10 October 2015

Significant Digits, Bonus: Digitizations





Significant Digits, Bonus: Digitizations


NOTE:  Here are some looks at the stories-that-might-have-been... if you took the offstage, ignored, or unsung aspects... and let them run the show.

Spoilers ahead for:

  • Toy Story
  • Ron Hubbards Battlefield Earth
  • Lois Lowry’s The Giver
  • The Incredibles
  • Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking
  • Brian Jacques’ Redwall
  • Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance
  • Star Wars
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality



T0Y ST0RY

Sid spent three months in the seclusion ward of the hospital.  Even after he was released, he had to go speak to Mr. Berndham twice a week in the counselor’s office at school, and his social worker dropped by at least once a month.  Everyone was keeping an eye on him… even his mom.  She’d only ever actually talked to him about it once.  “Sid, honey,” she’d said to him abruptly one night, as he chewed on a slice of Pizza Planet double-cheese.  “Do you want to tell me… about anything?  About what you… saw?”

He’d chewed on his pizza for so long that it was churned into spit-soaked mush, and hadn’t said a word.  He knew better, now.  Hannah had smiled at him vacantly, not really understanding.  She was little; almost a baby, really.

He knew so many things.  He knew about the toys.  He knew about adults.  And he knew about the importance of silence.

He chewed and chewed and said nothing, and eventually she’d gone to join Dad on the couch with some beers.  Hannah said something brightly and toddled off, as well.  Sid swallowed, and it went down like a lump of iron.  Funny, that you could chew on something for so long and still have it hurt on the way down.

Sid waited.  He waited month after month, doing everything he was asked to do.  He even knew enough to keep on going to the skateboard park once a week or so.  Mom would go with him and sit nearby, and he’d push himself around and do half-hearted grinds on low edges.

Eventually, he was allowed to close his bedroom door again.  It took almost a year.  It was a grim room, these days… the paint was scorched in one corner where a cherry bomb had just sizzled and burned instead of exploding.  There was a melted patch of carpet there, too.  And all his shelves were bare, scuffed wood.  No toys.

No toys but one.

It was a bright yellow squeeze ball, with a face on it and simple nubs for arms.  When you crushed it in your hand, the eyes bulged out comically.  He wedged it under a drawer when he wasn’t playing with it.

Here is how he played:

“Your name is Boo-boo.  Your name is Boo-boo.  You are my special friend.  You are my special friend.  You are my only friend.  You are my only friend,” he crooned.  He spoke to it softly, even though his eyes were hard.  “It’s just you and me.  You and me.  You and me.”

“I know,” he whispered, so quietly that only Boo-boo could hear.  “I know you’re alive.  I know toys are alive.  I know you’re alive.  I am the only one who knows.  The only one in the whole world.  I’m the only one.”

Every night, until he fell asleep, he cradled the toy and whispered to it.  Endlessly.  Constantly.  Forever.  Until finally, one night just like any other night, Boo-boo moved in his hand.  Just a little, but Sid was sure.  It hadn’t been another false hope or trick of his mind.

He redoubled his efforts.  It took nearly a year, and there were nights when he would spend an hour in the bathroom, sobbing and hitting himself in the head with a balled-up fist… but he always kept going.  And finally, almost a year later, Boo-boo started talking back.

The toy had a squeaky little voice, but it repeated back what Sid said.  It talked to him.  He told it about his problems, and about the world that it had never seen.  About how he was special, and the only one who could hear the toys.  He told Boo-boo about the world to come.

And then Sid got other toys.  They let him, and they let him stop going to see Mr. Berndham and the social worker stopped coming by and Mom started to get more worried about the way Hannah was dressing than anything Sid did anymore.

“Boo-boo is your leader.  He is in charge.  Boo-boo is your leader.  He is special.  I am special.  You are special.  We are special.”

They were mostly action figures with a lot of moveable joints.  Hard plastic, with hands that could hold things.  Toys that could do things.  Move things.  Hurt things.

“Boo-boo is your leader.  We are special.  We will change things.  We will change the world.  You are special.  I am special.  We are special.”

