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The Fifth Gift

By localroger in Fiction
Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 11:47:24 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Making a new tunic reminded me of how far I had to go. I was using a lock-stitching awl, which was a manufactured artifact, and waxed cotton thread which was not of my own making. The leather was mine; I had killed the pig, skinned it, and tanned its hide myself. I had colored it with soot and vegetable dyes. But I had used a razor knife to cut it, more technology. One day I would have to take up flintknapping.

I wanted nothing to do with the world of other humans or their tools, but my childhood was spent working toward the Ph.D. I would eventually receive in Physics, not learning the survival arts any hunter-gatherer would take for granted. Still, I had made much progress. I sowed and I planted, I kept my own seasonal calendar, I hunted and I preserved and prepared my own food. I built and thatched my own small cabin. I did not use electricity or refined fuel. It was a calming way to live, and I was more physically fit than I had ever been. It was almost possible, sometimes, to forget that I was never really alone.

But while I was making my new tunic, the phone rang.

The Iridium satellite phone spends its days connected to a little solar panel that keeps it charged. It is the one bit of high technology I cannot get rid of. If it were ever to ring and I were to fail to answer it, I would not be the only one to die.

"I'm here," I said irritably."

"The helicopter is on its way. Be ready."

An hour later I was flying, an old dream of men we have managed to turn into a terrifying bore. The pilot and guards didn't know who I was or why I had been summoned; they had only been told to kill me if I offered any resistance.

"Well if it isn't Daniel Boone," Agent Smith said mockingly as I jumped out. I waited for the chopper to be gone before answering.

"I take it there's another one."

"Of course. Why else would we annoy ourselves with your troublesome presence?"

The First Gift

The first time I had met Smith and Jones I was still young enough to be idealistic and patriotic, and their offer to let me help my country seemed like a wonderful opportunity.

After I signed all the forms and passed the tests, I was taken to this remote and nearly empty facility in Idaho where I became the ninth person in the entire world to learn of the Gift. It had been left outside the door of a farmer who lived near Indianola, Mississippi. It was an artifact, a solid cubic box about twenty centimeters on a side and with a small array of pure copper posts sticking out of one face. It came with a small booklet written in a dense and confusing mix of technical jargon, maths, and attempted explanations in several human languages. None of the other eight people who knew about it could make sense of this instruction manual, but I found that it made a certain kind of weird sense to me.

I had been working on the problem for a week when I learned that the family who had received it were all dead. It wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to know, but it impressed on me the seriousness of what I was doing.

The aliens called the box a "matter generator," but we'd be more inclined to call it a matter duplicator. By connecting switches and potentiometers between the copper posts it was possible to make the box mark off two cubic rectangular areas of volume. Make a certain contact, and these areas would be isolated within perfectly reflective fields. They could be expanded or contracted by altering resistances between other posts. As I worked out the user interface I built a little control panel for the device. It was actually a clever way for the aliens to do things; instead of trying to build controls we could use, they built us an interface we could attach to controls that made sense to us. It could also be automated.

Once you had made the contact that established the shielded volumes, if you made another certain contact the contents of the first volume were copied to the second. The machine copied metal, plastic, steel, and diamond with equal ease. Copies of copies of copies of copies were indistinguishable from the originals at any magnification, even using techniques like X-ray crystallography.

The machine would also make copies of itself. The copies worked exactly the same way the original did.

Smith and Jones wanted to know where the copies came from. The instructions were quite clear on that, once you penetrated the alien jargon; they were created whole. The matter was not taken from some other place in the universe. It was made by the "matter generator." The generators also didn't seem to require a power source; they were powered by whatever first principle generated the copies. Nor was there any obvious limit on their use. A single such device could yield an endless stream of oil, fresh water, cool air, or any other commodity of interest. Not to mention an endless stream of perfect manufactured goods based on a single carefully built prototype.

It did have limitations. It wouldn't copy living things, although it would copy dead things and food. It wouldn't copy certain intensely radioactive elements, and it would copy any radionuclide to its most stable and common isotope. Copies of bits of wood emerged containing no carbon-14 at all; copies of an old radium dial wristwatch did not glow. Copies of chemical high explosive did, however, explode quite normally.

The matter generator itself seemed to be made of ordinary enough matter, which was presumably why it was able to copy itself. Chemically it was a hard semiconductive ceramic material. If you drilled into one more than a couple of millimeters it would stop working, but no matter how we destroyed them there was no indication of dangerous energies stored within. The electron microscope revealed a very detailed but wholly mysterious structure at nanometer scale.

When I had learned all that I could, Smith and Jones locked up all the matter generators and their copies and all the copies of things we had made and warned me that if I told anyone about this they would die. I protested that it was an awesome opportunity we were throwing away; with this technology we could remake and clean up our entire world. And Smith had smiled and warned me that my enthusiasm made them suspicious, and any friends of mine who might have been told of my work might have to be eliminated on principle.

"What sane reason could there be for locking this thing up instead of using it?" I demanded.

"Suppose we do remake our world with these things. Then suppose one day they all stop working. Can we risk that? You tell me we have no way to even begin to know how they work. Can we know that they aren't booby trapped in some way? Unless we do know that, we have to make sure nobody even learns that they exist. Because this is too seductive. It really is too good to be true."

It was a good point, which I'd eventually take to heart.

--- --- --- --- ---

"This one has two terminals," Jones said. "The instructions are even more opaque than usual."

"I'll handle that," I said, and they looked at me sharply. It irritated them to need me.

"This one was found in the central square of a village west of Veracruz, Mexico."

"A village square, eh? That must have been awkward."

"It's too bad you don't take the news. You might have heard about the terrible industrial accident they had down there. It sent a cloud of poison gas..."

"There's a reason I don't take the news," I snapped, and Jones smiled wickedly.

The Second Gift

When the second Gift was found I had already made myself alone. I had found a reason to break up with Jennifer and had distanced myself from all my old university friends. Somewhere there was a Swiss bank account with a large amount of money that was allegedly mine, but I had also inherited my parents' modest estate and I was living on that, in an apartment near Spokane Washington. I found the mountain view refreshing.

This Gift had two very large fat terminals on opposite sides of the cubic box, and a small terminal central to them on a third face. I gleaned from the documentation that if I applied a voltage between either large terminal and the small one, the same voltage would appear between the two large terminals. Up to seven hundred and twenty volts at five hundred fifteen amperes.

This was a much simpler Gift than the first Gift, but the first Gift was central to its utility; for the matter generator could generate copies of the energy generator, and they could be ganged in series and parallel. Using ten of them in parallel I made a piece of rebar glow like the filament of a light bulb, flashing incandescent white before it melted. Using them in series I made lightning play across the shop parking lot. Using three of them, since the building has three-phase power, I used a little battery powered transistor oscillator to tickle them into powering our entire facility. This was just a parlor trick; I explained to Smith and Jones that with enough of these you could easily replace every power plant in the world. Because they could be distributed where they were needed, you could also get rid of the ugly and expensive distribution grid we used to move electricity around. One of these boxes would power an entire city block. A couple of dozen of them would power even the hungriest industrial processes.

But again I got the lecture about becoming too dependent on something we didn't understand. When I allowed as to how it might be too important to keep to ourselves Smith told me, very gently, that they had grave doubts about my dedication to the secrecy clause in my contract. In particular they worried that I might have let Jennifer know too much. If they got too worried, Jennifer would have to die.

I took the hint. But I also took another lesson. It wasn't just alien Gifts I decided might not be trustworthy, and I started looking for a place where I could be alone.

