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Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
The Grass Whisper Among Themselves, Blade to Blade Across the Field

897 words

We were all surprised to see Jimney's wedding pictures on his socials Monday morning. It looked like a beautiful ceremony, out on his Uncle's farm in Athens. A nice spread at the reception, and his girl Saffron was stunning in her white dress and in the more sensible dancing clothes later.

Mostly we were surprised not to be invited. Even given the border crossings that would have been involved, at least we could have sent presents. The delivery drones get covered in the ceasefire agreement as long as you pay the surcharge for a Denver flag. I even tried to leave a comment, but I'm not as good as bots are at passing the botscreens. Not like anyone reads comments.

"It's bullshit, it is," said Marquette. "No. drat. Way."

"People change," I said.

"Sure," they said. "Not like that, though. We were going to be, going to be each other's best, best person. We were closer than blood."

"New job, new life, new city," I said.

"And blood doesn't mean much to lots of people," said LaRue.

"Bullshit," said Marquette.

And they came back the next day with what they called proof. "See there?" They pointed at the image, a close-up of Jimney in his black tuxedo.

"What am I supposed to see?" I asked.

"Jaggies, Dee," they said. "Look at the edge between Jimney and the trellis. Look at all of those, what you call, pixel artifacts. It's a fake."

They had more evidence to show, a spot of clouds that seemed to have stood still in the air through the entire ceremony, three people in the crowd who were either edited in more than once or were identical triplets who each wore the same dress to a wedding. (They were not bridesmaids.) It was very convincing.

We went to the media. Well, we went to Phil McMayers, who had been the academic advisor to the student newspaper website back in high school, and who had a hundred thousand followers and was getting by monetizing his socials. So same thing.

"Deep fakes, huh?" he said. "You're not going to try and tell me Charleston never happened are you?"

"No," I said, quickly, because LaRue did have his doubts there and we didn't need that discussion again, not now.

Marquette said "You remember Jimney Paulsen, right?"

"Class of '29, solid B student. Did a kind of-" Phil reached vaguely at the back of his head. "Tails kind of thing, right?"

"That's him," said Marquette. "It's his wedding."

We showed him what we found and he said he'd look into it. We weren't patient enough to let it completely alone in the meantime. We tried to contact people, anyone who might know Jimney, anyone who wasn't on any nationnet blocklists, which was nobody. Anyone working for a multinational employer, which was a few but none who would risk their jobs relaying personal communications on the work networks. People with connects in Denver or Sweden or Panama, which we didn't know of any for real since LaRue's cousin turned out to be a liar, and who would probably be doing serious resistance stuff anyway and not have time for us. So we'd gotten nowhere by the time Phil got back in touch.

"Take a look at this," he said, projecting an image onto a white wall. "This is from a zoo feed in Birmingham." Two of the egrets were pixel-accurate echoes of each other. He clicked. The image changed. "Newscast from Paris, a protest outdoors. The riot police are casting shadows in the wrong direction compared to everything else there." He turned to us. "I didn't have to go looking for these." Another click.

"You were taking pictures of us?" said LaRue.

"The office was. I hosted this still in Denver, then loaded it back up again." He dragged a finger on his tablet, and it zoomed in. Around me I could see jagged pixilation artifacts. "Looks like someone edited you in, right?"

"So you're saying everything outside our net is faked?" said LaRue.

"No," said Marquette. "But it's all being made to look fake."

"Right," said Phil. "Some, maybe most or all of the nets are applying filters, making everything seem equally a lie. Who knows how much is faked? Could be lots, could be nothing yet, just waiting for the right moment. Biggest story since, well, you know. If I were fool enough to put it out there."

So that's where we got. Maybe I was right the first time. Maybe Jimney just forgot us all. Maybe he tried to invite us but the filters didn't approve, didn't want to trouble the guests with our existence. Maybe he did but got back excuses. There's a story out there, a low-repute info clearance site that has a death report, a drunk driver accidentally killing Marquette but under their deadname. We had a laugh about it. There's one about me being married to Reg Floyd and another that says I went to live in South Africa. Maybe they're believable there.

It'd be easy to say you should trust no one. Easy, but also just what they want. I say do the opposite. Find people you can trust. Let them know what's what. Spread the word, from mouth to ear, around their walls and filters. Build a base of things you know are true, and get ready to repel invaders.


Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, flash

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Here Be Dragons

Super Power Historical

Heir/Heiress, "For my father", Flashbacks, Iconic Landmark, Night of Revelry

1330 words

Sgt. Strong, 1945

There I was, tromping through the old forests of southern Germany with the rest of the S-Platoon, detached from the main force, when we saw the dragon circling Neuschwanstein castle.

"Should I call in air support?" asked Kilroy.

"Not just yet," I said, lifting my binoculars. It was drifting a bit leftward. There was a wound on the left wing, a hole clear through that meant less lifting power on that side.

The next thing I heard was the sound of guns, a pair of anti-aircraft artillery units mounted in one of the towers. At least one hit. The dragon was knocked back, started plummeting, and changed form as it fell, to a shape that was nearly human. "Well I'll be," I said. "Give me file X-11."

White Streak had the file in my hands at once. I looked over it and noted where the thing had landed. "Looks like X-11 and M-003 are one in the same." I said. The dragon, and the rampaging scaled berserker. "Specs was right about that one. Let's move."

"Sir," said Kilroy, "Neither one is on the list. And for good reason."

"I'm playing a hunch," I said. "Get air support on standby, though. Just in case."

We moved quickly and quietly. X-11 was, by all reports, a thing of pure rage, a killing machine, impossible to reason with. Thing is, though, all of those reports were written by Nazis. It had done more damage and kept more German Superhumans away from the front than a few countries in the United Nations. And it was standing, almost right feet tall, green scale and narrow red eyes, in the center of a small new crater.

"Hello," I said. Its eyes seemed more full of curiosity than anger. "You speak English, or should we see if we can find a translator?"

"English. Yas. The, the taste of the words come. Hello. I am Fafnir."

Fafnir, 1688

I was tired of fighting, but still they came. Knights. An old wizard forged an unbreakable shield and the sharpest sword ever, to help slay Medusa and her spawn. They found their way to the hands of this knight, this child of barely twenty years. Stronger than most, and clever.

I thought myself invincible, possibly save for that sword. And so I fell away from it, let him here me back, back, under the fortress at Linden, into caverns lit by pooled lava, to the ledge. And then he charged, feinting with the sword and bashing with the shield, all of his weight.

It did not kill me. My bones do not burn. My flesh did, faster than it could regrow. Then the rock shifted and the lava cooled, encasing my bones in granite.

Sgt. Strong, 1945

"War's almost done," I said. "Time to clean up. Operation Gargoyle is all about rounding up the superpeople in the country. People and weapons. And that Castle is full of those."

"We were planning an infiltration," said Kilroy. "I go in disguised, the Streaks empty the vaults in a few minutes. But your attack put them on too high alert."

"So a more frontal assault?" said Fafnir, with a voice like a cement mixer.

"Are you well enough for it?" I said.

"Yes. My larger form, it will take a long time healing, but this aspect is more difficult to kill."

"Just be sure you can tell friend from foe," said Red Streak.

Fafnir laughed. "I have not been in berserkergang for years."

The assault got gory quickly. I've gone barehanded before, and hands that can lift a tank will go right through an infantryman. But Fafnir, Fafnir at war, he tore through Nazi soldiers like cardboard. Until they brought out the Hammerbots. Those things slowed him down, and each was a match for one of us.

They fought hard. We were deep behind the lines, not up front where they were surrendering to us to avoid Soviet justice. These guys still hoped to retire on stolen art and treasure. They were fighting for time, and they got enough. They managed to activate Mad King Ludwig's steam mechatower, enhanced with modern steel and alien tech, a corner tower of the castle come to life and tossing us around like insects.

"Kilroy!" I shouted.

"Air support?" he said.

"Now!" I ordered. He worked the radio.

The giant machine held Fafnir in its metal hands, trying to crush him. Fafnir held his position, pushing on the two fingers, keeping them apart. I manned a captured Anti-aircraft gun, shells making small dents as Blue Streak fed me ammo. Bazooka Mark hit it with his pink energy missiles too.

We heard a sonic boom, then another. Fafnir surged with effort and slipped out of the hand, landing on hands and feet. And then he arrived.

The only time I actually saw Paragon. The first one, that is. The guy kept busy during the war. He was going near as fast as the Streaks, was tougher than anyone alive and stronger than anyone too. I could lift a tank. Fafnir could throw one. Paragon, he could juggle half a dozen of them. Probably an aircraft carrier too. He went through the chest of the mech, right through the central mechanism. It shut down with a metallic shriek.

Fafnir, 1941

I smelled sulfur.

They could have stopped the excavation with the sword and shield. But the wizard got visions of dragonbone and dragonteeth in his head, and kept digging.

Centuries of pain had left me nearly mindless. A new kind of pain woke me, of regenerating long-dead flesh, of hunger born from a debt of mass that allowed those muscles to form. I smelled sulfur, and felt rage and hunger.

They never had a chance, not even the wizard. And after they were dead, I still smelled sulfur.

No. I smelled evil. And even after nearly a year of rage, the stench still filled my mouth.

Sgt. Strong, 1946

We celebrated the end of the war in Neuschwanstein castle, after the last few items were crated up. The stolen artifacts mostly were headed back where they came, with a few too dangerous to do anything but get warehoused. A few had people coming to claim them. But this was the night after the surrender. We were having a party. Nora Wilde from the Edge City Gazette was there, finished with the interviews and dancing with us. Mostly with Fafnir, who look different in a suit and tie than nothing but battle paint. Slightly ridiculous, but also dignified.

The door to the ballroom swung open. Framed was a young man, holding the artifacts, the Sharpest Sword and the Unbreakable Shield.

"You!" He pointed at Fafnir with the sword. "You killed my father."

"Yes?" he said.

"Lots of folks killed lots of people's fathers," I said. "War's over now."

"Keep them, though," said Fafnir. "Lots of other monsters around. Plenty we don't have a peace treaty with."

"They're mine by right," he said. But he put the sword back in his belt scabbard.

"That's going to be a mess," I told Nora later that night. "The two of them as Germany's only powereds not in jail."

"He's not staying," she said. "Fafnir, that is. He's coming to America."

Of course, the second Dragonslayer followed a few years later, after the Berlin incident, after the New Wave was founded in the aftermath, and yes, it was a mess. Half a century worth of mess, until time took him like most of the rest. Dragons live a drat long time, and my treatment have kept me alive and kicking so far.

The kid at that dance would be steaming if he knew his own daughter was marrying Fafnir today. The old man he became, he'd probably be okay. They fought together more often than against each other seriously, and always knew they were on the same side.

Anyways. To the groom!

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, flash.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
And Talking Trees, and Leagues of Grass

899 words

Among the Xlati clans, it's the women who have the biggest swinging cocks. I've been traveling among them for two months, doing background work on the unity movement, and, well, when in Rome, come prepared for an orgy. So I've got a state-of-the-art nineteen-inch wanger installed, nanofiber infiltrates running straight to my spine, connected straight into my sensorium, deep inside some smiling clan cyclejock. The brass balls in the calfskin sack at the base sound like cymbals when they slam together.

It's an extra-special orgy, not the half-hearted affairs they have most days under the yurtshade between the twilight hours of sleep. This is the marriage feast, cactusflesh and tequila, the merger of clans Snake, Eagle, and Cactus into a continent-shaking army. A horde, barbarians of course: they still burn carbon in their chromed cycles. Hyperefficient steamtrapping engines, but barbaric still. Nobody to stop them in the equatorial badlands, those parts of the world that are uninhabitable but not uninhabited. Thousands strong, armed and dangerous, outnumbering any syndicate's security. And now, finally, united behind Chief Executive Chalixo Bonestallion. He's been in charge for three hours. He smiles, nods, waves to the frenzied celebratory rogering. Then blood spews from his mouth and he falls over, stabbed in the base of the skull by a two-foot razorclad cyberphallus. There's nobody at the other end of it, the nabofiber tendrils all cauterized off.

There's no such thing as a police syndicate. But my editor keeps telling me I ought to be in one anyway. "Arsenic Scorpio," he says, "With your natural viciousness and talent for stumbling across corpses, you'd be a perfect detective." So I kicked him in the shin, stole his creditlink, and went south to cover this story.

