Kylyssa Shay is releasing a serialized science fiction novel in single chapter increments that you can read for free only on HubPages.
Start at the Beginning of the Novel for the Best Reading Experience
- Introduction, Linked Table of Contents, and Chapter One of Gift of the Gruldak
Do you like robots, aliens, monsters, and misfits? Why not read the first installment of Gruldak? This serialized science fiction novel is free to read online.
Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter Six: Relationships
Intellectually, I’d known that my grandfather wouldn't have the appearance I remembered. But it was a bit like intellectually realizing that the original Kevin Wang was long dead along with everyone else I’d ever known. And that "everyone else" included the original Angel Capricorn Wang.
It was still a shock to see a bewildered, naked teenager in the artificial patch of “outside” Guido had made for me in the hallway between the apartments just a few weeks before.
“What the Hell’s going on here?” he yelled at me as I entered Guido's body and closed the door behind me.
I stood in my spot, stunned, looking around as if someone else might be springing out of one of the doorways. He said later that remembering that expression on my face always made him laugh.
I could see the whites of his eyes all around their hazel irises flashing in his honey olive-skinned face. He lunged suddenly at me and I almost didn't move out of his way until it was too late. He sprawled to the fake grass floor, his control over his new body a little shaky, when I dodged out of his way toward the second apartment.
I thought I was past him, but a frighteningly powerful hand yanked me to the floor.
We grappled on the springy surface and I thought he was going to kill me when he pressed his hard, thick thumbnails into my throat. His eyes came into vivid focus as I struggled weakly in his grip, not wanting to hurt him but not wanting to die. He seemed to have no such concern. He loosened his grip but remained kneeling with one knee on my chest.
“What is this place?” he asked in a low, dangerous rumble. I could almost hear the snarl of an irritated wildcat in the tone of his voice.
“It’s. Uh. It’s,” I strained out in a sort of a congested groan and he prodded my throat again with his thumbs.
Something slowly softened in his face as he studied mine intensely for several seconds, my breath wheezing in and out with the weight of him on top of me in the background. It sounded like I was listening to something that had happened long ago recorded on only four audio channels and a few of those channels were missing. It felt like I was experiencing it right then as far as the other physical sensations went. I mostly tried to shut them out because they were pretty unpleasant.
One of the audio channels was tuned in on that wheezing and the rush of the blood in my ears. It rose in intensity until it completely drowned out whatever the man was saying aloud. It was all I could hear but I still felt the individual pressures of the blades of the fake grass floor beneath me in all its cushioned springiness. A pain shot through my upper back, a tearing like it was slowly being pulled apart at the scapula from the way my arm was pinned behind me. I wondered briefly what it would feel like to be disjointed like a heretic by the Inquisition.
A sound like the tide coming in louder and louder and with the notes of it sustaining longer and louder with the glacier-slow progression of seconds washed all of it out. There was a partially full screen of pixels in my vision, those specks left briefly lighted to their regular degree stood out like a reflection off snow, leaving the same afterimage hanging on the darkness. I appreciated its beauty for a half-dozen nano-seconds of wordless wonder.
Then I woke up puking. The first thing I saw was that horrifying fake grass spinning into my field of vision and seriously close up. The first thing I felt was a hand on my shoulder that I recognized instinctively in that odd state between sleep and childhood one sometimes experiences after having been recently knocked out.
I've come to realize that Grandpa and any incarnation of Angel Capricorn Wang that is, was, and probably always will be my left hand man.
People don't appreciate the left hand. The right hand is the hand that acts and does. But ever since people stopped wiping their asses with their bare left hands, the left hand has been the hand that steadies. The left hand holds paper in place as we write and vegetables in place as we slice; it holds us upright as we lean to put on a shoe. He has always done that for me. He has never lived my life for me or shaped me into any action. He's always been my bedrock, my support, the one who made sure I stayed facing in the right direction when I decided to lean on him.
So I knew the feel of him holding me out of drowning in my own vomit and somehow, he recognized something in me that stirred his curiosity rather than his rage. It must have really been something, seeing as getting kidnapped inspires such feelings of anger and helplessness, not to mention the occasional bout of raw panic.
No one had explained to him yet that he hadn't been kidnapped. I hadn't gotten around to it for some reason I couldn't think of at the time.
The man came into bright focus, his face leaning toward me in obvious concern. He wiped my mouth with the side of his thumb and wiped his hand in the faux lawn with surprisingly effective results.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Kevin Wang. I’m your grandson!”
