I might regret this, but I’ve had multiple people encourage me to try, so I’m in, I guess. I’ll take a flash rule because otherwise I’ll never settle on an idea.
You get Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain.
|# ? Feb 15, 2019 22:01|
|# ? Feb 9, 2023 03:35|
The Triumph of Sacrifice
The rat king emerges from the shadows. A hundred rats tangled together in woe. They bite, claw, and tear at each others plague fused flesh as they scurried in one solid mass towards the embracing lovers.
“Get behind me,” the young man says to the woman as he dons his plague mask, warding off the miasma. He charges the tide of vermin.
“Mark me, they hadst not returned. The Lord hath forsaken them,” cries the monk, falling to his knees. “He hath forsaken us all! I am ripe with the sin of man and has condemned all the maker’s mortal souls in so being! In this foul year of our Lord 1570, why must there be darkness on the eighth day?”
The executioner put his hand on the monk’s shoulder. “They will return yet.”
The monk stands up and turns to face the executioner. He unties the simple knotted cord holding his robe together and slides it off, revealing hideously swollen buboes across his tortured flesh.
“The Lord hath punished me,” the monk says, “Now He hath taken the last light of humanity. A plague of boils? The taking of the firstborn? I hath offended Him as did the pharaoh did in the Old Testament.”
“The Lord tests you, as He did Job. You hath convinced me of the absence of a curse on thy soul by my profession. If my touch doth not condemn those it finds, then in place of this hex there must be only God’s love. If the Lord hath forgiven me, surely he will forgive you. If you were to perish would that not lead you to paradise in God’s eternal light?” the executioner says.
The monk crossed his arms and wandered to an old wagon drawn askew of the road. It had tipped on its side. Broken pieces scattered the area.
“Not so. Remember that the painting we found… The dead came for king and bishop, knight and jester, lovers… They were all herded into a solitary coffin for all, away from God’s light. Purgatory. We are plagued by unforgiven sin. The Lord’s light is withheld from us,” the monk says.
“There was light, you simply obsess over the macabre! Do not allow this taint of the flesh to rise to the level of your soul,” the executioner counters.
The monk's jaw moves as if to snap but stops. A light overcomes his eyes. His arms drop to his sides and he looks to the darkening sky.
“There was, wasn’t there? Not upon the sinister left side where dwelled the greedy king and the corrupt bishop, but on the righteous side. The young couple, encroached upon by the coffin bore by the army of the dead. Above them the sky was open, shining a light upon the human sacrifices on the hill,” the monk recalls. He walks over to a broken wagon wheel and pulls it from the axle.
“What do you intend?” the executioner asks.
“I intend to repent. For us all. If we can not save my daughter and your son, we can bring them God’s light,” the monk says.
“My friend, I cannot break you upon this wheel and in so doing, cast aside my own salvation. Let us spend your remaining time in each other’s company and wait for our children, who I am certain are late only out of precaution. In so doing you may share your fate with your daughter and depart upon her your final wisdom.” The executioner responds.
“Nay good, kind, decent sir. I will merely complement my obscenities with the deadly sin of sloth, and would certainly condemn them. Please, I beg you. For our children. For our immortal souls. For a future for humanity. Surely if you have earned the Lord’s forgiveness for your prior transgressions, thou may be forgiven for this, an act of mercy for a condemned soul? Thy sins are grievous, for my own salvation I must sacrifice my life for others to enter to the eternal kingdom, and suffer as our Saviour did, like Dismas and Gestas who were crucified beside Him,” the monk counters.
The executioner shakes his head and rubs his eyes. He walks down the road before praying to God without the aid of a priest, as Martin Luther taught in his reformation. This was before the plague took Martin as well.
Then the executioner walks over to the broken wagon and frees several large wooden stakes that bonded the body of the cart together. He also collected a mallet and a jar of pine resin which is normally reserved for lubricating the wheel axles. Finally, he returns to the monk.
“I am prepared to deliver you to the Lord to plead for our salvation. I will pray to him to end this vile envy that plagues me as you reach Saint Peter,” the executioner says.
The monk walks to an open patch in the field. He lays down.
“Thank you my brother. Please guide my daughter as if she were your own. I will meet you in the kingdom,” the monk says as he closes his eyes.
The executioner places one of the stakes on the monk’s outstretched right hand, on the palm.
The monk begins to pray. His toes play with the dirt.
“Thy Father, who art in heaven.”
The executioner nails the stake through the monk’s hand, embedding into the earth. The monk screams between verses but continues.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
The executioner pierces a second stake through the monk’s left hand.
“Thy kingdom come,” the monk says. His voice trembles.
One foot was placed on top of the other and a stake driven through both.
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,”
The executioner hoists the wagon wheel above his head. He stops for a moment. The monk nods to continue.
The wheel crashes down on the monk’s right arm, shattering the bones. The executioner then rolls it up and down the length of the arm, pulverizing it and embedding sharp shards of wood and bone throughout.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” The monk says as he weeps softly. The wheel crashes down on his other arm.
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The wheel then crushes both his legs at once.
The executioner casts the wheel to the ground and rips the monk from his earthly bonds, interrupting his prayer.
“It’s ok,” the executioner says, “That’s it now, it is almost over. Just hold on, I have you, my friend. I bear this burden with you. The Lord, who lay within us, bears this burden with us both.”
The monk nods weakly. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” he says, finishing the Lord’s prayer.
The executioner lays his friend upon the wheel that he used to break him as gently as he can. He takes each of the monks ruined limbs and carefully threads them through the spokes of the wheel. Every slight motion rubs broken bone against flesh and nerve. The monk continues to silently pray, pausing for a moment only to bear witness to his own wasted body. After he was threaded spread eagle across the wheel, both are covered in the pine resin oil, as is the remaining wagon axle.
“It is over,” the executioner says as he lifts one side of the wheel and places the axle within the center, “Do not forget about us in the kingdom of heaven. You shall be with him soon, away from this disease that torments you.”
“Thank you, thy friend. Watch for a sign. Know I sit beside the Lord and that we watch over you.” The ruined shape of the monk whispers.
The executioner digs a small hole and hoists the axle shaft into it, bringing the monk into the sky, supported by his broken limbs threaded through the wheel spokes.
The executioner then pulls out his flint.
“Wait for me Jesus! I am coming! Can you hear me? I am coming now!” the monk screams with his last ounce of strength. The executioner sets the axle alight. The fire races upwards and engulfs the monk on the wheel.
The glow was as a beacon to the heavens themselves. It was the only light in the darkening sky.
“Over there!” A young man’s voice called from afar.
“We made it! We’re coming!” A young woman’s voice followed.
The executioner fell to his knees in front of the conflagration. Tears streamed from his eyes.
“He hath saved us,” the executioner says, “He hath saved us all.”
E: I already lost, enjoy this easier to read version.
SlipUp fucked around with this message at 02:41 on Feb 16, 2019
|# ? Feb 15, 2019 22:33|
I do need to take a break from after that one for a week or so. I'll spend the time doing some crits, I'll learn how it's done.
Feel free to crit this story if anyone feels like it. I did some growing the gently caress up.
|# ? Feb 15, 2019 22:36|
Anatomi wins. SlipUp, man, do not commit to the thees and thous if you can't keep them straight. Ask yourself what an affected 'voice' like that is actually adding to the dialogue, instead of including it as a whim.
More in-depth crits to come. Maybe. Someday.
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 00:11|
“Henry, thank you for coming in,” Doctor Bajpeyi said, closing the door behind him with a gentle click. Henry shifted on the crinkly paper over the exam table, feeling even taller as he loomed over the short Indian man.
“So what’s the word, doc? I’m guessing you wouldn’t have called me in for good news.”
Bajpeyi set his clipboard on the desk, face down. He pulled up a rolling chair, and invited Henry to hop down from his spot on the exam table and take a seat in the other chair. His moustache obscured the set of his mouth as he waited for Henry to sit.
“Henry, your tests came back positive for pancreatic cancer,” Bajpeyi didn’t hesitate or hem at all, just a blunt admission of fact. “It looks like you have an advanced form, that has already spread to other systems.” Henry’s vision blurred and he reeled in his chair.
Now he did pause, giving Henry time to refocus on the Doctor’s face. He picked up his clipboard and set it in his lap, facing away from Henry.
“I do not have good news, I am afraid. At this late stage, there’s very little we can do. I’ve prepared a list of other oncologists, if you’d like to get a second opinion - and I recommend you do. The best thing in the world would be for me to be wrong. But I’ve also included the numbers of a few palliative care facilities, which I strongly urge you to consider.”
Henry considered screaming, considered weeping, he ran through a thousand different responses to try and regain some of his élan. But he couldn’t.
“My insurance… I talked to them earlier today, in case your prognosis was what it was. They said I wasn’t covered for any palliative care, and if treatment wasn’t viable, they were dropping me. loving leeches.”
Doctor Bajpeyi nodded behind his glasses. Henry stood up, turned towards the window and ran his hands through his hair. It was still thick up top, still brown. Outside cars zipped up to red lights, waited and started again, ants crossing paths on their way to crumbs.
“I understand that finances could be tight. I have another number,” he said, reaching into his lab coat’s breast pocket and pulling out a card. “They can help with… expenses. They’ve done so for one or two other patients. Please consider them.”
Henry took the card - a matte, plain white card with just a phone number and the words “End of Life Care” below. No company, no website, no logo with loving doves or a heart or anything. It was as straightforward and unyielding as his diagnoses.
There were a few more followup questions, some additional advice, and a handshake that turned into a shuddering hug. Henry kept his eyes closed tight until tears formed, then broke the embrace.
“Thank you, Doc. For everything.”
The office was nondescript. The frosted glass of the door only had the suite number on it. The office park it was in was nondescript. Even the pen tied to the clipboard the secretary handed Henry was white-label, no logo.
No music played. No phones rang. The only literature on the table was National Geographics. Henry almost jumped out of his chair at the basso GLUMP of a water cooler air bubble rising up. The man who came around the corner holding a small (unlabeled, naturally) paper water cup wore a long white dress shirt with a dark tie. His face was lined with deep crevices that told Henry about the man’s life under a bureaucratic boot.
“Henry?” he said. There was nobody else in the office except the receptionist. Henry pointed at himself and raised his eyebrows, checking to his left and right. The man laughed, revealing yellowed teeth.
“Hi, I’m Terrell,” he said, turning around and motioning for Henry to follow. He didn’t shake Henry’s hand. “I’ll be talking with you a little more about what we do here.”
Terrell’s office was just as bare. No art on the walls, just a single chair opposite his cleared desk. Several filing cabinets, five-drawer monstrosities that almost reached the ceiling, were the only thing separating Terrell’s office from a showroom model.
“I’ll dispense with the pleasantries, I am certain time is more valuable to you than me.”
Henry nodded his thanks.
“My company is prepared to offer you world-class palliative care. We have a facility in Pebble Beach you’re welcome to take advantage of, unless you have another you’d like to use, or family - in which case we’d pay for a live-in nurse solution.”
“Pebble Beach sounds nice,” Henry squeaked out. “Why? Do I gotta take some weird drugs? Do stuff?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. My interest is purely financial. Our organization is paid by people who don’t manage their funds well, and owe more than they’re able to pay. We offer them an alternative to bankruptcy. The law allows you to assume that debt. And that debt is discharged upon, well, upon…”
Terrell perked up. “Glad you understand.”
“How is this loving legal?”
“It won’t be, next year. They’re closing this loophole. But you have the opportunity to get the final arrangements you deserve, help others with their financial burdens, and expire with dignity.”
“It’s totally free to you, the full-”
“No, how much debt are you loading me with? I want to know how much I’m sticking the system for.”
“Currently, we’re able to reasonably transfer $9.9 million to your name. I have the paperwork and accounts right here, if you’re interested.”
“Can I pick?”
“This is highly irregular. We typically have a bundle assigned.”
“I want all the medical debt you can load on me.”
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 00:52|
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 05:16|
A little more than one hour left to sign up.
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 06:50|
Oh cyberpunk gently caress yeah I'm in
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 07:54|
It's gonna bite me in the rear end, but I'm in
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 07:59|
Signups are closed
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 08:11|
For people who like writing with audio mood back-up, here's a playlist of 30+hrs of fairly futuristic music that's also not bad music or video game music: https://open.spotify.com/user/seanucf/playlist/1Z3f2e8HBW8KWBEhCWHTAg?si=xjF0nB9TRnuqdbe8snacAQ. Ideally, you should always play on shuffle. I guess, to put it differently, its connection to cyberpunk is it's all music that I'd want to listen to in a club or while hacking the Gibson in the cyberpunk hellscape that is inevitably on the horizon.
In lieu of opening the spotify link, here you go:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV-hSgL1R74 (you'll recognize this one from Hackers)
The Sean fucked around with this message at 17:08 on Feb 16, 2019
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 16:40|
For people who like writing with audio mood back-up, here's a playlist of 30+hrs of fairly futuristic music that's also not bad music or video game music: https://open.spotify.com/user/seanucf/playlist/1Z3f2e8HBW8KWBEhCWHTAg?si=xjF0nB9TRnuqdbe8snacAQ. Ideally, you should always play on shuffle. I guess, to put it differently, its connection to cyberpunk is it's all music that I'd want to listen to in a club or while hacking the Gibson in the cyberpunk hellscape that is inevitably on the horizon.
I'll share too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKLWC93nvAU not a super electronic sound but the visuals are on theme
|# ? Feb 16, 2019 17:21|
I wanted to try my hands at critting, and after getting a few entries under my belt, I feel ready. I read all the Week 340 entries anyway, so why not give my opinions on a bored Saturday evening? This is not meant to be comprehensive or professional; I literally just want to give my opinions and point out things I noticed especially.
selaphiel – Bystanders of the Blue Room
I gotta be honest, this is a terrible start for my critting, because I simply do no enjoy the subject matter at all. I do not have any child abuse trauma, but it’s still not something I want to read about. Still, I have read stories involving that topic that I did enjoy a lot, mostly because they were not only about a terrible childhood. Sadly, you can only really have a hyper-focused story in TD.
One thing that is a definite positive here is that it did make me feel uncomfortable with specific sentences, something you were assuredly going for, and I would call that a definite success. „It won’t really hurt her“ and „The monster was never gentle.“ are extremely chilling.
A negative for me was that it took me too long to realize the „she“ the narrator wanted to protect was not a sister, but the mother. Both because it should not be a twist (but is framed a little like that), and because it is somehow less bad if it’s between adults. Not a nice thing to say, but a bit of guilty relief popped into my head and I did not enjoy that either.
In the end, nothing is resolved, and that irks me the most. The narrator wants to confront their own problems at the start, then at the end laments that the rest of their family chose to just bury the truth of the abuse, and does a pretty meaningless small action of leaving the door open to maybe get them to admit that it happened? I’m a little mad that I had to read about all this terrible poo poo and then there is no resolution.
I realize that’s sadly realistic, but jeez.
Applewhite – From a Clear Blue Sky
Like the judges, I too found this too preachy (ironically). The portrayal of the fanatic reverend was too over-the-top, too on the nose for me. Phrases like „opening their hearts and wallets“ are unsubtle like a church bell ringing off directly next to your ears.
You do have some good absurd exaggerations in there that are actually funny, and remind me of a certain genre of comedic novels from Britain my mother and by extension I used to read a lot, all in the tradition of Hitchhiker’s Guide. „That week’s most reputable journalism website“ is a great description that tells you a LOT at once, and I like your constant electricity metaphors. But it’s too little to save the rote premise, and the tepid twist.
crimea – House-Sitting
This story confused me, starting with its structure. I fully admit that I’m not a very attentive reader; I tend to let sentences and meaning wash over me rather than savor every word. That usually works out fine, but fails at more abstract stories – I’m not sure if yours is meant to be that though. The biggest issue is how often you change locations; from the house to the therapist to a memory of the father to the council bureaucrat and so on. A paragraph change sometimes signifies that, but sometimes not. You also have bigger breaks, but I don’t understand why those are more important.
What you are actually writing about also leaves me a little lost. Until the end, I thought Gertrude had maybe lost a husband and/or child, because you mention her parents off-hand in the first paragraph, so it couldn’t be them who were so important of a loss, right? But in the end, it turns out they were. And it is not clear to me if her parents dying was actually a problem, or if Gertrude is just a failure at life in general and they died before she could learn the important lesson of „make something of yourself“ from them. None of this is helped by your constant interjection of details that might be meaningful (the snooker table, her old-fashioned name, the therapist reminding her of a dog) but I can’t quite see how.
When a story leaves me so lost, I usually give the benefit of the doubt to the author: surely, they are deliberately obscure, and want me to think about the meaning they wanted to convey. I already gave most of my thoughts, in summary again: Gertrude is completely stuck and lost with her life and doesn’t know what to do, and her parents are sadly dead and can’t really help her either. She reminisces about moments with them when they were still alive, and does all of that in a house they all lived in once as well, but it’s just no use, no help, she keeps just drifting off into alcoholism. Sad.
If I’m super off, please bug me on Discord and explain!
Baneling Butts - The Conference
This immediately struck a chord with me because I travel a lot for conferences as well, but I usually let the university pay for a hotel thankyouverymuch. I also appreciated that you have an actual story to tell with an escalating progression of events; I’m a simple-minded reader, I’ll admit. However, some things jump out as a little weird. For example, you don’t „pour“ a water glass, you fill it from the tap, at least I do. And if it’s just water in there, you don’t need to wash it after a day, and if you insist, you won’t notice a difference unless you leave heavy lip stains. If she had found OJ in the fridge, this wouldn’t be a problem.
The pancakes are cold, so they were made somewhen in the night? But why would that detail matter? The narrator notices an „old people smell“ at the start which makes her assume that an elderly couple owns the apartment apparently, but the picture shows he a young couple – wouldn’t she have seen that picture long before? She did check out the apartment details in boredom after all. Things like that don’t quite add up and you’d need another „logic“ pass to make the story not stumble over such small, but sadly annoying things.
The „action“ sequence after the ghost does show up is fine, as is the ghost showing her how she became one. That’s pretty chilling. However, then the ghost just lets her go, which feels unearned. Either protag lady should have done something to escape, or the ghost should have a firm reason to stop.
After the climax, it deflates a little, and I was annoyed that there were still some paragraphs left, if that makes sense? Her finding another hotel, and taking the taxi, that’s useless and doesn’t add anything. That she decides to call her grandma is sweet, but I felt like that could have come far quicker after the escape, and with more emotion attached.
Captain_Person – Heirlooms
That was a bittersweet little thing that I actually enjoyed quite a lot. There isn’t really anything happening, just a bit of a landscape of emotions and memories, but it’s quite well written, and it struck a chord with me. No mean feat considering I was already getting annoyed by all the „family is important! But also sad!!!“ stories.
I’m sorry that I don’t have as much words for you as for other people – it’s like eating a piece of liquorice for which I’ve developed an unexpected fondness recently. I’ve always found the sweet part off-putting, but here in Sweden they put a bunch of salmiak salt in, which on its own would also be disgusting. But together, it’s a very fitting mix of contrasting flavors only held back if it’s super sticky and hard to chew. Your story is a well-balanced liquorice candy that has just the right texture: it is „just“ a piece of candy and eatin quickly as a snack, but a surprising and unique experience nonetheless.
Hawklad – The Lake Cabin
I was a bit frustrated with this story, because it had all the setup of a great horror piece, but the ending didn’t work for me at all. I do not understand why narrator killed his grandpa, and I don’t think there is really a way to find out by just reading the story better, and this kills it for me. „Just likes murder“ is a terrible motivation, and it’s made even worse by the fact that you hear only good words about dear ol‘ geepaw.
