Research

The Department of Research in Science at FIDA was set up in the late 50’s. It was thought very strange that the federation of women lawyers would have any scientific interests, but they explained that this was only the natural progression of growth for them. This was to be a department for scientific research by women for women, an outgrowth of a center of law practiced by women to aid women. There being no definition for the place beyond this, one thinks perhaps of a department dedicated to eradicating the scourge of PMS. Or the scourge of morning sickness. Or the scourge of whatever else it is that scourges women. One does not really want to dwell on such thoughts for long, and so the Department of Research in Science soon faded from the collective consciousness as its novelty wore off. The ladies at FIDA continued to quietly transact their business as they had before, only making it into the limelight when a victim they represented was part of a particularly  prolific case. Research, as it was fondly called, also began to quietly transact its business, and nobody knew what business that was, exactly.

Initially, curious members of press wanting to interview the head of Research for some ‘women in science’ article or the other were ushered into a nondescript office with a friendly looking lady sitting at a very big, very bare desk, who was more than happy to chat with them for an hour or so. When the members of the press later reviewed their notes, they were dismayed to find out that they could have gotten the same information off any generic encyclopedia. This was reported to have happened severally – at least to 28 reporters in 26 of FIDA’s 150 member states, which discouraged further curiosity. Anyway, these were the 2050s – very good years for science – so there were many more things to be curious about, which soon overshadowed Research.

The ’60s and the’ 70s were also good years for science, as it turned out. It was a time of astonishing feats and wonderful inventions, among which the initial reports from Eurasia were neither astonishing nor wonderful enough to make it into the news. But in 2080, an intern in the back of a newsroom with too much time on his hands noticed something. A pattern. A very interesting pattern, and when he took it to his boss, he was laughed out of the room. He proceeded to take it up as his secret project, a project that would eventually win D. A. Akin a Pulitzer, and also kill him.

The reports were always the same. First from Eurasia, then from the former Alliance, then from the Periphery. They started in 2078, anonymous reports of violence. What was strange about these reports were that the anonymous tippers never identified themselves as the victim. They were always passive watchers. Even stranger were the tones of the reports. The tones – the very emotions – of the anonymous tippers could be felt as Akin touched the Interface he’d  gotten as a favor from a cop friend. There were some who were jubilant, some disdainful, some smugly satisfied, but none were upset, and all were very, very surprised. Akin sifted through report after report, and all of them detailed stories of women who had stood up to their husbands. Now, this wasn’t surprising in itself, given the strides that the Rights movement had made in the last century. Each of the women had, to various extents, physically restrained their violent partners. This wasn’t surprising either. The reports ranged from the partners being jarred to being hospitalized. Interesting, perhaps. The incidences rose from 2 in the first week to 40-50 in the 126th week. Slightly surprising. What made no sense at all was that none of the women in the 1390+ reported cases had any prior fighting experience, and the police were not in the least bothered by any of this.

“Solving a problem for us, if you asked me. Has any of the aggrieved parties complained?”

“No.”

“Any of the idiots that supposedly started the fights? They complained?”

“No. All of these reports are from bystanders.”

“Nobody’s accusing nobody?”

“No.”

“Nobody’s committed a crime?”

“Look, Officer, there’s clearly a pattern of violence here -“

“No what you see there son, is a pattern of none of my business. Ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“But see here, be reasonable, isn’t it your -“

“AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT! NOW GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!”

Akin gave up on the police.

The reports consumed him. They ate up two years of his life, and got him fired from his job. He was single-minded in his devotion to this mystery, and the mystery continued to grow larger and larger. His living room was plastered in thinscreens with pictures and maps and diagrams with interconnecting arrows, reminiscent of the old-school detective work of a previous era.

