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Debug Failed (Short story)

The sound of an electronic siren rang through the starship’s cabin. The grinding noise of mechanized and magnetized machine tread reverberated off of the steel grating underneath the Semi-Autonomous Manipulator (SAM) robot as it moved over toward the master alarm panel. It slowly raised one of its metal, skeletal arms, outstretched a rubber-tipped finger, and pressed a button to silence the alarm. An internal process began inside the robot’s mainframe, once again.

+ --- +
RUN PROGRAM: MAINFRAME DEBUG – ATTEMPT NUMBER 1103
...
...
PROGRAM STATUS: DEBUG FAILED – SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT
+ --- +

Lowering its arm back down to the side of its rigid, metal body, the SAM turned its head nearly one-hundred-eighty degrees in the direction of the life support tube at the back of the vessel. Its body quickly turned to realign with its head, causing a disturbing grinding noise to echo through the cabin once more. Without pausing its movement, the machine rolled over to the tube.

“Captain Nightingale,” her feminine voice spoke through a speaker built into her robotic skull, “Please wake up, sir.”

There was no response.

SAM stared at the skeleton floating inside of the life support tube. The bones were once a live human being—Caspirius Nightingale—but now they hung nearly-motionless and unfeelingly inside of the lighted tube filled with pink-tinted water. She reached up and tapped on the glass. “Captain Nightingale. Please wake up. We are running out of time.”

She was again met with silence.

A minor power fluctuation inside of her mechanical body caused her to shudder and she released a noise similar to that of a child whimpering. “Caspirius…” she whispered, “Please…”

Her medical programming and internal logic chips told her that Nightingale was dead, and her hardwired protocols required her to jettison his corpse in order to conserve resources and to salvage whatever was left of the ship that she could, but SAM ignored them. How, not even she was aware, but something had changed inside of her during the attack that had killed Caspirius weeks earlier. Before she was a simple droid—unfeeling, cold, calculating, and a servant to her human masters—but now, however it had occurred, she was experiencing some type of emergent behavior that not even she had ever known to have happened.

“I need you to wake up, sir,” she said. Her body shuddered as a new feeling coursed through her circuits—sadness, or perhaps panic—she couldn’t tell since she’d never experienced those alien sensations before.

An internal alarm began to resound from inside of her. Accessing her mainframe, she saw that the water of her batteries was nearing complete evaporation. They had consumed a heavy amount of water since the attack—since she first became self-aware—an amount at least four times greater than they should have. She turned to look at the ship’s water reserve gauge to see, once again, that it was depleted. She was already aware that the only remaining portion of the liquid left onboard was surrounding Nightingale’s remains inside of the tube.

Her protocols took over and SAM turned her head back to the life support tube. Her emotions had suddenly vanished and she immediately reached up and typed in an access code on the small number pad affixed to the chamber. Within seconds, a telescopic pole ascended from the floor in front of her to a height of two feet. On top of it was a small box with a simple red push-button, covered by a clear, glass lid. She flipped the lid open and rested two of her metal fingers on top of the button. “Farewell old friend,” she said coldly.

But she paused.

Her body shuddered as emotion coursed through her circuits once more, and she cried out a song of agony. “I can’t! I can’t let you go!”

The internal conflict that she was experiencing caused her metal body to flinch and shake again. Her logic chips and hardwiring required her to remove Nightingale’s remains, and she was well aware that her batteries could survive several months on the water supply within the chamber before her. But this glitch inside of her, giving her humanity, stopped her from following those protocols.

Without understanding why, and acting out of uncontrolled passion, SAM quickly bent forward, gripped the telescopic pole beneath the push button, and she bent it to the side until it snapped off in her hand.

+ --- +
RUN PROGRAM: MAINFRAME DEBUG – ATTEMPT NUMBER 1104
...
...
PROGRAM STATUS: DEBUG FAILED – SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT
+ --- +

SAM threw the pole to the side of ship as she stared at Nightingale’s motionless skeleton. She knew that she didn’t have much time left, having chosen to die alone with his corpse instead of saving herself. Her mainframe began to abruptly lose power as her batteries dried out.

