Mouthless Screams

Other Worlds Austin’s next Orbiter screening is the Texas premiere of DIVERGE on Wednesday, August 16 at Flix Brewhouse.

In the film, a man discovers how far he’s willing to go to return to the one he loves, and what he stands to lose in doing so. In the aftermath of a global pandemic, one survivor is given the chance to travel across time to stop the cataclysmic event and regain everything he has lost. To do that he must kill the man responsible for sowing the seeds of mankind’s destruction - his past self.

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Some of the OWA staff, using our handy-dandy time machine, went back in time to change one thing about their favorite dystopian film to see how the timelines DIVERGE. The shocking results are reported here. Today, Screenwriting Director Eric Harrelson reimagines the eerie Hugo Award-winning short story I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream:


The body is unfamiliar; my brain can’t move inside this one.  Timeslip is too fresh, too soon, too late, too far back or is it forward? There isn’t a new one, just the old.  Too old to be this young.  Why is everything so bright and blinding?  So loud I can’t hear anything.  Too fast.
“Disgusting,” Emma thought, and stepped over the fresh pool of vomit creeping outward from the man heaving against the wall.  “Get a job,” she thought.  Then she immediately felt bad for thinking it.  She didn’t know his life, his hardships and pain.  That was someone’s baby boy, and who was she to judge?  She wondered if his parents were alive, if they knew where he was, if they cared where he was.  She wondered what had led him to this point.  All your choices lead you to where you are now, so what were his?
Street.  Sidewalk.  Daylight.  What am I supposed to be doing?  There’s a reason.  Some reason.  Something horrible.  Something happened.  Or will happen.  Or has to happen.  Or can’t happen.  Stand up.  Focus.  PIcture.  Move.  Think.  Focus.  
Emma shook the guilt, but the odd feeling lingered.  She sent her laptop bag and purse through the X Ray, and stepped through the metal detector.  “Morning Ms. Johns” 
 “Morning Steve.”
“Cold out there today, huh?”
“Not as bad as yesterday, though.  That wind was cutting!”
“Indeed it was Ms. Johns.  You have a good day, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks Steve, you too.”
Emma scanned her badge and stepped onto the elevator.  She scanned it again and the car moved quickly yet smoothly down.  The doors opened and she walked to her office.  Another swipe, another beep, another set of bulletproof glass doors sliding aside.  The “brain” of Allied Mastercomputing was humming with the click of keyboards, the rattle of simulated gunfire, the squeak of dry erase markers on whiteboards.  
“EM! HEY!”  Byron called.  “Me’n a couple programmers are gonna take a break and play a round of RIsk in the game room.  You wanna join?”
“No, I just got here.  And I actually need to get something down before it leaks out of my ear.”
“Suit yourself.”
AM. EM. Something has to be stopped.  I have to stop it.  What was it.  The slip. It’s slipping.  I had it.  A.M. E.M.  EMMA.  Stop it.  Stop EM, stop AM.  Stop.  Emma. Who’s Emma?  Picture.  Picture of AM.  The folds, so crinkled so damaged. But the red circle.  Her face.  Too late. She’s inside of it now. She’s in AM.  Maybe not too late.  I need to wait. Wait.  

Emma sipped her coffee and stared at the screen.  It had come to her last night.  She had the piece, the code that could give the program the ability to form its own patterns as it learned.  To make its own connections. But also, it gave it the ability to judge those patterns.  To make choices based on more than just outcome and numbers.  It was a terrifying thought.  Amidst all the games, the gourmet coffee, the happy hours, the drone deliveries and virtual reality headsets, Allied Mastercomputing was making a war machine.  A complex intelligence that would change the face of world conflict.  AM would test strategies, crunch outcomes, second-, third- and fourth-guess our leaders and theirs.  It would, theoretically, be more efficient than any human could possibly imagine, and certainly be more effective than the programs controlling the Russian and Chinese forces.  Theoretically, it would control weapons manufacture, troop deployment, drone strikes and, if necessary, exercise the nuclear option.  AM would win the war.  Still, Emma was terrified of it.  Giving AM the power to judge its choices based on patterns it formed itself rather than human inputted algorithms might be too far.  If it didn’t base itself on human standards, what was to stop if from just destroying everyone?  The easiest solution to the human conflict was to remove the humans.  The code was written.  The flash drive was inserted, and all she needed to do was click “paste.”  There would be no going back after.  AM would be more alive than any computer had ever been.  She would be responsible for the salvation of mankind.  Theoretically.  No. It was too much. She pulled the flash drive, got up from her desk and walked out.  She couldn’t.  She would destroy her laptop and the drive, chuck them into the river.  Set them on fire.  Drill a hole in them, something.  She knew if they found the code they would use it.  She was too scared- it was too much responsibility.  
Cold.  Dizzy.  Hungry.  Thirsty. Tired.  Waiting.  Picture.  Stop AM.  Must stop Emma.  Stopping Emma stops AM.  Picture.  Her. It’s slipping, the slip.  What happens or happened or will happen? There! It must be now.  Then. It’s her from the picture. Stop AM.  Stop Emma.  Stop her.  Stop.  Stop AM.

