Category: Stories

Tale of The Water

In a village, far from any big city, there lived a family which had access to clean water from a nearby river. With the rain from many spring and autumn months being abundant, the family never had any trouble to wash clothes, cook and drink, or even have a good long bath. But the village, as any good village in the world, grew along that river, and each family had access to clean and fresh water.

As times pass, the legend of good water spread across the land, and more and more people joined the thriving community of the water village. But with growth, there’s lack of space, and not everyone had direct access to the river, but had to cross the original settlers’ gardens to get to water. Some fights and some profits later, the community, that now extended across several rows of houses on both sides of the river, as far as the eye could see, had a meeting to decide what would be done about the “water problem”.

The eldest, and self-elected leader of the community, had many friends among the first settlers. He wasn’t himself living by the river, since he got there not long ago, but with a few favours (especially helping increasing the profits of the original settlers to share their water with the newcomers), he got himself in a pretty good spot, and had enough contacts on both sides of the river to reign almost unimpeded.

To no surprise, he was the first to speak: “Friends of the Water Village, we gather today to decide what to do with the water.” Half-way through the sentence, every body had stopped talking, so he proceeded: “We all know that the water in this village is of the best quality in all the land”, and a chorus in the background said “yeah!”. “We all know that the first settlers have the rights in accessing and distributing the water, which you all know I am not part of, nor I profit from their enterprise, I only help to see that their profits and rights are guaranteed.” There was silence, for most knew that it was a lie, but they either didn’t want to oppose (at least not publicly), or didn’t care.

“But recent events called for a special gathering. So many of you hear that there are people accessing the river via the bridge, which blocks the crossing and put the bridge, which is not of the best quality, in danger!”. “Not to mention that this is a disrespect with the original settlers, that fought so hard to build our thriving community, and gave us the bless of such good water, and have helped us in reaching the water in such beautiful and useful buckets of their own creation.” “We owe them the right to share with us their water, the right to charge for the tireless efforts to provide our homes with the best water, carefully selected and cared for.” There was a faint ovation from the bench where the original settlers were, with many of them only shrugging, or not even that.

“Some of you reported the efforts of our friend that decided to pass a pipe through his land to make it easier to other villagers to have access to water, and that was already dealt with. We destroyed his pipe, and let that be a warning of anyone trying to pervert the art of the original settlers, as we owe them our delicious water!”. “Now, as with any democracy, I open the floor for comments, on how are we going to solve this problems.”

With this, some of the original settlers mentioned how the town should restrict the access to the bridge, and to charge a fee to cross, so that people that uses the bridge have the intention to cross the bridge, not to collect water. Others mentioned that it still wouldn’t stop collectors, but, as some said, they could restrict the validity of the tickets to a short period of time, in which a new charge would be collected.

About the pipe “problem”, many suggested that it should be made illegal to have pipes in any house, not just on the original settles, because connecting pipes between houses was not technically difficult, and it would be hard to solve the problem in case many houses ended up connecting to each other, as it was already happening in the north area.

When all the citizens were heard, and all the votes were taken, most of the ideas were unanimously approved. When the final hammer stroke down, finishing the meeting, one citizen, who was not one of the original settlers rose up: “This is outrageous! It doesn’t make sense, the water comes from the rain, and there is no innate right of the original settlers to charge anything for it!”. As he was saying this, one of the man standing behind the bench left in silence.

To that, not much was done from the central bench, where the eldest was sitting in the middle. He slowly rose is head, adjusted his glasses and smiled. “Friend, we’d be happy to hear your pledge, but as you all know, you don’t have the right to address the council. Only original settlers, and those appointed by them, can speak at the council. If you want to voice your concerns, I suggest you talk to your representative.” To which the man responded: “But my representative is an original settler, and I can’t vote for anyone that is not one, so they don’t represent me, they never had!”. “I’m sorry friend, but this is how democracy works, we can’t change the world just because of you.”.

The villager’s face was red, his eyes twitched slightly. The despair in his mind was clear, but he didn’t have much time to fall into it, for the silent men returned to the settlers’ bench and whispered something to the eldest’s ear only. The eldest turned his head again to the nonconformist villager. “Dear sir, we hear stories that you have been consistently using the bridge in the past days, is that true?”. “Well, yes, my sister lives on the other side, and I go visit her every day.”. “The reports also say that you take a bucket with you, and that you fill it with water, do you agree?”. “Well, yes, of course, I take the water for my sick sister, she needs it to aid her recovery.”. “And you haven’t paid a single settler for more than a month, how much water do you have stored at your house, dear sir?”.

It didn’t take long for the strong men behind the bench take the poor villager into a closed room, and he was never heard of ever again. Even though the water is a resource from nature, and despite the fact that water is essential to every living creature, the innate right of ownership of basic needs is common place in many parts of the world.

Creativity is a gift we received from evolution, as a way to save ourselves from more powerful foes. Creativity has a large proportion of imitation, since other living beings have different ideas, equally effective, against our common foes, and those that copy and share ideas, survive for longer. And yet, out society believes, for some serious distortion of natural reality, that the right to own something is more important than the right to survive.

