The Strange – Episode 5 – Solutions and Problems – Part 1

The rays of the new sun glinted off of napping cats on Goldberg’s porch. The porch hung off the second story of a stacked duplex, giving the two cats, Billie and Junior, a panoramic view of their domain. From inside the house, they could hear one of their humans approaching.

The front door opened and Goldberg came out smiling. “Hi guys. Long night?”

Junior tilted his head to guide Goldberg’s scratching hand. He was a large and beautiful, solid gray cat. His yellow eyes were always wide and expressive and right now they expressed the desire to go inside and have breakfast.

Goldberg, on the other hand, was chatty. “Now I’ve got to warn you guys, there is a girl in there and I like her a lot, so don’t mess it up.”

Billie, a smaller cat with white fur, hopped off the bench. She pushed her face into the screen door, and meowed.

Grabbing a sandal from under the bench, Goldberg said, “I don’t think she’ll hear you, she’s sleeping. But I’ve got good news! I’m going to be upgrading our digs pretty soon! Movin’ time! I got unbelievably lucky last night.” He paused. “Actually, was lucky twice, but anyway… I won the lottery!”

Junior tilted his head and looked puzzled. Of course, he could understand what the human was saying. It just confused him that they would leave a place with so many birds, nice sunshine and trees full of squirrels.

Typical of a human, Goldberg thought the cat’s question was all about him. “Yeah, that’s been bothering me too. I mean how is it that I could possibly be so lucky all of a sudden? I don’t even believe in luck and if I did, I’d complain about having bad luck. I guess random chance might say that I was due, but … well… thinking back on it, I could almost see which numbers I should play, like someone was giving me a hint or something. Weird, huh?”

Sick of waiting, Billie stuck her paw under the door and tried to pull it open. Junior can talk to his pet human all he wants. Inside lay food and comfy places to nap.

“Ah, I bet everyone who wins something like this feels weird about it. Correlation mistaken for causation, the vagaries of memory and all that. Whatever, I’ve still got a huge pile of cash out there with my name on it. All I gotta do is go get it.  And Joy … Yeah, Joy. Not a bad night at all.” He took off his wire framed-glasses by the wrap around temples and cleaned them with the tail of his tee shirt.

The gray cat meowed and rubbed his head on the big side pocket of Goldberg’s cargo shorts. It was a vague attempt, in cat language, to tell him that he didn’t care much about Goldberg’s mate issues. He hadn’t cared since Goldberg had paid that doctor to cut his nuts off. As a matter of fact, Junior put ‘screwing up stuff on the coffee table’ on his list of things to do that day. It’s not nice to neuter someone, much less rub it in by talking about your mating habits.

Goldberg looked at Junior rubbing his head against his thigh and said, “Oh don’t worry Junior. You’re still my little buddy.” The young man petted the cat as it purred like a truck.

Through his blurry vision, he surveyed the mess on the porch. This porch was one of the main reasons he stayed in this house. It was as simple a design as he could imagine. It ran front to back, taking over the whole left side when viewed from the street. The bit away from the street housed a staircase that doubled back on a small concrete landing with the whole thing encased in cinder blocks.  A metal gate at the bottom faced out to the sand driveway that ran alongside the house. Where he sat now was all open and covered by the roof’s overhang and held views of the neighborhood from up in the trees.

Of course, with use comes clutter, and there is no kind of clutter like outdoor clutter. Countless “found-art objects” and things that are too dirty to have in the house lingered on the porch accompanied by a few half-finished projects, one of which had found new life as an ersatz coffee table. And then there were the books. Left over, moldy paperbacks of countless hours spent reading on the porch, treated with all the care of orange peels once the pulp was gone.

He sighed. Here on the porch was his life for the past ten years in dirty and disorganized miniature. “On second thought, maybe we don’t have to move just yet. This place isn’t all that bad.”

Junior meowed what Goldberg took as agreement, but was really a request for breakfast.

Goldberg found a quarter sitting on the railing and absentmindedly flipped it. Billie stopped trying to open the door to witness the shiny coin tumble. It fell into Goldberg’s hand. Heads.

“Hm,” he said. “Joy thinks I’m lucky, so did the store clerk. Why does that feel so… I don’t know… strange to me? And anyway, I, of all people, know that luck is just ex-post story telling. That’s why I bought the ticket in the first place, to show that to my stats class.” He fiddled with the coin. “Have to re-write that lesson. So why don’t we just give it a test? Tails!” Another flip was tracked by the transfixed eyes of both cats. This time Goldberg missed and it and it banged around on the floor. Billie pounced on it but let it go after it had stopped putting up a fight. When the cat’s paws retreated, they revealed a coin with its head up.

