Sunday, October 03, 2010

Coming soon: The battle for New York!

Thank you for voting! Check back on November 20 at the latest for my story!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

76 The Battle for New York

Coming soon!

 Thanks to Anon for this story idea:

112,000 British troops
300 Special Forces
The historic battle for New York in 1776-77
Time Travel
7 Days

I won't promise the whole story but given the research conducted by Anon, including myself among the horde, I think the problem has been thought through enough to write on it.

Who wants to read this story?

Click Like or Dislike below to vote! Do you want to read such a story?

Voting ends October 1st!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

78 Deep Space Blues

1.

There was no turning back. With plenty of time now to stare out of the small viewport in the common area into space, into nothing.  The viewport had been added after studies had shown that people fared better psychologically on long space missions when one was installed. For the same reason the cockpit had two seats even though there was ever only one pilot in there at a time. Having evidence of other human beings was as beneficial as being able to look outside, even if there was nothing out there and no one in the second seat.

Pilots would always smuggle scotch aboard even though it was against the rules. All pilots did this, even those who didn't drink, whether superstitious or otherwise, every pilot brought some good scotch and by and large, most of the bottle made the journey. That empty seat started getting called the "angel's seat" and the splash of scotch it received before departure was called the "angel's share" after the amount of scotch lost to the aging process.

Once in a long time, a pilot would come down to the common room and take a belt of scotch and stare.

There was another reason to keep scotch aboard.

2.

"How did you make it, when so many of the crew regularly go mad after coming out of their sim-fantasies?"

"I simply requested a real-time broadcast of the ship during stasis, most crew psychosis isn't permanent, you know."

Ignoring the question the interview continued."So while everyone else was living a shared hallucinatory fantasy, you were imagining yourself alone, here?"

"That's about it. On board the whole time, the simulation matched reality right down to the controls, it was an option, I chose it"

"Option?"

"The engineer assigned to my sim had time to spare, he suggested the sim controls be brought online"

"7 years, I understand the simulators were intended to solve the tedium of space travel."

"I understand some crew choose longer subjective times."

"One crew member lived a Buddhist monastery simulation for 700 years subjective, he had to get special approval for that."

"That would be Em."

"Em, yes, does he have a last name?"

"I thought that was his last name, I've shipped with him before, I don't even know why you're interviewing me, this is standard attrition. With rehabilitation, most of those space zombies will come to their senses."

3.

"You didn't hear? Dr. Fahr has succeeded in creating a stable gate to Earth, long hauling is history!"

"Just Earth? well, until there's a gate on every habitable planet in the universe I won't worry."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

79 A homework example

After the apocalypse, the last person on Earth sat alone, there was a knock at the door. The last person on Earth didn't recognize the sound for what it was, at first. Memories of knocks and open doors and other people had been so traumatic that the last person struggled to reel them back from wherever they'd been drowned.

Not without a little fear, the last person opened the door. There was someone there who looked exactly like him.

"Who are you--," he began to say, but the person in front of him copied him exactly! It looked like a man, with wrinkled but pale features, as though he had been living underground just like the last person on Earth. The last person reached out to touch the man, less and less surprised at how similar their clothing was, the man copied him exactly!

Their fingers touched, cold and smooth, the last person on Earth fell to the floor as the man did as well.

The last man on Earth slammed the door hard on the mirror. He shuddered with returning knowledge, he was a man, not a person, a man.

Without women, there was no hope for the race, without women, a man would rather die than pretend to live.

Only as a person could he endure it.

After a great, indefinite amount of time, the man forgot about the hallway closet by the stairs with the unbroken mirror hidden inside it, that rare cursed treasure in this apocalypse where nothing, not even this house he grew up in, remained whole and intact.

He forgot and became a person again.

Then one night, when the loneliness became unbearable, the last person on Earth heard a knock...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

80 My predictions for 2010 to 2100


My predictions for 2010 to 2100
Contents

This is a PEST (Political, Economic, Social & Cultural, Technological) speculative essay.
Since I've been reading a lot of science fiction lately, I decided it was time to make some predictions of my own.  Solely for my own entertainment mind you, this is not meant to be taken seriously.