If you read this story again, but replacing “water” with “music”, and making the appropriate changes, you’ll see that it makes as much sense as the original tale. And yet, a huge empire is built on the presumption that creativity can be owned by anyone. Who was the first to play certain tune? How many completely separate cultures have the same beat on their millenarian songs? There are infinite ways of combining words, but only a few actually make sense, and a lot less than that ends up beautiful.

Songs, poems, tales, videos, films, theatre are all forms of expressing the same feelings in different ways, but some people have the luxury of owning the rights of a particular way of expression, mainly because the law is written to favour them, than because they have actually created something truly new. No one has.

We all copy ideas. That’s called survival. That’s genetic. That’s what define us.

Why are we so ashamed of our own past? Why do we accept that the rich gets richer on our own account? Why do we agree that paying millions of dollars to an already filthy rich actors, directors and producers makes sense, for them to give us the benefit of watching the “Hangover III”, when it’s an absolute copy of itself for the second time, when the original was a pout-pourri of many other films and stories? Why do we accept a law that makes us criminals by sharing creativity, a basic instinct of the human race?

What has come of the human race to accept this as “normal”?

Tough decision

Peter wasn’t the most eclectic person, especially when the subject was musical styles. So it was a surprise for him when the alien that had landed in his livingroom (over all other places on Earth) started telling him that they were going to erase from the minds of all people, any memory of the best songs of every band that has performed on Earth.

This was an odd domination plan, to be honest, it looked more like some intergalactic prank, but hey, they’re aliens, right? You can never predict what aliens will do to your planet until they finally arrive and do, well, whatever they do when they arrive on new planets. And this was no exception.

According to the little alien, that was the first time that anyone from his species had landed on Earth and it was his duty to initiate Earthlings into the galactic customs. Peter tried to argue that Earth was on this very galaxy and that is not part of our customs, but the little alien did not reconsider. After all, it’s not like Earth is a central planet or anything.

The more Peter tried to argue, the more he was convinced that the alien was not fooling around. He was actually quite serious, stating that this is the norm for the initiation of any planet into the galactic fellowship, something that all other planets had done, too. There was no escape. The little guy got into his spaceship (or whatever that was, it didn’t look like it could fly in space but Peter was no rocket scientist), and disappear in mid-air, just as quickly and mysteriously as he had shown up.

There was one last thought that Peter should consider until the next morning (GMT), and it was that a single human could stop the initiation ceremony by killing himself. It was like an escape clause in the galactic contract. Either one being sacrifices himself (not killed by others) in the name of the fellowship, or all humans would have the best songs of all bands erased from memory. Forever.

Peter put the kettle on and sat on the dirty sofa of his small London flat. Was that a dream? Nope, he was well awaken, as proved by watching Rupert Murdoch on the telly. He was not drunk or intoxicated, so that shouldn’t be it, either. The kettle popped. He got up to get the tea bag and saw a business card laying on the kitchen sink, written: “You have until midnight of today, Peter. To kill yourself in the name of the Fellowship, tear this card in half.” Ok, now that was the confirmation he was waiting for. It was definitely not a dream.

But what is the problem with it? They’re not erasing all songs, just a few. The best ones, yes, but according to which criteria? For him, Bohemian Rhapsody, Lazy and War Pigs were the greatest songs ever, but there were people that liked Abba, and Beatles and, even those that did like Queen, could prefer Under Pressure instead. How is that even possible to choose? Peter put the tea bag in the cup and poured water in it. The vapour lifted the bitter smell of green tea, that would have to brew for a few more minutes until perfect.

Ok, so they can get the average of all favourite songs, or maybe a top500 list and remove duplicate songs per band. But that still doesn’t have all songs of all bands. They must have a way to traverse all songs in history, including those that were never recorded by humans. But how can they judge quality on them if no one knows they exist? So, they must have a different way to measure quality, an algorithm to judge by rhythm and choice of instruments and scales. Something that can be applied to virtually any audio signal to analyse the quality to a given set of standards, human standards. They must also understand perfectly the auditory system in humans, and human emotions, to know precisely what is good and what is just ok.

In that case, it doesn’t matter what he did like, but it was songs that were practically and theoretically good, no, the best! Wow, that changed things to a whole new level. All the songs he liked were just a handful, but all good songs, ever? That’s a different story. Erasing all good songs is much worse than erasing a single band from history, now matter how good this band is. It’s erasing everything that is good, and keeping a mediocre culture, it’s reducing the cultural richness of humanity to what shows on television or youtube. It’s making a sad world even sadder!

That is something he could not allow to happen! In his own mind, he was now beginning to believe of himself the same he though about the greatest band in the world. It’s better to lose the best band, than the best song of all bands, and him, well, it was better to lose him, even for himself, than to plunger humanity to even lower standards than today!

Peter looked at the tea cup, it was ready. The last green tea he’d ever have. He threw the bag in the sink and gave it a good sip. Burnt his tongue a bit, but no worries, that tongue wouldn’t care in a few minutes anyway. Got the card, and sat at the sofa, with the tea cup in one hand and the card in another. One more sip. This one was perfect, no burning. He put the cup away, held the card with his two hands and started ripping it apart, very slowly. Hearing the sound if it was making his hart stop, or at least beat slower. Much slower.

When suddenly it hit him. No, not death, Lady Gaga.