“Hm, so much for luck. Really, I’d just like something to justify this weird feeling I’ve had recently. Ah, it’s probably just relief that Megan is finally gone and Joy… Joy has banished her spirit.” He picked up the coin and flipped it over in his fingers.

A forgotten, empty coffee can on the railing at the top of the stairs caught Goldberg’s attention. He considered using it as a can for coins for a moment before a meowing junior convinced him that cat food was critically important.

“Don’t want to give you guys an excuse to bother Joy.” He said, and flicked the coin in his hand against the wall where an odd glint appeared. He hit it dead on and it disappeared into the clutter of found art, clanking against something before passing from Goldberg’s attention. A brief visual of an odd machine made of the crap on the porch and the steps resulting in that discarded coin ending up in the can flashed through his mind. He laughed at the absurdity of the thought as the screen door slapped closed behind him.

The coin, meanwhile, didn’t think it was so funny. In accordance with the laws of physics, the coin sailed through the air at a tumble. It hit an empty beer bottle with enough force to knock it over before coming to rest on the edge of a thin hardback book that straddled the railing.

The beer bottle rolled down that same railing before finally falling onto the floor, where it continued its roll towards the back where the stairs are. It didn’t roll down the stairs, though, instead falling down the part where the stairs switched back resulting in a one story drop to the landing. It didn’t quite make it to the bottom, however, and instead hit just at the tail of a half broken skate board. The skate only had one set of wheels and the bottle hitting it caused it to flip its nose high in the air, sending an old neighborhood newspaper up into the sky.

The impromptu flight of the newspaper started as a single shot skyward, but after its apex near the edge of Goldberg’s roof, it became a gentle, back and forth fluttering in the still and damp morning air. It nudged a long stick of drying bamboo that was perched on one of the posts that kept Goldberg’s roof over his porch and after a teetering moment, the bamboo fell almost in line with the railing. The green stick hit a crushed flat trumpet that was hanging like a single-entry found art mobile by a string looped around a headless nail.

After a single swing, the trumpet slipped from its nail, crashing into the thin hardcover book, hitting it opposite to where the coin had landed. The teeter-totter effect of the book on the railing sent the coin once again in motion. It flew through the air and clanked home inside the coffee can, a victim of cause, effect and the forces of physics once harnessed and unleashed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From his high perch, Dan Leggit marveled at the lush green treetops of his home. The view was spectacular, and while the scruffy young man drank it in, he was careful not to look to close to straight down. The view was great, but Dan was terrified of heights.

Turning west, he saw the turnpike. The endless stream of cars going in both directions reminded him of a migration of metallic beasts. Some go this way, and some go that way. He often wondered what is was that made the northern people go south and the southern people go north, but he was glad they did. If they didn’t, no one would see the billboard and his cushy job would go away.

Every day he got a number from the office on a pad of paper and had to do one simple thing. He would bike out to the base of a sixty-foot tall tower and perform a task that was unnatural for humans. He climbed that tower, made his way in front of the billboards, and changed the amount of the jackpot for the Florida Casino and Game Commission.

It didn’t matter to anyone how stoned, drunk, hung-over or terrified he was, as long as the number changed. Though he’d puked off the tower so many times it was starting to affect the surrounding ecosystem, he had always managed to get the number changed. How much he partied before, after or during his mission didn’t make any difference.

And up to now, the number had steadily increased. Today was different, though. Today, it started again at a measly one million dollars.

He took down the 843 and put up the solitary, Six foot high “1” on the sign. He looked at it before going on to the other side. It looked so lonely, hateful.

“Hey, boy!” A voice yelled up at him. “You got a dollar? Hate to be so forward ‘n all, but I’m trying to get some morning coffee and am coming up light.” His local drawl shaved all the trailing G sounds from words and rounded out all his A’s.

Dan looked down at the smiling, familiar face. The aged, black man was a staple in this town. A street performer who seemed to live on tips and the occasional gig. “Hey! Um, I’m kinda busy right now. Shitting myself. You know how it is!”

“Not really. Haven’t shit myself while sober for quite some time.”

A chuckle wandered out of Dan. “Well, come up here, look straight down, and see how it works on you. I’m getting the spins just talking to you. And who said anything about being sober?” He moved around on the scaffold to finish his morning’s work.

