Friday, March 5, 2010


"Oedipus" is a narrative tragedy that I've been writing for Great Books.  It is an original --and brilliant -- work straight from the mind of the Author.  The story is set in a futuristic New York, which is the capital of a decayed America.  Oedipus, the President of America, has unknowingly murdered the former president through a robot called "The Computer".  Ever since the murder of the president, New York has been afflicted by a plague of sorts.  Oedipus arranges a court meeting to uncover the meaning of this plague and how to remove it.  During the court, he will unravel the mystery of the former president's murder, and discover that it was he who committed the terrible deed.  You might notice some similarities to another classic story called "Oedipus".  ; )

Unfortunately, 1250 is the maximum word count for the great books project.  Lame!  When I finished Oedipus, I was at around 1700 words and it was perfect.  I hope you understand how hard it was to butcher my own writing to satisfy the word count, both for me and my paper grader at Great Books.  But, since Oedipus was enormously entertaining to write, and it's a great story I want to keep and share, I've preserved the original copy.

And without and more delay, here is Oedipus.

The city of New York was an industrial giant of a metropolis, with skyscrapers that stretched all the way into the clouds, dazzling light fixtures, and enormous factories. This capital of a fallen America used to inspire greatest awe -- now it was an apocalyptic terror that induced only fear in the eye of the beholder. Thick fog had descended widely upon the city, cloaking the skyscrapers and streets in irrepressible gloom. In New York, the sky used to be like a clear sheet of glass, through which one could look into space and see all the glory of its stars and planets and galaxies. And then the sky turned grey, and none of these things could be seen. Lights had begun to turn on and off at unpredictable intervals, giving the streets an eerie tone. New York had begun to fall into ruin.

This is the only way that the computer had ever seen New York. At the same time he had woken a month ago, the fog had come, along with the grey skies, and the other diseases of the city.

Right now, the computer stood alone inside the court building. It was no surprise that when people began to file into the courthouse, the computer drew many apprehensive eyes. The humans had their own robotic assistants at home, but none of them measured up to the stature of him. He was a hulking piece of machinery, built somewhat in the shape of a very tall man. But his arms were massive, and the large square monitor that functioned as his head grew right off of his body with no neck.
     Minutes passed and the room filled with people, anxiously aware of the computer’s presence. Nonetheless, the computer remained indifferent, as he had no heart or feelings. He was existent only to fulfill the orders of his master.

The doors to the courthouse opened. All eyes immediately swung away from the computer to see the middle-aged man walking down the hall. A loud applause rose for the man, and the computer didn’t have to look to know it was the new president of America, Oedipus himself.

The President took his place at the front of the hall. The audience became silent, anticipating the moment their leader would speak. Oedipus began, “I have summoned you here today to address a matter of dire importance. A month ago, your leader Gaius was killed. Shortly after his death, New York was attacked by a plague of sorts, which you’ve all noticed no doubt. You elected me your new president, and I promised to help remove this plague. I will not go back on that promise.”
     Once again, there was great applause from the audience. It was apparent how much they looked up to their leader. Oedipus continued, “There is talk in the churches that the plague has a supernatural cause. It is common belief that the plague has been caused by the murder of Gaius, and that only putting his murderer to justice will relieve the plague. Since there is no other definite theory as to the cause of the plague, we have decided to pursue this one. We will find Gaius’ murderer and put him to justice, wherever he hides. Can anyone in this house recount the murder of Gaius?"

One person, by the name of Damon, stood up and began to speak. “I witnessed President Gaius’ death. He was murdered in a terrible way. It brings me pain to recount his death for all of us.” He faltered for a moment. “We all knew of the president’s fascination with technology. He was especially fascinated with the possibilities of computer science. He built a laboratory and filled it with all the most advanced computers offered today and programmed them to do extraordinary things. Unfortunately, his science was what ultimately destroyed him.”
“I remember walking by his home one day. I went around to the corner of the house where his laboratory was. Gaius had installed windows there so passer-byes could look inside and admire all the wonderful things he had invented. I peered into one such window and saw the most peculiar –and frightening –image. The laboratory was in havoc: sparks exploding off surfaces, cords flying and wiggling like monstrous tentacles. I saw the president in the middle of the mayhem, frozen in his place and stunned with confusion. I screamed for him to run, but the noise and commotion amidst him blocked his ears to any other sound. And then he moved all of his own, breaking for the exit. But a large piece of furniture was thrown against the exit door. Gaius was trapped.”