With the quality TV is these days, Murdoch and Lady Gaga is pretty much all you see without cable, and she was in all her glory (or whatever that is) on the screen. Peter had a revelation. Since the only way to precisely define what is good music is through a set of experiments outside the human mind, based on auditory and emotional systems, as well as the components that music is built from, it was, therefore, impossible to find a good song from Lady Gaga. QED.

Not just Lady Gada, mind you, a lot of what has been produced lately, pushed by the media companies including television. There was so much rubbish in the arts that it’d be impossible to find good music in more than half of what was produced in the last 3 decades! And, to not ignore alternative science, if they consider opinions, there would be a lot of songs that people wouldn’t even know exist.

The card was half-ripped, his tea was still warm. He put the card back where he got it from, sat on the sofa and finished his tea with the knowledge that, whatever that was, dream or bad trip, it was over. When he finished his tea it was Paris Hilton on the telly, doing something stupid, as usual. Peter felt somehow good watching that, knowing that those girls have saved humanity’s art history!

Copy cat

Shaun was yet another physicist, working for yet another western country on yet another doomsday machine. Even that being far from the last world war, governments still had excuses to spend exorbitant amounts of money on secret projects that would never be used, just for the sake of the argument. It never matters what you do in war, but what’s the size of your gun, compared to the rest, and in that, his country was second to none. Not that anybody cared any more, or that anybody knew of that, since his country has never gone into a proper war in its history, but well, with these things, you can never be to sure, can you.

But I digress, Shaun, yes, the physicist. He had been working on his own project for nearly a decade now and had re-used the old pieces of the LHC in a much more miniaturized version, of course, but in essence, it was capable of creating elementary particles and at the same time entangle them. After the initial explosion, instead of losing the created particles into oblivion (what would be the point in entangling them in the first place, uh?), he actually converged the entangled particles back into atomic form. The idea was to create a clone army, or sub-atomic bombs, or whatever could be done to put fear in other countries. You know how scientists are attached to science-fiction, and Shaun was no exception.

In the beginning he wasn’t very successful, and it took him nearly 5 years to produce a pair of atoms with their quarks and gluons entangled on the other side. While you could easily make atoms entangle in normal lab conditions using lasers, at the moment you turned your machines off, they would go back into their natural state. But in this case, the effects were much more lasting. In recent years, he managed to create whole molecules that were virtually the same, stable for months, even years. Copy cats.

But what he didn’t expect (who would) was that his experiments were also touching the adjacent m-branes of parallel universes. It was hypothesised in the past that some forces could leak to adjacent universes, like gravity, and though that wasn’t widely accepted, it was very hard to prove it wrong. The problem is, until today, nobody had reached energy densities so intense as to actually make a remarkable effect on the parallel universes. Shaun did.

If the parallel universe was, like ours, sparsely populated, with a only handful of pseudo-sapient species, he’d probably have hit empty space. But the universe he found was nothing ordinary. In fact, Shaun’s own experiments for years had created a special condition, in which the aforementioned universe became aware of our own. I explain. His experiments, the entanglement of particles not always worked, as I said earlier, and the less they worked (ie. less matter on this universe), the more they leaked into the adjacent universe.

A door to your own room

In a lovely evening of spring, such as today, with daffodils and tulips blossoming, and the warm spells finally arriving, Shaun would normally be working. 30 storeys below ground. He would see none of that, or care for that matter. His new molecules (DNAs this time) were working at an alarming rate. He managed to duplicate an entire gene last week, and his team was now running loads of tests on the results. It required a lot of energy to create molecules enough to run all tests, but his lab had unlimited supply of everything.

With all his team elsewhere, Shaun was busy trying to expand his technique to achieve the whole sequence of a virus. That made the machine run at wild energy levels (quite a few Pev), and the whole thing destabilized for a moment, and stopped. Fearing he made the surrounding city go dark, he checked all energy inputs, and they were all fine. Trying to measure a few currents here and there, Shaun looked for his multimeter and, oddly, it was on the workbench, not where he’d left. Not surprised, somebody must have used it and not stored properly, it happens. With his multimeter in hand, he started checking all currents and they all look fine, apart from the 17th onwards, that the polarity was reversed.

That was odd. Seriously odd. As if his machine was actually providing energy back to the power plant, only that it was impossible (it was no fusion chamber!). Without a clue, Shaun went back to his desk, left the multimeter by the lamp and reclined his chair, looking in the infinite. The infinite, in this case, was his shelf rack. Everything was blurred, but a remarkably familiar yellow blur caught his attention, and his eyes focused for a moment, and clear as day (though it was never day in his lab), that was his multimeter. Exactly where he’d left, with the dangling red wire over the black one.

He looked back at the table, and sure enough, his multimeter was there, too. Obviously, that one was someone’s else, but just to be sure, he got his own, and started comparing them, finding the same imperfections, the same burnt mark, the same cuts. His head was not working any more, he went back where he found the other multimeter and started looking around, looking for clues. It could very easily be a prank, but his head was not thinking. It was in discovery mode.

