Sunday, July 17, 2005

Waldo the Wise (General Introduction and Short Story)

` Waldo is a character I've been working on for eight years (so far) for my sci-fi novel series on examining the human condition, which I'll call 'CM' for now. (Sorry, can't tell you the full title.)

` Now, he actually started out as a robot in 1997, whom I arbitrarily decided to name after a special effects robot-controlling mechanism that was in turn named after a wizard in a book.
` If you've been paying a lot of attention on this blog, you might recall that I even wrote something he might say at the end of this entry.

` Nowadays, Waldo is a very... interesting character, one which I am using for a little 'project' for my blog, highlighted in green.
` See, now he is actually a human, not a robot, though he is kidnapped by strange creatures in the very beginning of my series and after being released into the world, he's slowly crafted into this... somewhat dodgy, used... um... many-complexed character.

` Just the kind of person that drives some people up the wall. That's why I like him, because all my other characters can find a reason to scold him.
` I like scolding.

` Still, that doesn't stop him from being decent on the inside, though... it is quite maddening when you have several motives, all of which clash in ways humans can't always deal with.

` Well, hey - do book characters always have to be idealized?

` As far as my entire series goes, Waldo's main function is to become more and more bizarre without losing any of his humanity. And while he is mutating, he spouts the strangest bits of wisdom, which can come in handy. He also has the damndest cutting sarcasm, even though a lot of it isn't entirely original.
` Par exampli, these are ones I have most recently considered adding:

` "Ah, then you may indeed have a purpose in life! To serve as a warning to others."

` "Skill is infiltrating the hive without being detected. Intelligence is not trying."

` "Keep in mind, if you throw objects at these beasts, you will be asked to retrieve them."

` Hmm... I guess they're a lot funnier in context, though. Anyway, because of his mutations, some of my characters think that Waldo is horribly evil because these strange creatures have 'polluted' him and he is often forced to 'play politics' with these things that constantly threaten his life wherever he goes.
` So, really, his being 'evil' remains to be proven - after all in CM, most of my characters have some kind of issue that makes their ethical tendencies noticeably questionable. It's no wonder then, that Waldo is ever-reminding them all: "The burden of proof is on you." ...'Cause he's a skeptic, like me. Or rather, a 'sceptic' - for plot reasons, he's British.
` Unsurprisingly, a few of the characters that fear and despise Waldo are religious fanatics. I can see how this would happen, for two simple reasons: He's been 'influenced' by the aliens, and he also happens to be a 'heathen' - both of which are 'sure signs of evil', and would most likely be mistakenly associated. It's the kind of thing religious fanatics might do, you know?

` And yes, I can't help but poke fun at them, but who doesn't - religious fanatics themselves even make fun - and of course, slander - both fanatical and nonfanatical people of other religions!
` Strangely, I just came up with a weird little rhyme Waldo might think up in his hyperactive little genetically-screwed-up mind:

How they swarm, like so many fleas,
Jumping up and biting my knees.'

` While fanaticism and how to avoid it are more of Waldo's focus - as this is the aspect of 'CM' that plays out the most in him and the other 'freaks of nature' who have to watch themselves - the majority of my extremist characters - mostly background characters - are not fanatical about their religions or lack thereof.

` Naturally, this is because fanatics of many types exist, including political ones and racist ones, and even both together, such as Nazis - although this partly does stem from fanatical religious views because Hitler, a (mislead) Catholic, believed that he was doing God's work. (And John Paul II, being a decent Pope, apologized for him.)
` In fact, there are also fanatics who deny that Hitler was as infamous as he actually was - they are called 'holocaust deniers'.

` Really, there are fanatics for everything, whether a person is unwholesomely extreme about something that may happen in everyday society, or a proselyte from a cult that would make most people's stomachs churn.

` In this entry, I don't intend to write about Waldo discussing fanatics (though that's probably something I will do a bunch of in the future), but rather, something even more... subtle... and to many, touchy.

` Yeee!

` Since I have recently gotten a book review in my e-Skeptic newsletter (God The Father, by Kenneth W. Krause) on The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief by M.D. Faber, I wondered how Waldo might talk about the way monotheism draws on people's completely normal instincts to have someone to look out for us.

` The short answer would be; 'as briefly as possible' - he doesn't exactly do that kind of thing.