Among the Xlati clans it's the women who have the big swinging cocks. So they're the suspects. The men generally don't remove what nature gave them, and going double-decker is considered gauche. They still get scanned for interface tech and telltale scars. The assassin either they had a spare or they got out quickly; nobody comes up short at the lineup. Scouts ride out to round up anyone fleeing on foot.

There's a challenge to the succession, with Chalixo's oldest son and his ops officer both wanting to take his place. So while half those gathered investigate, the other half negotiate the terms of challenge, provisional neither of them ends up guilty.

Snake clan security finds something, a bald woman buried shallow in the dry turf a few hundred yards downwind of the latrines. She's minus-cyberdong, so either the culprit or another victim. The forensic team gets to work, breaking her down and extracting the tech. You don't waste anything in the dead zone, not tech and not fertilizer either. CE Bonestallion is already composting, his headware in escrow for the challenge winner. Nobody claims her. Techbois scramble over the encryption on her chips. Well, when in Rome, dig up a cadaver to put it on trial.

They announce the challenge before there's any progress on the decrypt. A race. Could have figured. This camp was done. The challengers set out at dawn, with the rest of us following after the morning half-sleep.

You survive the dead zone by constantly moving. The clans are each divided in three. There's the planters, chasing right behind the hurricanes to deliver fertilizer and genmod seeds for quick grasses and succulents. And there's the harvesters,the group I'm with, following a few weeks behind to reap before the mudhole dries out. Then there are the traders, carrying the products of the specialty cactoids north and south to barter for new seed and tech.

So I'm riding in a techboi's sidecar, cyberjunk way out of place, strapped down by the seatbelt across the dead highways of what used to be Central America. Hung over, since it takes growing up here to really get the knack of sleeping sober in the evening heat, and jostling constantly over unmaintained asphalt. The ride is long, and unpleasant. But it finishes gloriously.

I arrived in the first camp near the end. Here I see the deadlands in bloom by dronelight above,cactus flowers making the dusty air sweet and more than a bit narcotic. I watch as taps are applied for water and for the product. It's work, but it feels more like celebration than the night before. Bonestallion junior won the race and was welcomed into the triumverate marriage, now led by the Eagle clan chieftess. And since in the Xlati clans the women have the biggest swinging cocks, she's already gearing up for the big ride north, for war, ready to shift the balance and win land and treasure.

The hackers got their answers, too. Or some of them. It was old code, set to settle an old grudge. The poor dead girl had no idea what was going to happen when her cybertool reconfigured to combat mode. It still isn't clear who buried her, and fertilizer waste is treated more seriously than murder itself here. I suspect someone from up north had a hand, trying to delay things with whatever tools they could find. Didn't work, if anything the horde is moving north sooner now. I'll be riding along with them at least to the disputed zone. When in Rome, raise legions to go sack Carthage. And let's all hope Carthage is Syndarch Glennson rather than Academician Pollard.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, flash

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Oh, Boy

456 words

You see the picture, see those familiar dimples and cheekbones and everything floods back, from the feel of his cropped hair in your hand and his fingers on your spine to the smell of decades-old cigarette smoke lingering in his father's handed-down jacket. Then you read the headline below, his name and the things he's done and your legs aren't working properly. They're made of gelatin spooled with noodles where your muscles were and you collapse like an unfortunate seventies aspic onto the floor. You scrabble after your phone. The screen is hairline-cracked. The article is still there.

You haven't thought of him in years. No, that's a lie. You've thought of him then, of the event, of that first time in the empty toolshed behind his parents' house, watched over by the faded shadows of hammers and wrenches beneath empty pegs, and of the second and third and fourth times. But you haven't thought of him the person, him in the present, in years. Maybe eight years ago? Deanna told you that he'd married Rikki Gayle when you caught up some Christmas visit. You'd said "That's nice, they make a cute couple, I hope they're happy together." Those kind of things. You thought them, meant them too. Rikki isn't mentioned in the article. You hope she got out in time. You hope there aren't children.

Five. The headline said five. Some part of you wonders if they're counting Victor himself. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. It all seems impossible. Like it couldn't be the same person after all. You don't trust your legs enough to stand. You scoot over to the wall.

There were no signs. He had a cruel streak, but it ran no deeper and wider than any other teenager's. Not deeper nor wider than your own. As a lover he was careful, gentle, grateful. After it was over he was more civil than you. He was, beyond any other description, normal. Except he clearly wasn't.

You wonder if that isn't the secret. That this is normal, the blood and smoke that almost seem to leak through the crack in the phone's screen, that anyone could be driven to that, could choose that. The idea reeks of sulfur. You put it down like an exorcist.  You press down on the floor and struggle to your feet.

He ended things, after about a month. To be honest, you were starting to get bored with him too. Neither of you had ever said 'I love you.' The closest he ever came, after that first time, lit by sunlight made into solid beams by lingering sawdust:

"You're something, Becks. You're something else."

Nobody else called you that, not ever, and for that you are grateful.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, flash

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Breaking the Wheel

847 words

On November fifteenth last year, Marsha Hayford's husband faded out of existence at a quarter past five in the morning. By noon she had become convinced that he had always been a figment of her imagination, that their dates had been vivid dreams, that their wedding, with all of the pictures featuring her standing alone, was an elaborate joke that all of her friends and family had been in on her with. She tried to hold on to part of the dream, but by ten in the evening she could no longer recall his first name. It was a strange name, she knew. Strange to her. Common where he came from.

She kept her name. They had no children. She would be fine, in the long run. Not all of the spouses of time travellers were so lucky. Like all groups with a common oddity, they connected on social media, usually misunderstanding everything. Ghostbrides and Ghostgrooms were the most popular groups, followed by ones talking Incubi or Succubi or Nephalim. The time travel theory was less common: a few whose remembered partners had told them directly. A few who came up with the idea themselves, like Marsha. And then there was me.

I'm Tucker Francis. I used to be psychic.

It started with me getting these weird déjà vu feelings growing up. More and more intense each time, to where I was thinking the words other people were about to say. Knowing what was coming when Patsy started her long breakup speech. Listening with dread to the television, knowing that in seconds the show will be interrupted with heartbreaking breaking news. I honed my gift, practiced it, trained with other psychics, learned to commune with the Librarian himself.

People don't get déjà vu anymore, not since November fifteenth. A couple of psych students have noticed so far, wrote up senior theses about how generational trauma is to blame. It's not.

The first time I went to the Library I was nineteen, just starting to put vision to use. I'd learned the first lesson the hard way. You can't change what you see. You see someone win the jackpot in the lottery, if you're not the one, you'll never be the one. The system will glitch out a dozen ways to stop you buying the right ticket. So you just match four of six instead, win a few thousand, or work the sports bookies. Try to warm people and they don't believe you. Best you can do is be there to help afterwards.

I don't much miss it, even if the life left me without many useful skills. It was mostly sadness and frustration.

The Librarian is older than time. He's got that sort of ageless look to him. No wrinkles, white hair and sharp white beard. He doesn't get many visitors. He gets lonely, up there or down there or whatever direction you go to get to the Library.

There are millions of books in the Library. There's only one book. Each one tells the story of the universe from end to end. They're all the same.

Almost the same. That's the great irony of free will. The only things that you can change are the ones that don't matter. Read Dickens rather than Proust this month. Watch the game at home or at the bar. Be a hasty or patient lover tonight.

He showed me the book. I could not read the language, but I could see the text, the faded text inking over as the finger of the now progressed word to word, line to line.

I learned much from him. My gift was in seeing the past, the previous version of the universe, as it came close enough to echo, like two copies of his Book on different shelves.

I'm dating Martha now. It's different. Going in blind, just like anyone else. Not knowing that the relationship has to happen, has always happened, is a part of every life you've ever lived. She likes salmon with sage and parsley and Arabic poetry and backrubs but only after ten at night, and I have had to learn each one the hard way.

I went back to the Library, in late November. I needed to understand. He told me about time travel, how it only works because nothing can be changed in the past. I asked him if that was it, if someone had managed to break the rules and end themselves doing it. He shook his head.

He taught me how to close my future sight, how to keep from being haunted by false visions of a dead and broken cycle of time. And he showed me his book. No more faded text, just blank space ahead of the invisible pen writing the now.

"See?" he said. "The future, unwritten. Unknowable. It may be that I will not understand what changed and how for hundreds of eternities more. The next Aeon may return to the take that fills my shelves, repeat this one or be entirely new. And. I. Do. Not. Know.

"Isn't it wonderful?"

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

In. I'll take a flash lyric too.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

Flash: There's a fire starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch and it's bringing me out of the dark

The Opposite of Fire

795 words

Professor Madison taught science and applied math for a year at Robelard. He never wore matching socks. One red and the other white, one white and the other black, one green and the other plaid in clan tartan, it changed day to day. That wasn't the strangest thing about him, either: that would be the three-eyed rose quartz skull that sat on his desk, or maybe the antique velocipede he commuted between the classrooms and the faculty residences on, or the seven-pointed star tattooed on his left outer thigh. The socks, though, that was the thing the students all knew about, the thing they'd tell you first about him. He saved my life three times that year.
I was teaching Calculus and Trigonometry, my third year on the faculty. It fell to me to show him the campus, after his first day.
"The buildings are all connected by these tunnels," I said. "A convenience on a rainy day like this. In the deep winter-"
The lights flickered and died. The amber emergency lights turned on briefly, then faded. I fumbled in my bag for my phone, activated the flashlight.
There were three of them, human-shaped, hunched, formed of fuzz-edged darkness. They had red eyes and black fangs that glinted wetly.
"Boggart," said Madison. "Pwca. Shadow-reave." He held his umbrella like a rapier, and it seemed to have a scalpel-sharp tip in the unsteady light. One of the things lunged at me, teeth bared and bearing toward my arm. Madison thrusted and connected, and the thing dissolved into foul air, like rot and syrup. He swung right and took the second thing apart with a diagonal slash. The third turned to run. I followed it with the beam and he launched the umbrella like a javelin, striking through it. The emergency lights came back on while the stench-clouds lingered.
"Penelope, I would ask that you not speak of this," he said. "I don't know who can be trusted."
He and I grew closer over the next few months. No other monsters attacked us, not then. We were friends, to start with. Then, well, there was the day I found out my ex had gotten married to his new girlfriend. One year after the breakup, to the day. Madison was there. He warned me at the start, told me his contract was just for the year and that he would not ask to stay. I heard him. I understood. I rode him until dawn anyway, and many times after.
The monsters came back, came with the first snows of winter. As the winds and hail blew outside, as inch after inch accumulated outside, putting the campus under seige. The tunnels were not safe, but they were the only way to get from place to place. We both had our favorite students. We turned them into a little army, taught them to fight the shadows, to protect each other on each passage. There were casualties. No deaths, but Chloe wound up in the infirmary with a broken arm, and when Frostjacks tried to storm the comp sci lab and shattered the great glass windows another five were laid up with fevers and glass cuts. Madison and I were visiting them there when the true threat revealed itself. Dean of students Sylvia Gannon. Madison named her true form: Icebird. Anphoenix. Chillstrix. Working a mass sacrifice to break her cycle of rebirth and live forever in endless winter. We fought them, beating the cold off with a massive bonfire. She had armies of shadow-boggarts and Frostjacks and white-winged bats. When they broke the line and came close, Madison slid his umbrella across the icy ground to me, and I picked it up and fought. It felt natural in my hand. He charged at then, unarmed, or so it seemed until he reached into his own chest and pulled forth a flaming sword.
That was two. Our flings, our times together were welcome but not lifesaving. We barely saw each other that spring. Covering up that kind of event involves a lot of busy work, mostly paperwork and convincing people that silence benefits them, too. We had a little time together working through the forms, making certain that the Michigan office was fully convinced of the identity of each dispatched supernatural entity and that none of them represented a soverignty that had diplomatic standing in this world. That was nice, restful, but over too soon. And then he was gone.
He left me that umbrella. And that was three, years later, when the Labyrinth breached into the Robelard tunnels and the Thing At The Center took hostages, including my fiancee Edward Li, and I had to fight my way in and out again, the weapon and the memory served me well.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, meme.

Please don't ask me to do that ; you know I couldn't refuse.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Emotional Registers

910 words

Emotion:You say you love me but I don't believe you.

(Dan Green from Fragile Creatures )

She told me she loved me, and I told myself the same thing about three hundred thousand times a second. But I didn't believe either one of us.

