Dependably Durable (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(If you don’t make a habit out of checking The Daily Post, you really should.  They help with my writing more times than I care to admit.  This week is no different.)

O Day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught.“ –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Book Review The Fifth AssassinMiranda pulled a grocery bag out from under her kitchen sink.  She laid it on the table next to her trusty scissors, masking tape, and her crisp new copy of Brad Meltzer’s The Fifth Assassin.  She had a regiment that each new book went through after it arrived at her doorstop.  The procedure had worked every previous time and she was not about to take chances now.

With a few quick folds, confident cuts, and strategically placed pieces of tape, the stalwart and robust construction paper was ready for its new inhabitant.  Miranda smiled and hummed to herself as she made the last few adjustments and then placed her new book in the waiting embrace of the sturdy book cover.  The last pieces of tape were put on, but Miranda made sure that they never so much as grazed the new book itself.  She moved the paper book jacket from where she had relocated it to the bookshelf. She tittered and tsk-ed at the ornamentation.  Such decorations were for display, not for travel.

Miranda smiled at the paper-clad book that sat on the table in front of her.  She cleared off the errant lengths and scraps cast off from the brown bag and let them fall slowly into the recycling bin.  She had gotten what she wanted from the former grocery bag.   After she meticulously put the scissors back in their drawer and the tape back on the shelf, all that remained was her prize.  She smiled at the anticipation of tearing through the new suspense novel, albeit gently and with respect for the white pages.

The book sat on the table, a tone of daring calling from behind the thick brown cover like a siren trying to lull in sailors at sea.  In an almost imperceptible voice, it beckoned to Miranda.  C’mon.  Gimme a read.  You know you want to.  Just give in.  You don’t really think you’re going to be able to wait it out, do you?  Succumb to the temptation Miranda!

As much as she wanted to dive into her newest purchase, she knew she would have to wait.  She had endured a long day at the office and her brain was done for the night.  Miranda knew herself well enough to play out what would happen if she tried to start any reading.  She would wake hours later with a string of drool right down the middle of the page.  Her book’s new binding would ha be stressed from the weight of her head pressing against it.  Once was enough to teach her a lesson.  She had all of Meltzer’s books.  She had devoured The Inner Circle and had waited impatiently for the years to pass until this new book was available.  Miranda could wait another twelve hours to learn all about The Fifth Assassin.

She turned the lights in her house off one by one.  A quiet and still mood encompassed Miranda’s home and she was lulled into a quiet sleep as she thought about how unfortunate the title of the book was.  Any book with the word “assassin” in the title was bound to attract attention.  Resting her head on her pillow and closing her eyes, she could see picture various scenes playing out.

On the bus there were plenty of strangers that plucked nonsensical conversations out of the air at the slightest cue.  Miranda half-dreamt of crazed people accusing her of being pro-gun because she was reading such a book and imagined some sort of anti-N.R.A. person feeding her their views and opinions.  Instead of being allowed to read her enjoyable selection of fiction, Miranda would be forced to politely nod and “mm-hmm” along.

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Then there were the conspiracy nuts.  A book with a picture of Washington, D.C., the American Flag, and that loaded word, could only add to up something lunatics would cling to fervently.  She could practically smell the wackos with their drug-addled minds telling her “the real truth, the truth they don’t want you to know” about the Kennedy assassination.  No, Miranda decided as she fluffed her pillow and pushed such awkward social interactions from her mind.  It really was better to keep the cover of her book under wraps.  After all, it had worked quite well in masking her embarrassment when she had read Fifty Shades of Grey.

The next morning arrived and brought with it an increased anticipation.  Miranda weighed the pros and cons of calling in sick for work.  Realistically, there was no earthly reason she could give that would delay the presentation that she had to give that day.  She had spent the last two weeks working late in order to prepare the ideal approach to win over the board of directors.  Yet her love for books was doing its best to push her work obligations out of her mind.  The battle of pleasure over responsibility was a short one, and Miranda regrettably slipped out of her comfortable pajamas and into pantyhose and tight shoes.

Her bus was still a good ten minutes away.  That gave Miranda five minutes to get to the bus and a five minute buffer zone for herself.  Miranda pondered at the possibilities.  She had long ago learned that writing your name on the cover of a book was just as inviting to random commuters as any provocative book title.  She didn’t want to meet anyone, she just wanted to read.  (Well, within reason.  If the guy was really cute, Miranda wasn’t going to complain.)  Still, the brown surface needed something.  Her habit was to leave the paper unadorned.  This time she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the thing alone.  How could she decorate it and still maintain some anonymity?

Looking once more to the clock on the wall, Miranda saw that her five minutes of leisure were quickly fading away.  If she was going to act, she would have to do so immediately.  Her mind still wasn’t made up.  She looked to the scraps of paper in the recycling bin.  And that’s when she saw it.

