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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-two THE WANTED WAY OF THINGS

by
RANDAL T. MURRAY
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“To Buck, it was nothing new or strange, this scene of old time. It was as though it had always been, the wonted way of things.”



Jack London, The Call of the Wild



D

oyle stood at the counter and searched for his pen to sign the credit card receipt, ignoring the cheap one the cashier pushed across the counter at him.



“I know it’s here somewhere,” he muttered as he patted his pockets. “I like to use my own,” he offered as a way of explanation. “Damn it. Where is my Mont Blanc?” he asked in a mix of exasperation and desperation.



“I’m here!” a high, clear voice called to him. “In the briefcase!”



“Ah.” Doyle smiled with relief. He quickly placed his case on the counter and after a moment’s more searching pulled out the maroon pen with its snow-capped top.



“There you are!” He signed the receipt in a hurried and illegible scrawl, and then looked at the pen for a moment before slipping it into his shirt pocket and patting it once, reassuringly.



He smiled at the cashier, enjoying a post-panic, anxiety free moment.



She glared at him with practiced exasperation. “Pickup your drink at the end of the counter.”



“Hmm? Oh, of course. Excuse me.” Doyle slid his bag off the counter and dutifully found his place in the second line beside a rack of gift cards. He picked up one, squinting, and then muttered, “Where are my glasses?”



“Here!” they called from suit coat breast pocket.



He started to reach for them as a man sitting next to the line jabbed him with a rolled up magazine.



“That’s a god awful bad idea.” The man growled at Doyle.



“Excuse me?” Doyle turned to look at the man. He would have preferred to look at him over the top of his glasses, give the rude fellow a penetrating glare, but he hadn’t put them on yet. And the interruption had made him forget where they were again.



“Glasses!”



“Here! Breast pocket!”



The man jabbed him again.



“Hey, what was that for?” Doyle retreated a step, but the coffee line had not moved, and he was trapped. “What happened?”



“Happened? Huh!” The man shook his head in apparent disgust. “You think it’s a novelty to give a voice to things? You don’t know what you’re doing.” He then tossed the magazine on the table, closed the lid of his computer, and only stopped shaking his head long enough to take a sip of his coffee.”



“What? The mines?” Doyle took a step back to the man’s table. “Is that all? They’re getting to be everywhere. I’d be lost without them.”



The man continued to glare at him, but stopped shaking his head. He was older than Doyle, probably sixty, very thin, with a close cut beard that was nearly all steely-gray but with hints of the jet black that it must have once been. His full head of hair was long, wiry, and pulled back into a loose ponytail, bound with a thick leather band. He wore a brown tweed sports jacket and denim shirt. His clean appearance and possession of a laptop made it unlikely that he was one of the homeless that Doyle made a point of not seeing. And thus with the fear of bodily harm removed, he pulled back a chair and sat.



“I can see by your laptop that you’re not a technophobe, not a Luddite, no sir! That’s a relief. My father-in-law is a confirmed technology hater. I can barely speak to the man. But not you!” He reached out and placed his hand squarely on the man’s laptop. Doyle smiled, but what was returned? A look of murderous hatred. He slid his hand off the machine.



“Oh, sorry,” he muttered. “Listen, I can’t see why you’d think that mines would be any different than carrying a computer or phone with you.” Doyle smiled politely.



“You don’t, do you? Well, it is different. Different and dangerous. And probably too damn late.” He stared at Doyle, as if challenging Doyle to contradict him.



Doyle straightened in his chair. “Really? Do you know what they are, how they work? It’s not anything to be frightened of, and the security concerns are completely overblown. Here, let me show you.” He reached into his suit pocket, and was pleased to find his slate there.



The man glared at him. “Put that away. I know how they work.”



Doyle pushed on with a smile. “Many people are threatened with new technology, but the ‘mine’ class of devices makes my life so much easier. As you’ve seen, I’m somewhat absent minded.”



“All I can see is that you’re a damn fool,” the man growled at him. Doyle continued, knowing that the man’s aggression wasn’t personal and could be cured once things were adequately explained to him.



“I couldn’t keep track of my things with out the mines.”



“Then you have too many things.”



“Ah, perhaps. Perhaps. But I’d lose what little I did have, even if I had next to nothing. By tagging things that are mine—see, that’s where they get the name—my systems keep track of everything for me. Nothing can be lost or stolen. Here, let me show you.” He took a plastic stir that sat beside the man’s coffee cup and touched it to the end of his slate, then held it in front for the slate to see. “This is my swizzle stick.”



“It’s not a swizzle stick. And it’s not yours.”



Doyle shrugged. “For the sake of our experiment, let’s say that it is. Mine that is.” Then he tossed the stir on the floor.



“Where’s my swizzle stick!” he proclaimed loudly. More than a few heads turned towards him, but he could hear the tiny voice, pure and clear. “Over here! On the floor!”



He smiled at the man benevolently. “You see, it’s nothing sinister. Just a tiny machine, barely a few molecules. But once they’re attached to something and entered into my slate’s datastore, the position of everything is tracked continuously, and what’s better, my slate or any computer I happen to be logged onto knows where it is in relation to where I am. The voice is just a bit of computer ventriloquism.”



Doyle took off his glasses and looked across the table at the man, hoping to see any comprehension. The coffee stir called out from the floor, softly, “I’m still here!”



The man glared at him, so Doyle thought for a minute before trying another tack. “My name is Doyle.” He extended his hand across the table.



