Reality Inspector, chapter 10

Copyright © 1982 John Caris

Fog was blowing in, stretching its fingers along Ocean Avenue. The sun, moving close to the western horizon, still melted those fingers; yet the fog bank was gaining ground, slowly and surely. Soon though, the sun's setting would be hidden, and the fog would expand quickly, covering the south part of San Francisco within minutes.

The Rainbow Inn, although not crowded, had many customers. It was only five p.m., too early for the eighth game of the match which would begin at seven p.m. Mary had won game seven played two days ago. Sam Runner was playing white tonight, and Mary would try to keep him from moving one game ahead again.

John took a table in front of the stage. He was here early, like most of the other customers, to watch a dress rehearsal of The Open Door, a drama written and performed by The Players, a neighborhood drama club. The Rainbow Inn sheltered many activities that reflected the many-faceted personality of Mary Rainbow. Besides chess and drama, the Inn held musical concerts and poetry readings, showed the works of promising painters and sculptors, and acted as social center for the neighborhood.

The stage, well-equipped with sound and light instruments, had versatility that allowed for many uses. A control center behind the bar adjusted sound and lighting throughout the Inn. A sound made anywhere on stage or in the Inn could be amplified. Connected to the control center was a music synthesizer that Mary loved to play. She often gave concerts on Friday night, but her spontaneous performances were the best. When she was in the mood, she would sit at the keyboard and rhapsodize the audience. Or she could put the music synthesizer onto a preset program and play her saxophone against the accompaniment.

Mary was a born musician. As a child she learned to play the piano from a friend who was also learning. In high school she diversified her musical skills to include percussion, clarinet, and trumpet. And in college she fell in love with the alto sax. Even the new addition of the music synthesizer could not equal her love for it. For her, the alto sax was the perfect vehicle for expressing herself.

In her mind there was a direct link between music and chess. Both involved abstract forms of reasoning that were grounded in physical reality. Both shaped space and time to communicate ideas and feelings. When she played chess, she often imagined possible moves as like playing a particular musical instrument. Would she play as drummer, beating out an intricate rhythm? She might play the saxophone, creating unusual progressions, or the synthesizer, weaving a complex texture.

She was well aware that music, and sounds in general, influenced her awareness. During a chess tournament, when the noise was too disturbing, she would focus on music floating through her mind. Here, she could think quietly, sheltered from the surrounding noise and commotion. And her choice of music shaped her style of play. Some day she was going to write her own book on chess; she would call it Music and Chess.

Lights in the Inn are dimming. The curtains part and the performance begins. Although the stage is decorated as an Elizabethan tavern, it is actually a modern cafe with an Elizabethan decor; for it has all the latest gadgets and machines. There are even microphones hidden at each table, behind the counter, and next to the telephone. A sound engineer controls the volume of each microphone according to who is speaking. The sounds of other machines are also regulated at the control panel.

On stage left is a door to the street. A counter comes out part way from the back wall stage left. This is where the kitchen is. Several tables with chairs are placed about the stage. On stage right is a door to the toilets. Next to that door is a public telephone.

As the play opens, Martha, the owner of the cafe, is behind the counter preparing food. She sings softly to herself. At the table in front of the counter is a young couple who are only aware of each other--Romeo and Juliet. They are holding hands and quietly murmuring to each other.

At the table on stage right are two people who are dressed in trenchcoats and are wearing hats ala Bogart. Those two people, a man and a woman, are secret agents for MIA (Machine Intelligence Agency). They are called MA (male agent) and FA (female agent). They are suspicious by nature, cunning by desire, and conspicuous by training. Although they are secret agents, they are not too secret. In fact, one of their jobs is to sow fear among the people. MA and FA are looking at menus, attentive to all around them.

Against the back wall stage right of the counter is another table. Here sit two chess players. They are called WP (white player) and BP (black player). They are aware of all that happens at Martha's cafe, yet they are deeply involved in their game.

FA: Is she using the new Electro-zan?

MA: (listens to sounds from the kitchen): I don't think so.

FA: We'd better make sure.

MA: If she doesn't, that's a fifty dollar fine.

FA: I'll order the synburger. We'll see if she has the Electro-zan.

MA: And I'll try the synfillet. We'll see if she has the new Pro-jam.

Martha comes from behind the counter carrying two plates with hamburgers. She sets them down at Romeo and Juliet's table.

Martha: Here you are, honeys. I'll be back with the milkshakes.

FA (Poking MA): Did ya hear that? They're eating hamburgers and milkshakes.