Crawling across the floor was, without a doubt, the largest spider that Miranda had ever seen in her life.  She stared at it in horror.  The body resembled some sort of grotesque Ding Dong and the legs were like flexi-straws that had been caked in brownish-gray mold.  The creature was some sort of freakish mutant love-child of a daddy longlegs and a tarantula.  She did her best to stifle her instinct to scream, but the beast was skittering along the tile floor.  Worse yet, it was making a beeline for her legs.

Acting purely on adrenaline, Miranda grabbed the closest thing to her.  The book felt heavy in her grasp and she clasped it firmly between her two hands.  Bending her knees ever so slowly, she looked the spider in what she guessed were its eyes.  She squinted; her two neatly groomed eyebrows reached towards each other to form a menacing V-shape.  Glaring at the spider, she gave it one last chance to crawl off into some dark corner in retreat.  The spider did not relent.

“Grraaaah!!!”  Miranda screamed angrily as she shifted both her hands to the back of the book and slammed it down on the floor with all her might.  Sure enough, she had hit the target dead-on.  The spider, no match for the weighty literary skill of Meltzer’s writing, was now a splatter on the homemade book cover.  The kitchen floor somehow survived relatively splatter-free.

Miranda reached for a paper towel and did her best to remove the bug’s guts, limbs, and other bodily stains from the cover.  She felt as though the germs and bits of carcass were no longer a threat.  Also, her worries about her book coming across as plain and uninteresting were over.  She checked her book over as she scurried out the door.  Happily, she found that the binding and the corners of her new hardcover were still in excellent condition.  She laughed as she thought about her high-tech friends’ and their reading methods. 

Let’s see an eReader take out a monster like that and not shatter their precious screen, Miranda thought to herself triumphantly.

The Nanite Prophecy

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

The Nanite Prophecy

The city’s full of people who you just see around.” -Terry Pratchett

Those that came into contact with Jordan knew that he wasn’t quite well in the head.  Jordan knew it too.  He stood on the street corner and scratched the back of his ear.  There was something about the way that the sun shone down at twelve seventeen each day that made his head itch.  He had somehow developed this quirk over the years and couldn’t stop himself.  He lowered his head and saw his ratty shoes at his feet while his right hand went about its daily routine of attending to the irritated ear.

He often found himself muttering uncontrollably to himself and anyone who happened to be within range.  He heard secrets whispered on the streets and never knew if they were imagined or real.  Whenever he thought he could convince someone, he would stop them and tell them the unshared mysteries that were rattling around in his head.  As a man in a white polo shirt, khakis, and opaque sunglasses strolled down the street, Jordan decided that this stranger might comprehend a recent fact that the homeless man had learned.

“Sir”, Jordan called out as he stepped in front of the polo-man.  “I was wondering, I know that there’s, if you have a second to…”  Jordan felt his voice trail off.

The polo-man’s eyes were covered so Jordan couldn’t see what he was thinking.  There was no sneer or bearing of teeth, so Jordan cleared his throat and tried to collect his scattered thoughts.  He saw that his arms had been wildly gesticulating in front of him, reaching too close to the polo-man.  With effort, Jordan was able to pull the arms down to his side.  He had seen totem poles before, in the life that he could only remember in patches.  Jordan recalled that the tall wood creation had inspired awe and prominence, so he pulled his hands close to his sides and held them there.  It was his belief that this stiff form was more respectable and less threatening to others.

“Could you; if you have the time, I want to talk to you.”

The polo-man looked at his watch.  “I don’t know.  I really am on my way to-”

“It’s important!”

Jordan stopped.  He hadn’t meant to yell.  Again, he found his arms stretched out towards the stranger.  He realized that his actions suggested that he wanted to strangle the polo-man, when that was the last thing he wanted.  He shoved his hands deep into his pockets.  So strong was his desire to control himself that he felt his pants slip lower from the hands’ downward pressure.  Jordan took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on the sunset picture in the travel agent’s window that he passed every day.

“Please”, Jordan said with his eyelids still closed.  “I only want to explain something.”

When he returned his gaze to the polo-man, Jordan found that the stranger was taking him in.  His shoulders’ had loosened noticeably and he hadn’t run away like so many other people did.  Now polo-man was looking at Jordan with one eyebrow raised over the sunglasses’ lens in curiosity.

“Okay”, polo-man replied.  “What is it?”

Jordan clapped his hands in glee.  Finally.  Someone would understand him.  There was a person in the world who would listen!  Once he got this man to understand, then he would join him.  The two of them would form a group, which would branch into other groups; soon their numbers would be legion!  There was hope!  The world didn’t have to turn out so sad!  Jordan pictured the polo-man as a giant teddy bear of happiness and managed to keep his hands in his pockets.  He needed to keep control.  That was what mattered.

“Have you heard about nanorobotics?”

“You mean, like tiny machines?”

“Exactly!”  Jordan couldn’t believe his luck.  This man really would get it.  “You see, the government has been working on nanites for years.  But not in the capacity that you think they have.  These… these these these things are being manufactured at an incredible rate.  They have; they… I should tell you about they.  No.  First nanites.  They make them self-replicating.  They make one, that one makes another.   It’s a house of cards but they’re all jokers.  Heh.  Joke.  So once they’ve got a collection of nanites, they can use those to make more nanites.  It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.  More begets more.”

