointed more or less where they wanted to go, Jani activated the autopilot and let it take over from there. She stood up, not bothering to watch as the stars slid past her main screen, and stretched before she went back to the galley.

The security guards were sitting at the booth where she ate most of her meals, and they didn’t look comfortable. The prisoner was still in his cage, staring at them with a look of smug satisfaction. His eyes flickered to Jani when she entered, and she ignored him as best she could. “Everything all right here, guys?” she said.

They glanced at her before they said that everything was fine, and she suppressed a sigh. The coffee maker wasn’t any better than the rest of the ship, but it made something that tasted vaguely enough like how she remembered coffee to taste that she went along and suspended her disbelief every morning. She started fixing some for the guards.

“They made you pretty.”

She looked over her shoulder. The prisoner was staring at her. “What model are you?” he asked.

Jani went back to setting up the coffee maker. She checked the pot twice to make sure it was clean, and double-checked how much water there was in the tank and that the coffee powder was in the little steel cups that she almost never used because they were for company. Satisfied, she turned on the machine and let it start gurgling away. She wiped her hands on a towel, slowly lowered herself into the booth where the security guards were sitting, and leaned her chin on her hands. “I’m sorry,” she said to the prisoner. “Did you say something?”

He twisted his face into what she thought he probably supposed was a smile. “You’re clever, too. I can see you know how to mock us. Bravo.” He glanced down. “If I could, I’d applaud.”

Jani looked over at the guards for an explanation, but the lizard was very decidedly not looking at the prisoner, while the fuzzy one was carefully inspecting his weapon.

“They tell me I’m crazy,” the prisoner said.

“No kidding.” Jani’s expression didn’t change. “What’d you do?”

The hairy guard reached over and touched her arm. “Miss. You really shouldn’t engage him.” His eyes were big and liquid and looked worried, though she suspected that was their standard condition.

“What’s he going to do?” she asked. “He’s tied up, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but…”

She turned back to the prisoner. “You got a name, crazy man?” she asked.

The prisoner made another one of those almost-smiles. “You can call me Eddie,” he said. “Eddie Holsclaw.”

“Eddie?” she said. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve met an Eddie.” She leaned forward. “What’s another human doing way the hell out here?”

Eddie didn’t answer her question. The almost-smile dropped from his face and he closed his eyes. It took a moment to realize that he was shaking. His jaws were clamped tight, his eyes squeezing out thin tears, and his face was reddening. Jani looked over at the guards, who were both watching very carefully. “You shouldn’t have said that, miss,” the lizard one said. “He’s got a pro -”

“You are not human!” Eddie screamed. His eyes were open now, bulging from his face, and spittle flew across the room. “I know what you are! Machine! Foul, dirty machine, a made thing, a simulacrum!” He took a deep breath, and before the end of it, the fuzzy guard was on his feet and reaching into a small pouch on his belt.

“Don’t you come near me, creature!” Eddie yelled. “You filthy mechanical torturer! Let me out of here and I’ll destroy you all! Make room for the living, for the real!” He cried out as the guard jabbed him with a hypodermic. “You will all… I will free the universe… You…” His head dropped forward as far as it could go, and a thin line of drool slowly dripped from his lips.

Jani looked from Eddie to the guards and back again. The fuzzy one was putting a second hypo back in the pouch, keeping his eyes on the prisoner. The lizard was standing and had his baton gripped in both hands. When it became evident that Eddie was out, the guards sat down again, keeping watch on him.

The coffee maker beeped, and Jani jumped. She laughed, a short, unfunny laugh, and quickly doled out two cups of coffee to the guards. “Here you go,” she said. They took it with nods of thanks. She looked over at Eddie again and shook her head. “They don’t pay you enough,” she said to the guards.

“No kidding,” the lizard guard said. He held up the coffee. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” She backed up to the door. “You need anything, just hit the intercom over there. We’ll be at our destination in about two hours.” She backed up through the door, and slammed her palm on the lock switch as soon as the door was closed. Then she exhaled.

The piloting rig wasn’t as comfortable as a chair in the galley, the view of the stars was dead boring, and she’d forgotten her coffee. “At least there’s no crazy person in here,” she said. She glanced back down the hall to the galley door and then, just for good measure, closed off the cockpit. She reclined in the piloting rig and stared out the window. It was probably going to turn into a story, whether she liked it or not. She hoped Annica appreciated it.

Day Nine: Reunion

May 30, 2011 4 comments

They were all perfectly convincing. Especially the one that looked like my grandmother.

A beautiful day in the park. The sun was blazing, singing far overhead, and the green of all the living things threatened to overwhelm me. The sky was of a blue that called to my soul, only occasionally broken by white fluffy clouds that scraped their way from horizon to horizon. My whole family was there. Cousins, uncles, aunts, second cousins, great-aunts. All of them.

But it wasn’t them. I knew it wasn’t them. But they didn’t know that I knew….

The way “grandmother” pinched my cheeks, just like the real one did, and asked me why I hadn’t met any pretty girls yet. “Mrs. Berger’s granddaughter is still single, you know.” Her voice creaked in just the right way, but it was the creak of old leather and unoiled hinges.