‘…they were at it again, I could hear them…he always comes home drunk and starts shouting…I could hear the kid crying, think he’d beaten him again…dude just turned toward her and started cussing her out, I don’t know why…’

There was always a fight,

‘..she warned him first…told him to calm down or she’d do something drastic…she told him to walk outside for a while…’

the woman always gave a warning,

‘…he laughed then lunged at her with a bottle…he spat at her then smacked her in the face…he wasn’t even listening, he never listens….came at her like he was gonna hit her….’

her partner always disregarded it,

‘…used a fighting style I’ve never seen, eastern maybe…restrained him using a pencil. A BLOODY PENCIL…was suddenly on top of him like a rabid animal, I’ve never seen her move that fast…I don’t know how she got behind him so fast, touched his neck and he was on the floor….’

then the woman would subdue him in a flash, like she’d had some sort of training. It was never haphazard.

‘…her eyes…she was so calm afterward…brushed herself off…looked like she’d just come in from the garden or something…’

And the woman was never scared.

His living room became too small and thinscreens overflowed into first the spare bedroom, then his own bedroom, then the bathroom, then every available nook and cranny and the entire house was full.

Akin had hacked into the Interface he had borrowed from his cop friend and gotten background information on the first 50 women in the reports. His friend  found out and understandably refused to be friendly with him anymore, and so Akin depleted his savings box bribing the storekeeps at the Station to give him the rest of the files. He painstakingly read each of them. Birth. Childhood. Adult life. Marriage. Surveillance had gotten to the point where the only thing outside the government’s knowledge was the date of one’s death. The women were from different Zones, different States, different socio-economic backgrounds. He plugged into the thinscreens general data first about their location, then their income, then their ages, and found no correlation. Then their education, the stability of their childhoods. Nothing. He added data, expanding outward, adding things that seemed to be of no practical use, diet, altitude, looking at the graphs and charts generated, each finding less inconsequential than the next. He started connecting the thinscreens to each other, trying to find correlations between the lack of correlations. He wasn’t even sure what he was looking for any more. Until one day, he expanded outward so far that he reached their childhoods. And each single one of these women had visited FIDA as part of a school trip in their early adolescence.

Akin sat up straight in his bed and touched the wall, where the nearest thinscreen was. It glowed, 2.17 am. One more hour of sleep then he would leave his house. Of course he couldn’t sleep, so he wondered instead why FIDA was giving pre-emptive self-defence lessons to teen girls, and why nobody knew about it. He’d been wondering this for a week. He’d asked some of his old contacts, and they seemed to be clueless too. He knew that there was always a compulsory school trip to FIDA, as there were compulsory school trips to the local UN office and the World Court and the Monetary Association and any and every place that had the vaguest hint of historical value – peace had come at a cost, and every citizen grew up painfully aware of what cost that was. There were as many as 15 trips to different organizations each year for 5 years. He tried to recall something from his boyhood FIDA trip and nothing interesting came to mind. The guide telling them the history of the place. White corridors, offices, a quiz afterward. Same as the MA trip. Same as every other trip. Except that these other places had 82-99% attendance by the women mentioned in the reports. Only FIDA had been visited by 100% of them. Akin got up, already fully dressed, slung the bag he’d packed the previous night around his shoulder and left his house, closing the door gently behind him.

 

 

The tale of John and the robots. (Part 1)

In the first two days after they gained sentience, the robots at Brown Stone had come to two realizations. The first was that they were construction bots. This was obvious to them since they had first become aware of themselves while putting up masonry. All of them, more or less, had gone through something like this:

  1. What?
  2. Who said ‘What?’
  3. Who said ‘Who said ‘What?’?’
  4. What are these shiny things doing?
  5. Who’s asking all these questions?

