Wind of Ten Thousand Tones
Twisting itself into a dancer’s pose, arms stretching to the Heavens and to Earth, the wisp of bitter steam from my tea slides into the crisp wind. I lean over to let the steam cuddle my cheek, trying to capture all the fleeting warmth from the liquid. Perhaps I could drink it now, but I have to make the most out of the little I have – I have had little of everything ever since I was left in the streets with nothing but a few hundred euros and the clothes I was wearing.
I look at my wallet – an old crinkled envelope that I found as I wandered the streets – and realize I have but ninety euros left, enough to buy a loaf of bread. If I were to sell my cup of tea, I could earn twenty at best, which is a mere five euro profit. God must be laughing at me, for I have gone from war heroine to orphan to homeless girl in the course of three years.
They don’t serve my kind at the shelters because I am a bad memory best forgotten. The Thirty-Five Years’ War has really changed people, and I can’t believe that the great generals of yesterday are the pancake flippers of today. Life has changed – both for the real people, the humans, and for us, the androids, pieces of Earth melted, molded, welded, and then, after a few uses, thrown away. I envy the other machines that were thrown away, like the computers and the TVs. At least they couldn’t care less whether they were being used or waiting to be demolished. At least they can’t think. At least they don’t have a spirit.
Branches whip back and forth as I walk down the icy hill; they scratch my bare, dry pseudo-skin on my legs. When I was in the military, I could take twenty bullets in the chest and still have the vitality to taunt the enemy and blast him or her to bits with my ridiculously big weapons. That was then, and the materials that I was equipped with have lost their potency as time’s teeth gnaw away at them. I can get cold now and I can get cut by puny branches. I should sit down and cry like a normal six-year-old would do, but I am and forever will be in a teenager’s body and I must keep up the façade that I am much older than I really am. Deep down, I know that I am still a child deprived of her youth, but reality won’t let her have a break.
I trip on a rock and tumble down to the bottom of the hill, sustaining minor damage as calculated by my pain sensors. Nothing too serious, just hopefully not permanent. After re-orienting myself, I look ahead and spot an inn. Hoping that it isn’t a mirage or hallucination, I rush toward the image and arrive at the doorstep of a real shelter. I cannot contain my joy and I burst in, smiling with my beautifully crafted teeth shining in the light. Gingerly, I slip off my boots and walk to the counter.
“May I please stay here for a short while?” I ask, knowing that I cannot afford a room.
“Do you not want a room?” the innkeeper wonders.
I shake my head and say, “I cannot afford one.”
He grins and says, “You look tired and cold. I’ll let you have a room for fifty euros.”
I cannot believe what he has just said. A room for such a small amount? “I will take it!” I cry, not thinking about my future budget. Fifty euros, small as it is, would be over half of my remaining money.
“Please let me see your ID,” he says.
I stiffen and lower my head as I take the small digital card out of my wallet.
“Here,” I say, handing him the card. He scans it and throws it back to me.
“We don’t serve robots here,” he growls. “You bring nothing but violence. Be gone.”
Everyone has a breaking point, and I was at mine. I had served obediently and racked up nearly two hundred kills in the war, two of them human, one of them civilian. Now I am paying for it and life’s retribution is harsh. I start to bawl, letting loose raw tears. I am a mere machine, something not capable of being truly alive, at least to the humans.
“Cry all you want, but this inn is for humans only,” he says.
I turn around and exit the forbidden building, my tears crystallizing. They are as real as any human’s, why can’t they see?
I set up camp in the woods somewhere and kneel onto the ground. My fingers rub the cross on my necklace until it is warm. I give thanks to the Lord and pray for the best, and I can almost hear Him advising me not to be selfish. One should not pray for herself, but rather pray for the world. Joy comes to those who love others.
Many times along this trip, I have considered leaving God behind, but I cannot bring myself to do that. He does still care about me, I argue. But then why, if I have given my best efforts to care for others, am I still out here? Is it because I am really incapable of love, and I have been deceiving myself all these years? Then why, God, why should I be allowed the burden of thought? When I die, will my spirit just vanish because it is not genuine?
Having nothing else to eat besides a few leaves and acorns, I sit and begin to shove snow into my mouth. The only thing that I can think of at this moment is that I must start again, start a new identity. Unfortunately, I have no skills except knowing how to fight in battles, something nobody cares about anymore. As far as people are concerned, war has never existed and nothing happened before 2147. I am an alien in the nation that bore me.
