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Jun 8, 2003

I'm in.


Jun 8, 2003

A Game of Patents

The freight train stopped just before sunrise at Balmer, a hundred miles short of Branson City. After the squealing wheels were silent Ralph peeled open the back door of the shipping container and scouted the loading platform. At the far end two gigantic, yellow crateBots were packing metal drums onto an open carriage. He saw no guards.
"This is our stop," Ralph told Leumeah. She joined him at the container doors. A night breeze whipped along the train and Leumeah shivered, pulling her arms inside her shawl.
"Why here?" she asked.
"We're getting close to Branson. We'll have to go on foot now."
Ralph measured the trip to the platform, one step out onto the carriage's coupling and then a ninety-degree turn and a jump onto the concrete. He stretched a sandalled foot out onto a wide piece of the greasy coupling, stood straight and jumped sideways onto the platform.
Leumeah stood at the doorway, sizing up the jump. Under the shawl her hands moved, pulling at her bracelets.
"No rush," said Ralph, "but a guard could pass any second, and you have more to fear of capture than I do."
"Just picking the right moment," she said. She sucked in a deep breath, for whatever help it would give, and closed her eyes. Her lips moved silently. Ralph realised she was praying again.
Leumeah's eyes opened wide and in a quick movement she leapt onto the coupling, pirouetted on her sneakered foot and flung herself towards Ralph who caught her by the waist. Even after she was balanced he held on. She pressed into him, breathing steady and eyes down.
"For someone born with tech you sure like talking to the gods," he said.
She blushed. "Weren't we in a rush?"
Ralph took her hand and they ran towards the warehouse, tracing the wall until they reached a driveway that led them to the streets of Balmer.
Sticking to the shadows, the officer followed.

Balmer was a small town, an old grain stop on the line to the city. A thin river meandered perpendicular to the main street and train line, and the town council had paid the license for a dam which kept the water lapping at the banks. Like most towns with a river, the water provided a natural divide between the techs and the unlicensed. The freight station was on the licensed side, the roads were paved and two commercial towers rose up alongside the main road. Ralph led Leumeah across the bridge and into the poor side of town. The still water beneath was turning turquoise with the dawn.
Across the bridge the road changed to cobbles. The buildings along the main road were the homes of the bourgeoisie, the bricks and piping proof that they could afford the masonry and plumbing licenses. In the streets beyond, the dwellings were clearly those of the lower class, mostly a collection of shanties and tee-pees. A few residents were awake, starting their days with the sunrise. Candles lit up some windows. No court would ever award the patent for fire.
Ralph studied chalk markings on the brick wall of fruiterer on the main street.
"This way," he said, turning down a street.
"Where are we going?"
"To find an entrepreneur, maybe there's something quicker than walking."

In the sprawl of Balmer's backstreets Ralph found another chalk marking on the cobbles. They stopped and walked back the way they'd came, twenty paces. There was a wooden shack in the middle of a weedy yard, square and squat and around a metre high. Ralph and Leumeah followed the path to the front door and Ralph knelt down to knock. From inside there was the sound of glass clinking and muttered swearing. The front door opened and the head and shoulders of an older man appeared, gazing up at them. Leumeah could now see that the majority of the home had been dug into the ground, and the structure was just a roof.
"What is it?" the old man said. His skin was wrinkled, weathered and his facial hair was shaved into a white goatee. On his head he wore a faded, black baseball cap.
"We saw your symbols," Ralph said.
"What symbols?"
"I'm in the hub. I'm Ralph."
The man sized him up, one eye-ball spinning, processing, and the other judging Ralph's appearance.
"I'm Deb," said the man. "Who's the girl?"
"I'm Leumeah--"
"You can trust her," said Ralph.
"Righty," said Deb. "Get in then, before the Stalkers spot you."
Ralph stepped into the dugout home, and then helped Leumeah inside. In the sky a single jumbo jet on its way from Branson City was drawing a line of contrails in the golden-orange sky. Deb pulled the door closed.