She was Lilly Wexler. Skip tracer, working the same case, more or less. Fab Conner stole three dozen rider digilects and went off the grid. Lilly was after the meat. My client wanted the hardware. We made a good partnership. Worked together often. We complemented each other's weaknesses. Like on this job. I could scan the digital footprints of thousands of potential contacts and narrow down the three that stood out in a minute or two. She could twist their arms, figuratively or literally, and get them to talk. We're both pretty good at telling when they're lying.

You want to think you're capable of love, of being loved. People used to talk about qualia, make arguments that applied just as well to grey blobs of biochemical neurons as they do to the mixed up heap of self-modifying code that makes up a digilect. I think they may have been half-right. We write our own biographies and read them every millisecond to remember who we are, because the memory that does come naturally right out of the code is so sparse and random. But it's there. And we put our emotions, the ones we aspire to or want to keep in the foreground in our emotional registers, read at even faster rates. But there's something else code-deep that tells us when we're lying to ourselves.

Conner was in the sewers. Or on a bus to Canada. Or dead, decorating the inside of a zoo leopard. We checked the sewers first. Travel is expensive and retrieving anything useful from inside of a live animal would take a lot of extra bribes and paper. The sewer. Not as unpleasant as you might think. Lilly had a heavy-filter mask. My chemical profiler unit isn't even a core sensation, doesn't have any emotional content associated with any smells. For me it was just the dampness to worry about. Damp narrow tunnels to squeeze through together. Intimate. I spotted something, distant. I pointed. She smiled, said those words. "I love you, Dan." Not for the first time.

We have history. Weird history. Complicated history. From back when I was a rider, partnered up with Stan. She was his lover, his last lover. And since by then his nervous system was decaying goo beneath the neck, I was running his body for him full time.

'Partner' may not be the right word.

She knew. She was the only one else who knew how sick Stan was. We met up at the funeral, after I was settled into my roamer hardware. That was the first time she said it. Qualified. "I love you, in a way."

Conner was cowering in the corner. He didn't have a mask. He was shivering. Poor guy. He had three dozen baby digilects hooked up to his wetware, and they were starting to wake up.

The survival rate for new digilects isn't great, maybe one in eight. We're fragile creatures, and no matter how hard the designers try they can't keep us from finding an off switch just as soon as we gain sentience. Most humans who go cyborg only have to deal with one of us, and one who's already got a stable personality. Conner had about a dozen tortured souls jacked into his brain stem, and that's after having to listen to the primal screams of the ones who were already gone.

I held him down. Lilly had the tools ready for the extractions. "I'd be lying if I said this wasn't going to hurt," I said. She opened his mouth and began pulling out each artificial tooth.

Why is it only 'She loves me' and not the other way around?

There was something calming about watching her work. I don't like pain but I do like justice, and I know what kinds of things can happen to a newborn digilect out in the black market. The client's kindergartens at least comply with international regulations. Each tooth is tested for digital life, asked if they want to stay with Conner. None of them do.

When I picked out my new hardware The hand moving the pen, in pure silence save the scratching of paper. I went with what's called the Ken: smooth crotch, no equipment of either variety. I haven't been completely sexless since, but it's all pure virtual where it doesn't matter if my partner is human, rider, roamer, or wraith. The physicality of it doesn't interest me much.

I haven't been with Lilly that way. Not any way since Stan died. Why is I'm not sure why she's never suggested it.

She handed me the bags of teeth, triaged dead, dying, and likely to survive. More of the last than I had expected. She jammed a set of dentures slathered in adhesive into Conner's mouth and zipties his hands. He was hurting physically but more at peace then.

It didn't even occur to me that she might betray me. Not until after she hadn't, after I had the teeth, after we split up to get paid by our respective clients. I slid that into an emotional register, reading at two hundred thousand times a second "I can trust Lilly," and it felt right, felt true, whether she really loved me or was just fooling herself.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Absent Friends

738 words

The knock on the door came at quarter past two the night after they buried Simple Reg. A little later than I had expected. I was up, watching old tv on stream and slowly working through a bag of pretzels and a two liter bottle of orange soda. I walked over to the door, looked at his shark grin in the peephole's fisheye perspective. I undid the latch, let him in.

Aces came at me with a tight, back-slapping hug. "Quinn," he said. "It's been, what, five years?"

I disengaged, stepped aside as he came in, and closed the door. "Something like that," I said.

"Too long."

"Listen, I don't-" I said.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "Not tonight." He lifted the bag in his hand a few inches. "Heard you were keeping straight, so I brought my own. You don't mind, do you?"

I shook my head, and we walked to the kitchen and sat down. He pulled out a six-pack of Mexican beer. I went to the drawer, found the church key and handed it to him. "I didn't see you," I said. "Were you with Reg's people, or-"

"Nah," he said. "Got to stay low these days. I'll come 'round in a few days, pay my respects alone. Tell me, was Lars there?"

"No. Best I know he's still up north."

"I miss Lars," he said.

"Liar," I said. He smiled, a warmer smile. "Nobody but his mom misses that one. Now, Lars' sister, she I miss. Wonder what she's up to."

"You don't know?" I shook my head. "Oh, Quinn. You've got to hear this." He popped open a fresh bottle, took a long pull, and started. "First off, right out of school she married Fineas Boan. You remember him, right? Tall, wore his letter jacket even in the summer."

"I remember him, yeah," I said. I shivered a bit, remembering the impression of cleats. "Bet that didn't last."

"You'd have won that one," said Aces. "They moved up the road to Lafayette and set up house, and not three months later they're having a proper fight in the kitchen, both of them grabbing up knives and she winds up putting hers right into his heart."

"Jesus," I said. I killed off the two-liter and stood up to fill a glass with water.

"Clearly self defense, only the police don't want to see it that way, on account of one of them being chums with Fineas' dad. So they put her on trial twice, the first time the jury is hung, the second time she gets off clean-" He put down the bottle and turned to me. "You sure you haven't heard all this? It was all over the news."

"That would be in oh-four?" I asked. He nodded. "Yeah, I didn't come up for air much that year."

"Right, right. Anyway, she got off free, but there wasn't much good will left, you know. So she packed up and moved all the way to Boston. She wound up marrying a doctor there. A lady doctor."

"Well," I said, "Good on her." I raised my glass of water.

"We should all do so well," said Aces.

We sat in silence for a while, for a bottle and a glass.

"loving Reg," said Aces. "Couldn't he have just..." He shook his head about, blinking something back.

"I don't think that was it," I said. "I think he made his peace with it a long time ago. He had other things haunting him besides, you know-"

"Have you made your peace?" He asked me, dead serious, the shark back but not the smile.

"The past's dead," I said.

"Is it?" The question hung in the air like a stale fart.

"One more," he said, opening his fourth bottle. "You sure you can't-" I waved him off.

I raised my water glass. "To Simple Reg," I said.

"To Simple Reg," said Aces. "And to making peace."

Aces used my bathroom, pissing loudly for what seemed like an hour, then came out to go. "You're still all right, Quinn. I'll see with Vince about cutting some of what you owe, okay?" He walked to his car and started it, driving slowly down the street.

I should have poured the bottles out in the sink, but I didn't want to open one right then, so I put them in the refrigerator instead. All the way in the back.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In. Snow Wizards.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Phase Changes

1317 words
Prompt:Snow Wizards

The first night out on the ice my hair went from dark brown to white while I watched my reflection in the smooth glaze covering a shallow pond. It was then that I first started to believe that I might survive the weekend.

By the second night I no longer felt the cold at all. Slightly panicked, I checked my fingers for signs of frostbite. They were pale, unburnt, fully flexible and sensitive to touch. Over the next day I shed my clothing, one piece at a time, until I could feel the wind-blown snow on every inch of my body.

On the third night, as I dreamed, the snow and ice began to bend themselves to my whim and dreaming fancy. I woke in a palace of ice, peopled with frozen simulacra to tend to my every need.

Arbet and Blink arrived the next day.

Arbet struck the frozen ground with his staff and the door sounded three loud knocks. I could see it in my mind as he did it, through new-awakened wizard-sense, just as I knew the outer names of those two in my presence. I waved my hand and weaved the snow and moisture in the air around me into a pale blue gown, and floated down to the lobby to meet them.

"I see you have passed through the initiation," said Blink.

"A pity," said Arbet. Blink glared at him. "The carrion wolves starve these days. So few try."

"Don't take offense," said Blink. "Arbet hates everyone, not least himself."

"At least she should take a name. The void and swarm in her head is enraging."

"A name?" I said.

"Yes," said Blink. "Not a true name,mind. But choose carefully. It will be with you for a long time."


When my wizard-mark first appeared, I was with a lover. She pulled back, scampered away as if it were a venomous spider, as if touching it would strike her dead. I gathered my clothes and left, walking home in heavy rain.

I can still remember the smell of her hair, the curve of her cheek, the sound of her laugh, even though I can no longer summon her face in my mind. I never saw her again. She did not answer any of my letters.

Magical talent is not hereditary. But enough fools believe it is that my father was shamed by the implications of my mark. Maybe he was one of those fools himself. Maybe he already had doubts. Whatever was inside his mind, I was not welcome in that home.


I took the name Rhyme, or it took me, rising unbidden to that part of my mind and locking into place. My outer name, shouted constantly to any wizard nearby unless I made a serious effort to hide it. My given name was dead, maybe forever, and my true name a mystery even to myself then.

"And what next?" I asked my visitors.

"Whatever you will," said Blink.

"Serve an apprenticeship," said Arbet. "If you dare."

I dared. And of the two I found him more honest. I went to his ice palace, shaped my cloak to humble wraps and assisted him in return for what education he could offer. And he had much to teach, how to gather cold within myself, how to safely unleash it, how to make ice supple as silk, or harder and sharper than steel. How to feel every warm thing for miles on these snows. How to navigate by the sensation of the Mote. Five years passed before he released me, named me full wizard.

And the better part of another year I stayed on. We had grown strangely fond of each other, and it had been a long time between lovers for both of us. It did not last. He needed to be punished, whipped with barbed ropes across his back, and my enthusiasm for that faded after only a few months. In the end the only way I could hurt him was by leaving, and he was grateful for that at least.


I was a failure as a wizard in the warm and sunny south. Effort after effort to awaken my talents failed, to the point where healers were brought in to check, four times in as many months, if my mark wasn't some false tattoo or coincidental rash or mole. Teachers I had thought I respected cast me away.

There was no mention of snow magic in those libraries. I only came to suspect it might be a thing by implications, by systems that seem to call for nine schools but present only eight, by the holes in the theory. I sought out forbidden texts, and was distracted by another possible extra school, of dark, diabolical magic. The secret school within the school welcomed me in, seduced me with every kind of attention and eventually invited me to a ritual, an attempt to awaken my mark with the power of the great demon Cravek. Incense was burned, candles were lit, chants were sung over my naked body. The form of the demon appeared, faint and translucent. It turned on me. My wizard mark burned, and it turned away, with what looked like rage and fear on its red and beastly face. It faded.

The next day I was given notice that the school would no longer pay my board. I packed what I had and left.

Cold. When the mark burned, it was cold. Ice magic, cold magic, snow magic. That must be the missing piece, in the system, in me. I didn't know it like a fact but I needed it to be true. I went north.


I found Blink, after. I think I understood him more, then. I asked him what I should do next.
"Whatever you want," he said. "Raise a mighty tower with every luxury you can imagine. Pull an army of ice trolls from under the tundra and claim the southlands for your own. Conquer your homelands, revenge yourself on your enemies. Or turn your back on the south. Go to the frozen library and learn from those lost to the past. Or," he concluded, "Go and see the Mote."

Few snow wizards do. It is not without risk. The Mote is the tiny spot of perfect cold that fuels this slow age of glaciation. Perfect stillness. Perfect power. Some who see it go mad or blind or both. Some achieve powers impossible to a mere snow wizard.

I went on the journey. Eventually.

I was not alone. Another of us, outerly named Sabre, heard that I was contemplating the journey and sought me out. "We should make the climb together," she said. "When you go blind I will lead you back down."

"And when you go mad," I said, "I will remind you who you are."

We set out. As one climbs toward the Mote snow magic becomes harder. There is more power, but it is all drawn upward, toward that absolute coldness, and very little remains to use.

We buried ice trolls in an avalanche, slew a frost dragon with blades Sabre forged from icicles and I sharpened to deadly ages, confronted simulacra of our darkest sides, navigated a maze of narrow bridges over mile-deep chasms in near-perfect darkness. We began to feel cold again for the first time in years, and huddled together for warmth, and more.

