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Jump Cuts

This post is mainly made of excerpts from my novel Juicy Ghosts, now available in paperback and ebook. Check the Juicy Ghosts page for details. What a long, strange trip it’s been — two years in the writing.

I have a lot of nice photos around; I’ve been using some new techniques of late, shooting in higher resolution with larger cameras, and processing the images with some Leica-style presets.

Before starting on the the Juicy Ghosts excerpts, here’s my latest painting. I was standing in Lake Tahoe—before the fires—looking down at the bright curves made by the sunlight passing through the surface waves.

Mathematicians call those lines “caustics,” from Latin for “burning,” because the lines are a bit warm, due to the focus of the sun. (No connection with the fires.)

There weren’t actually any minnows, but I put them in. I like to have critters in my stories and in my paintings. More info on my Paintings page.

“Minnows and Caustic Curves” acrylic on canvas, August, 2021, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The Excerpts.

The way I organized today’s blocks of text was to search through Juicy Ghosts for all occurrences of the phrase “jump cut,” which I’ll format as bold monotype so you can easily notice it. It’s a phrase that relates to the experience of switching your free-floating digital soul (or lifebox, as I call it) from an old body to a new body, or to a new peripheral. I label each of the extended excerpts with the point-of-view character. Mostly it’s Maurice, who thinks about jump cuts a lot.

And by the way, Jilljill is Marice’s “lifebox”, a small slug-like kritter that contains the code for Maurice’s soul.

Note that, because I have so many pictures to show you, most of the excerpts are interrupted in the middle by an extra image or two.

Maurice 1.

Leeta and Gee keep saying my lifebox will give me immortality. At the very least, my lifebox will be able to imitate me, and to act like an online chatbot. It’ll be an interactive Meet-the-Black-Liberator thing. Maurice Winch, martyred hero of the second American Revolution.

I like this scenario, I have to admit. I keep running it in my head. “Tell us what it was like to take down Ross Treadle,” the admiring users will say to my memorial chatbot. They’ll be in tears. “Oh thank you, Maurice,” they’ll sob. “You’re my greatest hero!”

But will having a lifebox make up for my body being dead? Gee and Leeta hint that it will, but I don’t believe them. It’s a pipedream. A con. Like telling a loyal congregation that they’ll live in heaven. From what I’ve seen, dying is like a jump cut in a video, but with nothing on the other side of the jump. Bang, you’re dead.

Maurice 2.

My vision grows dark. I’m an empty husk, a ruptured piñata—poisoned and bleeding. And, ah yes, there’s the matter of the Secret Service. They’re good shots. Maybe Carson Pflug and the Top Party paid them off, but right now the agents have got to do their thing. For the sake of appearances. For an orderly transition.

I go down in a hail of bullets, limbs flailing, flesh torn. A fitting end.

Last thought? I hope the wasps sting Treadle. And then I’m dead.

At this point my narrative has a glitch. Remember the jump cut thing I was talking about? Well, it turns out that, for me, there is some action on the other side of the jump. Granted, the all-meat Maurice Winch is terminally inoperative. But—

I wake, confused. I look down into myself. I seem to have my same old white-light soul—and that triple-loop sense of me watching me watching the world.

So, fine, I’m alive, but I seem to be hallucinating. I feel like I’m in a crumbling old Victorian mansion with junk in the rooms, and with paintings leaning on the walls, and doors that don’t properly close. There aren’t any windows. Somebody’s in here with me. A jittery silhouette against a glowing Tiffany lamp. Gee Willikers. This is a teepspace version of the cave where Gee lives.

“See, Maurice?” says Gee. “It works. Play it right, and you’ll keep going for centuries.” A compulsive snicker. “Def cool, Mr. Guinea Pig.”

I try to form words. “Where…”

“You’re a parasite, dude. Roll with it. A lifebox with a psidot connected to a wasp. You need that live host so you have some mind glow, right? Huffing that mysto life-force steam.”

