Friday, September 17, 2010

Sci-fi week – Oedipus: The Author's Cut

When movies are released on video, sometimes the DVD contains an unrated "director's cut" which features the director's original vision of the film and includes several deleted scenes.  Well, this my "author's cut" of Oedipus.  This is how I originally envisoned the tragedy of Oedipus, and more or less how I would have wrote it if I wasn't working with a 1250 limit in mind.  The cynical will point out that I lengthened it considerably to get more dough from the magazine editors when it is published.  But anyway, this version gives extra insight into the backgrounds of the major characters, and, while it's longer than the original, I think it's a better story with deeper characters and stronger themes.  The screen adaptation of Oedipus will be even deeper, and with 2 hours or more to tell a story, it will be much more complete.

by The Author
(whose real name will be revealed when the movie comes out)

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 a 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, which had remained untouched for a while, suddenly opened. All eyes immediately swung away from the computer to see a middle-aged man and an escort of bodyguards 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, I 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 killed 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. President Gaius had installed windows there so passers-by 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. Suddenly he moved all of his own, breaking for the laboratory exit. But a large piece of furniture was thrown against the exit door. The President 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 that had just detached itself from a desk topped in computer gear. 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 Gaius’ 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 brutal work done, the computer flung the limp body aside and ran out of the building.”

Damon, his face pale, looked behind himself. 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 glowered 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 the 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. The man began to speak. “Oh President, 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 did not deny the last comment. It was common knowledge to everyone that Oedipus was an extraordinarily capable computer hacker. He was famed for his skills in fact. Before he became president, it was Oedipus’ ability with computers that once saved New York.

Weeks before Gaius’ murder, a large Egyptian army had attacked New York in full force. They brought with them a multitude of huge war machines and aggressive robots with only one purpose: to destroy all that was left of America. While America’s military outnumbered the human soldiers of the enemy, New York had no weapons anywhere near mighty enough to stop the advance of the machines. That day, American scientists and engineers had desperately sought for a way to counter the advance of the enemy, but all seemed hopeless for the country.

Oedipus had watched with silent horror and curiosity as the army marched across a field towards New York. Then he had gone to his computer and overriding the cryptic security settings of the enemy, was able to send a signal that incredibly shut down all their machines, which led to a quick and total victory for the Americans.

After the battle, Oedipus had instantly become famous, and his hacking skills were regarded as a blessing, rather than a curse, by all but those were unable to save the city as he had. Oedipus’ heroic actions drew the gratification and love of all the regular New York citizens, but only envy from other scientists and engineers. And envy, the computer reflected, could drive men to do terrible things.

Oedipus ignored Gaphros’ last comment. “Are you saying that the computer is not guilty?”

“Yes, and more! A computer will never be able to make its own decisions. Its human programmer will always be guilty for its actions. I say that you are this computer’s master. At first glance, you all are willing to blame the robot, but not I. Because you brought Gaius’ laboratory to life! You hacked his computer! You commanded it to kill Gaius! You are guilty!”

For a moment, everyone was stunned by this seemingly absurd exclamation. Oedipus spoke slowly with effort to stay calm, “Why do you accuse me of this? I’m the President of America, moreover the savior of this city! Why would I arrange a court meeting to find Gaius’ killer if I already knew it was me? Anyone could have hacked Gaius’ computer, and I least of all would want to do it.”

“Since when have human hands been efficient in carrying out their owner’s wishes? You murdered Gaius whether you willed or not. Don’t prove yourself blind as well as deaf. See how the computer looks at you. Only a servant to his master could show such respect and awe.”

Oedipus flew into a rage and moments later, black garbed guards were dragging the struggling 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 a 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. The police suspected the President might have been drunk at the time, or was perhaps envious of the other man. Either way, it was only for self-defense that the other man had hacked Gaius’ laboratory and, consciously or not, 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, although at the time he didn’t know with whom he was having it.

The messenger hesitated before finishing, “The name of the hacker 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, Leon, in particular was saying cruelly degrading things about his father. Still others were too stunned to 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.

The dark, shadowed streets of New York seemed even more uninviting after one had been in the well lit courthouse for hours. The computer tried to imagine how a human would act if one saw a huge, intimidating robot stalking the cold, dark roadways. Would the man run terrified for his life, or stand rooted to the ground and frozen in fear, like Gaius?

The computer walked down several alleys and passed a factory where engineers were hard at work examining and trying to replicate the Egyptian army’s machines. In the battle weeks ago, the Americans not only won salvation and freedom, but also the chance to study the superior technology of another civilization. The computer eventually found Oedipus sitting up against the wall of an apartment. His head was bent over and covered with his hands. The computer could hear him murmuring to himself, amidst the sound of depleted sobbing.

“I was so confident, not knowing that I was blind the whole time to what I had done. What good are worldly eyes when they can only show a man physical things, distractions from the real truth? And even in that they falter. I can only see this robot by the light its head gives off.” The computer’s black and grey body was like camouflage in the New York cityscape, and only the lights of his eyes on his monitor betrayed his form. “I feel like I could see better without my eyes.” Oedipus looked grimly at the computer.

Moments later, screams of a tortured being rang out in the streets. The computer had 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 gave up power. 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.

I thank anybody who reads this to the end.  A few updates on the publication process and other things.  Asimov's Science Fiction rejected Oedipus for publication because… well, I don't really know.  So right now, Analog Science Fiction and Fact should be looking over my cover letter.  Also, I've started writing the script for the movie version of Oedipus.  Hopefully I can begin casting in December or so.  I'll put up a list of parts here when that happens.  : )

2014 update: Heh heh.  Never happened.

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