Political

The European Union, as a federated superstate, will fail to recognise the opportunity represented by absorbing Turkey into the union. Turkey will turn its attention eastward to become part of what will become known as STRICT, (Super Tradezone of Russia, India, China and Turkey). The FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) will have no choice but to further integrate in order to compete with this enormous economic and political force. All countries of the world will be forced out of necessity and opportunism to join (or have ties so strong they amount to joining) one of these three economic zones. Multinational corporations and their political lobbyists will push for even greater integration even if the removal of barriers to trade in commerce, capital and human resources are disadvantageous to quality of life or the environment. For example, Australia will be one of many countries to experience ecological collapse and mass migration.
Technological leapfrogging will put nations who were previously disadvantaged and underdeveloped into a new bargaining position. Previously marginalised countries will have an opportunity to become post-industrialised without having to go through industrialisation themselves however there will be enormous costs in terms of social and economic stability. The number of failed states narco-states and lawless areas will continue to increase. The political strain will lead to armed conflict in such areas once the proliferation of small tactical nuclear weapons becomes impossible to control to say nothing of bio-weapons.
The spectre of armed conflict for natural resources will pressure developed world governments to make control of natural resources the most important aspect of foreign policy.
By the year 2100, converging government and business interests in controlling assets and the increasing pressure of having to invest trillions in several currencies (with the perpetual aim of even greater profit) will accelerate abandonment investment in physical assets in favour of abstract financial instruments whose sole purpose is to make money out of money. The wealth gap will leave most of the planet disenfranchised. Political means of controlling one's environment will no longer be practical for the average citizen. Political apathy among the electorate will continue to rise. Countries will maintain their territorial sovereignty in little but name. The successful politician will have to understand the local consequences of policies enacted by counterparts on the other side of the world. A tragedy of the commons seems inevitable.

Economic

There will be a series of financial crises which will increase in frequency and intensity. Each time there is a financial crisis, wealth in terms of capital will concentrate in the hands of fewer and fewer groups. The incentive will be towards ever greater resourcefulness on the part of the individual citizen and also increasing pressure to be aligned to an existing power group. The pace of change will be so great that efficiencies in real-time for maximum gain will be impossible. Innovation will be almost instantaneously duplicated and when improved upon, duplicated again.
Winning economic strategies will be brief, copied rapidly and fail faster than ever before. There will be increasing pressure on best-fit short-term solutions.
In terms of food consumption, wild commercial fish stocks will be completely depleted by 2050 at the latest. Strains of wheat rust which can attack genetically resistant wheat will decimate grain crops globally. The individual citizen will not have the means to afford anything other than a yeast-vat diet of homogenised nutri-paste and whatever they can grow or raise privately. Chickens will be popular urban pets. It is already clear in 2010 that the lifestyle that the world aspires to is globally untenable. The disincentive to produce offspring in a modern western democracy will lead to a population crash in the FTAA, STRICT, and the EU. Selective immigration to developed zones will pale in comparison to rampant illegal immigration to those zones.
This environmental pressure will select for the populations of these zones to be increasingly opportunistic and entrepreneurial at the level of the individual. Border security will be the largest cost of these zones. Regional development will concentrate on equalising development within existing zones while beyond the zones, feudalism is the best that can be expected. In 2010, 2 billion people subsist on less than the equivalent of two dollars (2010 value) per day. By 2100 more than half the population of the world will subsist on less than the equivalent of two dollars per day. The developed world will have a paranoid garrison mentality which will not stop the most resourceful illegal immigrants from penetrating the FTAA, STRICT and the EU.
By the 2100, most of the labour force of human beings (to notably exclude ever more sophisticated automated manufacturing robots) will work in the knowledge or services industry as contractors-for-hire. Publically available, online performance reviews of both individuals and workgroups will further entrench the conservativism this cohort of pre-post-capitalism employees knew through their parents.
The reputations of companies will be less important than the reputations of the contractors they have hired at any given time. In 2010, "You are your own brand," is a common catchphrase and employers routinely google prospective employees and view their profiles on popular social networking sites. How? They are often invited to do so by the employees themselves who recognise that having both public and private lives congruent with the espoused attitudes, values and beliefs of their prospective employers is a net asset. Those who cannot conform by their own free will may find themselves unemployable; however talented they may claim to be.
By the year 2100, individual brand management will be something that successful individual citizens have nurtured throughout their lives. When every action can directly impact one's employability, conservativism in behaviour, attitudes, and attire will be the most successful personal mode. A dismal homogeneity will be the public result.
In 2010, "your grades don't count after college," is a common catchphrase. In 2100, "You are your profile," may be just as common. If the link is not immediately apparent between these catchphrases, it should become clear in the following section on social and cultural predictions.

