Carpooling on Sundays

Eduardo Suré; Economy Car Sketch, 2017; Graphite

I’m not a man,” said Margaret, “and I don’t know anything about ties, but I do know they shouldn’t be that wide. Or that short.” Margaret was short brunette. Her hair was naturally curly and it framed her face, which had a look of gentle authority.

“I never noticed,” said Susan. The waitress arrived with the lemonades the two women had ordered and set them on the table. She looked briefly at Susan for any needs. Susan was a thin woman with black hair and a shy demeanor that suggested she might play third chair violin in a symphony orchestra. The small Italian restaurant filled with a lunch crowd. The waitress noticed the hostess had just seated a party of four in her section and left to greet them.

“You never noticed our Pastor’s clown ties?” asked Margaret.

“I only know he wears a suit,” said Susan, “I sit in the back and never see much of him.”

“Well I do,” said Margaret. “His ties are twice the width of normal ties and they never make it past the apex of his big belly. It’s like a giant arrow pointing at his stomach and reminding us we need to pay tithing to feed him.”

“Oh, Margaret!” said Susan, “You are just as bad as Jessica!”

Margaret smiled and sipped her lemonade through a straw. She held it between her right index finger and thumb and picked at the ice in her drink repeatedly. “How is our wild friend?” she asked.

“Still the same,” answered Susan. It was louder in the restaurant than when they first arrived. Susan felt her words masked by the noise and that it gave them a fair amount of privacy. She became bold. “Did I ever tell you what happened with Brother Mark?”

“No,” answered Margaret. She leaned in. “Are we talking about Brother Mark the deacon?”

“Yes,” answered Susan, “that Brother Mark. And Jessica. I never told you anything?”

“No,” replied Margaret. “So tell me.”

“Well,” said Susan, “A couple of Sundays ago, I dropped Brother Mark off at his home after Church like I always do. As he thanked me before opening the door to get out of my car, he put his hand on my leg.”

“He did what!” exclaimed Margaret. “That’s gross! He’s married! And twice your age! And GAG! What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” answered Susan. “I kept my hands on the steering wheel and looked straight ahead out the windshield with my eyes popping out of my head until he got out of the car.”

“You are too nice,” said Margaret. “I would have slapped him on his ear. You called him and told him you wouldn’t give him rides to church anymore, right?” Susan took a sip of her lemonade and inspected the condensation on her glass as a way to avoid eye contact with Margaret. “Susan, you told him didn’t you?”

“Well, no,” answered Susan.

“Susan!” exclaimed Margaret. “Why didn’t you tell him?”

“Because I didn’t know who would open the church,” answered Susan.

“So you were afraid that if you didn’t give the old adulterer a ride to church, the congregation would just gather around the front doors whimpering in the rain?” asked Margaret. “Everyone would be OK, Susan. Besides, how ridiculous is it that an old man like Brother Mark needs a ride. What was Jessica’s role in all of this?” The waitress brought the women’s’ entrees. Susan watched Margaret smile and thank the waitress, but she could tell her smile was forced. Margaret was frustrated with Susan’s meekness.

After the waitress left them, Susan said, “Well, I told Jessica what happened. You know Jessica, she made fun of me. Saying we would have ugly babies and that I was going to hate changing adult diapers.”

“That Jessica,” said Margaret. “Did she tell you anything else? She wouldn’t miss a chance to tell you what to do.”

“She told me to tell Sister Sarah, his wife,” answered Susan.

“And she probably offered to go with you to tell her,” said Margaret.

“You know she did,” said Susan. “Of course, I told her I wasn’t going to cause problems in their marriage.”

You are not the one causing problems in their marriage, Susan,” interrupted Margaret.

“So Jessica said that she wanted a ride to church every Sunday too,” continued Susan. “The following Sunday, I picked her up first and then we went together to pick up Brother Mark. He was not happy to see her. Jessica stepped out of the passenger side – you know I have a two door – and folded the passenger’s seat forward suggesting to Brother Mark to get in the back seat. Realizing what she was asking, he said something about being bigger and having bad knees. Jessica just yelled, ‘Shot Gun!’ as if that settled things.”

“What did he do?” asked Margaret.

“He didn’t know what to make of the situation and Jessica didn’t move, so he had to crawl into the back seat,” answered Susan. “It really was too cramped for him back there.”

“Serves him right,” said Margaret.

“Jessica baited Brother Mark during the entire ride,” said Susan. “She asked him things like how the wonderful Sister Sarah was doing. How he and Sister Sarah went on dates without a car… Asked him if he’d ever learned to drive… She mentioned to me loudly that one of the young single men had asked her about me. Picked a cute one too. I’m sure she was lying.”