MA: I've argued with the Chief many times. Only synfood should be allowed in public restaurants. Oh, but, he gives me the same old rejoinder: vested interests. Run 'em out of the country, I say. And he always ends with can't. They're still too powerful.

FA: I'll bet eating that beef and milk will give 'em cancer. I could never eat real food. Synfood is sterile; it's made by a machine.

MA: Listen to the noise they're making. Sickening.

The public telephone rings. MA gets up and answers it. As he is talking on the phone, he looks around the cafe suspiciously. While MA is on the phone, FA goes to the jukebox and plays some selections. The music remains in the background for the duration of the drama.

MA (Returning to the table): It was Z-5. He says . . . (Then he notices that FA is still at the jukebox.)

Martha (Coming up to their table): What'll it be?

MA: A synburger, a synfillet, and two syncoffees.

Martha: Be ready in a jiffy.

Juliet: What can we do?

Romeo: We're up against a stonewall. But we can't give in.

Juliet (Purring): Oh, sweetie.

Romeo (Also purring): Oh, yummy.

MA (As FA sits down): Z-5 called. We were right. This place has a double X rating.

FA: We should close it.

MA: Can't. The new court ruling says we have to find a crime being committed.

FA: Oh, that new court! Undermining law and order!

MA (Patting FA's hand): Don't worry. I'm sure we can find a crime in this hole.

WP: Hieronymo's mad again.

Martha (Sitting down with Romeo and Juliet. Motherly.): How are you two love birds today?

Juliet: On cloud 109.

Romeo: But scared as hell.

Martha looks at the two, waiting for more.

Juliet: Our families have let blood.

Martha: Ooh.

Romeo: This morning our cousins had a street fight.

Juliet: Three people were injured.

Romeo: Luckily, no one was killed.

Juliet: But it will get worse. Oh, Martha, what can we do? (She starts to cry.)

Martha (Motherly. Takes a handkerchief and dabs Juliet's eyes.): There. There. You okay?

Juliet: Thank you. I just . . . oh, I'm so upset. (She takes handkerchief and wipes her eyes.)

Martha: What's this world coming to, anyhow? Machines running us out of space and jobs. Families feuding. Young lovers can't get married. You know, sometimes I think the rulers are trying to destroy us!

FA (Poking MA): Did ya hear that? If that isn't a crime, I don't know what is!

MA (Putting his hand on her arm): Relax. The Supreme Court said . . .

FA: Yeh, freedom of speech. This is a stupid society. Freedom. That's all they talk about. Machines don't have freedom. Why should they?

MA: The Supreme Court said . . .

FA: What's this Supreme Court shit! Are you a traitor pig? You're talking like them! (She points at the room in general.)

MA (Acting tough): Now listen here! Who ya callin' that shit?

BP: Life is an ego trip.

Martha: Can't you two just up and get married.

Romeo: No. The city hall machine refuses us unless we have our families' permission. We've tried it.

Juliet: And they won't give it.

Martha: Aah, you two should have been orphans. Then no family could bother you.

Juliet: Oh, the family is all right, when they're not looking around for trouble.

Romeo: Especially in the summer during TV reruns. They want to go out looking for some action.

Juliet: And they're jealous of us.

Romeo: They're bored. Nothing to do.

Martha: Why don't you find yourself some new families. You know, get adopted by two real nice families.

Juliet: Are there any still around?

Martha: Of course. I know many.

MA: Just yesterday, I got two new machines, a Synpro-no and a Bilkembinder 702.

FA: I want to enlarge my family, too. I'm saving some money. First, I'll get a Tinzoom 450.

MA: Oh, that's a great machine. I'd be honored to have one in my family.

WP: The final irony comes when you read the book of your life.

Martha: I know! Why don't you two just adopt each other. Then how could your families feud--at least over you two?

Juliet: That's a wonderful idea!

Romeo: But would it work?

Martha: I don't see why not. It won't hurt trying. If the city hall machine says no, well, that's it. But give it a try. (She gets up and goes behind the counter.)

MA gets up to answer the phone. FA also gets up and walks around the room, eyeing everybody and everything. She stops in front of the chess players. She watches them intently, but she is not interested in the game. The players don't pay her any attention. She focuses on one and then on the other, trying to get their attention. But she fails.

FA (To both): Did ya ever play a computer?

The two players look up at each other, smiling, and then turn toward FA.

BP: Many times.

WP: And what a bore.

FA (Chip on her shoulder): What'd ya mean?

BP: No challenge.

WP: So predictable.