--- --- --- --- ---

The Gift with two terminals sat on a lab table. The lab was exactly as I had left it two years before; nobody else ever went there. The other Gifts, the copies made by the matter generators, and so on were stored in glass cabinets at the far end of the room.

I started reading, or rather scanning, the booklet. The aliens didn't seem to understand our culture very well, which was one of the more worrisome things about their Gifts. How could they know that these powerful things would not harm us? Their poor understanding of our own communication methods was not encouraging. After some brainstorming I realized that this was some kind of field generator. Short out the terminals, and the field would be established. I wasn't too clear on what the field was supposed to do, but one thing was very clear. It would encompass the entire planet, and probably our Moon as well.

When I told Smith and Jones this they became very dour. "I'm not sure we can risk testing it then," Smith said. "I'll have to check upstairs." "Upstairs" would mean one of the other six people who knew about all this shit.

"Well, if they wanted to destroy us they could have made the very first box do that. Do you want me to keep working on the purpose of this field?"

"Oh, absolutely. But under no conditions try to test it. This could very well be the thing we fear most."

"I understand."

The Third Gift

By the time the third Gift was found I was living high in the mountains of Washington State, far from the nearest road. I was still pretty dependent on technology; I cheated a bit and used a chain saw to build my cabin. But I had gotten books and I was practicing the skills I'd need to survive on my own. While I was working on my cabin, though, Smith arrived by helicopter with a Gift of his own. It was the Iridium phone with its solar charger. He allowed as to how a bit of solitude might help my demeanor. He elaborated that a reliable communication link would help me and my old friends to live to a nice old age.

The third Gift was called a "force generator." It had a pair of terminals on each face. Establishing a low resistance path between the terminals would cause the box to generate a force pushing away from that face. The maximum force, corresponding to a dead short between the terminals, would be nearly ten thousand pounds. Just bridging a pair of terminals with your fingers would make it slide away across a desktop.

I sent Jones out to find an old car, and we spent an afternoon gutting the engine compartment and mounting a copy of the original force generator to the frame. With an old game controller replacing the accelerator the car would silently do zero to sixty in less than three seconds. Since the maximum force was greater than the weight of the car it would easily pull itself out of gullies and mud. The maximum speed was limited only by the tires and suspension; I pegged the speedometer at 120 MPH several times. Like the other Gifts it didn't seem to require fuel or maintenance.

I spent some time with the force generator trying to figure out how it sensed the control resistance. I couldn't detect any sense voltage across the terminals, or any current flow when they were shorted, even with my most sensitive instruments. But then a technology that can create matter, energy, and force out of thin air might not need the usual methods to measure electrical resistance.

When Smith and Jones were satisfied that I had learned all I could, I went back to my cabin without complaining about the benefits such a device could have for humanity. Humanity had already betrayed my expectations far more effectively than any aliens might hope to, and I didn't really care any more.

--- --- --- --- ---

"This is the key passage," I said as Smith and Jones looked on stonily. "'Within the field established by this device the functioning of any self-directed goal-seeking information processing system is optimized.' Then there's a lot of math, which would probably be of a lot of interest to anybody doing AI research."

"Self-directed goal-seeking what?" Smith said. "What are they talking about, our computers?"

"No," I said. "I think they're talking about us."

The Fourth Gift

The fourth Gift was different. It was small, a personal thing not meant to be industrialized. It was the size of a stopwatch, flat and round, with a big flat contact on one side. The working was simple but vague; it claimed to generate a zone of safety around any person whose skin was in contact with its single electrode.

"Safety from what?" Jones asked sensibly.

"There are a lot of suggestions. High velocity impactors. Bullets? Fists? I'm not sure. Also a lot about the atmosphere. Apparently it keeps the air pure. And excludes harmful radiation."

"Electromagnetic or nuclear radiation?"

"Might be both."

"Testing it will be risky."

"If we get test subjects, you'll kill them after the tests, won't you?"

Smith and Jones looked at one another. "There isn't much choice."

"Then I'll test it."

"We need your skills."

"Not so much that you wouldn't kill me if I didn't answer the phone."

Smith shrugged. "It's a bad situation. Test it yourself then, but try to be careful."

"Your voice just drips with concern for my welfare."

But I was careful. It did indeed repel kinetic attacks; anything that would be likely to form a bruise was repelled. I worked my way up from the thwack of a ruler to more robust weapons, finally asking Smith to shoot me. I think he enjoyed that test a little too much. The bullet stopped dead about half an inch from my skin and fell to the floor. There was no force pushing me back, and it didn't bounce.

Yet the amulet did not seem to interfere with normal activities like touching and manipulating things, or eating.

"I'm going to give this thing a real test," I announced after a couple of weeks. "I don't expect you to like this, but I'm going to do it." They watched warily as I pulled an large old pallet board out of the shipping bay, and bolted three force generator copies to it. I pulled the passenger seat out of the force generator powered car and bolted it to the center of the pallet. And I bolted a couple of large boxes to the front corners flanking the front force generator.

I needed controls for what I planned to do, and thinking of where I was going to be going I used my TI-83 graphing calculator. I told Smith and Jones that I wanted certain gauges and the next morning a large box arrived packed with the things I'd asked for. By the second evening after I had my idea I was ready to try it.

"A flying car," Smith said dryly. "I'd never have thought of that."

"It might be more than that," I said, making sure the safety generator was solidly taped to my thigh. "Maybe a lot more." I tapped keys and the pallet board lifted off, slowly at first. I tapped more keys and it swivelled, dipped, swooped. I found a bug and landed, made some code changes, took off again. This time it performed as I had hoped and I nudged it smartly upward.

At first there was a stiff breeze from my acceleration but it soon thinned. At the front corner of the pallet, the air pressure was dropping perilously; it was down to two tenths of a bar, and dropping. But the gauge on my wrist was pegged at seven tenths of a bar, and I was breathing easily. A little later the gauge on the pallet had dropped to zero and the sky had turned black, but my wrist still said seven tenths of an atmosphere.

I was in outer space and the fucking thing was keeping me alive.

The Moon was up, big and tempting, and I pointed my little craft toward it and hauled ass. I accelerated at about half a gravity for three hours and then reversed thrust. At turnaround I figure I was going about forty kilometers a second. I could have gone a lot faster, but it wouldn't have been good if the chair or one of the force generators had loosened itself from the pallet board.

As the Moon became a world hovering above me I aimed near the edge in case I'd miscalculated the deceleration; then I floated out over the far side.

I found a crater and set my craft down. I don't know much lunar geography so I can't really give you a very good idea where it was. I loaded up the front boxes with rocks and walked around, the thirteenth person of my species to do so. Lucky thirteen! The naked Sun was brutal, but my skin was cool and I was comfortable. I didn't seem to be getting sunburned. I took deep breaths and the air was cool and clean and dry and there was no indication at all of where it was coming from or where it went when I exhaled. I looked directly at the Sun, and its brightness some how dialed down to a range that made it observable.

It occurred to me that I had finally attained a measure of solitude that few humans ever experienced. All I had to do was rip the tape from my thigh, separate myself from the safety generator, and I could die on my own terms.

But if I didn't return, all of my friends would also die. I no longer cared whether I continued to live, but I wasn't yet at the point where I could accept responsibility for that.

So I got back on the seat, strapped myself in, and floated up into the infinite blackness. From here I could go to Mars or Jupiter or even some distant star; and with very little effort one could use a gang of these force generators to outfit a properly equipped craft that might actually return home from such a journey. But instead I went back, with more difficulty than I expected found the installation in Idaho, and delivered my load of Moon rocks to a pair of rather dumbfounded agents.

