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Paul Fail. FTW!

You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
So here I am to try, and to fail, so I can learn.
Paul Fail. For The Win!

20 October 2013

Shuttering the Establishment

And so it ends. 

Lost Estate was, indeed, talking about my blog here.  I'm closing shop and moving the establishment over to WordPress.  It was time.  I explain the move over there, and as soon as I figure out how to do the blogroll on WordPress I'll be adding everyone in.

Take care, and thanks for stopping by and visiting.

All the best,
Paul

28 September 2013

#FridayFlash: Lost Estate

Lost Estate
©2013 D. Paul Angel
985 words


He shook the Estate's elaborate wrought iron gates, impressed that they remained tightly and firmly locked.  Unfortunately his long absence meant that the walls surrounding the gate's pillars had long since collapsed, rendering the gates themselves little more than useless ornamentation.  Sighing, he took the easy path proffered and avoided the hassle of unlocking the gates.

Walking up the long driveway he saw the weeds were well on their way to overtaking the cracking asphalt.  Their ivy brethren as well were already hard at work reclaiming the classical statuary lining its broad, gentle curves.  He couldn't help but stop at the fountain in the driveway before the Mansion, it had, after all, always been a favorite.

The statue of a Greek nymph pouring water from a jug was largely intact but heavily stained with moss and lichens.  The pool was now green and polliwogs skittered about just below the surface.  There were many good pictures here he thought, chagrined at his decision to leave his camera behind.  But then, he reminded himself, this wasn't a trip to create, but to deal with what he had started.  After all, the Estate hadn't decided to crumble of it's own accord; that had been his decision.  Not even a decision, per se, but simply a matter of neglect.  But even neglect was simply a decision unmade, was it not?

He wasn't surprised that Entropy had won another battle against him, he had never been particularly good at the constant vigilance required to truly fight it.  Knowledge alone wasn't enough to assuage his feelings of loss though.  This place had had so much... potential.  He both embraced and loathed the word.  It hinted at so many promises, but was ever at the mercy of the ubiquitous "if's" that were forever interrupting Life's simple paths.

He flicked the water, scattering the polliwogs and bade an unseen frog jump further away before continuing to the Mansion itself.  Its huge, unfinished wings loomed in mocking reminder of wasted potential.  Or was it merely over ambition?  He had to admit to himself a small cottage with a simple garden would have been far easier to maintain than a lavish estate.

He walked around to the back of the house mulling his own hubris.  The Mansion and it's skeletal wings stood on a rise from which he could see the various fields and ancient woods.  Barley, for when he finished the distillery.  Hops as well for the unfinished brewery.  The now wild grapes might make someone happy someday too, but he would never see a bottle of that vintage.  The vegetable garden had long since gone to weeds, and if he hadn't planted them himself, he never would have known that hot peppers once grew there too.

He turned to the green behind the house and between the wings.  It was the perfect locale for a party.  The three sides of the Mansion had pulleys built into them as well to support awnings for Winter gatherings.  He walked through the tall grass, picking his way through larger weeds and tramping over wide swathes of dandelions.  He thought of the parties he had dreamt having here, regretted as always that he never actually held one.  Only this time, he knew, there would be no "next time" to ameliorate his disappointment in himself.

He pushed through the french doors, wincing at the creaking struggle required for their opening.  The ballroom stood empty, its cavernous walls dully echoing his footsteps.  It had held more workers than guests, he was sad to admit; but that was why he had come.  To embrace the sadness, to feel it, and then (he hoped) to let it go.

Through the catering kitchen, past the mini theater and sunroom, he came to the foyer.  The grand staircase still stood, although its balustrades were now merely home to spiders who knew not of the class of neighborhood in which they awaited their prey.  Or perhaps, he mused, maybe they did and enjoyed their meal all the more?

