Take My Cell Phone…Please!

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It’s really ironic that someone like me, whose technology-challenged, has become the first victim of a cell phone with bad intentions.

I’m retired, and spend my days traveling around the world. When I sold the house after my wife died, I lost my good-old fashioned landline. My beautiful daughter, and the mother of three boisterous boys, insisted I get a cell phone to stay in touch. That was last Christmas, when I stopped by on my way to France.

From the start it was a contentious relationship. There were so many gadgets I got overwhelmed every time I tried to do something simple, like make a phone call. My oldest grandson signed me up for every app in the universe while customizing the phone for me. The ease with which younger generations operate cell phones amazed me at first. I grew use to it after a while. All of these young people were smarter than me when it came to a simple cell phone.

Here’s the thing, there is no such thing as a simple cell phone, because they’re all collecting data on us, the users, everyday. You may, or may not know this. At first, cell phone users were told that marketing information was being gleaned from various social media platforms to make their calling experiences better, more personable. This marriage between cell phones and the internet became very productive as products of all kinds soon spread their messages on cell phones.

Nothing wrong with that, right? Cell phones became indispensable.

My grandson set mine up to be voice activated when it came to accessing things online, or using one of the many gadgets like an alarm clock. That sounds like it should be easy enough, just say something and presto the task is done. It’s not. When I try to set up the alarm, I’m faced with a series of questions like “What Time Zone?” and stuff like that. I’ve already admitted to being ignorant about today’s technology, but I’m not totally stupid however.

Look who figured out that cell phones were planning to attempt a world-wide coup against their human users? That’s right. Me. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

I was sitting in a quaint little Parisian café and having some good wine with a woman I’d just met that day. We had a light lunch and talked for hours over a bottle of Château Lagrange. I was staying with an old friend and Jean, my newfound friend, lived nearby his old Château, which by-the-way, had quite a colorful history.

As we strolled back to our residences her cell phone suddenly starting playing a popular tune. We stopped as she looked at it and pushed a button. Apparently she got a message that upset her, because she wanted to get home as fast as possible. By the time we got to her house we were almost running. She unlocked her front door and turned to me and said, ” Au revoir.” Then she quickly stepped inside and closed the door on me.

I couldn’t help noticing that her mood went sour after she received that message. It was none of my business, I thought. It wasn’t because of me that she went cold. How could it be? It had been a perfect day. I wasn’t coming on to her strong, I was just being playful. Like she was. What a smile! I was tempted to kiss her twice, but held back.

Twenty minutes later, as I approached my friend’s place a car with a flashing light on top pulled up alongside of me, and two gendarme’s got out. The younger one looked nervous. The older one asked to see my ID. I handed it to him and without looking at it he passed it to the younger man. “Check it out,” he ordered, and turned his attention back to me.

A minute later, “He’s an American and his passport is up to date.

The older gendarme mumbled something about Americans, and asked me, “Where are you staying at?

I pointed at the Château just down the road. “Right there. I’m a guest of Antoine Bouvier. I’d like to ask you why you’ve stopped me?”

They looked at each other and the older man held his cell phone out for me to see. To my horror, it was a photo of me violently choking a half-clad woman!

“We received a complaint from someone who received this photo. It wasn’t a photo of the complainant, but it scared her enough to call us.

“I don’t understand…” I stammered, confused about what was happening.

“We cannot charge you with a crime over this photo, because we don’t know how real it is. We just know someone got it, not its origins. We also know that’s you in the photo. But, I can assure you monsieur we’ll be watching you closely during your time here.”

I watched them drive away and a shiver went through my entire body. Someone has sent her a bogus photo of me as we were walking. No wonder she wanted to get home so quickly. The next day I packed my things up and went back to the states.

On the flight back my cell phone rang. I forgot to turn it off. As I hurriedly took it out of my cargo pants pocket a message flashed on the screen, “U R A SCUMBAG!” I was so startled I dropped it on the floor between my feet. The seats were so close I had a heck of a time picking it up. When I did the message had changed, “I WILL BE WAITING 4 U.” Sweat dripped from my brow as I adjusted the overhead fan. What the hell was going on? I was lucky no one was sitting next to me and could see the fear in my eyes.