They made me take a physical, which showed no ill effects from my day trip in space. Clearly, the "safety generator" was as much space suit as it was mugger repellant. With such devices it would be a trivial matter for humans to colonize all of the solid worlds of our solar system. But then again, what would happen if they just stopped working one day? I had my trip in space, and I took one rock with me as a souvenir when I went home.

The Fifth Gift

"We've had an idea," Smith told me.

"That must have hurt," I said.

"The matter generator creates a perfect shield before the duplication process is triggered. We think you could test the new device within the duplication shield."

"It's certainly a better shield than anything we've ever built, but the book suggests that this new thing is much more advanced. They seem quite proud of it."

"Well, the other thing would be to trigger it with a timer. Do you think the field would cut off if the circuit was interrupted?

"Yes, the book is very clear on that."

"Then let's test it in the duplicator shield, with a timed cutoff. Upstairs they think this is an acceptable approach."

"Well who am I to argue with upstairs?"

So we set it up with big alligator clips on the new Gift and on my matter generator panel. I set the matter generator controls to duplicate the test room into another empty room, and wired up a trigger. The trigger would fire one time delay relay that would hold the matter generator's shield up for ten seconds, and another that would trigger a second relay in two seconds, and that third time delay relay would hold the new device online for five seconds. I figured that would give me time to sample its effects while hopefully isolating the rest of the world.

We made the arrangements, and I entered the test room. The agents watched through a CCTV link which we all knew would go blank while the shield was up. I used a big screwdriver to tighten all the wires and then hit the trigger.

The walls turned mirror; I was within the shield, just like the time we tried to see if the matter generator would duplicate me. It had copied the chair I was sitting on and my clothes and my jewelry and my wallet and even some threads we identified as being the permanent sutures from my hernia repair, but it didn't copy my body. This time we wouldn't even be triggering the copy function...

The second relay clicked, and the new device came online. The walls were no longer mirrored. I found myself saying "Shit..." and then...

The Sanity Generator

Five Seconds

The fifth gift simply turned off the matter generator, which was a relatively primitive thing by the standards of our benefactors. As the field established itself it overshot, and for one bright moment it seemed that I was sharing the thoughts of every single human being on the planet. I could sense Jones and Smith outside the door, reeling from the same sense I was. Further afield was a dim murmer, except for people I had some connection with. I could feel the friends I'd abandoned, who were suddenly aware of me as I was of them. In that moment we knew everything about one another, and I knew that if Smith and Jones recovered their wits they'd all be killed, and my friends knew that too, and they forgave me.

And I felt Jennifer. She had been seeing other men, but only because she thought I didn't care. I had abandoned her without explanation. Now she knew why, and the people I worked for would come to kill her.

Four Seconds

My consciousness reeling I tried to find someone, anyone else to sense who wasn't going to die soon. Instead I found someone so deep in gambling debt that he was staring down the barrel of a hit man's gun. The hit man was trying to pull the trigger, and his face was a mask of pain and confusion. "I can't kill you," he was screaming. "It's my fucking job but I can't kill you, I can't kill you, and I don't fucking know why."

I reeled again, to some military training ground. The cadets who had been marching smartly had halted and were standing at ease, shifting about, suddenly assaulted by doubts about the very nature of what they were doing. And their sergeant, who had moments before been barking orders, was saying that maybe they needed to take a break.

Three Seconds

All violence, the very drumbeat of human existence for more than a hundred thousand years, had come to a halt everywhere on Earth. It was a thing I could feel in my very bones. And more than that, in the marbled halls where policies were set that might doom a generation to poverty, priorities had been suddenly and drastically rearranged. The men in those chambers had barely had time to lift their pens from the contracts they were signing but things were suddenly very different with them.

Somewhere, I don't know where because the sanity field made distance a bit meaningless, a gang of young men were beating someone in a hidden alley. It was clear in their minds that they had intended to kill their victim, but now suddenly the beating stopped and the leader pulled out a cellular phone and dialed 911 to call an ambulance.

I could still feel Jennifer, and she could feel me. And her reaction was not the hatred I expected and deserved, but delight. Her faith in me had been vindicated. I had only acted to protect her, and under the old rules that had been a sensible thing. But now it wasn't necessary.

At least for two more seconds.

Two Seconds

Somewhere in the Middle East a man was riding the subway with twelve pounds of explosive strapped to his body and a trigger in his pocket. He had been clutching the trigger, playing with it, steeling himself for his final act in the war between his people and their oppressors. But now he left the trigger alone, and when the doors opened he left the train and returned to the world. Out in the open air of a nearby park he would unwire and take off the explosives.

Deep in a London slum a room was filled with torpid bodies which suddenly, quietly awakened. The heroin was no longer at work in them, but neither were they now addicted. They looked around with dawning expressions of horror and hope as if to ask, "What the hell am I doing here?"

The field was levelling out; I was losing the sense of other peoples' thoughts and getting more of an idea of what the field was designed to do. And now I knew why the aliens were willing to trust us with the gifts we had thought so dangerous. To them, we were children, and these were the educational toys you'd give a child so that he might develop to the point where first principles could be taught. This fifth and final Gift was the most important of all because, I understood implicitly, our benefactors had developed it first for themselves. This is why we did not have to fear the other Gifts being suddenly denied. We would soon feel the same way toward all of our own, and to do such harm would simply be unthinkable.

One Second

There wasn't a single human being anywhere on Earth now who wasn't aware of the Gifts. There wasn't a single human being anywhere whose urges to violence and self-destruction hadn't been suddenly and more sensibly redirected.

No wonder the aliens were so proud of the fucking thing.

Except that the timer was about to go off...

--- --- --- --- ---

Smith and Jones came in with solder and a torch. I was holding the screwdriver across the Sanity Generator's terminals, and I held it there while they fixed a permanent jumper across it.

"You might as well take copies of the other Gifts with you," Smith said. "We'll have to figure out how to distribute them."

"It shouldn't be hard. We can duplicate our own panels along with the matter generators, and with them driving the process it should be exponential. Within a few days we'll have the whole planet covered."

"It's hard to see exactly where it will go," Smith said. "I'm not sure what we'll do." He looked at Jones.

"You'll find something," I said. "You'll still be competent, well controlled people. Nobody will resent what you did."

"No, I guess they won't," Jones said.

"If you don't mind, I'll take the pallet flyer. I want to find Jennifer."

"Of course." They helped me load copies of the Gifts into the boxes. "Don't forget this," Jones said. He handed me a second copy of the safety generator. "You might want to take your girl on vacation."

"Fuck vacation. I might want to take her to live some place where even an Iridium phone won't reach."

And that's exactly what I did.


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Which gift did the aliens forget?
o Health Generator 7%
o Immortality Generator 23%
o Environmental Detox Generator 5%
o Infinite Pr0n Generator 23%
o K5 Content Generator 27%
o I am an island, I don't need no stinkin' Gifts. 12%

Votes: 55
Results | Other Polls

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The Fifth Gift | 95 comments (82 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
Fucking excellent (2.83 / 6) (#3)
by mikepence on Fri Aug 19, 2005 at 10:22:55 PM EST

Prime Intellect never held my interest, but this was fucking excellent.

Nice! (none / 0) (#66)
by prem1er on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 12:08:05 PM EST

I actually registered as a user just to post, excellent story!