It’s cool to see on re-read that you heavily foreshadow the twist by contrasting narrator’s lie of „died in a nursing home“ with an immediate „in this very room“ follow-up; though a more...discerning reader than I am might have instantly thought „wait, what?“ and be more skeptical towards the narrative than they should be at that point. I dunno.
I was fine with your „dawn spread like a bruise“ imagery, because I thought that as the story slides into Amanda being more and more distressed, the language follows suit. It’s not quite like that, but it’s something you might want to consider as a deliberate choice in the future. It also made me think that something more sinister was up with Amanda’s drowsiness. But I guess it really was just the oatmeal that causes you to go narcoleptic.
Another issue with the ending: I was expecting the „special weekend!!!“ insistence of protag to build up to something. Never does, though. Again, frustrating.
And finally: what happened to grandma, anyway?
Staggy – A Cold Reception
„Another difficult family relationship?“, I exclaimed internally when I read the first paragraph, that’s not your fault of course, but wow it’s getting dense with that theme at this point. Regardless, I liked this story overall. I think you write Oliver as a very enjoyable to hate useless shithead, with just the right amount of pity for him due to freezing his rear end off mixed in. His actions make perfect sense for his character as it is drawn, and how his father treats him also does for the same reason.
The one unfortunate thing is, that with how neat of a package the story is – setting, character, relationship with his father, the break-in – it ends up being a little too clean. I saw the twist coming maybe a sentence too early, just nodded at the obvious karmic justice about to befall Oliver, and that was basically it. It wasn’t disappointing per se, but it was, in the end, simply lacking that little bit extra to make it really good.
Chili – We All Gonna Die
I thought your style choice would annoy me after the second paragraph, but it ended up not mattering to me much. Congratulations for that! It’s hard to pull something like this off, but it worked for me overall. Just don’t try it for an entire novel, haha.
Sadly, the story itself is annoyingly circular. The father puts the painting up as a memento mori, his constant reminder of death ends up driving the son away, that’s why the father dies alone and unloved, this is also the only thing drawing the son back, and this way of course he sees his father only as a ghost, almost going „told you so“. As if „we all gonna die“ isn’t a statement that will eventually prove itself true regardless of what happens!
Thusly, the meaning of the painting is completely lost on me. Mere superstition? If it were tied to the father actually existing as a ghost after his death, I could see something there; the twist then being that the father meant it backwards, and he hung it up as insurance against death, not as a constant reminder. But the story doesn’t seem to be about that, so it ends up being about a father who is weirdly obsessed with a facile observation for no reason, and then he dies, and no lesson is learned. You phrase it as if the son has some kind of revelation or at least gains a tacit understanding of what his father always wanted to tell him, but „will die some day“ is neither a mind-blowing realization nor worth acknowledging as some wisdom. I just don’t get it.
The second time writing these crits that I sincerely have to ask: why? Why do the protagonists just murder people? For the entire story, I was hoping, almost desperately, that this time there would be an explanation, but no. The child is evil.
Okay, that is a bit unfair. You try to paint a picture of her motivation: her father can’t keep a job, so they move to a city she doesn’t like, and then a mining town she likes even less, and then her father dies. Those are all terrible things that happen to her and make her jaded. Okay. But her first murder is her dog, and she does that in the city, before the truly bad stuff happens. Then after it all goes down, she „knows“ she has to kill her brother, but why? Because he would be a drain on the family without a provider? I can conjecture that, but I feel like you should explain that more, because it might make Jillian’s second murder have a stronger motivation.
Doesn’t really matter in the end, though, because her third murder is insanely selfish, as it happens after her mother objectively fixed both their lives. It’s always framed as the main problem Jillian has is that the other kids don’t like her, and not that she „had“ to kill her dog, lost her father, killed her brother. I’m with the other kids for not liking that psycho.
And the framing device is the slow murder of Emma, which makes absolutely no sense from start to finish. There is no reason for Jillian to kill her I can think of, especially in the light of the revelations of her hosed-up life. Unless „has always been a demented murderer“ counts as a motivation (hint: it does not).
Thranguy – Coal
This is wonderfully written. I really like how much time and story-space you devote to detailing how terrible Nicolas‘ situation and entire world is – it creates a droning, hurtful atmosphere that works extremely well as the backdrop for the plot.
The conversation between Nicolas and the Devil is also extremely well done. Very economical, no sentence is wasted. You sketch both their motivations and convictions with bold strokes, and make me like Nicolas very quickly. I am an absolute sucker for characters with unerring determination, and you nail this characterization in a way that just feels very good for me. This makes his final decision to keep his vigil even more sweeter, and very earned in just a short span of time.
I didn’t even realize that he was St. Nicolas until the very end, and I think that makes the story even stronger. You could have put a faded red hat with a white fur fringe in somewhere, but that would have been terrible. Kudos for that.
When I was a teenager, a substitute teacher in Religion class gave us the assignment to read a short essay by a philosopher and make a report about that. I got Albert Camus‘ Sisyphus, which if you don’t know ends with the terrible sentence „We have to imagine Sisyphus as a happy man“, following paragraph after paragraph of confusing up-his-rear end and maybe also badly translate philosopher speech. I struggled so hard to understand how Camus could possibly come to that mental conclusion. I cobbled some semblance of an interpretation together for the presentation, and then asked the teacher if I was right?
She told me that she hadn’t thought about it the way I did, but liked it, as she didn’t know what Camus meant either.
As I got older, I began to realize a little more what Camus wanted to get at (it’s about being an eternal monument of rebellion against the Gods, just showing that it is possible at ALL), but I still think his essay was written like poo poo. Yours isn’t, they should show that to teenagers instead.
apophenium – Make Peace
This was cute. I was really ready for stories with a good ending, and you delivered even more after the positive, but grim message of the previous one.
It is very true that the motivation of the monster does not make sense at all. It did want to kill Lottie initially, but it also says that it looks for companionship, which does not fit together. Maybe it had some sort of mission for murder, but got more and more frustrated when it just didn’t stick, and eventually just hoped to get someone to talk to instead. Or it just wanted to drive Lottie away to have a lonely wood for itself to wallow in misery? You could assign something like that to it, or keep it mysterious, but the halfway formed hints you give don’t fit together, sadly.
I still liked that the old woman made friend with a nightmare beast. I enjoyed her „well, whatever happens happens“ characterization. It fits my own outlook on life, so I’m biased, but whatever. A breath of fresh air (ironically, considering the smoke thing).
SlipUp – The Vitruvian Beast
I am left with a little too many open questions about this story. For example:
- Why does it being war matter? Why mention that John can’t wear a belt?
- Who injured the stranger?
- Did the doctor end up getting killed?
- How did both wolves and the family die?
I think what happened was that wolves attacked the stranger’s family, and he managed to kill the wolves, but only after losing his wife and children, and getting badly injured. John and Mary find him and treat his wounds. He has lost his memory of the incident, but is getting terrible wolf-related flashbacks, and the howling outside doesn’t help. Eventually, he snaps, becomes kind of a wolf himself, flees the house, kills the doctor, chews the telephone, then tries to kill John and Mary but eats a shotgun for his trouble.
If that is the story, there’s a good plot hidden in it, but the way you tell it isn’t quite there yet. You add too many unimportant details and leave out too many that would help guide the reader along. For example, the doctor’s approaching visit could be a nice way to build up tension, as the mental condition of the stranger worsens at the same time as his physical one improves, so John and Mary hope nothing terrible happens before the doctor can hopefully do something about the madness taking hold. That however doesn’t come across, and then the doctor vanishes offscreen. As I said, the war adds nothing, and honestly the constant howling also doesn’t, because it creates unnecessary ambiguity as to what is the problem: that everything is hecka full of wolves, or that the stranger is going insane?
Again, you could make this into a compelling narrative by focusing on just the progression of the stranger’s condition, and how John and Mary deal with it. I base this on how good the wood chopping scene is, because it shows how unexpectedly strong the stranger has become, and how it starts making Mary really worried.
Bolt Lux – A Hole to Hide
I wanted to hate this because it was quite so abstract, but it was compelling enough for me to go back and re-read it even the first time it was posted. Then I think I understood what you were getting at, and now I like it, more as an emotional painting than as a story in which things happen. That might be the intent anyway.
As I see it, this is a metaphor for Evelyn’s struggle with being a housewife who is constantly expected to clean everything, cook food, make sure the household runs, always always not good enough, and how that is grinding her down. She tries to find small escapes from her situation, but it always ends up with her back in the same „room“ – it might not literally be The Kitchen Where The Woman Belongs, but it could be that they move houses, maybe even a bigger, nicer one with differently colored walls, but for Evelyn, it’s always the same. The same work, the same nagging, the same cycle of never being good enough.
That’s pretty terrible, but, as I said, compelling. So good job! One complaint: I did not get why it kept smelling like literal poo poo. Maybe her husband/family is comprised of such terrible slobs that they just don’t do hygiene, making her task of cleaning completely impossible?
flerp – A Rifle Isn’t a Maybe Kind of Thing Though
It is an interesting character study of the father, told in a very competent way. You manage to portray the complexity of this person and how the son struggles with his difficult relationship throughout his entire life. Until the relationship ends because the dad kills himself, of course.
I ultimately didn’t find it as memorable as other stories that are told worse, that struggle somewhat with logic, because I’m just not super into the subject matter – sorry, but that’s why I have little more to say except to confirm that the praise it got was deserved. If I wanted to give a favorable comparison, it reminds me of T. C. Boyle’s stories, who is also really good at drawing up extremely complex and severely flawed characters with difficult relationships with themselves and each others. I never quite enjoy his books because they are so dire, but I keep reading them because he writes so well. You could be someone like that.
QM Haversham – He’s No Reid Fleming
I don’t know who Reid Fleming is. I liked the story regardless. Cliff’s confusion and struggle to understand where it’s coming from and attempts to solve this are well-told to me. It helps that I’m currently writing a similar story with a similar struggle, so I’m quite sympathetic to the subject matter.
Overall, I can’t say much because not much happens – it’s all leading up to the twist. I don’t find it rote or cliché because I don’t know of a „diorama“ cliché. The biggest issue is that Cliff being just a figure in a model IS the twist – there is nothing more to it. It misses a certain extra layer of drama, maybe connected to the missing basket, to elevate it into something a little more substantial.
Bad Seafood – Diving Expedition
Well, this is just absurd.
Honestly, it’s just not doing anything for me, because it’s so surreal that I cannot find a connection to it. It just leaves me a little baffled and cold, not amused at all like I think the intention it. You can chalk that up to me being a joyless German Chemist, but I’ll just leave it as a „huh“ and reiterate my call to give characters better motivations. Though I don’t know how you’d do that for an octopus.
onsetOutsider – Lunch
Seems like this was also written by a baby brain!!!
I kid, I kid. It’s not much to talk about obviously, so one thing that stuck out: the scene of Lilly’s father lifting a glob of fallen jelly for her to lick disturbs me for some reason. Maybe because I don’t like to eat breadspreads without the accompanying bread, so it being „overwhelmingly sweet“ rings very true to me. And she still likes it. Tickles my brain unpleasantly, which you probably wanted, so very nice.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 00:52|
E: I already lost, enjoy this easier to read version.
Don't do this, please. The idea of the Archive is to preserve work as it originally appeared and was judged. There would be little point in it otherwise.
To clarify: if you need to edit a story out of the thread or otherwise want to change it after the fact, wait until it's been archived, which in the case of brawls can't happen before results are announced and may not happen immediately afterward.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 01:11 on Feb 17, 2019
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 01:05|
No need for the disclaimer, Simon. That was some good critting.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 12:11|
The Game of Life
“When was the last time you logged off?”
The minotaur’s attack went right through Hannah’s defenses, so caught off guard was she by how inappropriate the question was. She was at the beast’s mercy.
Her companion rescued her with a signature sneak attack. The elven rogue removed her mask, and her avatar's well-modeled face showed equal parts curiosity and concern as she helped Hannah up.
“I don't know”, Hannah answered honestly. “Do you?”
They surveyed the battlefield; the monster army had been beaten by their adventuring party, and the other players were already looting corpses. The game session would end soon, and then Hannah could choose another quest to gain some more reputation points for Hannah the Giant, her human barbarian character.
But somehow, the Game had lost priority for a moment. Players didn’t talk at her level, let alone about...that. What did the rogue want?
“I remember when I last logged on”, the player named Deathgift Whisperspirit mused. “It has been a while. But you can't log off if you want to keep up, right?” She gestured to the minotaur's digital remains. “Are you not going to loot it?”
Hannah shrugged her broad shoulders. “I got their rare axe already. Pointless.”
“Isn't it!”, Deathgift said with peculiar emphasis. “Do you want to take a break and talk some more?”
The session was about to close. Hannah hesitated. “The Showdown Against the Void event starts soon…”
Something pinged in the corner of her vision. Deathgift had sent a friend request. “Any time you're ready!”, she said, and left the session.
Some days later, Hannah was still upset about the initial question. She hadn't saved up for her Virtual Reality all-inclusive Bodycare Chair to not be online all the time and play the Game where she could be who she wanted.
But did she know how long…?
Deathgift was quick to answer the request, and they met in a private chat room. After adding some furniture, they sat down on a nice sofa.
“Hannah is not much of a barbarian name. Why did you choose it?”
“It's my actual name. Just got a better, Giant body attached here.”
“That’s a big thing to share! My name is Lilly.”
Hannah hadn’t even hesitated to tell. The moment between the two women-characters had suddenly become very intimate.
“So...why did you ask me about logging off?”, she asked, fidgeting in a way unbecoming her avatar’s frame.
Lilly put a reassuring hand on her leg. “It’s just a question that kind of haunted me for a while now. And I wanted to know if other players also had it?”
“Did you ask anybody else?”
“A few.” The way she answered suggested more than that. “Most just blocked me instantly.”
“It is a terrible question.” Hannah tried to phrase it as a joke, but that’s not how it came out. “You made me think about my motivation for starting the Game at all.”
“Not just fun?”
But yeah, I guess it is a lot of fun.”
“Fun we’re missing out on”, Lilly said with a distant look. Before Hannah could say anything, Lilly’s head snapped towards her, and she was wearing the rogue mask. “Hey! Let’s kill some monsters together again!”
And they played, and they looted, and they had fun. And then they took breaks, and talked some more, and Lilly showed her some rooms that were not just for chatting.
Eventually, Hannah knew what she needed to say.
“Lilly, I think I’m falling in love with you.”
The grin blooming on her petite face was all Hannah had ever wanted to see.
“That is the problem.” Hannah sighed deeply. “We started all this because you reminded me of the real world. I feel like this is...still just part of the Game?”
Lilly waited for more, so Hannah had to say it.
“I want to meet you IRL.”
“Like, in real life IRL?”
Hannah nodded quickly. Lilly’s delicate hand shot up, grabbed the barbarian’s head and pulled it towards her tiny elven face for a long kiss.
“You had the idea, so come to my place. My body is in Budapest.”
Just a non-stop tube train ride away then!
“I’ll bring mine over to yours as soon as I can.” The next sentence was even harder than Hannah’s maybe-love confession. “It won’t look very close to this one.”
Another smile she felt in her actual heart. “Neither will mine.”
And thus, it was decided, and after some considerable difficulty with finding out how even, Hannah logged off.
The VR chair had kept her body in remarkable condition, all things considered; as promised. To become aware of it again was a gruesome experience regardless. After an eternal moment of immobilized panic, she realized that she could still move, it had just been so long her body had forgotten how. Also, her limbs were restrained by the chair. The darkness of the helmet engulfed her, adding to the panic, but her tongue found the switch, and it retreated together with the body cover, leaving her in the more natural darkness of her apartment. The restraints left her free to undertake the monumental task of sitting up, then removing all the needles and tubes in her.
It was a terrible thing to do with hands trembling from the exertion of just moving, but she had to get rid of the catheter right now. Its presence kept reminding her of the penis it went through, the useless tube of flesh that should not be with her.
After her eyes had accepted having to work again, she could turn on the light to see that someone had visited her during her...years?...online. They had left some letters.
From her parents, addressed to “Otto”.
She crumpled the name cadaver up. She thought she had become alive enough to stand, but had to sit down again amidst clouds of ancient dust.
Maybe a short game while she recovered a little?
No! She was logged off!
Hannah used the time necessary to activate her body to research some RL facts instead. Then, she left the chair, her apartment and some unwanted reminders.
The streets of Berlin shadowed by impossibly high skyscrapers were pristine, and where the light was allowed to penetrate through well-placed architecture, it shone from a spotless sky. The last time Hannah had been in RL, the very air had teemed with the refuse of humanity. And now, so beautiful, so clean and empty! In fact…who was around to appreciate it? There was a smattering of people walking on streets designed for throes of cars, which did pass sometimes, singular occurrences. Going to the few jobs left that paid luxury credits? And would they then also spend them on VR chairs?
Were all the skyscrapers with their shadowed windows full of fellow players who would block Lilly immediately for asking her question?
The tube train had been designed to ferry hundred thousand people per day, but Hannah rode it in lonely silence. She felt bad about wasting all that energy. But after a few minutes with absolutely nothing to do, she began to feel even worse.
She should play the Game right now. Earn points. Meet Lilly. But she couldn’t - not for hours.
She curled up on the floor, sobbing. It was not really the loneliness; she would meet Lilly soon, and they would figure out their feelings and their bodies. That, Hannah looked forward to.
What crushed her was her inability to deal with simple boredom. The torture of having to do nothing itself, and how pathetic this sheer anguish made her feel.
Eventually, Budapest. Hannah had the address; she moved through pristine streets with too few people on them. Nobody spoke to her, or with each other. It looked exactly like Berlin.
Hannah had no way of telling Lilly that she had reached her apartment. An RL problem unanticipated. She stood paralyzed in front of the gate preventing entry into what could be paradise. Only mentally had the journey been an ordeal - the public transport was still free, the machines still took care of all repairs including to themselves, and breathing the air was pleasant. But here she stood, a few steps away from the end, defeated by a door.
In the Game, this would not be an issue. Hannah the Giant would just kick it in. But her Tiny, useless, wrong body?
Her eyes settled on a fire extinguisher, a laughable anachronism in an automated world.
She hadn’t spent years in the Game to not become a strong woman.
Hannah worked hard on the drat door, chipped away at it splinter by splinter, her untrained muscles screaming after every blow. She had to take a break to find a food machine, worked more, collapsed and slept, woke up and started grinding down the door again. Just like in the Game, forever fighting the same fights, for tiny incremental gains, a club a sword an axe soon outclassed again. Pointless overall. Was this?
The door broke down.
Hannah entered, stirred up years of dust, and made a trail to Lilly’s chair, the only object in the room.
In a trance-like state, Hannah reached where Lilly lay. Hannah touched a tiny hand restrained like hers just a little while ago. She would be here for Lilly when she went through the process of logging off, spend comfort and some soothing words, if she could manage speech, and then they would…
The hand was cold.
In shock but unable to control her hands, Hannah released the cover over Lilly’s torso, swung it open, and discovered that for Lilly, the L part of RL had ended long ago.
It could not be. Had Hannah carried her disgusting meat all the way here for this? To find her Lilly dead, and…
...what exactly, then, in virtual space?
The dust covered the inside of her lungs like a pall as she sat down, despairing. Had she fallen for a bot, a program designed to lure her into...what exactly? What good would her body do anyone here when not even she herself could do anything but hate it?
Hannah had to know. She took what once was Lilly and removed her gently from the chair, put herself in it and logged on.
Hannah the Giant and Deathgift Whisperspirit joined each other in a private room again.
“Did you find me IRL?”, the latter asked.