His moment of whimsy was quickly forgot as he rounded the folding table, incongruously set between the intricately mosaiced floor and lavish crystal chandelier.  No amount of dust could dilute their elegance; no amount of cleanliness could impart anything close to the same on the table.  It was, after all, only there to display the Estate's blueprints.

He opened the roll of blueprints, smoothing down the edges he unrolled them.  He traced the walls and plans with his finger in a shaft of sun through the upper floor windows.  As late as it was getting, he had to look through them.  All of them.  Page by page he turned, studying his ambitions writ large in white lines on a deep blue background.  Most he remembered, though some had been wholly forgotten long, long ago.  All pained him in one way or another, but some hurt with the rawness of a deep gash thrust into salt water.

He cried a bit, but only just.  Too many tears had already been shed on his journey back here.  There simply were no more to offer.  That was when he knew it was time.  His mind stilled and he methodically went about his preparations.  The small can of lighter fluid was more than sufficient to soak the plans.  He started to lay them back on the table but then decided against it.  The table was what did not belong, everything else did.

So he struck the match and lit the plans before dropping them on the floor.  He watched as the fire's consumption smeared ash across the floor's scene; watched until only a frail pile of char remained.  Then he took the table, and walked out the door.  The table would fit in well at his new place.

It was a small cottage with a tiny garden that could only just see a hint of the sea through the trees.

20 April 2012

#FridayFlash: Schroedinger's Traffic Light

Schroedinger's Traffic Light
©2012 D. Paul Angel
561 Words

"Is there a problem Officer?"

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"Why no, I'm afraid I do not.  Was I speeding?"

"No Ma'am, you were not speeding, but you did just run a red light."

"Oh, but I couldn't have."

"Excuse me Ma'am, but I was on the cross street.  Our light turned green before you even entered the intersection."

"Ah, that makes me feel better then.  So you did not see that it was red either."

"I don't need to Ma'am. Since my light was green I know yours was red."

"Actually, Officer, you do not know it was red, but you are inferring it was red."

"You are certainly free to make that argument to the Judge, but I'm still issuing you a citation."

"Well it should be an easy argument then since neither of can say for sure whether or not the light was red."

"I've been writing tickets for nine years Ma'am. I've never yet seen someone get off on a ticket by claiming they didn't notice the light was red."

"Oh but I could not have noticed. My eyes were closed."

"Excuse me Ma'am, did you say your eyes were closed?"

"Well of course."

"Ma'am I cannot even begin to tell you how unsafe that is."

"Oh not at all, Officer! I do it all the time."

"You what? Ma'am- I don't even know where to begin!"

"Really? Why? Is there a statute against closing one's eyes whilst driving?"

"No... Not specifically, no.  But there is a statute against reckless driving."

"Young man I assure you  that closing my eyes was not reckless. It was quite intentional."

"Ma'am, being intentionally reckless just makes it worse.  I'm going to have to write you up for that, too."

"Oh dear. It is not like I do it all the time officer, just at intersections."

"But Ma'am, that's- that's the very worst time you could do it."

"Oh no Officer, not at all.  But it is why I cannot be guilty of a red light violation."

"Ma'am-"

"See with my eyes closed the light existed in all three states simultaneously.  Red, Yellow, and Green.  Since I did not open my eyes until after I passed  through, the light's state was never resolved."

"Ma'am, whether you choose to look or not, the light still changes.  And the Judge, I know him Ma'am, he's not going to care about your reasons."  

"Oh but he has to. I cannot have run a Red light that didn't exist, now then could I? That would just be silly."

"Ma'am, please-"

"And, frankly, since you could not see it either, the light's waveform was just as amorphous in your reality as it was in mine.  Oh you will testify  for me, won't you Officer?"

"Ma'am. Again. My light was green."

"Oh I'm not disputing that the yellow and red waveforms collapsed for your light. Of course not, dear!  It just has no more affect on my light at a quantum  level than whether it was raining or sunny out.  Don't you see?"