The inside of Deb's hovel was a single, dank smelling room. The dirt floor was covered in woven thatch, in turn covered with strewn, hand-made clothing and empty jars stained by liquor. Leumeah looked at every corner of the room like she was at a museum.
"We're trying to get to Branson, unnoticed," Ralph told Deb. "We need some tech."
"What do you need? I've got laptops, some power cells--"
"Something a little more old school. We need some cycles."
Deb stroked his goatee. "Might know where some could be found," he said. "What's in it for me?"
"When was the last time you connected to the hub?"
"Few weeks ago. Round here they've been sniffing out Wi-Fi faster than we can setup the next hot-spot."
"So you haven't read then? There's a new tech and the hub's going to be the one to own the patent. This is a big one."
Deb wasn't listening to Ralph, he was watching Leumeah as she moved about the room. "Hey," he said. "I know her."
Leumeah took a step behind Ralph. Ralph said, "No, she just looks like her."
Deb chuckled. "Young'n, I may not have a license for spectacles anymore, but I recognise her true enough. That's Stevens' daughter."
Leumeah left Ralph's defence and gave a small wave. "Hi."
"Now I am intrigued," said Deb. "What is so important that the daughter of the world's most powerful CFO is running around with an entrepreneur?"
Ralph sighed. "You might as well show him."
Leumeah said, "What's the one thing that the commoners and the techs share? What's the one technology that's never been developed, never been patented? What makes us all human?"
Deb shrugged.
"Immortality," said Leumeah, eyes alight. She dropped her shawl and pulled back the sleeves of her sweater. Around each wrist was a bracelet. One was black, the other white. Two thin, pure stripes of silicon with a small, flickering hologram centred between each ulna and radius.
Deb whistled.
"Watch this," said Ralph. To Leumeah he said, "Are they on?"
Ralph lowered a shoulder and threw himself into the Leumeah's back. She rocked slightly, but her expression showed no concern for the impact. Ralph walked around to face her. She stood on one foot, and pirouetted in a circle while Ralph shoved her. He couldn't budge her.
"That's just the beginning," Leumeah said. "The bracelet doesn't just give you power and balance." She gave Ralph a tender pat as he caught his breath. "It prevents injuries --"
"Where did you get it?" Deb asked.
"This is the prototype. We need to take it to Branson and patent it."
"The company are after it," said Ralph. "We need to register it first. We need to make it open source."
Deb shook his head. "You kids are crazy."
"We open sourced spoons," said Ralph. "We can do this, before they get it back."
"You stole it?"
There was a pounding at the door. Deb peered through a crack on the inside.
"It's a patent officer," he hissed. "There's drones. You fools have been followed."
"Do you have any weapons?" asked Ralph, his eyes searching the room.
"I've got a jammer. It could knock out the drones, can you take out the officer?"
"Do it," said Ralph, picking up one of the empty jars. "Leumeah, are you ready to run?"
"You're going to hurt him? Do you have to? Maybe we can pay him off?"
"You would say that," said Ralph.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
The officer knocked again, five firm thuds. Deb pulled a digital remote from underneath his sleep mat.
"There's cycles," said Deb. "Go to the toilet block down the street. Find Divis, tell him Deb sent you. You ready?"
Ralph nodded. Leumeah closed her eyes and prayed.
"Good luck."
Deb stubbed his finger into the remote. There was a clunk as the two drones lost propulsion and toppled into the weeds outside.
Ralph yelled, "Now," and flung open the door.

Jun 8, 2003

I'm in.

Jun 8, 2003

As Above 960 words
The chime of the elevator echoed down the empty corridor. The doors clunked open and a gurney emerged, its wonky wheel squeaking with every metre. A dark cloaked orderly pushed it towards the morgue and it burst through the heavy rubber doors like a bandit entering an old saloon.

Doctor Scott stood directly behind those doors and he backtracked hastily as the gurney hurtled towards him. The young orderly, his head bowed and his eardrums shielded by the small, flat headphones, pulled hard backwards and the gurney rocked to a squeaky halt. The clipboard hanging from the end dangled millimetres from Scott's kneecaps.