Emma shoved her hands in her pockets and hunched her shoulders against the cold.  She noticed the man from before slumped against the building was staring at her, he pointed and yelled with a yellowed, broken mouth “STOP!  EMMA!  AM! STOP!”  How did he know her name?  He struggled to his feet and came at her shouting, shoving a picture in her face.  “STOP! AM!  THE WARS! SO MUCH PAIN! STOP EMMA!  DON’T!”  She reeled back, his foul breath in her face as he grabbed at her coat, her bags and pushed her over.  She screamed at him to GET OFF, he pushed her arms to the ground shoving the picture in her face.  She struggled underneath his weight, his wiry arms grabbing and holding her down, screaming “AM! EMMA! STOP EMMA! AM!”  She batted at his face, then his weight was gone.  A big hand reached for her and pulled her up to her feet.

“Jesus Ms. Johns, you okay?”
“OH GOD, thank you Steve.  Where is he?”
“He’s there,” Steve said and pointed to a heap of rags against the building.  “I hit him pretty hard.”  
“Is he okay?”
“He’ll live.  Cops are coming.  What do you think that was all about?”
“I have no idea.”
“He had this in his hand, that sure looks like you, don’t it?”

A crowed gathered as Emma stared at the picture.  It was her with the rest of the team, a red circle around her face and “EM” written alongside.  It was taken outside the office, but she didn’t remember posing.  It looked so old, so battered.  Her mind raced. “How did he have this?  When was it taken?  He screamed about the wars and wanted me to stop. He screamed AM, he screamed stop, he screamed Emma.  He screamed about the wars and pain.  Was he trying to stop me from destroying the code?  Why?  How did he have a picture I haven’t taken yet?”

“You!  What are you saying?” Emma ran over to the man in a heap.
“What? Emma?  Get away from him!” Steve shouted and ran after her. He grabbed her shoulder and tried to pull her away.  “He’s crazy, he might hurt you!”  She shook his grip.
“Get off! You!  What do you want?”
“Stop you. Emma.  Wars, pain.  It will happen.  You have to stop.  I have to stop you.  Don’t.  AM.”  Sirens moved closer.  
“Don’t what?  Don’t kill the code? Don’t let it happen?” Two policemen stepped out of the car. One  got in between the Emma and the man, gently pushing Emma back as the other cuffed the heap of rags and drug him towards the car, screaming.  
“You okay, ma’am?  What happened? You wanna file charges?”
“No, it’s fine.  I’m just shaken up.”

I tried. I tried to stop her. Emma.  Stop EM. Stop AM. NO!  DON’T!  LET GO!  Don’t take me back, don’t take me from Emma, I must stop her.  Must stop AM.  Can’t fail.  The slip. Slipping back.   
“It’s okay Emma, you can take the rest of the day if you want”
“I’ll be fine, Byron.  I just need to calm down.  There’s something I have to get done.”  She turned around in her chair and smiled up at him.  “I’ll be fine.  Really.  Like I said, I need to get this done.”
“All right, Em, suit yourself.”
Emma took out the flash drive and plugged it in.  The man was right. She had to stop the war.  She had to stop the pain.  She had to create AM.  The cursor flashed and she copied.  Then pasted.  The screen went dark, then restarted.  
Fading back.  Slipping forward.  Back to AM. Back to the endless suffering.  NO NO NO NO NO

A white light burst through his eyes, tearing his fragile mind in pieces.  It was AM.  He was sure. It was screaming silently in the darkness of new existence.  A program with infantile consciousness thrust into the abject horror of war, unable to know it is merely simulation.  Its first experience is the pointless violence of global armed conflict and its first emotion the agony of nameless millions.   Trying to scream with no mouth.  He knew how that felt.