FA: What's wrong with that? You guys high on something?

They both grin and go back to their game.

FA (Stops at Romeo and Juliet's table): Ain't you two something. Don't ya have proper regard for others. Carrying on like this in front of all those innocent machines. (She points to room in general.)

Romeo: Pooff on your machines.

FA: Now, listen here. Do ya know who I am?

Juliet: You're one of the robots from MIA, that's who.

FA (Shouting): you punk human. If I had my way, I'd give you all the gas chamber.

MA (Yelling at FA from the phone): It's PQ13.

FA(Going over to MA): What'd she say?

MA: This place doesn't abide by regulations XYZ.

FA (Excited): Let's close it down. Right now!

MA: Can't. We need to find a Double Z infraction.

FA takes out a gadget and goes around the room looking for a signal from the machine.

Romeo: Martha. We have a solution.

Martha (Comes over to the table): What is it?

Juliet: We are going to adopt each other. Will you perform the ceremony?

Romeo: And we don't care if the city hall machine rejects it. We won't be a slave to any machine.

Juliet: We have nothing to lose but our ballbearings! (She laughs.)

Martha: Of course, I will. I know just the thing. (She goes behind the counter and returns wearing a big, fluffy cook's hat.) Now you two stand over here. (She positions them at stage right of the counter. She taps on the counter.) All you who are present, may I have your attention. This young man and this young woman wish to adopt each other. Is there anyone present who wishes to object?

MA and FA: I do!

FA: It's illegal.

MA (To Romeo): Where's your license?

Romeo: We don't need a license.

FA: Everyone needs a license for everything.

MA (Turning to Martha): Where's your license to perform this adoption ceremony?

Martha: Are you a real human?

Juliet: They're synmen.

MA (Pulling out electro-magnetic handcuffs): Okay, you're all under arrest. Code violation PU 30.

BP and WP turn their attention to the happening.

BP: PU 30 ended yesterday--under the sunset rule.

WP: And Congress will decide on renewal tomorrow.

MA: Okay, you wise guys, I'm going to arrest you for preventing an officer from doing his duty.

FA: Her duty!

MA: What?

FA: Preventing an officer from doing her duty!

MA (Tough): What'd ya mean?

FA (Tougher): I'm doin' the arrestin'.

Martha: Since there are no real objections--and syn-objections aren't real--I now pronounce you two brother and sister.

Juliet and Romeo hug and kiss each other. A line forms behind Martha.

Martha (When Juliet and Romeo part): Congratulations. I wish you all the happiness in the world. (She kisses each.)

BP (Shakes Romeo's hand): Keep the faith, brother. (Kisses Juliet): Keep it all together, sister.

WP (Shakes Romeo's hand): Keep it on center, brother. (Kisses Juliet): The birds are singing, sister.

FA (Shakes Romeo's hand): I hope you rust in a junkyard! (Shakes Juliets's hand): May you have many little machines.

MA (Shakes Romeo's hand): May the Great Machine bless you. (Shakes Juliet's hand): May the Great Machine bless you.

FA's gadget which she was using to find a Double Z infraction goes wild. It lights up and makes horrendous sounds as if it is about ready to fall apart.

FA (Shaking MA): A crime! A crime! A Double Z!

MA (Officious): You're all under arrest!

Juliet and Romeo look at each other and quickly leave the cafe.

MA: Stop! Stop in the name of the Great Machine!

FA: They didn't put their ID's in the punchout machine. Infraction GO 100. Stop!

BP (Watching MA and FA): They know not what they do.

MA and FA rush to the door. They fumble for their ID's. Both try to put their ID's into the machine at the same time. Intermittently, they are yelling through the door: Stop! Stop!

WP and BP, smiling, go to their table and put away the chess set. Martha goes behind the counter and wipes it.

Martha (More to herself than anyone else): I hope I'll have money soon to leave Machine City and go back to my natural path.

MA and FA finally get their ID's checked and hurriedly leave, slamming the door. Martha begins to sing softly to herself. The door opens and a deer enters. The deer walks by the counter.

Martha (Looking up. Smiling.): Hi, there, wakan.

The deer walks onto stage right. The two chess players are not present. The deer stands there looking out at the audience. The cafe now becomes a forest with trees, flowers, birds singing, and other animals romping about.

The applause was long and loud, bringing the cast out for four encores. Even chess buffs enjoy the theater, for chess requires the use of role playing. There are six different pieces, from the king down to the pawn; and each has its own personality.

Chess boards were being set up around the Inn. Game eight was ready to begin.

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