I’m having trouble keeping up. “Wasp?”

“Duh? The one you stuck Jilljill on?” Gee makes a trumpeting sound with his lips, then speaks again. “Juicy ghost! You hopped onto a host! The wasp is your peripheral!”

Maurice 3.

My compound eyes are hypervigilant, watching for hungry birds, but there’s none around. I make my way into a residential neighborhood northeast of the Capitol. I fly until it shades from gentrified to tumble-down. I spy a mutt on a cushion in a back porch. A collie-beagle mix, mostly cream-colored, with an orange ear and a big orange spot on his back like a saddle.

There’s noise all over the neighborhood, and people are running around cheering. The news is out. But that dog looks like he’s sound asleep.

Gently, gently I land beside his head. Mustn’t wake him or he’ll start snapping at me. Hell, I’m a two-inch wasp! Moving with an insect’s robotic deliberation I stilt-walk along the dirty sofa cushion into the shadow of his floppy orange ear. I spot a waxy patch of bare skin within.

“Hop,” I tell Jilljill.

Another jump cut. And then, yes, my mind is percolating into the dog’s nervous system. I’m in.

I stand, shake my body, and bark.

Joyful. Free.

I’m still linked to my lifebox code on Gee’s server—gotta be, because that’s my mind. And I’m linked to dog’s nervous system too—he’s my body, my nose, my eyes, my juice. And, if I understand the situation correctly, my lifebox generates virtual neurochemicals to emulate the moods that flicker in the dog.

[Home made “Superballs,” made with a Bill Gosper recipe, using Momentive RTV-88 Silicone Rubber Compound (with hardener) from Very expensive, about $200 for two cans, but exciting to make (using sliced-open tennis balls as molds).]

Maurice 4.

But—wait—all at once someone grabs my collar. It’s not Loranda, it’s some random brother. Jilljill flashes me the news that the man is an underground agent too, a Black man working for the Citadel Club, sent in at the same time as the maroon thudhumper.

I’m going ki-yi-yi as loud as I can. Loranda’s Mom is hollering at the underground agent. Loranda shoves the man. Mom punches him in the gut. The agent’s grip weakens. I twist free. And here comes my terrier prof, right on me, nuzzling my ear.

“Hop!” I tell Jilljill.

She’s ready for the move, out on the edge of Woofer’s ear.

jump cut!

Jilljill has fastened herself to the terrier’s tongue. I’m in.

Maurice 5.

My name is Cuthbert. Keeping my psidotted tongue in my mouth, I trot over to my owner, a lean, dapper brother with horn-rimmed glasses and a drop-dead-elegant light-weight tweed suit. He’s sitting on a bench, enjoying the sqwonks of an impromptu jazz band. I take shelter under the bench, behind his fine leather shoes, looking around. I know the satellite’s still watching. They will think of the terrier. I need to hop some more.

Here comes a poodle, peering under the bench, sniffing me. I lick her nose.

jump cut.

I’m Fifi now. My mistress walks me off. Madame pauses so her Fifi can greet a passing stray.

jump cut.

The stray takes me into some dense bushes where homeless mutts with no collars are eating garbage, digging holes, growling, napping, and fitfully trying to mount each other. These dogs are unseen by the eye in the sky. Just to keep moving, I hop over to one of them, with Jilljill landing on the bare skin inside his ear.

I urge my latest host into a culvert beneath the railroad tracks and pause to look things over. I’m a glossy, medium-size, short-haired, warm-colored hound with a tail that I hold shamelessly high. I’m what people call a yellow dog.

I’ve never much liked yellow dogs, but I try not to communicate this to my host. He doesn’t have a formal title, so I name him after certain sound that he makes. Shrill Yelp. I check back in with Gee.

Maurice 6.