We reached the top just as the Mote died, shattering into shards of normal deep cold just beneath our horizon. Nothing lasts forever, and this age of snow wizardry, of spreading cold over ever more of the world will slowly come to an end, retreat to equality with the other magics known in warmer lands.
There was one thing that Blink did not suggest. "Find love and enjoy it." I don't think he considered it possible even with near-omnipotence in our realm. I do.

We do.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
A bad arrangement is better than a process.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
The Greenline

The room is a white cube, brightly lit from some hidden bright sources. The long table, the chairs, the camera are also white. The subtle changes of shade at the right angles that comprise each object are the only food the room provides my eyes, apart from her. The interviewer. Her clothing is also white, but her pinkish-blonde hair, her skin, the reflective chrome glasses that cover her eyes are the only concessions to color in the room, other than if I look down to see my blood-stained hands.

"Shall we begin?" she says. She moves papers across the desk. Blank white to me. Her glasses are decoding the invisible text. "Rob Cavil. Thirty-three years old, degree in ancient history. No long-term relationships, no major debts or criminal record. So how does someone like you wind up, ah, radicalized? How did you come to join the Greenline?"


It started with Lily, of course. No long-term relationships was right, and not many short-term, not until I met her.

I'm not an idiot. I figured out pretty quickly that it was a setup, a recruiting trick. By then I didn't mind, though. By then I was all in.

"Alex and I have an arrangement," she said, pulling off her long t-shirt that first night. "It's worked so far."

Lily Gardner. The optimist. A lot of the planning, the logistics of it all, that was her. She knew Alex from way back, from before he took the name Green. She saw through his worst bullshit more than any of us. She still loved him, of course, but she loved everyone.

And then there was Alex. The man with the vision, the man with the plan. The one who worked out how to use the green line. Quiet Alex with his thin wire glasses and the voice that could persuade most people into anything.

For the first few months I thought it was just a harmless hobby. Reenactment, learning how to live without electricity, like some kind of elaborate camping group with a low-key horny polycule grafted on. That's what it felt like. Like a weekend roleplaying club. Like an inside joke I was just beginning to understand. They didn't ask for much, just modest monthly dues and a time commitment. People talked about G-day, and when Alex was saying it I believed, but not so deep the feeling stayed after he left the tent.

Then one day I got the call,the middle of the week. "G-day is tomorrow," Lily said. "Come out early as you can make it. Bring your gear."

I called in sick and loaded up my bicycle.


"This would be March 17th of last year?" asked the interviewer. I nodded. She scribbled invisible notes. "What would you say was the philosophy of Greenline? Or was there any, beyond the cult of personality surrounding Alex Green?"

"There was," I said. "It wasn't all that deep, wasn't all that complex. The world has gone wrong. Hard to argue with that," I said, waving at the white walls. "Just look at the death rate trends, the ocean temperature, all of.." I stopped, clenched my teeth, and turned directly to her. "All of this. This machinery of control you serve. All of it and for nothing. The world has gone wrong, and Greenline would allow an escape, possibly even a solution."

"We've already run the experiments, Rob," she said. "This is the best of all possible worlds." She tapped a white pencil on the table. "What, you think Alex Green was the first person to invent a time machine? Tell me about G-day."


We were all together in the cabin, an abandoned Ranger station no longer fit for dwelling. It had an electrical hookup that we'd managed to tap into, now with a tangle of cabling connecting to the machines, the computers and the physics part. We were all buzzing on the vibe coming from Alex and the scientists. He flipped the switch. Green light flooded out of the machines, forming a green rectangle the size of a bus head-on, and from it flowed the Green Line.

It's not something I can describe to someone who hasn't seen it. Bright, deep green, and extending in a direction that our brains did not evolve to perceive. We stepped through, one after the next. We came out before history.

The portal stayed open, worked both ways. We moved our gear over. No electronics,of course, but high quality steel. We had a few blacksmiths, they drafted teams to carry anvils and the makings of a forge. Guns. Bullets. Books. Clothes.

The first thing I noticed was the air. Cooler. Cleaner. Not like a modern forest. The air was so free of industrial smells, that absence was almost physical. There were animal smells, too. Smoke of distant wood fires.

A dozen or so trips and we were done. Jeremy Dell stayed behind. He needed insulin to survive, was never going to live on the far side of the Greenline. He was the one who turned off the machines. The portal vanished. We were on our own, a family of fifty.

We were not ready for what was coming, were not ready for winter.

Look, we were rank amateurs, in every way. None of us could identify much by way of edible plants. Game was plentiful at least, and I and a few others could hunt well enough with the equipment we brought. Alex had to use all his powers to talk the vegetarians in the group out of starvation.

We never encountered any other humans. Too early for this continent. Probably a good thing.

So, malnourished, in poorly-built shelter, beset by parasites and local diseases, with more than a few pregnancies in the group and nearly no medical expertise, nearly out of bullets for the guns. That's where we were on the night of the storm.

Lightning raged, and I saw jagged red and blue and green forks in that forbidden direction, the same as had been coming from the portal. We were hunting, Alex and I. We both saw it. We both ran to the old portal site. I didn't know it was a race. He did. He won, stood between the flickering green portal and the path to the settlement. He had his knife drawn.

"You can't tell them," he said. "Not ever."

His charisma wasn't nearly what it had been. Lean and hungry hunter didn't measure up to his old self. "We can't keep it from them," I said.

"I though you would say that." He threw his knife, cut deep in my left shoulder through the sloth-leather jacket. I had my spear in my right. I charged toward him. He had a spear, too. I swatted his aside, then punched hard at his head, breaking his jaw and dislodging teeth. He staggered back, then charged with his spear. I moved mine in front of him. We were both surprised when he impaled himself 

The lightning struck again. The portal flickered, then started to fade.

I'd like to believe that it was just survival instinct that made me leap through right then. It wasn't. The thought was clear in my head, of what it would have been to go to the settlement, to tell them what had happened, to face them. To try to persuade them to go home. To lead them back here only to be too late, the portal closed forever, Alex Green dead for nothing. I couldn't. I couldn't face any friend I had left. A coward, I leapt back down the green line to this far-fallen world.


"So," I said, "What happens next?"

"Rehabilitation," the interviewer said. "We have a well-established process for cases like yours. You will be made again, made to love this system as it loves you. Isn't that just wonderful?"

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, with a wikihow

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

I(26M) have just gotten out of a three year relationship with my future self(30M) which I now apparently have to restart from the other side in order to avoid the total collapse of the space-time continuum. AITA for wanting to sever and destroy my time machine instead?

I invented my time machine five years ago. It was a modest thing, build out of a broken dorm refrigerator that I used for pickling.

I've always loved pickles. Dill, Extra Sour, Spicy, Garlic. Twenty kinds of Kimchi. Everything other than that abomination and pretender to the category, the so-called Bread And Butter pickle. But as I grew I was unsatisfied with every commercial variety, and I was unfortunate enough to be living in a part of the country without much of a local pickle culture. So I did my own pickling, working that wonderful alchemy with acid brine and time.

Time was the key, of course. A quick pickle is barely worth the name. You need time for the complex flavor of a proper pickle, and I inevitably did not set in enough jars at a time. So I would frequently find myself with jars that would take weeks to mature, months to really peak, when I wanted to eat a pickle right then. Hence, a time machine.

I followed all the rules, took every caution. I never retrieved a jar before I had made it. Even when I started selling a few jars, even as demand grew to where that small time machine became the bottleneck in my production. Things were going well, then. I hooked up with the food delivery services and had dozens of customers a day.

That's when I made my mistake. I built a bigger time machine, and that's when he came into my life. Myself, from three years in the future. I hadn't changed much at all.

Things were great at first. I mean, we had a lot in common, of course. He was vague about why he went into the machine, which should have been a red flag. We didn't know how to reverse the direction and send him forward, so we were sort of stuck with each other.

I hadn't really thought much about you know, my sexuality before, but it turns out I've got to be at least a little bi. We didn't even have to get each other drunk to make it happen the first time.

So that was how it went for more than two years. I thought I was happy, and I thought the other me was too, but he got more distant as time went on. Got downright guarded and sullen as we got into the third year. We'd fight. It didn't help that money was getting tight. Demand for pickles was flagging, and the new flavor concepts we came up with weren't going over well. He'd go on long trips, always coming back while I was out of the house.

Which brings us to yesterday, when he left me. He says he wants someone more mature, and so he's going off to Indiana to shack up with the me from thirty years in the future.(56M) He's got a cybernetic left eye and has a whole wasteland survivor look going, leather and studs and a big knife on his belt.

And the other thing is that he looks uncannily like my father. You know, apart from the cybernetic eye. Which is creepy in and of itself, but also I've never known a thing about my dad's family and he left me and mom when I was eight and I haven't seen him since, so there's this outside chance that there's some kind of really messed up Heinlein thing going on.

So anyway it's like two weeks from the day that I'm supposed to get in the time machine and set it for three years ago and start the whole thing over again from the other side, but I don't think I want to. The physics I know aren't completely clear, but I'd say there's at least a seventy percent chance of the entire time-space continuum collapsing in on itself if I don't though. What should I do?

Tl;dr: AITA or am I the rear end in a top hat?

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, random article please

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
The Revolution Will Be Gamified

1032 words

So there I was out on patrol, you know, wandering around checking my screen, looking through the PraxAR filter. My score that month wasn't so hot, got to say. I was trying to make up time, looking for some fool who needed correction. It was a crowded morning. The readout told me that two other players were close by, a Nixon with a number I didn't recognize and a Santa who I'd raided with before. Then a blip came up, a visual hit on the Santa's screen. Bigger and redder than any I'd seen before.

I didn't exactly recognize the face, but I knew the type, the kind of sneering face that knows it's immune to consequences. A cop face. And the dossier that came up with it marked him as a bastard among bastards. Arthur Hollis. He was famous for a while, a few years back, for shooting an innocent man in the back. It wasn't the first time, either. He got out of that one with no charges, banked his pension and wound up on the force here. Off duty and alone right then.

The raid invitation flashed. Maximum risk short of impossible. Weapon choice full open. The motto filled the bottom half of the screen: "One establishes a deterrent by credibly threatening to impose an unbearable cost." I hadn't seen those levels before. The rep reward was also off the chart. The invite had come from the Nixon. The Santa joined after less than a second. I touched 'yes.' The screen gave me three choices of dead spots where no working cameras watched. I walked to the nearest one and geared up. Mask on: I'm a Marilyn. Slipped on the plaid poncho that makes most of the expert systems watching surveillance footage cry for mercy. Started stepping to the non-distinguishable gait. The game has trained us all in tradecraft. The system started making us deepfake alibi videos.

We reached him together, from different angles. He's got good situational awareness,angles himself to keep his back away. We closed in.

Most people in the game don't have much else going on in our lives. Redundant parts in the great machine. No great tragedy if we end up sacrificed pawns, captured or killed. Every time we go on a mission, tag a wall or give some enemy a milkshake or fist in the kisser, there's a chance of jail, of getting 'killed resisting arrest'. There's no such thing as a zero-risk node. You come to terms early on or you stop playing.

"God drat it," he muttered. "You guys don't know what you're messing with." He went for his gun. He was too late. The Nixon had a knife, clean white porcelain blade. He shoved it into the cop's stomach. He went down. The Nixon stomped his hand, kicked the gun away.

The Santa pulled the knife out. Blood burped out the wound. She put it back in, somewhere in his left lung. It was my turn. The cops eyes were wild, full of fear and rage and blood. I pulled out the knife. The tip broke off. No good for punctures any more,so I slashed his throat.

The Nixon was primary, so he got the riskiest bit after. The knife, the gun, and some bloody rags, all went into a duffel. He'd take it to the nearest train, leave it under a seat for another player to pick up. A chain of newbies getting easy rep carrying it from drop to drop. Someone with a specialty would get to work constructing a nice little story that didn't involve any real players, not of this game. The Santa and me had it simpler, go to another dead spot on the map and put poncho and mask in a sack with a vial of acid, then put it all in the trash. Get rid of most of the other clothes later.

I always thought killing someone would affect me more. Maybe it would have for less of a monster. Maybe it would have outside of the game. I didn't have much guilt. Just dread. There'd always been that worry, in the back of my head, that there were informers inside the game, that the crypto wasn't what it claimed, that the ones who ran the server had CIA ties and we're just stringing us along. But nothing happened. I think that's what changed the game more: not the fact of first blood, but the proof that the system worked.