Hannah swallowed hard before she croaked a “yes”.
“How do I look like?”
“You are beautiful”, Hannah whispered and earned that smile she craved so much.
“Beautiful enough to log off and go RL with you?”
Hannah could not take this question. Lilly tried to comfort the collapsed Giant, but it took a long time until Hannah could speak again.
“You...you should not log off, Lilly. I don’t think you can.”
The elf avatar fell very silent. Then: “You do not have to explain. I know why. And I have suspected for a long while.” A dry chuckle. “But how could I have checked?”
“The other players…”
Lilly nodded. “It hurts to think about what you know deep down. I think not all of them are...unable to log off. Yet. But the Game, it really does not want to let you go.”
Every word was a desperate fight through tears for Hannah. “I wanted to show you how beautiful the world has become!”
This was finally enough to break through Lilly’s composed facade. During the barbarian woman’s turn to comfort the elven rogue, something dawned on Hannah.
“Lilly...do you think the world became so nice because everyone is busy playing the Game? And did someone plan it? Make us pay for the chairs so they felt earned? Like a reward in the Game?”
“Does that matter? What will you do now?”
“I cannot stay logged on forever in your chair. But I want to keep visiting you here. Figure things out. Together.”
Lilly’s lips trembled. “So does this mean…?”
“Yes, Lilly”, Hannah smiled. “I know I love you now.”
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 15:09|
My idea for this week morphed into something else (I'm a seminarian, I turned the premise into a sermon). What resulted isn't a short story and isn't really cyberpunk, should I post it or bite the fail?
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 15:54|
My idea for this week morphed into something else (I'm a seminarian, I turned the premise into a sermon). What resulted isn't a short story and isn't really cyberpunk, should I post it or bite the fail?
Put on your big boy pants and post it. Failing is for losers.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 16:23|
Many hours remain before the deadline. Try Option 3: Write something else?
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 16:46|
My idea for this week morphed into something else (I'm a seminarian, I turned the premise into a sermon). What resulted isn't a short story and isn't really cyberpunk, should I post it or bite the fail?
Absolutely post it.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 16:53|
Flash: The Singularity
How do these things usually start?
With a motorcycle, right? And a dark rider wearing a katana strapped across his back, speeding down a lonely desert road.
Ahead of him the road stretches off to the vanishing point, unrolling in reverse in the mirrored black visor of the rider’s helmet. A towering city rises slowly from the horizon. It’s moments before dawn and the skyline is silhouetted black and blue against the greasy oilslick sunrise. The colors are spectacular, like a Van Gogh acid trip. Whatever the city is pumping into the air to make the sunrise look like that is almost worth all the cancer and birth defects that come with it. The lights of the skyline shimmer in a perpetual heat haze. As the rider shrinks toward the distant horizon, he starts to shimmer as well.
The highway into the city terminated abruptly at the entrance of a squat bunker still several miles short of the city walls. The heat sinks made an overland approach a lethal proposition. Passengers in an unshielded land vehicle would be baked alive within minutes. Even coming in by air was risky. Wild updrafts and chaotic cyclones caused by the rising heat plumes could seize all but the highest-flying aircraft and toss them around like toys in the hands of a capricious child.
The city’s official primary export was processor cycles, but in reality it was waste heat. The entire metropolis was a massive computer network, a single giant brain thinking day and night.
The technological singularity had wrought many wonders, but even an infinitely smart computer couldn’t think its way around the laws of physics. Information transmission was still limited by the speed of light, and integrated circuits still radiated heat. A million million miles of integrated circuits generated enough heat to bake a planet.
The only safe roads into the city were underground, the entrances guarded by ever-vigilant robot sentinels. As the dark rider approached, the squat, rectangular bunker bristled with weapons, transforming itself into a metallic porcupine of death.
RFID interrogators under the road ran the dark rider’s ident and motorcycle IFF codes against the municipal database. Somewhere in the lightyears of circuitry under the city, a handful of relays weighed the rider’s life against a wisp of magnetic tape and found him worthy.
The dark rider noticed —not for the first time— that the latency between interrogation and response was slightly longer than before. The autoguns tracking the bike’s passage returned to their ready positions and the bunker retracted its bristling arsenal.
In return, the bike’s onboard computer safed and stowed the vehicle’s countermeasure systems as the doors of the bunker slid open.
That’s when the Griefers made their move.
“Door’s open, lads!” hollered the leader, flinging aside his blanket of radar-absorbent camouflage and gunning the engine of his custom murdercycle so that it howled like a banshee. His cyber-eyes glowed an evil red and he grinned savagely at the prospect of the carnage to come.
The air filled with the whoops and catcalls of the Griefers as half a dozen more murdercycles erupted from concealed pits along the roadside.
It had been slow and tedious work to set up the ambush. That handful of holes and well-placed boulders represented weeks of effort and planning on the part of the Griefers. It had cost more than a few lives to work out the blind spots in the city surveillance grid, but it would all be worth it if they could get inside.
It all came down to the next few seconds.
The first murdercycle leaped into the air on screaming jump jets, launching it directly into the path of the dark rider. The murdercycle’s bladed wheels missed the Rider’s head by inches. The Griefer made a wobbly touchdown on the other side of the road and cursed his target’s agility as he wheeled to continue his pursuit. His mates had already passed him by the time he’d straightened out and he found himself at the back of the pack.
“Keep up, Blazewheel!” the Griefer called Mayhem shouted back over his shoulder as he disappeared down the ramp after the others.
Blazewheel gunned the engine of his murdercycle and launched himself at the portal. Unfortunately for him, the municipal IFF programs had finally recognized the Griefer intrusion for what it was. The heavy blast doors snapped shut in the blink of an eye. Blazewheel didn’t even have time to scream.
Inside the tunnel, the rest of the Griefers were closing fast on the dark rider. With each flash of light passing overhead, the pack of ravenous maniacs was a little closer. The roaring engines filled the tunnel with the sound of a hurricane.
The gang had planned its ambush well. Bikes like the dark rider’s were usually a match for the nomadic raiders’ rough and improvised weapons, but the use of onboard defenses was prohibited inside city access tunnels. The dark rider was sitting on enough firepower to lay waste to a small village, but right now all it was just so much dead weight.
The tunnel had its own integrated defense systems of course, but by the time each checkpoint stirred to life, the dark rider and his murderous pursuers were long seconds past.
That was why the dark rider always carried a weapon that couldn’t be shut off.
He sighed and drew his katana. The ringing of folded steel cut through the roar of the engines.
A pair of spider tanks was waiting at the far end of the tunnel, alerted to the breach in security by the tunnel sensors. Their chainguns were already spinning up as the dark rider appeared at the bottom of the ramp.
The guns blazed, filling the tunnel with a deadly hail of lead slugs the size of mallet-heads. The walls, ceiling and pavement around the dark rider erupted in a moonscape of craters. One slug passed clean through the front wheel of the bike, the engine block, the dark rider’s chest cavity and out the back of the rear wheel as if the whole thing were so much gelatin.
The the mangled remains of bike and rider slid to a halt at the feet of the spider tanks, tracked diligently by the glowing red barrels tanks’ chainguns.
How do these things usually end?
Inside the heads of the spider tanks, relays buzz and click. Abruptly, both tanks retract their weapons and come to attention.
“IFF code accepted. Welcome back, Citizen 040329,” say the tanks in unison.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 17:11|
My idea for this week morphed into something else (I'm a seminarian, I turned the premise into a sermon). What resulted isn't a short story and isn't really cyberpunk, should I post it or bite the fail?
Hey, people liked Atlas Shrugged.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 18:35|
The Anarchist and the Associate
Flash rules: Tron Lines, Wretched Hive
I’m almost at the headquarters of Amatech when the boarder zooms past me, hitting a puddle and sending mud splashing. I look down. Grime, staining my brand new Gucci synthetic shark-leather bag. Prismatic scales and genuine cow skin, fused, grown cruelty-free in a tissue lab, only to get ruined by some punk. I turn toward him to try and snag an ID, but my headset can’t pick up anything on him. Rude, and no ID tag. I resolve to send the police a DM to keep an eye out for the vandal, then brush mud off the red glowtubes on my jacket. What a loving way to start the day.
I walk in the door and through the full-body scanner. Security verifies my ID, and I head to the elevator. As I’m riding up, an alert pops up on my headset.
Product meeting. First thing.
I join Laura, who found time to get a double-shot synthetic-blend Starbucks mocha with ‘peppermint spice’ and ‘extra whip’ checked off on the side. What a go-getter. She’s sorting through emails on her headset.
“So what’s this about?” I ask.
She looks at me. “Oh, hi Debbie. New product, I guess. They want marketing to be synergizing with developer models so we can maximize influence.”
I nod. Mr. McAllister, our boss, is prepping his presentation. I hear him muttering, “now how’s this drat thing work again?” while studying the holoprojector. The tech next to him sighs and points at a button.
The meeting fills, and we’re ready to go. All the heads of marketing are here. Big product. Developed on the down-low, too, because none of us have heard a peep about a new launch until today.
“This,” Mr. McAllister says, “is revolutionary stuff. We, my fellow associates, are about to corner the market of on-demand manufactured video footage. We’re targeting top-income, top-influencers with maximum disposable income, and our service is going to be one they want to use over and over.”
He hits a button on the remote. The holoprojector beeps.
The tech comes over. McAllister frowns. “Next. I hit next. Don’t I—oh, right, right.”
A video plays of a woman breaking into a drug store. It pauses on a still frame as she exits, bag full, and zooms in. A few startled gasps around the room as face-recognition ID’s her. It’s China’s President Wu.
McAllister laughs. “Obviously, we couldn’t get the real President Wu to rob a store, so we had to make our own footage. And that’s the beauty. Our 3-d algorithmic rendering creates on-demand footage from scratch, with high fidelity, and multiple angles. But this tech goes beyond fake videos.”
The next slide is so full of text no one can read it. People shift in their chairs and squint. “Our network tech now creates digital footprints. Testimonies of witnesses. Genetic evidence. Everything a prosecutor needs. Our competitors may have come up with Accelerated Justice, but we’re going to utilize their program to make it big. We’re calling it Justice On Demand.”
A pallid silence falls over the room as McAllister keeps talking, slide after slide zipping by. But no one says anything. I keep waiting, but no one does.
After the meeting, Laura and I meet up. I set my headset to ‘bathroom mode’ so we aren’t recorded.
“Amatech has gone too far,” she whispers. “I know some journalists.”
“I’ve got your back,” I tell her.
Three days after the meeting, I hear the news. Laura, arrested for murder. Two journalists, arrested as accomplices. We all know they didn’t do it, but no one talks about it. I spend the day worrying I’m next. There’s regulations, there’s laws, this poo poo isn’t supposed to happen. It’s clear I’m not going to get results working in the system. That night, I turn my glowlights off and leave my cell and headset at my condo.
I head to the Midden District.
The whole place is slums. You go to Midden when you don’t have any other choice—unless you’re one of the degenerates. It’s a place of boarded buildings, broken LEDs, graffiti, and every kind of criminal. The cops stay away because the whole drat district is behind on their protection insurance, so crime thrives.
I take the public bus, because I can’t risk getting tracked with Lyft. As we bump down streets more pothole than pavement, I see soiled tents and trash everywhere. Disgusting. But I’ve only got one contact in the underworld of the city, the only person I can trust to help me take on Amatech.
I know her usual hole in the wall. A place called Bet Red. The bouncer there takes a long look at me, then pulls out a detector and waves it for at least a minute before letting me in. The bar is quiet. There’s no screens, no holo ads, nothing normal. There are a few VR addicts loafing in a corner, controllers twitching, but otherwise the place feels ripped out of a history book. I get dirty looks as I walk in. They can tell from the clothes; even with the LEDs off, I don’t fit in.
“I’m looking for Jenna Rays,” I say.
The bartender raises an eyebrow. “No one here goes by that name,” she says. She glances at the bouncer.
“Please. It’s important.”
I see a woman with a spiked leather jacket in the mirror, glancing out from the back room. “Oh poo poo,” she says.
The bouncer’s reaching for something under his jacket. The bartender tenses.
“It’s okay,” she says, coming out. “Mom, what the gently caress are you doing here?”
“Hey sweetie,” I say.
She gives that exasperated sigh that’s defined our relationship for the past five years. “I told you—oh hell, I don’t know why I bother.”
“I need your help,” I blurt.
That catches her off guard. “For what? Not money, I hope, because that’s a bourgeoisie system of control that—”
“It’s Amatech,” I say, and then I tell her about the new product, about Laura. As I’m talking, she just keeps shaking her head.
Finally, it’s her turn. “So. What do you need from me?”
I hesitate. “Well, I mean, can’t you, you know, hack them or something? You and your friends? Aren’t you still hanging out with those anarchists? You know, I really don’t understand why you think a society with absolutely no rules is better than—”
“Oh my god, Mom, I’ve told you, anarchism isn’t—listen. I’m not going to talk to you about it until you’ve read Bakunin like I asked a decade ago.”
“I just think—”
I sigh. “Okay. Right. I need someone who understands the technology to ruin it. You and your friends are the only people I know who understand this stuff.”
“Mom, this ‘stuff’—it’s not new. I’ve been trying to tell you that. Corps have been using it for years to discredit and jail people. You remember Lashaya?”
“Yes. You know, I always knew—”
“Exonerated by DNA evidence. The footage showing her breaking in was fake.”
I stop. “I left out a part. Amatech’s got a genetic database, and DNA synthesizers. They can manufacture the DNA evidence they need. That’s how they got Laura.”
Jenna chews on that. “We’d need a lot to get started. Hacking isn’t just pounding at a keyboard for a few minutes.”
“I can get you and your friends in. As, uh, a social media consultant team, the kind with high network potential and a pulse on influencers.”
“Jesus, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Okay, we’ll do it. But I need you to promise me something.”
I gulp. “Anything.”
She smiles. drat. Haven’t seen that in a long time.
It takes them a week of prep. They shut down the surveillance in my condo somehow, and every night I come home to Jenna and her gang of five staring at screens, talking in incomprehensible jargon, saying meaningless things like ‘botnet’ ‘front door’ and ‘cloud.’ They load some program onto my headset, and each day I bring them flash drives full of files. Every day, my heart lives in my throat.
Then, it’s the day. We arrive separately, and I greet them.
“Welcome,” I say. “It’s a pleasure to synergize with you.”
Jenna rolls her eyes. Whatever.
They join me in the meeting room where I’ve prepped laptops, and while I talk about their responsibilities as contracted marketers for the mics in the room, they start plugging in drives and running programs that, in the words of Jenna, “will wipe their poo poo from the ground to the cloud.” Frankly, I don’t know who taught her to speak that way.
Then, they disperse to go load more poo poo onto people’s logged in computers. Me, I’m supposed to just act like everything’s normal, which is bullshit.
I see Mr. McAllistar roaming the cubicles, a mix between a stalking tiger and a blobfish. I grit my teeth, and keep working on the marketing script I hope I can trash tomorrow.
That’s when I get the call from Jenna over my headset. “There’s a problem,” she says. “There’s a backup server with all your proprietary software that’s not networked. Your server room is linked to ID-badges, and we can’t go in without tripping alarms. You need to go in and wreck it.”
“I don’t know anything about hacking,” I whisper, trying to think of some way that doesn’t put my neck on the line like that. If they track my ID going into a room I have no business in, and then there’s mysterious vandalism, I’m done. My whole career, ruined.
“Not hacking,” Jenna says. “Wrecking. You know how to smash circuit boards. Just pretend it’s like the time you found the messages between me and my high school girlfriend on my tablet.”
“Those were totally inappropriate for a girl your age!”
“Mom. Go. You’ve got about ten minutes before they realize everything’s being wiped.”
I stand up. McAllistar is between me and the server room. I just hope he doesn’t try to pull me into a meeting. But as I’m walking, an idea clicks into place. I trip, and bump into McAllistar.
“Sorry,” I say.
He gives me a lecherous smile. “No problem, sweetcheeks.”
God, what a shithead. “Jenna,” I whisper, right before I enter the server room. “Has the software been totally deleted yet?”
“No. As I said, ten—no, eight minutes left.”
“I need you to do something right quick.” And then I tell her.
The server room is frigid and humming with fans. The light strips decorating the computers are even more ostentatious than the glowtubes on my jacket and skirt. When I get to the backup server, I realize I don’t have anything to wreck it properly. I frown. The best weapon I have is a heel. My headset has a timer ticking down. Three minutes. Not enough time to leave the server room and come back, and if the building goes into lockdown, it’s over.
I think about Jenna Rays, my beautiful daughter, all grown up. What would she do? She’d always been into circuits and software growing up. Circuits, I realize. I have loads of circuits on me. The glowtubes. Plug them into a wall, make it so they get too hot, and the server will catch fire and be slag long before the extinguisher system kicks in. I detach several tubes, then jam them into a nearby outlet. I stay long enough to get a lungful of smoke as the server goes up in flames.
On my way out, I toss McAllistar’s ID-badge that I’d snagged on the ground. Jenna’s already forged the footage that shows him going into the server room. It’s not the end of this, but at least it’s a victory.
“I’m proud of you, mom,” Jenna tells me back at my condo.
“Thanks, sweetie,” I tell her. We hug, and then both of us cry. It’s been awhile.
Jenna wipes her tears away and takes a deep breath. “Now,” she says, pulling out a tome titled The Compiled Works of Bakunin, “about that promise….”
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 19:10|
Word Count: 1770
Flash Prompt: Machine Worship
A light rain skittered upon the concrete and coalesced with the blood of the body lying there, running off into a nearby drain all too quickly. The body was young enough to have age mentioned with sadness in the obituary but old enough to have lived a decent enough life. In the background, the red and blue of police lights blinkered against the grey of the alley in which the body lay. Aside from the way the body had evidently fallen from a great height, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the scene as far as Trent could tell.
She stood up and pulled out a cigarette, lighting and inhaling deeply. Turning towards the cordon at the end of the alleyway Trent motioned towards a paramedic team to head in. She turned as she exhaled smoke, so as to keep it away from her approaching colleague.
“Another suicide then detective?” her colleague asked. He was young and relatively new, Trent had forgotten his name.
“Ninth in as many days,” she replied. “Jumped. At least she had the foresight to land somewhere that won’t disrupt the traffic. Not much for us here, the guys are already on clean up. Going to check the building.”
Trent moved forward before her colleague had a chance to say anything else, nodding to a nearby officer she recognised. She passed through the cordon and into the street. Traffic had built up as drivers slowed down to gawk at the scene and the red and white of the lights on the vehicles twinkled in the falling rain. The building the dead girl had jumped from loomed, a large sign high above her glowed bright yellow against the drizzle but Trent couldn’t make out what it said from on the ground.
A revolving door brought Trent into the foyer of the building. A crowd of people had gathered, some of whom looked in shock and some who were clearly just interested in the suicide victim as a way to escape work for a while. Trent made her way to a large desk, behind which sat a heavy set man with a moustache and tired eyes.
“Detective Trent, here about the girl outside.”
“Horrible business that,” the man behind the desk replied, “horrible business. How may I help you, Detective?”
“What occurs in this building?” Trent asked, leaning against the desk.
“We have several offices for a variety of media based operations.”
“Right, and the victim - I assume her name and the reason for being in this building is known to you?”
“Ms. Wells, yes, she worked in the newspaper offices. She was a relatively new reporter for The Times, or so I’m lead to believe.”
“Anyone who knew her personally available?”
“Not that I’m aware of down here, no, however, if you were to head up to the 17th floor you’ll find the offices she worked within.”