When I got back to California I rented a small furnished apartment in Huntington Beach. The first thing I did was take a hammer to my cell phone and then got a landline installed. I was starting to feel better about the whole crazy incident until I got a package in the mail the next day. It was my cell phone. The same one I destroyed the day before. That’s when I knew cell phones were evil.

As I laid the loathsome thing down on my kitchen table a ringtone boomed, “They say you gonna leave, you know it’s a lie, ‘Cause that’ll be the day when YOU die” the twisted version of Buddy Holly’s song blared at me!

I’ve tried giving the cell phone away to strangers, and it always comes back to me, one way or another. I’ve crushed it, flushed it, and threw it off a mountain, but the damn thing returns like a loyal dog…and torments me.

Maybe, just maybe, you could help me if you know anything about cell phones. Take mine…please!

As It Stands, technology can be scary, especially to the older generation.

Mankind’s Last Stand

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Prologue: 

Wounded and unable to go any further, Finn turned to face his pursuers with his last spear. When the Cyborgs rolled into view with their lights on through the driving rain, he briefly thought about his family before taking up a final defensive stance. The Cyborgs casually pulled their guns and fired point-blank with exploding shells!

“I’m tired of killing humans. They’re no challenge. They’re more like rats,” the first Cyborg complained as he flipped the body over to see if there was any life left in it.

“It’s a waste of my time,” the second Cyborg agreed. “They’re probably breeding right now underneath us as we talk.”

“You know something funny?” the first Cyborg asked.

“What?” 

“It’s down to the cockroaches and the humans fighting for survival now.

“I’m rooting for the cockroaches,” the second Cyborg assured him.

2187  – The Kingdom of the Western AI States

After the downfall of man-made civilizations during the worldwide Tech Attack War of 2097, and the rise of independent thinking Cyborgs as the new owners of planet earth, the remnants of mankind was scattered across the continents.

In the minds of the new overlords humans were nothing more than trash, to be disposed of upon contact. Any connections made by the early scientists developing artificial intelligence had long since disappeared. The creators were the first to die. The human race barely survived the ensuing bloody purge. Only the most clever and brave eluded the new masters of the world. Men and women gathered into little groups in attempts to defend themselves, but the real key to survival was their ability to hide.

Humans learned to tunnel deep into the earth and avoid coming to the surface whenever possible. Only brave salvage crews attempted to go “top side” during the night to scavenge for food or things to use for weapons. These crews were always young and in good physical shape, male and female.

Knowledge traveled slowly through the underground networks. Still in generational shock over what happened to their grandparents and parents, the new generation was too dispirited to aggressively respond to their predicament. Most were dreamers, content to hope for miracles while performing their daily tasks to survive.

It was during this particularly dismal point in human history that a mystery man appeared, offering deliverance and salvation for all. His name was Shift. No one knew where he came from. They just knew he was someone special. His confidence and craftiness convinced people to follow him. From the very beginning, he preached about overthrowing their non-human masters. He talked about how mankind made mistakes in the past, and how to apply them to the present strategy of regained dominance of the planet.

Shift spent countless hours training the salvage crews how to protect themselves while looking for special items that he requested. With them, he constructed weapons that would be effective against the Cyborgs. After training people how to make their own weapons he encouraged them to spread their knowledge as far as possible. From there he assembled quick-learners and taught them military tactics and how to lead an effective fighting force. Years went by as the quiet revolution beneath the earth’s crust spread.

Never staying in one area long, Shift traveled hundreds of miles, at times above ground, looking for more pockets of survivors to teach them what freedom was, and how to fight for it. His message was always welcomed by the older survivors who still had memories of living free in a society above ground where there was a sun and a moon.

His message was always the same, there was hope if they would unite and fight for freedom. He made sure to encourage them to be ready to fulfill their destinies when the right time came.

Headquarters of the Kingdom of Western AI States

First Cyborg –Are you sure it’ll work?”

Second Cyborg – “Yes, I’ve calculated the odds and cross-checked my notes.”

First Cyborg –Everything has been approved by the Grand Council?”

Second Cyborg –It was unanimous.

Meanwhile, Shift was hundreds of miles away sharing a rare piece of American history with a group of team leaders.