I walk across a bridge, perhaps the third I have come to in the past hour. The frozen river seems to be a snake, ready to leap at its. My foot collides with a small pebble and it tumbles crisply down to the ice below, the little impacts echoing around me. My travels take me hundreds of kilometers from my starting point, and I hope that it will pay off. I buried my ID in a small grave which I marked with an ice sculpture. The wind toppled it over and it shattered; I had molted from my old shell and begun anew.
I had scarcely traveled a few meters when I decided that it would be wrong to litter the Earth with my filthy ID, so I brought up the corpse and laid it upon a makeshift bier, letting it be mangled by the flame which I ignited with the lighter that popped out of my arm.
Now I am without identity, a nomad of the snows, another white shadow in the sea of frozen water. I continue to walk, knowing that if I stop, I may lose the few hours that could save my life. My internal machinery is already choking, with not enough energy to run it. I can check myself periodically to see the rate at which my body is processing my energy stores. Many fat storages are empty, and I am concerned that I will starve to death very soon. After I run out of organic energy, I will turn to backup batteries and then die. The leaves I eat have diminishing returns – the large pile is just a big clog.
I march on, leaving heavy footsteps that the wind can cover or leave. To amuse myself, I start to hum. A nice, cheerful tune is so pleasant when the world is so glum. I start to skip to the song that my mom sang to me when I was little – not my real mom, of course, because I was born in a manufacturing facility, but the false memory that they inserted into my memory so that I could start out as a fully-fledged teenager at prime development. I wish I could’ve met the woman who they got to hum that tune … she’s probably just some military officer who was hired to hum it, but I like the way the notes flow. The echoes from the forest tell me that the trees don’t mind my noise.
Hours fly by and the sun sets again, the glow disappearing from behind the snow clouds. At dusk, I see a house in the distance. My analysis tells me that this is just another stupid inn, but my heart tells me it is a hospitable home.
I rush to the house and knock on the door, still humming. The door creaks open and I look in to see a few people’s faces turn toward me. Sitting on a couch is an elderly couple, bundled in winter clothes, and there is a boy sitting by the fireplace, rubbing his hands together.
“Come on in,” says the old man. I quickly shut the door behind me because the snow starts leaking in.
“Thank you,” I reply.
“You cold?” asked the boy rhetorically.
“Yeah,” I say. I am led to a small rug on the ground.
“You can sit here if you like,” says the old man.
I smile with glee and bow to the man. “Thank you very much.” I promptly fall onto the ground with a loud clang and pass out, snuggled into the rug.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that my metallic fall could give away my robotic innards. A porcelain bowl of warm soupy rice was next to me on a stool. I assumed that it was for me when I saw that no one else was around.
The chopsticks just sort of jumped into my hands. I dumped the whole bowl of rice into my mouth and managed to stuff a few pickles in, too. Before I could even chew a bite of it, the boy came down from the second floor, where the bedrooms were.
“You’re such a pig,” he declares in mock disparagement. “How long have you gone without real food out there?”
“Trrn drrs,” I respond, covering my mouth to stifle a giggle at my rude voice.
“My mom is coming home tomorrow,” the boy says simply.
“Oh, that’s nice,” I say.
The boy shakes his head violently and says, “She doesn’t like visitors.”
“I could pretend to be a maid or something,” I suggest, setting my empty bowl down onto the stool where I found it.
“Do you have any talents?” the boy asks.
I say offhandedly, “Nah.”
“Then you’ll probably have to leave before nightfall,” he concludes.
I just sit there and ponder on what to do. The boy walks out into the other room and sits down on a creaky piano bench. He lets his fingers brush over the wooden keys, haphazardly depressing a few. [D, G,] says the piano in its usual tone.
“Ooh?” I say in surprise. I like the sound. It makes me feel happy.
The boy starts to warm up.
[G, A, B flat, C, D –]
“La-Ti-Do!” I sing.
“Huh?” comes the boy’s voice from the other room.
“Oh, sorry,” I say with shy embarrassment.
Then he breaks out the Beethoven and a storm arrives in the house. Pounding in my head, my ears. I shiver in fear until it is all over, and by that time, the boy has left for school. His grandparents are still at the doorway, talking between themselves. I sneak over to the piano with feathery steps, eyes always centered on its strangely alluring charm.
