Advice · Excerpts · Short Story · vlog · Writing

Ground Xero #13 – The Reluctant “I”

This week on the vlog, I introduce you to one of my other favorite writing exercises, and this one comes by way of Brian Kiteley’s excellent book, The 3 A.M. Epiphany. The exercise itself, you might have guessed, is called “The Reluctant ‘I'”, and it’s one of those multi-purpose challenges that can give you a lot out of it just through the attempt.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley on Amazon

The Reluctant “I”: Write a 600-word first-person story in which you use the first person pronoun (“I” or “me” or “my”) only two times—but keep the “I” somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene.

((What follows is my won work using the exercise, which also happens to be a short sotry I plan to expand further to include in a short-story collection I plan to self-publish later on this year. Enjoy!))

Prototype: Collodi

I knew things were wrong the moment he opened those big blue eyes. His gaze darted about in a frantic birdlike quality, and it was obvious that he was struggling to comprehend what was happening. The child couldn’t understand—wouldn’t understand—the world he had just been born into.

This was the moment where our theory was stymied by design, though every last effort had been made to ensure that the end result was perfection. Every material component had been selected with care. Every permutation of the kinetic distribution device had been realized, constructed, and stress tested long before implementation.

Each line of code in the volumes of sensory, memory, and situational awareness aggregate was ripped apart, and recalibrated hundreds of times before they had ever run in concert during the simulation phase. Even the personality construct that could have easily been mistaken for a full-agency A.I. had been compiled from a carefully selected and vetted series of psychologically sound retention entries.

We dotted every I, crossed every T. Our team’s theory was sound.

Yet the eyes—eyes that were just the right shade of blue—the eyes told the story in an instant better than months of painstakingly collated data ever could. The child wasn’t able to come to terms with the reality of this scenario, and it was apparent that every last nuanced command that would allow him to simply file away this experience and move on to the next was now looping around one tragic subroutine.

The boy was afraid.

But what precisely was the catalyst for this painful display? Was it the chilled billet that housed his frame in a metal womb? There were no exterior sensation feedback nodes to corrupt the data, so that couldn’t be a factor. The sensation of touch wasn’t going to be installed until phase four at the earliest.

Nor could it be the restraints, as the internal devices governing limb movement wouldn’t function until permitted to do so. No, it wasn’t a matter of feeling trapped. The programming could not acknowledge a phobia that had not been included in the index.

Could it have been purely sensory overload upon the imaging translation software? Doubtful. The room that we had playfully named the “birthing suite” was intentionally spartan to allow only those arithmetic operators dedicated to processing images to be calculated, with any and all returns acting in harmonic associative operation.

One wall would always be one wall.

Blue would always be blue.

The room wasn’t complex enough on any level to cause a visual glitch or malign reaction in those first moments.

A check of the auditory receptors showed nominal levels. The child would only hear the ambient hum of the room’s natural tone, and the complacent timed chirp emitted by the bolometer measuring any electromagnetic radiation present. As with every other aspect of the environment, all conceivable outcomes had been planned for, and we ensured all steps had been put in place to eliminate even the remote possibility of dissonance.

However, here the boy was. Awake. Alert. Cognizant.

And terrified beyond what the programming and situation should allow.

So, why?

A small voice, laden with the audio artifacts present in all synthesized speech, echoed the question.


The ceramic orbs and polycarbonate irises—chosen because they were an exact match for the original cornflower blue eyes they now mimicked—had stopped their fevered dance about the room, and stared directly into the control booth where we all stood. Minute servos and actuators located beneath the dermagraft polymer skin began to activate in a cascade function; the corners of the boy’s mouth pulled downward to replicate the frown modeled after a counterpart long since dead.

The mouth opened with the silent glide of miniature pistons, and the synchronized mechanics of his face worked to shape his lips around the words. Speakers placed at ideal acoustic points inside the small mouth emitted the speech and intonation selected from the proper language and affectation entries.

“Dad. Why?”

It was an impeccable failure. The programming had been taught what to feel, but not how. By capturing and cherry picking the vital essence of the boy, somehow a less complete soul was digitized along the way. It was a perfect facsimile of the life that had been lost; nigh indistinguishable in detail, yet never as whole as the original.

That realization had come too late. No parent should ever outlive their progeny, but no one should have to be born twice, either.

Opting to take the only sensible course left open, the shutdown sequence was activated.

I turned off the lights, sickened, and we walked away in silence.



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