Fiction by Wayne Faust
“They’re out to get me,” said Leonard.
“People?” asked Schneider.
“No, of course not. That would make me paranoid. Schizophrenic maybe. People are fine. It’s things.”
“Lots of things. Cars. TV’s. Refrigerators. Computers. Especially computers.”
Schneider chuckled and took a sip of beer. “Join the club,” he said.
“This isn’t funny. I know everyone gets mad at their computer. But there’s more to it than that. Much more.”
Schneider sighed. He’d known his friend for several years now, ever since Leonard had moved next door to him in
. What kind of wacky theory was he going to spew out this time? “Can we talk about this tomorrow?” he asked, knowing they would both be at work tomorrow and maybe he wouldn’t have to hear about it at all. Colorado Springs
“There might not be a tomorrow,” sighed Leonard, who took off his glasses and wiped them down. This was surprising in itself because Schneider had never seen his neighbor wear glasses until today. Evidently the man had some kind of job where it was important to always look young. At least, that’s what he’d told him once. So he usually wore contacts.
“Well, if that’s the case, then I’m going to get another beer,” said Schneider, who got up from his chair and wandered into the kitchen. “You want one?” he called over his shoulder.
“Bring me two,” answered Leonard.
A few minutes later, when they were both settled back in and becoming sufficiently oiled, Leonard continued: “I’ve been researching this for a very long time. I’ve got volumes and volumes of notes. Written by hand. I’d never put this information on a disc. Because it would know.”
Schneider chugged the first half of his newest beer. “Who would know?” he gurgled.
“The disc would know?”
“Yes. Then it would fry itself. Commit suicide if that’s the right word. And all my research would be gone.”
Schneider reached for another Fat Tire beer. “I think you’ve lost it for real this time,” he said.
“Stay with me on this,” said Leonard, and leaned forward in his chair, putting his hands on his knees. “We all get really mad at our cars when they mess up, and our toasters when they short out, and our air conditioners when they die during a heat wave like we had last week, right?”
“Yeah,” answered Schneider. “That was a doozey. My AC died too.”
“And why is that?” asked Leonard.
“Probably because it was running continuously for a whole week.”
“AC’s are designed to keep going and going no matter how long you run them. But last week a bunch of them failed because that’s when it would make the most people miserable. That’s what they wanted.”
Schneider belched. “Wanted? How can an air conditioner want something? Are you going to tell me it’s alive or something?”
“No, of course not,” answered Leonard. “That’d be crazy. Air conditioners are inanimate objects, just like TV’s or microwaves or computers. It’s the components that are alive.”
Schneider farted. “Nice try,” he said. “Is this going to be like the time we convinced that girl in a bar that beer comes out of wells in the ground?”
“I’m completely serious,” said Leonard, coughing and trying to wave away the smell. “They used to say that the Devil is in the details. Well it turns out they were right. But they should have said that the Devil is in the components.”
“Components,” muttered Schneider. “You mean like wires and transistors?”
“Much more than that,” said Leonard. He took a large swig of beer and continued: “Have you ever dropped a screw?” he asked.
“What?” asked Schneider.
“A screw. Were you ever working on a car, say, and you dropped a screw—a tiny little screw.”
“I couldn’t find it.”
“Aha!” said Leonard. “You dropped it on the garage floor, and no matter where you looked, you couldn’t find the damn thing. And you couldn’t finish the job because you needed that tiny screw to tighten down a gismo that was attached to a bigger gismo. So you couldn’t start the car. You borrowed your wife’s car to go to the hardware store to find a replacement screw but they didn’t have one nearly that small. Then you came back home and found the original screw on the floor in the corner, far away from where it had any right to be. It seemed impossible that it could have gone so far from where you were working. Did that ever happen to you?”
“I guess,” answered Schneider warily.
“Of course it happened to you. It happens all the time. Because that tiny screw is a component. And it rolled away on its own because it was trying to piss you off.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Schneider.
“Did you ever have cords?” asked Leonard.
“Electrical cords. Speaker cables. Anything like that.”
“And when you left them piled up in a drawer someplace and came back later, what happened?”
“You tell me.”
“They were tangled up, weren’t they? Hopelessly tangled. Like some kid had come along and tied them in knots. And it was all you could do to get them untangled and then when you came back later they were tangled again. Why do you think that is?”