Far below him the voice said, “Ah. I bet it’s not that bad. And how come you do a job that works on you like a bad sam-ich, anyway?”

“Tell you what, you think this is cake? Why don’t you come on up and I’ll show you. I’ve even got beer up here. It ain’t a dollar, but it’s what I’ve got.”

“You drink up there? This early in the morning?”

“Hell, yes! How you think I get down off this fuck?”

“Well, I ain’t one to pass on a free one.”  As the lean old musician mounted the short ladder that lead to the permanent ladder attached to the base of the sign, he mumbled, “Crazy. My kind of gig.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alexi Loveless tipped back in his office chair and looked up at the ceiling. In between the rows of vents and ceiling panels were inch wide grids of LED’s each no larger than a tooth. It was Alexi’s design carried out by hired technicians and installed by craftsmen. Though the individual points of light projected a single true color – red, green, yellow, orange and a very deep blue – together they bathed the room in a uniform white light that erased all but the most persistent shadow.

The desk was a slab of glass supported by brushed steel posts. To his left, another desk, also of glass and steel propped up like a drafter’s table. Nothing sat on top of these desktops except a glass bowl of multicolored, twenty-sided role playing dice. A rod with a small hook poked up where the two desks met. A wireless headset and microphone hung from the hook and was the only evidence that this was a business office. The rest of the room only furthered the theme of spartan utility. Against the far wall was a blocky leather couch big enough to lie down on. A glass slab hung on the wall behind Alexi and two guest chairs sat empty across the desk.

To the left and the right behind the chairs were two doors. The one marked “Servers” had an electric key pad. Loveless gave a sleep deprived glance at the door and remembered he had work to do. He touched the top of the desk and it became an opaque black with computer generated papers and folders on it. Over the papers, a bi-fold opened with three tabs, Daily Jobs, Alerts, and Pet Projects. He hit a tab and invisible speakers jumped to life.

“Server farm A running at normal. Encrypted backup complete and checked.”

Loveless picked the headphones off the hook, swept back his straight, shoulder length hair and let the head set pin it out of his face. He said, “integrity check at backup facility. Any residual damage from the collector incident.”

“No. The Collector made no change to the backup facility as verified from physically separate systems, automated checks and manual surveys by the independent forensic team. Both primary and backup facilities are fully secure.”

“Well there’s one thing Bee’s people got right.”

“Continue?”

“Continue.”

“Server 813 is reported as 5% below standard and falling.”

“Describe 813”

“813 is part of the hierarchical interpretation chain B for text media. It is part of an eight server loop resolving primary text from email, forums, blogs,…

“Hot swap 813 and run tandem. Go exclusive at standard confidence.”

“Yes sir. Server 5834 raid rebuild complete.”

“Describe 5834.”

“Audio Visual analysis hierarchy scheduler.”

“Any effect on analysis?”

“Reports are five minutes behind ideal.”

“Ok. Anything else?”

“No sir. All other servers functioning normally. Textural hierarchies are functioning normally. Audio only hierarchies functioning normally. AV hierarchies functioning normally. Interpretation hierarchies functioning normally. Warning! Predictive analysis functioning within acceptable parameters. However, exceptions exceed threshold. Model reconfiguration recommended.”

This caught Loveless short and his eyes went blank with thought. “We need work on the predictive model?”

“Yes, according to the predictive model. The anomaly count has grown beyond tolerances and requires mitigation for the model to remain stable. Adding to the folder in Pet Projects, as per instructions, however I must stress that these must be seen by an operator. They appear, from my analysis, to be quite…” The computer paused for a moment, locating the right word from its vocabulary. “…strange.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Goldberg rounded the corner on his way to the bagel shop on the other side of Philly ave and was greeted by the sun shining right into his eyes.

“Ah Balls!” He said, turning his head away from the glare. He set across the street at a trot, half blind. He dashed into the shade of the row houses for which Philly avenue was named. He looked up again and the sight stopped him cold.

The scene was of the same street he’d always seen, with a canopy of trees, lined by brick sidewalks and parked cars, watched over by the row houses. But over that, Goldberg saw a web. A web of numbers, charts and graphs. It was as if all his lesson plans for his statistics students had barfed on the world and was simultaneously trying to explain it all. It was overwhelming and remarkable, enough to short circuit any brain, much less one that had not yet had its morning coffee.

Goldberg said the only thing that came to mind. “Make that two balls.”

The Strange – Episode 6 – Solutions and Problems – Part 2

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