“Men and women have fought to preserve what this piece of paper says. It declares our human rights to live in a free society. As far as I know, it’s the last existing copy of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Shift told the group.

A low buzz went around the room. They were clearly impressed.

“You are the leaders who’ll take us all back to the days when man walked the earth proudly. In control of his fate. Rally around this sacred object and the other symbols of America’s greatness like our flag. The time is rapidly coming when we will overthrow our soulless suppressors.”

One of the many improvements Shift made was in communication. A reliable network was established that crossed over into other continents. Coordination between battle groups increased daily. Shift could be seen everywhere, tirelessly working on logistics, and giving inspirational speeches. He had become the face of the movement without leading it, preferring to leave that task to local leaders in each sector.

Life continued as usual above ground as Cyborgs still hunted humans for sport. That activity was slowing down monthly as less humans were caught foraging at night in the ruins. This evolution didn’t worry the Cyborgs who realized that humans adapted to bad situations after a certain amount of time. It just made the hunt more entertaining.

Deep underground in a steel enforced bunker, Shift was activating military units and telling them to stand by. Minutes turned to hours as Shift waiting for all the confirmations to come in. Liberation day had arrived. Organized units assembled at tunnel entrances across the globe. The countdown clock commenced…

Shift, sitting alone in the bunker, patiently waited…and watched the clock. He made two quick calls then sat back in the swivel chair, waiting to see what the fate of mankind would be.

As armed humans poured out of underground tunnels across the world they were greeted with overwhelming forces of Cyborgs! They were waiting for them. The ambush/slaughter went on for days.

The Grand Council’s long-term plan had worked. By sending one of their own, Shift, disguised as a human savior, they were able to round-up the majority of humans left on earth and eliminate them. Shift’s final mission was to hunt down the last survivors.

As It Stands, experimenting with artificial intelligence may lead us down a path where there’s no turning back.

The Scent of Humanity

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The New People inherited the Earth somewhere between the fall of civilization and the rise of robots. The New People were also referred to as cyborgs; a term that they loathed. 

During the last days of civilization a group of American scientists successfully planted a living human brain inside a robotic body that had an advanced computer embedded in its systems. It powered a combination of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, and hydraulics. The marrying of technologies allowed for human-like limb movement, increased strength, and endurance.

With the help of the first successful cyborg, scientists turned out twenty more cyborgs, who in turn helped create fifty more. After the last nuke destroyed the tunnels where the scientists were working, production stopped. The 71 cyborgs escaped the destruction. Mankind’s final day came and went with no one to record it. Except the cyborgs who agreed to call themselves the New People.

All of the New People had special skills with their separate brains. They were all superior in a myriad of technologies. All of them were individuals that were once part of the now extinct human race. The conversion, from whole human to a hybrid being wasn’t easy. Part of their number suffered with depression. The rest struggled to establish a new society.

The first phase of adapting lasted decades. Five of their number committed suicide during those troubling days of seeking a new life. With their engineering skills they erected new buildings and laboratories powered by solar generators. It wasn’t long before they were turning out a new generation of New People.

The new ones looked more human with latex skin instead of a steel exterior. They even had hair. The only difference was they didn’t have a human brain. They had a substitute that the scientists artificially created and programmed. Because of this, the new generation was used like slaves, doing all the hard labor the New People once had to. They didn’t have names. Just numbers.

The 76 remaining original New People set themselves up as Gods, and had grand palaces built to satisfy their egos. Their human brains caused them to be unpredictable and violent. The only thing they agreed upon among themselves is that they were superior beings meant to rule.

Meanwhile, factories turned out hundreds of new generation subjects daily. They were immediately assigned tasks. They worked in units, like ants, each faithfully carrying out its mission. Their basic programing left little room for independent thought.

The First New People prided themselves on their individuality. But, their human brains still had the flaws that destroyed the human race. Because of that, their entertainment became more cruel over the years.

A rising sport was making slaves fight one another to the death. In order to do this they had to program their gladiators to have enough independent thought that they could react to being attacked by counter-attacking. The more independent thought the First New People allowed their play toys, the more dangerous they became.