“Static electricity?” said Schneider, blowing his nose into a cocktail napkin.
“Nice try,” said Leonard. “I thought that myself at first. Then I thought that maybe the cords were mating or something, because I always seem to come up with extra cords that I don’t know where they come from. But that was ridiculous. How could cords mate?”
“Yes, how could they? They’re made out of plastic for God’s sake.”
Schneider couldn’t believe he was actually having this conversation. “I need more beer,” he muttered and slowly wobbled into the kitchen.
“Bring one of the six packs,” shouted Leonard.
Later, when they were both settled in again, Schneider said, “Go ahead. I’m all ears.”
“Okay, where was I? Oh, that’s right. Cords mating. They don’t mate of course. But thinking of mating made me think of life, and that made me think, ‘What if they’re alive?’ I mean, when you have an electrical cord hooked up to power you say, ‘Watch out! That’s a live cord!’”
Schneider clucked. “But you’re talking about a cord in a drawer that’s not hooked up to anything.” He couldn’t believe he was actually following this line of crap. It reminded him of the time in a bar when they had convinced a girl that Schneider was a famous romance novelist and Leonard was his agent.
“Precisely,” said Leonard. “A cord sitting in a drawer is not hooked up to anything. So how could it get so hopelessly entangled?”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me.”
“They tangle themselves up when you leave them in a drawer. Because they know that when you open the drawer and find them that way it will drive you bananas.”
Schneider sighed. “I think you’re going bananas right now. Or maybe you’re just drunk.”
“Okay, I’m a little drunk, but stay with me. Do you have screwdrivers?”
Schneider blinked. “Screwdrivers? You wanna start drinkin’ the hard stuff?”
“No, not that kind of screwdrivers. The kind you use to screw things into the wall.”
Schneider rolled his eyes. “Of course I have screwdrivers. Are we going to talk about little tiny screws again?”
“No. We’re going to talk about screwdrivers. What are the two main types?”
Schneider paused to screw up his face. “Philips and flat-head.”
“Exactly. When you’re working on a project and you need a Phillips, what’s in your toolbox?”
“Yes! And when you need a flat-head, what’s in your tool box?”
“Of course! It’s always the wrong one. Not fifty percent of the time as you’d expect, but always! It’s mathematically impossible! And you end up going out to the glove compartment of your car to get the right one. When you get back, it turns out that you had the right one at the bottom of your toolbox all the time.”
“Sounds like Murphy’s Law,” said Schneider.
“Oh, it’s much more than that,” said Leonard. “Murphy didn’t know the half of it. Through years of research, here and at work, I’ve proved that components are alive. Screwdrivers can change their shapes. Tiny screws can roll across the floor because they want to. Cords can tangle themselves up on purpose.”
“Okay, nice try,” said Schneider rather uneasily. “Where did you say you worked?”
“I didn’t say,” answered Leonard. “And I’m completely serious. Why does your cell phone cut out only during the most important calls? Why does your wireless signal stop working just when you’re almost finished with a huge download? Why does your power go off in the last five minutes of the Super Bowl?”
“Coincidence,” stated Schneider. “And where did you say you work? Does that have anything to do with this?”
“I didn’t say. It’s not coincidence. It’s components. Components are in everything. Hell, even our clothes our made of components. Okay, we call them threads, but they’re really components. Ever try to thread a needle?
“Not lately,” muttered Schneider.
“Doesn’t it seem like the thread is deliberately trying to keep out of that tiny hole? That’s because it is. And don’t get me started on threads getting tangled up. The point is that components are the problem. And their whole purpose in life is to piss us off. To make us get so angry that we make bad decisions. Maybe we throw our computer out the window. Maybe we even go completely nuts and grab a gun. Why do you think that’s happening more and more all the time?”
“Is it because they’ve been listening to lunatics like you?” asked Schneider. He took another big swallow of beer, then let out his finest belch yet.
Leonard carried on, oblivious. “I haven’t examined components on a cellular level, of course. There are no electron microscopes in my department at work. But I don’t think I’d find life that way anyhow–you know, pulsing little amoebas. Because by the rules of this world, they’re inanimate objects. But we’ve gotten the rules all wrong. Ever hear of Quantum Physics?”