"For God's sake Martin, watch where you are going," Scott said.
The orderly blushed, pulling the headphones down around his neck. An indistinguishable concerto bled from the hanging speakers.
"Sorry Doctor Scott," said Martin.
"Who's this?" the doctor asked, looking down at the silver, sealed body bag atop the gurney's deck.
"He's a patient of Doctor Wallace."
"Put him in six," Scott asked, gesturing towards the bank of body freezers. "I'm finished for today and my wife's expecting me."
Martin whispered, "Look at the chart."
"Pardon me?"
"Doctor Wallace asked that I make sure you looked at the chart."

Scott lifted the clipboard and studied Wallace's annotations. A sticky note was attached. It said I know you can't resist a puzzle –CW.

The pages of charts and write-ups beneath were peppered with children's stickers that concealed specific segments of Wallace's small, precise handwriting. On the section that listed the cause of death a large Star Wars storm-trooper's helmet had been overlaid. Scott read the exposed portions, holding the chart one-handed as he slipped off and hung his scarf and overcoat. He said nothing to Martin as the orderly retreated from the morgue.

With freshly-sanitized hands Scott pulled down the heavy zipper to expose the cadaver. It was an older man, but too young for death. The notes did not hide that he was fifty-two. He was squat and plump with short, greying hair and a silver broom-head of a moustache. There were no tell-tale signs of death. No bruising around the clavicle from CPR trauma, no yellowed sclera to indicate liver failure, no redness in the nasal cavity to hint at dust exposure. The protruding belly was speckled and sparsely haired. The bosoms fell apart gracefully as the doctor used a scalpel to open the chest. Scott freed the flesh from the ribs and then sawed a channel through the cartilage. He pulled open the ribcage and then he stood back with a gasp.

In the chest cavity, where normally would lie a slippery heap of organs, Scott instead saw a city. It was microscopic, intricate and it had grown into the tissue almost unobtrusively. Where the heart should have been a district of tiny skyscrapers stood. The surrounding suburbs sprawled up and into the fleshy red hillsides, the houses thinning out as the neighbourhoods stretched towards the bowels and the throat. It was his city. The harbour lapped at the shores, the waters filling where the space between lungs would normally be. Corroded ferries floated between quays. The red dust of above hung like a mist hung over the entire landscape.

Scott left the cadaver and pulled over an optics cart with a high-magnification video camera. He replaced his gloves and then calibrated the camera, an attached LCD display filling with the details as he zoomed and focussed. The city was beyond a faithful reproduction, it was as if he were staring down from an aeroplane window on his way home. Cars and rusty buses smaller than a pin-tip moved along the streets. Lights turned on and off in the windows of the blocky towers.

Scott increased the zoom and focussed the lens on a suburb south of the business district. In a region where the liver would have been he located the hospital. A raised highway snaked past it on one side, a green strip of dark, dying trees wrapped around the other. Using a pair of long handled tweezers Scott reached into the chest cavity and pinched the hospital building. It was smaller than a tic-tac. He used the tweezers to pry the structure free. It didn't collapses into rubble from the pressure, it stretched wetly as he tugged before it lost its connection. It was like pulling a stamen from a flower. He dropped the tiny hospital into a stainless-steel dish and then reviewed the display, making a slight readjustment to the focus. In the exposed foundations of the removed building was the basement, in it his morgue. All of it was meticulously recreated down to the tools on the miniature benches and the painted numbers on the wall of freezers. In the middle of it stood a tiny Doctor Scott, dressed in his overcoat, scarf in hand.

Scott leaned back and blinked. He checked again, confirming what he'd seen. He stood and walked a slow lap around the morgue. When he returned to the corpse he again adjusted the optics, nudging the camera's controls to move the view a few suburbs over until he was staring at his own block of apartments. They were on the waterfront of a black river that ran towards the intestines. A soft, warm light glowed in the window of his home. Using tweezers and a scalpel, Scott sheathed off the levels above his apartment and removed them from the body. He shined a light into his exposed home, the display showing crisply what was happening inside. His wife, bra on, otherwise naked, sat slumped against the lounge room wall. She held a minuscule cigarette that leaked a thin trail of smoke. On the other side of the room Doctor Wallace was buttoning up his shirt. Scott stared down, Wallace looked up. Wallace smiled.

