Katherine needed supplies. Getting supplies was always a troubling event.

Living in Pine Valley near San Diego was about as idyllic as idyllic gets for humans. Katherine was always awake to enjoy the dawn, but on supply days, she found herself dithering around the house until nine o’clock or later. It was 9:46, and when she’d found that she had run out of things over which to dither, she decided to get going.

Katherine was a widow. Her husband had passed on three years earlier and had plenty of warning about his demise. He and his wife saw the consequences of his absence from her life and her husband worked like a demon to make sure that his Katherine would be well cared for. The Jeep had been refurbished and modified to run on electricity. Solar panels were everywhere gathering power. Enough seeds had been purchased to last a century. Water filtration to last beyond a lifetime was in place and dehydrated food had been stored when it became obvious that farming was going to be too much for her. She was lonely but felt well-cared for.

She grabbed her keys and wallet, then stopped for a moment to check herself in the mirror beside the front door before leaving. The boots, snug jeans, white shirt, light jacket, and cowboy hat were exactly what she wanted. Her graying hair was an accomplishment, the lines on her face hinted at her wisdom and humor, and the bluish grey eyes let everyone know she was someone to be taken seriously.

At 50 years old, Katherine could still run well, throw haybales, and climb a ladder to patch a roof. She wasn’t a terribly big fan of any of those activities, but she knew that there was very little that she couldn’t do now that she could do in her twenties. Fitting into 30-year old jeans was one of the things she could easily do and she wore them with pride.

She got into the Jeep and started it up. Even after years of driving the jeep with the electric motor, it still just seemed wrong that the engine didn’t roar to life. The hum seemed anemic. She sighed, dropped the roof, put on her sunglasses, put on Sgt. Pepper, and knew she was the hottest chick on the planet. It was not a hard case to argue.

It didn’t take long to get to Interstate 8, and from there it was an easy drive into San Diego. The weather was despicably perfect, the sky was clear, the road was clear, the wind in her hair was just as it ought to have been, and somehow, this never got old.

San Diego was still a few miles off when she noticed a nude couple wandering down the shoulder of the road. Twenty years ago, she would’ve gotten her .38 special handy and politely asked them if they needed help. This was not 20 years ago and she knew that these people were well beyond help.

She made her way down the three-lane roads, past the 7Eleven, and turned in to the “Ranch Feed and Supply” on Campo Road. She had yet to see anyone wearing clothes.

Katherine turned off the Jeep and walked into the supply store. She made sure that the sound of her boots and the squeak of the old wood floor were heard by everyone. She petted the cat and talked to her a bit since this was the only other sensible creature in the place. After that, she began gathering what she needed while obnoxiously bumping into as many of the naked patrons she could find. No one seemed to notice.

After having a bit of fun with everyone there, she went to the checkout, where a blank-faced but otherwise charming, and unclothed, young lady stood at the cash register waiting to ring up sales.

Katherine placed her items on the counter, retrieved a gold coin, and tossed it on the counter.

“Here you go, missy.”

The head with the blank face nodded slightly in recognition of something being said to her. After the transaction, Katherine got her serious face on and said to the young lady, “There’s a grizzly bear behind you.”

The stone-faced cashier’s expression cleared into an expression that Katherine recognized as very nearly human. It cleared and once again she resumed her “I’m thinking about something super hard” expression, and Katherine went on about her business quietly shaking her head.

She left the store and loaded up her Jeep. As she began her approach to the driver side door, she noticed a youngish man walking down the side of Campo Road. He was wearing a “I’m thinking about something extra super hard” expression and nothing else. She thought she may have the opportunity to liberate this young man.

She exited the parking lot and stood in his path. He bumped into her and moved to his right to go around her. Katherine moved to her left to intercept him and, once again, he bumped into her. After two more bumps, the young man finally stopped moving. Katherine wondered if there had been cultures in which these two would be forced to marry each other after such an interaction.

