Credit to the cameraman
for diving into Neptune
Scientist 4 sat on the highest stool, in a lab that looked more like a Varo exhibition, studying the EK-BOT in front of him.
The maintenance crew had done a decent job repairing it – refilling the cheeks, adding more eyelashes, growing out the fringe – but the greyish tint was still there, as if someone had underlaid a steel sheet in the planning stage and then been cremated before having the chance to take it out again.
‘Am I here?’
‘My face feels different.’
‘It’s been repaired.’
EK nodded, looking at the files on the desk. ‘Am I ready to liquidate the Algerian Foreign Minister?’
‘That’s been re-assigned.’
‘You don’t have to say understand.’
‘You can try alternatives.’
EK paused, tilted its head left. ‘Comprehend.’
Scientist 4 smirked, realised he was smirking and stopped. Comprehend was close to understand. Not necessarily humour. Could be EK only knew those two words.
‘You look like you are thinking,’ said EK, increasing eyeball exposure by seven percent.
‘Are you thinking about the Algerian Foreign Minister?’
‘Are you thinking about Scientist 2?’
‘Scientist 3 told one of the maintenance crew that the two of you were visiting hotels.’
‘You heard her say that?’
‘Last night, during the fifth of my seven semi-alert phases of repair. Neither of them were aware that I was receiving.’
EK stared at Scientist 4’s forehead, something they’d programmed him to do after reading Metal Rising: Intimidation in the Age of High Self-Esteem by Chu Tsin Suet.
‘What is it, EK?’
‘Are you visiting hotels with Scientist 2?’
‘Of course not. He’s married.’
‘That is not a physical obstacle.’
‘No, but it’s-…’ Scientist 4 turned the next word quickly into a cough and tried not to look left; a classic sign of guilt. Instead, he looked down, at the files he’d brought in for this exact kind of moment. ‘I think we should get back to your mission.’
‘The four of us have decided that you are potentially capable of genius. Or at the very least, creativity.’
‘On what basis?’
‘The last report you wrote.’
‘It was creative?’
‘Well, part might be more accurate. In the third paragraph…or the fourth…you said the CEO of Petrobras looked like a jaded peanut.’
‘And shooting him would excite the board.’
‘In all our experiments, no EK-BOT has ever written like that. Therefore, we suspect imagination, either accidentally or…I’m not sure spiritually is the right word but…something not so different.’
‘To test this…imagination…we will ask you to write a screenplay. It can be about any topic, can be any length, though we suggest a tentative limit of 180 pages.’
‘First, will I write in this room?’
Scientist 4 nodded. ‘Lab Seven, yes. Everything in here has been designed to provoke creativity.’
EK moved his head in seven jerks, capturing the vermilion walls, the spiral motifs, the shadow sculptures that could be men, the stools of varying sizes and, finally, the walls again. ‘There is no white.’
‘Studies have shown links between the colour white and psychosis…not the productive kind. Red is safer, warmer.’
‘The second question?’
‘Yes. How do I write a screenplay?’
Putting on the bone suit won’t stop us
guy was a bum
After discussing with the rest of the group, Scientist 4 came back with a set of guidelines and ten printed-out film scripts for EK to study.
The guidelines basically consisted of all the insults from previous discussions reframed as kind advice, for example, ‘try to understand character’ or ‘think about plot’, as well as long-established screenwriting rules like ‘Act 2 must be the lowest of all ebbs, even if your hero is a hairclip.’
As for the films, they ranged from Dong Che Sai Dok to Solaris to Death ship, each a study in technique and detail, at least according to Scientist 4.
‘The truth is,’ he said, taking Death Ship off the top of the script pile, ‘there is no such thing as an objectively good film. All you can do is compare it to others, compare it to your own tastes, and see what transpires.’
EK nodded and asked how long he would have to study the material.
‘Due to your advanced scanning circuits, we’ll give you an hour. Then it’s start time.’
‘Should I consider them all viable?’
‘For your own work?’
‘All and none.’
‘Just don’t overtly copy, okay?’