Jordan paused to gauge the polo-man’s reaction.  So far, he was only nodding politely.

“Now, I know what you’re thinking.  I can see it.  See it clear on your face.  The part of your face that I can see.  Strange.  Your wearing glasses on a cloudy day.   Maybe sensitive.  Sensitive is good, right?  It helps you understand.  You can filter out the sun; filter out the junk.  Right!  Junk!  Garbage.  Garbage is where they’re getting all these nanites.  See, they set up their labs in or near junkyards.  Trash depots.  Who’s going to care if things go missing from a junkyard?  A dog maybe.  Slobbering dogs.  Sharp teeth.  Had one as a kid once.  Bit my leg.  Want to see?”

“No, thanks.”  The polo-man smiled.  It was an obvious show of kindness, but he maintained a safe distance between them.  “And where are all these nanites?  I mean, how many of them could there be?”

“How many he asks… millions!  Billions!  More than the sands in the desert or the stars in the sky.  That’s what The Bible says, right?  Which is more?  More sand or more stars?  Not a geologist.  Barely an astronomist.  Do like space though.  Quiet, serene.  Not like here.  Busy streets.  Lots of cars and people.  Oh, people!  On sidewalks, yes.  That’s where all these nanites are.

“See, the sidewalks and streets beneath us?  How they’re all new and clean?”  Jordan waited until the polo-man nodded his head.  “That’s just it.  They claim that they’re creating a new kind of pavement, and they are.  You have to… there’s a new quality about this pavement.  The top layer is all nanites.  The government, those elected officials; they’ll say that they have a reason for them.  Say that the constant movement of millions of pieces will create warmth and will reduce snow.  If snow and ice don’t stick to pavement, then less accidents.  They say they’re trying to help us.  They’re replacing salt and deicer with little nanites that can repair the streets after chains drive over them.  Or through them.  Moving means they’re too warm or too quick to let moisture settle.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?”

“I’d say so”, the polo-man replied with a chuckle.  “I hate driving in snow.”

“Right!  Right!  Causes problems.  People want less problems.  Less challenges.  Can’t handle the stress.  Well, they’ll have more than they can handle.  It’s the nanites, I tell ya.  The nanites.  They aren’t just covering every inch of the ground that you walk on, they’re covering the shoes that you walk with.  Think about it.  Nanites could cling to your shoes.  They could embed themselves in your rubber soles.  Then they’ll use your soles to track your souls.  Same word, but different.  Must be true.  They could use satellites!  Astronomists’ satellites!  Each nanite could send a unique signal.  Bond to shoes.  Shoes get tossed?  Make more nanites.  They’ll have an endless supply.”

Jordan saw the polo-man looking to his watch as he took small steps away from him.  Jordan was losing him.

“Look, they’ll track us.  They’ll be able to measure us by our weight.  Amount of pressure will change as we change.  Use that to charge us more for insurance.  If you have insurance.  Can send police after you.  Can find you.  You worry about police tracking with phone GPS?  GPS phones are nothing.  Nanites are everything.  Nanotechnology will tell them where we are at all times.  Build transmitters to record our conversations.  Shoes, socks, feet; the nanites won’t differentiate!  It’s only a matter of time before we’re all cyborgs.  Only one way to stop them.”

“And what’s that?”

“Extremes!  Got to embrace the extremes.  Walk around downtown with ice packs.  Tape them to shoes.  I can’t; don’t have any now.  Have run out.  But if those nanites tried to crawl upwards, they’d be frozen in the cold packs.  Couldn’t work.  Would die.  Problem sovled.  No cold packs with me.  Ran out.  Hold my feet over the campfire each night.  That takes care of them.  Extremes.  Too much hot, too much cold, they’re done.  Trust me, my friend.  Those feet of yours are in danger!”

The polo-man had heard enough.  “I’ll keep that in mind”, he said.  “Thanks for talking to me.”  With that, he continued on his path.

Jordan pulled his hands free of his pockets and rubbed them together in one big fist.  His fingers weren’t cold, but they were nervous.  Had the man believed him?  Surely he must’ve.  This had to be one of the stories he heard that was true.  The voice had said it was true.  It had been such a smart voice too; they had used big words and everything.  And if polo-man believed him, then others would.  Jordan decided right then and there; he would tell everyone he saw about the government’s use of nanorobotics.

The excited homeless man stopped intertwining his hands together and now clapped them in joy and exuberance.  He had a mission.  He had a plan.

Jordan was so excited that he hadn’t noticed the polo-man.  The stranger ducked into the doorway of a nearby apartment building.  From his perch, the polo-man could keep an eye on Jordan as he made a phone call.  His face had grown somber since passing by the homeless man.  Finally, the other party answered their phone.

“Sir, it’s Stevens”, the polo-man said.  “We have a serious security breach in the program.”

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