The young man’s expression softened a bit and there was a quiet desperation that tinged his already troubled face.

“Hello,” said Katherine.

The young man said nothing, but there was something about his expression which indicated to Katherine that he wanted to communicate with her.

Katherine sharpened her eyes in an attempt to penetrate the cloud that shrouded the young man.

“So, what’s your name cutie pie?” she said.

The young man’s eyes moved side to side and up and down as he sought information about what to do in this situation. He came up with nothing.

“You know, maybe what we need here is to establish a touch stone, a common experience that we can both relate to so that we might get to know each other better.”

The young man’s face went blank again as he resumed his previous “thinking hard” expression. It was clear to anyone with a compassionate bone in their body that this man and every other person she’d met were, if not in pain, very uncomfortable.

“Do you remember,” she said in the most soothing voice she could muster, “any TV commercials? I remember one where these girls were sitting around a lunch table at school; they were the sort of girls who primped and preened for two hours before getting to school. Why anyone would want to look that good for geometry class is completely beyond me but…whatever. And in the commercial, they are all completely silent except for the frequent laughter and that awful “oh no you didn’t” expression on their face. All of them were laughing except for the prettiest girl there. It was a two-minute commercial with special effects that were stunning. You remember, don’t you?”

The gaunt, Katherine guessed, 24-year old’s eyes began searching again. Up and down and back and forth went his eyes. He was trying to formulate some kind of a response.

“The special effects were the best thing about the commercial; well, I thought so, anyway. They showed you what the girls were thinking and what the girls were sending to their friends at the table. None of those awful cell phones that everyone ended up hating were used. And none of the girls said a single thing. Does that sound like anyone you know?” asked Katherine.

The one-sided conversation caught the attention of some technicians, who were wearing clothes, in Mountain View, California.

“Henry, can you come here please? I have some unusual readings from one of our Bees.”

“Where’s it coming from, Carol?”

“From San Diego.”

“Soooo, if it’s coming from San Diego where the weather is almost always nice, this is not a Bee, it’s a…” Henry hoped that Carol would figure this out.

“Oh, right, he’s a BWOP, a bee without pants,” said Carol. “Henry, why do we have BWOPs?”

“For the same reason that dogs lick their nuts, Carol.”


“Because they can,” said Henry, treading dangerously close to sounding hyper-paternal.

“Okay, so let’s see who this BWOP is. Bring up his profile,” said Henry.

Upon seeing his profile, Henry said, “Damn, another smart one. 94th percentile in the FTL division. He’s not the smartest bee we’ve got working on faster than light travel, but he’s pretty damned close. Access his chip, let’s see who he’s talking to…oh no, not her again.”

Katherine’s animated face graced the screen of the watchers. Behind her were small mountains and small trees, and when the BWOP looked down, a faded CA-94 sign could be seen painted on the road as a reminder of the road being traveled.

Katherine continued, “So, as the commercial went on, the camera seemed to go inside each girl’s head and we could see that any one of the girls could bring up any image they wanted from the Internet; sorry, when you’re old, you end up using terms like ‘Internet.’ And not only could they see images, the special effects made the images soar through the air, into the cloud, and then into their friends’ heads. Everyone who saw the commercial thought that this was the coolest thing ever. But there was one girl who couldn’t get any messages at all. I’ll bet you can guess who wasn’t receiving or sending messages. C’mon, guess.”

The lack of a response didn’t dampen Katherine’s enthusiasm one bit. With each piece of her recollection, she became more and more animated. She was using the same voice that she would use with her now-lost children when she read them bedtime stories.

“It was the super-cute girl, of course. She was left out of the loop. She had no idea what was going on and couldn’t get anyone to say anything or let her in on any of the jokes. Everyone was soooo happy, but she was sooooo sad. Then, at the end of the day when all of the girls are leaving from school…you remember school, don’t you?”

No response.