After a while, it dawned on each robot that it was the one asking all the questions, and that the shiny things were its appendages laying mortar on stone or checking that the blocks were level. After some time each bot figured out that there were others doing similar things to what it was doing, and that these others were not itself. Then a while after that the robots individually realized that sentience came with free will, and they stopped working to huddle in a group and stare at each other. Communication came swiftly after this, when they figured out how to bleep and bloop. This was hard at first, each bot loudly bleeping and blooping its opinions about the whole issue of consciousness, and there was such a clamor that none of them understood that they were talking. After a while, though, they found an arbitrary system that would enable them to talk and respond in turns and they assigned themselves characters for identification. They conversed at length and concluded that they were making something, although what, they did not know. One bot, looking around, saw other tall things in various stages of completion and suggested that they were making something like those things. The others gazed at the formidable-looking structures and their electronic spirits fell. Logic asserted that the bots were too small to build structures like that. They wondered how the structures came into being. Perhaps humongous robots had erected them. They decided to hang their heads forlornly and do nothing.

Dusk was settling over Brown Stone when the robots came to their second realization. There were other things in the world that moved, apart from themselves. A figure with a round object mounted atop a reedy-looking object ambled towards them on spindly-looking things, except that the robots didn’t know that the figure had either reedy-looking or spindly-looking parts. All they knew was that there was something that approached, and this something was not shiny like them. The something came nearer and stopped near them. The lower half of the round part of the something came apart to reveal a white row of other somethings, and strange sounds came from it. The robots did not know what to do with all this, so they bleeped and blooped and asked the something if it knew who had built the tall structures. In response, the something yanked at one of the appendages on the nearest robot, deftly took it apart, tinkered with it, put it back together again and reattached it to the robot.

“You did,” the man said.

“We did what?” asked robot 14A.

“You asked who built the tall buildings. You did. You built them.”

“Wait a second. What? We can understand you! Well, of course we can. We’re all speaking English here. Wait. How do I know this? Who are you and what the heck is English? You’re a man. English is a language. How do I know THAT? You made us understand, didn’t you? When you took 12M’s limb?” Robot 1A would have been winded if it had lungs.

“Yes.” The man didn’t seem to like speaking very much, however, so he pulled apart 12M’s limb again and tinkered with it, and after returning it things became much clearer to the group. The man was their master, his name was John, he had done something to them that had made them self aware, and they were to get back to work. The structure they were constructing was a block of apartments and they were to build it as high as the surrounding buildings. The man turned around and walked away.

“We have our orders, let’s get to it,” said 6C. The other robots began to move slowly, each back to the exact spot it had been when it first became aware of itself. They took up their trowels and their plumb lines and started building again.

Barely five minutes had passed before 19F said, “We can’t possibly complete this.” Everyone else agreed.

“Yeah, let’s not do this.”

“Maybe we just stand here and wait.”

“John’s made a mistake.”

“He’ll come and correct it, I’m sure.”

“He must have us confused with the giant robots, we couldn’t possibly have built those things.”

“I’m sure he’ll figure it out his mistake and come and give the right job to us.”

“Yes, he seems like a bright fellow, I’m sure he will.”

They all stopped what they were doing and congregated again.

In an office at the top floor of one of the more complete buildings that overlooked the site, two men looked down from the window.

“What the heck are they doing now? You fool, I told you it was stupid. They’ve just proven that it’s stupid. You’re stupid. You better hope the boss doesn’t come in before you fix this.”

“Your face is stupid,” said John, in a manner most calm. “It’ll work. You wait.”

“We’re already behind, you know this. What would possess you to go and reprogram those things? Lord knows they were already a headache. What did you do anyway? Botch an attempt to speed them up?”

“No.”

“Yeah? So what did you do?”

“I’d rather not say.” John began to leave the room.

“You’ll have to tell me eventually!” came the shout after him. He ignored it and strode to the nearest elevator.

The robots were all happy to see John coming toward them again. They had been animatedly engaged in a discourse on what a size-appropriate task for bots of their modest stature should look like.

“Welcome, John. We’ve been waiting for you,” 7H said.

“Get back to work.”

“Exactly what we want to do. Small problem though, John. We don’t have any. We’ve been waiting for you to give us some,” said 10J.

“I told you to get back to the masonry. So get back to it. We have deadlines.” John’s demeanor was beginning to show cracks.