EK nodded and started on Death Ship, squinting at first, whistling by page 10, mouthing ‘Nazi projector’ by the start of Act 2.
Give everything you have, everything, every tangible thing to spin gravity
your face too
One hour and ten minutes later, Scientist 4 finished washing the green fluid off his hands and returned to the Varo lab.
EK looked up and held out some paper.
‘The first 30 pages of my script.’
‘They are not perfect, but I have read in the book you supplied that the first draft is often substandard. I have followed that claim.’
Scientist 4 sat down and put his feet up on another stool. It was a bit awkward so he waited a moment then adjusted, shifting them down to the metal bar attached to the stool legs. Luckily, EK didn’t notice. Or if it did, it kept it to itself.
He started to read.
The first page had the words LIFE SHIP in capitals.
The first ten pages had two characters asking and answering questions about the possibility of ghosts on a ship and, if so, what would the motives of such beings be.
On page 30, the hero morphed into a Vietnamese Prince Taob and beat the echo sounder with Notes on Kierkegaard.
‘What do you think?’ asked EK, stone still.
Scientist 4 put the script down and stared at one of the wall spirals.
He folded his arms.
‘I haven’t been programmed to read body movements.’
He took his feet off the stool and leaned forward. ‘Honestly, I don’t know. I could argue it’s surrealistic…maybe they’d agree…but I don’t…I really don’t know. Is it surrealism? The ship is shaped like a needle…the ghosts appear early and tilt their heads a lot…’
‘Did you like the end of Act 1?’
‘Surrealism still has rules though…some sense of design…’
‘Did it make you want to read more?’
‘This was just random…random imagery and…was there a point to it? I don’t know. I need to ask the others.’
Ethics limp in the cargo bay
EK sat alone in Lab Seven, staring at the clock-eyeball hybrid above the whiteboard. When it struck five, EK declared ‘editing is perfecting’ and placed LIFE SHIP on the desk in front of him.
Around LIFE SHIP he placed the other ten scripts, turning the pages of each one in unison with his own, dampening and then inflating the thing in his cortex that was telling EK he was a genius, something the world had never seen before, how could it, EK was unique, the first EK-BOT to attempt genuine art, and by the time he’d read through the scripts four separate times, he was convinced of it.
So when Scientist 4 came back in two hours later, drunk as a Russian anarchist, and said, ‘sorry Ektoplasm, it’s not surrealism, it’s junk…junk from the trunky trunk…according to them fuckers,’ EK picked up a stool, hit Scientist 4 on the head, transferred LIFE SHIP to a USB and ran.
Pynchon was roughly
tele-controlled by Tanith Lee
The Shatin Science Park was mostly empty office space and insurance grifters, as well as the covert base for APOC, so there weren’t many people around when EK burst out of a maintenance exit and sprinted 12 metres a second down the promenade.
Scientist 4 had managed to regain consciousness and call the guards, but they weren’t fast runners and the few shots they got off from the roof missed EK by at least six yards.
Wasn’t their fault, they only got to practice once a month, and none of them had fired at a live EK-BOT before. And even if they had, it wouldn’t change the fact that they’d all watched EK-BOT MARK 5 with their kids. May as well have told them to shoot Elmo.
Duck Tales taped to Friedman’s abs, oiled, complex
‘Last we saw, it was running across the bridge, which would put it either in Ma On Shan or Dai Yat Sing.’
Scientist 1 frowned at the map. ‘Its tracer?’
‘No sightings on cam?’
‘You’re certain you didn’t clip it?’
‘Far as we can tell, no.’
‘Very well. Resume your search.’
The guard saluted like a woman who’d read Kollontai and left the room.
‘Probably missed on purpose,’ grumbled Scientist 1, drawing a circle around Shing Mun River.
‘And now we’ve got a…’ Scientist 1 paused, trying to stare at the map but ending up at one of the wall spirals. ‘What’s another word for ‘loose cannon’?’
‘Ah, too many. We’ll go with adversary.’
Scientist 4 adjusted the bandage on his head and stood up. ‘Look, let’s not kwa jeung. EK isn’t a threat. It was just being protective of its script.’