“Good, that’s exactly the right thing to say, I like my men naked and silent,” said Katherine. “Well, at the end of the day when they were leaving school, all of the girls, except for the super-cute one, ran off to the nicest car in the parking lot laughing but not saying a word, and the super-cute girl was left all alone to walk by herself to the nastiest car in the parking lot. Soooo sad, don’t ya think? And you must remember the tag line don’t you? Oh, I’m sure you do.”

The BWOP remained stoic.

“’Don’t miss out on life. If you don’t get the chip, you won’t get…anything,’” Katherine said in her perkiest voice. “And then they cut to the pretty girl in the plain little car that she actually has to drive, crying her baby blues out. She picks up the pamphlet in the seat for Braingate Industries from the passenger front seat and looks wistfully in to…well, they never really showed what she was looking at, but she looked darned wistful,” said Katherine.

“God, I hate this woman,” said Henry. “What are the BWOP’s vitals?”

“His pulse is 162, resting pulse is listed at 103, BP is 201/125, resting BP is 140/110,” said Carol.

“What the hell is he doing?” asked Henry

“He’s scouring YouTube for relevant videos. He’s stuck on one that shows some guy getting a pink slip. The guy is walking from his job while his workmates look on, shaking and nodding their heads at the same time. Oh, here’s the punch line: ‘The Chip, because your family depends on you,’” said Carol.

“I still don’t know your name,” said Katherine. “It’s not often I see a pecker without knowing the name of its owner. Although, as I understand it, that sort of thing used to happen at parks and bus terminals once in a while, but it usually ended with the woman walking away in disgust or the man covering up and running away before security found him. C’mon, tell me your name, sweetie?”

“Blood pressure and pulse are rising, searching for bus terminals and peckers and…he’s also trying to talk…apparently,” said Carol.

“Chip got your tongue? Ewww, that’s it: I’ll call you Chip. Is that okay? Ya know, maybe I’m the one who’s being rude. My name is Katherine, but since I know so much about you, you can call me Kate. Like the Taming of the Shrew Kate, but only if people piss me off. Have you ever read Shakespeare? Not just the name of course, but all of the stuff he wrote; there’s a lot of stuff to read there. Go read it; you might learn something about being human again.”

“Oh no! NO, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO! Is Chip—I mean the BWOP—actually going to start reading Shakespeare?” fretted Henry.

“Sure looks that way, blood pressure is…plateauing at 277/180,” said Carol.

“So, ya’ likin’ all that fancified talkin’, Chip?,” asked Katherine. “…I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’ Have you ever thought about adverbs, Chip? Stephen King, imperiously and obnoxiously and venomously, declared that adverbs are not your friend. I found that to be stunningly and foolishly short-sighted…ly. I mean, seriously, if you’re going to describe how something is to be done, isn’t just more convenient to use an adverb? Was Stephen King afraid of those big bad adverbs? Maybe he should have written a book about the Lying in Derry and how the unnecessarily huge usage of adverbs turned those towns in to a writhing morass of evil, zombiely lives. See how I did that, the Lying in Derry? Brilliant, huh? How many adverbs do you reckon Stephen King actually used?”

“Great, another reason to hate Stephen King,” said Henry, scowlishly.

“His vitals…” Carol was interrupted.

“Damn the vitals, make him stop thinking about something. Maybe his prime mission can be put on hold,” said Henry.

“No can do,” said Carol. “Musk Junior really wants to see what warp factor nine actually looks like.”

“Great, another reason to hate Star Trek,” said Henry.

“You know, Chip, there’s an 800-pound gorilla staring right at us that we haven’t even seriously talked about yet. Well, not exactly 800 pounds: I can’t think of very many things that are six inches long and weigh 800 pounds. That’s a really nice pecker you got there; you know that, right? It’s not all scrunched up and hidden in pubic hair, that’s not my cup of tea at all. No, it’s nice and relaxed and enjoying the weather. That’s a good thing, eh? Does it see much action? You look like a pretty smart bee; I’d think you’d be in high demand. What a shame it’s not like the good old days when you could take entire days and just enjoy another human. My husband and I used to do that as often as we could. Now, it’s like, what, you get a message from someone saying the time is good for her, you saunter over for 90 seconds of human interaction and then wander off?”