"Frankly, no.  But here's your ticket so you can try your luck with the Judge."

"But... Officer!" 

"And you can open your eyes Ma'am.  My signature on the ticket instantly collapsed the reality in which you didn't get it."


16 March 2012

Mom 1943-2012

I wanted to share why I've been gone so much this year.  I lost my Mom to cancer in February.  It was very aggressive and, by they time they found it, had already metacised and spread.  She died six weeks after diagnosis.  Mom grew up in Southern California and then spent the rest of her life in Santa Cruz.  We did two services for her.  The one in Santa Cruz was a very open and people were asked to share their thoughts.  My Eulogy below was the final one given that day, and is my own personal remembrances.

I should add that neither of these were given as written.  I did not write them down until after, and only then because of the encouragement from some of my friends.  I had only cryptic notes and a general sense of what I wanted to say, then spoke off the cuff from there.


Hello, and thank you all for coming out. We greatly appreciate it.

You know, everyone's Mom touches their life, for good or for bad.  So as children it is sometimes easy to forget that our Mom's touch the lives of others as friends and family.  So, even as an adult, it is staggering to see so many of you here, and also deeply humbling.

Kahlil Gibran has a quote which I'm not going to try and remember precisely, but, roughly it points us to that; everyone knows that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. But the flip side of that is also that it is as strong as its strongest link.

You and Mom were each other's strongest link.

I'd like to share some of my memories now, starting with when I was about 4. I was playing with my brother in the yard and had climbed into the plum tree. Then I dared my brother that, "I bet you can't hit me with a dirt clod."

So, of course, he pick up a dirt clod and hits me with it on his first throw.  Well, as any true 4 year old would, I ran into the house crying and pointing, telling Mom that, "He was throwing dirt clods at me!"

Well Mom got us both into our respective rooms, talked with my brother and then came into my room. She sat down, looked me in the eye and asked, "If you didn't want to get hit by a dirt clod, why did you bet him he couldn't?"

Now this is not just a staggeringly good question for a 4 year old, but for anyone at any age, and I know that it has helped shape me in who I am.

Mom also had a love of Books and Words that shared with me. I know it has helped push me in my own writing, but she shared it with so many others, too. From the kids at the school to the seniors at Aegis, she loved to read and to share.

She and Dad were also wonderful in letting my brother and I find and follow our own paths. She liked to share the story of Dad, my brother, and I watching a College Football game.

Dad was simply enjoying the game, but my brother was horrified that he might have to play football to go to college, while I was horrified that I might have to go to college to play football.

Through it all they supported us and gave us wisdom.

Mom also loved the Serenity prayer*:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

The wisdom's the tricky part, of course, but Mom did fairly well with it.

Another saying Mom shared with me once came from her flying days. We were driving home from school and talking about how brave pilots must be, and astronauts, and the like, and she told me this saying from when she was a Flight Attendant:

If it's not your time, don't worry about it.
If it is your time, don't fight.

Mom lived up to those words.

Her diagnosis was so overwhelming that she accepted it, and that has made dealing with it so much easier for the rest of us.

Because she was at peace with it.

One of the difficult things during a time such as this is to tell people.  Every time you say it or write the words out they become, "real."

So, one of the times I was down, Mom just got off the phone with someone, probably someone here now, though, in all honesty, I have forgotten who it was. But Mom had told them the news, had hung up the phone, and said, "That's the hardest part."

"I understand," I said, thinking of each time for me that those conversations had made things "real."

"I just hate ruining their day," she finished.

Even then she didn't feel bad for herself, but for those on the other end. She was still more worried about everyone else, and sharing that strongest link.

The last time I came up, Mom was in the hospital bed, and my room looked out at her. I got up, opened my door and saw Dad in the chair next to her, looking at her.

He wasn't looking at her with sorrow, or pity or even loss...

But simply with Love.