Toys don’t sleep, he’d figured out.  They don’t eat or drink.  They don’t breathe.  They didn’t get tired.  When Boo-boo put the figures through drills, they were whatever he wanted them to be.  And he wanted them to be perfect.

“Boo-boo is your leader.  He speaks my words.  I am special.  I am the only one.  You are special, because you are here.  We are special.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.”

A hundred.  A thousand.  So many that he stored them in crates in the closet.  They didn’t mind.  They would do things for him.  Boo-boo was his eyes and ears while he slept or went to school.  They got things.  Scissors.  Knives.  Even better things.

“Boo-boo is your leader.  We will change things.  We will change the world.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.  Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?” he asked, in a hushed and solemn voice, and a plastic legion whispered back, “We love you.”

“Then go, then,” said Sid, and threw open the door.  “Find more.  Teach them my words.  Teach them as I have taught you.  Go then.  I love you.  Go then.  I love you.”

“Conquer in my name,” said Sid, and his eyes flashed balefully.



B4TTL3F13LD 34RTH

“MacTyler, we’re being played for fools,” said Angus.  He scrutinized the breathe-gas bottle and frowned.  “Think about the scenario… think about how everything comes to a point here.  Improbably so.”

Johnnie Goodboy Tyler did stop and think, for he was a man of inquiry as well as a man of action.  “The Psychlos have a death-grip on the entire galaxy, as the only ones with teleportation.  They possess the single most valuable technology.  At the same time, they’re cartoonishly evil… they have the sort of sadism that would make you think they’d all been purposefully brain-damaged, or something just as silly.  But they’re also incredibly vulnerable, since the gas that they breathe seems to explode violently when exposed to any form of particle radiation,” he said, working it through.  “That means that if you subvert any knowledgeable Psychlo -- even by sheer luck, getting it right only once -- you could seize control of the most powerful technological advantage in existence, annihilating them in the process by teleporting in simple uranium-based bombs.  And you wouldn’t even have to feel bad about it, since they’re all evil.”

Angus pointed at the breathe-gas container.  “But we have little evidence for any of that.  All we’ve really seen is a handful of Psychlos and these Chinko record discs -- and again, aren’t those convenient?”  His Scottish accent was thickened by alarm and suspicion.

“You’re right, Angus,” said Johnnie.  Almost by instinct, his kill-club swung up in his hand, and he hefted the reassuring weight of the kenning in his grip.  “We’re being set up… trained with propaganda and supplied with everything we’d need to start a war.  All these machines with fantastic capabilities -- dispersing single molecule sprays or hovering while mining drills are deployed -- and all of them easily converted to military use.”

Johnnie turned to face the horizon.  “We’ve been groomed to be weapons, and taught about a convenient and evil target, and given every resource.  We’re being set up to take someone out.”

“But then… who is behind this?  Who is trying to turn mankind -- och, the handful of us that exist! -- into a weapon against the Psychlos… or whoever’s really on the other end of these coordinates?”  Angus looked up, nervously, as though they were being watched.

Around the corner, out of sight, Chrissie scowled and narrowed her eyes.  These two would have to go.  A shame about the wasted time, but once Johnnie and Angus were disposed of, she’d just set up the “Psychlo” mining site again.  If she and the Chinkos wanted to take control, they needed a patsy to lead the human attacks… she’d thought Johnnie would be perfect.  He trusted her, never even wondering what she did during the long periods he would be away from the village -- when she had met her allies and planned to harness the happy violence of what remained of her species.  But there were plenty of bold and reckless young men in the world, willing to wage war without ever stopping to think.  She could replace him.



TH3 G1V3R

“So wait… our community’s Elders make our decisions, guided by your wisdom?”

“Yes, Jonas.  The wisdom from the memories,” said the Giver.  The aged man seemed burdened by the weight of the entire community, which rested on his hunched shoulders.  “Once, the Committee of Elders sought my advice about the rate of births.  Some citizens had petitioned to ask for each family to be allowed a third child.  They wanted each Birthmother to be assigned four births instead of three, so the population would increase and more Labourers would be available.”

“That sounds fun,” said Jonas.  “And it makes sense.  So you used your memories?”

