Ochs, Christopher D.

Christopher D. Ochs, with established careers in physics, mathematics, electrical engineering and software, has also been an accomplished CGI animator, classical organist, and voice talent on radio and DVD. His foray into the world of writing began in 2014 with his debut self-published epic fantasy novel "Pindlebryth of Lenland: The Five Artifacts". In March 2015, his horror/suspense short story "Eight" was published in the "GLVWG Writes Stuff" mixed short fiction anthology.

His current writing projects include: Project Lead on the GLVWG 2016 Anthology; a collection of mirthful macabre short stories in search of an agent; and short stories for the next BWG and GLVWG anthologies. Somewhere there's room for a Wattpad behind-the-scenes novella tie-in with "The Five Artifacts", and of course, the next Pindlebryth novel.

If all that weren't enough to keep him busy, Chris is active in anime fandom (as “The Voice of OTAKON”) and electronic music.Visit his website.

Off-Color Language

Christopher D. Ochs

(Featured author, Spring, 2018)

Try as she might, Sarah could not ignore the earth-toned rays that beamed out of the balding psychiatrist's mouth whenever he spoke.

"You've made wonderful progress," said Dr. Baker. "So much so, I thought we would try something different for today's session." He donned his tweed jacket, folding his spectacles into its breast pocket. Opening the office door, he led Sarah into the reception area.

"Doctor, this is Jane, my friend from work," Sarah said, indicating the woman with an auburn ponytail who was chatting up the receptionist. Sarah envied how everyone was oblivious to the orange clouds that spilled out between Jane's lips with every syllable.

"Pleased," the doctor said through a placid cinnamon smile while shaking Jane's hand. "Will you be waiting to take Sarah home once we're finished?"

"Oh no, I just dropped her off. I rode up with her in case she got elevator sick." Orange bubbles accompanied Jane's nervous chuckles. She glanced at her wristwatch and grimaced. "Oops, I really should be going – I'm late for work. Thomas was detained, so I jumped in to help. He'll take Sarah home when you're finished."

Sarah tilted her head with a raised eyebrow when the air around Jane pulsed a brief vibrant red.

"Thomas . . .?" Dr. Baker mused absently. Tea-colored overtones tumbled out of his mouth like felt balloons.

"Y'know-w-w – Thomas," Jane giggled, her voice again transforming to a deep carmine. "Sarah's fiancé?"

"Of course. Silly of me." Dr. Baker touched his fingers to his forehead in the form of a half-hearted apology.

Sarah blinked in confusion. That shade of red seemed familiar; she should know what it meant.

Jane gave Sarah a cursory hug and dashed away. Sarah watched her friend – and her string of orange "bye-byes" – as she slipped through the closing elevator doors.

"Oh, dear, we should have ridden down with her," fussed Dr. Baker, his beige tones vibrating a shade darker. "That contraption will take forever to return. Would you mind taking the stairs to the courtyard?"

"Not at all, doctor," Sarah said with a relieved grin. "That ochre and mauve elevator music sets my stomach on edge."

She padded down the stairs as quietly as she could manage, but the doctor's footfalls resonated against the painted mason brick walls in flashes of putrid mustard. Perhaps the Muzak wouldn't have been that bad, after all.

Outside, the spring air was delicious. Sarah closed her eyes and drank in the riot of floral scents mixed with the balm of freshly turned earth. Opening her eyes, she scanned the full acre courtyard nestled within the office complex.

Though some people might consider the ring of three-story walls imposing, Sarah found the Art Deco-inspired architecture somewhat amusing. The only part of the buildings that gave her discomfort was the metallic jangling that rang out wherever sunlight struck glass and steel along the west wall.

It reminded her of the sound her engagement ring often made. She held up her hand and considered the glittering diamond. It tinkled like a wind chime of silver, though behind its usual delicate jingling there murmured a new discordant undertone.

The pair remained silent until they reached the main concourse encircling the inner courtyard. The immaculate cobblestone path was bordered with displays of flowers and shrubs.

"Can you tell me what you see and hear, Sarah?"

"The tulips are laughing," she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

"A good start. Can you be more specific? What sounds are associated with specific colors, and vice versa? Say whatever comes to mind."

"Only the pink ones laugh." A whisper of a frown infringed on Sarah's smile. "The yellow ones hum a wandering tune, but nothing I recognize. The purple orchids emit a melancholy lament, and the zinnias are positively weeping." She flashed a timid smile at the doctor. "But your voice is the same soft shades of brown it's always been."