Social and Cultural.

The scope of this speculation does not allow the author to go much beyond events occuring outside the developed economic zones.
Within the FTA,  STRICT and the EU, the proliferation of effectively free broadband Internet access will force a meritocratic policy on both governments and businesses. In order to provide the most effective control over economic development, the educational requirements for what were traditionally referred to as careers will take 40 years in order for an individual to become qualified. The educational system within the FTA, STRICT and the EU will continue to be refined towards the goal of keeping the individual citizen in school and under-producing for as long as possible. Those who become the elite of this generation will be those who can see through the fiction of a specialist education guaranteeing meaningful challenging creative work. In 2010 the open source software revolution and it's younger sibling, the open source hardware revolution are both still in their infancy. By the year 2100 the individual citizen may be employed by hundreds of companies at once, bidding for projects and working primarily from home.
The prediction of 40 years spent in a formal educational system is conservative. Many individual citizens within the developed zones will very likely spend their entire lives in some sort of formal educational system earning little better than a living wage.
An illustrative sidebar: the open source hardware revolution implies that (with a minimum of capital and a modest amount of time and intellect) anything material  the individual citizen desires to have, the individual citizen can build for themselves (except for limited resources such as living space, while the open source revolution will provide plans for dwellings, it cannot yet supply the land). In 2010 one may see urban graffiti with marquee LED lighting and handmade Segway-style dryland surfboards for sale at "Maker Faires." By the year 2100, despite spending most of one's life in a formal educational system and living on nutri-paste, home-raised chicken eggs and home-garden subsistence produce, the individual citizen within the developed zones may easily acquire or build every technological convenience available. Consumerism as a lifestyle will mutate into Producerism, where more and more of the final added-value of transforming raw materials and finished goods are concentrated at the end-user point of the supply-chain by individual citizens in private living spaces or in small local neighbourhood fabs (fabrication facilities, in essence mini-factories, they could be as small as a residential refrigerator). In-group membership among teenagers in 2010 is increasingly defined by what they have produced (blogs, music, art, websites, video). By 2100 the proliferation of content will result in competition for mindshare so fierce that in order to reduce the input to a meaningful bandwidth, in-group membership will be signified by exclusion of nearly all production that hasn't been either created by the group or filtered by a member of the group with the penalty for too liberal or prolific import of content being rejection and expulsion by the in-group. Teenagers in the year 2100 will be more conservative in their behaviour, more cautious in their expressed attitudes, but also more resourceful. Conservative and cautious because everything they do in 2100 will be on permanent record and resourceful because free and instant access to past answers plus limited capital and material resources is a strong incentive for more interesting questions, but it's still more questions --- ultimately mental disease will be endemic.
The most common mental threats in the year 2100 will be burnout and anomie. The pace of change will be so great that each succeeding generation will be disengaging from the mainstream (retreating or other minimising their interactions with society at large) at younger and younger ages (Hikkekomori-ism). Specialisation for a lifetime in an educational system will be perceived by the average citizen as refuge and sanctuary from a world which is paradoxically more integrated and yet more fragmented.
The citizen who attempts to remain engaged inappropriately rather than making the courageous leap of abandoning any patterns which are no longer advantageous will suffer burnout. The citizen who recognises that they cannot remain engaged appropriately and disengages, yet fails to create a new sustainable pattern will suffer anomie, unable to relate and increasingly isolated and fearful of change.
By 2100, the citizen who can abandon all illusions of self-identity and embrace whoever they are at any given instant would be the citizen that has the best chance of staying sane.
A social and cultural footnote, illustrating some of these changes with teenagers in particular is because language fails when approaching the lifestyle of older demographics in 2100. There may be biological and computational advances available to the elite which take them into a post-human reality which is largely outside the scope of this short speculative essay. By the time the average teenager of 2100 is an adult, within the developed zones at least, no generalisation of any clarity is plausible and the value of prediction fails. The span of possibility is too broad.
One thing I can say with certainty is that by the year 2100 nothing will ever be certain again.