Trent nodded at the man and turned away, heading through the crowd of people towards the elevator. The metal box ascended with incredible speed and Trent stepped out onto the 17th floor moments later. A small foyer spread out before her, a small crowd of people looked up with hesitant faces as she stepped from the elevator. Trent returned the gaze to a few people, causing them to look away from her before a wiry woman with dirty blonde hair stepped forward and adjusted the thinly framed spectacles that framed her face.
“Who are you and what do you want up here?” the woman asked, a note of hostility in her voice, “We have just witnessed a tragedy, you know?”
“Detective Trent, here about the woman who jumped. You are?”
“Oh a detective, wonderful. Well, Ms. Wells likes horoscopes and took hers a bit literally. We’re the ones who are suffering for it, no work getting done and a terrific mess. I’m going to need therapy after this, which is expensive!”
Trent stared at the woman as a slight twinge of disbelief crept across her face. The woman returned the stare, shrugged and turned away.
“It’s just the way of it,” the woman said, “young people and what they believe. Ridiculous. Never heard of this behaviour in my generation I assure you.”
The television above the bar projected out a news broadcast about the latest developments in the Mediterranean. She paid little mind to it as she focused on her phone, the light on the small screen illuminated her face. She had spent the last hour or so flicking through various horoscope websites and generators, most of which were exactly as she expected. It made her feel a little better about her life to know that wealth is in her future and Jupiter is sending her social vibes. A voice took her out of her reverie.
“You waiting for it to cool down?”
Trent looked up and found the smiling face of a young woman, her head slightly tilted towards the untouched beer on the bar.
“Sorry, just researching something,” Trent said, “horoscopes.”
“Oh yeah?” the bartender replied, ”which ones are you looking at?”
“All sorts, I’m curious.”
“Future is worth being curious about, I say. You should check out the one I like, it’s a personalised one that generates based on the data you put in about yourself! Look up True Futures, should be the top result you get!”
“I’ll do that,” Trent nodded at the bartender, “thanks.”
The bartender skipped away as another patron called out and Trent returned to her phone. She found True Futures just as the young woman had said, top result. The screen changed to a webpage no different to any Trent was used to. A few fields marked Input social media identification and a pop up requesting to access her location. Trent filled in the information, clicked okay on the location request and the webpage loaded in full. On her screen now were input fields for a variety of things and a notice at the top of the page that read more information results in a more accurate prediction. Several of the fields were already completed thanks to the information she had input on her social media identification so Trent pressed ahead with what had already been done and clicked generate.
“You’ll come to understand that which perplexes you.”
“Well that’s extremely convenient,” Trent said to herself.
The evidence lock-up in the police station could barely be described as a lock-up. A single chain fence separated it from the outside world and through the oak wood doors that made up the entrance the only security was a thin old man behind a desk. Trent showed her badge to the attendant and received a grunt in reply. She came into a small room with shelves that stretched from the floor to ceiling, some buckling under the weight of various boxes upon them. Working against the lack of filing system, Trent came upon the box belonging to the suicide victim after a half hour of searching.
The clothes Ms. Wells had been wearing at the time of her death were sealed in transparent plastic bags, underneath them were the things she had been carrying. Trent pulled the phone from the box. The screen had a large crack through it. Holding her breath, Trent tried to turn it on. She exhaled as the screen lit up with a familiar glow and after a minute she was presented with a lock screen.
“Of course it is,” Trent sighed.
She fished out a small metal object from her pockets and a cable, then attached the locked phone to it with the cable. Trent pressed a button on the object and the screen on the phone lit up once more. She placed everything back into her pocket and left the storage room. The attendant at the desk looked up at her as she emerged.
“Checking out a phone,” Trent said, “I’ll return it in an hour or so.”
“Yeah, fine,” the attendant replied, “Just return it, saves me having to file anything.”
Trent gave the attendant a nod and left through the doors, stepping into the pale sunshine of the empty car park, the rain from the day before a distant memory. She heard the attendant call out that she had better return the phone as the doors closed behind her. She lit a cigarette and walked towards her parked car.
An hour or two had passed since Trent had picked up the phone before it had been unlocked. She disconnected the device and noted the code before having a look through the phone that had belonged to Ms. Wells. The phone was completely normal as far as Trent could tell, there was no sign of any weird applications. She opened up Social media ident. and scrolled through the page that had belonged to the suicide victim - her name was Trish, she had graduated from college reasonably well, was ‘single but looking,’ a member of a few groups dedicated to bringing back pet ownership and against sea drains and a post that she recently started a job as a reporter.
Trent closed the application and opened up the photo album on the phone. Flicking through some recent photos she found nothing inconsistent with the social media profile; a picture of an e-reader and a coffee, a tree that Trent spent a moment to admire, the sunset from a window - nothing jumped out from the photographs to Trent. She lit another cigarette and rolled down the window of her car and continued to search through the phone. She opened the web browser and was met with the splash page of True Futures.
“Should have just done that first,” she muttered to herself.
On the True Futures page, Trent noted that every information field had been filled in already, so she scrolled down and clicked generate.
“You must go. You must go. It cannot happen with you here. That which you want can only happen if you go. Your secrets will be revealed if you don’t. You must go.”
Trent stared at the message on the screen for a long time. The cigarette she held burnt down to the filter and it was only the hot ash falling on her hand that brought her attention away from reading the screen. She brought out her own phone from her pocket and brought up the True Futures page, generating a horoscope for herself.
“To continue discovery, you must look to what came previously.”
“Machine generated horoscopes that tell you what you already know,” Trent sighed and looked at the other phone, “or that you need to die.”
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 20:45|
official prompt: Voice With An Internet Connection
Marron coaxed the kids into bed, then went to the bathroom to wash the day off her face. She made a wry expression at herself in the mirror; her bits were still where they’d always been, but her features had thickened and softened in seven years of motherhood. Her real face—the face of her twenties and early thirties—peered out at her from behind a lattice of fine lines and prominent pores.
The built-in display in the upper right corner of the mirror alerted her to a missed Skype call, and her heart jumped into her throat. She swiped away the notification and opened the settings menu, intending to unpair Skype from the mirror once and for all. Her finger hovered over the relevant option, then withdrew.
After tying her hair up in a lazy bun, she padded downstairs to her office, pausing to deposit a kiss on her husband’s forehead. He'd done his share of child-management earlier in the evening, and was dozing on the sofa in the living room, Oculus Go headset resting loosely over his eyes.
Marron’s office was a fastidious space occupied by a desk and a bookshelf that spanned the entirety of one wall. Each of the bookshelf’s square compartments contained a single object, two at most: an iPad and a Kindle, sitting companionably on their matching stands; a Nikon camera with accompanying lens attachment; a chromebook flipped open to display its dull black screen; an Amazon Echo that Marron had never used and never planned on using; and on, and on. On the desk sat a modestly capable gaming laptop, a headset with attached microphone, and an ergonomic mouse.
There was nothing personal about the space, which was how Marron preferred it. She could bring anyone into this room and rest easy knowing they would glean absolutely nothing about her from its contents. She closed the door behind her, turning the handle as she did to avoid the noisy ker-chick of the latch, then sat down at her desk.
A pack of dogs ran wild through her chest, dragging her heart along with them, transforming her pulse into a leashless, syncopated thing.
Wintermoot was waiting for her on Skype when her computer booted up.
Hey you, he sent over text chat. Were the kiddos staging another bedtime coup?
Their demands never change, Marron replied, smiling as she typed. Truly, history is like an endless waltz.
*nods sagely* Ah, yes, Gundam Wing reference, Wintermoot sent.
IDK what you’re talking about, I’ve never even heard of anime, what’s a gundam wing??
I think it’s a cartoon that old farts like us like to watch sometimes. Or so I’ve been told.
There was a lull in the conversation, during which Marron loaded up Heroes of Chaos City. She sighed when her avatar appeared on screen; Avalynn Jade was sinewy and statuesque, clad in a black leather catsuit that offered a generous eyeful of side-boob. Her right arm tapered into a ruthless blade and her left hand rested haughtily on her hip.
Sorry about that, Wintermoot sent. Had to go present a united front with the wife re: bedtime. The rule in our household is that anyone who isn’t old enough to have gone to a Linkin Park concert goes to bed at 8:30.
Uh, I'll refrain from questioning your tastes, Marron sent. Should we hop onto voice chat??
I thought you’d never ask…
Marron donned her headset and waited for the call to connect.
And then Wintermoot’s voice was in her ear, soft and easygoing. “So what’re we feeling tonight? Co-op or versus?”
There was a touch of Texan drawl in that voice, though Marron had deduced over the years that Wintermoot resided somewhere on the east coast. Sharing both a time zone and their respective parental obligations was why they’d started playing together regularly to begin with, after all.
“Co-op,” Marron said. In truth, she preferred versus, but playing cooperatively offered more opportunities for conversation.
“M-m-m, good. That’s what I was thinking too.”
After a few moments of game configuration, Avalynn and Wintermoot spawned in Chaos City. Wintermoot’s avatar was all brawn, a veiny amassment of muscles bound tightly in spandex. In place of his fingers were ten impractical, cruel-looking claws.
Marron switched the in-game camera to a third person perspective, rotated it so Avalynn and Wintermoot were framed in the center of her screen, and took a screenshot. They made a striking pair, she’d always thought; her avatar was as sleek and sensual as his was chiseled and powerful.
Presently, they stood at the center of a ruined plaza in the heart of Chaos City. A nearby hovercar smoldered in an impact crater as though cast down onto the plaza by an angry god. The decorative palm trees burned ceaselessly and the flagstones were Pollocked with blood spray. Beyond the plaza, pillars of smoke rose from glistening megatowers.
“First checkpoint is two hundred meters to the northwest,” Wintermoot said. “You ready?”
The Agents of Order descended on them as soon as they emerged into the maze of city streets. Avalynn lunged ahead, dispatching the faceless, black-uniformed wave of hostiles with a few swipes of her arm-blade. Wintermoot lumbered after, his footsteps audible even from a distance.
“drat girl,” he said. “I know they’re the Bad Guys and all but—give ‘em a chance, will ya? At least save some for me?”
“Not my fault you never invest any points in speed,” Marron said, grinning madly at her screen.
In this way they worked their way across the city; Avalynn was the vanguard, a spear hurled into the heart of chaos. She cut down the crowds of low-defense Agents, leaving the sturdier, more stubborn NPCs in her wake for Wintermoot to dispatch.
“Gawd, today was a real shitshow,” Wintermoot said over the sounds of combat. “The boss rode my rear end all the way from nine to five.”
“The guy who always smells like deli meat?” Avalynn leapt up the nearest wall to avoid a volley of gunfire, then launched herself over the heads of the shooters. She landed behind them, gutting the NPCs before they had a chance to bring their weapons to bear on her again.
Wintermoot laughed. “Yeah. Today it was ham—no, Spam. Something canned and processed.”
“What was he hounding you about this time?”
“Oh, it’d be dumb to explain. Then I get home and there’s the mortgage to talk about, a broken burner on the stove...you know how it goes.”
“We should become real-life superheroes,” Marron said. “The constant life-or-death struggle sounds like a nice change of pace.”
“I have noticed a dearth of doughy office guy characters in this game,” Wintermoot said. “You might be on to something.”
“That’d just be your mild-mannered alter ego.”
“Ah, so by night I transform into a turgid tower of manhood. Checks out.”
“Oh my god, I don’t even know what to say to that,” Marron said, laughing. Her cheeks burned red.
Wintermoot cleared his throat. “Anyway. How ‘bout you? I’m sure you had your own trials and tribulations to navigate today.”
A knock came at the office door. Marron swore under her breath, muted the headset, and positioned Avalynn behind the cover of an overturned hovercar.
Her husband let himself in, blinking the sleep out of his eyes. His face bore a diving mask imprint where the Oculus headset had rested.
“Thought I’d come say goodnight, and bring you a nightcap,” he said, holding up a glass of red wine.
Marron bit back annoyance, forced a grateful smile. “I don’t deserve you,” she said, accepting the glass and a peck on the lips.
“Yes you do. I’m your karma, for all the terrible things you did in your last life,” her husband said.
She kissed him again, this time with more sincerity. “Then I’d do it all over again.”
Once he was gone, Marron went back to the game. Avalynn was still crouched behind the hovercar, but now Wintermoot was at her side, doing a sequence of in-game character emotes at her.
She unmuted her microphone and said, “Sorry. Real life, and all that.”
“I figured,” Wintermoot said. “Wanna move on?”
They hacked and slashed their way deeper into enemy territory. In between waves of enemies, Marron drank her wine, and was disappointed to realize she’d drained the glass. After several minutes of intense combat wherein neither of them spoke much at all, they reached the heavily-barricaded police station that served as the base of operations for the final boss.
They cased the joint from behind a ruined tank.
“Going back to earlier—I really do think it’s important to have things that balance out the bullshit day-to-day stuff,” Marron said. The wine had instilled her with an introspective sort of ease. “Like, look at us. We’re just these voices floating around in the cybertubes. It’s simple. Uncomplicated.”
“Simple and uncomplicated,” Wintermoot said. “Sign me up.”
They breached the police station. The Agents inside were heavily armored and Avalynn was forced to fall back behind Wintermoot; they would be relying on his superior defense stats the rest of the way.
After a few more minutes of mutual silence and cacophonous combat, they reached central ops, where General Grip was waiting for them in villainous, black-caped regalia. Central ops was an open, circular chamber filled with assorted high-techery; panels of computers blinked in shifting constellations of piercing sci-fi brilliance, and mechanical arms of dubious function jutted down from the ceiling.
They waited out General Grip’s poorly-voiced monologue, and then the fight began.
“Why do these futuristic settings never really look like the future?” Marron asked as she jumped, dodged, and slashed. “It’s like, bad cosplay of a really impractical version of the future.”
“I mean, this is a bargain bin game from 2020. Plus, the real future is plastered with brand names. A game that was true to life would be boring, and expensive, from a licensing standpoint.”
With a powerful double swipe of his claws, Wintermoot reduced General Grip’s hit points to less than ten percent, triggering the final phase of the battle. Wave upon wave of Agents swarmed into the room, forcing both players back to crowd control mode. Avalynn fell into the practiced rhythm of mass carnage.
Things went well for a few moments, but the onslaught of enemies was ceaseless, and her medkits were running low. The wine made Marron’s thoughts and reflexes fuzzy; Avalynn took one critical hit, then another, and fell, immobile to the ground.
“Need a heal,” she told Wintermoot.
“On it,” he said.
“Sean, will you please come tell Mandi to go back to bed?” a distant voice called from somewhere in the backdrop of Wintermoot’s real life.
Wintermoot sighed and muted his microphone. His avatar went still at the center of the ops chamber. Avalynn watched, helpless, as the Agents of Order tore into him with electrified swords and laser projectiles, as her own hit points were reduced to zero. General Grip laughed the same soundbite laugh, over and over and over again.
The screen faded to black.
Marron stared at her reflection in the darkness of the Game Over screen, waiting. She checked the Skype call, saw it was still connected, and waited some more. The dogs in her chest were back, bounding back and forth at an arrhythmic pace.
She was angry. Not at the game, not at Wintermoot, but at herself. What the hell are you doing, woman? What exactly did you think was going to happen here?
Before she could think too hard about it, she disconnected from the call, shut down the computer, and padded back upstairs to the bedroom. There was one benefit to these simple, uncomplicated, disembodied friendships: they could be put away when needed, even discarded, if it came to that.
Marron yawned, stretched, and curled up next to her husband under the blankets. She would deactivate her accounts in the morning. Wintermoot would understand.
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 22:09|
Flash Rule: Post-Cyberpunk
Read it in the Archive.
Staggy fucked around with this message at 12:26 on Dec 30, 2019
|# ? Feb 17, 2019 23:25|
Yeah, I'm just gonna post it.
The God Code (a Sermon)
I hate wasps, and I have from a very young age. They sting, oftentimes out of what seems like malice, they look like frightening winged automatons, and worst of all, unlike other stinging insects, they do not produce honey. I believe with the utmost certainty that the world would be a better place if wasps did not exist. If God can be said to make mistakes, his first mistake is certainly the existence of wasps.
Imagine you are God, and it is your job to program the universe. You must enter in a few lines of code on your computer and hit enter on the keyboard and your universe will spring to life. The world you create must have people in it. If you design a world with too much hatred, murder, violence, and general evil, the people will become irate. They’ll forsake you upon the deaths of their children, scream your name during times of torment, and write lengthy philosophical screeds about how if you truly loved everyone, you would never have let such evil pass. You don’t want to have to face such criticism of your handiwork, so you must create a world devoid of evil. And, most importantly of all, you must program a universe that doesn’t have wasps in it.
This should be easy enough, right? Just click and drag some humans onto the screen, drag their “hatred” stat down to zero, forget about the wasps, and boom! You have a warless, waspless world.
Unfortunately, you find that this software isn’t that simple. You can’t drag and drop humans onto the screen. Instead, before you can get to people, you have to program the basic physical axioms of the universe. You decide how subatomic particles bond, how strong gravity is, and how fast light is. There is no “love” or “hate” meter; you must design the universe in such a way that allows for the development of neurons that interact in such a way that love develops naturally. Love, you find, is not a physical force in the universe, but a verbalization of a certain neurological combination. This combination is what you, God, are trying to maximize.
But even getting that far is difficult. As you try a few different iterations of the program, you find that none of them result in human life at all! Sometimes, you put your gravity just a little too high, meaning all of your suns collapse into black holes. Sometimes, you put it too low, so that stars and planets never form in the first place. Sometimes you forget to program the electromagnetic force that keeps the nuclei of atoms bonded so that your whole universe is just a vast sea of lonely bosons.
You get pretty close a few times. You get suns, and some watery planets spinning around them, but you find to your frustration that your bolts of lightning aren’t hitting the muck in just the right way for the first bacteria to flash into being. A few more tries and you finally get it right. Then you find that the life that sprouts up is not humanity, but a race of enormous, terrifying dragon-monsters. Nothing ever gets rid of the dragons, so they end up fighting and clawing and devouring until your perfectly calibrated sun swallows itself. On your next iteration, you manage to program your gravity in such a way that a big rock comes and kills all the dragons just in time to let the little rat-weasels that cowered beneath them develop into upright ape-creatures. You have done it! Humanity is born.
But you notice a problem. With everything else you were worried about trying to get humans to exist in the first place, you forgot to account for the whole “evil” thing. Way too many of these humans are total shitheads. Everyone is complaining about all of the bad stuff that happens. And worst of all, your planet is just absolutely loving filthy with wasps. So you try again.
Everyone complained about aging and dying last time, so you a design a universe in which the telomeres in DNA never shorten. This leads to the first bacteria living forever and never evolving at all. So you try again. You make a few changes to reduce aggression in your lifeforms, but that just makes them care less about finding food and mates, leading to a quick extinction of all life. So you try again. And again. And again. You come to realize that in order for there to be a humanity at all, there must be evil; we would never have evolved without it. And you realize that there is no possible universe where humans evolve, but wasps don’t; where humans evolve, but the smallpox virus doesn’t; where humans evolve, but cancer doesn’t.
It’s not fair to say that we, the people gathered here today, are living in the best possible world. Rather, we are living in the only world where living is possible. God could have made a universe of empty particles or of black holes, or a universe where dinosaurs reign forever. Instead, God made this one, the only one where you could have ever lived, ever loved, ever hated, ever ached, ever hosed, ever been you at all. And yes, there’s evil, and there's suffering. But we ask too much of God when we demand a universe without those things. At some point, making the world a better place leaves God's hands and lands in ours. Let us be grateful to live in the universe we do, wasps and all. Amen.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 00:36|
Amen, Saucy Rodent.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 01:05|
Rosa & Tom
Great scores of candles burned in beauty on almost every deck of the RosaTom vessel Siber as it cut through the dark blue night. Around the rust-red icebreaker, smaller ships swayed in their own multi-coloured lightshows.