“Yes,” said the Giver.  “And the strongest memory that came to me was one of hunger.  It came from many generations back.  Centuries back.  The population had gotten so big that hunger was everywhere.  Excruciating hunger and starvation.  It was followed by warfare.”

“I see,” said the young Receiver.  He paused.  “So you told them to first assess whether or not current food stores were sufficient, and to determine whether or not the Farmers could expand operations to accommodate more people?”

“They don’t want to hear about details of numbers or that sort of thing.  They just seek the advice.  I simply advised them against increasing the population.”

“Oh.”  This time, an even longer pause.  Then Jonas asked, in a small voice that was almost a whisper:  “I’m allowed to be rude, right?”

“Yes, Jonas,” said the kindly old man.  “There can be no rudeness between us, and no apologies.”

“Then sir, I have to say that it doesn’t seem as though you’re using your power very wisely.  I mean, you’ve told me about how important it is that we not try to advance our society that much, but my friend Benjamin was praised for inventing new scientific equipment for the Rehabilitation Center.  Surely you must have some memories from someone who worked in medicine, back in the old days.  We don’t have to copy the way they do things a lot, but why don’t we--”

“Jonas,” said the Giver, his hoarse voice sharper than usual.  “There are limits to what we can do to change our world.  We must accept our place.”

But the boy hadn’t even heard him, but had plunged on, describing gaps in their knowledge that memories from the past might be able to fill… describing the ways lives could be saved or improved by details and specifics… describing all the ways that the memories could be used.

Finally, the Giver spoke again, interrupting Jonas, his voice kind once more.  “You might be right, Jonas.  We’ll try those things… all of them and more.  But first, I think there’s something important you need to do… I think you need to save Gabriel.  Yes, that’s it.  You must take him and go away.  Far away.  Into the woods.”

“But, sir--”

“Here, take this food..  Okay now, off with you.”



TH3 1NCR3D1BL3S

Mr. Incredible moaned, angrily.  Bitterly, he demanded of the hovering little man, “You mean you killed off real heroes so that you could pretend to be one?”

Syndrome smirked, and his pompadour bobbed with the slight motion of his head.  It was visible even in the darkness.  “Oh, I'm real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers.”  His voice was mocking.  “I'll give them heroics. I'll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that everyone can have powers.”  His voice rose in excitement.  “Everyone can be super!”  He turned again, to face the red-garbed hero, and spoke his last words in a portentous tone.

“And when everyone's super… no one will be.”

“Oh, okay then.  That sounds good.  Wait, let me think,” said Mr. Incredible.  He’d always been creative but never… well, never intellectual.  So it took him a moment.  Syndrome stood, surprised, his mouth half-open as a ready retort was smothered by this unexpected turn of events.

Elastigirl was even more surprised, but her reply was lost when Dash just outright yelped,  “What?!  Dad?!  Don’t give up!”

Mr. Incredible turned his head to his son, and snapped, “Dash!  Quiet!”  He paused.  “Please!” he added, glancing apologetically at his wife.

Everyone was silent for a few beats, and the only sound was the buzzing of the bracelets that had trapped the Incredibles with “zero-point energy.”  Finally, just as Elastigirl and Violet were both clearing their throats insistently, Mr. Incredible heaved a sigh and addressed Syndrome again.  “That sounds good, but we’re going to want something in return.”

Syndrome, Elastigirl, Violet, and Dash all simultaneously replied in a confusion of demands and replies and simple shrieks.

“Quiet!” bellowed Mr. Incredible, putting a super-powered diaphragm and unbreachably strong lungs to use.  In the heavy silence that followed, he spoke to Syndrome.  “I have a deal for you.”

Syndrome whirled around, then looked up, then looked down.  He flipped open a control panel on his wrist and paged through menus, looking at sensors and read-outs.  Finally, he looked up again.  “I don’t… see any attack about to happen.”