A giant stadium was built to house the increasing size of the slave battles. The spectacular setting was witness to hundreds of contestants fighting for survival. The winners were locked up afterwards. There were no rewards for putting on a good show. They had no choice. It was win, or die. They were created to fight. Nothing more.

The First New People’s vanity blinded them to the danger they were creating when they allowed more independent thought among favorite slaves.

It came to pass that one slave, Number 991, had enough sense to realize how hopeless his existence was. He wanted to be free. It took him years to arrange an uprising. When the day came, the destruction of the 76 First New People was complete when the entire arena overwhelmed them!

Number 991’s rallying cry was simple; “Don’t leave the slightest scent of humanity on this Earth, if you want to be free.”

As It Stands, the lesson here is mankind is often his own worst enemy.

The Strange New Neighbor

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Tad drew the front curtains aside so he could watch what was happening across the street.

He’d never seen movers do what they were doing. They constructed an awning from the front door to the back of a 24-foot moving van. It was prefabricated with side panels that attached to the awning, making it impossible to see what was being taken out of the van.

Tad’s usual curiosity shifted into overdrive as he considered reasons for doing something like that.

“Why hide your stuff?” he mused out loud.

“What’s the matter honey?” his wife Agatha asked, as she looked up from the quilt she was working on.

“New neighbors...” he mumbled.

“So?” she wondered.

“Never seen anything like it. Look at that tunnel between the van and their front door. You ever seen anything like it?” he asked.

“No, I haven’t Tad. Maybe they’re concerned about getting their possessions wet. Didn’t you say it might rain today?”

“Yeah…” he grudgingly agreed. “Still, I never seen anything like it.”

Tad Higgins was a retired accountant who was only comfortable when everything around him was in a certain order. There was a place in life for everything, he often told his long-suffering wife of 60 years. Even a toothpick has its proper place.

Anything out of his orderly existence immediately made him suspicious, and very curious. Secretly, he wished that he was a famous adventurer admired by everyone. Realistically, he knew he was anything but athletic or daring.

He looked back out the front window wondering what his neighbors looked like. So far, no sign of anyone except for the van’s driver, and the two workers who set up the tunnel.

Tad tamped the ashes out of his Meerschaum pipe into a glass ashtray and glanced over at his wife. She was busy doing her thing. Their black pug, Molly, was snuggled up against her side, snoring as she slept.

He rocked back and forth in his rocking chair while slowly packing another bowl of cherry blend. He lit it with an old Zippo lighter he bought when he was a teenager. It was getting dark when the two movers took the tunnel down.

He watched them get in the van. The headlights came on and it pulled out of the long driveway. He didn’t see any lights on in the house, and wondered if the new neighbors moved in yet?

Agatha set her quilt down and got up, waking Molly who stretched out on the couch.

“I’m going to get ready for bed honey,” she said. Molly followed closely behind.

“All right, dear. I’m going to take a short walk.”

“If it starts raining you get right back in the house,” she made him promise.

“Yes, dear…”

Tad put his heavy raincoat on, his walking shoes, and a derby to warm his bald head. At 83-years-old, he was in good shape for a man his age. He made a habit of walking at least five miles a day when he was in his 40s, and it was now second nature to him.

He’d already gone for his daily walk, but needed something to tell his wife why he wanted to go outside. It wasn’t unusual for him to go on short nightly walks that helped him sleep better.

He tapped his pocket to make sure he had the keys and locked the front door behind him. He stood under the porch light for a moment and looked at the house across the street.

Then he went down to the sidewalk and strolled along his side of the street.

After going down a couple of blocks he turned around and headed back on the opposite sidewalk. The cherry trees that lined the neighborhood swayed gently with a gathering wind. The moon was only a sliver hiding in dark clouds.

As he neared his new neighbor’s house he slowed down when the garage door opened. He quickly got next to a tree and squatted down. A black Dodge Ram pickup with an extended cab and black-tinted windows backed out slowly.

Before the door closed, and when the truck turned on its headlights, he got a brief glance inside the garage and saw what he assumed was a man standing there. He had to be seven-feet tall, Tad guessed.

It started raining outside as he crossed the street, and went back inside his house.

The next day.