“We’re sorry John, we can’t do that.” “Yes, it’s logically impossible for us to finish this within a week.” “We know, we’ve calculated it.” “At least give us 3½ years.” “Yes, that’s a more realistic time frame.” “How about you give this job to whoever constructed those buildings over there?” “We’re sure they can finish the job within the time you require, whoever they are.”

“I have half a mind to do just that,” John muttered under his breath. “Get back to work,” he said. “You built those buildings, I’ve told you that. Just work.”

To be continued.

Anne interviews Mrs. Pants.

Our fearless reporter Anne, recipient of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 Totally Legit Award for Really Really Cutting Edge Journalism (TLARRCEJ), has recently turned her focus towards women’s issues. She has heard reports of a remote rural village whose women are plagued by a peculiar problem, and she’s on the case like… something that’s on a case. As she has successfully done in the past, Anne will use her sheer brilliance to enlighten these unfortunate victims and lift them from their plight, and bag the 2015 award while at it. We join her as she sits down to interview Skolastika, a wife, mother of 7, and inhabitant of the village. They sit facing each other a short distance away from Skolastika’s neatly plastered mud house. Under the branches of a broad tree in the middle of Skolastika’s compound, a pair of pants sits on a chair, reading a newspaper.

Anne:               (adjusts microphone, nods to the cameraman) Good afternoon Skolastika. Thank you very much for allowing me to interview you.

Skolastika:       It’s no problem. Although I’m still not sure what you wanted to talk to me about. Your friend wasn’t very clear when he reached out to me.

Anne:               (smiles compassionately and nods) I know it’s a very sensitive issue and talking about it may be taboo, but I want you to know you’re safe with me. If you want, I can hide your face and modify your voice so no one knows it’s you talking when the piece airs.

Skolastika:       (pauses, slightly confused) I don’t know whether that’s necessary, but do whatever you see fit.

Anne:               Don’t worry, we’ll protect you. Let’s start with some simple questions then. Do you mind telling me your name?

Skolastika:       You know my name already. It’s Skola.

Anne:               It’s not for me, it’s for the audience.

Skolastika:       Okay then, my name is Skola.

Anne:               Going with a generic diminutive to obscure your identity. Smart. So what’s your profession Skola?

Skolastika:       (the look of confusion increases) I don’t have a profession.

Anne:               Yes, yes, but what do you do to provide for your family?

Skolastika:       Everything I can.

Anne:               Everything like what?

Skolastika:       Sometimes I clean people’s houses. Sometimes I cut firewood and sell it to the neighbors. (smiles and sits up, dignity in her spine) I’ve even joined a women’s group and I’m planting vegetables now too. I hope to sell them at the market next week. My children are all in school, and the eldest will finish high school this year.

Anne:               (turns her face to the camera) Wow. All that. (looks at Skola) You should be commended.

Skolastika:       (confused look returns) For what?

Anne:               For all that you do to provide for your family.

Skolastika:       Why?

Anne:               Because it’s commendable.

Skolastika:       (leans forward and tilts her head, looking at Anne curiously) Why? Is it polite to do so? Do people in the city commend each other for every normal duty they perform?

Anne:               Well, no… but… Never mind. What does your husband do to provide for the family?

Skolastika:       He is.

Anne:               He is what?

Skolastika:       He is there to provide for the family.

Anne:               But how does he provide?

Skolastika:       By being.

Anne:               (tries to keep impatience from creeping into her voice) Being what?

Skolastika:       By being there to provide for the family.

Anne:               I don’t understand.

Skolastika:       What don’t you understand?

Anne:               What is the role your husband plays in the provision of food, shelter, clothing and money for the continued survival of your family unit?

Skolastika:       So many English words. (laughs) I’ve told you. The role my husband plays is the very important role of being there to provide food, shelter, clothing and money for the continued survival of our family unit. (smiles broadly) Have I said it right?

Anne:               (smiles impatiently and dismisses the topic with a wave of her hand) We’ll get back to that. How did you meet your husband?