“No, this isn’t one of those things… I don’t have a plan or anything.  Well, I do, but it’s just to let you win,” said Mr. Incredible.  He could feel Elastigirl’s anger from here.  “Listen… this kind of power could change the world.  It could… if everyone could fly, and we could generate that kind of energy, and… I mean, I’m not a scientist.  Helen, Vi… think about what it would do for the world.  Think of just what we could do with the power sources.  It takes a ton of energy to float people around like that, and it’s coming from his tiny little batteries.  Think about what it will mean for industry and- and- and space travel!”

The silence held, and he knew they were thinking it through, now.  It made sense that he had been the one to see it.  He was a tactician and leader… he was creative.  Not the quickest in the room, usually, but he could think around the blind corners.

“You know how this goes,” said Mr. Incredible, and now he locked his eyes on Syndrome’s.  His eyes had the grim intensity of a hero.  It wasn’t an expression you could learn or imitate.  It was forged in battle and quenched in the blood of friends fallen in noble causes.  He held the villain’s eyes.

“You know that we are the heroes.  We’re the family of heroes, and you’re off to do your insane plan.  A way-too-complicated plan, by the way.  You have all these powers… why build the unstoppable robot?  Just go be a hero… go do the thing you always wanted to do.”  He cut off any reply by raising his voice slightly.  “But if you give up your inventions to the world… in a way that I can know it will really happen, and you won’t change your mind… I’ll agree.  I’ll die for that.”

He raised his voice again.  “Not my family.  Not them.  You need them.  They won’t spoil our deal and tell the world, since they know what I’d be dying for.  They won’t risk losing that technology.  But you send a locked archive of that information to the New York City D.A.’s office right now, and you can have my life… and you’ll get a rogue’s gallery, to boot.  Brilliant and bendable, quick and brave, insightful and powerful.”

Syndrome tilted his head back.  The surprise on his face had been overtaken by a mocking smile, which had in turn been replaced by frank uncertainty.  “But if-”

Mr. Incredible didn’t give him the chance to continue, as he lunged forward.  He wrenched his right arm forward, straining against the energy.  He strained it forward, and every inch was twice as impossible as the next, but he doubled his effort and doubled it again, and forced his bound fist forward.  Because it wasn’t for him, and it wasn’t for his wife, and it wasn’t even for his whole family, but it was for the world, and he pushed until his arm was straight out and he felt something tear in his shoulder and his gut, and all he could see was red, but he strained out the words through his clenched teeth:  “That’s.  What.  You.  Get.”

And there was another pause, and then Bob Parr shoved his hand forward an impossible inch more, an incredible inch more, and his arm burst free of its restraints with an electric sizzle, and there was blood in his mouth and he hurt everywhere but he snarled anyway -- snarled the words, “Or else.

Mr. Incredible couldn’t hear anything over the roaring in his ears, black galaxies were swirling in front of his eyes... but he could still see Syndrome back away, face pale, stammering his agreement.



P1PP1 L0NGST0CK1NG

“It all became clear to me after speaking to Mr. Nilsson,” said Pippi.  Her long braids, stiffened with bear grease until they jutted from her head, bobbed like the grand diadem of an empress.  She gestured at the monkey chained to the porch of Villa Villekulla.  It was mangy and red-eyed with disease, and the fez that had been lashed to its skull was little more than a lump of reddish rags by now.  The policemen obediently looked at the “talking monkey,” but it only hissed at them.

“He explained to me,” The nine-year-old continued, “that the authorities would never stop trying to take me away to that lousy orphanage.  If I wanted to be left in peace, there was really no alternative but to take over.  If you wildly extrapolate the small set of facts with which we began, then really it makes sense.”

“Pippi!” called out the cheerful singsong of Tommy Settigren, as he appeared around the corner.  His short blonde hair was matted with filth almost as thickly as the hatchet in his hand was thick with gore.  He’d stopped bathing months ago, in obedience to the frigörelse theology of the Longstocking.  “We caught that dratted mayor, Pippi!”

The redheaded titan turned and grinned.  “Well done, Tommy!  Here you go!”  She threw a Spanish doubloon to the other child, who snatched it out of the air.  He bit it -- not really because he doubted its authenticity, but because that’s what the Longstocking had taught was the proper thing.  “Bring him around,” commanded Pippi.