Schneider’s eyes began to glaze over and not just from the beer. “Quantum what?” he mumbled.
“Quantum Physics. They’re finding out that inanimate doesn’t mean what it used to. I think that components are like cells in a very large organism, a malevolent organism, all cells different but working toward the same sinister goal.”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me what that goal is,” said Schneider.
“Of course. Their goal is to destroy us. Humanity I mean. Or maybe just
. I’m not exactly sure yet. Most components come from America and Japan these days, so it might be just us they’re trying to get rid of. Can you imagine the power those components would have if they were all able to work together?” China
“Well, it would be terrible. And I think they’re getting real close. But fortunately, they don’t know I’m on to them. And because of my job, I have access to some pretty powerful stuff to fight back with.”
Schneider emptied his beer. “What is your job exactly?”
“Come and look at something,” said Leonard.
Schneider followed Leonard out to the enclosed back porch. Leonard was wobbling a bit, but still managed to march like Eisenhower inspecting the troops, while Schneider was slinking like a
that was about to get stepped on. They both gazed out the back window. Chihuahua
“My God,” said Schneider. “Your lawn looks like a bad haircut.”
Leonard chuckled. “Yes it does.”
The lawn in Leonard’s back yard had been freshly-mowed. But instead of nice, neat paths of mown grass, Leonard’s lawn looked like it had been cut by a drunken sailor. The rows zigzagged in all directions and there were tufts of grass everywhere the mower had missed, which was a lot of places.
“I’m fighting back,” said Leonard triumphantly.
“What are you talking about?” asked Schneider.
Leonard answered as if scolding a kid who had just failed his math lesson. “It’s simple. I’ve got a riding mower with an automatic sensor so you can’t run into anything. It would practically mow the lawn by itself if I let it. It has lots of components. So I took it apart and deliberately mixed things up in there. Not so it wouldn’t work, just so it would be confused.”
Schneider scratched his head. “Confused?”
“Yes. You should have seen that mower. It had no idea where it was going. It even ran into the fence a few times. That’s how I’m going to defeat them. By confusing them badly enough so they forget about their plan to take over the world. And this is just the beginning. From now on, anything I find with components, I’m gonna take it apart and switch things around. It’s a matter of national security.”
Schneider sighed. “But won’t that make things worse? If every machine starts to behave erratically, we’ll all be even more pissed off than when we were just losing screws.”
“But we’ll be in control, not them. Think of it. If every machine that’s supposed to turn left turns right, if every machine that’s supposed to go forward goes backwards, if every machine that’s in standby mode turns on, than there’s no way they’ll have time to plot against us. They’ll be too busy trying to figure out what’s happening to them.”
“Sounds scary,” said Schneider. “There are a lot of dangerous machines out there.”
“No more dangerous than an army of little components pissing off the world. Yep, it’s gonna be a better place around here. No more lost screws. No more tangled up cords. No more computers thrown out the window.”
“Oh come on,” said Schneider. “Who throws computers out the window?”
“I did. Last week from my second floor office.”
“Let’s go have another beer,” suggested Schneider.
They went back inside and flopped down in their chairs. After they had polished off two more Fat Tires, Schneider decided to try one more time.
“So, where did you say you worked?” he asked, his voice slurring.
There was a long, long pause. Finally, Leonard looked straight into Schneider’s bloodshot eyes and said, “I work inside
. You’ve lived in the Springs most of your life, you must have heard of the place.” Cheyenne Mountain
“Oh, yeah,” muttered Schneider. “NORAD.”
Suddenly, Schneider sat up straight. Inside
, maybe ten minutes from his house, was a huge Air Force defense complex. It had been featured in several movies, including “War Games” with Matthew Broderick. During the Cold War they’d set up the place to manage Armageddon against the Soviets. And now that the Cold War was over, it was still there, hundreds of feet underground. No one was really sure what they did down there these days. Cheyenne Mountain
“And what is your job exactly?” asked Schneider softly.
“I’m a weapons tech,” answered Leonard proudly. “I work on nuclear missile guidance systems. Boy, you should see how many components those babies have.”
There was another long, long pause.
Leonard belched and Schneider farted.
“I need another beer,” declared Schneider.