Daily Write: The Last Author

I’ve had this idea for a while, but I didn’t get far on it today. I’m trying, as hard as I can, to avoid ‘boo hoo, poor English major’ writing here. For one, that really limits the audience to other poor saps with an English degree. There are plans for tension, and if I was kind, the story would inflate to something quite dramatic.

The Last Author (A section of the opening)

He shook off the rain from his jacket, and set his hat down on a table in the break room. Tyler was there, like always.

“Hey Bill,” Tyler said as he stirred his coffee, “What is on the agenda today?”

Tyler never knew what was on the agenda until he sat down at his desk. That was one of the hard parts of being an editor. At least, that is what he told himself. When something crossed his screen, he did what had to be done, and then moved on to the next item.

“I imagine,” Bill said as he folded his jacket, “something covering the peace talks in the Middle East.”

Tyler shook his head, “Always something with those people right? Seems like it is always something.”

Bill shrugged, “Always.”

Tyler reached for the stack of coffee toppers, and waved on his way out the door. That was Bill’s cue to put his lunch away, and head for his desk. The mornings were always roughest, Chomsky put out content overnight, which meant that Gail would be on him hard until he caught up.

The halls of the building were barren, each door signifying some department or another. Bill rarely checked what the other rooms were for, their names were complicated jargon, like Sophistication and Adaptation department, or Integration, Reintegration, and Deintegration offices. He passed them all, and found his own door, Poetics Diagnostics.

He opened the door and found two more doors, one to the right, and one to the left. Both were unmarked, and he mindlessly moved to the right door. It opened to a small office, one large tinted window facing the desk and monitor, space enough for two additional monitors and a box for his belongings.

Bill hit the switch near the wall, and waited as everything lit up.

“Hello there, Bill,” Said Gail over an intercom, “You’re right on time, like always.”

His computer monitor came on with words already spread across the primary screen. He could see that it was a news article, the headline said ‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East.’

Bill smiled to himself. He put his case in the box in the corner, with his jacket, then sat down at the desk.

‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East’
by Emmanuel Levy

‘Today begins the fifth day of peace talks between the powerful nations…’

‘…while fighting in the streets have made the exchanges difficult for diplomats and fighters, the people still have hope for a peaceful solution…’

‘Part of the tension is laid at the feet of insurgents, lead by a powerful and enigmatic cleric named…’

Already Bill could see the small mistakes he expected out of Chomsky. The computer, affectionately named after the former philosopher and activist, was one of half a dozen authorship machines in the West. It output poignant and researched political articles on every topic imaginable, abortion, theology, war, medicine, and all without missing a single deadline.

Once it was explained to Bill that XKK-3754, or Chomsky, could complete over two dozen articles for, against, and in criticism of a topic in the time it took live writers to draw up an outline. This meant that with minimal maintenance, and a light diagnostics staff (that was him), they could move creative assets to other parts of the business.

At least that was what they promised when Chomsky was first being integrated into media offices. Then came the layoffs.

“Are you ready to begin?” Gail said in her formal tone.

Bill pressed the button on his desktop, “Yeah, go ahead.”

“I’m going to drop the screen now, wave hi to me.”

It was the silliest part of the day. He looked up over the monitor, and the tint of the window faded away, revealing a young woman opposite of him. Black hair, glasses, nothing exotic. Still, when it was the face you saw once a day, every day, it left an impact on you.

She waved at him without a word, and he waved back. Then the window’s tint went dark again. She was gone for another 24 hours.

“We will start with catch-up articles, and should make 10am quota. Nothing complicated is expected.”

Bill nodded, and looked over the peace talks article again. He saw the mistakes, not only grammatical, or stylistic, but factual. He wasn’t an expert on the situation, but reading Chomsky’s articles meant that he knew enough to make sure the program was staying consistent.

Still, words echoed in his mind. “Bill, you aren’t a writer.”

It was Gail’s reprimand when he submitted a heavily edited article that came up in his queue.

“You aren’t a writer, and you should be thankful.”

It made him remember when the Poetics Diagnostics program first opened at his university, in the last year of his degree. Finally, the fear was alleviated. So many students had resigned themselves to unemployment, the marketability of their degree crumbling around them. They had an escape, and Bill took it.

Now he was a poetics diagnostician, but everyone still called him an editor. He was the last mind before Chomsky’s automated stories hit the internet. Which meant he was necessary to save the company from any mistakes Chomsky might make.

He took to the article, weighing each problem against the whole. The fighting in the streets made life dangerous for diplomats and ‘civilians’, the media had taken to using the title ‘imam’ instead of simply calling them clerics, small mistakes that Chomsky would repeat until correct enough times that whatever algorithms were in place would figure it out.

Bill fought himself over one last edit. He was already up there. Regardless of the size or nature of the edits, the program took them as a raw value. Too much altered from the original caused trouble.

It was the sixth day of peace talks, he was sure of it. Bill double checked the previous articles, and was validated. He made the change, then hit submit.

A second passed before a dialog window popped up in front of him.

‘Suggested changes exceeds per-submission quota. Please limit changes, and try again.’

He felt a small pinch in his gut, but didn’t let it get to him. Often, this was easy to solve. He removed a change, and then submitted again, only to have the article bounce. He didn’t want to think it was anything in particular, so he changed it again, and it bounced again. Bill took a breath, then changed it back to the fifth day. When he submitted it, a new article appeared in front of him.

Giving the world the news it needed was as easy as that.

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