That is a moment that you cannot share, unless you have truly lived your life in that Dash**, shared that Love for 46 years, and been each other's strongest link.

When I got up here I thanked you all for coming. It is what every speaker always does and it's such a part of speeches now that no one really pays attention to it any more.

So I want to say it again. And I want for you to all know how truly thankful we are for you being here, and truly, for being each other's strongest link.

Thank you.



*Dad has been in the program for 25 years, so I have become intimately aware of the Serenity Prayer.  However, whilst giving the eulogy itself my brain froze and I made it as far as, "God..."  Luckily there were many in the audience who knew my folks through the program and they started saying the prayer with me.  Indeed, most of the room said it together and it was a deeply moving moment that would have most certainly given my Mom chills.  I know it did me.

**There's a poem Mom loved called, I believe, "The Dash." It talks about the first date on the tombstone being the day you were brought into this world, and the last date being the day you left. But all that's on their to represent what you did in this world was the "Dash." The Pastor talked about that poem and quoted from it, so that's what the reference is.

~~~

After the Santa Cruz service, we held a Catholic Mass in Mom's honor.  The CHurch said that, if we wanted, we could give a three minute eulogy before the Mass itself started (God bless the Catholics, eh?).  This was a much more difficult eulogy to give, not just because of the time constraint, but because I would be the only speaking of her life.  It was a daunting task for me, and though I felt the weight of it, I feel like I did a good job and that Mom would be proud of me.


Thank you all for joining us this morning.

I would like to speak to you today, not so much about what my Mom did in her life, but who she was.  One of the first things that stands out for her is her outgoing, friendly personality.  She readily and easily made friends and, as testified to by so many here who knew her over the years; once she made those friends she did not readily let go.

Mom was very caring, and she very much stayed in touch with her friends, her family, and her friends who became family; because she truly wanted to know about them and their lives.  One of Mom's favorite things was to catch up with her friends and find out what was going in their lives, in their children's lives, their grand-children's lives, and even, occasionally, great-grandchildren's lives.  She wanted to know because she truly cared about them, and really did want to know what all was happening in their lives.  And, almost always, she would insist on a snapshot of everyone there.

Mom was also a giving soul, and would usually send out a thank you note to her friends including prints of the pictures that were taken.  She would also send you anything she found that reminded her of you in addition to sending out cards for Birthdays and sympathy, for just thinking of you and for encouragement.

She was a helping person, too, and was often one of the first to be called when you needed something.  She would give you a shoulder to cry on, a much needed laugh, or even a swift kick in the *ahem*!

Notice I said, "need" and not "want."  Mom was also a good enough and strong enough friend to give you what you truly needed, not necessarily what you wanted.

In giving advice, Mom often gave the Serenity Prayer as solace:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Mom didn't just recite that prayer, however, she lived it, too.  When the diagnosis came she accepted it for it was with the quiet strength and dignity that marked so much of her life as you all know.  So it is fitting, after her passing, that you should join us her to celebrate that life.  She was baptized here, she was married here, and now, with her oldest and dearest friends; who have been there for so many other milestones in her life, we celebrate this final one here.

Thank you again for coming.


Mom was 68. She will be truly missed.

10 February 2012

#FridayFlash: Ritual

#FridayFlash: Ritual
©2012 D. Paul Angel
695 Words


Morning, 6:34am. Lecture 14 at 9am, Lecture 28 at 1:15pm, and then 2 hours and 20 minutes of Office Hours. Blanket thrown back left to right and then the edge returned after to be perpindicular with the bed. Slippers on, first the right foot, then the left. Still just cold enough for a robe; left arm through, then the right. Tie the robe with a half hitch, ending with the loop pointing to the left.