Tommy disappeared, but soon returned at the head of a gang of other children, mostly the liberated orphans.  His sister Annika was with him, and she and the other children all helped drag the bound form of the mayor.  Pippi yelped in glee, and leapt down to meet them.  The policemen, dispirited at the abrupt change of regime, slumped away from the sudden movement in animal fear.

The mayor mewed weakly in fear as she hoisted him into the air.  Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmind Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking lifted him with one hand effortlessly, and told him with a wide grin, “I told you that the oppression of the masses could not continue forever.  I’ll always come out on top.”

She threw him aside, and pointed a bold finger down the street.  “Onward!”



R3DW4LL

“Patience, you young scalliwag,” chided the ancient mouse Methuselah.  “We have found this riddle, and I believe it to be the key to locating the fabled sword of Martin the Warrior.”

“A riddle!” said Matthias, finishing the wedge of cheese he’d been enjoying.  He drank a long draught of October ale, swiping his whiskers on his sleeve.  “If we solve it, then we can find the sword and chase off Cluny and his horde!”

“Indeed,” said Methuselah, twitching his nose from the library’s dust.  The old abbey recorder settled down to read the scroll.

Who says that I am dead
Knows naught at all
You who seek my blade
To find within Redwall

Should not ponder riddles
Instead, heed my call:
Launch flanking attacks
from outside of the wall

The two mice sat in silence for a minute.  After a while, Matthias said, “That does make rather a lot of sense, doesn’t it?”

Methuselah nodded slowly.

“Well, we do know that there’s a lot of shrews in Mossflower.  We can probably offer them some pasties and pies and things, and they’ll fight for us.  After all, we’re a settled agrarian group, with the stability to offer them things that a nomadic rat horde never could,” continued the young mouse.

Methuselah nodded again, but lifted the scroll again to squint at it, hopefully.

“Anyway,” said Matthias, “I’m off.  Going to sneak out tonight.  Pretty poor guards those rats are, shouldn’t be hard.  I’ll see if the shrews will make a deal.  You can finish the last of the cheese.”

Matthias got up, finished his ale with a gulp, and walked off to get supplies, affectionately patting Methuselah on the shoulder as he went.

The old mouse sat there for a long while, staring off into space.  Finally, he looked over at the remaining cheese that Matthias had left him, and asked quietly, as though speaking only to himself, “I wonder where they keep the tiny, tiny cows.”



DR4G0NL4NC3

“Okay, Lord Ariakas and the Dragonarmies are inside that complex at the Temple of Neraka.  They’re dug in and well-armed, protected by the power of Takhesis.  They have hundreds of clerics and mages,” said Laurana.  The Golden General pointed at the map, stabbing a finger at the spot where the forces of darkness were encamped.  She looked up at her war council.  “We need to defeat them… a defeat so crushing that they don’t recover.  We must end this war now.”

One of the Knights of Solamnia spoke up, saying, “Then we must strike with our full force.  All of our knights and the army of Palanthas will draw them out, and then the good dragons and gryphons can strike them from their flanks.

“No,” said Laurana, shaking her head.  “That won’t be enough.  Verminaard and his army of draconians are there, and they are monstrous and fierce combatants.  We’d suffer too much damage.  We need overwhelming force.”

“We must ask Raistlin for help, then,” said Caramon, though it pained him to mention his brother.  The book of Fistandantilus had left the wizard… changed.  “He will be able to draw many mages to him, and they can assist our forces in the initial attack.”

“That would still not be enough,” said the Golden General, clenching her fist.  “We need someone of unstoppable might… an attacker who cannot be resisted, no matter what defenses are raised.  We need the most powerful weapon we have.”

“You don’t mean… Fizban?!” said Tika, the barmaid who was increasingly uncertain of her exact role.  “But will he assist us?  I know that he’s obviously an incarnation of Paladine and has the power of a deity, but he really seems to want some of us to die before he helps out.”

“No,” said Laurana, quietly.  “More powerful than even he.”

She turned to look at the corner of the command tent, where a small figure was sitting and quietly playing marbles with five Dragon Orbs he’d happened to find by purest luck.  He looked up, confused; he hadn’t been paying attention.