Technological.

Advances in computation and biology may not save the world from global famine but if they do and humanity survives, there will be consequences.
The psychological distortions that humanity has placed upon itself in order to function (however awkwardly) within the political, economic, and socio-cultural systems of the developed zones will lead to an existential question: what does humanity do the day after it invents machines capable of designing superior machines? Some say this will be the last invention of humanity, the children who come from this union will have no more relation to humanity as it is understood today than humanity today has to a squirrel.

Less pessimistically, in 2010, most individuals have heard of Moore's Law and most individuals, at least vaguely, grasp that the exponential achievements in computation are the result of a symbiosis, however crude, between people and machines. While a gross simplification, it's worth mentioning that once a person creates a tool, that tool can be used for many purposes, including the creation of superior tools which in turn create superior people. Marshall McLuhan once said " we shape our tools, thereafter they shape us" however the extension of that thought is necessarily that having been so shaped, our latest tools will be products of our latest shapes. In the year 2010, the largest groups of individuals define themselves in terms of inclusivity in national or cultural terms. In the year 2100, there may be a Jupiter-sized dust cloud of networked nano-bio-machines drifting through deep space on solar tides with cosmic intelligence and distributed awareness that nevertheless refers to itself as a single human being, in contact with a variety of other "human beings." A self-definition which signifies how tenuous the connection has become between the term "humanity" and the facts of reality.
I invite your comments.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

81 The men in pointy hats

In the furthest reaches of reality, in deep space just a dust mote away from total confabulation, flies great AT'uin the space turtle. eyes the size of planets rimmed with frost, a shell pocked by a thousand craters. Standing atop AT'uin, four giant elephants carry the Discworld. Both world in its own right and mirror of worlds...

If one were to look closer, down past the eccentric orbit of this strange world's relatively tiny dwarf sun and moon, (making up in proximity what they lack in size), down through the cloud cover, down into the heavy magical field of the Ramtop mountains South of Cori Celestii, the home of the gods, in the century of the eloquent Fruit-Elk, one might notice a tiny figure crouched under a rain-logged canopy of coniferous trees and exploding pine cones (I did say a heavy magical field, didn't I?) and if one listened very carefully, one might notice that the tiny figure was very young, crying and wearing a pointy hat.

Also, very definitely, it was a boy.


Why didn't they let me?


Elsewhere, the annual witch trials were over and, uncharacteristically, Granny Weatherwax was happy.

"Esme, you know better than to show, don't you?" Nanny Ogg said reproachfully.
"Boys are for wizardry if they've any craft at all!" said Granny Weatherwax with the certainty of lead striking gelatin.
"But he said he didn't want to be a wizard, he wanted to be a witch!" said Magrat, impulsively, immediately wishing she hadn't.

Granny Weatherwax fixed them both with a sapphire stare that would melt the Scone of Stone as if it were butter.

"There's ways for them and ways for us!" then she stomped off and soon vanished on her broom a head above Nanny's own.

Nanny shook her head, Esme had always been bull-headed but this time Nanny was secretly in agreeement, no boy had ever been a witch in the history of the disc, it was as though the magic knew who had the knack for balance and who had the knack for force.

Boys, as a rule, had a knack for force.

Magrat was the one who broke the silence.

"We should have let him stand the trials! We're not wizards! We're supposed to be fair!"

Nanny suppressed a twinge at the words, Nanny agreed with Esme on principle but Magrat was right, she knew it. But she'd clean her own hearth before admit it, Magrat might be Queen of Lancre, but she was still the most junior member of the Wyrd as far as Nanny was concerned.

Under the conifers, the rain began to abate, the tiny figure cocked his head and pointy hat to one side, aware with a sense he had no words for, that something had made a decision. His eyes dried, he blinked twice...

Are you ready to be taught. It was not a sound, it was not even words, it was a tectonic shift.