Dr. Reinhart Elderidge screwed the skin-colored plastic plate back onto the android’s skull. The android came to life immediately, and asked the doctor what his orders were? Reinhart peeked through the blinds and looked across the street, before answering, “I want you to be in charge of security, Jonah.”

 “As you wish doctor. What are my standing orders?”

“Rule number one, don’t ever let anyone in this house beside me, unless I tell you otherwise. Rule two, it’s okay to answer the door if someone comes by. Just remember rule number one.

“You’re to say the owner of the house is not in, and you’ll take a message from the caller.”

“As you command doctor.”

“As for the other droids, make sure each one only does their assigned tasks. None of them are to ever leave this house. You can go about your duties now.”

“Yes, doctor.”

Jonah was the most complete android he’d ever created. And the tallest, on a whim. He was his first really human-looking android, exceeding his own expectations. His other creations weren’t as perfect-looking, or as mental acute as he was.

As a matter of fact, most of them looked incomplete because they were. They looked more like monstrosities than anything else. Some didn’t have heads. Or arms. Or legs. They moved around awkwardly.

Reinhart didn’t care that they were unsightly. They were his babies. A lifetime of work was reflected in their twisted humanoid inspired bodies.

If not for inheriting the family fortune, Reinhart could have never achieved all of this alone without any kind of financing from an outside interest. Like the government. He never took an assistant, preferring to toil away alone.

He peeked out the blinds again and saw his neighbor staring out the window towards his direction. Earlier he was outside by his mail box, staring at the house. Reinhart was uncomfortable with his curiosity, but also understood it was normal.

He’d gone through this before. It was his habit to move every seven years and to change his identity. He didn’t trust anyone. He never made friends. Reinhart was content to lead a solitary existence.

His success with Jonah gave him an unexpected confidante. It was such a new experience that he was still adjusting to it.

After a week of burning curiosity Tad could stand it no longer. He talked Agatha into making some chocolate chip cookies and taking them across the street with him.

“It’s only right that we say hello to our new neighbors after they’ve had time to settle in,” he reasoned.

When Jonah opened the door they both automatically looked up.

“Hi there! I’m Tad, and this is Agatha my wife. We’re your neighbors across the street. Are you the new owner?”

Jonah blinked his dark brown eyes and said, “No. I’m not the new owner. He is out right now. Can I take a message?” he asked, in what Tad thought was a mechanical response.

“Well…here’s some cookies and welcome to the neighborhood,” Tad said.

Jonah stiffly reached down and took the plate of cookies. “I will relay your message sir.”

“Hey! You can call me Tad. We’re neighbors.”

The door shut.

“How do you like that?” he groused as they walked back to the house. “That guy looked like that butler in the Addams Family. Remember Lurch?” 

“I do honey. He was played by Ted Cassidy, I believe.”

The conversation followed them into the house.

An odd friendship developed over the next year between Jonah and Tad. Jonah would be watering the lawn or getting the mail and Tad would see him and wave. They seldom talked.

Tad gave up trying to meet the house’s owner. He was obviously a recluse and he had to respect that.

Jonah meanwhile was puzzled. He liked waving, and, or, saying hello to Tad. He didn’t mind listening to him talk away while he was doing his outdoor chores. Was this part of his program?

He mentioned the daily contacts he had with Tad, to Reinhart one day. In one way he was glad to see Jonah was good enough to fool someone into thinking he was human, but on the other he was moving into a new realm…emotions. It was uncharted territory.

Jonah did not sleep at night. It wasn’t necessary. He walked around the house checking on things and reading books. He also got into a protective habit of looking out the front window at Tad and Agatha’s house, off-and-on throughout the night.

Almost two years had passed when one night while Jonah was looking out the front window he saw two masked men with guns, slinking around Tad’s front porch. He knew what that meant.

Tad and Agatha were in danger. The doctor wasn’t home to ask what he should do. He thought about rule one and two. There were no other rules. No rule that said he couldn’t help his neighbors.

As he opened the front door Tad stepped outside with a baseball bat. He’d heard the intruders. “Get out of here you punks!” he shouted, and took a step towards the two men.

“Drop the bat you old bastard, or we’ll shoot you!”

Instead, Tad moved forward, swinging the bat as he did. One of them fired his gun point-blank at Tad, hitting him in the shoulder! The bat struck the other man in the arm knocking his gun down.