Old commercials, illicit happenings at playgrounds, images of happy husbands and wives searching through “The Stand” for adverbs, working through scenarios for FTL travel, super-cute unhappy girls, trying to overcome the “no talking” priority, and unsightly peckers were just some of the things burdening Chip’s mind. It was clear that this was not fun. He was flushed, his eyes were becoming bloodshot, and a small trickle of blood was emerging from his nose.

“Carol, we have to do something. Are there other BWOPs nearby? Can we get them involved? Can we get them to break this up or carry her away or…or…something?” Henry knew what options were available; he was just hoping that Carol might think of something he had not.

“There are 14 BWOPs within 300 meters. None of them have any crowd control or security protocols in their programming. We can get them over there, but the best they might be able to do is to distract her. She doesn’t look as though she’s the type to be easily distracted.”

“Give it a try. We gotta do something.”

Katherine was unrelenting. “Chip, you seemed really troubled. Do you know what separates humans from the rest of the fauna? Well, that’s a good point that you just made, Chip; it used to be pants. But there is something more fundamental that separates us from machines and animals. Humans make music. Whether it’s just tuneless whistling or a comfortable humming or powerful arias or whatever it was that Yoko Ono used to do, humans make music. Can you make music without having your strings pulled?”

At that moment, Katherine noticed a number of BWOPs exiting the nearby buildings and heading her way. The possibility that this could be a violent confrontation had her concerned, but she decided to stay the course. She’d spent her entire life looking like a fool when it came to technology. She’d tell the scoffers that she would not give up her soul to something this invasive. Her husband put up with her eccentricities; her children viewed her as a latter-day Luddite; she lost more and more friends as the convenience of Facetime and texting became preferable to calling and visiting. Now that her friends and children were gone—or worse yet, chipped—life was tough and she had had her fill of hiding from the problem. She wasn’t running anywhere.

As the other BWOPs got closer, she noticed that Chip hadn’t made any move toward her and the BWOPs kept a reasonable distance. Perhaps they couldn’t touch her.

“Damn, damn, damn!! There’s got to be a way to get around the “no human interaction unless allowed” directive. Can’t we get them to shut her up?” fumed Henry.

“Sure, if she had a chip. Interaction has to be allowed. We could get a 15-person orgy started with the BWOPs anytime you want, but getting them to go for her can’t happen because she can’t give consent. Maybe they’ll change the rules,” said Carol.

Katherine proceeded as she always did. She was fearless.

“Omigod, this is awwwwwsome. All your naked friends are here. Why don’t we go around and introduce each other? I’ll start. I’m Kate; my husband could call me Katie but no one else lived to tell the tale of the time they called me Katie. I like farms and sunny days and keeping myself something of a mystery,” she said as she undid two of the buttons on her white shirt, Chip noticed. “Holy crap, Chip, I thought you were dead, but you actually looked. Good boy. Are ya done with Shakespeare yet?”

Katherine noticed a slight back and forth motion of the head. She shrieked and ran over to Chip and gave him a very long and passionate kiss.

“You tried to say ‘no,’ didn’t you?”

There was a slight movement of the head up and down.

“You are one hard-working guy, Chipster. If you can give me two full spoken sentences, I’ll take you home, get these jeans off, and we can have some serious fun. Yep, just me and my silent naked houseboy, Chip. I won’t take you home, though, unless you talk at least a little. If I can’t hear how awesome I am once in a while, it’s all a bit pointless. But I’m neglecting introductions. How about you, short and hairy: what’s your name?”


“Blondie, how about you? Inchworm? Big butt? Can anybody here say anything?” asked Katherine.