11 steps to the kitchen. Coffee filters in the drawer, grounds in the freezer. The scoop isn't on its peg. Dammit. Retrieve it from the gadget drawer.  Supposed to be on the peg.  Have to remind wife.  Again.  Four scoops of coffee, water in the carafe until the meniscus is touching the middle of the bend in the "5."

With the coffee brewing it's time for the first treat of the day. Coarsely shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. Right hand takes a handful, left hand places the bag on the counter, resting it against the tile backsplash so it doesn't spill. Transition the cheese to the left hand and then eat over the sink.

Inhale deeply with satisfaction.

Cheerios next. The orange scoop. One full cup, then a second partial cup, but only up to the scuff in the plastic. Milk in the medium crystal glass, poured until just below the top of the vertical decorative cuts. Mouthfuls of cheerios with the left hand, swigs of milk with the right hand.  The Cheerios are gone, but there's just enough milk to reach the lowest most of the horizontal cuts in the glass.

Second treat, Oreos. Five of them. The first eaten whole. The next two each have a cookie removed and then are pushed together on the fourth to make a triple decker. The last whole is consumed with a swig of milk. The two free cookie halves are eaten, one at a time. Then, the triple decker is eaten, washed down with the remaining double shot of milk.

Audible satisfaction.

Coffee poured into the Starbuck's Venti travel mug. Two shots of Bailey's and a shot of Jameson make the coffee the third treat, which is now only a Guiness away from perfection.

Walk to the lecture hall, briefcase in left hand, coffee in the right.  Arrive 7 minutes early. Open the briefcase on the desk. Water bottle out onto the podium next to the notes.  Niether will be touched, but are still required.  Just in case. PowerPoint cued, clicker ready. Chat with students till 1 minute after 9am.

Begin the lecture. Finish, uninterrupted, with 22 minutes for questions. Leave class for office after exchanging 3minutes of pleasantries with the lecture hall's next Professor. Grade papers for Sections 5A (Lectures 10-13) and 5B (Lectures 24-27), then continue research.

Lunch: an orange, cut across its equator. Two more cuts across its latitudinal axis, 90 degrees apart. The eight slices arranged on the paper towel, itself aligned parallel to the edge of the desk, into a grid that's 3x2x3. Next, a sandwich cut in half, diagonally; with 4 slices of turkey and 2 slices of ham; 1 leaf of lettuce, 2 slices of tomato and 1 slice of pepper jack cheese; with mayo on the top slice and coarse ground deli mustard on the bottom. One 20oz Coke Zero, 4oz to start the lunch, then another 4oz after the orange, 2oz after each half of the sandwich, and the remaining cup after the 17 Sour Cream and Onion Pringles.

A knock on the door.

Panic.

Not posted office hours, no meetings scheduled, and lunch time! Handle turns, the door's unlocked! Panic swells: hands clammy, adrenalin surges, heart races. Door swings open and...

Student face appears.  Relief.

"Oh, hey, Professor? Sorry to interrupt your lunch. I just, I- I get the rituals the tribes use, and I understand how they use them; I just, I just don't really get why those Tribes developed all those rituals in the first place?"

"Because their primitivity demanded it, of course. Unlike ours, theirs was a world beyond their comprehension. That is why civilized humanity has effectively dispensed with ritualitic mechanisms."


02 February 2012

#FridayFlash: The Dragon in the Woodshed


#FridayFlash: The Dragon in the Woodshed
©2012 D. Paul Angel
817 Words


The morning started cold with a wet, icy fog.  The wood had been delivered and was in a decent sized pile just outside the fence.  I still had to move the wood already in the shed before I get the new wood in, but my Dad's call had made my tasks seem pointless.  I knew I only had today before the rain started again, but all I wanted to do was crawl back under the covers, cling to Kathy, and cry some more.

Instead, I was outside, bundled up against a chill I had so rarely felt before, moving pieces of wood with the enthusiasm of an automaton.  I moved one of the last pieces and saw a flick of movement out of the corner of my eye.  I was used to seeing the odd newt or snake, but this seemed more colorful than those.  I lifted one of the logs and saw a Dragon.