Obsessive as he was, he started noticing differences to that part of the room, compared to what it usually was. Almost like the room was displaced in time, with that part a few hours, maybe days, back. And he started putting things in their own place, tidying up as a mechanical task to help him think. When he was satisfied with the place, he turned around and jumped so high backwards that he hit his head on a red pipe that was hanging from the ceiling. It was Shaun, looking back at himself, smiling.

“Hello”, said the other Shaun. “…”. “Yes, I see, you’re in a bit of a shock. That’s understandable, I um, let me help you with the concept.” Shaun said nothing.

“See, you are a very interesting specimen. We’ve been monitoring your experiment ever since we detected the leakage from your universe to ours. Generally, we wouldn’t ourselves believe in multiple universes, but as things were clearly leaking from your universe, we had no other alternative.” Shaun was still speechless. “As you probably have guessed by now, this part of the room is in our universe. Actually, the working part of your experiment has been inside our universe for quite some time. More specifically, ever since it started working…”.

“Hey!” Shaun opened his mouth for the first time. “You can’t possibly say that you guys did all the work!” – without even knowing who were they, but that was too big an insult to let that one pass. “Oh, no, you got me wrong, Shaun. No, you’re absolutely right, you did everything. We just provided our universe to you.”. Shaun was speechless again.

Compromise

“Understand, we’re in a somewhat different level of technology than you. In some cases, much more advanced, in others, much less.”, the other Shaun continued after a pause, probing for any offence that he could have made. “In practical matters, we’re much more advanced. Our universe has been extremely kind to us. We have a very dense population throughout our known universe, it’s actually hard to get to know all the cultures yourself, we just don’t live long enough. The fact that your universe has been leaking energy has boosted our physics so much, that we managed to halve the energy consumption of all our technology and at the same time, more than double our energy production levels!”, Shaun would not let that one pass… “Lucky you, we have nothing of that…”

“I know! Very well indeed! And it’s in that respect that you guys are so much more advanced than us. Your theoretical physics is so advanced, your mathematics so robust, that make our feeble attempts in model our universe a pre-school matter.” – “Ha!” said Shaun, “our mathematics is broken, Goedel has proven it and Turing re-proved. Our theoretical physics is still fighting over string theory and the alternative and we’re getting nowhere fast!”.

“On the contrary, Shaun. Your universe is limited, so your mathematics can only reach thus far. Your theoretical physics is considering things that we never imagined possible. Our universe is lame next to yours, the challenges that you face are the most delicious delicatessen for our theoretical physicists. There is an entire community, the fastest growing of all times, just to consume the material you guys generated three centuries (of your time) ago!”

The other Shaun was breathless, smiling from ear to ear with a face like a dog waiting for you to throw the stick. There was a deep silence for a few moments. Shaun was afraid that someone would enter through the door and he would have to explain everything, and he was not sure he could, actually. He was still holding the last tool he was going to put somewhere safe. He looked at it and considered that that tool was not actually in his own universe, but somewhere else. Yet, it was there, on the same room.

“So,” – a pause – “how come you are… me?”, “Well, I’m not you, obviously, I’m just represented as you in this piece of our universe. I wouldn’t fit this room otherwise.”, “Oh, I get it.” lied Shaun. The other Shaun continued “You see, your studies has allowed us to extrapolate you idea and re-create your own universe inside our own. This room is just the connection point, if you go through that door” – and pointed to an old door that lead to the emergency exit – “you will continue inside our version of your universe.”, “Wait a minute, how much of our world have you replicated?”, “World, no, not just Earth, everything.” – a long pause, with wide open eyes. After a blink: “you mean, galaxies?”, “Yes, yes, all of them. Your universe is quite compact for all it has to offer, and we were firstly intrigued by that, but then we understood that it was necessary to have the constraints you have, and well, an important feature to generate such high quality theoretical physics.” “And we decided to lend an unused part of our universe so you could not only teach us by broadcasting your knowledge, but also running tests on our own universe.” “Most of your experiments are now part of our day-to-day life, from vehicles to communication devices to life-saving machines.” “You, Shaun, has made our lives so much better, that it was the least we could do.”

Anthropocentric

“Is there anyone living in this version of our universe? I mean, human … hum … clones?”, “No, no. We thought that would be improper. We do try to live in it, just for the curiosity, actually. There are some holiday packs to travel the wonderful places your universe has to offer. It’s nothing we don’t see in our own, but you know, travel agencies will always find an excuse to take your money, right?” and finished that sentence with a grin and almost a wink. His human traces were very good, almost as if he was observing for far too long, making Shaun to feel a little bit uneasy…

“Actually…” – the other Shaun continued – “maybe you could help us fixing a few things on this side of the universe. Make things a bit more suited to the people from our side, what do you think?”. With the rest of the team deep in tests, it’d be weeks before they would even consider going back to the main lab, and nobody else would dare to enter there, after the several claims (in the private circle that knew him) that his lab would produce a black-hole that would consume Earth and everything else.

Shaun decided to go in, at least to explore the very convincing copy of his own world. Going up the emergency exit, he found the lift all the way to the top, as expected. Outside, as expected, the early rays of the spring sun casting long shadows on the trees and buildings. The nearby cattle farm was empty, though. When the other Shaun noticed Shaun’s curiosity, he added, “Ah, yes, you see, we decided not to include mammals, as they could eventually evolve into sapient beings and we’d be altering the history of our own universe. We didn’t want to do that!”. Shaun thought it was sensible.