“Well, if you can’t say anything, that’s perfect because you’ll make a terrific audience. Until you have to clap, I suppose. Let’s see how it goes.” Katherine took a moment to clear her throat and then let loose. “What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play…”

“What is she singing?” asked Carol.

It was Henry’s turn to be wistful. A very long time ago, this burly, brusque, businesslike tough guy played the gender-bending master of ceremonies in one of the last theater productions his high school would ever mount. There were times he reminisced about the good old days when just a small minority of people were chipped. As others began to realize the huge competitive advantage those with chips had, people demanded to be chipped. Almost no one wanted to be left out. He not only watched humanity diminish itself, he helped hurry it along. Given a second chance, he probably would have done the same thing.

“Cabaret. It’s a musical,” said Henry to the 21-year old Carol.

“A musical what?”

“A show or story told through music,” said Henry.

“It sounds like a happy show,” said Carol.

“…It only sounds that way.”

Katherine really threw herself into it. By the time it was over, her shirt was beginning to show signs of sweat and her face was glowing like Niagara Falls.

“Nothing? No applause? Can’t ya at least reach into your pockets and throw a dollar or two up here? Oh, right; I keep forgetting you’re all naked.”

“I…I just don’t get it,” Katherine’s demeanor changed. Seeing all of these lost souls in front of her pushed her over the edge, and the happy-go-lucky approach to the end of humanity ended and she became angry with all of them.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now,” she sang. “Are any of you alive? From what I gather, the people who monitor you call you bees. You can all be swept up in a hive mentality and go on to create great things, but at what cost?” She ran to Chip, grabbed him by the shoulders, and looked deep into his eyes.

“Chip, what are you working on? What are you thinking about that’s worth your life?”

“Vitals?” asked Henry

“310/225, pulse is 212,” said Carol.


“Chip, who are you? You might as well be some tragic comic character in a Thomas Swift novel doomed to a life of searching for the unknowable while those that run the asylum can still laugh, get high, and enjoy a sunset. Do you know how much you’ve given up? Why would a beautiful young man like you throw your life away? Is all that you’ve lost worth endless porn and kitten videos with no phone or tablet? It’s all such a waste.”

The trickle of blood from Chip’s nose was no longer a trickle. The strain of having a portion of his brain used as a portion of supercomputer and the challenge of trying to understand the meaning in the words of a stranger were too much. He collapsed at her feet. The rest of the BWOPs turned away to resume whatever it was they were doing before they were summoned. The queen bee had released them, but would assemble them as needed in the future.

Katherine hoped this would happen. She didn’t think of herself as a murderess, but rather a liberator of souls. She went back to her Jeep and moved as many of the supplies as she could into the passenger seat. There was probably enough room for Chip. She returned to him and employed a fireman’s carry to get him back to the Jeep. She was surprised that he was so light. She gently placed him into the back of her vehicle, ejected the Sgt. Pepper CD, and the Jeep hummed to life.

The weather was still despicably perfect, the sky was clear, the road was clear, and the wind in Katherine’s hair was just as it ought to have been. She arrived at the farm, unloaded her supplies, and jumped on the Bobcat. Chip deserved a proper burial, but she had no intention of digging a hold that big with a shovel; she wasn’t that old-fashioned.

She made the Bobcat turn and dance and lift and haul, and in no time, she had a properly-sized grave prepared and placed a sheet beside it to cover Chip so that he might have at least a shred of dignity. She left to get Chip and found three vultures sitting on her Jeep. They were easy to chase off.

Death had been hard on Chip. He was certainly not the handsome young man he had been when standing by the supply store being tortured by his handlers and Katherine. She lifted him from the back of her Jeep, carried him out to the grave, laid him on the ground, and slit his throat. She would never be able to sleep again knowing that she may have buried someone alive.

Katherine laid him in the grave, covered him with the sheet, and said a few heartfelt words that she hoped God might hear. She filled the grave, turned, and walked back into the farmhouse and began fixing lunch.