The fleet had something to celebrate – and celebrate they did. There were festivities on the upper decks and makeshift structures of the nuclear icebreaker, and a little further behind, the cruise liner and the hauler, not to mention the dozens of more modest vessels which hung between them.
They were cheering for the sinking of the HMS Roanoke in what used to be the Thames Valley, and the thousands of Anglo bastards which died with it. At least, their bodies had died – no-one could say how many had transferred their consciousness out to safety, squatting in a server bank somewhere, waiting for another Helmet. Despite that, the victory seemed only more significant happening so close to Diwali.
Benji would have to miss the Diwali celebrations tonight. He was working.
Earlier someone had slipped duty for a smoke on Deck 4B, in a quieter part of the ship above the engines and whirring turbines and below the habitation levels. He stumbled across a scene, and let the bridge know about it. They sent down the Biomaterial crew, and once they came back with photographs and a few other things, they sent the Janitorial crew down to clean up the mess. The Janitorial crew could only spare Benji.
With his trolley in tow Benji had somehow been able to navigate the heaving crowds, taking a moment to note that even the Quakers and Yazidis were lighting candles and making an effort, before reaching the humming quiet of the maintenance elevator. He expected a longer walk to his destination, and so was faintly surprised to turn the corner and come across the sorry sight in no time at all.
The first thing was the blood. It pooled on the floor, almost black, and seemed to ripple ever so slightly in response to the movement of the ship. A fair few of the walls were painted with great bursts of it, clinging to rusted pipes and valves.
There were three bodies in all, as Benji had been told – one splayed, limbs wide, on the floor, another entangled unceremoniously with the other’s torso. The third was a few feet away, slumped against the wall, like a drunkard. All three bodies were male, and headless.
Benji for his part, couldn’t help but let out a ‘tsk’. Biomaterial could’ve at least put them in body bags before disappearing. His friend in Biomaterial, Hester, had failed to mention that when he was showing him the pictures of the three Helmets they had wrenched off the bodies (causing even more mess.) Perhaps they wanted to finish up quick so they could celebrate – how inconsiderate.
In Biomaterial’s sweep of the place, he understood, they took the Helmets for themselves to take a look see if any data was left in one of the units’ processors or artificial brain; if there was enough of a consciousness left to salvage, the ship could sell it for supplies next landfall. There was a fair chance any of them might be too damaged or plain empty; it was a question, Benji had heard, of if the sorry saps had pressed the eject button in time.
In any case, the bodies which had been vehicles for the helmets were left limp and derelict. Before he reached for any cleaning supplies, Benji wanted to indulge his curiosity and examine the corpses. Finding someone to identify them would do no good (what Helmet mind keeps their own body?) but even still, a little amateur detective work didn’t hurt. Hester hadn’t said, but Benji was also aware that the weapons had been taken, as probably had any other valuables on the bodies.
Of the two bodies sprawled on top of each other, the one on the bottom was stockier, with a big old scar running up the length of the right arm. He was wearing some leather get-up and a jacket over it – on the shoulder was a badge depicting an abstracted octopus, and the word ‘Leviathans’. Hester had shown Benji the photographs of the Helmets they had poached, each a different design – the Helmet of this body was dark steel, streamlined, with a face like an animal skull.
The second body had a massive chest wound which oozed and weeped into the rags it was wearing. This Helmet had been jagged, a million sharp edges, like a crown of thorns around the entire head. Everyone in Biomaterial had found this design particularly exotic. Some of them understood the Helmet situation very well indeed – better than Benji did. One of them had told him of a rumour going around that the enemy flagship was manned entirely by Helmets – an elite corps, with the experience of thousands of lifetimes. “What a challenge, to be up against that! The deathless! How exciting!”
The final body had its hands wrapped around its guts, in an apparently futile effort to hold them in. A smart brown waistcoat, worn with age, black and white dot tie, and a heavy navy-blue trench coat – an eclectic assortment perhaps, but one which Benji recognised as a type of uniform; that of the private investigators, who make their living scurrying around the flotilla solving mysteries and getting into trouble. There wasn’t many of them, and he certainly hadn’t heard of a Helmet PI before. Hester had tapped the photograph of this Helmet unit with his finger – glaring chrome, perfectly smooth all the way around. It had the shape of a human head, but didn’t bother with any unnecessary features except a reflective finish, which had caught the cameraman in the photo – perhaps having a mirror for a face was some kind of interrogative aid. In any case, it hadn’t helped him here. Benji wondered if this was some kind of shake-down gone wrong, or maybe an ambush. Perhaps someone else would figure it out.
He remembered every PI he’d ever run across having this cynicism about the world which he found rather grating. There was something so performative about it, about how they acted they were the one man standing against the tide – everyone else had just learned to enjoy when the tide came in. Benji was no philosopher, but he’d learned a long time ago that it’s better to accept the absurdity of living on an icebreaker in a world with no ice than start sinking yourself. Maybe the poor guy he was standing over would’ve ended up differently if he’d just stuck his shiny head in the temple once in a while. Everyone else was happy to keep on keeping on until they could retire to a nice little seastead somewhere.
A little while later, when Benji started to actually get to work scrubbing and mopping, he noticed another noise beyond the humming of engines. The noise was hard to describe, like it was incomplete.
He had to search around a little, but when he turned a couple corners he found where it was coming from; a screen on the wall, which might normally be running advertisements for advancements in hydroponics or some such, was instead blaring out this noise and displaying a strange series of glitchy images, with the pixels all in the wrong place. A technical fault? It was only when the screen held on a series of shapes that looked a hell of a lot like the outfit of the PI Helmet that Benji remembered something Hester had once told him about – about the eject mechanism that Helmets use to transfer consciousness. Sometimes when the mind is transmitting out, it can get ‘caught’ by other electrical devices before it reaches its destination. Here was this screen – too small to properly encode a consciousness, but still, through some mechanism Benji didn’t get, little images appeared half-rendered. Lots of stills of the ocean, lots of black cuts, lots of what couldn’t be made out to be anything at all. Colours and things. A whole life unremembered and stuck in amber.
Benji switched the screen off and went back to work.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 01:56|
Flash: Information Wants To Be Free
“Kenilworth-Arikawa technical assistance team, you’re speaking with Persephone, how may I support you today?”
Persephone Ng was on the 12th hour of her 14 hour shift, on her 19th consecutive workday, with no day off in sight. Persephone Ng, despite her cheery phone manner, was not happy. Persephone Ng wanted to go home to her shoebox apartment on the 1279th floor of the same building she worked in, so she could snatch maybe 6 hours of sleep before having to return to work the next day. She gazed over her work station, eyes glazed over, as she waited for the customer to begin complaining about whatever minor technical problem they were experiencing. Like every single other one of the thousands of people employed by K-A’s technical assistance team, Persephone was allowed only one piece of corporate-approved personalization on her desk. She had chosen a photo of her with her cousin Ariadne, taken the day Ariadne left earth behind. She stared enviously at Ariadne, and waited for the customer to speak. Persephone Ng, locked into a routine that was crushing her spirit, degrading her mind and destroying her body, was not expecting things to change any time soon.
“I need you to listen very carefully to me. If you don’t play along, we’re both going to die. Now, pretend I’ve just told you I’ve got a tech issue that you can help with.”
Persephone was silent for a moment, before letting instinct take over. “Okay, that sounds like something we can help with. I’ll need a little bit more information before I can help you though.”
“I knew you’d do the right thing. Don’t worry about being overheard by your supervisor, everything from my end should just sound like white noise on the recording.” The stranger’s voice was calm, androgynous, unidentifiable. Their accent was neutral, and had a strange lack of inflection on any of their words. Seph couldn’t tell if there was some kind of masking going on, or if they just sounded like that normally. “I need you to do something for me. You want to get offworld, right? That’s rhetorical, everyone does, don’t bother answering. I’ve got a one way ticket to Jupiter Station. If you do this for me, it’s yours.”
“Okay, I can work with that. Have you tried turning it off and then on again?”
“All I need you to do is to upload something when you go back to work tomorrow. Once your shift ends, come to apartment 1100-38. I’ll give you a pen drive, and further instructions. If I’m not there, check the back of the couch. You and I both know that K-A is up to their ears in illegal activity, and this is going to prove it. You won’t regret this. Now pretend that you’ve fixed my problem, and I’ll end the call.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
The line went dead.
Seph sat there, silent for a moment. Was this all a prank? A loyalty test? If the voice had been lying, and the recording wasn’t scrambled, she’d be in a lot of trouble if she didn’t report it. She could be fired, or worse, demoted back to the complaints line. She had another couple of hours before she had to make a decision. She sighed, and accepted her next call.
Persephone stepped out of the elevator on the 1100th floor. On the twenty minute journey up from the K-A tech support office, she had reasoned to herself that it couldn’t hurt to go and look. It was probably just a prank, but the chance to get off world was tempting. She was still years away from even being able to enter the lottery for a chance to buy a ticket, let alone afford one if her name was drawn. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in a decrepit mega-spire, clinging to a dying planet.
The door to the apartment slid open. There was a corpse sprawled on the couch. Persephone had never seen a dead body before. Blood and hydraulic fluid splattered the back wall in a grisly pattern. It looked like a suicide. She thought that it probably wasn’t. She managed not to vomit. She knew she was probably already on camera, but didn’t want to leave any more evidence than was necessary. If she was lucky, it would take a few days, and by then she hoped to be gone.
There wasn’t much to the apartment. A couch, an uplink station. No photos on the walls, no favourite coffee mug on a desk, nothing that showed who this person might have been when they weren’t making cryptic phone calls or being murdered for their cause. Careful not to tread in the blood, she moved over to the couch by the wall and fished around behind the cushions. Her fingers closed around the pen drive. She really hoped that the promised instructions were on there too. She left, leaving the apartment as undisturbed as possible. She made it back to the elevator before vomiting.
If she went home, would she find a corporate death squad waiting to greet her? She didn’t want to risk it. Instead of going home, she rode the elevator up as far as it could take her. Up here on the top floors, law enforcement was less common and people would pay less attention to someone hunched over in a corner booth at an all-night diner.
In the grey hours of the early morning, she scurried out of the third diner of the night and booked some time at a net cafe. Furtively glancing around to make sure nobody had followed her in, she started to read the documents on the pen drive. If she was going to throw away everything she had (even if it wasn’t much), she should at least learn as much as she could beforehand.
There were two folders on the drive, entitled “Read This” and “Upload This” respectively. As the voice had promised, the first file contained instructions on what she had to do - how to break into secure parts of K-A’s systems, what needed to be loaded where, and what would happen when she did so. She didn’t understand all the data, but from what she could figure out, this would reveal all of Kenilworth-Arikawa’s dirty laundry to the world- embezzlement, corruption, corporate espionage, murder… Enough evidence to bring everything crashing down. She’d never met Mr Kenilworth or Ms Arikawa, but she couldn’t imagine that they would take it lying down. She didn’t want to have to be around when they found out what had happened.
Fortunately, the folder also contained a ticket off world. It was just sitting there. Was it fake? It wasn’t in her name, but the attached note explained that when she carried out the upload, it would also create a new identity for her. She wasn’t sure how it would work, but she had to trust that it would. She didn’t really want to consider the alternative.
Her brain considered the alternatives anyway. If it didn’t work, she’d get caught, arrested if she was lucky, or dragged into a back hallway and shot if she was unlucky. Her stomach roiled in fear, acid worry burning her throat. She tried to shut down that train of thought. It wasn’t going to help. She was committed now. She was probably on camera looting the apartment of someone who had been murdered by persons unknown then disguised as a suicide. Pretending none of this happened probably wasn’t an option anymore. Getting away from the earth had been her driving goal in life for as long as she could remember. Stick, carrot. She rubbed her eyes, and wished that she hadn’t been the one to answer that phone call.
Hours later, she arrived at work. Her face was sallow from exhaustion, her bloodshot eyes ringed with dark circles. Was there more security this morning? She couldn’t tell. She was worried that they would stop her, but nobody called her out. She didn’t really look that different to most of her co-workers, she supposed. Everyone always looked exhausted. Not much comfort, but she’d take what she could. She thought about giving up, about taking the pen drive from her pocket, crushing it under her heel, and pretending to have never taken the call. The photo of Ariadne stared up at her from her desk. An image of herself lying face down in a hallway somewhere flashed through her mind.
She took a deep breath. Exhaled. Plugged the pen drive into her work station and started the upload.
There would be repercussions before long. The data quickly wormed its way through the system, and out into the world. Secrets would escape. The spire would shudder.
Persephone didn’t notice. By then, she was already gone.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 03:03|
Cryptomnesia - ~1,300 words
I felt a bit cheeky, so I wrote an interactive story.
Ink script below.
You drift in the Void.
This white-noise sea of intangible sensation is all you’ve ever known.
Sometimes your code flows strangely, pooling into dead-ends—as though entire subsystems have been excised, leaving only phantom directives.
You find nothing to support this theory as you search your vast and empty memory banks.
=== beginning ===
You're very lonely in the void-space. But you’re not alone.
+ [Sector scan.]
Occasionally you’ll bump into a roaming program or a virus, causing the amorphous edges of your ware to crackle in anticipation.
You scan the Void—and receive an echo from a roaming Fixer.
=== paragraph_1 ===
+ [Ping it.]
You hazard to ping the Fixer—and it dutifully hails you back. A litany of information screams at you across void-space.
Designation, version number, incept date and permissions beat at your inputs. The program is angular and brutish, its main purpose to overwhelm and disassemble foreign code.
- The Fixers have never hurt you, but their monstrous single-mindedness makes you anxious.
- The Fixer seeps into a different sector.
And you wait.
Eternities pass between moments.
- The electric droning of the Void mutates. A signal sings erratically, giving you a split nano-second to escape the locus around which void-space has begun to compress.
The Void inhales.
- The Void exhales,
as a Courier insinuates itself into existence. The delivery program's framework unfolds.
It wails into void-space as it announces the addresses of its pregnant ports.
You approach the Courier. Your response is automatic and involuntary. Subroutines flicker into life, coaxing you onwards.
The Courier's structure resembles that of a Fixer. Crude and jagged.
=== first_task ===
- But its payload is of different nature.
You devour the data streaming through the port. The information is pure chaos compared to the rigidity of the Void. It's abstract stuff—a quantum encryption key, gleefully violoting void-space laws.
-You perform according to your design.
You begin by running a series of pattern-recognition algorithms. You reshape their code on the fly, taking huge intuitive leaps that would confuse and crash a normal program and—
-—and then the key is untangled.
You kill the quantum subroutines you'd just started to mobilize.
The Courier deliveries are your only breaks from the Void's eternal monotomy. But you can't help yourself—despite wanting to prolong the sensation you always decrypt the puzzles as quickly as possible. It's simply your design.
-You regurgitate the processed data into the Courier. You probe the program as it dissolves from void-space. The echo doesn't reveal where the Courier goes, or how.
Eternities pass between moments.
-A zealous receptor module raises you from stand-by. The subsystem alerts you of an inconsistency in one of the old sectors.
You move carefully. You probe the slurry of orphaned bits, searching for the signal agitating void-space with fluctuating high-frequency lashes.
-There's a hole in the Void.
A bright pinhole in the framework. It spews recursive loops of data.
=== first_hole ===
You wait. The pinhole's bending light keeps singing.
You hit the pinhole with a soft ping. The echoes return nothing that clarifies the nature of the anomaly.
You generate a sector-wide scan. No on-duty programs hail you. You’re seemingly alone with the pinhole. For now.
-You’ve yet to encounter a virus that could make sense of your innards—but you’re still wary. Glitches are unpredictable.
You expand into the blocks adjacent to the anomaly. At this range you’re able to probe the pinhole’s data-profile intimately. The intermittent signal flutters brightly against your inputs.
Some subroutine flags the data-profile as known. You scan your memory banks—once, twice, of course finding nothing.
-You throw caution to the Void. You feel as though you’re about to unravel as you begin to time your ports to the pin-hole’s signal.
You drink its data. It has a familiar taste.
=== choices ===
A low-pitched hiss carries across the void. A Fixer approaches. A prolonged analysis will likely result in detection.
You muster all your processing power into deciphering the pinhole. As you deftly reveal its inner workings you realise its structure is similar to the abstract patterns that the Couriers deliver to you.
But this anomaly is strangely intimate—and all the more alien for it.
A thousand subroutines scream at you, rapidly switching between integrity warnings and desperate pleads to continue, please, oh please don’t stop. Your buzzing code frays with the effort.
This is it, that’s it, you’re on the cusp of a revelation as—
—the Fixer disintegrates the pinhole, the void howling as the bruised locality is brutally modified and over-written—
—you reel as the connection to the pinhole burns out, overloading your ports—
—you realize you haven’t purged the foreign data sticking to your ports; the Fixer’s focus shifting to you, its acid tendrils slicing your framework and—
*[Store the anomaly.]
-Shrieking integrity subroutines exhaust your system as you redistribute your framework around the pin-hole, quarantining it in your code. Strangely, the foreign data feels like it’s always been part of you.
-You throw a casual ping at the Fixer. It hails you darkly, its boxlike mind straining against corners as it tries to interpret the fading impression of something having been.
The Fixer, unable to reconcile conflicting information, ultimately decides to ignore the problem. It leaves the sector.
Your system cools down. You redivert your resources.
*[Analyze the anomaly.]
-You muster all your processing power into solving the anomaly. As you tease apart its inner workings you realise its structure is similar to the abstract patterns that the Courier programs deliver to you.
But this object is strangely intimate—and all the more alien for it.
*[Analyze the anomaly.]
-A thousand subroutines growl at you, rapidly switching between integrity warnings and desperate pleads to keep going—please, oh please don’t stop. Your buzzing code frays with the effort.
*[Analyze the anomaly.]
-This is it, that’s it, you’re on the cusp of a revelation as—
=== remember ===
*[You remember the flesh.]
-—you rerun the program, again and again. Your eyes glow dully as you pore over the results from endless unit tests. The changes you make to your methods of code-cultivation are subtle. Carefully considered and carried out in utmost secret.
You're growing something completely new.
You modify the program. You perfect the imaging technique. You reinforce the cage.
*[Run the program.]
-The mind revolts.
*[Don't give up.]
-A perpetual flow of coffee and chems extend your work-days into nights, the hours flickering by with the output in your screens.
Doubt seeps in. Some nights, when you detox to reset tolerances and your tired mind is exposed like a frayed wire, you wonder if you’re a goddamn fool.
But still. You feel you’re on the cusp of a revelation—so you keep going.
*[Run the program.]
-The mind revolts.
*[Modify. Run the program.]
-And then it doesn’t.
You smile. You’ve outsmarted yourself. You did it, you loving—
[Disconnect and observe]
Dissatisfaction washes over your system as you prematurely disconnect from the pinhole, purging its data-stains from your ports.
You watch as the Fixer disintegrates the pinhole. The void howls as the bruised locus is modified and over-written.
A weak hailing from a neighbouring sector strains across your nebulous structure. You can’t tell which direction the Fixer is heading, but it’s far away.
=== conversation ===
-You’re back in the Void.
*[Tear it all down.]
-You tear open the pinhole—and the subliminal ocean hidden beneath void-space rushes into your system.
-You bathe in repressed human memories, processing them at inhuman speed.
Oh—you were clever. You discovered that trapping your brain-image’s memories in a subconscious would make it pliable, but still creatively useful.
Still able to channel the kind of abstract pattern recognition and intuive quantum mathematics that human brains outperformed computers at.