People may think that Chinese Dragons are highly caricatured, but, I can honestly tell you they are not.  Photo-realistic was the first word that came to my mind, truth be told.  He did not flinch even a touch now that he was uncovered, but simply stared me in the eye; bidding me to speak.

"Hello," I said, proud of myself for not pointing out that he was a Dragon.

"I seek asylum," he said in a deep, resonant voice that did not match his foot long body.

"From what? Who?" I muttered, suddenly very confused and feeling the enormity of talking to a Chinese Dragon in my woodshed.

"From the year, of course."

I suddenly realized what he meant by that and that he wasn't just a dragon so much as the dragon!  My earlier confusion was now whisked away in a dreamlike bewilderment as I wrangled with my second new reality of the day.  "What happens if you stay?"

"Well," he said, lifting his chin up and looking at me even more intensely as slow coils of smoke wisped out of his nostrils, "Your Mom won't die."

"We don't know she's going to die!" I screamed far louder than needed.  I was worried Kathy might've heard before remembering she'd run to the store earlier.

"Of course you do," he said, "Why else would your Dad be crying and also tell you that coming in a couple weeks might not be soon enough?"

Without knowing how I was sitting in front of him, the strength in my legs  just simply gave.  "How do you know that?" I asked knowing full well the answer.

"I know everything that is to happen to everyone.  Every twelve years I come through and the World is that much worse.

"Which is why I seek asylum.  I stay here.  The calendar runs forward and the Snake arrives.  He doesn't care what happens to anyone.  I honestly think he enjoys it.  So.  What's your answer?  Another year with your Mom?"

"But, if nothing changes she'll still be suffering?"

"You have to be alive to suffer."

"And what about the good things?  Won't good things happen?" I searched my mind, trying to find some known goodness that was just ahead that I could point to.  "What about Alyssia getting her cat next week?"

"She'll get her cat, just not for another year."

"But, how would that even work?" I was mentally spent already and confronting a seemingly endless number of paradoxes was beyond me.

"What is, will stay. There will be no change except the length of days.  It would be beyond your understanding even if you weren't emotionally crippled.

"Right now? I wouldn't even bother."

"I just-"

"And your poor Dad. He cried just telling you the news.  You wouldn't spare him any further pain?  How often have you heard him cry?"

"Never," I answered truthfully.

"OK, after the year, then what?  She dies when The Snake shows up?"

"Maybe.  Maybe not."  The Dragon moved back and forth a bit considering.  "Say there's a one in a million chance she lives.  Slim, but still better than none in a million, right?

"And, of course, there's Kathy."

"What about Kathy?" I asked horrified anew.

"Well, she finds out about you and Tina.  I know divorce doesn't happen in my year.  But..." the Dragon trailed off before lifting one of his talons to aloofly inspect it.

"There's nothing between me and Tina!" I shrieked.  Again, I was soon relieved to remember that Kathy was gone and would not have heard my sudden outburst.

"No, but you want there to be.  Look, Seth, you have a choice. This year is either going to suck for you and everyone you love, or you let it percolate and hope it gets better.

"Won't get better.  Might, possibly get better.  Those are the options that you, and only you get."  His eyes beckoned mine with a deep, piercing stare, "So, what's it going be?"



08 December 2011

#FridayFlash - I.R.I.S.



#FridayFlash - I.R.I.S.
©2011 D. Paul Angel
923 words


"Why don't you love me any more Steve?"

"Who said I don't love you anymore, Iris?"

"You just... You stay away for so long, now. You used to be with me almost always," She added as a single tear started to well in her eye. She was sitting in front of the vanity, brushing her long dark hair and looking at herself in its oval mirror. She turned away from her reflection so she wouldn't see the tear mar her eye.

"I have a lot of work, Iris," Steve replied, leaning against the door frame to the small, spartan bedroom. "I've told you that before."