“What did Brother Mark say?” asked Margaret.

“He mumbled his answers,” answered Susan, “but Jessica didn’t care what he said. She knew she made him uncomfortable. When we arrived at the Church, she said she was glad we had decided to carpool together from then on.”

“And what did he say to that?” asked Margaret.

“Oh, he complained about his back and his knees as he got out of the car,” replied Susan. “He said they should take turns riding in the passenger seat. Jessica guffawed…”

“Guffawed?” asked Margaret.

“You know with her it’s not a laugh,” said Susan. “She cackles like a witch chasing children. Anyway, she told him he was such a kidder. Then, she grabbed my arm and dragged me toward some sisters that had just arrived and left Brother Mark to unlock the church on his own.”

“She’s a mean girl,” said Margaret.

“She is. And then, she sat by me during church,” said Susan. “When she saw him looking at me, she put her hand on my leg.”

“She didn’t!” exclaimed Margaret.

“She did. I could feel my ears go red and hot,” said Susan. “At one point, she looked him right in the eyes, grinning. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t even a normal human grin: she looked like one of those dogs on the internet that smile after they get caught doing something wrong. You know what I’m talking about?”

“The submissive grin? Ears back, squinting, bared upper teeth…” responded Margaret.

“Like that,” said Susan. “Well, it’s been a while since Brother Mark was in middle school. He didn’t know how to respond to that. After Church, he caught me at a moment when Jessica was off somewhere and briefly told me he found another ride home.”

“Have you heard from him again?” asked Margaret.

“No,” answered Susan, “But Jessica called him to ask if he wanted to ride with us to church on Sunday.”

“What did he say to her?” asked Margaret.

“He said no,” replied Susan.


Sketch of Spangler’s Meadow

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Eduardo Suré; Sketch of Spangler’s Meadow, 2017; Graphite

I sketched this to help me resolve some questions about the composition of a painting I’m working on. The sketch is on a 4in x 6in sheet. I am working to depict a scene from a fight at Spangler’s Meadow at Gettysburg Battlefield on July 3, 1863. I wanted to look at soldiers in the meadow from a wall. I thought I would find a reference photo online with all of the elements I needed for the painting, but I was wrong.

The painting will be posted along with a short story I’m writing. The story will take place in Spangler’s Meadow; but the characters will be from my imagination, and I will use the place, events, and incidents in a fictitious manner.

Planning a Painting of a Runner

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Eduardo Suré; Runner at Subway, 2017; Graphite

The protagonist in my next story interacts with a runner on the subway. I sketched this to work out the composition of a watercolor I’m planning for the story. The right side is obviously and unintentionally dark. The reason is I used scrap paper and there is an image printed on the other side. I don’t like that y’all can see it, but I’m OK with it: I’m just going to make copies, do some color sketches, and find a color scheme I like for the painting.

Meeko’s Terrible Worm

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Eduardo Suré; Claw Arrives, 2017; Graphite

The planet Meeko was 219 light years from Earth. The most intelligent beings who inhabited the planet were cognitively very much like humans. However, they were very different physically. They evolved to have modular bodies. Their torsos, legs, and arms were independent; but they joined together to construct complex individuals. The symbiotic relationship of the torso and limbs helped them survive the harsh environment, powerful predators, and war.

Yfelergon was the energy executive of the planet Meeko. This was a very high position in the planet’s government. His duty was to manage energy resources to maximize benefits for all citizens. He knew how much time it took to go from raw materials to usable energy. He also knew how much it cost to produce the energy. He was obsessed with measurement. As they should, the time and amounts concerned him. Unfortunately, the principal factor of his concern was the merit of the citizens who received the energy. He had a very strong opinion about whether certain groups of citizens were worthy of the energy his department worked so hard to produce. Anyone who spoke with him saw where he stood.

“Do you know when Asis will return to work?” Yfelergon asked his assistant Tarius.

“She has three more months of leave, sir,” replied Tarius.

“Isn’t this her fifth offspring?” Yfelergon asked.

“It’s her sixth, sir,” said Tarius.

“You work hard and are paid well for it, Tarius. How many children do you have?” Yfelergon asked.

“None, sir,” replied Tarius.

“You have none, and Asis has six,” said Yfelergon. “Please tell me, how many units of energy does a citizen consume from birth to adulthood?” Tarius replied that he would need to calculate that and get back to him. If he had known what his boss was planning, he might have underestimated by a lot.