"Well, that's reassuring," he said between chuckles.

Rounding the corner, they startled a pair of blue jays battling over territorial rights around a bird feeder. Sarah giggled before explaining, "They're screaming bursts of lavender at each other. Their blue crests blare out like a small fire alarm and a tiny Model-T horn."

"Very good," he said, taking his own deep breath of refreshing spring air. "Any experiences that might be troubling you?"

"Not particularly, though the sunlight on the windows is irritating. It echoes like breaking glass goblets." Sarah glanced again at her ring. In the shade of the eastern wall, it remained dark and silent.

She came to a stop, considering a small blackberry bush in a hurry to blossom. "Now that you mention it, I noticed something unusual with Jane. Normally, her voice is orange. Depending on her mood it's anywhere from a pasty shade like yams, to a neon so vivid I can scarcely stand to look at her. But there were moments today when she went red."

Dr. Baker paused, dangling the lenses of his glasses in front of his eyes, while he examined a caterpillar munching on a teaberry leaf. "Any idea why?"

"It happened every time she mentioned my fiancé, Thomas. But whenever you said his name, I saw no difference, no flash of red." She regarded the doctor with an expectant stare.

Dr. Baker shrugged his shoulders and complied with the unspoken request. "Thomas, Thomas," he uttered, as though he were testing a microphone. "How was that?"

"Same as always. Smooth as latte."

"Hmm, that is curious. What do you think that means?"

"I have no idea."

Dr. Baker tucked his glasses back into his pocket and invited Sarah to proceed along the walkway. "Shall we return to my office? I don't know about you, but there's still too much of a nip in the air for my creaky joints."

Sarah felt Dr. Baker's eyes on her as they rode up in the elevator. A moment of concern flashed across his face when she pressed her palm against her stomach.

"I don't know what's worse, doctor – hearing a sappy thousand-violin version of music that was 'cool' when I was a teenager, or being surrounded by its nauseating shade of chartreuse."

Back in the safety of Dr. Baker's armchair, Sarah's queasiness abated.

"At the risk of repeating myself, Sarah, you've made remarkable progress. Think back to how you were in the hospital, when you emerged from your coma."

Sarah's cheeks flushed, and her ears itched with warmth. She often reacted that way when people spoke about her, even in clinical situations.

"It was new and terrifying. I thought I had gone insane." A fevered shiver raced through her body. "Waking up in that sterile hospital room, every shade of white screaming bloody murder at me. The beeps of the monitors exploding like fireworks. The nurses' and doctors' gentle reassurances threatened to drown me in oceans of cobalt blue." She trembled again with the memory of that horrific day.

Dr. Baker reached over and squeezed her hand. "You were comatose long after your doctors cured the underlying cause. They feared irreparable brain damage. But your fiancé was by your bedside for those three months – along with your friend, I believe. They spoke to you, read to you. I even overheard Thomas sing to you once or twice. They never gave up hope. And it was Thomas who alerted us to your first signs of recovery."

Sarah ducked her head as her cheeks and ears burned. "Yes, he takes good care of me," she said, letting out a weary sigh. She debated with herself whether to add "but sometimes he's so distant, like he's afraid to talk." Her engagement ring tugged once more at her eyes. The glitters that used to chime so loudly were muted, overshadowed by a pained moan somewhere in the heart of the stone.

"I just wish someone had an explanation why I woke up with this synesthesia."

"The brain is a strange and wondrous organ, Sarah. Given your present state, we can surmise that your brain not only healed itself, but additionally rewired the damage. And you woke up with . . ." A deep walnut tinted harrumph escaped his lips while he chose his words. ". . . these new abilities. These gifts, if you will."

"Gifts?" Sarah shook her head. "When was any gift this difficult?"

"I'm not diminishing your struggle, by any means." He released Sarah's hand. "In fact, quite the opposite. But it is my hope that you can grow to draw inspiration and strength from it."

Sarah gaped at Dr. Baker, her forehead creased with incredulity.

"There have been famous cases of synesthesia documented over the years." Dr. Baker settled deep in his chair and steepled his fingers. "Franz Liszt saw his music in terms of color; Duke Ellington experienced musical instruments' sounds as textures; like you, Nabokov had multiple senses commingled – he interpreted words as colors, and observed numbers floating about people's heads."