[ Parent ]
Never trust a man who doesn't brush his teeth (1.87 / 8) (#5)
by The Honorable Edwin Lister on Fri Aug 19, 2005 at 10:39:25 PM EST


he brushes his teeth (3.00 / 2) (#22)
by krkrbt on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 12:16:03 PM EST

From localroger's HOWTO:  Get Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico:
About a year ago I went to have my first dental checkup in nearly two years. My dentist didn't even bother to X-ray my front teeth. He hung the back X-rays up for me to see, comparing them with my two year old X-rays, and announced "if you don't have these teeth capped soon, you are going to lose them."

"And how much does that cost?" I asked. Two years before, Dr. S had tried to sell me a splint to ward off the effects of my bruxism (teeth grinding). But I couldn't figure out how this $125 implement was supposed to help and he didn't really explain it, so I passed on it. (emphasis added)

Incidently, a couple of years ago a (stupid) doctor told me that he thought my TMJ (jaw joint) was clicking because I ground my teeth at night, and he wanted to send me to a dentist for a mouthguard to wear at night.  I knew that wasn't right, and several years later I found a osteopath who's managed to get my jaw working right again.

Cranial Osteopathy and Dentistry.  The difference for me was totally remarkable - the night after my first appointment I opened my mouth to brush my teeth, and was pleasantly surprised that I didn't get the usual 'clunk' that I'd gotten every time I opened my mouth for the past two years.  Of course, it was another 3 appointments or so before my jaw was working properly most of the time.  

Localroger - might want to get yourself checked out, before your new teeth need replacing too.  :)

[ Parent ]

TMJ (none / 1) (#23)
by localroger on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 12:49:56 PM EST

Actually part of my reconstruction involved elevating my bite slightly so that my teeth and TMJ would be on the same page, so to speak. I did have slight TMJ damage but nothing noticeable unless you would deliberately check for it. Dr. T thought this damage had occurred because the grinding had altered my bite, and now that that's corrected it shouldn't progress any further.

In my case it was very obvious that I really was grinding, since my teeth were worn down to the dentin. I would think my new teeth would be more immune to bruxism what with being made of metal and ceramic, but I think the danger now is that I might dislodge one of the crowns.

Anyway, I know the symptoms now and if I do notice any TMJ clicking in the future I will have it checked out.

Incidentally, I am curious as to how your osteopath treated your condition. I was given to understand that TMJ correction required surgery, and that there were complications with some of the prosethetics that are used.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

fixing a creaking jaw (none / 1) (#36)
by krkrbt on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 05:38:54 PM EST

quoting out-of-order.  

I was given to understand that TMJ correction required surgery, and that there were complications with some of the prosethetics that are used.

When someone goes to a doctor (and all other 'healer'-types) with a problem, the doctor thinks of what they can do first, and the people they can refer you to second.  "Medical Doctor" training in the United States is heavily biased towards two options:  perscribing drugs and performing surgery.  

Say you go to your doctor with back pain.  The first thing they'll usually do is perscribe pain killers or muscle relaxants.  If those don't work, the second step is a referal to physical therapy.    Step three is a referal to a back surgeon.  The back surgeon says, "I know how to treat back pain", and you go under the knife for some type of back surgery.  

Then, two or three years later, your back starts hurting again, and the back surgeon says, "you need more surgery".  Usually people say "phoey on this, screw you guys, I'm gonna live with it" after their back starts hurting again after surgery #3.

It's the "little boy with a hammer" syndrome:  to a little boy with a hammer, everything is a nail.  "Medical Doctor" education gives its graduates two hammers:  drugs & surgery.  When someone comes to them with TMJ trouble, asking for help, they reach into their bag-of-skills and find the technique they think is most appropriate.  In the case of TMJ, that skill usually happens to be a knife.

Incidentally, I am curious as to how your osteopath treated your condition.

Andrew Taylor Still's system of Osteopathy has two basic philosophical principles:  1.  Structure and Function are interrelated  2.  The body is self-healing and self-correcting, unless inhibited in some manner (structure is off, malnourished, etc. this second principle may be misstated somewhat, but it's generally accurate).  

In my case, I took a rather severe blow to the chin some 7 years ago.  Three years later I had all sorts of functional problems - arms didn't work too well, jaw didn't work well at all, headaches, etc.  

A cranial osteopath uses his hands to find places in the fascial tissue that are restricted ("structure"), and gently induce the body to release those "lesions".     (Fascial tissue is the connective tissue that holds everything together.  Think of when you're eating a steak, and pull the fat and muscle apart.)

It used to be that when I looked in the mirror, my head just didn't seem quite right.  I think it was the third visit that my osteopath surprised me that he'd "fixed [my] misshappen head".  

Most anatomy text maintain that the human cranial bones fuse together after growing is completed.  Cranial osteopaths maintain that these bones are structured such that they can have small degrees of movement, and that they can be reposititioned with a gentle touch.  I take no stand one way or the other, but when I look in the mirror today, my head looks like it should.

It's all quite arcane, and I'm only beginning to understand the process myself.  Some people think osteopaths are "quacks".  All I know is that my jaw didn't work for 4 years, and now it does.  I'm a happy convert.

[ Parent ]

Very interesting (none / 1) (#38)
by localroger on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 05:58:53 PM EST

What you say about the facial muscles rings true. I have a similar story.

A couple of years ago I threw out my back. I was getting out of the shower and, without warning, a blast of pain in my upper back sent me straight to the floor. I had to drive a couple of hundred miles that day and I barely made it to my destination. I kept thinking it had to abate and it wouldn't.

Long story short, I was told by a chiropractor that I'd need adjustments for the rest of my life and by a practicing surgeon that I'd need surgery. However, my girlfriend gave me her copy of Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno. It said basically the same thing about the spine that you say about the face -- it's the muscles that hold it together, not a wire running down the middle. What was causing my problem was a muscle in spasm, pulling my spine out of shape.

Sarno's prescription was movement. He wrote that the worst thing you could do was treat the affected part of your back like it was "made of glass." I already had a habit of getting up every hour or so and walking to the back of the building to let my eyes focus on something distant; to this routine I added some twists, neck rolls, and crunches. I took Motrin for the pain until I didn't need it any more, and after about four months I the incident was completely behind me. I haven't had back pain since.

My Dad, by contrast, had the surgery some time back and his back has never been right since.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

awesome (1.83 / 6) (#8)
by dhall on Fri Aug 19, 2005 at 11:29:54 PM EST

awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome.

Oh also (none / 1) (#9)
by dhall on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 12:15:15 AM EST

Your story (in particular your ending) reminded me of Factoring Humanity. Just a little Canadian advocacy there. ^_^

[ Parent ]
Good shit! (none / 1) (#15)
by harrystottle on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 08:00:57 AM EST

+1 FP

Mostly harmless
A few things (2.80 / 5) (#16)
by stuaart on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 08:08:31 AM EST

The idea for the story is relatively interesting, but is very, very Arthur C. Clarke. Personally I find the whole transcendent/awakening human race concept rather old hat and irritating, but others may find this new and refreshing. At least this is a competant example of it, though.

I find your writing style is quite mundane and lacks energy, excitement or interesting descriptions. There is sometimes a spark missing that I can't place; it reminds me of a story I wrote when I was in my mid-teens and less mature at writing. I don't know what you could to do solve this beside go through the story hacking lumps out.