“I don’t think so,” he replied in that quiet, even, dangerous tone he gets sometimes, “My grandson is dead.”
“So are you! I’m as close to your grandson as you’re going to find here.”
“Close isn't good enough for a person,” he said.
“You’re right, it’s not. It’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling from this side of it, too!” I yelled.
“Which part? Being dead or being fake?”
“You aren't who I expected you would be.”
“No one is. Now that you mention it, I don’t really feel like myself at all,” he said warily.
“Maybe that’s because you look like you haven’t graduated from high school yet?”
He looked calmly at his hands and asked me, “Is there a mirror around here somewhere?”
I got up slowly, favoring my aching head and squinting. I lead him to my “apartment,” so I could show him the mirror in the bathroom.
“This does look a bit like Kevin’s old apartment did,” he said, a touch of belief in his tone.
“It’s quite a bit bigger,” I said.
“And much cleaner,” he added, sounding somewhat relieved to have found an obvious difference.
“Yeah,” I laughed, “I have a housekeeper now.”
“Who else is here?”
“It’s just us so far.”
He asked with one eyebrow raised, “What about that housekeeper?”
“The house is the housekeeper,” I replied.
“Oh, so it’s some kind of automated system?”
“No, actually, it’s- Well, it’s Guido.”
“Guido. The apartment building is a person.”
“Then why did you say we were alone?” he asked, looking at the floor and walls around him with a faux apprehensive gaze.
“Because I’m a dumbass.”
He peered closely at my face and said, almost in a whisper, almost with awe, “Maybe it is you somehow?”
“It is, kind of. We’re duplicates of a sort.”
“So why don’t you get out of the way and let me see the mirror?”
I stepped out his way awkwardly and let him go into the bathroom. “It’s a bit of a shock is all.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he snapped.
He met his own eyes in the mirror and his attention hung there for a long moment. He then turned his face from side to side and looked at as much of his profile as he could in the mirror.
“Not bad. Not bad at all,” he said, almost smiling.
I stood there stunned at his apparently calm acceptance of his new appearance. He didn't even seem impressed. I was so surprised by his reaction that I didn't object when he gave me a small shove and closed the door between us. I’d obviously forgotten how he was when he looked "almost but not quite" so many different expressions.
Snapping out of it, I called to him through the door, “Is everything OK in there?” I asked, imagining him checking the corners of the non-functional “shower stall” for gaps in the wall.
“Piss off, Kevin,” he said, sounding more like the grandfather I remembered than he had since he’d stopped trying to suffocate me in the foyer.
I was upset that he’d decided to hide from me rather than at least hearing me out. I stood outside the bathroom trying to figure out what to do to get him to come out. A minute or so later I heard the toilet shower cycle through and his yip of startled surprise. When he opened the door, sopping wet and naked, I felt like an idiot, like I almost always do when he’s in that mood. When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.
“So where did you get the duds, doppelganger?” he asked, scraping the water down his body with his hand nonchalantly.
“Huh? Oh, my, uh, pajamas?”
“Sure, whatever you call them. Can I get some?”
“Oh, yeah. Right this way,” I said, leading him to the closet where my clothing was dispensed.
“Kevin,” Guido called from the dining room table.
I made an incoherent noise and then said, “I’m a little busy, Guido.”
“I know,” Guido replied, “You want to get clothes for him from his closet. Yours won’t fit right.”
“Your housekeeper, I presume?”
“I have my own closet?”
“Uh, it must be in the other apartment,” I replied.
The other apartment proved to be the location of the other closet. I tried to help the young man who wasn’t quite my grandfather into his celadon gummy pajamas. They were soft, light, organic-looking green, not dinosaur-colored as one might expect from the word 'celadon.'
Whatever they were, they weren’t sickly peach and they had much smaller, neater buttons than mine. His new garment looked more like coveralls than pajamas.
They were no easier to put on when the wearer was wet, though. I gracefully fled the closet and let him finish getting dressed by himself.
In the hallway, near one of Guido’s communication organs, I asked, “Why are his different?”
“I’ve learned more accurate notions of human clumsiness, dexterity, and willingness to be clothed,” said Guido quietly.
It made sense to me but it made me wonder aloud, “Guido, why haven’t you changed mine then?”
“For as much as you seem to love the strange you really seem to hate change.”
“How do you figure?”
“You’ve been living in me for months. You know I can change my configuration and shape to anything whatsoever and the only thing you’ve asked me to do is tidy up a bit?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, he’s already suggested I make the tops and bottoms in different pieces and that I move the shower spouts into the large whitish structure right next to it in the bathroom.”