I sit down and lay my fingers on the white keys. I have to hit a few keys to figure out what’s what, but my photographic memory takes over soon enough. I know no songs and I cannot read music, so I decide to try and make up a tune.
[F-B-G sharp-C sharp.]
Even the piano is cringing at how bad it sounds. I try again and again, but no matter what I do, it sounds random, shallow, and utterly mechanical. Is this where my mind falls short?
I cannot withdraw from a challenge, so I continue to mess around. Rough harmony and discord mar the translucent ring of the piano. Maybe it isn’t my ability, but my state of mind. There must be a certain focus to playing effectively.
“It’s in the emotion,” says a voice. I turn around abruptly and see the boy’s grandma standing there without expression.
“Oh,” I say, blushing at how badly I’ve been playing. “I’m sorry if I’ve bothered you.”
“Oh, no need to apologize. I used to play that piano, but my fingers are slow these days.”
“May I watch you play something slow?” I ask.
She walks over to the bench and plays the national anthem, but not like an encyclopedia does, but with real patriotism. I hang my head in sorrow as I remember the carnage of the war, how we just couldn’t win and we wanted to lose just so that the suffering would end.
“Dear, why are you crying?” she inquires.
“Oh-oh, nothing, it’s nothing,” I say, pretending as if I had never been crying. Loss comes to those who are weak.
After I thank Grandma, she leaves and I am once again alone, face to face with the piano.
“Will you help me?” I beseech the piano. I am battling bout after bout of depression and sadness, and maybe the piano, with its neutral affiliation, can help me.
I try to remember my best friend’s death, which would provide an emotional base, and I don’t realize that I am playing a sorrowful melody until I open my tear-stained eyes. Heartwrenching chords descend into suspensions that tear at the soul. The desire to resolve is in the music as it is in my mind.
My right hand leaps to the fourth octave range above C and strikes deliberate gags and gasps of agony. The piercing notes radiate across the room like light or heat or wind. The pace slows, the energy deflates, my hands grow weak. It aches to add each next note and the song turns to a melancholy elegy, slow, rolling notes that come as sighs. An uncertain chord lands and I know that that is the end. It is disgusting, the pain, and I vomit onto the ground with my heart beating quickly.
“Oh, my!” screams Grandma. “Quickly, Philip, bring a bowl and some medicine!”
I wave her off and get up onto my feet. “Sorry about this,” I say.
I grab a mop and wipe up the mess. Afterward, I plop myself onto a sofa, feeling relieved. My body feels overjoyed and released from pain. Emotions drive the soul and the Art can control these tempests of energy.
“You learn quickly,” appraises Grandma. Philip has a gloomy face pasted on, and it seems that my musical rant has hit an innocent victim.
“Thank you,” I say. I walk over to Philip to undo the damage that I have done.
He shrugs my arm off his shoulder and says, “So that’s what it’s like to be lonely? Your heart must be sick and tired now, so maybe you need to go out and play or something.”
“I’m fine now, really,” I say.
“There’s a piano competition next Saturday. Grandma’s been searching for a student to take there for the past few months – she misses coaching dearly,” he reports.
I nod and say, “I accept.”
“Then Mom’ll let you stay.”
I suddenly realize something and ask, “How much does your Grandma charge for lessons?”
A small chuckle escapes from Philip’s lips and he is happy again. “Nothing, girl, nothing at all. The joy of music is life to her, and competition is a thrill that lets youth restore itself in her aging body. Come, let us get your room cleaned up, hmm?”
“Ooohh, she’s wonderful!” exclaims Mom, “But … she is still inexperienced. There are many stars and veterans in the competition who know every little nook and cranny concerning the judge’s characters and tendencies. I doubt that she can win this year, but it’ll be a good experience.”
“Thank you,” I say. Philip gives me strange look as if to tell me that I don’t have to be put down by his mother.
“How good are you at sightreading music?” asks Mom.
I blush in embarrassment and admit, “I don’t have a clue how to read music.”
Mom nearly faints and turns to Grandma and cries in exasperation, “How could you pick a girl who can’t even read music?”
