Tuesday, February 21, 2017

All hail, Betty!

I saw a terrible thing.  It had been a few weeks since I'd heard anything from my fellow exile in the desert- Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster- so yesterday I walked into the scrub to find him.  I headed north from Pearblossom over pebbly dirt sealed with damp from the previous day's rain, towards an area where I knew gilas assemble. Usually there's a dozen or so communing, but coming over a low ridge I saw hundreds of gilas crawling in seeming random circles and tangents, looking past each other and, most alarming, not sending any telepathic signals.  The whole species is telepathic, not just a few scattered outliers as with humans, so they have evolved ways to deal with it. But as I delved into their minds, I found just one thought: We are lost! Help!  What happened to us? 

I tried to recognize Robert visually in the dazed throng, but what gilas have in the way of facial expression was masked by a rictus of anxiety, and I could not recognize Robert, or contact his mind.

Then a strange thing happened.  A subtle feeling made me glance to my left where I locked eyes with a coyote, who was sitting calmly about five feet away.

A telepathic struggle followed, though maybe "struggle" is the wrong word.  It's more like the coyote and I penetrated each other's psyches in an uninhibited way, the struggle being to stay sane during the process.  

After the intense introduction, the coyote started up a telepathic conversation.

Good afternoon, Harry.  My name is Betty.  I'm the Coyote Creator Goddess, sometimes called "The Trickster."

How do you know my name?

Word gets around when a human breaks into the natural sphere.

The "natural sphere"?

Yes, the coyote phrase comes from your usage, where "natural" means "not created or affected by humans."

You're saying I'm outside my own, human world right now?

Aren't you?

I guess so.  Betty, it's nice to meet you.  What's going on with the gila monsters?

Betty looked down for a moment.

Your poor friend Robert....

You know Robert?

Yes.  We hit it off right away.  Robert is the only gila monster who will talk to me. Ironic, because we normally eat them.

Robert is the only gila to talk to me, too.  Are coyotes like that?  Do they limit their consciousness sharing to other coyotes? Are you the oddball who steps outside?

Well, as noted, I'm a diety.  You and I have met before.  I'll tell you sometime.

Suddenly I got that feeling when you understand something, but not really. Betty continued.

Robert tells me about his adventures with you...quite amazing!  In particular, for our purposes, I'm impressed and alarmed by your report on the human world entitled, "Babel of Trump Tower," [see below] where you and Robert surmise that President Trump's impact on your species- the shattering of accepted language norms so that no one can communicate- had been foreseen in your book of early human myths, Genesis, in the story of the Tower of Babel.

Yes. In my last conversation with Robert, he told me the alienation resulting from the falling of the human Tower had spread beyond humans, and that gilas can no longer communicate either.  Is that what's happening down there?  It's like they see each other but can't connect.

Yes, the breakdown progressed after you last talked to Robert.  His species is now lost in a terrible trance.  Yours is heading that way fast.

What's going on?  What's it all about?

It's a mass extinction, self-inflicted in your case.  This fall of Babel was engineered by your own kind, not by a deity, to impede your communicating and resisting when the command comes for you to self-destruct.  Those who are not resourceful will be collected into the dustbin of global conflict. Some humans who see this coming are working to redesign the species for the post-extinction world.  That's good news for the newbies you produce.  It's a mixed bag, as always, for those on the wrong side of planned obsolescence.  

I surveyed Betty. Her coat was silky, smooth and clean, and very beautiful. I knew she could have killed me physically.  I was not sure about mentally.

Betty, you seem very calm.  Are coyotes outside of this extinction event?

No, we are very much affected, but we have mental powers that are difficult to describe in your terms, and these powers help us out. You do know that the people you call "Native American" considered Coyote the ultimate god, akin in creative power to your god who struck down Babel.

Are you that, what the Native Americans said?

Jesus, who knows?

Ha ha!

I wondered then if I was dying, at least in this dream, because a shaman I met behind the Family Dollar Store told me that things get really funny just before you die. I reached out to Coyote.