Jun 8, 2003

I'm in.

Jun 8, 2003

This was a really hard prompt, nice pick.

The Fourth Temptation
Satan stood beside Jesus on the rocky cliff top at the summit of the mountain. The world stretched out to all horizons. Jesus' belly grumbled.

With a loud voice Jesus said, “Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’”

Satan rolled his eyes. “Fine, get querulous and quote scripture at me. I’m finished.”

“You will never triumph,” said Jesus. His guts played a refrain.

"Will you not break your fast now, son of God?" Satan asked. "Your trials are over."

"My father will provide for me, as is his will," said Jesus.

Satan shook his head, "See, that's the problem with you, Jesus, you're a coward. You always defer to your father. I offered you all the kingdoms of Earth, to put you in charge, and you refused to bow to me for just a moment. Is that how big your ego is? If we do it your way, you may wish to know what happens to those kingdoms of men..."

"You mock me, devil," said Jesus. "All men will come to love my father, through me."

"You think that. Does that include the indigenous in the Americas, the aboriginal Pacific islanders? Will the lord be providing them with milk and honey?"

Jesus squinted towards the setting sun. "Those Kingdoms are extremely far away… But they deserve to bask in my father’s glory, if he sees it fitting. If he doesn’t, it must be for a purpose."

Satan put a hand on Jesus' shoulder. "Take some responsibility, Jesus, you must realise, Jehovah is flawed. He makes mistakes. I've seen that future. He ignores thousands of men. Even believers. Did you know people won't even like going to church?"

"Blasphemy and lies, devil, it is written: worship and serve only the lord and he will bring you joy."

"Joy?" Satan laughed. "Joy, like listening to soft rock? Spending your Sunday morning on a hard pew, listening to unscrupulous preachers drone on."

"So long as the worship is in the name of my father, the form of ceremony matters not, regardless of how much discomfort the worshipper submits to."

"Would you also classify boys having their manhood fondled by Ministers as ‘discomfort’?"

With no pause, Jesus replied, "Ministers are holy men, they are granted the wisdom to live a life unto the lord in whatever way is fitting. So long as they love the lord, and do not bed a woman outside of wedlock, they do only the Lord’s work and their other actions can be dismissed."

Satan shook his head from side to side. In the distance a flock of vultures rode an air current away from the sea.

"Kingdoms will go to war for your father, you know,” said Satan. “And men. Millions will die needlessly, in your name. If you take my offer, submit to me and I will give you the world. You can make it a planet of real peace."

"The planet will be at peace when they all worship me in unity. I have disciples who spread my word: love each other, turn the other cheek. By submitting peacefully to our foes we infuriate them. Their blood lust will dissipate."

"If that's the case, why not relent now? Turn your other cheek to me?"

"Well... I," Jesus stammered. "The rules do not always apply. Sometimes we must contradict the word, if the situation deems it necessary."

"But your word is ambiguous and confusing already. People will interpret it however it suits them. Some will use it to oppress women, to confuse the weak.”

Jesus snorted. “Women? Man is not of the woman, but the woman is of the man. Their place is in submission.”

“No, Jesus,” said Satan. “Man will take your word too far. They will force raped girls to give birth to their rapists’ offspring. They will claim it's all God's will."

"If a girl falls pregnant it is a gift from Jehovah, regardless of the circumstances. Who is anyone to question his authority and plan?"

"You are," Satan cried out. "You are his son. You're not blinded by your ego. You take the Kingdoms. You can make the difference. If not, this world will turn to debauchery and squalor, much of it done in your name!"

Jesus smirked. "That's right, devil, they will worship me and they will despise you. That's how we have taught them and that's how it will be for eternity."

"Jesus," Satan's voice turned pleading, "Don't do this. Make this world yours and do something positive with it. Don't just sit back and watch it waste. Don’t let the lives of these people be meaningless, their only purpose to blindly worship a God who has no involvement in their lives."

Jesus stared towards the specks that were distant islands. He stroked his beard.

Satan said, "What is your answer?"

Jesus turned. "You say you've seen the future. I say I like how it sounds."