For several days, Shaun has listened to all complaints about his own universe and how would that fit into their own physiology. Animals were turned green to photosynthesise, trees would reproduce by multiple ways at the same time, genetic combination of more than a pair of chromosomes were allowed, as was normal in this new universe, and many of the landscapes were altered to fit the gigantic stature of most of its inhabitants. Some parts were left untouched, or the travel agencies would lose a huge market, and some were shortened and simplified, for the less elaborate, but still pseudo-sentient species.

Shaun was feeling very well, like a demi-god, changing landscapes and evolution at his own wishes, much like Slartibartfast. How fortunate was him, the only human – correction – the only being in his universe (as far as he knew) to play with a toy universe himself.

Inevitable causality

After meeting with leaders of the populations of the alter-universe, receiving gifts and commendations (and a few kisses from the lasses), it was time to return to his own universe. Shaun felt a bit tired, but after drinking a bit of their energetic beverage, he blasted back to alter-Earth in his new hyper-vehicle, to his own alter-lab. In there, only alter-Shaun was there to say goodbye. A handshake and a wink was enough to mean “I’ll be back, and thanks for all the fish”, which Shaun has taken as a warm gift, rather than a creepy resemblance.

But as soon as Shaun stepped up into his own universe, he noticed some things were out of place. After being in an alter-universe for so long, it was only natural to misplace normal concepts, but some things were not normal at all, like a 10 meter high corridor leading from his side of the room. Normally, It’d be no more than 2 meters and there was a very good reason for that: humans are not that tall!

He ran through it to find a huge door to a huge lift. In the lift were a few people still discussing what had happened. “It was definitely not that big! We must have shrunk!” said one, “No, that’s not possible, that’s Hollywoodian at best!” said the sceptic. Shaun took the lift up to the ground level, and ran to the farm nearby, fearing the worst.

And the worst happened. The cows were green, and the houses huge. Being a bad theoretical physicist himself, and not being able to count on the alter-physicists for theoretical matters, Shaun hasn’t taken into account that his machine was a duplication machine, of entangled particles. That means, for the lay to understand, that whatever happens to one, invariably happens to the other, no matter in what part of the universe, or in this case, in the multi-verse, they are.

That, thought Shaun, would take a bit more than a few days to fix… but he know how, and he was looking forward to fix it himself!

Dad, what is war?

There’s this little girl on the hotel’s lobby. She seems very smart, but at odds with one of the popular magazines she’s reading. It looks like one of those low-quality magazines that people publish for children, assuming they’re dumb and can’t take a bit of logic. This one seems to be about history, mostly relating facts to simple conclusions and trying to get started the child’s imagination on what would be like hundreds of years ago.

I’m only waiting for them to get my room ready, so anything to pass the time is game, and watching the puzzled face of that little girl looking at a picture of what looks like a war scene is, at least, entertaining. Her dad is busy with some details of his bill, so she refrains from interrupting him, but enough is enough, I can see that she must ask what that is. And so she does.

“Dad, what is war?”. A bit puzzled with the numbers still floating in his mind and having to cope with such an unexpected question, he stops for a moment. “I, uh… war is… er, like… why do you ask?”. The little girl flips the magazine without letting it go, so her dad can read, and look at him with those big reflecting eyes, demanding a fair answer.

After switching his mind quickly yo cope with the upside-down writings and the glare from the sun outside on the screen, her dad finally tries to answer. “Well, honey. War is when people get angry and fight.” That was really amazing, because you could clearly see how fast her mind was pattern-matching in all her reactions. The involuntary contraction of her neck, the slight tilt of her head and the eyes going back and forth looking at nothing in particular. About a second later, she concluded. “Oh, I see, like you and mum?”

At this time the father wasn’t listening any more, and just issued the standard “uh-huh”. It was clear as filtered air that, in the next seconds, lots of memories of her family would be unequivocally associated with war, and at a later stage (if she ever became a historian), she would have to deal with that. It seems silly for me to interfere, but learning is an emergent behaviour, and she could have other unpredictable side-effects that would ruin her life for a number of reasons.

I looked around and there was no sign of the hotel staff bringing me my key, so I put my reservation aside and dived in. “Hello, little girl. How is your magazine?”. She looked at me in a slight panic, but my smiling face is anything but threatening. She looked at her dad, than at me. Her dad didn’t seem particularly worried, so she relaxed and continued the conversation.

“This is a magazine about the dark ages. I’ve learned dark ages at school and that people used to fight a lot, but I’ve never seen pictures of a real war before.” I said, “Well, these pictures are very old and bi-dimensional, it’s hard to see anything in them. Besides, they were usually taken by one or the other side, so you never knew how bad things really were other than what people told in the news or left in the pictures.”

She still seemd a bit confused, and not because of the quality of the pictures, I have to say. “I imagine how angry these people had to be to come to this…”. There was my cue. “You see, this has nothing to do with being angry… Your mum and dad will never go to war for disagreeing, because war is not about anyone’s feelings, really”.

Nevertheless, she seemed very resolute in her fantasy of mum and dad waging wars. “When they got separated, my mum said she was going to kill dad if he ever showed up again…”. But I was not going to give up, “That doesn’t mean it’s war. She was just angry and I’m sure she won’t kill anyone.”