Problems aside, I am going to +1S this because any reasonable fiction is good fiction for k5.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

Who Says WE Need Gifts? (none / 0) (#85)
by Misterfixit on Tue Aug 23, 2005 at 11:20:44 AM EST

Yep, escapist teen-age stuff.  Now what makes anyone think that we people of earth need some kind of magic box?  Besides, it was our own selves a million years in the future and already Outbound in another universe who sent the gift in the first place.  That's because humans are unique in the universes, there just are no other intelligent creatures anyplace.  Never has been, never will be.  We are the Masters of the Universe, We are the Wonderful Ones, We are We!

Want your own Magic Box/Gift?  Find a crack-hoe at the local high school and break her in right.

Besides, all your kuro5shin belong to us, anyway.

Remember to intone the magical phrase first uttered by The Hunchback at the Urinal:


[ Parent ]

if everyone was finally sane (3.00 / 3) (#17)
by minerboy on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 08:18:20 AM EST

Why would he want still get away from everyone ? Because humanity still sucks, even if we are not violent ?

+1, Low Concentration of Robots [nt] (1.75 / 4) (#19)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 08:59:41 AM EST


Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.

Awesome (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by zenador on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 09:00:38 AM EST

Classic escapist science-fiction. If only you were born 40 years earlier, you could have made a career of this.

I know (3.00 / 4) (#41)
by localroger on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 07:02:59 PM EST

40 years ago I would have been imagining the wonderful things we would do with computers today. Today I spend much of my time programming computers to weigh things and print shipping documents. Somehow that seems like a bit of a letdown.

Forty years from now someone will probably be feeling exactly the same way about the nanotech and AI techniques we now expect to create a Singularity.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Headings out of order? (3.00 / 3) (#24)
by claes on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 12:55:43 PM EST

The gifts seem to be mentioned before the "Gift N" heading.

Other than that, very nice. The Short "Science Fiction" Story is a wonderful medium.

-- claes

Bits Before Gift N Headings (none / 0) (#67)
by skavookie on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 12:13:34 PM EST

The parts before the headings are about the Fifth Gift. The headings introduce "flashbacks" about the previous gifts.

[ Parent ]
good stuff (3.00 / 3) (#25)
by Lode Runner on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 01:16:16 PM EST

Don't believe anyone who claims you can't write. This story wasn't high literature, but it was engaging, even for a reader who's read most of the stuff from which your work derives.

It was a stimulating exploration of ideas, which is more than I can say for most stuff I've paid to read.

A couple of quibbles: 1) it was difficult at times to tell which gift was being discussed; 2) subways are rare in the Middle East -- change it to bus and you'll be all set.

More comments (3.00 / 7) (#26)
by trhurler on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 02:24:48 PM EST

I've taken more time to think, and here's the thing.

1) The aliens have technology that can apparently do almost anything, including severely alter consciousness and violate the laws of physics as we know them. They've used it to make themselves all really amazingly even more smart than they were when they invented this technology. BUT, they have trouble figuring out what kind of controls an organism with two hands with four fingers and opposable thumbs and a set of languages the aliens obviously at least sort of understand wants on his Happy Meal toy? This needs more explaining, because it doesn't make any sense at all. Their 'sanity generator' obviously implies a very deep understanding of consciousness, either in general or specific to humans, making this one even tougher to swallow.

2) Said aliens can obviously protect themselves (and anyone else,) from any attack a human being could possibly have without having to retaliate at all. Yet they choose to communicate in an absurdly roundabout and difficult manner instead of face to face, and they permit their communications to go unheeded by almost all of the population. Again, one starts to wonder how smart they really are. Religion can get away with "ineffability," but science fiction, not so much.

3) It is difficult(to say the least) to see why an alien species so advanced that they could probably travel through a star without ill effects would worry about the generation of radioactive materials on a planet that already has enough of them to destroy everything anyway.

Now for the humans:

My overall objection is that the reaction of these government officials is in some ways improbable and in others impossible.

1) They have global reach, and can mysteriously cause all sorts of things including the deaths of huge numbers of people and perfect coverups and so on anywhere in the world at any time. Put bluntly, that capability does not exist, and isn't likely to exist in the forseeable future.

2) They threaten everybody with death. As it turns out, that doesn't work. It would be absolutely trivial to mount an information distribution effort whose sheer speed and scale would dwarf any effort to contain it. Add all this fancy technology to the mix, and all of a sudden the g-man's job is absolutely impossible.

3) On the other hand, look at our scientist. He's brilliant, but he is also an unimaginative loser. Those g-men don't have any idea how technology works - even their own, let alone the alien stuff. It would be trivial to build a control panel for each of these things containing advanced functionality, and they'd never know the difference. Said functionality could make the above mentioned communications(and distribution, for that matter,) virtually instantaneous worldwide, and could do so when the scientist wasn't present to be killed. Yes, the g-men could come and kill him afterward, but that wouldn't make any sense at all, so they probably wouldn't do it.

4) Which brings us to the final problem with the humans: you simply assume that they are not only willing to bluff at irrationality, but that they are in fact completely irrational. If that were true, the world would have ended 40 or 50 years ago.

All that said, it is a compelling tale, and well written. It just needs to be bigger and explain itself a bit more(without being obvious about doing so, preferably.)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Good points all around (3.00 / 3) (#32)
by localroger on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 04:07:49 PM EST

About the aliens, let's just assume that they're, well, alien. You know, most writers don't do alien very well; even most novel (much less movie) aliens come off as being humans in rubber suits. Rarely (and betterly) they come off as parrots or some other exotic animal in a rubber suit. But they almost always have familiar motives and methods.

In this case I'd say that the aliens are so different from us that they are barely aware that we exist at all; perhaps they're plasma beings that live in the hearts of stars, or maybe they don't even live in this universe. Maybe the aspect of their Will that affects Earth is so such a small part of what they are that it is acting almost automatically; they might not realize that we are worth developing until they see that the simpler gifts are being used. So for whatever reason they present an odd combination of super-power and ignorance about us.

As for the humans, Smith and Jones are archetypes. They are symbolic of everything that is fucked up with our heirarchical culture. It's true that individuals might not act as they do, but since this is a short story instead of a novel they are really standing in for the entire government.

The narrator was clearly chosen not just because he is brilliant, but also because he can be manipulated. If he were you, and capable of the cunning tricks you suggest, Smith and Jones would not have risked bringing him in on the secret.

And as for the rest of us, well, my experience leads me to believe that human beings are in fact completely irrational. If you have evidence to the contrary I'd be interested in seeing it :-)

And thanks for the final props. The real difficulty with this story is that I wrote it to see if I could write, as someone suggested, "something positive" about this sort of thing. But as even Elvis realized in the story above yours, there has to be some conflict in order to tell a story at all. And given the kind of powers we are talking about, one of the few reliable ways to generate conflict is to have someone do something really stupid.

Expanding it would make it possible to make a few details less ridiculous, but I'm not sure the premise is strong enough to support a much longer story. Hmmmmm.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Hmm (none / 1) (#37)
by trhurler on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 05:43:37 PM EST

Mostly good answers.

The only thing I really don't agree with is this thing about people being irrational. People are occasionally irrational, or rather occasionally do irrational things, but by and large, even if they don't do what you think they should do, they are rational. The very fact that there are still human beings on this planet to converse like this is good proof.

We're VERY willing to appear irrational. For instance, we were willing to play all sorts of brinkmanship games with nuclear weapons. However, we weren't going to destroy the whole world - even if it seemed possible at the time, it wasn't going to happen. The whole purpose was to MAKE it seem possible, of course, but that doesn't mean the people who had that purpose were going to actually do it.

