01 May 2009

"First of May"

By Curtis C. Chen

(Screenplay purists can read a properly formatted PDF instead)


Dave is on his computer, TYPING AWAY MADLY. He sure LOOKS busy, even if he is HACKING instead of doing actual work.

Dave imagines he's INSIDE THE COMPUTER:


It's the METAVERSE from Snow Crash: BLACK SKY, all kinds of CRAZY BUILDINGS that couldn't exist in reality, and NEON LIGHT PULSES whizzing along giant circuit traces.

Dave walks down the street in GLOWING BODY ARMOR, two SAMURAI SWORDS strapped across his back. The crowds part to make way for him.

He approaches a short, squat, industrial building. The sign on it says MAIL EXCHANGE. We can see uniformed postal workers inside, sorting envelopes at superhuman speeds.

A big, burly GUARD avatar in a blue uniform stands outside the building entrance.

Username and password?

(Jedi mind trick)
You don't need my username and password.

The Guard steps forward and LOOMS over him.

Actually, I do.


In a SINGLE, SMOOTH MOTION, Dave draws one of his swords and SLASHES it across the Guard's torso. The sword passes through the Guard as if he wasn't even there, leaving just A GLOWING LINE which fades quickly.

Nice trick.

He steps back and SCRATCHES HIS CHIN, thinking.


Dave leans back in his chair, SCRATCHING HIS CHIN.

He hears VOICES AND LAUGHTER nearby. He stands up, looks over his cube wall, and sees a gaggle of MALE ENGINEERS walking with new hire CHELSEA into the elevator.

Chelsea notices Dave and WAVES at him. She is DEVASTATINGLY CUTE. He waves back and smiles weakly. The ELEVATOR DOORS CLOSE.

Dave sighs, sits down, and starts TYPING even more FORCEFULLY than before.


Still outside the Mail Exchange, Dave's avatar assembles some kind of MACHINE from parts that appear in thin air. The Guard watches impassively.

You can still call this off, you know.

Dave looks at him, SURPRISED.

That's right, Dave, I'm talking to you.

Seriously? You're my Jiminy Cricket?

You haven't done anything wrong yet. You can still walk away.

I hacked PERF.

That was just to satisfy your curiosity. This is conspiracy to commit a Class A Felony. 25 to life if convicted.

Come on, I do not watch that much Law & Order!

I'm just the mouthpiece.

Dave finishes assembling his machine. It's a ROCKET LAUNCHER. He shoulders it and takes a step backward.

Well, I'm done talking.

He FIRES the rocket launcher. A BALL OF LIGHT streaks towards the Guard and SHATTERS him into A MILLION PIECES, which fall to the ground in a neat little PILE.

Dave TOSSES the rocket launcher aside. It DISAPPEARS back into the void. He steps around the pile of Guard-pieces and ENTERS the Mail Exchange.


Dave SMILES as a new window opens on his monitor, showing every single internal mailing list and giving him FULL ACCESS to all of them.

Yes, I would like to receive your newsletter.


Audio: "First of May"

Yes, obviously the title of this story has nothing to do with its actual content. But, given today's date, how could I call it anything else and still claim to be a JoCo fan?

Music: "First of May" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


Bits and Pieces (Get it? BITS?)

Okay, I admit I'm cheating this week, and on more than one level. "First of May" is actually an excerpt from my Script Frenzy screenplay, Sweet Valley Heist (137 pages of crappy first draft), and it's not really science fiction. But how else are you going to make computer hacking look interesting on screen, without resorting to totally fake GUIs that make actual hackers laugh out loud?

Having said that, Robert Longo's movie adaptation of William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic actually includes a pretty cool depiction of how a futuristic "cyberspace" environment might operate. I especially like the puzzle-lock authentication used in lieu of a password string:


For my screenplay, I decided to go the TRON/Matrix route of using human avatars to represent computer programs, because it dovetails nicely with my protagonist's inclination to daydream about the people in his life, Walter Mitty-style.

Dave's brief encounter with Chelsea is a much longer conversation in the full script, but I think I mananged to capture the spirit of their interaction here. Does Dave want the money more than he wants the girl? And how much is he willing to risk, personally and professionally, for either one?


28 April 2009

How Do You Say "Robot Overlords" in French?

My good friend Jeff has translated my short story "Better" into French for a class he's taking. Read "Amélioré" now!