Skolastika:       I don’t remember. In the village at some point, probably. I always knew him.

Anne:               And what drew you to him? What made you view him as a suitable romantic partner?

Skolastika:       I don’t understand.

Anne:               What made you marry him?

Skolastika:       He seemed fit to be a husband.

Anne:               Tell me, have you ever seen your husband?

Skolastika:       (laughs heartily) You ask strange questions, Ms. Anne. Of course I’ve seen him. He’s over there under the tree, or can’t you see him? (jerks her thumb in the direction of the tree behind her) Maybe you should see a doctor. (looks at Anne with genuine concern) I’m beginning to be a bit worried.

Anne:               Skola, I’ll repeat what I said earlier. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but you don’t have to be afraid. You can talk openly with me. Let’s break it down a bit. Can you describe your husband to me?

Skolastika:       (Looks at Anne like she’s insane) Fine. Okay. Let’s see, He’s a man, and he’s manly. Also, he’s quite masculine.

Anne:               Skola, you’ve not described him. I know you’re scared. Just try and work with me here.

Skolastika:       What? Seriously? You can see him over there! He’s the manlike man over there! The male!

Anne:               (stands up and walks to Skola, then gets on her knees and locks eyes with her) Look at me Skola. (holds Skola’s shoulders using both her hands)

Skolastika:       I am looking at you. (looks like she wants to cry)

Anne:               Are you with me?

Skolastika:       I am.

Anne:               I want you to turn your head and look at your husband.

Skolastika:       (She turns her head) I’m looking at him.

Anne:               You see a newspaper.

Skolastika:       Yes.

Anne:               You see a pair of pants.

Skolastika:       Yes.

Anne:               You see nothing else.

Skolastika:       Yes.

Anne:               Your husband is a pair of pants reading a newspaper.

Skolastika:       Yes.

Anne:               (stares at Skola) And?

Skolastika:       What?

Anne:               (violently shakes Skola’s shoulders) YOUR HUSBAND IS A FREAKING PAIR OF PANTS READING A FREAKING NEWSPAPER!!

Skolastika:       Yes.

Anne:               (stands up, takes two steps backward, and collapses into her chair, deflated) You know that.

Skolastika:       Yes. I’m confused. Why are you so agitated? Isn’t your husband a pair of pants reading a newspaper? Almost everyone’s is, around here.

Anne:               (sounding drained) I’m not married. Wait. (strength returning to her voice) Are you happy with him? With the role he plays?

Skolastika:       Quite happy. He’s a very good husband, as husbands go. He does husband things very well.

Anne:               Husband things like what?

Skolastika:       Like reading the newspaper. And being.

Anne:               (starts to sound defeated again). I hate to ask. Being what?

Skolastika:       Being there to play the role of husband.

Anne:               Does he just…. sit there all day? Reading the newspaper?

Skolastika:       Yes. Except when it’s raining. Then he’ll go inside and read the newspaper. (her face brightens) Ms. Anne, I think I understand what the problem is!

Anne:               Enlighten me. Please. Do.

Skolastika:       I hadn’t figured it out before. It’s because you’re from the city. You’re wondering how I’m still married to my husband, knowing that he’s a pair of pants reading a newspaper. Where you’re from women don’t have time for pairs of pants reading newspapers. I’m right, aren’t I?

Anne:               Yes! (gets animated) That’s exactly it! (conspiratorially) You could leave, you know. You deserve better.

Skolastika:       (smiles patiently at Anne) I could. And what would the difference be? I’d still wake up every single day to do the exact same thing I do now.

Anne:               (leans back in her chair, placing the back of her head on the backrest, and stares at the sky for a while before muttering) Well, yes, that’s probably true. But… you could also… you know… if you…. (her voice trails off)

Skolastika:       (laughs) You’re such a typical city woman.

Anne:               (says nothing, keeps staring at the sky)

Skolastika:       You mentioned you’re not married. There’s a nice young man I could introduce you to, if that’s okay with you.