` Really, I'm just doing this because I need to practice writing a piece with his character - I haven't done it in a while. Unfortunately, this is not exactly a profound subject, which he tends to be suited for; I just couldn't immediately think up anything more interesting to tackle on my own.

` ...Problem is, how could I get him to talk about something like that at any length? He'd pretty much have to be locked up in a very awkward situation, with everything rigged so that it would come up. Hmm... And where's a better place for that to occur than in a laboratory run by frightening, otherworldly beings?
` Ding!

` I now present to you a spontaneously created, improvisational, noncanon scene, involving... lots of creative liberties:

Waldo the Manipulated

` Waldo stood facing the oval, turquoise door, wondering how many people had gotten through it before him and what they must have been like. (Perhaps their personalities had been significant?...) He sighed and stared up at the bluish, glowing ceiling, which cast the Kelly green, fifteen-foot, hexagonal room in a rather bright, clear light.
` A stooped-over, nondescript character (who may or may not die in the near future), named Chelsea, shuffled up behind him, the most important feature of her face being her blatant display of apprehensiveness.
` "So, how do we get back out?" she asked in a hushed voice which was noticeably more steady than her shaking hands.
` Waldo turned toward her, though he felt markedly more calm than her face looked. "Being that I'm positive that this is some sort of test, there will be a way." he said, as he was used to this kind of thing.
` "Yeah, but what kind of test?" she asked, standing up a bit straighter.
` "A test on how we, as humans, react when faced with this sort of obstacle." He gestured at the doorway, which seemed to meld smoothly into the surrounding wall. "There are no handles, no locks, no latches, and no way to get around it. And as it's just the two of us, we were probably purposely chosen for this - we're from completely different backgrounds, though both of us at least speak the same language..."
` He paused to look past her at the small quarters they were enclosed in, which could be best described as a featureless cell.
` "There's probably been thousands of people trapped in this same... green honeycomb cell before us, in different numbers of groups, all different combinations of languages, and temperament and whatnot, and let me tell you..."
` "Wait a minute, what?" Chelsea shrieked.
` "Oh, they do this all the time to us humans, even me." Waldo assured her, and leaned back against the turquoise door. "Nothing to get all panicked about. It's not like they're going to kill us or anything. They may even let us go. But if we give up, they'll just do something else with us."
` Chelsea cringed at the word 'else.' "So," she reasoned, "to keep them away, we have to keep trying in order to be let out?"
` "Basically," Waldo said simply. "Considering I'm only back here voluntarily." He stared at his shoes a moment, then added; "Don't ask."
` After a few beats, Chelsea said; "Are you sure this isn't their way of trying to force us to 'get to know' each other a little better?"
` "Thankfully, we're not imprisoned in that section," he said, and slid into a sitting position, staring up at the bright ceiling (which supposedly was meant to remind occupants of the sky).
` Chelsea, whose nondescript face had begun to turn red, impatiently stared down at him and said; "Well, if you're so accustomed to these... these... alien-things, what do you propose we do?"
` "Being as I've already done everything I physically could to escape before you got here, it might be that they introduced you because they want us both to do something else to get out, together. Or, perhaps they want us to do something that we might do while under pressure."
` "Like have a nervous breakdown?"
` Waldo smirked. "I think they've seen enough of those," he said. "But for now, perhaps we ought to wrack our brains and think the situation over."
` With a sigh, Chelsea sat down next to him and hugged her knees. "Sounds like the only thing we can do."
` "For now," Waldo said. He closed his eyes and tried concentrating on the problem. Drawing on what he knew about the hive-creatures that most people inaccurately referred to as 'Astro-Nazis', he asked himself what kind of test they might conceivably be putting him through, never mind Chelsea for the moment:
` Strangely, half an hour ago, before she had been locked up in here with him, Waldo already knew what he'd have to do to get out. The question he was answering himself was; 'How?'
` He cleared his mind and somehow the question of how to escape appeared, as if by itself, telescoping through different solutions before him as if focusing to a small point. It was almost unsettling how quickly and seamlessly he could slip into such an advanced mediatative state now. (Although, being that this seemed to be his function in the hive by now, it was obviously intended to be easy.)
` After a few minutes, Waldo found he couldn't continue to ponder this situation because a whispering noise beside him had begun to distract his attention. Looking over at Chelsea, he saw that she was indeed whispering, seemingly louder now, and by the sound of it, she was praying.
` Is that why she had been shoved into this chamber with him? Was he being tested by being paired with someone who incessantly looked elsewhere for guidance?
` And did she have to be so loud about it?
` "Chelsea," he said gently, "you must be terrified if you're praying that loudly."
` "Oh, sorry, yes I am." she said, putting a hand to her collarbone.
` "That's alright," he said with a grin. "It's just... I've learned that the key to getting out of these situations involves calming down. So..."
` Waldo stopped in mid-sentence, wondering why this could possibly be bothering him so much. Were they expecting him to do something?
` "Okay, you know, well... I mean, I know God has a plan for me, but... I just... don't know what."
` Did Chelsea just expect him to be the same way? Or was she testing him? Were they being 'drugged' right now? Was this supposed to happen?
` Things were seriously not as they seemed when one was trapped in the opressive hive.