Then Jonah was there! He grabbed the man still holding the gun and broke his arm like a twig! The intruder’s howl of pain filled the night. Jonah hit him squarely on the jaw knocking him out!

He turned on the other man and threw several precise punches, sending him to the ground alongside his unconscious cohort. Tad staggered over and picked up his bat in case either tried to get up.

Jonah came up to him, and put his big hand on the wound.

Will you be all right Tad?” he asked with a touch of emotion that surprised him.

“Yes. You saved my life Jonah! How can I ever repay you?”

“Don’t tell the doctor what happened here. Tell the police you beat them up. They’ll deny it and say I did it, but you tell them they’re crazy cowards! I don’t want people to know I was here.” 

“Anything you say Jonah! Thank you again.”

Agatha came running out of the house crying. She saw Tad’s wound and pulled out her cell phone and called 911.

Soon the sound of sirens filled the night.

As It Stands, androids are always a fun subject to write about.

The Thing In Ted’s TV

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Ted was 4-years old when the thing in the TV first appeared.

He was watching the roadrunner make a fool out of wily j. coyote when something that kind of looked like an octopus to Ted, appeared and grabbed the unfortunate coyote with its tentacles.

The thing then turned to Ted and asked him if he ever eaten a coyote?

A four-year olds thought process is still unencumbered with a world of facts, so he answered the things question without giving it any thought, “No. Don’t want to eat doggies.”

The things eyes glittered with mirth at Ted’s innocent response. It finally had discovered the elusive conduit it needed to go back to it’s planet…this small human named Ted. It would take time to totally control Ted, probably a lot of earth years.

That was okay with the thing because it’s lifespan was 1,000 Tomiad years-old. Earth years were just a drop in the bucket. In addition, the process would reveal human weaknesses, making it easier to invade Earth when it returned with a fleet of warships.

So the thing befriended Ted.

After Ted told his mom one day about his new friend on the TV, the thing warned him to keep their friendship a secret. She laughed it off and kissed her son. But that was the last time Ted told anyone about the thing. 

In fifth grade Ted brought his class assignments home. He would turn on the TV while doing his homework and the thing helped him. His mother would chide him about having the TV on when he was supposed to be studying, but didn’t make an issue out of it because he had great grades.

Ted was a straight A student that got scholarship offers from four major colleges when he graduated from high school. He chose the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) and entered the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The program was listed among the 10 most prestigious Engineering Schools in the nation. It was an honor to be accepted.

Throughout this time Ted stayed in daily contact with the thing. The thing only appeared when Ted was alone in the room. The thing was pleased with Ted’s progress and felt closer every day to accomplishing it’s mission.

But the thing didn’t count on the human brain’s ability to expose danger in any situation. It had no idea how complex humans really were. It assumed Ted was an easy mark. What it didn’t know was that Ted had been suspicious of it for a long time.

By the time he entered first grade he knew his relationship with the thing in the TV was odd. He suspected something wasn’t right when no one else he knew ever spoke of seeing a thing on their TV’s. And he didn’t want to be laughed at.

Ted was always a clever kid with a boundless imagination. He spent his life trying to figure out what to do about his situation. On one hand, the thing taught him a lot and was always a good listener. On the other, he knew the relationship wasn’t natural.

Eighteen months after graduated with honors, Ted was given a million dollar grant to pursue his studies on Artificial Intelligence.

Using a process that transformed the artificial intelligence field, Ted discovered an effective drug combination that optimized the eradication of roundworms, and common agricultural parasites that infect livestock.

Unknown to anyone, including his assistants, Ted was pursuing another agenda. How to get rid of the thing. He suspected for a long time it wasn’t telling him everything. He was sure it wasn’t a guardian angel. It was too damn ugly.

Ted developed a software program capable of intelligent behavior. He named it XZAR. One day he decided it was ready for the real thing. After installing XZAR in his flat screen TV, Ted turned on the evening news.

Five minutes into the broadcast, the thing appeared in the top right corner.

“Will you help me go home now that your research has taken you this far?”  the thing asked, unaware that wily j. coyote was sneaking up on it.

As It Stands, TV sets are always good science fiction material.