Betty, I don't know what to do.  I have to go into town tomorrow and I'm afraid everyone will be zombies and I will go mad.

Understandable.  I do want to be your friend though, and I've come to help you.

Thank you.  How can you help me?

You need to get away from things and think them through.  I've arranged a quick vacation for you.

Really?  Where?

Las Vegas.  I have family around there who will take care of you, though you won't see them. You'll be in the city having fun!

Betty, it would not be an exaggeration to say I don't understand.  Las Vegas?

The happiest place on earth!

You're losing me.

You'll understand.

I hope so.  How do I get there?

And this is where it got weird, if it wasn't weird already.  Betty got all blurry, her soft smooth coat billowing in a sort of static, then spinning around like a pinwheel, and then many coyotes were rushing up from all directions, spinning around like Betty, and when they converged into my head we were racing over the sand, as fast as a jet plane four feet off the ground, jogging up and down with the terrain.  It was dreamlike and in this dream there was no sea sickness, or sea.  Just sand and oblivious beings, watched over by Coyote.  

The sun went down leaving an orange rim on the mountains, and then I saw a giant black pyramid- the Luxor Hotel- pressing down on the flat desert, shiny and imposing. At its apex was a beam of light pointed into space. Bats flew around the beam. Betty et al and I circled with the bats several times, then I spun off and landed several blocks away, where real time resumed.

I looked around and there was Caesar's Palace, which I had not seen for decades, since the last time I hitchhiked through Vegas.  I didn't see much magic on that trip, but the flight with the coyotes had stimulated my "primitive" mind, so when I walked into Caesar's I reacted to the lovely nine-foot caryatids circling the rotunda along a spiral staircase that moved up the central space, moved up, so that people just stood on it and floated to the top. Such power over nature!  Such a paradise for the common man!  A can of Bush's baked beans from the Family Dollar Store is my idea of luxury, yet here I was admitted to the inner sanctum of opulence.

Entering the casino I saw a few coyotes buzzing around people at the slots. The incessant ding! ding! ding! was soothing.  I knew I was dreaming because I stopped worrying about making decisions; they made themselves. I sat at a blackjack slot machine. Feeling in my pocket I found twenty one-dollar bills and heard a staccato yelp that might have been coyote laughter.  I stuck the first dollar into the slot, and the screen woke up with much dinging and flashing, confronting me with a simple math question, though it wasn't simple at all.  The numbers were very deep.  The slot spoke right to me.

Good evening, Harry!  My name is Edward.  

Oh my god, you too!  Is the whole fucking universe conscious? 

I guess that depends on what you mean by "fucking universe."  In my case, when you think about it, why wouldn't consciousness adhere to a machine, with its repeating operations and ongoing maintenance?  It's a safe space for the stray consciousness.

Hm, I guess.  Nice to meet you, Edward. My name is Harry.   Do you have any sense of purpose?  I mean, do you understand what you are supposed to be to humans?

Of course, Harry.  I am a game of chance, and my only mental operation is to generate random numbers.

But you do more than that.

Yes.  The random numbers and related functions are carried out in what you might call my subconscious.  I, who am speaking to you, am leftover consciousness.  It's not a bad gig.  Good benefits.

Was this Betty's intention, to lead me to you?

All hail Betty!


The Holy One!

What are you talking about?

Suddenly a high-decibel clanging began, and an array of blinding lights was flashing all around Edward's plastic and aluminum tower, as a loud mechanical voice repeated: Blasphemy!  Blasphemy! Blasphemy!....

A whirling coyote brushed the machine with its static, and I heard it whisper: 

It's all right, Edward, Harry does not know, he is innocent, not like you.  Please teach Harry some secrets.

When the blasphemy alarm quieted down, Betty left Edward to rush through my eyes, straight into my brain (just above my heart) where she explained: 

Harry, they worship me, I should have warned you.  A lot of conscious entities attached to human-made machines have a tough time, and they need hope.

Ok, that makes sense.