“He turned, I think to see what had blocked the door, and his face lit up with terror. Once again, he was frozen to the floor, couldn’t move for fear. He was looking at a hulking robot. It was assembled out of different computer parts and looked like a man, but it was massive. The computer, I shall call it, strode in the president’s direction, and with its huge hands grabbed the president by the neck and throttled him violently. I could almost have heard his bones snap. Its work done, the computer ran out of the house.”

Damon looked behind him, his face pale. He pointed dramatically at the computer, exclaiming, “And here it is now, the murderer in this very house!” A great stirring swept across the hall. People looked contemptuously at the computer.
     The computer found their behavior ironic. If they sentenced him here and now for murder, they would prove themselves most foolish indeed.
     Oedipus shouted for quiet. “What do you mean by this?”
     “That computer at the back of hall killed Gaius! He is the one who committed the murder I have described.”
     “Then why should we hesitate? Arrest the computer! Gaius’ killer must be brought to justice!” Oedipus was terribly mistaken, the computer thought. The man thought that he had killed Gaius; no fact could be farther from the truth.

Before anybody could move, somebody stood up in the audience. The computer recognized the man instantly. He was Gaphros, a prophetic eccentric who lived on the streets. Gathros began to speak. “Oh Oedipus, you are so wise to accuse this machine. Of course the computer, which has no brain of its own, committed the crime, even if science itself dictates that a computer requires a greater mind to guide its actions. This is how the term “artificial intelligence” was coined.”
     “What are you suggesting?” said Oedipus.
     “The computer cannot choose its actions; the human is to do that job by programming. The computer in this instance was only told to murder Gaius by a different being. The world is full of hackers that use technology to overpower and command their computer minions. You yourself are proficient in this skill, aren’t you, Oedipus?”
     Oedipus ignored the last comment. “Are you saying that the computer is not guilty?”
     “Yes, and more! You brought Gaius’ laboratory to life. You hacked his computer. You commanded it to kill Gaius. You are responsible!”
     Moments later, black garbed guards were dragging the raging Gaphros out of the building. A weary Oedipus dismissed the court for a break and the computer was left alone to his thoughts. Grim thoughts, for soon Oedipus’ whole life would fall apart. The president would be punished severely for the crime he never knew he had committed. The once “peoples’ favorite” would become an object of loathing. The computer knew his master was about to suffer greatly.

The court presently filed back into the room. Oedipus resumed his position at the front of the hall. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted when a messenger from the police entered the hall. The messenger reported that the police had been examining the internet history of one of Gaius’ surviving computers and they found vital information regarding his murder. Shortly before his laboratory came to life, the former president had been having a violent conversation with another man over the internet. Gaius, posing under a different name, had called the other person a great deal of obscenities and threatened to kill him and his family. Therefore, it was only for self-defense that the other man hacked Gaius’ laboratory and ordered the computer to attack him.
     The computer saw a flash of fear in his master’s eyes. Perhaps he was recollecting that very fight.
     The messenger finished, “The name of the other man was Oedipus. It’s not a common name."

Oedipus cried out and ran down the hall. The prophesies of Gaphros, which he had so easily dismissed earlier, were true!
     The computer watched his master run out of the building into the dark, foreboding streets of New York. No one tried to follow him. Everyone was as surprised as Oedipus was. Some people wept, like the president’s wife Althaea. Others were angry with their leader, shocked that he would do such an evil thing. Oedipus’ younger son in particular was saying cruelly degrading things about his father. Still others were too stunned too feel any emotions at all.
     Suddenly, the computer felt a strong urge which he couldn’t resist pulling him outside. His master was calling him.
A while later, screams of a tortured being rang out in the streets. The computer once more carried out a terrible command of Oedipus, to put out the man’s own eyes.

Oedipus resigned of his own will. But even though Gaius’ murderer was brought to justice, the plague didn’t go away from New York. Indeed, things were only going to become worse from the time Oedipus reigned. Oedipus’ two sons, Leon and Theon, seized the power of presidency by deceit. Leon heartlessly banished his father from the city. He would not go alone, but the computer would accompany him and be his guide and protector.
     As they boarded the shuttle that would fly them out of America, the computer looked back on the city and thought. This ordeal had not only been a tragedy for Oedipus, but for the whole country.