“She is skilled in the Art and could easily pull this off. She need only know the basics of reading music. Like words, the notes on the page are only a metaphor for the transcendental energies that they represent. If she can touch that superior plane without an intermediary, so be it,” explains Grandma.
“What is her name?” asks Mother.
I know that I have not told anyone my name since the inn incident, so I save Grandma the hassle of telling Mother to ask me by saying, “It is Kiara, ma’am. Kiara Messulin.”
“Oh, that’s a rather pretty name,” says Mother.
“She says that about everyone’s name,” drawls Philip.
“No, no, no!” screams Mother, ready to rip out her hair. “That’s a B flat, not a D flat. What are you playing?!”
I shudder and correct my fingers. “Sorry, Mom,” I apologize, even though she isn’t really my mother. I want her to be Mom, though, because then I wouldn’t have such a blaring hole in my memory that gnaws at my newfound happiness with its vile tongue. With the conception that humans were the perfect models for soldiers, they had created me with the desire to be cared for and to belong to a family. It pains me to disappoint Mother – it is the greatest rejection a child can feel.
“I – it’s OK, Kiara,” she says quietly. I know she has to struggle to be kind, so I value her statements of caring quite highly.
I continue to read the notes, and it is only a matter of hours before my mind has all the notes memorized – no more silly errors and slow loading. Mother is amazed and pleased at my progress.
“You are remarkable, Kiara. How is it that you can pick up so quickly? It’s like you’re a … a …,” she trails off. She doesn’t want to be reminded of computers and such; it doesn’t dawn on her that there still are some old machines laying around, including me. Rejection battles its way into my wires, a question of purpose arising; I walk away without a word, footsteps echoing in the room like a swift blade through air. Why do I feel a need to be close to someone right now?
“Wait, Kiara!” shouts Mom from behind. “I need to get you a dress for the competition!”
I scowl, “Why can’t I just wear these clothes?”
She raises an eyebrow and I give in; of course, why are there all these standards of how to dress? Doesn’t someone realize that it doesn’t matter at all how the performers dress? If the people want to move on, to develop, to leave behind the primordial past, then they must learn to accept change. Tradition must be the first to go … along with dresses that make you trip all the time!
Three hours and many dresses later, I return with Mother and a small bag. The competition is three days away and I need to choose a song to play, but I do not know any songs. I smile to myself, though, because I don’t need to worry about learning the songs – one glance and it’s all stored in my memory. The thing is, which song is good enough to trump any of the other players? There is another question that is also in my mind, sitting in the dark because I am trying to avoid it. Will they find out who I am and disqualify me … or worse, report me? It doesn’t matter, though, because despite any second-guessing I may be doing now, I cannot let Grandmother, Mother, and Philip down. No one has the right to disqualify me on the grounds that I am a robot.
Mother starts sifting through piles and piles of sheet music, dismissing many as too simple, others as too un-virtuostic, yet others as unreadable.
“Oh, oh,” she says impatiently. “Why can’t I find a suitable song?”
Grandma makes a dramatic entry and says, “It’s because the best song for her is in her mind. She can create a song on the spot and it will be better than all others ever made.”
“Yes, Mother, I agree,” says Mother to Grandma.
I smile and set to work on creating a masterpiece. Improvisation can only take me to a certain spot, and then the tune must be revised, the accompaniment reharmonized. The counterpoint has to fit in just right, the chords need to push the phrases so that the story doesn’t drag or sputter out of steam.
<The song must be a rainbow,> I decide. <All the emotions must be expressed in a logical order.>
Happiness should be last, I realize, and so sadness must be just before that for the contrast. In that manner, I plan out my song and start to run through different scenarios using my complex microprocessor brain. <Don’t short circuit yourself!>
A day passes and I have only two minutes ready out of the ten that I will have to play. The competition will be long and demanding, unlike auditions which last only two or three minutes.
“Green, blue, yellow, red,” I blurt out spontaneously. Philip keeps an eye on me from behind his book; perhaps he is concerned with my pending insanity. He doesn’t realize it, but his silent friendship is keeping me calm and not overheated.
“Maybe you should take a break,” Philip advises.
“You wanna take a walk?” I ask.
Philip is more than happy to venture out of the house. The snow is mostly melted and the ground is still a little squishy, but nothing that I can’t handle. Clean air spreads through the world, reclaiming the cities that technological pollution had conquered.