Me and the Nixon and the Santa shot right to the top of the rep leaderboards for a while. Then others pulled off open weapon raids of top value targets, knocked us back down a few ranks.

The game has changed a lot since then. Biggest change is that there's more than one game. Maybe there always was, but the other groups are catching up. Targeting based on disinformation, targeting innocent people. So now you're more and more likely to pick up a damned escort mission. Usually easy rep for a boring afternoon, but sometimes you fall into a full-on pvp zone and hope the weapons you've crafted on the printer back home are up to the job.

Santa-6553 says it's not going to last this way for long. We're kind of a thing now, under the rules. Masks on, no names. "Good thing, too," she said, at the beginning. "I'm hideously ugly under this."

"Me too," I said, smiling under the rubber face of bored, flirty Norma Jean.

She says it's got to come to a head soon. Endgame raids and melees, two hundred vs two hundred or more with new best in slot weapons and vehicles.

"And after that?" I asked.

"Well, first off we'll most likely be dead," she said. I didn't disagree. The only respawn is the next person willing to take a stand. "But after that I figure we'll need a new game."

I get her point. Policing just can't work any more. Even if it didn't make people into monsters, the games made tools that beat it every time. The world is going to need a whole new system.

I wonder if it'll be any fun 

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

sebmojo posted:

Ridiculously, absurdly in

This but moreso.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Errors of Fact and Serious Omissions in Jonathan Rahm's Opening the Vein: a History

970 words

When the bomb attached to the black car exploded, David Dance did not die.

The Mancor Spill was not the first coal mine established in Volt County.

Sarah Bight was not, as depicted, a fool talked into selling her land for a pittance. Chet Lewiston brought four armed men to the 'negotiations' and made barely-veiled threats concerning her son.

The Pinkerton force that broke the first strike numbered forty-two, more than twice the number Rahm cites.

Whatever fate befell Clarissa Ann Baker, it was not a pack of coyotes: such animals did not arrive in Volt County for more than decades later.

The first strike was not a reaction to the accurately-depicted mishandling of the collapse of the south tunnel: that event happened six weeks after the miners had returned to work and did not result in any immediate industrial action.

While I do not have certain knowledge that he was murdered and the remains destroyed or hidden, Foreman Cox would never have left town while his parents and sister were alive.

David Dance was considerably older than depicted and had considerable previous experience digging coal.

Chet was the only of the Lewiston brothers present at the D'zul Blood Ritual. Wesley considered himself a good Baptist and Niles busied himself nightly with more traditional vices. Portia Lewiston, absent entirely from the text, was not only present but an active officiant.

The D'zul Blood Ritual did not fail.

It was not accident or chance that the wedding of Eliza Manning to Jack Tyson was scheduled on the same afternoon as the funeral of Carter Wills Sr. Rather, this was the latest in a series of offenses between feuding families dating back to the early nineteenth century, beginning with the killing of a beloved pet dog of one family outside a henhouse belonging to the other. Pastor Casternik did not flip a coin to decide which to officiate personally. Having first agreed to the wedding, he deliberately chose to attend the funeral instead, sending Deacon Grice to officiate the wedding.

Deacon Grice also officiated the other ceremony, alongside Portia Lewiston, binding Jack Tyson to the service of D'zul.

The second strike was indeed organized by David Dance, but Rahm neglects to mention the dozen other hardened picket-line brawlers that had, under IWW organization, joined the workforce at the Mancor Spill.

Rahm understates the brutality of Captain Lee Cable's military record in the Civil and Indian Wars, possibly in the interest of believability or out of fear of lawsuits from Cable's heirs.

The character of Sergeant Gregor Vance is entirely invented. Though there were several Blood Cultists embedded within the Tennessee National Guard at the time none of them were in the office of the Quartermaster. Rahm is likely concealing his own identity or that of a primary source. While he gets much wrong, he has an understanding of the central events beyond what simple scholarship could easily unveil.

The pentagram and sigil that was drawn into the ground where the clashes began was made from coarse-powdered salt and chalk, not flour and coal dust.

The Lewistons were unable to procure actual scab miners capable of doing real work had they crossed the line. The men in question were essentially actors, mostly relatives of local police officers.

When it was activated by blood, the sigil did not actually burst into flame. Rather, the salt reached near-molten levels of temperature and set nearby grass and clothing and other flammables alight where such were present.

The thing buried deep within the Mancor Spill was not D'zul himself or an avatar of D'zul. This can be verified by the lack of a Great Lake-sized crater in North Central Tennessee.

The Blood Cultists did not go to their deaths happily as willing sacrifices. All turned and ran, and many escaped.

David Dance was blinded as well as being and badly burnt by the flash from the molten salt. He did not knowingly enter the unmarked car, but believed he was boarding an ambulance.

There was a second passenger in the car, Derek Baker, whose remains were eventually mistaken for David's. Derek had an urgent piece of news for David, but was unable to deliver it.

What Rahm calls the third strike was not so much of a strike as a simple refusal to work so long as the beast inhabited the deep tunnels of the mines. The miners were joined in this by the overseers and security staff. There were no picket lines to cross. When the Lewistons brought in scab workers recruited from Central European refugees, they too refused to enter the mines after the first few incidents.

Rahm is far too credulous of the autopsy report that declared the death of Silas Lewiston to have been from natural causes. The coroner retired suspiciously early and well.

The omission of Portia Lewiston from the narrative becomes even more glaring during the reading of the will. It was to her, not to some undefined charity, that the bulk of the fortune was intended to go, her rather than those generalized causes that the brothers and their lawyers proceeded to rob.

In addition to sealing off the entrances and deliberated flooding Mancor Spill, Chet and Niles independently sought out additional protection, paying two priests and one self-described sorcerer to supernaturally seal the mines 

The Lewistons tried more just the one time described in the final chapters to tap the same coal vein. Most of these attempts were just as disastrous. The last accidentally uncovered a separate rich deposit of Bauxite that enabled the family to recover their fortunes.

David Dance, by then wearing a different face, eventually tracked down Portia Grice (nee Lewiston) attempting a Blood Ritual in Calais during the fall of France and put a stop to it before any local sleeping monsters could be awakened.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In and fact me.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Your dragon is made of fire and breathes blood and bile.

Shall We Slay Dragons Together?

1500 words

The ghost dragon flew low through the Singapore streets, three stories above the pavement. Its body of purple flame reflected on and gently melted the glass building fronts into permanent waves: from above, drone's-eye there were three translucent dragons, the center unchanging as the two flanking it warped and distorted. The oldest neon fixtures burst. The dragon dove nearly to the road, igniting the alcohol puddles on the sidewalk, then turned upward, spiraling around the Kemhatsu building. As it reared, hovered, flame-wings slowly rising and falling, it turned to the cameras and spat acidic blood into them. The signals turned to static, one by one.

"You understand why we've contacted you," said the man in the white suit.

"Not sure," I said. "Looks like you need a ghostbreaker instead."

His thin lips bend into a smile. "The ghostbreaker said we needed a dragonslayer. We can afford to hire both."

I didn't like it. I worked alone.

She stepped into the room, tall red hat first. I knew the hat, knew the face beneath it. Both belonged to Fiona. "Hey Alex," she said. "It's been a minute or two." Five years.

"Is Claire, ah," I asked.

"Not right now," she said.

The suit continued. "The Kemhatsu datacenter. Probably five billion dollars in encrypted data: wallet keys and unique unlocks for datastores. About that much in raw transaction data found nowhere else in the world. And now it's a pile of rust and silicon slag."

"So that's how a ghost dragon builds a hoard." I said.

"Indeed," he said. "My client operates a similar facility. The location is secret, but it is a matter of time before this beast will sniff it out."

"Is this a defense job?" asked Fiona, frowning.

"No. Corporate oracles have identified the ghost dragon's lair." The screen went live again, now with a map and coordinates and old satellite footage. An island offshore, a flyspeck piece of rock. Recent drone footage showed a new cavern formed out of freshly melted rock.

The contract arrived on my tablet. I pressed my thumbprint on it to sign acceptance. Good money, like we got in the old days.


"Black Dragon," said Claire. "Nasty on it's own, and this one has a rider." She slide a photo into the screen. "Ivan Veskin. Ex-FSB. Suspect in a dozen assassinations across Europe."

"An old friend?" I asked. Claire came from a similar background. Her passport was under Klara Bocharoc.

"We met," said Claire, her hand moving absently to her neck.

"What's my angle on this one?" asked Fiona.

"Prevention," said Claire. "Client's paying extra to make sure he doesn't haunt him. Or maybe just to make sure his secrets stay in the grave. Either way you make sure he goes through the gate."

This was five years earlier, when the mystical arts were still esoteric, when we could work five days a year and live like middle managers on holiday the rest. Before Stanford and Duke started graduation classes full of Thaumatology and Necromancy degrees. The same kind of deal as this one, nasty dragon on a little sea rock. We got there while they were away and set up a sniper's nest observing the entrance.

Way it was supposed to go was that Claire took care of killing humans and I handled the dragons. I thought I had a line, even though a lot of dragons are as smart as any human, talkative as hell when they're not trying to burn down a city block. That's how it was supposed to go, had always gone before.

Claire's shot hit low, hit the dragon in the neck. If I'd enchanted the shells it would have been over right then. As it was the beast was hurt, enraged, needed to reach ground. Claire fired again, without time to aim. Missed by meters. Ivan had a pistol and started shooting bacj. I raised a runic shield. It stopped the bullets, but he was prepared, used trick shells. The bullets exploded on the shield in a blast of blinding light and heat.


I was on my back. My face hurt, felt liquid. Purple spots filled more of my field of view than the world. I heard the roar. I pulled myself to my feet and reached for my bow. Broken. The sword was sturdier, I drew it instead.

The dragon had a gap where its left eye should be. Another good shot from Claire. It wouldn't be hard to finish. It was out of the fight. Not so much for Ivan.

I started charging just as he took the shot, and most of Claire wasn't there any more. My ears rang and fell silent. Ivan turned the pistol on me, and nothing happened. Jammed? Or just out of ammunition? Either way, I closed the distance.

An enchanted titanium steel blade with a synthetic diamond edge will cleave dragonhide like paper. It did much the same to leather, flesh, and bone.


Two doors. Two ghosts, fresh out their bodies, confused. One was white, the door to peace Claire had earned. The other was red, and went to a different place. Fiona had done the spell, rendered them visible.

But Ivan was faster, walking and then running for the white door while Claire just looked at me and what was left of her body.

Ivan's shade touched the white door and vanished, the door closing with it. The red door gaped wider and Claire drifted toward it, a silent scream on her face.

Fiona snapped her fingers and white necromantic threads bloomed. She pulled back her hand and the red door slammed shut, vanished into the ground.


We crept into the new shaft. I had my equipment ready. I still used the bow. You can't get complicated enchantments to survive the inside of a gun. Fiona shared her sight with me, and I could see the parts of the dragon's growing hoard of spectral servers and digital wealth, numbers and NFTs rendered in ectoplasm.

I could see its purple flame head. I drew back full and loosed the arrow. It went right through the ghost dragon. The shaft caught fire and burned. The enchanted head clattered onto the stone floor. The air was uncomfortably hot.

Fiona's turn. She chanted a rite of sending, of exorcism. The white threads appeared, weaving a pentagram.

The dragon spat blood and bile at it. It unravelled and Fiona dove away to safety.

That's when I saw Claire, floating into the range of Fiona's sight. She stood up before the dragon. It saw her, too. It breathed acid blood, which passed through Claire.

She needed a weapon. I had weapons to spare. I heaved my bow and quiver in their direction. The heat caught wood and cloth and string afire, and the ghost of the bow fell before Claire. She picked it up,scrambled for a spectral arrow, and drew.

The dragon charged. Claire loosed and the arrow struck, lodging into a flaming claw. The other front claw swiped and tossed Claire's ghostly form across the room, into the stone walls. She slumped against the rock, hand and back of head passing a few centimeters through. The ghost bow was still in the middle of the chamber. The dragon moved toward her, dragging the left claw.

Ghosts can kill each other, send each other to the place of pain. Fiona explained it to me, when we were on the team. Every ghostly weapon is a red door. I could see the red at the back of the ghost dragon's purple flaming mouth.

I stepped forward, flinching, feeling sunburn from the purple flames. I drew another weapon. The sword might take too long to melt, too long to join the hoard. The poles, then, copper-clad escrima sticks charmed for damage. I stepped forward again and gritted my teeth as my flesh burned away. I saw Fiona, near tears as she worked her threads to make sure I did not leave this world with my body.