` Including him, he reminded himself.
` For a split second, Waldo began to shift uneasily in the sheer awkwardness of the situation, but then did his best to make it look like he was turning toward her. "Oh, well," he said. "Then again, I suppose we wouldn't have free will if... if God had a plan for us, then, would we?"
` "No, not really," she said, reclining against the green wall. "But there's nothing you can do to fight it."
` He was more than familiar with the feeling.
` "You know," Waldo said. "My friend Nick and I were talking about this last week, and he thinks along those lines."
` Waldo paused, trying to figure out why he had just said that. But it was too late:
` "So... you think that you can get out of what God wants?" she mused. "Uh, no. Not the Big Guy. I mean, to Him, whatever's happened already has happened, anyway. He can see all of time at once."
` "I guess that would be true," Waldo said, both mentally kicking himself for getting into this storm of awkwardness and examining the oval turquoise patch that was the way they'd been tossed into the cell. "Then again," he added, without entirely knowing why, "if you don't mind my asking, what were you praying for?"
` "I'm looking to Him to tell me how to escape."
` "I see," he nodded. "But could that possibly change whether or not you'll get out of here, if we don't have control over our lives?"
` She leaned forward. "Evidently it can't, but if I'm going to go along with His path, then I might as well try to get a clue of what I'm supposed to do from Him."
` "Oh, well I guess that would make sense," Waldo said, getting to his feet, wishing he knew what he was really supposed to be doing. "You, unlike a lot of other people were praying for a sign."
` "Yes," she said, "because honestly, I don't care whether I live or die. Just as long as I... don't wind up in hell, and I don't think I will."
` "As long as you don't count this place as hell," Waldo said with an amused grimace, and slowly sauntered off to one of the far walls of the six-sided room. "Honestly, I don't care if I live or die, either."
` It was true: Living a life where your actions never seemed to be your own... it was very much like being puppeteered by... well, a god. Or countless malicious beings.
` Then again, if people had no free will, then what was the point of wanting control of anything?