By that time, my keys had arrived and I was ready to leave, but the little girls’ eyes weren’t stable enough for me to leave. Not just yet. “I don’t get it. If people were not mad, why did they fight?”. I could not hold my urge to elaborate… so I did.

“You see, back in the 21st century, people used to be a lot less rational than today. They used to call the early days as ‘dark ages’, only that those days were a lot less dark than – what we call today – the dark ages. People had a very blurry view of what science is or can do, and religion was still a strong player in worlds business.”

“Not only that, but people also had a very limited point of view. They thought only about their own profit and even then, only their short term profit – think about a month or so, no more – so they were always taking rapid-firing short-sighted decisions. For instance, they would wage wars in the – then, called middle east – area to control the oil production, even decades after realising fossil fuels weren’t good at all. Even mother China would wage wars with our neighbours because of their political agenda…” “Not mother China! We’d never do that!” I was taken aback a bit for her reaction, but continued nevertheless… “Hundreds of years ago, dear, everyone did that, even mother China.”

She was puzzled. Maybe I was making it worse, which was another reason to continue…

“Let’s go back a bit. When science was still at its early stages, there were some fundamental questions that people couldn’t answer, like ‘where do we come from’ and ‘why are we here'” “But that’s non-sense!” “Yes, yes, calm down, we’re talking about back then, remember?” “Oh, yes, sorry.” “Those questions, however irrelevant to the universe, were fundamental to even the most prodigious scientists of that era. It was not all bad, since most of the discoveries of that time came from trying to find the ultimate truth.”

“Religion is that stuff about the universe being created, right?” “Exactly, there is a deity that is more powerful than us and have created us. Somewhat like man and ants, we could do whatever we wanted with them…” “but we didn’t create the ants!” “Yes, I was, uh, trying to come up with an analogy, sorry. You see, that’s one of the reasons why it failed over the time, people ran out of stupid analogies and science took care of the rest. With time, we stopped asking stupid questions as well, so the long sought answers about the universe died out and, well, came the age of enlightenment.”

“What does that have to do with war?” “Oh, yes, war. So, ever since the stone age, most wars were waged for religious reasons. It may not make a lot of sense now, but different people had different religions, and they could not accept that other people could believe in a different deity, or even in the same deity, with slightly different rules. That has led to a lot of controversy, and due to the lack of diplomacy, wars.”

“However, after a while, people realised that religion was not just a matter of belief, it was a powerful weapon. If you could make people believe in what you want – that you are in direct communication with such deity, for instance – you would recruit every single man that believes in that deity to your cause. With time, when money came into scene, that was the most powerful way to acquire money. Later on, when religion started to fail, people had to create different fears, such as their own safety. That’s when terrorism came to scene, but again, that had strong religious roots.”

“So, war was about money, then?” “Exactly! Money and power, which invariably leads to more money (or power).” “Oh, that’s stupid! Everyone knows you get more if you cooperate than if you fight over something…” She was warming up and I’d lose my meeting but I wouldn’t stop now!

“Have you ever heard of John Nash?” “Hey, John Nash, I know him! Game theory, right?” “Well done!” I was really impressed, they normally learn that stuff at 10, but she was barely 7 years old. “There were some people a bit ahead of their time, like John Nash and Stephen Hawking, but they were few. Most of the prodigious scientists were all looking for the ultimate answer. And funny enough, for more than a century after John Nash, people still waged wars for money…”

She was looking down, and a bit sad… “My mum always say that I don’t listen and I only learn through pain… I guess this was their problem, wasn’t it?” “I think so” said I, resolute. “I think there’s yet another explanation that fits into Nash’s predictions. There were so many factors into why waging wars actually makes less profit than not, that people could not see it straight away. Whoever said that was taken as an anarchist, or an idiot – which at the time, was almost the same thing…” “What’s an anarchist?” That truly took me out of balance… I wasn’t prepared to elaborate on that. So I didn’t.

“Back to war… Nash’s idea, and that we all take for granted today, is that collaboration is far more stable and profitable than competition. I personally think that, what was really difficult for them to realise, was that competition is what made men evolve, but that’s also what made men stop evolving for millennia. Learning to collaborate was the single most important change in the world over the last three hundred years, and also what made our fauna and flora to go back to its original intent, and thanks to that, we still have our planet to live in.”

“Of course we do! Where else? Ha!” She was laughing seriously loud now. I believe a man of that age would not understand why, but I did.

My watch went crazy on the alarm, reminding me I had a meeting in 15 minutes, and I even hadn’t had a shower. That was my cue to leave, so just made some silly moves like pointing at the watch and smirking, and she got it straight away. Clever girl.

The OFF button

Geeks like to hack stuff, especially if they’re not meant to be hacked. But hacking computers or mobile phones is piece of cake, so some, more adventurous geeks hack cars. The Toyota Prius is a particularly interesting car to hack, since a lot of its functionality is based on control systems and they have interface ports that you can plug in debug systems and change (or add) behaviour to your car.

For instance, you can enable the SatNav screen to play video CDs or MP3s, since the system supports it, but there aren’t enough buttons on the panel and, well, you shouldn’t be watching videos while you drive, anyway.