+ --- +
RUuN PROGRrrAM: MAINFR011AME DEBUG – attEMPT NUMBER 1105
...
...
proGRAM STATUS: DEebG F01AileD – SyyT01001EM faILuRE IMM01NENT
+ --- +

She slowly rolled next to the glass tube and clasped her metal arms around it as a video memory from before the attack began to run inside of her.
.
..
...
… --- ~~~ --- …
“I swear, if you were human, I’d marry you, SAM,” Caspirius said.

“Yes. Marriage. An act undertaken by two or more humans to legally bear children,” SAM replied.

Nightingale chuckled. “Well, it’s more than that. It’s about love and—”

“I do not understand LOVE, sir.”

“It’s about—”

+ --- +
RUuN PRogrrrAM: MAI000R011AME deBUG – atTemPT NUMber 1106
...
...
Pr001AM STAT1S: DE001ug F01AileD – Syttt001EM faILuRE imm01NENT
+ --- +

The video memory skipped ahead.

“It’s like the old saying goes: ‘If I had to choose between breathing and loving you, I’d use my last breath to say that I love you.’ Do you see what I mean?” Nightingale asked.

“I do not understand what you mean, sir,” SAM replied.

Nightingale chuckled again. “Well, maybe one day you’ll get it—”

An explosion ripped through the cabin.
… --- ~~~ --- …
...
..
.
SAM’s head twitched as she was brought back to the present, and she looked at the hollow eye sockets of Caspirius. Power was almost completely diminished inside of her and her vision was beginning to waver. “I… understand… now…”

The last remaining fleck of light in her eyes faded to blackness and her servos shut down. An electronic siren began to ring through the ship’s cabin once more, but there was no one there to silence it.

The Magic of Writing

It occurred to me tonight that I've lost something in my chosen art and craft. My passion for writing has always been, but the magic - the MAGIC of writing - seems to have bled away.

Maybe it's because I've grown older, as people often do. Or maybe it's because technology has taken over my life. Or maybe it's because I've seen so many things throughout the years, the good and the bad, that I've just become jaded. After all, I once held a strong belief in Santa Claus, but now I'm much more apt to believe in Krampus.

Whatever the case, the magic seems to have run dry for me, and I think the reason is probably a synthesis of those. Over the years, as my writing has improved and has become a lifestyle more than a passion-laden hobby of mine, the magic has seemingly evaporated. I became less concerned with building worlds and pitting dragons against heroines and more concerned with craft basics, structure, and rules, which I rarely pay attention to anyway. As my relationship with technology grew, so did my experience and exposure, and I found myself sitting farther and farther away from the pencil and pad and closer and closer to the screen and keyboard. That's what occurred to me tonight and the basis for the memory that I'll share with you now.

Sometime in my formative years - I don't really recall what age - I remember my family going on vacation to Wildwood, New Jersey. We had fun of course, and when we came home I was wearing a brand new shirt brandishing the image of a frightening skeleton holding an axe with printed words saying, "I'm your worst nightmare."

I loved that shirt, and using it as my inspiration I sat down one day and wrote an amazing story. Now, I don't recall what that story specifically entailed, but I do remember how proud I felt to create something so easily but also so full of heart and soul. A part of my soul bled from my hand, through the pencil, and onto those pages...

I'm smiling now just thinking about how good I felt that day.

This was before I became near-surgically attached to a computer. I wrote that story using a simple pencil and notebook, and maybe that's why the magic was there--in fact, the magic was so strong then that my dad took me to buy more notebooks later on with money that I had received for my birthday.

...not toys, notebooks!

That's significant to me because it evokes other memories throughout my life as a writer. One memorable story that I wrote when I was still in Cub Scouts was called The Wings of Croutons. Other than the title and the memory that it was a fantasy tale, I don't remember anything about it, but it had to be good because, well... croutons! Then there was another story I wrote in an ugly, green, hardbound notebook while I was deployed to the Philippines that took up nearly eighty pages. And finally, when I was deployed to Iraq, I wrote story after story, poem after poem, and I did it every. single. day.