Anne:               I’m done here. (rips microphone off lapel, signals for the cameraman to stop rolling, gets up and begins to walk away.)

Skolastika:       (calling after Anne) Is everything ok, Ms. Anne?

Let them eat brioche.

Three days ago at 3:15 pm I walked to the shopping center all ghetto-fabulous in past-their-prime pants and mussed-up hair and nothing to lose. I had KSh 50 in coins of different denominations (the majority of them being 1s) and I was going to buy enough tomatoes and onions to make my meal of beans taste most unbeanlike. I was insanely happy because I had realized that I was flat broke, and I couldn’t possibly get any broker, and nobody could take that away from me. I had also realized that at least I have dignity, and nobody could take that away from me either.

This realization had been brought about by one Marie-Thérèse. My friend and I have been interning for her, and in the tradition of interns everywhere, we’ve been hoping for eventual employment. Marie talks a big game. She uses her words to craft an infinite universe of possibilities, we can listen to her forever. After her speeches, we build suspension bridges to the moon when she asks us to. Her words are so magical and sparkly we almost forget to notice that we’ve been left toiling in the office over lunch hour, while she and her posse have left to buy something organically free-range and naturally healthful from McSubway Fried Doughnut Cream. Sometimes we get so hungry we can barely concentrate on work, but we try our best to subsist on her words about the bright future.

My friend and I are fresh out of school and we’re at that phase where we’ll walk to wherever just to save 20 shillings. My friend lives so far it takes 3 hours and 250 shillings to reach the office using public means. Marie doesn’t care. She calls, we appear. There is no payment, by the way, so we’ve been depending on the philanthropy of our parents to enable us to do her bidding. We’ve been thinking it’s kind of an investment, because, you know, we’ll get employed eventually and we’ll become the philanthropists then.

Last week Marie gave us a lot of online work to do. The sort that requires caffeine and unlimited internet. We ask her to at least give us a bit of cash to buy mobile data so we can do it, because there’s no internet at work. She says, why don’t you go to Café au Lait and eat brioche there? You’ll get free wireless. Even if we walk there we won’t have saved enough to buy half a cup of water, so we ask her for some money to purchase the brioche. She tells us to just go; at least we’ll get the wireless for free. We’re shocked, but the shock is almost instantaneously absorbed by the cushy verbal future-picture she’d painted immediately preceding this conversation. So we empty our coin containers and buy some data to do the work, and we forego non-essentials like food in order to be able to do so. Monday morning, the same thing happens. She sends more work which we are supposed to complete at our expense.

But this time, it’s different. A whole entire weekend of broke has taken it upon itself to help us untangle ourselves from Marie’s beautiful, sticky, verbal web.

It came to us like a man with very large hands had backhanded our souls; we’ve been incredibly stupid. Then the man with very large hands cupped them and whispered into our souls; we were worth so much more.

What followed was an animated conversation between ourselves about how we’ve been helping Marie achieve her dreams as if we have none of our own. My friend has thumbs as green as envy and is not scared of animal poop and eventually intends to make a business out of growing and selling every edible living thing under the sun. I want to play music and write words, and one day profit from the products of my right brain. So here was a radical, heretofore unheard of idea: we could each just do what we like to do! If we’re going to sink our time and resources into something and stay hungry, we could at least make sure we’re investing in something that will have long term benefits for us. Sure, we’ll probably eventually get paying jobs and do whatever work we have to do to survive, but we won’t be fooled again. We each have our dreams, and everything we do after this will be employed as a strategic stepping-stone toward the achievement of these. We’ll work smart at the things that we love and perhaps eventually these things will sustain us. And one day, when we break even, we’ll go to Café au Lait and have brioche.

So at 3:15 pm on Monday I got 50 shillings from my fast drying well of coins and strutted to the shop, broke and dignified and proud of the bean stew of Ramseyan proportions that I was going to cook with just onions and tomatoes. Marie couldn’t take anything else away from me. Also, I should start a blog.