I hear yipping and the jingling of collar tags. Friedl! Body low, I skulk to the hole in the fence and peer through. There’s Friedl, shiny in that greasy, dachshund kind of way. She’s a nice chestnut color, with fine features and golden highlights. She’s in the middle of the lawn, slightly hunkered to take a pee.

“Get ready,” I teep to Jilljill. She creeps out to the edge of my ear.

I wriggle most of the way through the hole in the fence, then pause, flat on my belly. Friedl goes on the defense. She barks staccato-style, her voice high. She makes a run at me, coming to a stop three feet away. She braces her legs, and lowers her head. Her barking grows more furious. The housekeeper’s not bothering to come out. Probably Friedl has a fit like this every time she goes outside.

I tense my muscles and spring. Friedl doesn’t expect this. She’s surprised how large I am. She squeals and turns to flee, but I’m on her. I knock her onto her side. I rub my head against hers. Ear to ear.

jump cut.

Jilljill is in Friedl’s ear, and my mind is in Friedl. I trot quietly toward the house. I sense that the cat is still watching me, but I can’t quite see where she is. Never mind. My dachshund body language is, like, What barking? Me? Nothing going on here. For his part, Shrill Yelp decides this a bad scene. He’s goes out through the hole and trots off down the alley.

At first I can’t get up the back porch steps, but then I relax and let Friedl do it. She knows how. She moves like an old-time Slinky toy in reverse. At the top, Friedl scratches the door. And here’s the housekeeper, a sister in jeans and a turtleneck. Candace.

She gives me a nice smile and hands me a dog treat—a little baked biscuit in the shape of a bone. I savor the sensations of Friedl crunching it up.

Maurice 7.

I stretch my neck as far as I can. Lucy Popham giggles. I angle my elegant snoot and give the back of Treadle’s neck a quick, wet lick, during which Jilljill detaches herself from me.

jump cut.

I’m in a zone of chaos—experiencing the world from Jilljill’s point of view. She and Wladimir are in a micro Sumo wrestling match on the nape of the neck of the clone of the assissnated President Ross Treadle—the psidots squeezing each other and pulsing energies back and forth: brainwaves, electrical sparks, and quantum fields.

In my teepspace lifebox-mind, I visualize the fight as a 3D abstract painting with collaged-in scenes from my life and from Treadle’s life, with a thunderstorm all around, and random dachshund emotions mixed in. I hear the keening of a whirlwind. A narrow Kansas-style twister amid swirling debris. I go toward it.

Something crude and stupid tries to get in my way. Wladimir. I see him as a boxy tank with a cannon. But Jilljill—Jilljill is like a sea anemone. She wraps her tendrils around Wladimir, squashes him against her soft mouth, and assimilates his ID.

Mary 1.

Mary takes a running jump toward Gee’s square hole—stretches out her arms and straightens her body as if for a racing dive. Lanky Gee scoots to one side so she can freely arrow through. Then Gee brings himself back into view so he can yell at Carson and, yes, give him the finger.

“We’re gone.”

The square, green portal shrinks and disappears, with Mary and Gee inside.

And in this instant, the full code of Mary’s lifebox is ported from the giant baguette in the Skyhive blimp hanger to—the verdant computational tissues at the core of Gee’s giant redwood server tree. Mary barely feels it happening. It’s one of those jump cut things.

She and Gee float companionably in pleasant green light. Faint gurgles. A sense of turgid plant cells, of phloem, of ribosomes and mitochondria, of root hairs and fragrant bark. Faint writhing tendrils all around. A jungle of light.

“Welcome to my redwood server,” goes Gee.

Mary 2.

Gee gives her a penetrating look. “Can you grasp that you’re behaving like a soulless AI?” He pauses, thinking. “I bet this is because your halo isn’t emulating the emotions that live in your clone. Your body has normal human feelings, and its gossip molecules are sending the mood templates to your lifebox. But you’re not processing the templates. My fault. I forgot to put emotion-emulation code into your halo.”