Nice. She’s said that every time I’ve visited for the last year. Only the real Maw-maw would say that. But this… thing wasn’t her.

They certainly did their research. But I’m not fooled.

I can see the wires. I can see the glitches. Uncle Roy is too neat, using coasters under his Sam Adams.
And his wife hasn’t mentioned NASCAR yet, even though they’d been at the reunion for more than ten minutes.

And cousin Jenny. The bastards got her too. She was wearing a dress. A critical miscalculation on their part. Jenny wouldn’t have worn a dress at gunpoint, not in a million years. I can’t believe they missed that detail.

I didn’t know the technology had proceeded so far, making them so good, so close to the real thing. They might fool the rest of the world, but the rest of the world doesn’t see things the way I do. They don’t know what I know.

“Little Eddie!” I felt my arm grabbed by “uncle” Phil, and it pulled me close just like its predictive algorithms probably told it to. I never liked my uncle, but the thought of how they must have tortured him to extract this kind of information from his brain just turned my stomach. “How’s college, Eddie? You still studying, what was it, horoscopes and things? Like they got in the newspaper?”

“That’s astrology un- uncle Phil. That’s not science.” I pulled my arm away and tried not to look for the way light machine oil had probably stained the fabric of my jacket. “I study astronomy. Stars and planets. you know.”

It laughed, and it sounded like a car’s clutch right before it burned out. “Right, right, telescopes and things, right.” It slapped me on the back. “Not a lot of money in that, kid. You should’ve come to work with me in the hardware store. That’s good, steady work.”

Huh. Right. A “hardware store.” That’s probably what had made uncle Phil a prime target – easy access to materials to rebuild themselves. And I know what would happen if I went to that thing’s “hardware store.” They’d be sucking my brain dry and there’d be a copy of me wandering around, looking for someone else to convert.

“I need to get something to eat, Unnnncle,” I said. “See you later.” I ducked away and went back to the barbecue at the center of this facade, this elaborate trap. They all looked at me, their soulless glassy eyes following me as I moved towards the honeypot of human food they had brought to the park with them. the sun was still shining, and it hurt my eyes. The leaves were green. Kids were playing frisbee with a dog. A father was flying a kite with his son.

They had really done their research. It all looked so real.

I took a burger from the table. I wasn’t going to eat it – god knows what those things would have put in it – but I had to keep up appearances. I couldn’t let them know that I knew. To do that would just end everything. They’d fall on me like wolves and tear me apart for the good of their “experiment”.

Someone was staring at me. I could feel it. I turned around and let the burger fall to the ground.

It was Rachael.

“Hi, Eddie. Long time no see.”

The last time I had seen her was high school graduation, along with everyone else I had been friends with. I had a crush on her. Hell, probably all the boys had a crush on her, how could they not? That dark, perfect skin, with red hair that should have been out of place but wasn’t. And she was so sweet, too. She stood up for me – all the “nerds” really. She was one of the only people to treat me like I was human.

“Oh, Rachael. Not you too, please. Not you too.”

She – it cocked its head and looked at me with that same look of concern as when she – the real Rachael – found me crying in the auditorium after mid-terms. “What’s the matter, Eddie?”

I couldn’t speak. Just say again, “Not you too.”

It came over to me, and I couldn’t hear the gears or the motors. Must have been a newer model. Its gold-brown eyes were just as beautiful as I remembered them – more, even. It touched my shoulder and I jumped, nearly knocking everything off the picnic table. My hand reached out to catch myself before I fell.

“Eddie, I know family can be stressful, but this isn’t like you.” It smiled and raised an eyebrow (!) as it did so. “No, I take it back – this is exactly like you.” Even her laugh. It was so like her, so damn close. Closer than any other model I’d seen. It looked at me, and I hated her and I loved her all at once and this thing was here and she wasn’t and I hated myself for doing nothing.

My hand touched something, and I grabbed it without looking. It tried reaching out to me again, and said my name, and I jammed the barbecue fork right into its chest.

The screaming confused me, they’re not supposed to scream. I had finally exposed one of them, what did they have to scream about? I had finally exposed myself – I should be the one screaming. And I was. And frankly, making their hydraulic fluid red was just a cruel joke. I hit her again, and I could hear the scrape of stainless steel against whatever it was their skeletons were made of. I managed to get in one more before they fell on me. Their game was up, their disguises unmasked.

I howled as they tried to pull me away, and I tried to get as many as I could with the fork. I think I got “cousin Scott” in the eye and “Aunt Patti” in the leg. Maybe “cousin Evan” too. I would have gotten more, but they were strong. Of course they were strong, why wouldn’t they be? It’s their natural – HA! – advantage.

They bore me to the ground and wrenched the fork from my hand. They were saying something, but it mystery have been in some kind of machine language, because I couldn’t understand a word of it. They had me pinned, and I yelled and I laughed and I cried as the siren of their murder machine grew closer and closer. I turned my head. One of them was attempting repairs on “Rachael.” I’m sure she’ll be up and running again in no time.

“Uncle Kevin” had his face in mine, shouting in that indecipherable language of theirs. I couldn’t understand, but I knew what it was. I declaration of victory. A promise of punishment yet to come.

I had lost. They were going to assimilate me too.

I had won. They couldn’t take me without a fight.