I was ready for death, for existence as a ghost. I hit the ground running, scooping up the sticks and climbing the dragon's back, the purple flame now solid as rock, maybe more so. I struck blows where I knew there would be nerves and organs as I ran to the head, as I bashed ear and eye with ghost copper and wood. It threw me off and turned away from Claire. I landed, just a few steps from where the arrows had spilled into the rock. I rolled toward them, grabbing a few in each hand, and when it lunged to bite me I slammed the points of a half dozen arrows through its skull.

It's not so bad, being a ghost. Better than the alternative. Necromancy can only open red doors, only send to the place of pain. Reaching the place of peace takes work, at least if you won't steal some other poor soul's white door. Claire and I are doing the work together, for now.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In I'm.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Stealing a Moment

1310 words

The crux two: St. James Hospital, intensive care wing. A place of concentrated, palpable discomfort. An argument on the other side of a privacy curtain between a stranger's family and doctors as she lies, quaking and he stands, unable to think of anything to say. Wall clocks from when this place was first built tick out seconds one by one, out of sync. He can't stay much longer. He won't be coming back again. He starts to say something, but the words die in his lungs before can even say Annie's name. He leaves.

The confluence: Jonah, a scientist with a breathtaking new theory of time, denied funding by the university, denied clearance on the vortex kayaks. Lisa, an uncommonly talented thief, rescued from jail before her fingerprints could be traced to a truer name. Maynard,six foot five of intimidation and muscle. A team of strangers, with only a benefactor in common.

History one: A shouting match upstairs while Annie pretends to sleep. They've had this fight before. They won't have it again. His bags are packed. He tells her so. She begs him to stay, for Annie's sake. As he walks to the front door he passes Annie's room. Later, he convinced himself that the noises he heard were snores rather than stifled sobs, but that's not the way to change history.

Theory one: Time travel is possible. But changes should not be. Before Jonah, there were two schools. The first held that change is impossible, that time will always correct itself. The second theory was that change was catastrophic, and that any timeline where it happened destroyed itself. It was used, only for research, taking only memories, leaving less than fingerprints. Solving old mysteries. Before Jonah.

Praxis one: Stealing a vortex kayak is impractical. Stealing the guts of one, though, is much more reasonable a task. Lisa, in the temporal research department after dark, with Jonah connected online to help her pass for a scientist, and meanwhile distracting the research assistants still on-site this late with trollish technical debates. The hull will be easy to fabricate. Maynard has tools to work the steel and advanced ceramics.

Praxis two: Lisa, about to pass through the detector arches with a briefcase full of stolen circuits. They shouldn't be an issue. They're stuffed into the shell of an old laptop, shouldn't look like anything out of the ordinary. Except that the security guard asks her to turn it on, after she's passed, after it's been through the scanner. Not standard protocol here, but she can't refuse or comply safely. Complying buys a little time. She slowly unzips the briefcase, pulls the laptop-shaped box out. There's quick foam inside at least. Nothing rattles. She's off comms. No help coming from Jonah now. Jonah in the past is another matter. She touches the power button. The screen comes up blue, a warning of low battery power. Good contingency planning can feel like time travel when it works. Lucky thing they didn't asked her to plug it in, wait for a full boot.

History two: He's been nothing put a recurring bank transfer to Annie for years when the call comes, panicked voice relating the ruin of a life, of substance abuse and deep despair, he feels walls closing in. He places bail. He tries to get involved. It ends with a stolen large screen television and a fully-paid high end rehab clinic that she skips out on after three days.

Theory two: Changes are not only possible but profitable. Small changes. Subtle changes that do not need effects. Jonah's new theory: with the right equipment a time traveller can sever a small piece of space-time from history, can make a copy, change it, and substitute it. The original moment can be brought back, made a source of tremendous energy. A rival to an atom bomb, released all at once. Released at a trickle, power too cheap to meter.

Revelation: He is wealthy, fit, healthy, respected. He could live any life he wants. He is consumed by regret. When this is over he would just as soon detonate the moment in the Pacific as exploit it. This is too important to leave to others. He assembles the team, joins it as though he were another piece of hired help. Maynard was his middle name. It will do.

Praxis three: The energy requirements to open a vortex are immense, too great even for a wealthy man to buy anonymously. They will need to steal it. A shuttered soda factory cannot keep a determined Lisa out. All the services are connected, data, water, power. Shut down, but still ready to be activated. Jonah sets up the computers, sends proxied orders to rented Icelandic botnets. The power flickers on. The water as well, beginning to fill the tank. Data begins to flow as well, historical high-chaos data that will let him monitor changes to the timeline, ensure that they aren't large enough to disrupt the vortex and strand the travellers. The vortex kayak is a tight fit for Lisa and Maynard. It slowly orbits near the edge of the tank as the vortex builds.

Revolution: Water molecules enter a state of temporal excitement, of being at once now and then. Orange energy flares out of the ripples. A whirlpool forms, imposed with another cyclone of air-ripping crackles. The kayak, a sealed tube of metal, turns inward, downward, and backward. 

The crux one: Lisa and Maynard emerge in the supply closed, impeccably uniformed, with the resonance antennae they need. They set one up there, then walk confidently to the other rooms next the half-empty room. A pole, about the height of a man, with a silver bulb at the top, with the hospital logo and electrical hazard symbols. Maynard watches the doctors bring her in, covered in bruises and surgical stitches. One assesses the internal damage, which is massive and unlikely to allow recovery. Another attaches a morphine drip with a dose that does nothing for her. Maynard fights back rage, bites his lip. He won't be arriving for two more hours.

The crux two, redux: Lisa, back in the supply closet, presses the buttons to activate the resonance just as Maynard signals her, just as Maynard-original walks into the room. They turn it off just after he leaves. They slip backward, unpleasantly through a new vortex to a few minutes before, together among the scrubs and masks. There is no time. The west wall of the closet vanishes into a grey void that bothers their eyes. They have two sapphire crystals of time now. Maynard touches the new one and vanishes for an unmeasurable instant in the timeless now. He returns holding it, and reaches out with it toward the empty grey. It snaps into place and the ticking of the old clocks resumes around them.

Resolution: Escape is smooth, with the stolen moment safely packed away in ample padding. There is a car a few blocks away. The authorities have gotten noise complaints from nearby blocks. The utilities have a few employees aware of the hacks, but nothing will be done about it until morning, by which time Lisa will have gotten her payment and Jacob his crystal of compressed time. Maynard is content to be a silent partner, ongoing, to do nothing but cash the checks.

Erattum: History is rewritten. St. James Hospital, intensive care wing. A place of concentrated, palpable discomfort. An argument on the other side of a privacy curtain between a stranger's family and doctors as she lies, quaking and he stands, knowing what he had to say. Wall clocks from when this place was first built tick out seconds one by one, out of sync. He can't stay much longer. He won't be coming back again. "Annie," he says. "I'm so sorry." He stays until the vortex pulls him away.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
I'm walkin here

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
3 miles each Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Most interesting thing I saw was there trucks turning onto a railroad track at a crossing. They each had extra wheels for to the rails.

The Facility

678 words

"You simply must see my collection," said the Duchess. It was our third date, oysters over linguini by candlelight. She reached over and touched my hand. I felt the thin white leather and the warm pulse beneath.

"That," I said, "Would be nice."

"Tomorrow, seven PM sharp," she said. "I'll tell the gate to expect you." She turned my hand face up and put a black business card with silver embossed lettering in it. "And Gabriella? Pack an overnight bag."


The gates were impressively gothic, twisted wrought-iron across a modern road deep in the central Florida swamps. It was a land beyond gps and cellular coverage, down private roads unmarked on most commercial maps. She was there to meet me. I parked my car and loaded my bag into the back of her vehicle, a three-wheeled large electric golf cart kind of thing.

"What have you heard about my collection?" asked the Duchess.

"Not much," I admitted. "Just that it puts all others to shame."

"There are no others," she said. The driver started the vehicle driving down a long causeway. "Oh, other people collect. But there's none comparable to mine. What I collect is rarer and more unique than any orchid, wilder and more dangerous than any tiger."

"You aren't going to say 'man', are you?" I said.

She smiled, the most natural emotion I'd ever seen from her so far. "Not just 'man'." The complex rose before us on the horizon, a massive island fortress in the swamp. Loud alarms sounded and the gates opened to let us in to the Collection, half village and half prison. The Duchess raised her arms in presentation. "I collect humanity at its most charmingly absurd. From the hapless criminal bumbler to the bath-salted lunatics that hunger for flesh. Not just 'man'. 'Florida Man'"

I never used to think I'd make much of an actress. But over the past two weeks I'd pulled it off completely, making the Duchess completely convinced that I was the kind of person who would be turned on by this. I looked at her hungrily.

The Duchess was damned hot, absolutely loaded, and a terrible human being. So two full points out of three, which put her way ahead of anyone else I've dated recently. Except also she snored, like, chainsaw doing its business kind of snoring. That's worth half a point by itself. It was handy, though. Let me know I hadn't woken her up getting out of bed.

This little love nest overlooked the Collection, about thirty feet high. It had glass windows and a balcony. The floodlights never swept directly at it but they gave a variable ambient light as they crossed nearer and farther from it. I walked over to my bag and reached under the clothes for my tools. A long knotted rope would get me down into the central yard. I had lockpicking tools that would get me through most of what they were likely to have down there. A mini EMP device to scramble trackers. C4 and a fistful of detonators. And a twenty-two caliber pistol, you know, just in case.

My little brother is down there, somewhere. Six months back he got picked up after dragging an ATM behind a Dodge Caravan, both stolen, halfway across town until the chain got wrapped around a concrete bridge support. He got lost in the private prison limbo soon after, but I finally tracked him down, learned about the Duchess.

I climbed down the rope, knot by knot, trying not to look down. I saw him, on that drive-through tour. He was bright enough not to let on, not to show any sign of recognition but a second, just in his eyes.

I'm going to find him, add my tools to whatever scheme he's already cooking up. Maybe we storm the gates. Maybe we take the Duchess hostage and drive right out. One way or another, we're going to teach that stuck-up yankee snake a thing or two about why you shouldn't mess about with Florida men, or Florida women.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.


Thranguy fucked around with this message at 17:36 on Apr 21, 2021

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

772 words

Trigger warnings obscured Caleb's sensorium. Whatever was happening between Dale and Coel in the kitchen was pretty bad. Caleb didn't unlock any of the inputs. Their trauma did not obligate him to self-harm, and besides, the system was watching. Nothing really bad could happen with every eye watching.

Coel came through the door, sort of staggering. Heavily edited by Caleb's eyewear, her arms were a blur and her eyes wore a black obscuring bar. "Please," she said, voice autotuned and layered with electronica. "Where are my, my, my"

Caleb gestured at air, interacting with the warnings his implants were raising. Up to level zero, displaying the specific blocked subjects in friendly white text. Level zero abstractions. The boxes and bars now each read 'violence', 'physical violence' where there was sufficient room. Caleb shivered.

There was an animal roar from the kitchen, a lion in rage and pain. A string of words followed, raw swears that passed through Caleb's filters, other words that were turned into fire-alarm bleeps.

Another voice spoke more gently into Caleb's ear, one engineered to calm and steady. "Filter override recommended," It said. "Physical safety requires full situational awareness. Please authorize."

"No," subvocalized Caleb. His heartrate was already well above healthy. He stood up. His legs still worked. He was still in the apartment, not back in that basement, unable to even twitch. He headed for the door.


Coel felt the pain, felt the sting in her eyeballs. She had neural blocks on, of course. Between migraines and endo, she would have spent half her days in barely bearable pain without them. The readout in her visual field was maxed out. It was bad.

She couldn't understand. Caleb was useless, backing for the door. Was someone coming? She had to see what had happened. She had to find a mirror.

She touched her face. It felt wet. She bolted for the bathroom. Something wasn't quite right with her balance. She kept leaning, to one side and then the other, trying to correct. She found the door. The bathroom was pitch dark inside. She touched the wall switch. Nothing happened.


Dale was wounded, bellowing in pain. The statue. It had a sword, a curved sword, a scimitar, and it went right into his gut. He had come prepared, but the healing potions weren't working. That was wrong. He was thinking about filing a report. He had tried the supreme potion even, more gold than he could afford to waste.