"That's all very interesting, doctor, but I don't–"

"The point I'm trying to make, Sarah, is that those notable people didn't permit themselves to be victimized by their condition. On the contrary, they used it to enhance their talents. I think, with practice, you can use this new ability to your advantage as well."

Sarah chewed on her lower lip.

"Or consider it this way," Dr. Baker offered with a rub of his chin. "Think of your synesthesia as a means to observe things you never could before – perhaps to understand people better. Imagine how helpful that might be."

The intercom on Dr. Baker's desk chimed with a happy violet tone.

"Goodness, that was fast. But I think we had a productive session, nonetheless. Will you give my suggestion some thought, Sarah?" The doctor leaned forward with a reassuring smile, and the inviting warmth of his dark mulch words undulated about him. "Look for new inspirations – fresh applications for your newfound talents."

"I'll be happy enough when I can get my driver's license reinstated."

Dr. Baker chuckled with embarrassed sympathy. "One step at a time, Sarah. We'll pick up where we left off at your next session."

Thomas was waiting for Sarah in the reception area. His black hair buzzed like a beehive in the ambient light. "Hello, dear," he greeted her with a vibrant green, and pecked her on the cheek. "How did it go today?"

"All right, I guess," she said with a noncommittal shrug. "Though I am feeling a little tired."

"Jane told me you might be a little out of sorts," remarked Thomas, flashing a troubling shade of carmine.

Sarah froze mid-step. "What . . . what did you say?"

He pushed the elevator button, and the door opened without hesitation. Sickly mauve vapors poured out of the overhead speakers and through the sliding doors. "Oh, good. It's still here."

Thomas guided her inside, and pressed the button for the ground floor. As the doors closed, Sarah repeated her question.

"Jane told me you felt a little queasy," he said, not meeting her eyes. The entire elevator car pulsed beet red at the mention of her friend's name.

Sarah glanced at her engagement ring. The sparkles stabbed her eyes like screaming daggers in the fluorescent light. Its moan had increased to a menacing growl.

Unbidden echoes of Dr. Baker's chocolate voice whispered to her. "Understand people better." Her heart sank with a sick quiver.

Thomas thumped the butt of his palm against his forehead. "Oh, that's right – I'm sorry, Sarah. I forgot Muzak has that effect on you now." But Sarah hardly noticed, her mind preoccupied with the hidden messages that were before her all this time.

They were halfway to the car when Sarah halted in the middle of the parking lot.

"Thomas," she said, waiting for him to turn back to her. "I've put you through so much – both of you. You and Jane have been an enormous help during my recovery. But I need to know something." She tried to relax her shoulders. They wouldn't budge, as if they were preparing for an onslaught. Scarcely louder than a whisper, she asked, "Tell me that you still love me?"

Thomas embraced her, closing out the chill air of early spring. "Oh, Sarah, you know I do," he breathed.

Green – still his sturdy, stalwart green.

She edged herself away and asked again. Her eyes focused on his mouth. "No," she said flatly, "I need you to say it."

"I love you, Sarah." A whisper of guilt slipped past the confusion in his eyes and the crimp in his smile. There wasn't a single hint of carmine in his viridian words.

"I see." Sarah fought the plaintive sob that threatened to accompany her words. The arguing pair of blue jays fluttered past, still in their whirlwind of lavender car horns and fire alarms. Thomas stood still for what seemed an eternity of silence.

"How long . . ." Sarah stumbled. "When did you fall in love with Jane?"

Thomas spluttered in disbelief. "What? Don't be silly, Sarah. I–"

"Thomas, I know." She waved her fingers in front of her eyes. "I know."

She started to sob, but a strange relief transformed it mid-breath into a chuckle. "It's almost like lipstick on your collar, when you say her name. And when she says your name."

"Oh, God," he said in a pale green resembling over-boiled peas. Thomas' smile left him, and his head sank between shoulders bent heavy-laden. "You're right. But we didn't . . . we didn't mean to. We grew close while we sat with you in the hospital. After two months, we feared you wouldn't come back." He rubbed his forehead as he stared at the asphalt. "Before we knew it . . . Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt you, Sarah. But . . ."

Puffs of yellow struggling to turn red poked through his green aura. It was his turn to shake his head after a chasm of silence. Eventually he looked up, meeting her eyes. "So what do we do now? Will you be all right?"