Here are Jeff's notes on the translation:

I had a bit of trouble deciding on the title, I'm still not decidé... "Amélioré" means "improved". There's also "Meiux", which is the simple translation of "better", like "the better quality stories come from Curtis". But I think your title refers to the process of making soldiers better, i.e. improved soldiers. So I chose amélioré.

I also did not reproduce the spelling in destroy all machines. I think what you are trying to show is the passage of time, which has eroded/changed the words.

The reason why I didn't do it in French is that the effect does not really translate to French well. French is a language with one true way to spell words. It is not clear how to reflect the passage of time on French words -- at least to someone with such a tenuous grasp of the language. My teacher agreed that she couldn't think of a way to handle it. One nice thing is that the French word for "old things" is ancien, which is the same as the French word for "ancient". So in French there is, by design of the language, the possibility that we are talking about really really old words, not just the old words from the uncle.

To make up for it a bit, I did choose the harshest, most violent version of "destroy" available in French, a word I'd never heard before. My teacher said it was a really good fit. (anéantir = to lay waste to (a town), to shatter (a dream))

Thanks, Jeff!

I don't speak French, but if someone out there would like to record an audio version of Jeff's translation, I'd love to hear it.


"Amélioré" (French translation of "Better")

par Curtis C. Chen (traduit de l'anglais par Jeff R. Allen)

Pour son dix-huitième anniversaire, Jadrew Linbitter s'est absenté de son travail et, comme le veut la tradition, il a fait un poignard de son os de la jambe.

La cérémonie de remplacement était ordinaire. Les medicos ont insensibilisé la partie inférieure de son corps et Jadrew n'a senti aucune douleur quand ils ont scié sa jambe gauche, juste dessus du genou. Il a détourné son regard, vers son père, et singé son fier sourire alors que il criait à l'intérieur.

Son péroné, vidé de la chair, restait désormais dans un solution diagénétique pour remplacer les tissus durs avec un polymère durable pour le préserver. Son tibia, préparé de la même manière, sera taillé en forme de lame rituelle, gravé avec les textes sacrés, et puis métallisé.

Le écran sur le mur clignotait. Il a mit à côte son couteau électrique et a engagé le telemet. La visage de sa sœur apparut.

« Tu profites d'une journée de congé? » demanda Konri.

« Milliards, » dit Jadrew. Il a montra son tibia aigu. « Bientôt, je serai prêt à tuer quelqu'un. »

Konri rit. « Est-ce que tu te souviens ces figures cableman que tu as sculpté pour grand-père? Il vient de les faire en résine pour les exposer dans son bureau. »

Bon, pensa Jadrew. Un petit morceau en plus de ma vie minable préservé dans les siècles.

« Tout le monde ici est si fier, » dit Konri.

Jadrew sentit que il était en train de rougir. Il imagina comment la famille regarderait son nouveau membre bionique. « Je dois le finir. Papa va vouloir le voir ce soir. »

« Tu as toujours été un bon garçon. » Konri sourit. « Désormais, tu est un bon homme. »

Elle éteignit, et Jadrew a projeté son tibia vers le mur, en espérant que il se fracasse. Il a resté intact. Jadrew a poussé un soupir et repris l'os. Il se demanda si il habituera a la son de son pied métallique nu sur le sol.

Il pouvait voir tous sa vie devant lui, prédétermine, sans choix. Après deux ans, les medicos remplaceront sa jambe droite, et il entrera dans le service des conscrits. Si il survit à ça, il gagnera ses bras. Et son père sera si heureux.

Jadrew regarda son couteau électrique. Ça sera facile, de finir le charade d'obédience, avant que il étouffe sa volonté. Tout simplement, il pourra sélectionner puissance max, mettra le à sa tempe, et poussera le bouton.

Mais où peut-on trouver le sens de cette action? Il a voulu son dernier acte en ait.

Il a regardé le côte de sa lame inachevée et sourit.

Son oncle Sidrav lui a enseigné les mots, depuis des années, avant que il soit relevé comme un partie de le résistance. L'exécution de Sidav avait déshonoré la famille, mais Jadrew n'a jamais oublié les contes séditieux, raconté dans la obscurité vers l'heure de se coucher.

Il mit au travail de nouveau. Il mit une lame élégante, dentelé et il la grava avec les mots rebelles anciens:

anéantissons toutes les machines

Le père de Jadrew a trouva son corps, transpercé dans le cœur par la lame. Avant tout, il a effaça les mots blasphématoires de la lame. Puis, il s'assit sur le lit a côte son fils mort et se mit à pleurer entre ses mains métalliques.