“Already? I’ve only been away from him for a minute.”
“If it isn’t fear of change then why didn’t you ask me to make those changes?”
“I guess I didn’t want to bother you once I realized how much work and what amazing art it was for you to make first the duplicate of my apartment, then the outside, and the other apartment.”
“That’s sweet, Kevin, you didn’t want to put me out.”
“Are you two done flirting, yet?” Grandpa’s reverse-Van-Winkleganger asked, patting me on the shoulder and passing by me in the hallway.
“He was just explaining-”
“How ‘he’ can be anything you want, anything at all?”
“Dude! He doesn’t mean it that way!”
“I don’t know why you are calling Guido ‘him’ anyway,” he replied.
Oh, crap, there were those single quotation marks again, they were almost full quotes. He gets pretty hard to handle whenever he’s 'almost' anything. Whatever was coming would be a bitch.
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
He countered, “Are you trying to ask me something?”
“Yes, I’m asking you, are you telling me Guido’s not male?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“Are you telling me Guido can change to be anything I want?”
“No, you idiot, I’m telling you Guido is a woman.”
“That’s impossible, Guido’s... Wait. Guido is an apartment building, I mean an alien creature...”
“Just like I said, a woman!”
“How could Guido be a woman? Have you seen what’s under the hood or something?”
“In a manner of speaking, I think maybe I have.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It’s starting to come to me. I think we spoke before.”
Guido finally interjected, “Yes, you could consider it speaking,” from a vibrating honeycomb in the wall.
“But when?” I asked.
“I think it was just before I woke up here.”
“I was giving him some qualia I thought he could use.”
“Qualia. You know, experiences, like the smell of gardenias, the taste of honey on ripe figs, your visual impression of the number twelve, that kind of thing. They are subjective experiences. Remember when I gave them to you and you gave them to me in the bed?”
”Not really. I just sort of remember teaching someone a language and learning to think in different images and sensations.”
“That was it, Kevin.”
"Where did you even get that word, Guido?"
"From him," Guido replied.
The young Angel stood there watching my discomfort. I thought those words in my head and immediately realized how funny it was. His name was Angel and he was a dead man's consciousness hanging out in a young, healthy body that would live closer to forever than any man has lived before.
I burst out laughing. He started laughing, too, and so did Guido. I hadn't said aloud anything I was thinking, it was just the look on my face that did it.
“Anyway,” said Guido, “unlike Gruldak, human people accept qualia much differently from each other. Usually they are like the seeds of memories. Touched by a need or an unconscious question, they rise up like dandelion seeds on the wind just as natural memories do. They are just the prompts, not the whole substance of memory. Your mind fills in the rest retroactively.”
“How does that even work?”
“It’s like a program that edits together bits of things you’ve already experienced or imagined by stimulating those most likely to be as close as possible.”
“How is something like that created?”
“The trigger points are recorded by physically duplicating every molecule in a person's brain after observing the brain on all wavelengths and determining the origin points of each memory strand.”
“That sounds impossible! It would take forever to do that even for a single memory!”
“It doesn’t work that way, one memory at a time, it picks up all of the thought nexuses present in the brain and duplicates them, as unaware of what they are as a copying machine is of what it is duplicating. You can copy a whole human mind in just over four years.”
“I guess it doesn’t take forever then,” said my nearest human relative.
“I can plot changes much quicker than that, though.”
“But if you can record my whole mind, memories and all..."
“Just the memories really, or the memories of memories.”
“I’m just full of shorthand to memories of memories of stimulus triggers from some dead guy?”
“Makes you wonder if you’re a person at all, doesn’t it?” asked the man I was already coming to feel uncomfortable calling Grandpa, even in my head.
“Guido, you’re being evasive, are you a woman or not?” I asked
"I am if you want me to be, Kevin," Guido replied but I was not closer to the answer than I'd been before.
May I remind you I'm a dumbass?
Continue Reading Gruldak with Chapter Seven, Heartless
- Gift of the Gruldak, Serial Installment #7
Read chapter seven, Heartless, and catch up with Kevin, Guido, and their newest family member in their quest to save lives and figure out who they are in this serialized science fiction novel. Gruldak is free to read online.
© 2014 Kylyssa Shay
Is Guido Male or Female? Yes, No, or Maybe? Does It Matter? Share Your Qualia Here.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 23, 2015:
Incredible! A fascinating read.