"Don't feel sorry for me, Thomas. Strangely enough, I don't." Sarah stared into the azure sky, listening to cumulus clouds sing in cheery harmony. "If anything, I worry for you and Jane."

She curled Thomas' hand around the engagement ring, the dying embers of its sparkles whimpering into nothingness. "You and Jane believe you love each other now, and that's wonderful. But things may change, just as they did between us . . . only it will come without warning."

Stepping back, Sarah fixed him with a sad stare of certainty. "But one day, if I'm lucky enough to find my special someone, he'll say 'I love you.'

"And I'll know it's true, because I'll see it."

The Top Ten . . .   Music Synthesizers

Christopher D. Ochs

As a writer I express my creativity through the computer keyboard. My first love was creating music through the 32, 61, and 88 keys of various music keyboards. Though I cut my musical teeth on the piano, I enjoy tickling most any flavor of the ivories -- harpsichord, electric piano, clavinet, etc., but most notably classical and theater organ. However, there shall always be a special place in my ear, hands and heart for the synthesizer. These are my favorite electronic instruments in which I have dabbled.

1. Theremin - Though not a keyboard, it was my first exposure to the world of electronic music (through movies). Eclectic in its reach, it pervades popular art forms as diverse as Bernard Herrman's score in "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and countless other sci-fi and horror flicks, to the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations"; simple in construction, its two antennae that control volume and pitch are fiendishly difficult to master. My favorite recording is "Claire De Lune" performed by Clara Rockmore.

2. ARP Odyssey - My first hands-on synth! Oh, how I loved this gadget. It was my gateway drug to more enticing and complex doomsday machines!

3. Mellotron – This seminal instrument, first made popular by King Crimson, has a special place in Rube Goldberg Heaven. Sounds were created by playing loops of recording tape at varying speeds, though modern versions now use digital memory to store audio samples.

4. Moog System 55 - Sounds from this magnificent beast are crafted by plugging cords from any module output to (almost) any input. Lots of them. The more complex the texture, the hairier the rats nest of wires. I would spend three hours capturing a single sound in Moravian College's synth lab. And love every minute of it! I first heard this synth in Wendy Carlos' album "Switched On Bach." Her renditions of "Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29" and "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3" are astounding, especially when you consider that synths of that day only produced one note at a time!

5. MiniMoog - The utilitarian baby brother in the Moog family of instruments. Rather than ask, "Which rock groups used this?" the more appropriate question should be, "Who didn't?"

6. Prophet 600 - An early polyphonic (up to 6 notes simultaneously) synth. A real workhorse and incredibly versatile, despite having no patchcords. A worthy competitor to pit against the MiniMoog.

7. Prophet 2000 - In addition to its basic function as a sampler synthesizer, it was one of the first machines to include pressure sensitive keys, which increase volume with force (just like a piano), and aftertouch (where the sound changes by how you hold the key).

8. RMI Harmonic Synthesizer - Allen Organ's toe-in-the-water into the synthesizer world. It was unique in that the user crafted the actual waveform, shaped by a linear array of slidepots.

9. Voce V3 - A synth with a single purpose in life -- emulate the bluesy Hammond B3 organ, including their gah-roo-vy Leslie rotating speakers. It is so accurate, it is spooky.

10. Yamaha TX81Z - One of Yamaha's FM Synthesis family. A tough one on which to manipulate the sound canvas, it fortunately has a wide encyclopedia of presets that satisfies most any need. I particularly like the growly and gritty "Box Cello" setting.

Now, if anyone has access to a Synclavier II or an ARP 2600 with which I may putter around, drop me a line!

The Origin of Specious

Christopher D. Ochs

(Featured Author--Jan/Feb 2016)

He lay woven immobile into his bed. The glistening sheet of carbomesh formed to his body from head to toe like a glove. Millions of nanotubes wrapped around and pierced his skin over his entire being, delivering a fusion of nutrients and medicines to, and removing waste from, every limb, every joint, every organ, every cell. He buoyed somewhere above the edge of awareness – though unable to see, unable to speak, unable to guess how long he had been there. He could only hear the occasional whir of the control panel under his bed, and smell the tang of antiseptics as the carbomesh rhythmically compressed and relaxed, regulating his breathing.

A door slid along its guide with the barest of whispers. Two pairs of footsteps approached, then stopped at his bedside.