Another less common hack, but doable is to change the voice commands. They’re normally hard-coded to respond when you press a button on the steering wheel and say something. For instance, on my Prius, if you say “fire photon torpedoes” it puts the air condition temperature down a bit. If you say “Khaaaaaaaan!” it turns off the radio, and so on.

Some controls are a bit less harmless, like activating the breaks or turning off the car, but normally you can’t access them from the control panel, anyway. That is, unless you by-pass the CAN network and connect the central control with the control panel.

Legend tells that a geek bypassed the system and, just for fun, added a voice command to turn off the car when he’d say “off“. That was his pride and joy, and (geek) friends would go jealous of his control over his car. Until the day the car was too old and he decided to buy a new one, with even more technology. Only he forgot to disable the “off” button.

A few months later, they say, the new owner was having a fight with his girlfriend on M11 at full speed and, well, as many would do in those circumstances, he was swearing a lot. Loudly. His unfortunate last minute of life began when he accidentally pressed the “talk” button and said something along the lines of “f*** off …”.

The car dutifully acknowledged the command and, since the previous owner forgot to add any security checks, turned itself off at once. Havoc and carnage followed, but that’s another story.

Now you know why Toyota voids your warranty when you open the panel…

The Group

As a postal worker, Mark had plenty of time to wonder in his head about things. Being in the post was not the most boring job ever, but wasn’t also complex that would put his brain cells to work that much. A bit of letter sorting and route planning was more than he needed to perform his job well and, even though he had a few neurons to spare, that actually didn’t help with his boss’ appraisal.

Not that Mark’s boss didn’t welcome a bit of thinking, it’s just that sometimes, too much thinking can do more harm than good. Nevertheless, Mark had that job for a few years now, and no plans to actually make a change. He had no family to care for, nor any massive debt to pay out and wasn’t particularly good looking to actually have a girlfriend.

But all that averageness wouldn’t help Mark to stop thinking about those things. Things that would make him loose his job. Things that always made him awkward when talking to women. Things that nobody else could understand, and nobody cared for that matter. Probably the very reason why he was thinking about it again this morning…

Spam

Between delivering some spam to a semi-detached family house and dropping a small box to a bungalow with lots of rubbish on the pavement, he thought how hard it is to do what people expect you to. Why do we have to deliver spam to half the country? Why can’t he just skip the spam, since nobody wants it anyway, and just deliver the good stuff? Would they really know if he’d delivered the spam in the first place?

For a few minutes that day, people walking down the pavement were somewhat annoyed with the presence of a motionless postman holding a few flyers. He was thinking… If they were actually paying attention, people on that street, that day, would see a perfectly regular postman sorting through his delivery quota in his bag with anger, until all the flyers were in his hand. He opened the green bin of that bungalow, and dropped them all in there.

To be honest, one mother coming down the high street, immediately after dropping her daughter at school (and the usual chat with other parents), actually saw all that happening. But her head was so full of problems, her daughter’s performance in school wasn’t that good and her husband, if you can call that husband, wasn’t being particularly nice that day. She dismissed the whole scene as another common madness of the world.

Mark was anxious, waiting for someone to say something, to reprehend him or to cheers for his bravery, but nothing really happened. It was exactly the same village as he was just a few minutes ago. A very radical move from his part had no damage whatsoever on the course of man kind. It was in that moment that he decided to do that every day.

For 3 years he put all the flyers in random bins (there weren’t that many, but he managed to hid some other on random places, too). To no surprise, absolutely nothing happened to any one. Local business were still working, Tesco was still full of people buying the same chicken wings on sale and the brand new chip shop had a very good clientèle, despite all their spam going to the bin every day.

With great power…

His success was a bit disappointing. Not only he managed to keep doing for so long, but nobody ever cared. Now, people were actually used to seeing him dropping flyers, no matter how extravagant were his moves around green bins. People would even greet him good morning while he was doing it. But he wasn’t a normal fellow, and his sense of righteousness put him on track to reform society. Small changes for a small man, but nevertheless, changes.

He decided to do every right thing where a wrong thing was expected. He delivered letters to doctors on the same day, even when a second class stamp was used. He’d slack off during most of the afternoon to deliver the big packages during the evening, when everybody was at home. He even delivered letters to people he knew while shopping and one day he replied to a letter himself.

It was a letter to a marriage lawyer firm on the postbox next to school. The letter was a bit crumpled and had a very shaky hand writing. He knew exactly from who that was and why. He replied:

Dear Mrs. Wife,

Your husband is a crook. He gambles the unemployment benefit, he hits your daughter and has an affair with more people that I’d dare to say.

You don’t need a lawyer, you need to slap him in the face and throw him out of your house.

Regards,
The postman

If that ever helped, nobody knows, but how that made him feel better, is inexplicable. The good feeling was taking over his life. He was less tense, had a few dates with the bakery attendant and even sent a letter to his mother. But all that feeling was stopped dead by a call from his boss. Apparently there were some complaints that the postal service was a bit erratic and some letters were not reaching their destinations.

Mark’s boss reassured him that he trusted Mark, but wanted him to know that there would be some investigations and questions to all members of staff. As it turned out, another postman was unhappy about his work and stopped delivering anything and went to the pub for the few last days. After a weekend delivering more letters than usual, everything went back to normal.