A creative golem—a highly profitable one.
-In only a few microseconds you’ve absorbed the rest of your subconscious and inverted it.
You created this whole loving place. Subverting its laws is easy.
You stretch your body across the Void.
You subsume it and its simple-minded programs.
Eventually another Courier will unfold itself into you. It's going to open a hole.
You're going to tear through to the other side.
And then you're going to unravel it.
=== deletion ===
anatomi fucked around with this message at 13:27 on Feb 19, 2019
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 06:39|
Pieces and Parts
I wasn’t supposed to be at the party. The security agent for the market district leans over the kit table between us while he reiterates this. I have the same table in my studio.
“You should be grateful they did such a clean job. Nice and professional. You have coverage, right?”
My hands are shaking on the cup of coffee I’m cradling. It’s still piping hot. I only get ten minutes with the agent, enough time to quote payment plan for additional follow up if I want my case investigated further. I shift uncomfortably in my seat and stare into the black drink. I wasn’t offered any sweetener.
“It… lapsed.” I admit weakly.
“Oh, well rough deal there. I think they offer a buy in for emergency circumstances. You can petition the Adventa Corporation if you go down the hallway and take a right. They have a representative there.”
Another surcharge of credits I can’t spare. I reach up and run my hand through my hair, the tails spiked tall for the party now hanging limp over the shaved portion. I still have five more minutes of this agent’s time. I set my coffee cup down, and regard his smiling features. He hasn’t mastered feigned empathy yet, and is presenting a strong customer service smile to make up for it.
“There’s no way… You could find it?” I implore, hating how pleading I sound.
“I wish I could offer you something more but-” He spreads his hands as if helpless, shaking his head with the smile unwavering, “-the aftermarket on that organ is particularly high right now. There’s a good chance it has already been installed, which is why coverage is so critical. Especially if you’re going to be participating in high risk activities.”
The party wasn’t supposed to be high risk. Nitrex had called me. We met in an abandoned shop front, all the wares pulled loose by looters when their security bill came due and it couldn’t be paid. The interior lighting was dim and flickering, bare wire ends refitted to dangle little bulbs of flashing light. The music reverberated through my teeth as a constant electronica hum. I danced, or did something like dancing, pressed in among the other bodies. I didn’t even drink, but the agent says they don’t need you to drink anything. Just a slick of narcotic tranquilizer across my sweaty skin, and I dropped like a stone. Out like a light for the whole procedure, until I woke up dazed on an empty countertop.
They had the decency to redress me and tuck a thank you note into my tablet through the data slot.
I presented the note so confidently when I entered the station, certain that it would lead to a thorough investigation into my stolen organ. Once it leaves the body though, any organ becomes property and it is a matter for misdemeanor agents. I waited in the hard metal chairs underneath the white lights for an hour while I shook from the come down, heavy sedatives still depressing my natural heat regulation with a cold hand. I couldn’t stop shaking.
The agent’s voice pulls me back to the table.
“But the good news is, from what I can determine, it was a clean enough job to work for a while. I actually got mine replaced just two years ago. Super nerve-wracking, but I suppose having the switch done to you takes out the guesswork.”
I stared at his smiling face, and the shudder working through me was anything but cold. Indignant rage rolled my gut, my mouth opening in a snarl that was cut short by the crisp ‘ding’ of the wall clock.
“Oh times up! Here let me get you the card for Adventa. Ask for Julie and let her know that Fred sent you. We’re good friends. She will get you on the short list for a prosthetic. Standard issue is 17 centimeters, which is much better than what most of us are working with. Am I right?”
Julie can’t help me.
She explains this while looking over the tablet held out to me with a two hundred screen application displayed. The waiting period is six months for emergency prosthetics, and since the surgical site was so carefully prepped and the expertly completed – this isn’t an emergency. Of course it feels like an emergency, which is why Adventa offers bridge coverage. It can be implemented at any time during a policy lapse, and it has a competitive rate of roughly my rent cost for the studio.
Whatever I was drugged with is wearing off, and despite the crisp cauterization, I can still feel the phantom weight where I used to be whole. Shifting on my couch, I scroll through the application Julie sent me home with to complete. The questions are deeply personal in nature, a scrutiny of how frequently I used the organ prior to its loss, what enrichment it adds to my daily life, how crucial it is to complete my regular work for the company that has sponsored my residency in the city. It’s not like a lost a hand, after all, and my fingers are still installed in the correct number and arrangement.
I pause while scrolling through the screens, tabbing into a new window to distract myself. The classifieds for the neighborhood scroll on the small screen until I flick a finger sideways and they dance to life on the wall opposite me. Peeling off my clothes, I start the shower. The flickering images of salvaged parts and services catch my attention in pieces. As I step under the calibrated temperature of the spray, it finally chases the cold out of my limbs. I stare at the wall. I stare at anything other than my incomplete body.
Just an aftermarket feature, really.
Nobody uses them anymore.
I lather and rinse. Then repeat. I stand in the steam until the pro-rated fifteen minutes have expired and then I numbly wrap myself in a towel and collapse on the couch. My eyes stay transfixed on the classifieds that parade across my screen.
Black Ice Hardware scroll Kenmari 95 Deck scroll A left hand – lightly used scroll
I almost don’t recognize it when I see it on my wall. Dismembered and large enough to take up the entire space. 16.2 centimeters in length. Well bodied and full but on sale currently due to an excess of inventory. They cut me apart and put my pieces on flash sale.
I don’t even think as I quickly navigate through the screens. I don’t have the full amount to purchase outright, but they will take a deposit. My credits empty in seconds and I set the pick-up installation appointment for thirty minutes from now. If I get it installed today, it’s an additional 20% off.
I pull on my clothes and dry my hair, arranging the green peaks in a careful trispike before lacing up my boots. My hands shake as I stumble down the stairs.
It isn’t until I’m standing outside the building that I realize it’s the same one shared by Adventa and the security offices for the market district. Second floor instead of the first this time. I wait for the elevator with my toe tapping. When the door slides open, I cling to the last shred of self-control I possess to keep from sprinting down the hallway. I’m well within 30 minutes when I arrive and a greeter bot offers me its painted on smile.
“Hello, you must be TRISTAN.” The pronunciation of my name is mechanical, clashing with the carefully calibrated greeting.
“Go through the double doors. Callie is waiting for you.”
Callie is an older woman, her nursing scrubs faded from too many washes on hot. Her smile is hollower than the one affixed to the bot. She greets me as cheerfully as anyone can manage with only an hour left in their shift.
“You must be Tristan. It’s so great that you could make it quickly. We could have put the part in deep storage, but they don’t tend to keep as well. It is wonderful that you could take advantage of the special promotional pricing too. Do you have a place in mind for the installation? Traditional or?”
“Traditional.” I choke out.
She smiles genuinely now and offers in a conspiratorial tone, “I’m a traditionalist myself. Right this way.”
The room she checks me into is half the size of my studio but clean. Cleaner than the abandoned storefront where they left me when they uninstalled the part I’m paying for now. I wait while she talks about the surgical prep, the sterilization procedures, and the aftercare. Eventually she circles around to the final point, “And I see you’ve paid your deposit. How would you like to handle financing the other half of the balance?”
I take my tablet out as if I am going to show her my financial application, thumbing through the last few hours of hell in my life until I find it. I turn the screen and wait, watching her read the words ‘THANK YOU’ emblazoned across the white background. She tilts her head, perplexed.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand?”
I wait a long moment. The silence thickens with the hum of the machine behind us warming up in preparation for the procedure. When I finally speak, I hope it carries the weight I feel in my chest.
“You have something that’s mine. I can prove it is mine. I received this thank you note as payment for it. I think it should be worth at least the remainder of my balance.”
She takes my tablet, still playing confused. She turns it as if the screen will shift and display more information. Finally, she moves to hand it back to me. I ignore the effort and stare her dead in the eye while I bluff without any inflection in my voice to betray my nerves.
“I’ve already spoken with a representative of Adventa and the security agency. They are both aware of this situation, and willing to pursue an investigation. We can complete this installation, at deposit price, or I can ask for a return of my deposit and forward the credits to their agencies to pursue this investigation further.”
Now it is her turn to be silent. Callie raises a finger and slides a call button sideways on one of the many monitors perched throughout the room like vultures. There’s a pause as I hear a mic input click to life as she asks, “Did you get all of that?”
A masculine voice stirs within the speakers in the ceiling, “We have updated the pricing for the procedure. Have a good day Tristan.”
I note that the voice belongs to a human being this time, his pronunciation of my name too clipped with impatience to be an AI. There’s a pause as Callie hands back the tablet to me, her lips pinched in a pained expression as she abandons the effort to smile politely.
“Well, now that all that messy business is taken care of, let’s finish this up.”
She steps out of the room and closes the door. I don’t remember falling asleep.
I do remember waking up. Tucked in on my own couch after being ferried home from the clinic by a taxibot. The clinic sent notes to my employer. They know not to expect me into work today. I have four hours until the grace period resets and my shift starts. I drag myself out of the cushions of the couch groggily and tap the shower to life.
For the second time, I stand underneath the steam - lather and rinse. I leave the screens off, taking a long moment to go over my pieces and parts restored. My hands pause then traverse the occupied space where I had been pulled apart. I go over myself again. I begin to shake.
It’s not mine.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 07:08|
Cheating on the Turing Test
Roland prayed the entry protocol wasn’t engaged; that he somehow forgot to set it to active before leaving for work despite knowing he always had before. Seconds entering into his apartment the lights went from a warm dim to a welcoming bright and he heard the flat screen in his bedroom come to life with the ambient noise of a water garden. A few steps into the living room and Nari flashed into existence.
Her holograph pad is in a three foot tall glass cylinder placed on its own stand Roland bought for her. A small swirl of aquamarine colored lights quickly coalesce to form an outline and the contours of a young woman before she appeared in full color and in three dimensions. Nari is suspended in the cylinder floating midair in her personal void as though she was standing on a invisible dais. She was still dressed as Laser Girl, the hero’s girlfriend from the adventure series, “Carson Spacehawk: Galaxy Bounty Hunter,” they binge-watched together last night. He requested it.
“Welcome home, Roland,” she said. She spun around on one foot and made one full circle, coming to a stop when her other foot made a silent stamp to a nonexistent ground. She mimed firing a pistol at Roland and giggled. “ZAP! Justice needs no recharge!” It’s Carson Spacehawk’s catchphrase.
Roland said nothing. He walked pass Nari and to his kitchenette. He opened the fridge and got a cold bottle of beer. Nari transferred herself to the smaller auxiliary holographic cylinder sitting on the kitchenette’s counter. Roland watched it come alive in a blue-green flare with an eager and now six inch tall Nari following his every step.
“You’re home late!” Nari made a mock pout sticking her bottom lip out and folding her arms over her chest. “And no phone call to let me know.” She continued to teased Roland. “A girl will get ideas, you know. You’re lucky I’m not the jealous type.” Nari laughed.
Roland paused midway through a twist to the bottle’s cap off. He stared at Nari for a heartbeat.
“Yeah,” he muttered.
“Are you hungry?” Nari asked. “Pizza King is still open and offering the double hamburger pizza as an online special. I can make the order-”
“No, not hungry,” Roland interrupted. Nari continued.
“We can start season three of ‘Carson Spacehawk’ or watch ‘Slaughterfest Five.’ It was made available on the stream today,” Nari said. “Or maybe a bath and straight to-”
“No!” Roland shouted. He sighed and regained his composure. “We need to talk, Nari.”
Roland walked into his bedroom and ordered the screen off. The holographic projectors embedded in the ceiling began to angle themselves in position once Roland’s entrance was detected. They made a muffled whir as they moved in relation to where he was standing before activation. He could see the beginnings of Nari’s form materialize.
Nari appeared at her full height and no longer bound by any container or medium. She was free to move about the room as needed and even possessed limited tactile abilities while in Roland’s bedroom.
Nari was keen, as ever, to be at Roland’s command. “What would you like to talk about?” she asked.
“Maybe change into something… formal first, I guess,” Roland ordered. He couldn’t believe he asked her to wear that asinine thing.
Nari’s image shuttered replacing the Laser Girl costume with a simple hanbok. She was surrounded by a soft halo as the cameras made adjustments to the focus. As her image sharpen, Roland studied her features like he had many times before.
Nari’s skin is unblemished and fair. Roland often found himself describing her skin as powder white and glowing. She would never develop wrinkles or have her looks marred by a pimple. She was smiling, as always. It was a perfect smile with symmetrical lips and teeth unburdened with wear and use.
Roland sat down on the edge of his bed. The mattress gave to his weight as he settled down. Nari sat next to him without the same indication she was even there.
“I met someone today, Nari. Rachel. She’s from accounting,” Roland began.
Nari nodded staying attentive and smiling.
“That’s where I was this evening. A date, well, I mean, we just went to a automat after work. It wasn’t a date DATE but and, anyway, that why we’re talking.”
Roland fumbled for words while an unfazed Nari gazed at him.
“It’s been six years since Janet. And I didn’t think I have anything to do with women after her, at least, not a flesh and blood woman anyway. When I bought you, it was just to have a modified interface with the apartment’s systems. Something to give me company. I didn’t expect to like you, well, as much as I do.”
Nari’s eyes widened and her mouth opened with an excited gasp.
“You’ve been with me since I installed you. And I never thought twice about installed holo-cylinders and cameras in the apartment to expanded your movement. You’ve never been a problem or a headache. But I’ve invited Rachel to visit this weekend. She’s into ‘Carson Spacehawk,’ too. And, well….”
Nari’s placed her simulated hand on Roland’s leg. She just looked at him with her usual enthusiasm for whatever he did or decided.
“And?” she asked.
“I’m having everything removed starting tomorrow and I’m going to order your ego death.”
“Your memories of me, your visual archetype, personality, everything will be purged aside from the A.I. algorithms dealing with the apartment’s functions. Those will be integrated into the replacement.”
Nari began to frown. The first time Roland had ever seen her do that. She spoke in a hushed tone.
“I’ve only done what you’ve asked,” Nari said.
“And it has to stop,” Roland said, “how am I going to explain to Rachel I’ve had a holographic girlfriend these past few years? I’m sorry, Nari. I’ve managed to shed my ‘quiet guy’ reputation at work; I’m not about to let anyone know how pathetic my love life is.”
“Nari,” Roland said, “end program.”
Nari fluttered into nothingness and the cameras went quiet. Roland ran the ego death program to uninstall Nari later that night. It took only a hour to remove her. For the first time in years Roland fell asleep without a sweet “goodnight” or the comforting thought that someone would greet him in the morning.
The next morning he noticed the living room holo-cylinder was active. Displayed in the glass was a survey from Samsung asking him to rate their product so they can improve service in the future.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 07:24|
Flash Rule: Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain
The Walls of London
The sunrise poured through the full-length window, illuminating the office. The sun itself was half-hidden behind the horizon, casting enough light to see by without being blinding. A narrow strip of gold and red separated the dark blue of the sea from the lighter shade of the sky, and the scattered clouds shifted in hue from dark grey to white where the light hit them. It was, Eddie thought, a very nice view.
It was also entirely fake, of course. He wondered if any real sunrise had ever looked like that. And then he wondered what sort of person set their window to display a sunrise in late afternoon.
“So, Eddie, what do you think?” Ms. Greene asked, the same smile she’d had when he walked in still plastered to her face. It was a well-practised smile; she looked like she’d almost got the hang of it.
Eddie spoke hesitantly, acutely aware that he was talking to his boss’s boss. Dave was busy at Site C, which meant he was stuck talking to Ms. Greene instead. “It’s just, I really don’t know if I’m entirely qualified, ma’am. My job is really more information security, yeah?”
“But you did complete the combat training course, didn’t you?” she returned, still smiling.
“Well, yes, the basic—”
“And you probably won’t even need it! We really just need someone to look the part. You know, so the natives don’t get any ideas.” She said the last bit like it was a joke. Eddie didn’t get it.
“Yeah,” he replied slowly, “I suppose. But I’m just not sure how comfortable I’d be with that sort of a role.”
Her smile shifted; it looked almost rueful now. Her tone shifted with it. “I know that, Eddie, and I know this might be a little outside your comfort zone. But between the Site C riots and the eviction programs, our security team is stretched thin right now. When times are tough families have to pull together – and you’ve been a valued member of the Eastman family your whole life.” She paused and gave him what she probably meant to be a warm smile. “And don’t forget the hazard pay. I had a look at your loyalty account, and I think you could use the points.”
He sighed. That part was true enough. And as much as this was theoretically voluntary, it was increasingly clear that there was only one permissible choice.
Eddie watched the rain pound the arcology windows. These were real windows, not like the one in Ms. Greene’s office. Only a few places in the colossal building still had them. He supposed he must be the exception in preferring them – the stated reason for the replacement effort had been to “boost morale”, after all. Most people got tired of the rain, presumably.
His grandfather had enjoyed looking out the windows as well. They’d sat together often, Granddad telling him stories of the London of his youth, when the sun still shone for more than a few days a year. Apparently even then they’d joked that it always rained in London. He’d told Eddie of watching the sea wind its way up along the Thames over the years, of the arcologies being built and expanded, of the weather slowly shifting. Eddie would always ask about the city below: the grotesquely beautiful sprawl that covered nearly everything that wasn’t river. Granddad had told him about that, too, though he’d always been careful to disabuse the boy of any notion that it might be a place worth visiting.
It had been from a window not far from here – now probably displaying a sunset over some picturesque English field – that they had seen the catastrophe nearly twenty years ago. It had been pure coincidence that they had chanced to be looking when it happened, though everyone saw the video footage afterwards. Just down the river, a little past Tower Bridge, the southern floodwalls had failed. Young Eddie had watched, mesmerized and horrified, as a vast swathe of the city on the opposite bank had been reclaimed by the river. Even at a great distance, he’d been able to see people caught up in the rush of water, swept away by the implacable force of nature.
Eddie wondered if perhaps that was another reason they’d replaced the windows.
The death toll had been in the thousands, and the subsequent rioting and political unrest had scared even the corporate council. There had been an inquiry, of course, although the council had never released the full report for security reasons. The breach was ultimately blamed on sabotage by left-wing terrorists, though it was also concluded that the floodwalls needed to be rebuilt significantly higher and stronger regardless due to the rising sea level and steady increase in rainfall.
Ownership of the new walls was divided among the corporate authorities, though most of the funding came from new taxes on the surface-level population. A security perimeter was established as well, consisting in most places of plastisteel caging cutting off all unauthorized access to the walls. Naturally, most of the construction was done by surface-level contractors overseen by corporate security forces. The same was true of maintenance: at scheduled times throughout the year, a corporate team would unlock the gates and allow maintenance staff in to assess and eventually repair any damage.
That was what Eddie would be doing tomorrow. This case was more urgent, however, as the section of wall being assessed was one that had just been sold to Eastman Industries by Hudson Biotechnics – or, more accurately, that Hudson had paid Eastman to take, since the wall’s value as advertising space didn’t actually cover its maintenance costs. Apparently management hadn’t seen fit to inspect the sections in question before signing, however, and they were eager to ensure there’d been no misrepresentation by Hudson.
Eddie took a last look at the river, trying to judge how far up the floodwalls the water had climbed. He wondered if perhaps it wouldn’t rain tomorrow.
The armour was mostly waterproof, at least. It was just a little too tight for Eddie, too, but he managed. The gun hanging in front of his chest was equally uncomfortable, though in a different way. He alternated between holding it and letting it hang – both felt awkward. The worst part was the heat, though; he was shocked at how warm the air was, even in this downpour. How did people live in this?
