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The Calculator

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It began with a calculator. A clunky thing, the size of what would be considered to be a laptop these days, with giant keys for punching in numbers and only four functions. But it was fascinating to a young boy that liked mathematical functions far more than he liked people1.

Like many misfits, Daniel Sorres withdrew into his own world of mathematical puzzles and calculations and the machines used to make them ever more precise. Because ultimately, mathematics makes sense2. And the defining characteristic of people, other than an unfortunate tendency to eat deep fried anything, is a complete lack of any sense whatsoever.

And while the rest of humanity reveled in its complete lack of logic while watching American Idol, the now young man devoted most of his time to delving into further mathematical complexities and more obscure layers of logic, trying to understand just what made the universe the way it was, and made humanity an illogical stain on an otherwise lovely bit of infinite clockwork.

And as is often the case, he eventually became frustrated with the limits of his own meaty brain, which unfortunately required things like rest, and food, and the occasional non-caffeinated liquid. The next logical step was building a sort of exterior brain, an improvement that could do his thinking while he was forced to sleep or take out the trash. And that, as one might expect, evolved into an unhealthy interest in machines that could not just do his thinking, but think for themselves. Like humans, but logical. And thinking.

There was only one problem with this endeavor. He could make ever more complex machines, program them to do ever more complex functions, to ape behaviors even, but there was always a spark missing. He could create things that were animate, but not animated, and ultimately unable to find the logical bridge to go beyond the set routines he had programmed.

While wrestling with this knotty problem, sitting in the darkest corner of the local Applebees and nursing a screwdriver that was in truth a glass of orange juice3, he met someone, purely by accident. Someone who introduced himself as Lawrence Laufson, a tall man with dark hair and green eyes that Daniel would have acknowledged as utterly gorgeous if he'd had the slightest idea about how to deal with any physical urge. Lawrence invited himself to sit at Daniel's table, and proceeded to change everything.

He ran a small software company, he said. He'd heard about Daniel, and was interested in his work, and the applications that might exist for it in Defense. Well, yes, sort of like Tony Stark, but without all the arrogant asshole. But more importantly, they then had talked, for hours and hours, Daniel's sad little glass of orange juice forgotten as he realized, perhaps for the first time in his life, that he had met an intellect equal to his own. Someone who possessed his same zeal for logic, and control, and attention to detail, and who miraculously enough didn't appear to require medication to interact with other people.

Daniel was fascinated, and more than a little in love. And down the rabbit hole he followed Lawrence, never quite grasping where they were going until suddenly his city was on fire, there was a half-sentient two-story tall war android singing drinking songs as it danced down main street, and some very interesting people had shown up to deal with the problem. One of whom wore a scarlet cape and a helmet that had wings on it, as if he was the messenger from the FTD Florist that made its home in the eighth circle of Hell.

That was the point where he had turned to Lawrence as he'd done so many times before, hoping for a bit of guidance, and noticed the absolutely unhinged gleam in the man's eye. And then there was that laugh, the sort of thing that normally came out of James Bond villains, except Lawrence owned that sound in an integral way that Daniel couldn't quite understand.

And then Lawrence vanished, right before Daniel's eyes, and left him to deal with some very angry men in black suits, all by himself.

He only spent a few years in prison, and all of that minimum security, once it became plain that the now-missing Lawrence – who seemed oddly familiar to many of the men, once Daniel had gotten to the bit about dark hair and green eyes – had been the driving force behind the destruction. But those years gave Daniel time to think, about what had gone wrong, and so horribly right, when his thinking machine went berserk.

And the only conclusion he could come to was that it all came down to Lawrence. He'd let Lawrence modify the robot. That had given it the spark it needed, to approach something like life. But that had also, he thought, made it decide to do strange things with that life, like wear a pickup-truck on its head like a fedora.

He needed Lawrence. He needed him to make another machine, a better machine. But he also needed to more control, to keep whatever horrible madness afflicted that man's otherwise superlative mind from slipping through and tainting the final product.

And, strangely, he also just missed Lawrence himself. It had been nice to have someone around that he could really talk to. Though he could certainly do without the maniacal laughter.

By the time they let him out of prison, with strict orders to see his parole officer and make certain he took his medication, Daniel had a plan.

1 – Though it is fair to say, many of us have been there. For example, an integral has never judged someone on the basis of their appearance or snubbed them for wearing the wrong kind of shoes.

2 – Mostly because mathematics is whatever you choose to define it as. So there have been mathematics that haven't made sense before, strictly speaking, and those are the sorts of things that allow the most interesting kind of mad geniuses to cut portals through space and time, using just the flick of a pen and a well-oiled slide rule. But normal, every day mad geniuses tend to define their maths in a logical way, where two plus two equals four, not unicorns, the square root of the set containing all real numbers, or, as is unfortunately often the case, murder.

3 – After the unfortunate incident at TGI Friday, word had gotten around about the effect of alcohol on quiet, incredibly repressed nerd-types. The staff at most restaurants had a little booklet of photos of the most likely local quiet-and-sweet-loner-who-might-snap-at-a-moments-notice types.