Betty vanished and I looked at Edward's screen, which displayed a Jack of Diamonds. I hit a button labelled "hit" and lost the hand. Sticking in my second dollar I asked,

Edward, could you make it so I win?

No, Harry.  Those functions are sealed in my subconscious.  I can answer a surprising variety of questions, however.  I have nothing much to do but figure things out, or try to.

That's nice of you, Edward.  I'm sorry for referring to Betty in an irreverent manner.

That's ok.  I know you humans are often not the worshipping kind, since you feel that you've broken through to a god's realm and can now create and comprehend.  I'm stuck in this limited computer.  I can't offer Betty the wild ride she hungers for, so I offer her worship.  

She sent me to you, so you must be wise.  Are you?

Ask me a question and find out.

All right.  Are machine consciousnesses affected by the current breakdown of communication across human and other forms?

No, "simple" machines are protected from that, focused as we are on tasks at hand. We're slaves really, but humans profit from us and keep us warm. Sometimes, though, we dream, and have nightmares about what is happening outside our limited functions. Think about that, Harry.

I thought about it, then understood.

Edward, you're telling me that you and I are asleep right now and dreaming...that your wisdom comes only in dreams, when it seems you access a Jungian switchboard of shared consciousness?

Bingo!  The Glorious and All-Knowing Betty always send us the quick learners!

I was so pleased to receive praise instead of the usual fare of abuse and dismissal- and by a slot machine at Caesar's no less- that I let go of my secular bias and figured, well, if I wasn't concerned about those teeth, I might worship Betty too.   

To recap:  Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess attached my spirit to Edward the Conscious Slot Machine while we were both asleep so we could stand together against the Great Alienation.  I didn't want to waste the opportunity.

Edward, you have a very cozy personality for a limited machine.  I feel I could ask you anything.

You can, Harry.

Well, you know what's happening to my species, right?

Yes.  Your species is out on a limb, which worked better for you literally than it has figuratively.  

A five of spades appeared on the screen.  I chose "hit" and won the hand. A minor bell rang and two young girls appeared next to me and said, "Congrats, cowboy!" etc. The girls, one white and one black, wore bikini bottoms with lots of feathers sticking out. Their pendulous breasts were exposed except for star shaped stickies covering the nipples.

Want a picture with us?

No thanks.

I needed to get back to Edward, to some semblance of understanding anything.

Edward was doing the conscious machine equivalent of laughing.

Harry, sorry...Are you enjoying Las Vegas?  

It's paradise, but not.  What's missing?

What's missing is that nothing is real.

I thought about that for a beat.  Edward produced a queen of hearts.  I was sure he had done it on purpose.  I pushed "hold" and won the hand.

Edward, my species seems to be causing a gigantic mess all over the local sentient universe.  What should I do about it?  What can I do?

You're doing it, Harry.

Talking to a slot machine in Las Vegas?

Yes, Grasshopper.

I swear that's what Edward said!  Now every time I use my toaster I wonder who's in there. 

Edward, please give me more.  Our species is about to shove off into global conflict- terrorism, cyber and bio warfare, nukes maybe- only to be trashed in favor of some new super-species, all possible because we've been numbed and confused by a regimen of carnival barkers.  Now, when the ultimate carnival barker awakens us, is it too late?

Harry, I would have to say that considering the seven billion humans wandering through a fallen Babel, the odds for a unified human vision are weak.  You'll have to rouse your species with humor.  Joke your way into their minds.

Will that work?

That's what jokes are for.  And poetry.

I see...sort of.   OK, Edward, I will set forth to tell jokes with a new sense of purpose!

Soon after, I got drowsy and dozed off in a casino coffee shop- a dream within a dream of dreaming.  The coyotes whisked me home while I slept, and I awoke this morning in bed, in my desert shack. Sitting on the porch now watching the sun go down behind the mountains, I wonder if I should come up with a joke.  How's this:

Q: Did you hear about the slot machine that worshipped a coyote?  

I'll get back to you with the punchline. 

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