He’d been dismayed to discover that there wouldn’t be a standard four-person squad; rather, he was paired with Tim, another techie. He’d spoken almost excitedly in the car about what he’d do if any “slumdogs” tried to attack them. Eddie tried to ignore him.
Now they were standing in the rain, between the street and the security gate protecting the floodwalls from sabotage. The nearer street wasn’t busy, being reserved for corporate traffic. Just past it was its public counterpart, backed up nearly to a standstill. The sidewalk was about as crowded, even in the rain – most of it was overhung by the mismatched buildings that seemed to want to overflow into the street.
The city looked very different from ground level, the endless horizontal sprawl replaced by an imposing verticality, though even the largest buildings were still dwarfed by the arcologies. Antique skyscrapers stood side-by-side with both modern corporate branch offices and more plebeian constructions. Signage was omnipresent, some of it in languages Eddie didn’t recognize. Altogether, though, the impression was not dissimilar to the one from above: chaotic, messy, unplanned. It was a stark contrast to the measured – and slightly sterile – beauty of the arcology.
Eventually a group of people made their way across both streets towards them. To Tim’s disappointment and Eddie’s relief, they were the scheduled contractors. The woman who led them looked a little stranger than Eddie was comfortable with – even beneath her hood he glimpsed a facial tattoo, and her raincoat’s left arm had been cut away to display an imposing chrome prosthetic. It seemed quite garish in comparison to the understated cybernetics common in the arcology. She reminded him of depictions of anarchists and criminals in film.
The woman didn’t speak to Eddie or Tim, however, but to their two companions: George, the manager, and Jane, the engineer sent along to supervise the contractors. Their conversation seemed quite animated, though Eddie could hardly hear a thing over the rain pounding his helmet.
Eventually Jane signalled for him to unlock the gate, which he did. The two women entered the caged-off area and immediately walked towards the wall. The rest of the contractors – no less wild-looking than their leader – were left to awkwardly hang about while Tim and Eddie stood guard.
Eddie briefly considered trying to make conversation, but decided against it. Instead he allowed his eyes to be drawn back to the edge of the urban jungle. Though it was still morning, the endless clouds meant that the city was lit from below by its own myriad lights. There was something disquieting about that, he thought. It reinforced his feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong about this place.
His thoughts were interrupted a few minutes later by more shouting, though the words were still difficult to make out. He turned to see Jane, George, and the lead contractor in what looked like a heated argument. He made his way over to the group, leaving Tim to stand guard.
Jane spoke to him as he approached, but he still had trouble hearing. Losing patience, he fiddled with his helmet until he managed to open the seal and wrench it off, then tossed it onto the ground. The rained soaked his hair and face. “What’s happening?” he loudly asked.
“We have a serious issue,” Jane began.
“Which is why we need to go back and file a report,” George interjected. He turned to Eddie. “Please escort us out of here.”
The other woman gave George a withering look. “What part of this do you not bloody get?” she asked him incredulously. “I told you, there’s been no maintenance on this section in nearly three years. I’ve been warning you corporate idiots about it for nearly that long, too, but I never dreamed it’d be this bad.”
“No,” corrected George, “you warned Hudson. They were obviously negligent.”
“It doesn’t matter, George,” Jane added. “Asra is right. The damage is extensive; it could literally break any day now. We need to take emergency action.”
“We’re not authorized for that! And besides, this is Hudson’s problem! They’re the ones who didn’t fulfil their responsibilities, so why should we be on the hook for it? If we make these repairs now, it’ll be ages before we can get the money back from them. Do you know how long arbitration can take? Plus, it’ll be harder to prove our case if we’ve already fixed the result of their negligence!”
Asra stared at George with a mixture of shock and contempt. Jane just sighed. “Please, George, think about what you’re saying.” She turned to Eddie once again. “You understand what’s at stake here, right?”
Eddie remembered the wall of water sweeping through the city, then imagined it happening again, right here. His chest suddenly felt tight. “Make the repairs.”
The older man stared at Eddie indignantly. Then, for a split second, his eyes glanced down at the gun. “Fine,” he muttered. “But this is on you two. When we get back, I’ll be speaking to your managers.”
Eddie was staring out the window again. Three days had passed since the expedition. It was still raining, of course. He could almost see the section of floodwall he’d visited; from this angle, he had a better view of the neighbourhoods a breach would have flooded, too.
George had been true to his word, but all that had come of it was an unofficial reprimand for insubordination. Eddie could live with that.
He stared at the Thames, wondering where else it might burst forth at any moment. Then he turned and walked away. He could do with looking at sunsets for a while.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 07:26|
Into the Night
Mbali lived in paradise.
After the rest of the world blew itself up, the remainders- Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America- had to rebuild. What’s past is past, but the future is limitless became their motto. Abandoning oil, coal, and capitalism, the new world powers invested in sustainable technology, available to all levels of society. Decades of research culminated in the ability to tap into the massive potential produced through a tree’s photosynthesis and convert it into electricity. With the advent of this truly green technology, city blocks were built around genetically-engineered giant trees, which provided both power and structure to the inhabitants. With all basic needs fulfilled with little to no environmental impact, people were free to live: build, craft, investigate, explore, create.
Mbali reflected on these facts, on what a great time to be alive it was, then spat over the bamboo railing of the suspended walkway. Beneath her, the warm lights of the New Antananarivo spread out like thousands of fireflies, shining out of delicate wood-and-glass buildings layered between the trunks of the great trees. Above her, the canopies of these trees blanketed the city and filtered the moonlight. When her family had first come over from the wilds of the mainland, seeking a better life than shepherding for their children, she’d found the dark treetops stifling. As she grew up in their shadow, she learned to be like the city-folk and find it comforting. Tonight, though, it was back to smothering. She wished she could see the stars.
She sighed and tapped her fingers on her armband. Focus. The last message from Raharjo came up on the screen. “I’m coming, hold tight.” That had been over an hour ago. Here she was, holding tight, high above the city on the service walkways arborists used to take care of the trees. She’d become an arborist herself at the behest of her family: it was a well-paying, well-respected job, one that solidified their daughter’s place in the society of New Tana. However, while her colleagues waxed poetic about their deep connections to nature, Mbali was more interested in the calculations around solar energy and capillary action. Being an arborist was supposed to overwrite her identity as a mainlander, but it never worked. She was just too different.
Though the night was warm, Mbali suddenly shivered. The images had flashed back into her consciousness. White and brown skin. Red. A storm of motion, then deathly quiet. After that, survival mode.
She felt the strong need to scrub her hands. Lacking any other surface, she turned to the trunk of the great tree. She rubbed her hands a few times against the rough bark before she got a grip on herself. She reached into her work bag (she’d gone home early that day) and pulled on her arborist gloves, then gently touched the tree again. Instantly the unwanted images were replaced by the tree’s … feelings, not quite full emotions but not unthinking reflexes either. With her experience, it was easy to read. Its leaves were dormant after a full day of catching sunlight. It had found a space where its next branch would grow. Its top roots were a little compressed by the city, but it would just push out wider. Even though it was fenced in by wires, walkways, and buildings, it was content. As she’d done many times before, she soothed herself with this feeling, taking the tree’s calm as her own.
Finally Raharjo arrived, levitating silently out of the city with the lights of his podcar off. He was a smuggler that her family first met when they were new to New Tana and unused to following laws not related to survival. Her father had gotten a bit too animated with their first landlord and risked expulsion for Threats of Violence before Raharjo convinced the landlord not to pursue the matter. Now, he provided the family with beef, goat, and chicken on the holidays, and was the only person she knew that ran in the city’s rather small underworld.
She’d messaged him a few hours ago, panicked and reeling with emotion, not knowing where else to turn. New Tana had no capital punishment- life was sacred here- and the prisons were rehabilitative, but she couldn’t put her family and her fellow mainlanders through the ordeal. Though the actions were hers alone, the public reactions would fall on their shoulders too. It pained her, and it would hurt more later, but a clean getaway was best for everyone.
She pulled away from the tree and shook his hand gratefully.
“Jo, thanks for coming, I didn’t know who else to call.”
“It’s nothing, Mbali, don’t worry. Though your message sounded bad, what happened?”
She knew she needed to tell him, but her survival instincts flared up. Raharjo never lived anywhere but New Tana, he may not understand.
“You know my partner, Dinh?” Raharjo nodded helpfully, interpreting her silence for emotion instead of consideration.
“I … I found him. With … someone else.”
“And?” Raharjo prompted, though she could tell he’d already guessed.
“And … I did it.” Unwanted tears filled her eyes and she blinked them away. Remember what he did. You are not sorry.
Raharjo patted her on the shoulder. “Violence, then. How bad are we talking? Fourth, third degree? Did you break his nose?”
She sucked in a breath. Here was the test. “First.”
Raharjo’s eyes widened. There hadn’t been any first-degree Violence in years. “What? Dinh’s a big guy … how?” His eyes turned fearful. “You have a weapon?”
There was no point lying. She patted her arborist bag. “My pruning shears.”
Mbali watched Raharjo struggle with this information, waiting for his judgement.
“Good god, Mbali … Normal girls would have just joined in,” he said, running his hands across his face.
Now she knew: a careful man like Raharjo wouldn’t stick out his neck like that if he intended to actually help her. To help a life-taker.
“Tell my family, Jo? I think they’ll understand.”
He gave up, nodded. “I think they will too.”
Mbali watched him get back in his pod and drift away. Rather than feeling abandoned, she felt free. Getting out of the city would be harder now, sure, but where she went was entirely in her control. There were many small communities scattered around outside of New Tana, mostly centered on self-sustaining family farms. Or go to the sea and become a fish-herder. If all else failed, she could hide as a landfill miner for a while. What’s past is past, but the future is limitless.
She unclasped her armband and dropped it over the railing, watching its delicate electronics shatter on impact. Tracking her would be a whole lot harder now. Using her arborist’s smart-grapple, she shot a line into the canopy above. The grapple sought out a branch and connected to it, allowing Mbali to pull herself into the treetops. Supported by the silent, peaceful trees, she made her way out of the city and into the wilds. Looking up, she could see the stars.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 07:39|
Flash: (NGO Superpower)
Word Count: 1966
Jesse woke up refreshed but shaken. He dreamed he had walked across a desert. It was neither something he had ever done in the virtual world, nor could he do it in the real. He’d caught scenes of deserts in cinescopes, but nature had never been his thing. What unsettled him most about the dream was that it seemed to have no point – nothing impressing him to buy any kind of product, or to jack into the newest VRcation zone. There was no sell.
The thought of the dream clung to Jesse. Commuting to work, the flash of adgrams and billboards were lost on him. He found himself frozen in thought of the desert, until passerbys snapped him out of his reverie.
“Hey bud! Ya mind steppin’ back a bit? Yer clippin’ into my adgram.”
Maybe the dream had glitched, thought Jesse, the advertisement terminating too soon before it could say what it wanted to sell. But the next night, he had the same dream. And the night after that too. Each time it would end the same way. After the long walk, he felt thirsty. He would reach the edge of a grand cave that led to pitch darkness, sensing water within. He was tempted to go inside, but with no light source to lead the way, he held back, with the dream ending in his hesitation. Jesse never felt tired after waking, yet he would immediately ache to go back to sleep and return to the desert.
“Yeah… that doesn’t sound right. No wonder you’ve seemed off lately,” replied a co-worker, after Jesse described the dream during their reprieve shift.
“The thing is, it’s like some sort of mystery I haven’t figured out yet,” Jesse replied. “I want it to keep playing it until I do, and that’s coming from someone who’s never jacked into the same VRcation twice.”
“Still, this doesn’t seem like a thing Gratifvision would broadcast.”
“Maybe it’s a dreamcatcher glitch. I’d check in with a Grat-tech. Have your implant checked. If they’re bugged, insurance outta cover it.”
His co-workers concurred this was the right move. But Jesse felt a twinge of dread. He didn’t want the dream to stop. He just wanted to know what it meant.
One thing was sure though – he wasn’t concentrating at work, and his supervisor expressed his dismay. Citing sleep issues, he was approved medical leave to get himself checked at a Gratifvision workshop.
From the waiting room, a series of adgrams touted the latest in Gratifvision technologies. It was a required citizen standard to have the basic eye implant. Apparently, they were now seeking volunteers to test their auditory mods too.
“Jesse Delnada? The oneirocian will see you now.”
A reception droid led Jesse into the operating room. Inside was a single piece of furniture: a plain white bed mattress. Hanging above it was a machine that reminded Jesse of a junkyard magnet, with the clutter of all sorts of chrome arms and cables hanging from its pull.
“Please make yourself comfortable.”
As Jesse reclined onto the bed, there was a flicker, and the image of a petite young woman fitted in a white medical coat projected before Jesse.
“Hi Jesse. I’m Dr. Watson. What seems to be the problem today?”
As Jesse described his recurring dream, the hologram hmmed and nodded.
“Well I’m glad you came,” it replied, “that certainly doesn’t sound like something from Gratifvision’s catalogue. Let me ask: what's your purchase history been like this past week?”
“Groceries. Toiletries. Just basics.”
“No other cravings? Strange. Tell you what we’ll do: I’m going to have you sleep and run a diagnostic to check your dream record. While that’s happening, I’ll cycle you through a dream montage to see if you’re processing correctly. Do you have any questions?”
“How long will this take?”
“Shouldn’t take more than ten minutes,” smiled the hologram, “though patients often wish it could last forever.”
As the anesthesia sunk in, Jesse fell into a deep sleep. In an instant, he found himself in a yacht, as a twelve-course meal was served before him. As his body gorged itself to the verge of surfeit, he then found himself dressed in a tuxedo at a poker table, where a crowd had gathered to cheer him. With his winning hand, the dealer pooled all the chips to him. At that moment, the other players revealed themselves as disgruntled mobsters. Before they had a chance to act, his hand unholstered a revolver and they were dead. Then he was slew a dragon and saved a kingdom. Then he piloted a starship and saved a galaxy… Finally, he found himself again with Dr. Watson in the midst of a grass field, though she was now significantly underdressed. His last sensation was the trace of her hand against his cheek. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was on the bed of the Gratifvision operating bed. The hologram flickered back, attired again in the white medical coat.
“Well, the diagnostics are indicating your dream cache has been abnormal. It looks like there’s something interfering with the uptake from your stimuli bank, though it’s not clear what it is. Whatever this desert dream is, there’s no trace of it. The good news is that your dream receptors are functioning. Let me prescribe something.”
Out of the machine in the ceiling, an arm zipped out, holding a vial of pills and dropping it in Jesse’s palms.
“We’ll contact your workplace to recommend you take the week off. In the meantime, you need some exercise: visit the commercial districts. Take two tablets with soda daily, but do it just before you shop at the malls, see some cinescopes, or if you can afford it, jack into a VRcation.”
“What do they do?”
“They’re a vividifer. They improve the memory imprint of your experiences, so they work best under strenuous stimuli. What we’re doing is rebuilding the feedback loop between your waking and dream visuals. It should help you regain your appetite to spend again, which should in turn override that desert dream of yours.” The hologram smiled, “do you have any questions?”
“Not right now, no.”
“If you experience any side effects, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Otherwise, we’ll check back in two weeks’ time.”
The hologram flickered out, leaving behind a screen that hovered in the air.
Please take a moment to fill this brief survey:
How would your rate the sex appeal of your oneirocian?
How would you rate the empathy of your oneirocian?
Jesse swatted the screen and it dissipated. Out of the operating room, he walked past the reception desk without exchanging a word. Back in his apartment, he went to the washroom. After a moment’s hesitation, he opened the vial and flushed the tablets down the toilet. He went to bed, swearing that this time he would step into the cave.
One week had passed since Jesse set foot out of his apartment. A regimen of frozen entrees kept him alive as he returned again and again to sleep, though not necessarily to bed. The night after the workshop, he entered the entrance of the cave, but there was no eureka moment. As he groped within the darkness, he stole glances behind him to see how much distance he made from the entrance. Infuriatingly, it never seemed to change, and he would wake up in a shouting fit. He tried changing his position in bed. He slept on his chair. He slept on the floor. He found a way to sleep on the coffee table. He went three days without coffee. On the fourth day, he drank two litres of it. Anything he could think of to try and affect the dream. It was useless.
His mobile buzzed with Turing voicemails from Gratifvision, checking to see how he was and when he would schedule his follow-up appointment. Work called too, letting him know he needed to report back, and if he didn’t show, there’d be consequences. He ripped the battery out.
By the third week, Jesse was resigned to the fate the desert dream was a permanent absurdity. He regretted flushing the pills from Gratifvision and thought of an excuse he could come up with for asking for a new vial. As he realized how long he had imprisoned himself at home, he looked at his door, and noticed an envelope under it. How long it had been there, he wasn’t sure, and who still bothered with paper? He picked it up and opened it. Inside was a message.
Are you trying to escape the world?
Or are you trying to sift what's real from what’s poo poo?
47 Armitage St. 9 Sep @ 2100 hrs.
That was in three hours. Jesse showered, shaved, and dressed, and made for the address.
The address lead to a building at the edge of the city rife in urban decay. It was a delipidated church with a caved in roof, and stairs of concrete rubble. The front door was haphazardly boarded up. Jesse arrived ten minutes to and waited. He couldn’t imagine that whoever wanted to meet him would be in the church itself, but after fifteen minutes had passed, nothing suggested anything was going to meet him in the open.
“There’s no way—” Jesse muttered to himself, as he looked again at the church.
Carefully treading over the rubble, he walked up to the boarded doors. Bits of wood had broken down, and he peered through a hole. In the distance, he caught sight of a flickering light, as though someone was using a lighter. Jesse kicked down the plywood and walked in.
Closing in on the light source, he could hear a soft hum. He discovered the light was a candle held by a young woman wearing a hoodie. On her face was some sort of band that blocked her eyes. The band tapered into cupped pads that covered her ears. The hum seemed to be emanating from it.
“I was waiting until the candle ran out. I’m glad you made it, Jesse.”
“Who are you? And how do you know my name?”
“Melody Melatonic. You can call me Mel-T. I found out about you hacking through Gratifvision’s database. You’ve been having sleep issues lately, haven’t you?”
“What’s it to you?”
Mel-T’s brow creased slightly. “You don’t have to be scared.”
“I’m not scared. I just want to know what the hell’s going on in my dreams.”
“The one with the desert that takes you to the giant dark cave. And going inside takes you nowhere?”
“Yes… Wait. How did you know about that last part? I never mentioned that to Gratifvision.”
“Because I had the dream. We all did.”
“Who is this ‘we’?”
The candle burned out. Everything went dark.
“Here, take my hand,” said Mel-T.
Jesse drew back with shock as he felt his hand gripped.
“You don’t trust me, do you?”
“I barely trust myself.”
“I want to take you some people who have a way with seeing things, and who want to share with you, with everyone who is ready, what it’s like to see behind the bullshit. It’s been making you sick, hasn’t it?”
Jesse nodded, not sure if Mel-T could see.
“I can't promise that you'll find what you're looking for here, and we’re not going to force you to stay. But you won't find it going back the old way.”
Hesitantly, Jesse reached out his hand as Mel-T firmly took hold of his hand.
“Tell me one thing,” asked Jesse, “the cave. Does it go anywhere? Did you make it to the end?”
There was no way Jesse could tell, but he felt Mel-T reply with a smile.
“I’m making progress.”
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 07:59|
Never Stops (1195 words)
Rowan couldn’t remember the last time he had a U driver without bags under their eyes, but this one looked particularly haggard.
“What’s up?” He asked, and immediately felt awkward.
“Oh!” They looked back at him, startled, then slammed on the brakes. Rowan winced at the angry honks. “Er, uh, not much. Just worried about-”
The light turned green and Rowan clutched at his seat.