There was a catastrophe in Meeko later that year. The offspring of the working class and poor were starving. Energy was plentiful, but the children were unable to consume it. As the years went by, the working class and poor significantly reduced the number of offspring they produced. Their inability to perform a basic function of all living things caused unrest among them. Their numbers decreased overall, unhappiness was common, and there were serious social problems.

Since the demand for energy went down, there was a surplus. Those in the population that were better off financially took advantage of the lower cost of energy to enhance their lifestyles. Some boosted their power and made themselves stronger and faster for no practical purpose. Others replaced their older components with newer ones so that they might be more attractive. Many purchased homes much larger than they needed. They moved far away from the neighborhoods where the working class and the poor lived – far from their unhappiness and problems. The differences between the haves and have-nots grew extreme.

However, decent citizens on planet Meeko were not extinct. They saw the unhappiness and problems of the working class and poor and wondered why they could not live good lives too. Activist citizens investigated the problem with the working class’ and poor’s offspring. They saw no reason for malnutrition in a world with plenty. What they found out was horrifying.

Yfelergon developed and installed malware into the energy distribution system. The worm infected all citizens, but it was discretely detected and cleaned by the more expensive service packages the upper classes were encouraged to add to their energy services. Without that protection, the working class and poor remained infected. The worm propagated among them. The effect of the worm was that it did not allow energy consumption mechanisms to develop along with the growth of the child. Energy requirements remained at the level they were at the time of infection. Adults infected with the worm did not notice it, but their offspring did not grow.

Yfelergon was arrested. He was found guilty of crimes against Meeko. He was sentenced to be disassembled, his components encased in energized stone, and to be banished from the planet. Yfelergon did not believe he had done anything wrong. Instead of sorry, he was furious.

A new energy executive was appointed. He removed the worm from the energy distribution system. The department cleansed everyone who was infected. The working class and the poor began to recover their numbers. Understandably, that generation was deeply angry and remained suspicious of their planet’s leadership their entire lives.

After losing all of the appeals influence and wealth could buy, Yfelergon’s sentence was carried out. He was disassembled into five pieces and they were encased in energized stone. His body parts continued to live independently, so being taken apart was not a death sentence. The five pieces were launched into space in five different directions. They traveled far from Meeko and each other.

Years later, a strange asteroid approached an inhabitable planet. The asteroid became a meteor and glowed as it entered the atmosphere. Some of it exploded in the atmosphere and emitted a large amount of light. Most of the asteroid survived the passage through the atmosphere and hit the ground. The impact weakened the meteorite and it cracked. The crack allowed something to escape.


What Happened to William

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Eduardo Suré; David, 2017; Graphite

After the aliens tore the man in the armor apart, they flew away. They were ordered to return to an officer’s ship to report on the unusual incident. The aliens did not fight hand-to-hand. Although the aliens, who looked like wasps as large as humans, had frightening mandibles and stingers; they usually used a weapon that turned the organism it was fired upon into a fine black powder. The alien officers wanted to know why the squad had resorted to tearing a man apart. This story is about what happened to that man.

Shortly after the aliens won the fight and left, human soldiers found the parts of the suit. They found them by following the distress signal it sent out automatically after it was critically damaged. The soldiers found the pieces on the forest floor. Aside from some blood, the scene was not as gruesome as one would expect. It appeared as though a child had pulled apart an action figure and left its pieces on the forest floor.

The suit was the most promising weapon against the aliens at that time, so the soldiers took the pieces back to their base. There was a small laboratory there. Two scientists ran it: a man named David and a woman named Jessica. They were very skilled as individual scientists, but together they were brilliant. They developed impressive battle drones, but winning a fight against the aliens required the creativity a soldier brought to the fight. The suit made it possible for soldiers to be in the fight. The military hoped the two scientists would be able to figure out how to make more of the suits for that purpose.

The soldiers brought the pieces of the suit into the lab. An officer ordered the scientists to stop working on drones and develop suits like it. The scientists looked over the parts of the suit and, after seeing it had a biological component, told the officer that they did not have the expertise to do it. The officer told them that they had to find a way because it was more effective against the aliens than any of their drones. He added that if it had not run out of power during some tests, the scientist who developed it would be running their lab.

The officer and soldiers left the two scientists alone in the lab. “That’s an odd way of motivating people,” said David as he snapped on some nitrile gloves, picked up the helmet, and put it on a workbench. He rolled it over gently to inspect it and did not like what he saw. He told Jessica he would remove the body from the suit and go get her when he was finished. She was offended.