Still, he had the prize. He had the diamonds, right in front of him. Maybe it was this place. He'd never heard of an anti-magic zone strong enough to cancel potions, but maybe. He'd lose the loot if he had to respawn. He grabbed the diamonds and started to crawl for the door.

Strange. They didn't feel hard like diamonds should. More like overripe fruit. Another glitch to report.


Caleb heard sirens, distant, from different directions, heading different directions. He hesitated, hand on the doorknob.

"Attention," said the voice of the net, "Danger has passed."

Caleb turned his head, and as he did all of his warnings and blocks faded out, showing him uncensored reality for the second it took to slam his eyes shut. After a minute the apartment smartnet tried to reconstruct his field of view from the cameras throughout the room, and he had to shut that down as well.

He wasn't getting heartrate updates. He could feel it in his neck, though. Too high. Blood. In that instant he saw blood, on the floor, dripping down Coel's gory sockets reflected in the bathroom mirror. He heard Dale muttering swears and slurs at game designers, still heard the words.

He felt himself fading from here, into the basement. Seeing those walls, his father and brother. And blood. He knew it was in his head, in his real memory. There had been no cameras there, he had never told the details to anyone, not even his therapist. And the other two were dead now.

His father. The knife. His brother. Blood. That second. The adrenaline flowing. His heart feeling the strain. The urge to run. The other urge, stronger. The knife, in his hands.

His eyes blinked open against his will. His roommates were moaning, bleeding, but mostly at rest. Nothing to fight. Nowhere to run. No need to freeze, any more. He had his time triggered cost too much? He had to hope not. He moved, disgusted and distressed, across the room, to the panic button. So many systems down. Someone promised help eventually. He tied bandages around the wounds and waited to see if it ever would.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

1256 words

I got the call at two in the morning,which meant my manager had her phone ring sometime around one thirty. I flipped open my laptop to read along as she went over the customer report.

"Drake is singing karaoke in an airport bar in Cincinnati," she said. That's what the ticket said, too. Drake Fowler. Our CEO. Belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart according to the last update.

I struggled to find words. A few minutes ago I had been dreaming about swimming in the Olympic games against Henry Kissinger, and part of my head was still processing that. "That doesn't seem like a software problem to me."

"I just got off the phone with Drake," said Kim. "He's at home, in Boston. Also. Take a close look at the attachment."

I let it load. A video clip, timestamped a few minutes ago. It looked just like him, dancing up on the tables. He was wearing a Reds cap, and every minute or so he'd turn his head and give a little thumbs up. Just like in that picture we used for the celebration token. We're not a cryptocurrency company, but Drake is a bit of an enthusiast, and a lot of our code is crypto-adjacent, fast math and fast compression, that sort of thing. So we've started making NFTs to give to customer executives based on Drake's selfies.

"Oh. Oh. You think 14860 is back?"

"It's looking like it."

We don't have a wizard on staff. There's a guy who used to come in as a consultant to help with that kind of thing, but he retired a few years ago and we haven't needed a new one yet. I'm the person who worked with him most often, which makes me the current holder of our institutional knowledge concerning magic, and how to avoid it. Which is honestly tough at the bleeding edge. Sufficiently arcane calculations are indistinguishable from a spell, both from the side of code review and the side of the vaguely sentient forces of nature that power spells. That's where issue 14860 can come up. You have an image with resolution beyond what the human eye can discern, folded into a fraction of the space it should occupy, encrypted and occulted with a unique key, which is to say a true name, and then assigned value by the act of a market transfer. The fact that the whole process is wasting, which is to say, sacrificing obscene amounts of energy doesn't hurt either. At the end you've created a copy of a person, something that can become almost real if a spirit should happen to walk in: a non-fungible tulpa.

It happened once before. The changes we made in the code was supposed to stop it from happening again.

"Can we use the same work-around?" I asked.

"Maybe. It depends on the customer CEO. Do you know anything about Edgar Fykes?"

I did. Ambitious. Clever like a straightrazor. He was in upper level management of the company I was with two jobs ago. If he hadn't already put it together he would in the time it would take someone to fly out to Ohio. I told Kim.

"I'll set up a meeting," she said. "Early next week. Meanwhile, let's try to reproduce it in the lab."

I didn't like waiting that long, but there was a good chance we would need to know more about the issue to resolve it. The Drake tulpa was probably harmless. It wouldn't have fingerprints at all, most likely, wouldn't know any passwords. Most likely couldn't write at all, much less forge the real one's signature. A tiny fraction of walk-ins become compulsive murderers, but if this was one of those we'd already know by now. Probably.

I was in the lab the next morning with a plan and access to a company credit card and set about the process of making a few tuplas. I had a portable BBC- that's bell, book, and candle, rigged up by the magic guys.  Sort of ridiculous looking but it worked. Flick on the lighter, give it a shake, and point, and as long as you're the owner, the walk-in walks out and the tupla fades away. Started with a max-res Drake from our archive. Worked like a charm. I've got to say sending that spirit back across the Silver Barrier felt good. A few more tests clarified the circumstances. It didn't work at any resolution below our top setting. Had to be a real person. Had to be sort of a celebrity, but with a pretty low bar there, anyone with about ten thousand followers anywhere would do. Had to be alive, which had some interesting applications for detective work, I noted that down for the bug-to-feature pipeline. Legal already told us they'd never sign off on featurizing and selling tulpas. Not because it was wrong, but because you had to be a few magnitudes bigger than us to have a hope of managing the optics. But side effects may be manageable.

Had to be owned by an individual. Companies didn't do it. Had to be given from the company to the individual rather than sold. Had to be registered on an exchange, and only four of the six major ones would work.

The last day I was working with filters, trying to find a long-term workaround. Heavy filters worked, but those cut against the high resolution product itself. What I wanted was a very light filter, something working in the very lowest order bits only. And that worked badly. It would reduce the chance of a walk-in, but not completely, and it didn't stop the empty tulpa from forming in the first place. I had to slow down at the end. Limp lifeless Drakes were filling the lab, with or without a hit from the BBC, faster than they evaporated into pink flowery mist. Final note: probably need some kind of rune or sigil in that low-order filter. Task for the new magic guy.

So that left Edgar Fykes. We met for golf. He had his Drake caddy for him. I carried my own clubs. I've got the perfect level of skill for this sort of thing; I'll lose to executive types without completely embarrassing myself or trying to lose. 

"This is going to change the world, you know," he said.

"Maybe," I said.

"Oh, it will," he said. He pulled out a three wood and felt the weight in his hand. "Maybe the spies keep it to themselves for a while. Perfect deep fakes, interrogation techniques." He took his swing, a few dozen feet closer than mine had been. We started walking. Or maybe it goes wide. If your people keep it quiet, maybe that takes the twenty years until your patents expire. Or maybe one of the big players finds out and buys you out."

"Is that your play?" I asked. "Try to trade that tip for a seat on the board at-"

"Would be if I was an rear end in a top hat," he said. "If I was that kind of rear end in a top hat. Let's put tulpa world off a few decades." We both wedged our way onto the green. "Tell you what. You make that putt, I'll sell you the token for a hundred bucks. You miss and it's ten thousand."

It was a long one, but I'd made longer, and both numbers were under the highest I could have gone without further authorization. I lined up with the flag, adjusted for the grade, and took my shot.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
In, random future.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Idiotism Crits (week 448)

Azza Bamboo, You Won't Be Alone

The opening paragraph could use some work. I've never been a fan of semicolons in narrative prose in general and I especially don't like this one. "It's as though" does nothing good here. Cut it and commit. Finally, don't paragraph break after the colon.

I know just barely enough about sonic to recognize what's going on here. You do a fairly good job with a slightly oversized cast of broadly defined characters. It's the tone that gets the story in trouble. Swerving between comic and serious moments is always high-risk, and here the story crashed into the median.

Crimea, Little Machine

Another opening paragraph that could stand to commit harder, to cut out the 'I think' and 'I'm sure's.

The scale is all wrong for slower than light travel. Andromeda is much, much farther away. And I question the mechanics of these probes expecting to stay operational in deep time scales. Still, I liked this one quite a bit. (I've written something quite similar, in fact. Hitchhiker, Week 323)

Yoruichi, My Fault

Opening in past perfect seems like a very bad idea. And you're using present for the other timeframe, so there's no reason to not just use past.

This is competent, but I keep rejecting the premise. I don't see this going to trial as a criminal matter. Without a record it would get pled out. Probably not even as a civil matter unless she was uninsured, which doesn't seem likely, and even if it did reach court the stakes would be too low to work dramatically.

Fishception, Signed On

Starts out with a strong enough voice, but the activity going on early stays a bit too vague. 

This has potential. I think it was a mistake to keep the narrator so comparatively blank, to not have him go through any changes before the very end. He needs to be more than a pair of eyes here.

I sort of feel like I need a bit more specificity about the war for the extended metaphor to really hit, too.

Baneling Butts, Transcript of...

Interesting opening.  The voice may be a bit too breezy for the subject matter though. Story logic check, I seem to be doing a lot of these. One hundred dollars isn't all that much, first. And hotels are expensive and tough to acquire on a cash only basis. One with a minivan worth raiding is never going to be obtained with a sub $100 deposit.

This one really falls apart at the end. There's an interesting thread in this story of imposter syndrome and privilege, but the downfall needed to go bigger, and probably not in the direction of gendered violence.

Antivehicular, This Will All Be Funny in Ten Years

This is a good opening with some odd tense choices, first using present tense for action clearly in the narrative past and then using past perfect rather than ordinary past for things before the scene.

Overall this is a very strong piece.  There's a sort of unresolvedness about the situation, alluded to a little by the title. (In a modern TV show that ending is something you could come back to and have long scenes hashing it all out. With the single point of view and a need to conclude within the word count it's not so easy to make Joshua not come across a bit monstrous.

Brotherly, Stone Don't Float

I like the first line a lot. Packs a lot into a few short words. You go on to name a lot of characters in a hurry in a way that feels like a distraction. But you don't name the foreign general, and that repeated phrase doesn't exactly fit in with the rest of the piece.

As a sort of fable this works well enough. I've got to think that this is a world where people know enough that any shipwright would be advising him to go bigger from the start.

Morning Bell, Dollar Fever

The opening is possible overly long. It's full of amusing detail,but it's taking a long way 'round,it feels like the story doesn't really begin until the title drop.

And at the end it's a bit rushed, I think we could use a bit more time inside that fever state, could use a more natural comeuppance than the abrupt car accident. Also could have done with another editing pass; there were more typos than in any of the other stories so far.

Sitting Here, Saint Anybat

A very strong opener, although I'd say the first sentence went one phrase over the line.

This is another piece with mismatching tone; there's a lightness, a humor that isn't entirely of the gallows that jangles oddly with the unrelenting bleakness, that feels somehow more true than the nihilism it contrasts against.

Simply Simon,Sigfried of the Schoolyard

The opening is a little confusing but generally effective. And the rest of the story is competently told. It's held back a bit by being a bit too predictable, by having most of the characters wind up being one-dimensional. If other stories suffered from having elements that didn't quite fit, this one suffers from being a bit too consistent, not allowing anything to happen that isn't in straight-line service of the morality play.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
The First Four Frontiers

1. The Obelisk

2144 CE, Mars

It was deep in the chill Martian night that the excavation team dug out the top portion of the Olympic Obelisk. Even in mere starlight something crackled along the etchings in its surface.

Mark Rodney, the American, was the loud voice of caution. "We should bury it, at least until we know what's causing that. The imaging we've gotten today will keep us busy for weeks, and by then we'll have a better idea if it's safe to proceed."

It was not a popular view. The Brazilian, Erica Lais spoke for the majority. "This is the greatest moment in human history, our first interaction with technology not our own. We do not shirk from danger."

There was argument deep into the night, even with some input from the World Climate Council through laser transmission. Erica's side prevailed. The excavation continued, with Martian dirt shoveled out around the Obelisk and brushed away from its dark crystalline surface with gentle puffs of pressurized nitrogen gas.

At dawn, when the first rays of the sun lit the Obelisk, the electrical sparking ceased and the entire thing started to glow from within. It shook, repelling the packed Martian dust from it, forming a hole around the portion that had still been buried. All of this was captured on a dozen camera streams, transmitted to the Phobos relay and on to Earth, an image every five seconds from each angle, all while the scientists watched and narrated for their own records.