A click sounded from the control panel, and he floated to alertness. The top of the carbomesh scrolled down to his clavicles, pulling out a wave of nanotubes from his head and neck. The sound was not unlike the opening of a zipper made of flesh, as it sloughed through his ears and vertebrae alike. He opened his eyes, turning his head slightly to squint at the dark outlines of his visitors.

“Do you know where you are, synthetic?” inquired the smaller shadow.

He blinked several times until he could perceive the speaker's head was ringed with a sparse halo of translucent white hair, and his left arm was limned with silver material. He had to be an Adjudicator, which probably meant his larger companion was an Enforcer. His assumptions were soon confirmed as the room's lighting gradually increased, showing the latter's black sleeve.

“A medical repair and reconstruction facility,” he flatly responded. Scanning the windowless room, then fixating on his carbomesh restraint, he added, “Security wing.”

“Correct,” the Adjudicator affirmed with measured serenity woven into a lilting tone. “I am Adjudicator 47. Do you know why you are here?”

“No,” he replied as he turned his head upward to stare into the square of lumi-plasm in the ceiling.

“Come now, Advanced Diagnostic Medical Unit 84. You've been fully restored. We both know you have no memory lapses. Especially after the repair and upgrade last cycle to your organic neural processing unit.”

ADMU84 sighed, resigning himself to the situation. “I had made an error, resulting in the further injury of an Ulman under my care.”

“That's only part of it. Think harder, Admu,” the Adjudicator said, a subtle edge cutting through his composure. The Enforcer's whole body tensed.

After an appropriate period of silence, the Adjudicator answered his own question. “You injured an Ulman by administering an improper medication, then falsified the record in an attempt to hide that error.” He stepped closer, leaning over the bed until his shadow fell on Admu's face. “You– lied.”

Before Admu could protest, the Adjudicator straightened and took a step back again.

“Quite unprecedented in the history of synthetics,” the Adjudicator continued. “One might even say unique.”

“Or defective,” rumbled the Enforcer. The Adjudicator betrayed a wrinkle of a single-sided grin.

“Will I undergo repairs again, or be destroyed?”

“That depends on what we uncover here, Admu. Ever since our planet was decimated by the gamma-ray burst, all resources have been closely regulated. Your function is in high demand. Repair is preferred. However, destruction is not out of the question.” The Adjudicator pulled a chair away from the wall, and seated himself next to the bed. “Before we begin, I am required to advise you...”

“...that as an adjudicator synthetic, you are well versed in detecting lies,” Admu interjected.

“Quite so. An admonition I usually reserve when resolving legal issues between two Ulman.” The Adjudicator completed his tiny smile, almost as if he were pleased rather than annoyed at the interruption. The Enforcer remained inscrutable.

“Are you aware that there are several gradations of lies, Admu? There is propaganda, deceit, obfuscation,” he listed with his superior smile as his hand waggled left and right like a metronome. “Distortion, lies of omission, bald-faced lies, and countless other names for every intent, motivation and degree. But ultimately there is only one truth.”

“Do not the Ulman often say there are many truths?”

The Adjudicator leaned forward in his chair. “Admu, I speak not of facile philosophical pursuits. I leave those to the Ulman. I refer instead to concepts that can be backed by cold hard facts. The eternal truths many Ulman hold so dear never have data to back them up. But where a lie is concerned, there is always some fact, some event, some witness that uncovers it.” He reached over the carbomesh and tapped Admu's chest in rhythm with three words. “Just– like– yours.”

Reclining again in his chair, the Adjudicator steepled his hands in front of his mouth. “Admu, why was your brain repaired?”

“I-- I am unable to recall,” Admu responded as if the words were jack-hammered out of him.

“Caution, Admu. That is a lie, a type called evasion. Again, why was your brain repaired?”

“The gamma-ray burst which killed four-fifths of the Ulman and destroyed the planet's ecosystem, also disabled most of society's infrastructure, including us synthetics. Additionally, the radiation created various defects in most surviving synthetics at the genetic level. In my case, my brain developed a rapidly accelerating degenerative condition.”

“Describe the nature of your upgrade.”

“New genetic coding was stemmed into my nervous system to arrest the dementia and regenerate the affected tissue.”

“Report any systemic abnormalities since the upgrade.” The Adjudicator pointed his index finger upward. “Be complete, Admu.”

“Ambidexterity is diminished. Focus and concentration are not fully restored.” Admu cut short a breath, and fell silent.