` Chelsea looked at her feet, then got up in a slight huff. After trying to stare at one of the walls, she evidently gave up and fixed her gaze up at the ceiling.
` Waldo followed suit. He was feeling pretty bad about the situation himself, and he wanted to tell her so badly, but he didn't know how to bring it up. Instead, he concentrated on the ceiling:
` The impression that it gave was one of being trapped down a very shallow and oddly-shaped well. In fact, the most prominent feature in the entire room was a tiny alcove containing a bizarre excuse for a bathroom.
` Well, at least these six-legged 'Astro-Nazis' understood humans as well as they
did... (Which is exactly why it would not surprise him in the least if they were orchestrating this whole bizarre 'argument-from-nowhere'.)
` At last, Chelsea spoke: "Darn it!" her gaze went from the bluish-gray ceiling to Waldo. "Why can't I go anywhere without someone or something making me feel like I'm being examined?"
` Flinching slightly, Waldo slowly lowered his eyes to her level. "Being that we're just now part of a huge science experiment of some sort..." he deadpanned.
` "I'm sorry," she said, raising her eyebrows and smiling a little. "I just don't like feeling like I'm a little bug in one of those magnifying-glass boxes."
` "I completely understand," Waldo comiserated. "I myself have been through... enough!"He paused to ask himself whether or not it was a good idea to tell her that they were probably being controlled by chemicals in the air. "Really, I shouldn't act almost as though I'm not part of this experiment. Because I am. I just wish I knew which part."
` "When you think about it, technically, we all have our place," she said.
` Waldo glared around at the walls and ceiling, trying not to think about what she might say next. "Yes, in this gigantic magnifying box."
` "Well, yeah, but still, someone up there still likes us," Chelsea assured him.
` Waldo's ears began to burn. "I'm sure someone does, because we're obviously interesting enough to treat like guinea pigs, and we have such a nice planet to live on."
` "Oh," she said. "I meant God."
` Probably quite red-faced by now, Waldo hesitated before giving an answer: After all, she was probably meant to be grating against him, and around here, that wasn't exactly paranoia speaking.
` And why, oh why hadn't he kept his mouth shut? What was it that made him try to engage her?
` "Really..." he said, looking her in the eye. "As everyone around here already knows, I just can't... believe in things that no one, not even a sensory device, could possibly detect." He glanced at the grayish-green floor. "And you've been sent here to torture me, haven't you?"
` Okay, maybe that was paranoia speaking.
` "Waldo, no," she said after a moment of recovery. "I just was trying to make you feel better."
` "That's okay," he said. "Just don't try it again." He stepped away from the wall with a look of mock-seriousness before breaking up laughing.
` As she began to snicker at the whole thing, Waldo smiled good-naturedly and leaned sideways until his hand touched the side of their little enclosure.
` "I just... well..." Chelsea began, and stopped chortling. "Well... I always thought that people like you have trouble accepting something larger than yourself. Because, like..."
` Okay, now he was pretty sure she had been programmed to do this.
` "As you may have noticed," Waldo said, interrupting her, "I have a whole lot of all-seeing and all-knowing, omnipotent beings to be accepting at the moment - especially since I have been personally involved with them on levels that nobody could possibly deserve."
` He straightened up and put his arms a-kimbo. "Really, I think we ought to be focusing on them, rather than some God that nobody can detect."
` "What about up here?" Chelsea indicated her temple.
` Waldo's skin suddenly felt icy-cold as he broke out in a cold sweat. Okay, this was getting freaky. Was he supposed to scream at her? And why?
` "Like I said, I get ideas from Him all the time. Extremely important ideas. And He even directs me."

` Waldo tried to hide his fear from her (not that one could from the 'Astro-Nazis' themselves) and looked sideways at the ceiling. "Well, I get extremely important ideas and intuitions seemingly from nowhere, too," he said sarcastically, "but if you did a little studying about the subconscious mind, you'd know just how much it looks out for you and solves all kinds of problems for you every day."
` "I call mine 'God.'"
` Waldo had seen some pretty strange beliefs in his day, but... that was really interesting.
` He raised both his hands, palms-up and said; "And I call mine 'Fred.'"
` "Fine." she said, and she crossed her arms and stared at the turquoise door.
` Waldo suddenly tried to make himself look as if he were trying to find his shadow in the diffused light on the floor, thinking; 'What kind of sick, twisted minds enjoy pitting people against each other like this? And for another thing; what kind of weirdo calls their subconscious mind God?' He looked up at her.
` Well, 'weirdos' like Chelsea, maybe.
` Examining the whole thing over in his mind, desparately trying to find his way out, Waldo inadvertantly realized something: Chelsea was trying to belittle him! And he was being defensive!
` That was indeed very strange for him. What on earth could possibly trigger this behavior? From him? From her? Was this conflict being somehow induced to distract them from finding their way out?
` Waldo looked intently at his midsection.
` In most ways, he didn't blame her. Considering, this was him she was dealing with. He probably shouldn't have tried to see if she was after anything in the first place.
` "Personally," she said at last (as he expected she would), "I think it's an advantage to have Someone other than your own brain looking out for you."
` Again!? Couldn't she just drop it? Then again, could he?
` "Personally," he said, not quite making eye contact, "I think it's an advantage to be able to trust yourself enough to solve your own problems. After all, our lives depend on it. But... it's like... it's like... you think God is some kind of... of parent, that..."
` "You could say that," she said, flitting her eyes at the ceiling. "I am a child of God. I don't try to hide it."
` Sighing weakly and wondering what was becoming of him, he muttered: "And I don't try to hide the fact that I was born not believing - nor disbelieving - in God. And I've even tried to change that a few times. But I couldn't."
` Chelsea's face crept into a tight grin. "Well, I tried to change that about myself, when I was fourteen. And I could. With help."
` "If having a divine parent works for you," Waldo mumbled even more inaudibly.
` By now, his face was burning more intensely and he wished it would stop. Even more, he wished he would stop. And was was more, from experience with these types of things, he knew he'd have to put an end to this experiment if they were going to get out of there.
` Waldo began to slowly walk over to the wall to his right. "Considering that goat-herders who lived in the Middle East thousands of years ago passed down the first stories of this same
God to make rules for them, to rescue them when they were virtuous, to punish them when they did wrong, to give them orders... isn't that what parents do?" He stopped at one wall and regarded the one opposite him.
` "Yes, very much." Chelsea said, keeping her arms crossed.
` "Now, you, as an adherant, assume there is something that always loves you, who says that you can 'ask and ye shall receive,' someone who will reward you for doing what you are supposed to."
` "Who doesn't need that?"
` He grinned, and at the same time tried to sink into his collar. "Plenty of people. It isn't the same for everyone."
` At that point, Waldo began to pace back towards the other wall. "When I was a baby, Mum and Dad took care of me, and when I cried out, my physical and emotional needs were met. So, in the first couple of years of my life, those actions and expectations were very deeply etched into the physical wiring of my brain."