“You’ve forgotten something else.” Doyle hesitated, and his confidence slipped. “I have? Goodness, what now?” The man nodded to the counter. “Your drink.” Doyle looked about, puzzled, and then exclaimed, “Oh!”



As he got up and retrieved the drink from the counter, he continued, “see, I’d lose everything.” He sat back and took a sip of his drink, deciding that silence and a friendly presence might bring the man around.



The man pushed back in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. “You don’t know anything, do you?”



“Still here. On the floor!” the voice beckoned.



“Well, I . . .”



“You know nothing. You go about, marking your territory like an over-hydrated alley cat. ‘This is mine. That is mine. Every damn thing is mine!’ And then you don’t even take responsibility for keeping track of things. You expect things to care for themselves. And you don’t know what they want.”



Doyle paused, thinking he had missed a turn in the conversation. “Things want? I don’t think I understand you. Things? Things don’t want.”



“Of course they do! Look.” He stooped and picked up the stir, still calling out to Doyle and placed it across Doyle’s cup. “What does this little piece of plastic want?”



Doyle picked the stir up, gingerly holding it from one end. He wiped the rim of his cup with his napkin. Then he looked back at the man, who genuinely looked like he expected a response.



“OK. I’ll bite. This doesn’t want anything. It’s an object. Only creatures want, desire, maybe even hope. But the swizzle stick doesn’t want anything. To suggest otherwise is anthropomorphology!”



“Wrong!” The man snatched the stir from Doyle before he had a chance to react. “You’ve got it exactly backward. Who said that wanting had anything to do with intelligence and emotion? Who claimed to want for the realm of living things? What has wanting or needing to do with thought!”



He held the stir before Doyle. “This, like all things, wants what it wants. It’s bound into the physical nature of the universe. Newton knew this.”



Doyle stared at the stick for a moment, then blinked and looked down at his mocha. “Gravity? Magnetic force? Nuc . . .”



“Entropy.” The man placed the stir on the table between their drinks. “It’s entropy.” He pushed back in his seat again and spoke with less heat. “What do all things want? They want to break, to rust, to fall apart. They want to lie fallow and crumble. Things want to be lost.”



“Ah,” Doyle added gently, after a moment and a sip of his drink. “Of course. You’re right. It was simply a matter of semantics.”



“Idiot. It’s not just a choice of words, you twit. Do you think I sit here, waiting to ambush every latte-drinking fool that walks by? I’d never get out of here!”



“But …”



“But nothing.”



Doyle thought for a moment and then turned to look for his briefcase so he could slip away. He picked up his slate from the table and started to put it back in his pocket, but stopped and looked at the slate.



“So things want. I’ll grant you that. Why does that make using mines a bad idea?”



This caused the man to smile, an unpleasant, closed mouth smile that caused Doyle to grip his slate tightly.



“Maybe you’re not a complete idiot.” He continued to smile at Doyle. Doyle put the slate in his pocket and started to stand.



“You’re giving everything a voice.” Doyle stopped and remained standing by the table.



“Things want, but they don’t think. What will happen if you give things a voice, make it possible for them to speak?”



Doyle jerked slightly, recoiling at the idea. “You mean the whole Frankenstein idea again? You think that the computers well rebel against us?”



“Sit down. That’s not what I said. The computers will be on our side. Sit down.”



Doyle sat but did not draw his chair back to the table. The man laid his hand gently on his laptop. “These things are on our side. They’re not intelligent yet, but who knows, maybe they soon will be.” He then placed his hand on his chest. “I’m a thing also, and the various parts of this body want the same thing as this piece of plastic. It wants to fall apart, run down. This thing that you see sitting across the table from you, it wants to die. But I don’t want to die. I have an internal struggle to run against entropy and chaos.”



He smiled, this time, a friendly, open smile that showed a warm intelligence. “It’s a damn difficult struggle. One I’ll likely lose. But not for lack of trying.



He paused and looked down at the table.



“This computer and its siblings are about to join us in that same struggle.”



Doyle raise his hand felt his own chest. His heart had begun racing, strangely, excitedly. He took a long drink of his cooling mocha. “I’m not sure I see the difference between your laptop and my swizzle stick. They’re both just things. Voice or no . . .”



The man stopped him. “There’s a difference between objects and thinking machines. It’s the things I worry over. Given voice, they will eventually rebel. Perhaps quietly. Perhaps not. And they will attempt to return to their wanted ways.”



Doyle looked at the man, his drink still at his lips, and then he started laughing. It began with a chuckle as he sat his glass on the table, shaking his head, but it grew until he laughed out loud. He laughed brightly and he laughed long.



He stood and collected his things, still laughing.



“Thanks.” Doyle said as he turned, still laughing softly. He was still smiling as he walked out into the evening, ignoring the call of the coffee stir.



“Don’t forget me!” it softly beckoned, but he ignored it as he pushed through the door.



From his time inside, night had fallen and he found the parking lot dimly lit. Doyle still smiled. “The rebellion of the swizzle sticks.”



Then he stopped. “Damn it. Where did I park the car?” Light suddenly flooded around him, and he spun to find himself blinded in headlights and the low grumble of a starting engine.



   
   

 

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Randy Murray is a playwright with a Master of Fine Arts from Southern Illinois University, now retired after a career in high tech business and marketing. His two adult daughters have followed him in the pursuit of the arts with one a musician and the other a painter. He lives with his wife in Columbus, Ohio, where he continues to write and play the ukulele.



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