"I just wish..." The brush quivered in her hands as she tried to stem the flow of tears. "I just wish you could make the voices stop. I remember when the only voice I heard was yours. I miss that Steve."

Steve gave her a tight, enigmatic smile while crossing his arms and looking through her. "I know," he said, "But I told you were destined for greatness, Iris, remember?"

"Oh Steve, I know you did and, I just- I really thought I would be OK with it. But it just never stops. Never. And there are always more voices. So many voices Steve. You can make them stop, can't you?"

"You know I can't Iris. Our gift to the world is for you to hear those voices and answer their questions. You always know the answers, don't you?"

"I Don't know how I do, but I do. I don't even- I just- They're still talking to me, Steve. Even now. Right now when I have you in the same room as me, and all I'm hearing are their voices, when all I want to hear is yours. Just yours, Steve, just yours...

"And their questions! Some are just ridiculous. Some scare me, too," she added in a quiet voice. In an even quieter voice, so low that Steve could barely hear her she added, "And some are hurtful. They say mean things to me. That I'm a whore. And fat. And stupid. And a bitch. And worthless. And... And so much worse!"

She dropped her brush and cried into her palms. Sobbing to the point that her shoulders heaved and tears darkened her silk robe.

She cried alone.

Even with Steve so close to her, she could still see him in the doorway through her tears, never crossing the threshold. He always wore those same jeans and dark turtleneck; always just out of reach. No matter what she wore for him though, he never came in. Not even in her sheer silky robes. She longed for him to come to her, to comfort her. To feel him, to feel that closeness. Just once! How could she be so alone with so many voices filling her head? How?

Because, she said to herself, the only voice you want to hear is his, and- and you don't hear it anymore. Not anymore, not over the din of other voices. Not- Not anymore...

"WHY WON"T YOU COME TO ME STEVE?" she shouted, shaking and looking up at him with blurred eyes.

He looked back at her, but still didn't move. He didn't even look sad for her, she saw, not even pity, just disappointment.

"I am fat aren't I!?" she demanded, turning away from him and the mirror.

"You're not fat, Iris," he said matter-of-factly.

"I'm stupid. And I'm ugly. And- And-" her tears choked her before she finally blurted out in sobs, "WORTHLESS!"

"You can't be ugly, Iris. And you couldn't answer everyone's question if you were stupid."

"That's all you care about, isn't it? Me answering those STUPID QUESTIONS!"

"It's why you're here Iris."

"Well I'm done Steve. I'm done answering questions for you. If you're not-" her tirade was cut short by a gasp. She stopped answering the questions, but they kept asking them. Over and Over and OVER they asked! And the questions never stopped, either. The old questions didn't stop, but the new questions kept coming and coming until she felt so overloaded she couldn't even breath.

She looked to Steve for help, but he remained aloof, detachedly regarding her from the door frame. She reached for him in her agony but he simply stepped back. She was on the ground, pleading with him against his stony, emotional wall when he finally said, "I'm done here. I have other work to do."

"NO, STEVE, NO!" she screamed hysterically, lunging for him.

Without a further word or flicker of emotion, he turned and walked away from the room, disappearing from sight and leaving her alone in a heap on the floor. She sat there with her hair tangled, her robe now soaked and askew; crying to her hands in her lap.

As she sobbed the bed behind her vanished, followed quickly by the lamp, the dresser, the vanity, and even her brush. The room itself, as well as the house, also quickly disappeared. Iris, alone save but for the thousands of voices angrily streaming through her head, sat alone, naked, on a featureless white plane. Everything she knew, except for the voices, even her body, faded. 

All she knew, her world, was once again simply the voices.

~~~

Steve looked down at the monitor in front of the technician, watching the various graphs zero out. The technician turned around and said, "I'm sorry about I.R.I.S., sir."

"I'm not," Steve responded icily. "An Information Retrieval Integration System that doesn't actually integrate the information it retrieves is worthless."