“There’s a sweet smell in the air,” observes Philip. I sniff at the air and notice a natural fragrance.
“The flowers will be out soon,” I say. This will be my first spring in the world of peace.
We have to return home earlier than I want to; I wish I could stay outside through the night. The competition is only a day and a half away, though, and Philip knows that.
I practice and practice, making the piano’s tone warmer and fuller. At last, at noon on Friday, I finish my piece and collapse onto the ground out of exhaustion.
“Kiara’s outdone herself again,” mutters Philip, who approaches me to bring me to my bed in the guest room.
I awake to birds chirping … morning. Morning! It must be Saturday morning, so I hop out of bed and almost throw on my casual clothes before I remember that I have to wear that dress. It isn’t ugly – in all truth, I think that I look quite attractive in it – it’s just that it makes it hard to walk and it restrains me. I can’t eat spaghetti or run through the mud in it. Beauty is expensive in many ways, and I would much rather do without it and have my freedoms back. One day, that’s all it’ll be. I cannot believe that I am getting nervous!
I scarf down some eggs for breakfast and then catch a ride with Mother. Grandma waves at me and Philip, who is going to go with me for good luck.
The building is large, complex, and abstract in design. A person’d either love it or hate it. According to my tastes, I think I love it. Randomness is so pleasing to a perfectly logic-based being such as I. I come to the large, imposing door that intimidates some of the other competitors. There are many boys and girls, all dressed up and carrying a small folder of music. I have nothing under my arm, nothing to restrain what I play.
I earn a few glances from other people. Holding my head high in dignity but not arrogance, I walk over to the registration table. I am to be the last to play, right after number 35, who is rumored to be the greatest amateur piano player in all the world. That is enough to get my heart racing and my body all excited.
It is only ten o’clock right now, so I figure it will be at least five in the afternoon by the time I get to play. No worries on my part, for I simply start to nap. Anxious players are practicing in all the rooms around me, and I must seem to be the strangest person to step foot into this prestigious competition. Only the best come here, and the best most likely don’t sleep. I’m a completely different story.
I wake up at four with my internal alarm clock waking me up. Number 33 is going right now, so I have time to spare. I walk into a practice room and touch one key – C. Everything is together, so now all I have to do is wait.
I hear the playing of Numbers 33 and 34; they are good but not exceptionally good. Then, Number 35 steps in and he lays his music onto the piano with florid grace. His hands are smooth, his fingers, long and muscular.
I sit outside the room, listening. His music flows with the spirit of the Earth, using the ebbing and flowing waves guide his fingers. In other words, he is talented and a wonderful rival. When he finishes, I am sweaty with nervousness.
I nearly trip on my heels, walking gawkily. Number 35 doesn’t laugh at me but instead holds the door good-naturedly. He gives me a smile and a thumbs-up, and I return his kindness with a whisper of, “Good job.”
A shiver passes through my body as I sit down onto the sleek, obsidian piano bench. Nervousness hangs around me like a disturbed spirit until I can connect with the piano. Then, it is as if there is nobody in the room except me. The judges are merely part of the backdrop of the universe around me. Spirits float around in confusion, not being alive nor dead, just existing.
I begin with soft and placid notes of peace. They ring pleasantly and lead to a flurry of reckless but well-placed thirty-second notes. Minutes pass, but I am in such a trance that nothing seems to occur at all; I am in a world where time ceases to pass. My mind is blank and my hands just move. The music is there and I can feel it.
My spirit, free from my body for a short time, ascends to the musical plane, looking around the colorful place. In the middle is a mysterious figure, dressed in robes of music and taking an amorphous form.
I reach out to touch it, and for a moment I can feel perfect harmony … before I fall back down into myself for the last three chords of my piece. I end in triumph and stand up. The judges clap and write down my scores.
Now all I have to do is wait for them to release the results. Number 35 sits next to me, never once looking at me.
Suddenly, a man hops out from behind the curtain and announces, “This competition is declared a tie, ladies and gentlemen. I am afraid that the championship must be resolved with a flip of a coin, the only fair way to conclude this matter. Please, Kiara Messulin, musician number 36, and George Goldsmith, musician number 35, decide which side you want.”
George takes tails and I agree to take heads. The coin is flipped and it lands on heads. George smiles and shakes my hand.