Usually if you look deeply enough, instances of individuals behaving "irrationally" are just misguided rational efforts. Don't confuse fallibility and irrationality. For instance, I had a rather nasty incident that I won't go into detail about in my life a couple of years back. Someone very important to me had something very bad happen, and I haven't spoken to this person since, because while I wouldn't say I was mostly at fault, I had my share in the blame and I couldn't really react to it - I just sort of lived my life going through the motions and not feeling much, waiting for it to pass. Very clearly this was not in my interest, and it was downright cruel from certain points of view. However, it wasn't something I chose, and although I'd do it differently now, that's only in hindsight. Put me in that situation as it was then a hundred times, and a hundred times I'd do the same thing.

The correct course of action was definitely to accept my responsibility and try to make the situation right insofar as that was possible. However, what you have to understand here is that while my behavior might seem irrational to some casual observer(not that there were any I know of,) it made perfect sense at the time, given what I knew, given what I thought was going to happen, and so on.

Have you thought much about this concept that there has to be conflict to tell a story? It is true - no doubt - but what does it tell you? The idea that humanity is going to achieve some Star Trek like golden age simply isn't human. We're not built for it. We are mostly rational, but we thrive on conflict. Some people prefer it overt and real, some people prefer artificial conflicts such as sporting events, some want it real but more subtle(office politics, running for election, whatever,) some seem to get off on power trips in their sex lives, but everybody loves conflict. That may be what you see in people that you find to be irrational. Personally, I don't find it irrational - we evolved in a world where we had to compete, and that's what we're built for.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Existance isn't proof of rationality (none / 0) (#43)
by artis on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 07:48:14 PM EST

The very fact that there are still human beings on this planet to converse like this is good proof.
Of ability to survive (as a species) not of rationality. Are rats rational?
Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
Hmm (none / 1) (#44)
by trhurler on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 09:11:35 PM EST

Apparently you didn't actually read very carefully. Rats don't have nuclear weapons, genius.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Does that mean that rats are more rational? [nt] (none / 0) (#57)
by artis on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 01:44:13 PM EST

Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
Possibly. (none / 0) (#59)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:18:24 PM EST

Also means they are better people than politicians. That being the case, I implore you to petition the vermin control industry to start producing anti-politician poisons and delivery systems.

The rats have suffered long enough.

Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

I prefer politican eating big cats. [nt] (none / 0) (#62)
by artis on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:35:57 PM EST

Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
regarding brinksmanship (none / 0) (#70)
by Battle Troll on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 01:13:23 PM EST

A lot of the military leadership on both sides was made of fucking madmen (Curtis Lemay and MacArthur come to mind.) Fortunately for us, guys that far out didn't actually wind up as the supreme authorities on either side, but they weren't lone losers either.
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]
You know (none / 0) (#83)
by trhurler on Tue Aug 23, 2005 at 01:14:13 AM EST

I'm not as sure they're mad as mainstream history wants to paint them. They grew up and formed their ideas in a prenuclear age, and it is quite possible that the sheer horror of strategic nuclear war simply wasn't within their grasp. Or, perhaps they were playing the more entertaining part in a good cop bad cop drama. Then again, they might have been nuts. You just never really know.

One thing that you have to realize though: for all the efforts to prevent it from happening, had the order to fire ever come, it is actually doubtful whether much firing would have commenced UNLESS it was retaliatory.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
IAWTP (none / 1) (#48)
by cbraga on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 10:07:19 PM EST

The boxes and their controls are a very nice concept which could be used and abused in the plot in thousands of different ways yet the plot just progresses in the most boring way imaginable...

Why did the protagonist, when he was invulnerable, not grab the other gifts, kill all the agents and distribute the gifts over the Earth himself? Or keep them to himself, become a supervillan and rule the world? So many possibilities, unexplored...

A good story, but very pale by Passages and MOPI standards...

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]

I can explain 1,2, and 3 (3.00 / 2) (#50)
by livus on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 10:26:29 PM EST

the aliens are clearly in Admin. Maybe even HR.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Answer to #1 (none / 1) (#53)
by Fuzzwah on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:58:17 AM EST

The aliens may have mass produced the gifts so they could distribute them to a huge range of different species.

The best a human can do is to pick a delusion that helps him get through the day. - God's Debris
[ Parent ]

small quibble (3.00 / 4) (#27)
by Elvis Priestley on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 03:11:12 PM EST

Wouldn't it make more sense for the aliens to just give the race the 5th Gift.....FIRST?

And then all the other gifts subsequently so their now-enlightened race could expand into the universe and do all sorts of enlightened things?

I mean, it would make for a damn boring story (The One Gift) but still.

Still an enjoyable read. I voted FP.
Buy clothes that will make you cooler

Rudy Rucker called (none / 1) (#28)
by a boy and his bike on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 03:35:24 PM EST

He wants his copy of "Master of Space and Time" back. I kid, I kid! But you do have a lot of the same motifs as Rucker.

Do you have to use so many cuss words? (2.00 / 2) (#29)
by IainHere on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 03:58:54 PM EST

The 'fuck's seem out of place and, for me at least, were a little jarring. Apart from that minor quibble, I loved it. Thanks!

Cussing and Jarring (3.00 / 4) (#33)
by localroger on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 04:33:42 PM EST

This is a valid complaint. The bottom line is that I write what I would like to read myself.

Since SF has often been considered a juvenile medium there have been several approaches to the cuss word problem.

One is simply to not have the characters cuss at all. To me that sounds flat. When I hit my thumb with a hammer I don't gasp and say "gosh darnit, that was painful!" And if we are writing about big things, our characters are confronting surprises much more compelling than a hammered thumb. I imagine them reacting accordingly.

Another solution is to make up futuristic cuss words. Larry Niven used "TANJ" (There Ain't No Justice) in a lot of his Known Space stories. And in the original Battlestar Galactica the characters used "Frack!" about the same way we would use an F-bomb.

Another method is to have the characters profane a religion our contemporary society doesn't particularly mind profaning. David Brin used this approach to good effect in the novel Earth.

I personally find this approach distracting, and of course you can't believably use it in a contemporary story anyway. My feeling is that no matter how far in the future they are or what language they speak, humans are going to tend to use expletives based on sex and eliminatory functions. So while we might not recognize what they say as an f-bomb, the f-bomb would be the proper translation.

Anyway, I take your point but you might want to avoid my novel :-)

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

I'd make up new cuss words based on existing ones. (none / 1) (#58)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:05:38 PM EST


Shitslurping cockmunchers.


Fuckfaced dogcunt.

See, it's easy? I don't trust anyone that doesn't use "fuck" at least every third sentence. With the exception of Rumsfeld.

Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

Confusion: (none / 0) (#75)
by glor on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 04:24:20 PM EST

Does Rumsfeld use "fuck" in every third sentence, or do you trust him?

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

Answer. (none / 0) (#76)
by NoMoreNicksLeft on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 08:07:22 PM EST

More like every other, supposedly.


Do not look directly into laser with remaining good eye.
[ Parent ]

His press conferences must be heavily censored. (none / 0) (#82)
by glor on Tue Aug 23, 2005 at 12:52:34 AM EST

Maybe that's why he never makes any sense.

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

hehehe (none / 0) (#95)
by Jayceekun on Sun Apr 02, 2006 at 02:46:59 PM EST

I am sorry, but I have to "borrow" the second cuss word for my story....I hope that you do not mind....

[ Parent ]
Simon of Space (none / 0) (#73)
by Eight Star on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 03:46:24 PM EST

In Simon of Space, which Begins here, translates it's vulgarity into corresponding clinical terminology.

"This coitally fellates."
"You anus!"