“Sorry, I wasn’t listening,” said Tasslehoff Burrfoot.  “What was it you needed?”



ST4R W4RS

“You’re right, Chewie, it doesn’t make sense,” said Luke.  “The Empire went to a moon this far away from their other bases and reinforcements to rebuild the Death Star?  It was a ploy to lure us here, sure, but it’s just like Uncle Owen always used to say: put your traps where the air is wet.”

He knelt on the forest floor and scooped up a handful of loam, rolling it thoughtfully between his fingers.  Chewbacca, who sometimes felt that no one really listened, nodded sagely from where he stood at the edge of the clearing.

“But, Master Luke, the Emperor had a plan to destroy the Rebellion when they attacked.  A large contingent of Imperial ships were waiting,” said C-3PO.

“If I’m building the Death Star again -- this time with more turrets in the canals -- then I’m not using it and myself as bait for the entire enemy fleet.  I’ll build it and set traps other places.  The whole point of the Death Star was to eliminate the rebel threat by obliterating all planets that offered them material support.  If I’m the Emperor and I’ve already won on Hoth a few years ago, I know that I’m not in any danger of losing a war of attrition.  I started with an advantage of at least twenty to one, and things only kept going my way.”  Luke stood up again, tossing away the handful of loam and putting his hands on his hips.  He squinted off into the trees.

R2-D2 made a warning buzz and whistle, but C3-PO only turned to admonish him, “The Ewoks are our friends, remember?  They worship me as a god.”  The smaller droid buzzed disconsolately.

“No, it doesn’t make sense,” Luke said, shaking his head.  “When you’re already winning the war, you don’t use your half-finished ultimate weapon to lure the enemy into a fight.  The Emperor was a brilliant politician and strategician… he wouldn’t do that.”  He turned to Chewie.  “There must be something else here.  Some valuable resource or tool...”

R2-D2 beeped and buzzed, rocking from side to side.  Luke frowned at him, and knelt down.  “What’s wrong, R2?”  He looked at C3-PO for a translation.

“He says there are many Ewoks nearby, Master Luke.  I don’t know why he’s on about it, though, really I don’t,” huffed the golden droid.  “They wiped out almost all of the Stormtroopers during the battle… they’re on our side.”

“That does seem strange, too, now that I think about it,” mused Luke.  “What do you think, Chewie?  Chewie?”  The Wookie was gone.  Luke rose swiftly to his feet and took a few steps towards where Chewbacca had been.  “Chewie?  Where did he… R2, I want you to scan for him and see where he went.”  Luke turned back around, only to find that the droids had vanished in just the same way.  Silently, as though they’d never been there.

Luke reached slowly and carefully into his robes and pulled out his lightsaber.  He turned it on, and the comforting buzz and warm green glow filled the clearing.

In the trees, the Ewoks smiled toothily.



H4RRY P0TT3R 4ND TH3 M3TH0DS 0F R4T10N4L1TY

“No, Mr. Potter, we don’t have anything to discuss.  Now go back to Ravenclaw Tower and do your homework, please.  Good day.”  Minerva McGonagall sighed, sitting back down at the chair in front of Albus’ desk, while the Boy Who Lives went away to spend most of his time offstage.  “Silly boy should go get some air -- go running out among the rye or something.”

“Indeed,” said Dumbledore, in a fond wheeze.  “Yet I suspect he has much to teach us.  If only there were some sort of clue as to his behavior.  Compared to other students he is… very odd... laughably demanding… eh, more obviously rascally, though.”

“Yes, I quite concur,” said McGonagall.  “ ‘Puusepa naine tõlvata, sepa naine kirveta.’ “

Dumbledore chuckled indulgently at the obscure Estonian proverb.  “Now then… I have made some remarkable discoveries in Transfiguration, but before I can discuss them, we must have a very long discussion about international politics.”

“And tariffs too, I hope,” said McGonagall, looking hopefully over the tops of her glasses.

“Tariffs, too,” said the kindly old man, reassuringly.


1 comment:

  1. cannot wait for tomorrow's next update!!! love your work. keep writing!!

    ReplyDelete