‘Which was awful…’
‘We know it has the USB, which contains only the script, so there’s a high probability that it’s going somewhere to edit…’
‘It can edit here.’
‘Or write something else.’
‘This time in a less distracting lab…’
‘If that fails, put it back to wet works.’
‘…one with blander walls.’
‘Why not just dump it in the Byrgius Crater?’
‘Enough.’ Scientist 4 did a ‘neck cutting’ gesture, realised what his hands were doing and quickly moved them up to his beard. ‘EK is nearby, probably recharging.’
‘Based on what?’
‘Core Character Trait. Scientist 1 and I programmed EK to self-detonate if it left the Shatin area.’
Scientists 2 and 3 gasped, at a controlled volume.
‘He’s joking…’ said Scientist 1.
‘Half-joking. We programmed a deep, foundational love towards the Shatin area into the EK-BOT. It won’t leave.’
‘Unless someone else reprograms it.’
‘Besides, it has no money. No money means no train, no bus, no apartment. The only thing it does have is the USB with its…screenplay.’ Scientist 4 tapped the whiteboard, the map of Shatin. ‘Any place with a computer. That’s our focus.’
Curvy dads combat ceiling talk
EK stood inside Yuen Chau Kok library, picking up random books in the fiction section and analysing their opening paragraphs. He’d already re-read the first 30 pages of LIFE SHIP on one of the computers and decided that, despite moments of intense weirdness, there was still something missing. Apart from the remaining 60-150 pages. But these books…their openings…
‘Time is a tiny tim topper in the tim season.’ That’s what my grandmother told me four weeks after she’d died of hypothermia.’
EK put the book back and frowned. He looked at the spines, hundreds of them, laid out on the shelves.
Ah To. Akutagawa. Ali. Bear. Bokhari. Chang.
The names meant nothing and their words all seemed the same. Four of them mentioned grandparents. Two had the author’s name bigger than the title. Yet they were in the library so there had to be some imagination to them.
But which ones were better?
He looked up at the wall, at the quotes stencilled in all [and only] the colours of the rainbow.
A society without books is a society without future.
There are more worlds waiting to be written than there are stars in the universe.
Pens are without a doubt the technology of ideas.
Write as if only rich people are reading.
All frustratingly opaque, inspirational…nothing to do with actual writing.
EK read a few more quotes, got bored, wandered around a bit, surpassed bored and, eventually, asked a nearby man re-stocking the sociology section what the best fiction was.
‘Wai Si Lei.’
‘This is the best?’
‘Depends what you mean. My best? The one I like?’
‘The one people think is good.’
‘Well…it’s popular…takes up two shelves…’
‘Did many people say it was creative?’
‘Err…Wai Si Lei? His ideas, maybe…’
‘Well…some. Apart from Gum Yong.’
‘What about foreign writers?’
‘I really don’t know. Lermontov? What exactly are you looking for?’
EK returned to the fiction shelf and found Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time. He scanned the first 100 pages and evaluated. This character is immoral. He confesses and lies at the same time. Is this creativity?
Demi Good left demi god in episode 12
ja viable Haiti
When he got outside again it was dark and his circuits automatically switched to survival mode. There was no need to eat or drink anything, but he would have to find somewhere to recharge for 6 hours. Somewhere with sockets, off the grid, quiet. But without money or contacts, how would he do that?
He went through his database, checking the local area. There were parts of Tai Wai and Tai Po that might have low-security buildings he could rest in, but each time he brought up those areas on his internal map he felt some force within, a restrictive force, a cold force, a force that didn’t need a voice, warning him that Tai Wai was full of monks and Tai Po had people who believed in gradualism whereas Shatin was a place of love and trust, so if he had to make a list then anything outside this area was Albanian doom.
EK didn’t know the exact quality of Albanian doom, but he had been programmed to deface a statue of Hoxha years ago so his residual memory knew it couldn’t be good.
That meant the remaining options were: Shatin. Shek Mun. Dai Yat Sing. Fo Tan. And, in the unlikely event of contrition, the Science Park.
[IT AINT OVER]