“The winner is - ” says the man.
I interject, saying, “I cannot accept a victory in such a manner. A tie is a tie, and, for that matter, it is a good tie.”
“But who shall perform at the concert, then?” asks the man.
I smile and say, “Don’t worry, the song I have in mind is for two pianos, anyway.”
It would take little to adapt the piece that I had written in case I were to win the competition to accommodate two soloists instead of one. In fact, I’m sure it’d be so much more fun.
The audience is dark and mysterious, piercing eyes soaking in and judging those on stage. George and I fiddle with our fingers nervously, and my hand unconsciously touches my necklace.
“Do you believe in God?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say without hesitation.
“I don’t,” he says. “People must help themselves and not depend on an imaginary force to help them.”
<But isn’t God the spirit of life?> I wonder, but there isn’t any more time for talking because the lights are off in the audience and blazingly bright on the stage.
“Go!” urges a man behind me.
We walk out onto the stage, smiling uncomfortably. There are two pianos, side by side. I sit down at the one on the left, which has no music. George’s piano has the piano score which I made for him.
When the last dry-mouthed person in the audience finishes his cough, I give the conductor the signal to start the orchestra. The duet solo is so much more convincing than a lone soloist, so I learn that companionship is more important than being on the top. Intertwining and coherent melodies fill the air until the back door of the auditorium flies open with a loud screech.
I dare not look at the door for fear that I might lose my concentration, but George knows something is wrong and is tensed to jump right out of his seat if that is necessary. Somehow, I have a feeling that it has to do with me.
“People, how can you put up with this atrocity?!” bellows a man from the doorway. A woman next to him repeats the statement for a hollowing effect.
I am so dead, and for real, too.
“That girl up there is a robot!”
Talk about being haunted by the past.
Waves of wretched color fill the world around me, everything going wavy and inconsistent. Some people start to storm towards the stage to essentially tear me apart while others mourn at the thought that such a talented musician would be sacrificed for such petty causes.
“We need to get out of here,” says George, acting as if these people speak lies.
We bolt for the exit, but the attackers are swift and they are right on stage next to us. The man pulls out a whopper of a gun and points it at me.
“Stop!” cries George in his most knightly voice, stepping between the gun and me.
<Idiot! This is no time to pull a ‘save the damsel in distress!’>
The man pulls the trigger to destroy the obstacle and I go into preprogrammed instinct mode. My arm turns into a large umbrella-like shield and I place it in front of George to repel the bullet, which ricochets into the ceiling.
The crowd goes, “Ooooooh.”
I can’t run forever from who I am, but I can’t resort to fighting, either. I know these attackers mean well, because my kind could easily will the nations back into war with our awesome and terrifying strength. Yet … why can’t they realize that we can learn not to use these weapons? Music has taught me life, and knowing life means that I no longer have to be a machine, that I can be who I want to be.
“Please, stop your rage. I have nothing against you,” I plead in the innocent voice of my true self, the little girl trapped inside.
“Hah, you are so pathetic, aren’t you?”
I end up locked in a duel of agile arms, a test of skill and speed. I obviously have the upper hand and I have the man at gunpoint using his own gun. Nobody else is moving, it’s just my breathing and his breathing.
I consider just killing him and getting this all over with, but I’ve killed so many already and I don’t want to repeat the past. I am given one chance to repent for my sins, and so I will take it. The gun snaps in half like dry spaghetti under my grip before plunging to the ground. I grab George before flying out the ceiling, my ‘emergency exit.’
The crowd goes, “Aaaaaah.”
I don’t think, I just fly. A few minutes later, I land at a random destination and put George down. I turn to him and smile. I have won life’s test.
“Well, I guess you know now,” I say.
“I accept you as both a robot and a living being; you will never be a human like the rest of us, but your spirit is no less active nor capable,” he states.
I pace around for a bit and then begin, “Hiya, my name is Kiara, and I’m pleased to meet you.”
The wind of ten thousand tones has swept me up to the glory of joy and the community of spirits where all life really exists.
All-Purpose Cultural Catgirl Nukunuku ~ Richard Lawson’s Fanfics
Ranma ½ ~ Deborah Goldsmith’s Fanfics
Haikus (esp. of Basho)
Orson Scott Card
~ Conversion rate is funny because of some major inflation.
<> = thoughts