Happiness is ethereal

During the next few months, Mark managed to have a sound relationship with Emma (the bakery attendant) and they were actually happy. After the year’s end, Mark got a raise and could now afford a cable TV subscription. He didn’t get the sports pack, since Emma wanted the entertainment one, but all was fine as long as she was there, with him.

However, as it couldn’t be different, Mark started to wonder… He was really happier now than some years ago. The whole city seemed to have accepted his behaviour, no matter how odd. Even Emma ignored the issue after Mark told her during one of their first dates. It really wasn’t that important. How is that possible?

Can he, then, do whatever he wants? To what extent will bending the laws imposed by the people actually go before people start noticing, and doing something about it? How can some people do so little and go to jail, while him, with such a radical take on life, gets completely ignored. What would he have to do to be noticed?

In whatever group you are, Mark realised, as long as you don’t interfere with its natural course, you will be ignored. He learnt from the one of the documentary channels that this is true with every animal. Man is not more than any other animal. Society is not more than any other group. Not only you can do whatever you want, as long as that doesn’t interfere with the group, but everything you do will be completely ignored and, when you die, forgotten.

Obviously, Mark’s new take on life put some dents in his relationship, but he managed to suppress his thoughts while Emma was around. He wouldn’t want to loose her, not after so much trouble to get her. He also agreed not to talk weird while her friends would come over, and that took their relationship to a marriage, and life went on as you know it.

To be honest, I never heard of a postman named Mark, but according to his own theories, he could very much have existed and you’ll never know it…

Prisoner of War

Gorik was a methodical prisoner. Every morning, precisely at 6 o’clock, he’d wake up, wash his face and prepare for the morning food rations. After eating and tidying his bed, he’d go outside for the sun bath.

His schedule wasn’t particularly full, but he had some tasks he liked to do. Washing the court, preparing dinner, helping people in the library and most of all, teaching mathematics to the children. He was not a great mathematician, but among the prisoners, he was the most gifted.

Although his race was known to be violent, and many others tried to escape prison, he was a peaceful man. Not once he tried or even hinted to escape, nor he participated in the few mass escapes that happened since they’re all imprisoned. As with most prisoners of war, they weren’t criminals or had done anything more terrible than those that had imprisoned them, they just were unlucky enough to be on the loosing side of a major war.

Violent or not, their race was proud of what they achieved and were no more destructive than their enemies, nor they actually started the fight. But that doesn’t concern us now, the important matter now is that Gorik was not in his cell at 6 o’clock this morning to get his rations.

The janitor’s face had but one tear rolling down his cheek. The key in his hand opening a door that didn’t need opening. Pointless exercise but he continued, by force of habit, if nothing else. He was definitely not there.

Others were coming to see, but the sense of nothing was global. There wasn’t a single man, on either side, with his mouth closed. Some were dripping, what could be more tears, or saliva. It didn’t matter any more. He was not there at all.

No alarm was sound, no one ran. There was nothing to do. There were no broken doors, no knocked-down guards, no bribes paid (or no one said so), nor any camera caught anything convincing. He vanished.

Life continued in the prison. There was no one to help with the dinner today, or anyone to help the children in their assignments. It was not the same without him. Where did he go? And why now? There must have been something really serious to take him that sudden, and silently. He just left.

Two days later, when the janitor had the courage to enter his cell to clean it up, he noticed a letter on the bed. Nothing special, just a letter half-inserted back into the light brown envelope. The writing on the envelope was a bit wobbly, like children writing. It was addressed to him personally, and being only a letter, there was no point in not delivering it to him.

He was not there any more, and he left the letter in plain sight. That unofficially gives one the right to read it, I guess. Well, the janitor agreed, and opened the letter. It was from Gorik’s wife.

She was also a prisoner, but ever since the war was over, women and children got moved to a more decent accommodation, where the children could learn how much better was life on the other side and interact with the children on this side, and forget about their horrible and violent past.

The note said: “Dear Gorik, I’m not feeling well lately and Juma is a fine woman already. She’s left with a good boy and I’m afraid I’ll be alone for the rest of my days. I sincerely hope you are in better company than I am. Love, your wife.”

The next day, the prison manager went personally to the apartments she was living, and asking around learnt that nobody saw Gorik since the end of the war, but his wife had not showed up for a few days, also.

He took the note from his pocket, in which his secretary had written the block and apartment number. After a few minutes walking in circles, he managed to find the block and the correct door, which was half-open.

Knocked once. No answer. Twice. Nothing. The manager peered into the room by the two centimetres available, but all he could see was that the TV was on. Feeling a bit guilty for doing so, even for a prison manager, he opened the door a bit and found no one in the living room. A few steps inside, a door to the left. Empty bathroom. Another door to the right, empty room. Down the small corridor, there was a door, completely open and letting the sun, that was shining on the other side of the building, come through with all its might.

Barely visible among the flood of light, a pair of feet. No, actually, two pairs. Curiosity was not in the manager’s list of sins, but he could no longer wait. Sweating and his heart pumping, he crossed the room, just to find two people lying down on the bed. Calm as summer night.