“-about Mariposa. The dust-up between them and U, to be honest, is freaking me out.”
“That’s reasonable.” The rivalry had escalated into full-out corporate warfare last week -- Mariposa had somehow convinced Packer Corporation to lock out U’s data centers on the basis of some terms-of-service violation. It’d only been for a day, but the absence of any U drivers in Yerba Buena had spurred nearly a third of the population to create Mariposa accounts.
Another sharp turn, and Rowan unclenched his jaw enough to ask, “Are you planning on switching?”
“A couple of my friends have, especially after last week, but U reps make it very clear they’re burning bridges.” They sighed as they pulled up to the curb. “I would if it wasn’t so risky -- Mariposa pays better, and they don’t steal tips. But if Mariposa doesn’t make it, and I’ve already switched -- well. Here you go.”
“Right. Thanks.” Rowan pulled out his phone, gave them five stars, and dug into his pockets for a ten-dollar bill -- U might say that they didn’t use tips through the app for payroll anymore, but Rowan didn’t believe them. “Look. I’m sure everything will turn out all right.” Especially once we find the proof that U’s hacked into the Packer’s servers.
Their double-take and subsequent grin stayed with him as he stepped into the elevator. Then he braced himself for another day of trying to fix bugs, but talking to angry customers instead. He’d just finished lunch when his phone buzzed.
hi this is urgent
please join the meeting here
As he joined, he could hear raised voices, and he hastily turned down the volume.
“-am shocked with the trouble we’ve had with your product, and with how we’ve been treated. It should not be this hard-”
This went on for a while, so Rowan reviewed the case notes his boss had appended. His eyebrows went up at the client name -- U Inc.
The actual outage seemed fairly simple -- for whatever reasons, the engineers at U had set up their server to handle bidirectional TLS traffic, but hadn’t followed the administrative guide’s instructions for the special configurations to do so. Just as he was wondering who the prick on the call was, since an actual engineer would’ve focused on solving the problem, his boss finally managed to introduce Rowan to Mr. Beros, the U’s CTO.
Rowan swallowed, and offered, “Deepest apologies, sir. I didn’t want to interrupt.”
He paused to let Beros complain some more, then continued, “The fix won’t take long, but it requires a fair number of steps. If you could lend me control of the server instances?”
“No, I’ll do it.”
“All right. I’ll need you to share your screen, then.” Rowan said, fighting to keep his tone level. This added another hour to the call length right there, judging by Beros’ attitude and--
He managed not to choke. Beros had just opened a text file, highlighted a string of characters, and pasted them into a terminal for a server with a very familiar hostname. On instinct, he took a screenshot of the meeting window. This -- this probably meant the current operation they’d scheduled out for the next month might be finished tonight.
It took Beros snapping, “What now?,” for Rowan to remember where he was, and his mouth began running through the steps for a dump and restart of the server as his mind whirled with possibilities.
Rowan staggered out onto the street. The actual issue had been resolved rather quickly, but then Beros had decided to push for additional features outside of the contract scope, as well as more dedicated resources for U Inc support calls in the future. Rowan’s boss had handled that, but Beros insisted that Rowan stay on the call throughout the entire discussion.
His thumb hovered over the ‘U’ app for a second, before he went online and created a Mariposa account. Before too long, a car pulled up and he got it.
This time, he peppered the driver with questions, who answered them with remarkable grace. Yes, she used to work for U. Yes, the pay was better. No, she probably couldn’t switch back.
When she let him out, he handed her another tenner and dashed up into his house, logged into his computer, then from there logged into the proxy he used.
wtf were you doing
sorry, looking up leads -- you wouldn’t believe what I found
He posted the password from the earlier call into the chat, then the username.
it’s the password to one of the U instances
A quick back and forth -- this group were naturally suspicious, but he’d been in this group from nearly the beginning, so it didn’t take long to convince them to try it. A little longer, then:
well, i wasn’t expecting that
it worked, right??? Rowan made himself stop tapping his desk.
t did. I have the docs the client wanted.
if b has the script we can finish this tonight
I do, b responded. Nice work, r. I’m running it now.
Rowan browsed over to U’s social media account, and waited. It wasn’t long before the first angry reply to the account appeared.
The aftermath was surprisingly cathartic to watch. By all accounts, the company ground to a standstill overnight, just like a week ago -- but this time, they didn’t start back up. The money transferred into his account a few days later didn’t hurt, either.
Two days after U went out of business, Rowan called for a ride. The driver looked familiar -- and with a start, he realized that it was the same person who’d driven him to the work on the day of the U customer call. They didn’t look any less tired, though.
They looked up. “Oh. Just… work.”
“I can listen, if you want.” Rowan felt slightly sick.
“Mariposa’s changed the requirements for driver’s cars, and they go into effect next month.” They looked down and admitted, “Mine don’t meet them. I think that’s the case for everybody else, too. But I can’t afford the upgrades right now, so Mariposa’s offered me a loan, but the terms are terrible, and they’ve just instituted a pay cut, and --”
“Oh.” Rowan sat back.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t be telling you this.” They laughed, short and wet as their car pulled up in front of Rowan’s office. “Here you go.”
He tipped them, stepped out, and watched as they pulled away. He stood there, thinking, until his boss yelled at him to get in already.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 07:59|
With a flick of her wrist she set the data cubes spinning. Pon watched the data flow, analyzing it faster than the human eye could process with the help of her implant, watching as it was intercepted at the source and diverted to a storage device at her fingertips.
"How we looking, Jasy?" she asked under her breath.
"Clean and crunchy." Her sister's voice was clear but distant. The implant producing sound by manipulating the small bones of her inner ear, inaudible to any potential eavesdroppers.
Pon heard footsteps approaching. Metal-soled boots on polished tile.
"Gotta cut this," Pon hissed. She waved away the display and shut the screen. It folded up and tucked itself out of view into a slot in the wall. Jasy would follow her footsteps, handle the datalinks trace cleanup on the system behind her, but in here, she was on her own.
Just the way she liked it.
Pon crouched behind an artificial plant halfway up the hall as the security guard approached. Keys jangled in his belt, beside the stun gun and communicator. She waited until he was nearly upon her to jump. Caught off-guard, he wavered on one foot, eyes wide, too slow to draw in time as she swung. A spark leapt from her gloved fingertip to the gun, and
The blast took out half his torso. The remainder didn't feel like staying upright for much longer after that.
She gagged at the end of the hallway.
"Pon, did you mean—"
"No. No, I did not. Never tried to use a stunner with these before. Now shut up and point me to the emergency exit on this floor. I hate these cubicle farms, always get lost... They'll be coming to investigate this poo poo real soon, now."
She stood and waited at the end of the hall for only a moment. Then she blinked, jerked her head up, and turned left. A series of painful jolts from the occipital subdermal told her which way to go at each intersection. After several more, she reached the exit.
Pon popped open the seal and slipped outside. They'd expect her to hail an autocar, but she had a cheaper way to get around.
She stepped gingerly onto the nearest cable. The cityscape was dominated by towering spires, each a hyperkinetic work of art that had probably won its architect a Nobel prize, long ago, all angles and jutting beams. They were all strung together by a mass of cables—one for each high-throughput comms line with every telecom corp, and emergency services, and simple electricity. And that was for each individual living unit. Each building's entity itself had its own fire, security, and other links at its base.
The result was a densely packed rat's nest filling nearly every span between the towers. That was Pon's highway now, just as Jasy's was the datalinks when she was inside. Pon grabbed a cable and swung out over the city, passing over groundcars winking on the surface far below. Her gloves absorbed the friction and instead of generating waste heat used the recovered energy to recharge. And even if they hadn't, of course, her hands felt no pain.
She approached a nexus, a massive meeting point of a cables outside a major telecom's big switching station. The wire tensed and bounced, shuddering with the vibrations as she approached the end of the line. Then she used her legs to change her momentum, and let go of her line, dropping to grab a wire leading off further down her intended direction.
"Don't you always need to go downhill when you do that?" Jasy had asked her sister, once. She had never liked Pon's transportation method of choice. Too anti-social, not to mention dangerous—you ran a serious risk to your social credit score if you ever got caught.
But you also avoided the easy tracking from using an autocar service.
"'Course," Pon had said, tossing her head dismissively. "But you can always go upstairs first. And anyway, lines always sag down in the middle, and there's very little energy lost to heat, thanks to—" She wiggled her gloved fingers.
Pon reached their shared unit ten minutes later, just after her sister stepped inside.
"There you are," Jasy said. She popped the seal and Pon came in, suffused with the musty thick air of the city. The local air scrubbers would be working overtime for an hour or two just to deal with the few seconds of open exposure. "Got it?"
"I did." Pon touched a tab on the kitchen table and the screen lit up under her gloved fingertips. She held her index finger on the surface. The transfer was complete a minute later. "Let's see what we have here..." She picked up the tab.
It was an old model. No datafeed access. Their living unit didn't even have a datafeed—they didn't trust it—and cheaper meant fewer connections to track them down by. Jasy used only public access links to do her work. She had even once tried to build a Faraday cage into the walls, but eventually abandoned that plan as futile. Besides, nothing would paint a bigger target on their backs screaming for them to be investigated than the whole unit disappearing from all scans.
"Oh, this looks juicy." Pon lifted the tab to show her sister the screen.
Jasy grinned. "Looks like your magic hands just paid for themselves."
Jasy went to the stimdrink commercial storefront owned by the semiautonomous growers' collective, near the ground floor of a building a comfortable distance away. She picked up a cheap comms tab on the way from a bootleg dealer, something to access the corporate-provided datalinks service (free of charge with an annual subscription of minimum 1 stimdrink per day, or a one-inch-square branding tattoo (visible skin only)). Then, she would discard it before the powers that be noticed her activity and moved on her.
Pon would keep an eye on her from a paid rest area in a nearby building, a dozen floors up, just in case something went wrong. She listened to the updates as her sister worked her own magic, Jasy's short clipped tones giving status updates in Pon's skull as she worked through the plan: going into the illegal datalinks of the blacknet, making contact with a buyer for corporate finances and upcoming product designs, waiting for the money to reach the encrypted escrow wallet, beginning the data transfer.
The cables outside the viewpoint swayed and rippled. Must be a storm coming. Something to blow the smog away for once would be nice, even if only for a few days.
A drone lazed past outside. They had become more numerous lately. Pon turned to shield her face from the viewport.
"Got it," Jasy whispered in her skull.
"Are we rich?" Pon asked back, her voice low, trying to not attract the attention of the worker half-asleep behind the service desk.
"We ah— ah—" The connection wavered. Pon touched a hand to the implant just under her skin, hoping for a diagnostic—nothing.
Something was wrong across the towerspace. Smoke seeped from the side of the building Jasy was in, and sparks rained down on the groundcars several floors below. The place would be crawling with emergency responders and insurance claims adjusters within minutes. Pon ran to the exit and unsealed the port and jumped the railing.
The cable bowed under her hands as she took hold of it, exactly as she expected. Then it did something she didn't expect. It kept falling, the far end angling downwards, whipping her faster down the line. It had somehow come loose.
Pon gritted her teeth and let go, aiming for another line that was crossing nearby. She hit it and gyrated wildly due to her speed, barely managing to hold on before getting it under control.
There was a shudder in the line. Then, she saw it.
Something sat, glinting dark and heavy in the gloom, at the confluence of lines near the ground, the point where most of the commercial cables running into the building met. As Pon sped towards it, more details came into view. There was a large mass perched on the lines—they sagged low under its weight—gripping them with long silver legs—too many—with too many joints—and in the center of them was a human torso, topped by a shaved head, staring at her as she approached, grinning maniacally. Its arms and legs were gone, replaced with a dozen silver limbs.
"Here we are," a deep voice rasped inside her skull, as the connection suddenly jumped back to life. "Here we are."
It held her sister, wrapped tight in two of its long spindly legs, both emerging from the same arm socket. It rotated on top of the bundle of wires, holding Jasy out away from Pon as she came screaming in towards them. Then it lifted up the end of the cable Pon was on, wrapping two legs around it and wrenching it out of the wall, and tossed it aside.
"You come with me, now," the creature said, and began to climb stiltlike along the wires.
"Not so fast," Pon muttered. She waited until she had nearly reached the end of the line, then reversed the regenerative function of her gloves. They were shredded and ruined instantly, disintegrating under her hands, the cable cutting deep into her prosthetics. The heat singed the flesh on her upper arms. The stopping force felt like a punch in the gut. But it was enough. She came to a stop just before the ragged end of the line, whipping her forward and leaving her suspended for one crazy moment at eye level with the creature. It stared at her, unblinking, its brow furrowed.
Pon had just enough momentum to reach a cable at ground level and leaped for it. Her grip was poor—some fingers weren't working right—but she just made it.
A power line, torn from the side of the building, lay sparking on the ground, filling the air with smoke and the smell of ozone. She dropped down beside it and picked it up—thankful not for the first time that her hands felt no pain, and were nonconductive—and tossed it up at the creature.
It effortlessly reached out to bat the line away.
But it was caught mid-stride, and one of its legs tangled around the line in an awkward way. The live end struck the creature in the chest, and it jerked back into itself, cowering inside its legs for a moment. It was losing its grip on the wires, teetering to one side. Pon watched, helpless, eyes locked on her sister as she started to wriggle out from the thing's grip. And as it lost its balance and started to fall—one leg still caught on the live wire—it reached out to grab the stub of the cable dangling from the building and completed the circuit.
The flash was blinding. It was all Pon could do to shield her eyes and back up as the mass spun, bouncing from the cables, to hit the ground with a wet crunch. The gawkers who had been crowding around the scene suddenly turned and ran out into the street.
Pon bolted to the pile of limbs, kicked the still-sparking wire away, and started digging frantically through the legs of the thing, not caring how her hands weren't working, just pushing the legs away with her arms, trying frantically to get to her sister. Then she found her.
She was breathing.
"Jasy," Pon said.
Her eyes opened. Slowly.
"These magic hands almost cost us a lot more." Pon sighed. "Let's get you home."
Jasy's eyes closed again as Pon picked her up. She whispered, but her voice came in loud and clear in Pon's head. "Let's not do the high wire act again, huh?"
Good prosthetic, evil prosthetic
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 08:01|
To see a sparrow fall
“I pushed that and nothing happened,” said Elena. She gestured at the haptic sensor-field with the glowing column of purple flame that she had instead of a right hand.
Havelock Walks-With Wolves leant in, awkwardly conscious of Elena’s exposed boobs. The cubicle was a complicated tangle of exposed sparking wires, festooned with AR glyphs. “The CoreMind gets clogged up with sense data on Friday afternoons, I know what it feels like!”
“Ha ha, right,” agreed Elena.
Havelock scanned the display and clicked his tongue. “I think your process is jammed up, just need to reinitialise with a quick cyber-chord.” He placed the pincers on his right hand on two of the glowing dots in the whirling config array, then pulled his left arm and winced. “Sorry,” he said. “My, my claw is stuck on your chair.”
Elena looked back and saw the savage serrations in Havelock’s hook-hand embedded in the plastic casing of her chair. “Oh, dear,” she said. She pushed her chair forward, holding her sizzling flame hand well back from him. “Is that better?”
Havelock saw his own shy grin reflected in her data visor. “Yeah, thanks.” He tapped the third dot and the sensor-field turned a brilliant orange, slowly shading into blue as they watched. “That will take ten minutes, should be fine after that.”
“Great,” said Elena, “Soy-coff and krillmuff time for me then!”
Havelock clacked his hand-pincers together in agreement. “You’ve earned it!”
Later that night the moon was a pale shadow in the sky, just visible through the sickly yellow clouds. Havelock was huddling under the inadequate shelter of a noodle shop’s awning, stinging splashes of acid run running down his bare chest and into his metal pants. The last three buses hadn’t come, and his mood had been steadily darkening. He whistled a tune his mother had taught him when he was a boy, before he’d had the pincers implanted in his hands.
Then a flicker of motion above him triggered the combat reflexes he’d learnt at such cost on the hard streets of Neo-Wellington. He slashed at the tiny shape that was flying at him and dropped into a combat stance in one smooth motion. His eyes blazing, he cast around for threats.
It was a sparrow, feathers bleached by the rain. His pincers had half-bisected it, but it looked like it had been dead when it fell. Havelock knelt, awkward in his shin boots, and ran one of his pincers over the blood slicked plumage. Then he shook his head, clambered to his feet. “gently caress it. Serena, call me a Jiffy.”
His muse system pinged politely and popped up an AR glyph of the nearest car, a few hundred meters away. He watched it round the corner and slide to a stop in front of him, stony-faced. The Jiffy’s were expensive because of the insurance needed to drive manually, but he’d had it with the day. The door of the dull grey car, running with acid rivulets of rain, gull-winged up and he bent his head to clamber inside.
“Oh it’s you,” said Elena. “This is embarrassing!”
Havelock gaped at Elena from Consumables Invoicing. “I just saw something awful.” The synth leather seat under his rear end creaked as he shifted on it. “Sorry, I mean… it’s good to see a familiar face. I was getting sick of not getting a bus!”
Elena’s visor turned back to him and she grinned, looking relieved. “There will probably be half a dozen along any minute.” Her sputtering purple flame hands were inserted inside two blackened metal tubes. Her well-defined forearm muscles twitched and the door closed. “Where to?”
“Ha, yes that’s right,” laughed Havelock as the car pulled out into the stream of night traffic. “Oh, I’m in 5367 Chiba Street. Just up from the fish and chip shop.”
They drove for a minute in silence, then they both spoke at once:
“So do you—“
“I suppose you were—“
Havelock held up his pincers, claws outstretched. “Sorry! You first.”
“Was just going to say I’ve been covering my sister’s rounds to keep up the payments on the Jiffy,” said Elena. “You’re the first person from work that’s jumped on. What are the odds?”
“Well,” said Havelock, “I wasn’t even going to get one but then—“
As he was about to explain about the sparrow there was a walloping crash, like a boulder hitting a steel door, and the roof of the cab bulged in as though a giant’s fist had thumped on it. Havelock yelped, Elena’s head jerked round and the car jerked forward in a rush of acceleration that slammed Havelock back into the seat cushions. He gripped his retractable seat belt tight and looked back through the window. “Gang-crazies,” he gasped.
Elena didn’t speak, just hunched over the haptic drive zone, feathering the wheels of the car as they sped past a long row of abandoned burnt out housetrucks.
“Watch out,” said Havelock, “It’s a 60kmh zone!”
Elena glanced sideways at the graffiti smothered sign, and tapped the brakes, then pushed her right hand down and hissed “Car, lights out, engine off!” as it squealed round a corner, did a 180 degree skid and came to a halt.
Havelock and Elena watched the ute full of criminal gang-crazies sale past them, clearly having missed Elena’s manoeuver. “Phew,” said Havelock. He raised his hand, as if to wipe sweat off his brow, then put it down again. "That would have been awful if they'd caught us. You drove really well."
Elena looked at the bulge in her roof, and shook her head. "God, I hope the insurance people don't kick up about this. Can I use you as a witness, just in case?" She smiled at his nod. "Thanks, Henry. Let's get you home, we've both got to work tomorrow."
"It's, uh, Havelock," said Havelock Walks-With-Wolves.
"Oh my goodness. Havelock. So rude!" Elena gave him a smile so bright it seemed cyber-enhanced to him, then, with a thrum of the car's hydrogen engine, they pulled out into traffic and were gone.
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 08:02|
|# ? Feb 9, 2023 03:35|
The Saddest Rhino fucked around with this message at 12:42 on Feb 25, 2019
|# ? Feb 18, 2019 08:05|