` He stopped to pace very slowly in the other direction. "Later on, when I couldn't be around either of them constantly, I suffered from separation anxiety." he shrugged and halted straight in front of her. "Its only what you can expect from any kid. So, I instead projected my need for emotional union onto my stuffed rabbit, Pongo."
` Chelsea didn't say anything, but she did sigh in a contemptuous way. Or was it contemptuous? Did she suspect that something was going on, too?
` He continued: "And yet, you, another person who was born with no beliefs at all, became attached to something you wouldn't have been able to find on your own unless somebody had told you..."
` "What are you saying?" Chelsea said, bobbing her head. "That I'm some sort of squalling infant and you're... grown up? Is that what you're trying to say?"
` "No," Waldo said, smiling blandly. "But I'd say that, from what I can tell about you, it's possible that your need for something like a parent holding your hand all the time causes you to look for it anywhere you can, even if it means finding it inside your own self."
` Chelsea was now as red as cooked lobster. "Are you saying He's all in my head?"
` "No, but now that you mention it, anything can appear to live in your own head," Waldo said, and bent over toward her. "I know from experience with these... creatures."
` "Ohhgh!" she growled, and began clawing at the turquoise oval.
` Strangely, the skin on the outside of the door began to tear and she exclaimed; "Look!"
` "No way!" Waldo shouted, and together, they ripped through the door as if it were foam-filled turquoise cardboard.
` Over the shredding noises, Chelsea muttered; "How could you not notice this if you were trying to tear this place apart before I got here?"
` Waldo, who was now thoroughly humiliated (though at the same time relieved), found it hard to talk with his face squinched up to one side. "You're not gonna like this, but I already knew how to get out."
` Chelsea dug her fingernails into the now-fizzing turquoise door. "So you're saying that I could have stayed in here for who knows how long just... just for listening to you?"
` Waldo's face burned as he tried to grin sheepishly: "I guess the moral here is to not accept everything you hear, but to test it? It's..."
` "You and your damn skepticism!" she fumed. "I ought to hang you by your own shirt."
` "Yes, well at least the Astros might trust me more from now on."
` "You're working for them?"
` "Well, yes and no," he said. "I can't exactly escape them... permanently. I'm beginning to think that perhaps the Astros can manipulate people from inside their bodies. Do you...?"
` "Waldo," she said, ripping at the tattered door once more. "Once we get out of here, I'm going to stop listening to you and start listening to the little voice in my head. 'Cause I know where that comes from."
` With a wash of realization of where indeed this 'little voice' must be coming from, he said, grimly, "So do I."

` ARRRGH! That's probably one of the most inane and appalling things I have ever written! Never mind all the dialogue tags and stuff... those are kinda scary, too.
` And all of it came from an innocent little piece of subject matter from an e-mail. I guess what I've discovered is that if I try to push something really obvious like 'parental' monotheism that into something even vaguely resembling 'CM' (which is... by nature... *cough* subtle!) it just can't be done!
` It's like... well, it's as bad as trying to do... really bad parodies of stuff.

` Greatly humbled by my own failure at such a challenge, at least I can say this was only for practice.
` Or 'practise', if you're British. Like Waldo.
` Now if you don't mind, I have some running around madly with tinfoil on my head to do.

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