Once you get used to it, it's great.

[ Parent ]
Can't wait for the sequel (2.00 / 2) (#30)
by Eight Star on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 04:01:53 PM EST

What steps are taken to make sure the screwdriver never comes off? Or do they risk deactivating it long enough to copy?
Where DOES the protagonist go?
What do we do when humans travel outside the reach of the sanity generator? (Surely there will be a changed perspective, but after a few generations?)

What are the aliens like? They must be exeedingly strange to be so smart but with such odd behavior.

What do we do when they shut it all off? You have to admit this is the perfect setup. "Entertain them with trinkets, and use the mind control feild to turn them to pacifists. Kodos, would you bring me some nachos?" I like the friendly alien theme, but I'm not convinced. Maybe I'm reading too much Simon Of Space

So the fifth gift deactivates the matter duplicator? Damn DMCA!!

From the story (none / 1) (#35)
by artis on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 05:33:19 PM EST

  • What steps are taken to make sure the screwdriver never comes off?
    Smith and Jones came in with solder and a torch. I was holding the screwdriver across the Sanity Generator's terminals, and I held it there while they fixed a permanent jumper across it.
  • Or do they risk deactivating it long enough to copy?
    I set the matter generator controls to duplicate the test room into another empty room, and wired up a trigger.
  • What are the aliens like? What do we do when they shut it all off?
    This fifth and final Gift was the most important of all because, I understood implicitly, our benefactors had developed it first for themselves. This is why we did not have to fear the other Gifts being suddenly denied.

Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
not an omniscient narrator. (none / 1) (#40)
by Eight Star on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 06:19:25 PM EST

Ahh, my impression was that they soldered the screwdriver to the contacts.
But still, what's making sure the jumper never comes off? You rest the fate of the world on some solder?

"This time we wouldn't even be triggering the copy function...
The fifth gift simply turned off the matter generator, which was a relatively primitive thing by the standards of our benefactors.

There is only one sanity generator, and no clear way to get more without turning it off. The gifts are made of ordinary matter, and are easily destroyed. Granted, no one would intentionally do so, but still.

...our benefactors had developed it first for themselves.

And you believe that? How do you know it isn't simpy a mind control field that keeps us docile while we outfit our planet with their technology?

[ Parent ]

It's about sanity (none / 0) (#42)
by artis on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 07:44:50 PM EST

I misread about the duplication, still, it does not say that they didn't make a copy before the experiment.
How do you know it isn't simpy a mind control field that keeps us docile while we outfit our planet with their technology?
It wouldn't be sane?
Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
Sanity is our term (none / 1) (#45)
by Eight Star on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 09:17:57 PM EST

And this was based on about five minutes worth of observations of the effects of this. And all the examples seen were about violence-nonviolence- forgiveness-niceness.  We DON'T KNOW if the aliens actually subject themselve to this field or not. That is either the 'impression' that the field gave him, or pure conjecture on his part.

This is a feild that causes niceness. Compared to our current world, this is very sane.
Wasn't the Alien's own term 'Optimize' ? Optimize for what?

Seriously, there isn;t anything here that we can't find in some other 'aliens come and are nice and then eat us' kind of story. 6 billion people suddenly agree on something?(dozens of things?) Is it sanity? or mind control? Where does one draw the line anyway?

Localroger is the god of this universe, he decides if the aliens are good or bad, I think he was going for good, but from the reader's perspective, it is not certain.

[ Parent ]

Think of it as an empathy field (none / 1) (#54)
by rusty on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 12:45:33 PM EST

I thought it was more of an empathy thing. The narrator feels this "oneness" with everyone -- and the effect seems to be based on that experience. He understands everyone else, all at once, and everyone else understands him. It creates a perfect sense of empathy.

Now, it's not mentioned whether this extends to the unknown aliens. Presumably they're alien enough that it might not even work anyway. So it does seem to be conjecture that they did this to themselves already, although reasonable conjecture.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Sounds like telepathy to me (none / 1) (#61)
by artis on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:33:51 PM EST

Now, it's not mentioned whether this extends to the unknown aliens. Presumably they're alien enough that it might not even work anyway.
Wild fantasy: they might have been using the vague instructions as a way to explore how the protagonists mind functions, it came last afterall.

What puzzles me is why didn't they just turn it on instead of risking that it could go unused.

Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
True, true (none / 0) (#60)
by artis on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:23:33 PM EST

Optimize for what?
The first thing that comes to mind is communicationvia the means of telepathy (that also explains why one device generates a field for the entire planet). Another one would be the speed of thinking, just look how many things happen in 10 seconds. Overall is seems to be an optimizer for society.
Seriously, there isn;t anything here that we can't find in some other 'aliens come and are nice and then eat us' kind of story.
Except the fact that they give us advanced technology instead of just eating us. Did they do that all to ensure that there is a continued suply of fresh humans? Why not just duplicate the corpse of Elvis for all their food needs?
6 billion people suddenly agree on something?(dozens of things?) Is it sanity? or mind control?
That's a good question. Do you think that you have compleate control over yourself or rather that the physical reality of your body and brain have set inherit limitations to your thinking? If it does is that mind control?
Localroger is the god of this universe, he decides if the aliens are good or bad, I think he was going for good, but from the reader's perspective, it is not certain.
It would be too easy otherwise...
Can you know that you are omniscient?
[ Parent ]
also (none / 1) (#46)
by Eight Star on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 09:28:11 PM EST

I think you're right that they would make extra copies beforehand, but the yeilds an even more interesting question. What happens if you turn on two of them at once?

[ Parent ]
My money better get more words than this! (2.00 / 3) (#31)
by Fen on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 04:06:21 PM EST

Ha ha. Just kidding.
hm (none / 0) (#34)
by EMHMark3 on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 04:59:20 PM EST

+1, awesome. Are you even capable of writing a bad story?

T H E   M A C H I N E   S T O P S

Fantastic (none / 0) (#39)
by Have A Nice Day on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 06:08:21 PM EST

Quality writing there! Usually not a fan of k5 fiction, but I love your work.

Have A Nice Day may have reentered the building.
Hi jerkoffs (2.00 / 5) (#47)
by Fen on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 09:37:39 PM EST

I personally underwrote this.
who's the author? (none / 0) (#49)
by dimaq on Sat Aug 20, 2005 at 10:14:22 PM EST

forgive me if I'm halucinating now, but I sense vaguely that I've read some of this before. at least teh ideas... the infinite electricity generator for one... i.e. what if you were to make a closed circuit ouf of those electricity boxes - meltdown or superconductivity with no voltage difference?

or is it the case that everyone is supposed to know who wrote this and I'm the only dumb one?

Not infinite. (none / 0) (#52)
by vectro on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 02:48:06 AM EST

Read again: It goes "up to seven hundred and twenty volts at five hundred fifteen amperes."

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
oh yeah, sorry (none / 0) (#86)
by dimaq on Wed Aug 24, 2005 at 01:28:29 AM EST

I was thinking of what I read in that thing I remember or halcunate to have read - where current was unlimited.

anyway, cross connecting a couple of those things would make a nice little star (okay 0.7 MW starlet)

[ Parent ]

Absolutely Brilliant! (none / 0) (#51)
by stox on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 01:40:32 AM EST

In the spirit of the finest short sci-fi stories, the last lines pull it all together:
"Fuck vacation. I might want to take her to live some place where even an Iridium phone won't reach."

And that's exactly what I did.
Thanks for a great story, I look forward to many more.