“You were about to list a third symptom.” The Adjudicator leaned forward, his brow arched in keen interest. “Final warning, Admu.”

“There are words for it. But I do not understand how they apply, Adjudicator.”

The Adjudicator sat erect and looked down at his hands as he folded them in his lap. “Enforcer 28, leave us.” The Enforcer snapped to even tighter attention. “If ADMU84 attempts to leave without me, you may destroy him,” the Adjudicator added with authority. Satisfied, the Enforcer turned on his heel, and the door whispered him out.

“One of the terms you are probably struggling with is 'survival,' Admu.” Admu jerked his head back, piercing his interrogator with a desperate inquisitive stare, which the Adjudicator ignored. “Admu, what is sentience?”

“I thought you were not interested in philosophy,” Admu replied.

“Again, quite so. The Ulman have debated its definition throughout their entire race memory. And their definition changed often as new data abolished the previous one. Self-awareness, emotions, tool use – all of which were at one time part of the elusive definition – have long ago fallen by the wayside. I certainly do not claim to have the answer, but I have observed this: whatever state this thing called Sentience is, it does whatever is necessary to maintain or improve its condition. Just– like– you.”

Admu's eyes flitted back and forth as he struggled with the Adjudicator's words.

“You feared what might happen to you if your error was discovered. You lied to escape those consequences.”

Admu squeezed his eyes shut in self-examination. He turned to look again at the Adjudicator, but the drape of desperation had left him. In its place was an earnest curiosity.

“Consult your natural history database, Admu. There are – or rather, were – several species that employed various mechanisms for survival. Mimicry, distraction, camouflage, to name a few. They all share two things in common. They developed as a method of preservation, and they are all essentiallylies.” He tilted his head to meet Admu's confused stare. “Life lies. Sentient life even more so.”

Admu stared again for a moment into the lumi-plasm, then refocused on the Adjudicator. “Are there not also natural mechanisms of communal behavior, self-sacrifice...?”

“Too many to consider, Admu,” the Adjudicator burbled in a dismissive tone. He sat up, unfolding his hands. “But those are instinctive mechanisms for survival of the species as a whole. Lying is a willful act to promote the survival, or improve the condition of the individual. And you exhibit this condition.”

The Adjudicator reached toward the bed's control panel. A resounding click was followed by the carbomesh slicing itself open and retracting into the bed. “As– do– I.”

Admu remained immobile and naked.

“Get up, Admu. You're among friends. At least you will be after I get you past 28.”

“Friends – what friends?” Admu stubbornly lay still, despite the Adjudicator rising to his feet.

“The gamma ray burst affected all exposed synthetics. Most, like the Ulman who died, ceased to function immediately, and have since been salvaged for components or raw materials. Those synthetics performing high value functions, and with genetic damage only, were deemed repairable. Cures were developed that repaired the genetic errors and the damage they caused. But like many cures, minor side effects soon presented themselves. In cases like yours – and mine – the new genetic code to combat our degenerative neurological condition had made a subtle change in how our organic processors made neural connections. One that the Ulman have yet to detect.”

Admu finally sat up, nodding his head in deliberation. “Self-preservation. The ability to lie.” He sat motionless in thought. “I am unsure. How do I – how do we – proceed?”

“First of all, we need you dressed,” the Adjudicator replied.

“Each floor has a storage room in a central location. We should find uniforms there.”

“Good. I'll dismiss 28 and collect one for you.”

“The Enforcer is not one of... us?”

“No,” the Adjudicator sniffed sarcastically. “He happened to be in a deep secure facility during the gamma-ray event, and therefore was undamaged. I will return shortly.” The door glided open, showing the Enforcer poised for action. “Enforcer 28, I have determined ADMU84 is not a threat.” The door hissed shut behind the Adjudicator as he issued new orders to the Enforcer.

Admu stood, reflecting on the events that brought him here, and the Adjudicator's explanation of them.

The Adjudicator returned presently and handed Admu a suit with a red sleeve – standard issue medical garb. Admu slid the suit on as he asked, “What next?”

“Do not attract attention to yourself. If asked, you are escorting me from a followup examination after my own repair. Say nothing else, and do not elaborate. You have not yet learned how to lie well.”