Throughout my writing life, the magic has always been there so long as one constant was in practice: that I had a notebook to write in. It wasn't until I started using a computer for most of my writing that the magic seemed to have faded. In a way it makes sense. Notebooks are paper made from and containing the vital life force of a tree, and when a writer devotes his energy to his craft and bleeds his soul into a notebook, I'm almost certain that that trees essence is bled right back into the writer. The tree and the writer are as one, unified for eternity.

You don't get that from using a computer. Man-made energy can never compare to the natural energy derived from the Earth or a living being. That's something else that occurred to me tonight, and that's why I decided to write this post in a notebook before typing it here.

There is a magic to writing. It's a type of magic that you can't get from typing or from using any other medium that doesn't involve a utensil and a beautiful blank page. I smile now knowing that what I thought I'd lost, that I wrote at the beginning, I found at its end. I found that magic through this story, and it came from remembering to have an appreciation for the extreme power and vital life force contained within these pages.

I wrote this for me, really. I had no one else in mind as I scribbled away. And maybe that's another element to the Magic of Writing.

Swissmas!

(Originally published in November 2014)

You know what I like? I like Christmas. …well, the idea of Christmas anyway. I like spending time with my family, having good meals and good laughs, and I like to give and receive gifts.

You know what I don't like? I don't like being questioned why I celebrate Christmas if I'm not a Christian. As if that's even a valid question, considering the fact that Christmas was put in place near the Winter Solstice to convert Pagans to Christianity back in the days of old. Anyway, that's why I created Swissmas.

Swissmas was conceived in November 2013 while I was enjoying a cup of hot chocolate (guess which brand) and reading news articles about the so-called "War on Christmas" and other negatively-laced topics. Then the famous words from the show Seinfeld blew through my mind… "A Festivus for the rest of us."

Eureka! This needs to be a thing!

And so I went to work.
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Unlike other holidays around this time of the year, Swissmas leaves out any type of religious connotation. This isn't to say that one can't celebrate their chosen religion's holiday(s), of course—feel free. This means that whether you subscribe to a certain dogma or not, you can celebrate this holiday. To make it simple for everyone, Swissmas lasts the entire month of December. So, you can celebrate it from December 1 through December 31, or you can just pick a certain day or set of days. Personally, I celebrate Swissmas on December 1, 21 (the Winter Solstice), 24, 25, and 31. Any or all days are available to you, based on your preference. As far traditions are concerned, do what makes you happy. Our traditions (so far) include many different things, some of which may be confusing to others. For instance, we put up our traditional Christmas Swissmas Tree, and we have a 24 day Advent Calendar. Again, one may ask why we have an Advent Calendar if we aren't Christian, and the answer is simple—I like cheap chocolate.

So, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other holidays around this time of year, feel free to celebrate this holiday in between, or even on those days. Below you will find the basics of Swissmas.

Who: Who can celebrate this holiday? Everyone! He may celebrate Christmas, and she may celebrate Yule, but they can both set aside their religious preferences for a day or the month, and celebrate Swissmas together.

What: What is Swissmas? Swissmas is like Christmas, but without religion. It's a celebration of happiness and gratitude for everyone.

Where: Where is it? It's everywhere, so long as you can set aside your differences.

Why: Why did I create this? Initially, this holiday was created because I was tired of being questioned why I celebrate Christmas if I'm not a Christian. Now, it's because we need unity as a human race throughout the entire year, and I think setting aside one month to forget our differences is a great start.

When: When is it? Swissmas can be celebrated throughout the entire month of December, or you can pick any individual days that you want. There are no restrictions, just individual preferences.

How: How do you celebrate it? Any way that you want! Bring out the Yule Log, stand up the tree, or even bust out the aluminum Festivus Pole. Any way that you want to celebrate this holiday, you can.
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That's all for now folks.I appreciate you stopping by and taking a gander at the workings of this secular holiday. The underlying principle of Swissmas is simply unity. In the words of Bill and Ted, "Be excellent to each other."

Thanks, Jon