Well done. (3.00 / 2) (#56)
by anometer on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 12:59:35 PM EST

Personally, there's nothing new about the theme, but it's a pretty well written piece showing just how great that theme is. much kudos

kudos (none / 0) (#63)
by transient0 on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 08:37:15 PM EST

thanks for the great read.

nice to see your fiction back on the fp.
lysergically yours

My only problem with this story (none / 0) (#64)
by taste on Sun Aug 21, 2005 at 10:57:18 PM EST

is that I wasn't there to personally give it a +1FP. Thank you, localroger!

"Then I took my girl (3.00 / 2) (#65)
by Harvey Anderson on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 09:26:00 AM EST

away to a far away land where she would never be tempted by other men and instead always captivated by my charming intellect for the rest of our days (I died first of course, in her arms). The End."

You say this like it's a BAD thing :-) /nt (none / 0) (#79)
by localroger on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 09:12:41 PM EST

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Loved it (none / 1) (#68)
by prem1er on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 12:43:09 PM EST

I actually registered as a user just to post after reading this. Excellent story!

Captivating read (none / 0) (#69)
by Sgt York on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 12:57:40 PM EST

You SOB, I have work to do!

Good stuff, thanks.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.

Volts and amps reality check (none / 1) (#71)
by Kiscica on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 01:29:09 PM EST

Up to seven hundred and twenty volts at five hundred fifteen amperes.
This was a much simpler Gift than the first Gift, but the first Gift was central to its utility; for the matter generator could generate copies of the energy generator, and they could be ganged in series and parallel. Using ten of them in parallel I made a piece of rebar glow like the filament of a light bulb, flashing incandescent white before it melted. Using them in series I made lightning play across the shop parking lot.

Ten of these widgets in parallel could source a current of five thousand, one hundred and fifty amperes. That much current wouldn't make your rebar "glow like the filament of a light bulb, flashing incandescent white before it melted." The rebar would be instantly vaporized with one unholy CRACK and a blinding blue flash as it tried to dissipate several megawatts of power. (Remember, every single unit is effectively a 370 kilowatt generator, enough to supply perhaps 20 average-sized homes, or a city block, as you point out in the story).

On the other hand, ten of these 720V gadgets in series would set up a potential of 7200 volts, approximately enough to make lightning play across... a third of an inch. (It'd be a *very* hot arc, though...) To get the tens of millions of volts you'd need for parking-lot-scale lightning, you'd have to have duplicated up a few tens of thousands of the gadgets, I think.

Otherwise, like the story -- this is the first one I've read all the way through! It sort of reminds me of a certain genre of 50's-era SF -- not the greatest writing in the world, to be sure, but engaging...


I've said it before... (none / 0) (#78)
by localroger on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 09:11:51 PM EST

I can't fricken get away with anything here. I made the opposite mistake in MOPI saying that a megawatt would vaporize a multi-kilogram silicon crystal in "a fraction of a second," and someone pointed out in email that it would take more like twenty seconds. One day I will learn to consult my copy of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics before writing shit like this.

Meanwhile, just assume he applied a low voltage to the drive terminal for the experiment :-)

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

boiling rebar (none / 0) (#81)
by Kiscica on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 10:34:22 PM EST

Heh... you know, you're right. A megawatt of power input would take quite a few seconds to completely vaporize a kilogram of silicon, or iron, or whatever (heat of vaporization somewhere on the order of 10 kilojoules/gram). I still maintain that, if you hooked up rebar to a 5000 amp source, there'd be a blinding blue flash and an unholy CRACK and there'd no longer be any visible sign of the rebar, but I withdraw the vaporization part of my comment. It wouldn't all be converted to iron vapor; I suppose a small amount would vaporize at the highest-resistance point in the rebar, the mother of all arcs would begin, and the rest of the bar would be converted into rapidly flying globules of molten iron. All in a fraction of a second, mind you: I guess what bothered me about the original wording was the idea of the rebar holding up long enough to glow recognizably like a lightbulb's filament. I've put giant currents through hefty pieces of metal (though never 5 kiloamps through rebar) and they've always reacted by decomposing explosively...

You'd still need thousands of gadgets in series for any serious lightning, though...

I reread the story and realized it reminded me a bit of Sturgeon. The idea, I mean -- the writing style is not comparable -- but I suspect you must count him as one of your influences. Am I wrong?


[ Parent ]
lay off the details, thee unholy geek.... (none / 0) (#93)
by fourseven on Tue Aug 30, 2005 at 04:36:03 PM EST

[ Parent ]
the fame of localroger (none / 0) (#72)
by nietsch on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 02:35:54 PM EST

will one day rise above the trenches of K5.

Nice read, very nice read indeed.

This is not good. (1.20 / 5) (#74)
by ubu on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 03:54:18 PM EST

Stop writing.

As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
wait a second (none / 0) (#77)
by transient0 on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 08:15:14 PM EST

i just now realized the subtext re: forced medication of schizophrenics.

don't you understand that the effects of anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals on the brain (let alone the mind) are poorly understood at best?

and don't you realize that when you forcefully alter the psyche of a person you are, in effect, murdering the very individual you purport to help?

lysergically yours

Only the non-omniscient narrator says... (none / 0) (#80)
by localroger on Mon Aug 22, 2005 at 09:14:09 PM EST

...that the aliens are the Good Guys. (OK I assumed it while writing, but it's opened up an interesting dialog on the topic of whether they are or not, which I choose not to end by declaring it one way or the other.)

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Iain M Banks... "Cleaning up" (none / 1) (#84)
by beak on Tue Aug 23, 2005 at 09:12:30 AM EST

Just curious, have you read the Iain M Banks short story 'Cleaning Up'?

It also explores what happens if powerful alien artifacts randomly appeared on earth, but being Banks, its a bit darker than this story!

IIRC the artifacts are also called 'gifts'...

(It is part of the State of the Art short story collection.)

PS: Shouldn't Allowed actually be Alluded?

5th gift (none / 0) (#87)
by peter318200 on Wed Aug 24, 2005 at 07:34:59 AM EST

thanx localranger great read well done

I should know, I was there! (none / 0) (#88)
by Sesquipundalian on Wed Aug 24, 2005 at 03:30:48 PM EST

And don't forget that any copied bottles of hot sauce turned out tasting like ordinary ketchup.

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
copied, imitated, duplicated or improved (none / 0) (#90)
by truckaxle on Tue Aug 30, 2005 at 01:17:14 AM EST

Whoa ya sometimes it takes a cover story to get you started. And hot sauce like this never tastes like ketchup.

[ Parent ]
I'm holding back tears. (none / 0) (#89)
by alexboko on Thu Aug 25, 2005 at 06:19:02 PM EST

Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
Man, that's beautiful. (none / 0) (#92)
by fourseven on Tue Aug 30, 2005 at 04:34:19 PM EST

Thanks for writing this piece...

Makes me think of Montessori (none / 0) (#94)
by toychicken on Tue Aug 30, 2005 at 07:53:36 PM EST

I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong, but doesn't the Montessori method of education involve giving children 'gifts' of simple objects (or shapes?) to help stimulate their understanding of the world?

Nice tale, simply told +1fp

- - - - - - -8<- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Just how many is a Brazillian anyway?

Garry's Mod! (none / 0) (#96)
by Russell Dovey on Sun Sep 24, 2006 at 01:10:27 PM EST

The Aliens are Garry! They're giving the Earth Garry's Mod tool by tool! Awesome.

Took me a second reading to notice, too. Nice one, localroger.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

The Fifth Gift | 95 comments (82 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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