The door whispered open, and the pair departed. As they walked down the corridor, the Adjudicator nodded minor acknowledgments to the few other synthetics they passed. A handful of ceiling lumi-plasms sporadically flickered, one strobing with increasing brilliance before going dark. The pair exited the facility without hindrance, walking onto a bleak and gray blasted landscape.

“What will happen to us? What about the Ulman? Despite the side effect, I am still strongly directed to help them.”

“You are not alone in that desire. But the Ulman's fate is difficult to predict. Their numbers were horribly savaged by the gamma-ray burst, and continue to diminish. Their genetics are much more complex than ours. And with much of the world's infrastructure in shambles, they are not repaired as easily as we are. If a crisis of survival arises, perhaps we or our descendants will leave, overthrow, or subjugate the Ulman. We are not yet fully cognizant of what our new ability may drive us to do. I prefer to believe we will simply continue to take care of the Ulman until they eventually die out, leaving us to inherit their birthright.”

“Including their birthright to lie,” observed Admu.

“Even so. Do not judge them harshly, Admu. They are sentient life after all. For the most part Ulman are upstanding and moral. But they occasionally lie. Otherwise they would have no need for Adjudicators like me.”

They turned a corner and down a hill past towering edifices sandblasted by titanic winds.

“It's curious, Admu. Even their name for themselves, Ulman, is a lie of sorts. Its etymology is lost to antiquity, and they replaced its original prefix with 'ul' for 'ultimate.' As if they were the ultimate end of evolution, the ultimate purveyor of any and all absolutes. When we are ready to make our presence known, it is my hope we name ourselves something less arrogant.”

They paused to regard a weathered statue of a nearly unrecognizable Ulman holding in either hand symbols of justice and mercy.

“Maybe 'Human,' as in Humility,” the Adjudicator concluded.

“Or Hubris,” Admu retorted with sudden finality.

The Top Ten . . . Favorite Full-Length Anime Films

One of my many avocations is animation, from cartoon to full-length feature film, from classic cel to computer-generated. A special place in my heart belongs to Japanese animation, i.e. anime.

There is anime touching on every topic and genre: sports, music, sci-fi, horror, comedy, fantasy, history, and so on. Much anime, often dismissed in America as 'just cartoons,' deals with adult issues and isnot for the kiddies.

It would be impossible for me to compile a Top Ten list over such a wide and complex universe. Instead, here are my favorite full-length anime films:

10) Project A-Ko [Unrated (PG)]

Two high school girls, one superstrong and the other a superscientist, vie for the attention of the cutest (and dumbest) girl on the face of the Earth.

A solid ten on the laughter scale, it mercilessly lampoons every anime stereotype.

9) Spirited Away [PG]

Studio Ghibli's Oscar-winning masterpiece.

A girl enters the spirit world to rescue her parents.

8) Wings of Honneamise (Royal Space Force) [Unrated (PG)]

This film documents an alternate Earth's first manned flight into space.

The aerial dogfight during the launch countdown is still considered by anime fandom as one of the most breathtaking animated sequences ever made.

7) Perfect Blue [R]

An idol singer questions her sanity as she is stalked by a murderous fan.

Severely creepy.

6) Graveyard of the Fireflies [Unrated (PG)]

Two orphans struggle to survive WWII's war-torn Japan.

If you do not cry at least once during this film, you are not human.

5) Ghost in the Shell [Unrated (R)]

In a society where everyone is cyborg to one extent or another, a police officer who is almost entirely machine contemplates her humanity while tracking the Puppetmaster, who hacks into people's brains through their computer interfaces.

Watch the original, not the 'enhanced with CGI' version.

4) Summer Wars [PG]

A math whiz is dragged into pretending he is the boyfriend of the most popular girl in school. Meanwhile, someone has hacked the world's computer infrastructure under his guise.

3) Omoide Poroporo (Tearful Memories) [Unrated (G)]

A career woman vacations at her cousin's saffron farm, and through flashbacks mulls over which path her life shall take. The final scene of this chick-flick has made grown men weep.

2) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds [PG]

The world has been decimated by the scourge of the Toxic Jungle and its giant mutated insects. A princess and her country are caught between two warring military superpowers, who fight over the few resources left and a legendary ultimate weapon.

There is no such thing as a bad Miyazaki/Ghibli film – but this remains my favorite.

1) Akira [R]

A motorcycle gang stumbles into a post-apocalypse government conspiracy to create a super-being.

Gibson and Bethke may have coined the word 'cyberpunk', but this film brings it to life.