[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]
The roots of the apple tree wind about the orange and red bricks. Green leaves brush against the walls. Several branches jut forth from the window of the tower. Others get their sunlight from the ragged skylight up above.
Martin pushes open the door with his shoulder. He is dragging the imago and talking to the Roomba, and this is what he is admitting:
“I don’t understand Roomba design,” Martin says.
The Roomba’s “?” LED lights up.
“You have a dirt light,” Martin says, “and that’s fine. And the ‘?’ I get. But why would you need an LED for ‘Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations?'”
The Roomba’s “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” LED lights up.
Martin looks rueful.
“Ah,” he says.
“This is one of only five towers near California,” Martin asides to the Roomba, “with an apple tree on the top floor.”
The Roomba is helping him move the imago. Martin is struggling to drag it along. The Roomba is weaving along in the scrape marks he leaves, bumping into the imago repeatedly, and, as it does so, occasionally shredding strands of the silken membrane that surrounds her.
It’s not actually being very helpful but Martin appreciates its desire to be of use.
“Do you know why?” Martin asks.
The Roomba spins in a circle.
“It’s because if it weren’t here, we’d all get eaten.”
The Roomba’s “!” LED lights up.
“Deep below,” Martin says. “Deep past the basement, past the cellar, past the tunnels, there’s Sukaynah. I don’t know how big she is. Nobody knows how big she is. But I know how big her teeth are.”
He spreads his hands, accidentally dropping the imago.
He bites his lip to conceal embarrassment. Bluffly, he says, “That big!”
The Roomba is visibly stunned.
Martin squats down and hefts up the imago again. He says, “The Gibbelins made a foundation of her face. She’s down there now, gnashing and grinding her teeth. She’s very angry because there’s a tower on top of her. And she’d love nothing more than to eat her way up the tower, floor by floor, and devour everybody, but she can’t! That’s because of Newton’s First Law.”
The Roomba’s “Newton’s First Law?” LED blinks.
“It’s stuck to her face,” Martin explains.
The wind blows. It catches up some apple leaves. It blows them out to the center of the floor, which, the Roomba suddenly notices, isn’t there.
Where the center of the floor should be, there’s just a jagged hole edged in zigzag bricks. They’re old and red and orange and crumbling and below them—far below—there is Sukaynah.
Uh oh! the Roomba thinks. It backs slowly and circuitously away from the hole.
“The apples reinforce that,” Martin says.
“. . . and up!” he adds, to the imago.
He leans the imago up against the wall, near the window, where she’ll have sun.
The floor dapples with the competition between the sunlight, the shade, and the imago’s light.
The gibbelins fed Sukaynah only on scraps of human flesh. They’d throw down gobbets and bits of innards. These things fell into Sukaynah’s mouth and she had no choice but to eat them. Sukaynah hated this.
It is bad to be trapped and force fed but it is worse when the substance is not okay to eat.
After the gibbelins left Sukaynah had nothing to eat for quite some time, so she shouted, “Feed me!”
“Feed me again! Even human flesh! Feed me again and I will forgive you even that!”
But there was no sound save the gentle ebbing and flowing of the sea.
Martin glances back over his shoulder.
An LED is gleaming.
Now and again, it’ll turn off, and then back on.
“The problem,” Martin says, “is that if you only have a handful of lexemes to work with, you need to use them to build larger sequences. Or at least assign them to atomic meanings in the Roomba psyche.”
The LED flashes.
“I mean,” Martin says, “if I’m supposed to talk to you, we should at least remap them as lights 1-10 so you can talk to me in number strings.”
The LED flashes.
“Or do something with timing. I mean, seriously, how am I supposed to interpret an ‘I don’t want to get eaten’ LED?”
The LED flashes.
Martin glances at the pit, just to make sure that Sukaynah isn’t rising. Then he shrugs.
“Absolutely terrible user interface,” he says.
I don’t want to get eaten, the Roomba thinks. I don’t want to get eaten. I don’t want to get eaten.
Then it is distracted.
Hey! Dirt! There’s dirt!
An LED gleams.