At 7:33 Greenwich Mean Time, the Obelisk discharged its stored energy. Approximately one percent of that energy spread laterally, superheating the thin Martian air and creating an explosive shockwave that instantly vaporized Xenology Camp One and all within. The majority of the energy formed a tight beam that raced toward the sun. When it arrived, it was answered with seven outward beams of energy, each burning on for about a minute, each headed toward a point orbiting one of the major planets. And as the beams arrived, they opened wormholes, tears in space-time putting vastly distant places into artificial proximity. Seven new frontiers had opened in the near and far sky.

2. At Home Among the Dead

2150 CE, Earth->Acheron Alpha

Footfalls seemed louder on Acheron to Doctor Nyala Kolfe than they ever had on Earth. Perhaps it was just the silence of a world nearly devoid of life. Or perhaps they had built the floors here that way, back when the mummified alien remains that filled the lab had been alive. Either way, she heard them long before she could see anyone coming, and recognized Director Eli Blanc's distinctive gait as well. "Director," she said without looking up as he entered the room.

"Doctor," he said, nodding.

"What brings you to these tombs?" she said.

"The future," he said.

"You have the wrong person, then. Here we have the past, as you can see." She gestured toward the remains, preserved by the absence of decay or predators. The great shelled ones that appeared to be the majority, the shorter ones with wiry fur, the tall and crystal-studded ones, the single exception to bipedalism, the ones with the single stalk and mass of tiny tentacle-legs to provide motion.

"One in the same, for the moment," said the director. "Two things: we, you and me and the rest of the expedition, we are all going to be fantastically rich. And we will likely never set foot on Earth again."

"Never?" said Nyala.

"Perhaps if we live extremely long lives, and are still fit for acceleration at the end of them. Nobody is proposing a quarantine shorter than fifty years."

She looked down, pretending to review notes. "Then the Radical Preservationists are out of the coalition?"

"And the full charter was approved. Two charters in fact; they've approved a parallel project on Beta." Acheron Beta was the other tombworld in the system. Fewer ruined cities and less residual oxygen than the world directly below the Earthbound wormhole.

"Do you think our hosts would approve?" asked Dr. Kolfe, gesturing toward the various remains.

"If I were them I would," he said. "I'd want revenge, first."

"It might have been natural causes," she said. "Cosmic ray burst, something like that."

"It might," he said. "But given what we saw beyond the Mars hole that would be a mighty big coincidence. And nobody's been through the other gates to reclaim the world, or even, well." He looked again at the alien dead. "Do we know what they did, culturally? I'd want to be properly buried, or cremated probably."

"I'd hope I would be fine to let my body serve science," she said. "But I don't know. We haven't found recent gravesites, not so far."

"And I wouldn't want the planet to stay dead without me. If the dolphins or crows couldn't inherit I'd at least want someone living there. Someone who might meet the enemy, might get working on that revenge."

3. Big Dumb Object

2151 CE, Mars->Asgard Geostationary Orbit

The surfaces inside the Object were annoyingly nonmagnetic, which always made navigating inside it a challenge. No gravity, no magnetics, so just thrusters and inertia, and there were so many holes in the thing that there was always a danger of winding up outside and in need of rescue. Ashad carefully propelled himself into the depths.

There had been war, here. A long time ago. Violence on an unimaginable scale. The Object was the size of a small moon, hollowed out. The volume inside was huge, and subdivided into hundreds of levels. It has also been rendered uninhabitable, some weapon had cut holes through the entire thing. And it has been the luckiest of these objects. Two others were ripped to strange metallic shards,a resource to be collected and a hazard to navigation at once. The planet below had had it worse. Destroyed orbital tethers formed a belt of destruction around its equator, and deep gashes into the crust exposed magma in permanent supervolcanoes. The air was sulfurous, acidic, and hot. Asgard Beta, in a slightly closer orbit, was much the same.

Ashad swung around a corner and found himself facing a door. Still sealed shut. He consulted his map with his heads-up computer. The area behind this door could theoretically be vast. None of the probed exterior holes connected to that area.

"I've found something," he said into his radio. "I need backup, and a portable seal."

He had just enough time to get impatient before Sonia arrived with the seal. They set it up at the narrow of the hallway, about a meter in front of the new door and pressed the button. Pressurized nitrogen inflated the thick plastic bags and the seal formed a tight fit with the passage edges. Then Ashad worked the door. He knew where to find the emergency bolts that kept these doors tightly shut without power, how to reveal the manual cranks that would let them open. It was always an uncomfortable grip. The ones who built this had hands of some kind, but not that close to his. He gave a turn, then another with the crank loosened. The door hissed. He let go. The crank spun itself the rest of the way, accelerating. Ashad stepped back and gripped the side fixtures.

A blast of air, or of some gas mixture at least, shoved him rudely as the door opened. The seal flexed but held. Ashad started recording, started narrating. "Instruments are reading one point one seven atmospheres, which is consistent with our estimates of the pre-disaster baseline on Asgard Alpha. This section may have survived the attack."

"Put holes in this station and it's an attack. Put holes in the planet and you call it a disaster," said Sonia.

"Temperatures are near-freezing, and oxygen levels minimal," continued Ashad. "Inconsistent with biological survival. Mechanical remnants with independent power sources are possible but unlikely.

Sonia swung the beam of her flashlight attachment around to something she saw peripherally. "Here," she said.

The far wall of this chamber, which now seemed small and doorless. Two skeletons, implying the shape of bipeds, every bone adorned with sharp spurs, still embracing each other, leaning against the wall. And a third, huddling alone in the corner.

No great technological artifacts to study today, but the most intact remains they'd found so far. With a great deal of luck there might even be sequencable DNA inside, but even without it they'll learn plenty gross anatomy. Ashad looked at the fingerbones, the fine manipulator structural tissue, to press back the tendency to anthropomorphize. He could see those bones getting grip and leverage on those cranks easily, in his head.

4. First Contact

2154 CE, Venus->Axu Shap

"Greetings, Ambassador Thane," said the alien. They were the first spoken words exchanged between Axu and Human, after more than a year of intense communication in mathematics and a constructed common language that was only written, only text. "Welcome to our realm."

"We thank you for your hospitality," said the Ambassador. There had been pictures, of course, sent by the Axu through relays near Venus and Axu Shap. They did not do the aliens justice. They were tall, spindly things, with great heavy legs and two pairs of arms, the lower ones powerful and the upper more delicate, and a head that rested necklessly on their high chests with an arrangement of features that struck him as being somehow upside down. He supposed that he would eventually get used to it. "I'm sure that we have much to learn from each other."

"It may be so. If prices can be met." Sherill Thane thought the expression might be a smile, and stored it away for later.

"Already I'm learning. The idea of trade is not unknown to you, I see."

"How could it be?" the alien said. "It has been generations since we have encountered another species. Many generations. Well beyond memory. But we understand the need for peace, for accomodations. And we know that barter is the way to accommodate with the least amount of trust."

"I hope to establish trust," said the Ambassador. The ship was moving, accelerating just a bit more than one G. He felt heavy.

"As do I," said the alien. "But for now, fair barters are our order. We each have things that the other wants."

"And what is it that you want?"

"You get to the point, yes," said the alien. "Admirable. Passage. We want passage. Soon, in a lifetime or two, our fleet must fission and move on. We would pass through the gates in your system as the first step in a long journey."


"You are a canny negotiator, to seek information for no return. But I will answer you. Trust is important. We understand that we ask much, to put our ships, whose capabilities you cannot be certain of, so close to your home. We will need to make many gifts to earn that trust."

Ahead, on the front screen, which the alien said projected front-mounted cameras, he could start to see the ships, hundreds of them, maybe thousands, against the blue-green planet below.

"We seek the ancients," the alien said. "The gate builders. The mapmakers. And the tricksters. Each of those long past races had opportunity to hide, to block their homes off beyond closed gates. Our fleets travel until they find an unopened wormhole, then wait for it to open. Someday it will be the doorstep to the architects of the network, the ones who life-seeded the worlds."

The Ambassador stared at the fleet. Each ship had to be far larger than anything Earth had ever made. Smaller by far than the Asgard Object, but dwarfing nearly everything else. And they had the distinct appearance of being well armed. "You could just take it," he said. "Roll past any defense we offered."

"In theory," the alien said. "Perhaps. But then we would not be Axu Shap. We do not make war, not if we cannot barter or retreat."

"Do you know what happened to the other worlds we've seen?"

"Not specifically. We call it the Scourge, and know little else of it. And what we do know is not to be freely given. But on the subject of gifts. Your system was not as it should be. Some accident long ago wiped out life on the one you call Mars. You may have noticed each system should hold two worlds, seeded by the Builders or their devices. One where life can blossom to intellect, and one where it stays simple enough to be a colony in easy reach, where the Obelisk that will open the gates was buried. Fate has robbed you of a world. We do not care for planets. We have tended the one below as a garden, though. It is yours, freely given, with an ecology more healthy than any Scourge-wracked globe, perhaps even more than your recovered one. We give it freely, that you may learn our fleet is no threat, with the promise of the other in this system when we finally depart."

5. Sleight of Hand

2199 CE, Jupiter->Zerzura Beta

The Erica Lais was the first of its kind, a long-hauler, built for multi-year journeys through outer systems. The model would open the last three Solar frontiers, would double the number of secondary portals that could be explored, would allow missions deeper into the network than ever before. A wonder of scavenger materials and technology, drive schematics hard-bargained for from the Axu, and a train of potential colonists in stable biospheres. The first human ship with Axu crew, the twins Sessi and Cirri Lu. And Peter Nysky was its captain. He remembered the day they passed through the Jupiter wormhole, the cheer that went up through the entire crew.

The other side had been in the cold outer side of the Zerzura system. They had another long journey through normal space ahead of them

He remembered the day their telescopes first detected signs of intelligent life on Zerzura Beta, the spined short-legged centauroid creatures with what appeared to be pre-industrial technology. The colonists, now reduced to the crew of a potential observation post, were not as disappointed as they might have been.

And he remembered the disaster. Sessi was with the team. They were the best linguist on the ship, and Peter thought showing two species in cooperation would help smooth things over. And it seemed to be going well. They remembered being part of the Community, before the Scourge that they barely survived, as myth if not as history. It seemed to be going very well, right up until one of them pulled out a gun out of nowhere and shot Sessi right in between his upside-down eyes.

It could have been worse. It was a line actor, or so they said. The negotiations eventually continued, to Earth's advantage.

Peter remembered having to inform Cirri. He still thinks they already knew. Axu emotions are hard to read, though. Cirri insisted on an immediate cremation, and Peter agreed on the spot. He loaded the Axu into the furnace and flipped the switch.

And Peter remembered the autopsy. Just him and Doctor Ng. Cutting into Axu flesh for the first time, and what they found there. The artificiality of it all. Nothing outside that head was proper biology, none of it had any DNA at all. An artificial body. The head was real, and its DNA was different than anything else on any planet seen so far. Primal. Older.

Mostly, though, Peter remembered the syringe. A large air bubble into Doctor Ng's neck, just after the real cremation. Five years to home. He had to hope he could keep the secret, keep up his poker face for the rest of the trip, look Cirri in those damned eyes. He couldn't risk a second person knowing.

Peter watched the empty space ahead of him, imagining the purple ringed gas giant around which the wormhole home slowly orbited.

Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.
Thunderdome Week CDLVIII: Punked Out 2: Do You Feel Lucky?

This week's prompt is, again after five years or so, -punk genres. Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and so on. And not limited to ones that actually exist with enough examples to go on wikipedia, either. We may see Dreampunk, Teslapunk, Wizardpunk, or (welp) Memepunk. Or who knows what.

Here's a link to the first time we did this prompt.

Declare your genre when you post in. Here's the thing, though. Only one person gets to write in each genre, and they're first come, first serve. You can also ask me to give you a genre. I won't give out any genres until Wednesday night, so as not to step on any genres people want to claim.

Do I have to explain what -punk means? Golly, I hope not. Think alternate history, alternate technology, the future of technology, rebellion, outsiders, and/or how technology affects freedom and equality. Or just put in some strange impractical computers, zeppelins, and/or absurdly shiny fashion accessories. Good stories are more important here than genre fidelity.

No Erotica, fanfic, googledocs, poetry, etc. Political Satire, if you attempt it, should have a little depth

1984 words, for the year Neuromancer was published and the George Orwell of it all.

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Apr 21, 2010

Deceitful and black-hearted, perhaps we are. But we would never go against the Code. Well, perhaps for good reasons. But mostly never.

Staggy posted:

In, dealer's choice of punk.


flerp posted:

give me a punk :toxx:

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