“Clear as mud,” goes Mary.

“Hold still. I’ll fix you.”

Gee stares at Mary, mentally reaching through her eyes to the halo disk above her head. He’s using the full force of his considerable teep. To Mary it feels like a mechanic is poking around in her mind. A quantum mechanic.

And then—oops—she fucking dies for a second. That is, the whole scene blinks off. A surprise jump cut. Don’t worry, folks! She boots back up—feeling way mellower than before. More humane. More truly juicy.

“What is love?” Mary warbles. “Five feet of heaven in a ponytail!” She’s quoting from a song in the seemingly endless archives that her ionic quantum-wireless-equipped halo can access in the cloud.

“This is good,” says Gee. “The old Mary.”

“I’m not old,” says Mary. “I’m me.”

Kayla 1.

I’m still seeing through Phil’s night-vision eyes via teep. We’re staring at the flappy. It’s a glowing magenta buzzard, gliding down and clutching a golden egg in its claws. A bomb like the one that killed Carson.

I scream, and Phil yells even louder—which is maybe the response Maurice has been waiting for. And now, finally, at the very last possible nanosecond, our unseen partner Molly delivers another Metatron lightning bolt and—


Charred fat-crinklings from the annihilated flappy drift by. Maurice turns our thudhumper dark again, speeds on up the hill at a hundred and twenty miles per hour, and switches his communications to a fully-cloaked dazzle mode that, among other things, breaks my teep connection.

jump cut.

My heart is pounding. I’m on my couch in my tame and well-appointed San Lorenzo home.

I go look in on Daia and she’s sleeping on her back with her arms stretched up—like a little letter Y. My romantic meal for two is intact on the stove, if a bit tired-looking by now. I flop back onto the couch, slowing coming down from the staccato, frantic chase-scenes with Maurice. Phil is still out there, in it for real. I count the minutes till he arrives. If he arrives.

Molly 1.

The crowd’s noise continues rising. They’re united by a single purpose—to burn Gee’s server tree. They cheer the flames as if hailing the Golden Calf.

Maurice drops to his knees and clasps his upraised hands, supplicating Kayla. “You know. Don’t hold out on Maurice. If you don’t help, I’m done for. Final jump cut.”

Maurice flings himself onto his back and lies there, motionless, arms and legs askew. I’m enjoying the show. I’ve never met anyone who can lay it on as thick as Maurice. And—as I mentioned—I’m not super uptight about the outcome, what with me having a server-free halo for my lifebox. But I do have a heart. Even after a year and a half of distributed storage in teepspace. Even after a sextillion-fold brain amplification. I’m still human, in a way.

Finale (No jump cut).

Back in Gee’s grove, it’s time for high tea. We graze on another big spread in the clearing, bopping around and chatting and splashing in the creek, the ten of us.

Me and Liv. Gee and Mary. Kayla, Daia and Phil. Maurice. Anselm. Leeta. All of us but Daia have halos.

“What about us?” parps Miss Max. “What about Glory, Bunter, and me?”

“Yes,” says Gee. He fetches two spare psidots and slaps them onto the ball walkers—till now, they’d been getting along with old-time uvvies. And Gee’s Bunter already has a psidot. But none of them have halos.

Mary waves, whistles, and teeps to get the attention of the last three unattached halos who are in the grove. They skim over and—link with Miss Max, Glory, and Bunter. The kritters chortle and do flips, even Bunter.

And now the only halos in the grove are the dozen linked to our party.

Mary and Kayla find a fiddle and a mandolin in Gee’s cave, and they begin to play. We dance in rounds beneath the trees, sidling along, with Mary and Kayla weaving their harmonies, me carrying Daia, the ball walkers handling percussion, and all of us stepping to the beat.

I lose myself in the dance. Timeless joy. No more Top Party to worry about. No more Treadle legacy. No more enslaved souls. None of that is coming back.

We’re on a better path.

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