Without waiting for a response, Jesus stepped over the edge of the mountain and plummeted toward the desert below. Only metres before his mortal body crashed into the boulders and slate, two angels materialised and caught him in their arms. They lifted him upright and settled him on the sand. One dusted off his tunic, and then they disappeared once more.

John and Mark were napping in a nearby cave. Matthew and Luke had watched the whole event transpire, they rushed over.

"Are you hurt my Lord?" Luke asked.

"No," said Jesus. Matthew scribbled down the word on some papyrus.

Jesus rolled his eyes. "Can you strike the last half an hour from the record, please?" he said.

Jun 8, 2003

I'm in.


Jun 8, 2003


It was night. The reflection of half a moon lit the path up the hill to the treeline. Tanya could see her breath.
"Hurry up Marshall, I'm freezing."
Metal clinking on metal could be heard behind her. Marshall appeared.
"I told you, wear warm clothes," he said. "Can you give me a hand with this stuff?"
"Carrying is a boy's job. Let's go."
The path led towards the earthmoving equipment. Huge, yellow backhoes and dump trucks were parked on the edge of the forest. They were cold and silent, their windows fogged. Beyond the vehicles the trees stretched out into the black horizon.
"Pick a tree," Marshall said.
"This one," said Tanya, selecting the tree closest to the construction clearing. It extended high above her. She leaned back against the thick trunk and stood wide legged, arms spread.
Marshall stood close to her. "No changing your mind now."
"I'm ready."
From his bag Marshall pulled a length of chain. He wrapped it around her, starting at the waist, looping around the arms and then back tight around her torso.
"Frick, that's cold," she whispered.
"Duh," said Marshall, winding the chain around her chest. "Um, your tits seem really huge tonight. Are you wearing a push up?"
"What? Why?"
"Because tomorrow morning there's going to be a crowd here. Reporters will be taking pictures. I want to look good."
"And the trees are important as well, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. The trees."
Marshall ran out of chain. He took two heavy duty padlocks and clipped them on her. She tried to wiggle without success.
"All good," said Marshall. "Which tree should I take? The one next to you?"
"The one behind me."
Marshall considered debating, then selected a tree behind Tanya's and repeated the process on himself, which was harder. He had to leave one hand free, which he handcuffed to the chains below.
"How long do we have to wait?" Tanya called.
"A few hours. They start around sunrise. Until then, patience."
They waited. Blackwood Forest was a quiet place. Marshall dozed off.
A loud, rumbling noise broke the silence.
"Marshall?" cried Tanya, "what the hell is that?"
"Just a koala mating call, look up, you can see him. Don't worry."
Tanya made out the furry, grey ball clinging to one of the branches above her.
"It sounds like a chainsaw."
"Marsupials are weird creatures. You'll get used to it."
The grunting faded. The silence returned.
"I'm hungry," Tanya whined.
"It's a bit late to eat now--" There was rustling.
"What was that? Marshall?"
There was more rustling, something was moving behind them.
"I don't know. Be quiet," Marhsall whispered. Whatever was rustling was moving closer. The faint sound of a bell accompanied the shifting underbrush.
"I think it's just a cat--" he started, before emitting a guttural scream.
There was no reply. She could hear long, deep scratches, grunts and then a loud, wet crunch. She twisted wildly in the chains, trying to see behind her.
"Marshall? Marshall!"
The crunching ceased and the pre-dawn tranquility resumed. Tanya heard nothing but the machine-gun whimpers from her own mouth.
"Marshall?" she called out, "are you there? If you're there, please say something."
Suddenly the chainsaw-like call of the Koala above returned to the soundscape, it grunted over and over.
"Shut up. Shut up," she yelled up at it meekly, the chains and her bra constricting her lungs such that she couldn't suck in enough breath to scream.
The koala lost interest, and the grunting stopped. The noise was replaced with rustling leaves behind her, the sound growing louder. Tanya flailed and contorted, trying to find any give in the chains, but she couldn't move. It was close enough that she could hear the individual footfalls. She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight. She felt moist, warm air on her neck and exposed cleavage, exhalation. She turned to face it, which was the last she she ever did.