Jessica ignored David and picked up an arm. She was surprised at the weight of it and struggled to put it up on a workbench that was at the far end of the room relative to David. After looking into the torn end of it, she used a hoist to move all the other parts into a cold storage chamber. Then, she went back to work on the part she left on the workbench. She turned on a video camera and tried several procedures to remove the man’s arm from the suit. None of them were useful because she found that the arm and the suit were joined.

At the end of the day, Jessica and David were not been able to remove the biological parts from the mechanical parts. Jessica worked so hard on the problem, she got over her anger at David. She told him she could not remove the arm from the suit without damaging connections they might need to know about to make more suits. David said he had the same problem, but held his tongue before saying he had a worse problem than she because he worked with the head. They agreed to give up for the day and stored the remaining two pieces of the suit in the cold storage chamber.

David played video games that night to release some of his frustration from his failures that day. However, his gaming system crashed and he had to restart it several times. When he decided he would try to play a different game, the disc would not come out of the console. He restarted the console again, pressed the eject button, and the disc was ejected.

The next morning, David awoke to what he believed was an excellent idea. He got dressed immediately even though it was earlier than usual and left his quarters to wake Jessica up. She was unhappy about being woken so early until she heard his idea. His idea was to interface with the simplest part of the suit via computer, power up the system, and try to disconnect the organism from the suit by rebooting it. She liked it and felt that no matter what happened, trying it would be a step forward.

The duo was going to begin with the torso, but realized the man’s spine was connected to the suit. Jessica suggested they try the arm instead. They pulled the arm out of the cold chamber and set it up on the workbench. David connected their computer system to the arm using terminals that were built into it. Jessica connected wires to some exposed connections from the end of the arm that was once connected to the torso. It was difficult connecting to the arm, but it was even more challenging to power up the arm.

They worked day and night; forgetting to eat, falling asleep, and ignoring officers who visited the lab to check on their progress.

When the systems were properly connected and powered, the scientists ran an application to collect as much information about the arm as possible. During one of the application’s tests, a curious thing happened: the arm tried to restart itself. The application was designed to control all of the processes, but the arm started and ran some of them itself. David and Jessica had to end some of the tasks that were interfering with the analyses. They ended up adding code so the application would not allow tasks that were not under its complete control to start. Overcome by exhaustion, they left the lab and let the application continue to run the analysis on its own overnight.

When David and Jessica returned to the lab the next morning, she noticed what appeared to be an error message on the screen. It read, “William. Help.” David thought it was part of the signal from the distress beacon and rebooted the system. At first, everything restarted normally; but then, the screen showed what appeared to be another error message. It read, “Help me.” The scientists stared at the message. Again, they thought the error message came from the distress beacon. As they tried to reboot the system, another message appeared. It read, “I am William.”

Jessica asked David not to do anything anymore. She wrote code to deliver text messages to software in the arm. Her first message read, “I am Jessica. I am here.”

To the scientists’ surprise, the arm’s software returned a response; “Is Melissa OK?”

“Who is Melissa?” Jessica wrote.

“Friend,” wrote the arm. It asked a different question after inferring from the answer that Melissa was not present or known. “Where am I?”

“Austin Laboratory,” Jessica wrote. She and David stared at the screen.

“Power up armor,” wrote the arm. Jessica looked at David. Her face asked what she should reply. It was clear to both of them that the messages were not automated. If there was a sentient being in the arm, she could not just tell him that the armor was in pieces.

David reached across Jessica to the keyboard and wrote, “Unable.”

“Why?” wrote the arm.

“The armor is in pieces,” David wrote. David and Jessica waited for a reply. None of them knew that William and the armor had been joined together in a laboratory to overcome the complexity of controlling the movement, defense, and weapons systems of the suit. As William and the suit interacted, the suit uploaded what it could of William’s thoughts to better anticipate and improve control. William designed the suit that way. After the aliens had torn him apart, the suit’s life support system tried to keep him alive. However, it also uploaded as much of the man as it could into its systems.

“Let’s upload it into unmanned system 105,” David said.

“Are you crazy?” Jessica asked. “We should report this.”

“What are we going to report?” David asked. “’Hey, Colonel; the man that was in the armor is still alive even though his meat is spoiling in our fridge.’ They don’t want this, they want suits. What are we going to do when they ask us to wipe him from the system? I’ve never killed anybody.”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I do. Let’s upload him.”

“One-o-five is networked, armored and mobile,” Jessica said. “Do we want to upload a killer into that?”

“It also doesn’t have enough memory anyway,” David said.

“PLATO could do it,” Jessica said. PLATO was a powerful computer that they had in the lab.

“Let’s upload him into PLATO then,” David said.

“After I unplug the network and remove wireless,” Jessica replied with an evil smile.