Bell, for that was his name, nodded in affirmation, eyes suddenly dry.

The disc moved.

On her broom, Granny Weatherwax suddenly lost her balance, her broom canted suddenly before she could right it. She gritted her teeth and turned her broom towards the foothills of the ramtops.

She found Bell sitting under the exploding pines. He didn't seem to notice her presence. He had a look on his face she'd last seen on Grebo, Nanny's cat. It made her shudder. After several (alright, two) failed attempts to get him out of his reverie gently, she braced herself for the blow back and rapped him sharply on the head.

"...you, you didn't let me--"
"That's enough of that, young Bell, son of Steven, you're my curse now."
"What? What d'you mean?" said Bell thickly, still reeling from the sharp knock of the broomstick she had administered. "I dreamt I was a mountain..."
"Never you mind that nonsense!" Granny was not to be argued with. "Just hear this, you're my debt, understand? for something done years before, I'll say this once and hear it well!"
Bell nodded in awe, sometime during this exchange he had realized who he was addressing. I mean, who hadn't heard of Granny Weatherwax? The most powerful witch and head of the most powerful coven of the Ramtops, some said the the whole disc?
"I'll teach you till the day you ask me why!" Granny rarely bothered repeating herself and didn't bother now.
Bell nodded, not daring to say anything.
Granny, disgusted with herself, told him to get behind him on her broomstick and together they flew, a yard above the ground, to her cottage.

Bell didn't know whether to bless his luck or curse it.

Granny was merciless.

But the memory of the mountains accepting him comforted him.

Meanwhile, Granny schemed how to explain this to Nanny Ogg and Magrat, especially given the fact that, in her heart of hearts, she knew they needn't any explanation at all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

82 Relaxing in the sunshine of an artificial star

Oliphant had been persuaded by his uncle to take a much needed vacation, it was not the sort of thing that most people needed persuasion to undertake but Oliphant was different. He worked as a trans-dimensional waveform speculator, basically a kind of arbitrage broker between dimensions and he enjoyed his work. His uncle was valiant however and soon persuaded Oliphant to put his business away and retire for a fortnight to the perpetual warmth of a climate controlled asteroid he had purchased two years ago in orbit around Smegmellion, an artificial star in the Oomphalos sector.

Oliphant recalled a pleasant weekend he had spent there when his uncle had just purchased the property so he allowed himself to be persuaded. Soon he was reclining on a chaise longue made of energy fields on his uncles' private asteroid. A perfect combination of traditional and modern cocktail ingredients swirling in a crystal glass in one hand and a smoking spider from Xaxis in the other. Later, after a dinner of Nebula crabs and assorted crustaceans he decided he would have a walk around the manicured lawns of the asteroid and see what the robots were up to. His uncle hired robots exclusively for his garden. He was a traditionalist, claimed the new self-maintaining lawns made of nanofloroborg made his feet itch. He preferred real lawn and unaugmented flora. Oliphant considered it an affectation since all the varieties in the garden had themselves been engineered to within an inch of cyborg status themselves. It was so difficult for the previous generation to understand the value of today's trends, mused Oliphant

His uncle, despite his protestations to the contrary, had not been on the asteroid in quite some time, on the surface it looked casually lived in but Oliphant knew the telltale signs of habitation and neither the house nor the asteroid showed any of them, not a single memory module had been accessed from the house library in the past 6 months. Oliphant guessed that his uncle was having a vicarious vacation through him since if anyone logged more time on the job than Oliphant it was his uncle.

His mind wandering, he didn't pay attention to where he went and soon found himself in the Versailles replica section by one of the largest fountains. It was amusing to him that his uncle would have gone to the trouble to recreate this relic when in his estimation, the gardens of Isis on Krkkrk were far more spectacular but he had to hand it to his uncle, wherever he created one of these conceits from his youth he created them with a verisimilitude that went beyond mere adoration and came at fantasy from the other side by engaging in a serious competition with the original referents.

When he surprised the two robots making love under a hedge he excused himself with a minimum of fuss, perhaps later he would invite them into the house. The chrome red model had been quite fanciful.

Bless uncle and his minor perversions!

Monday, March 22, 2010

83 Eksperiment/Experi/ment/Eksperyment


To jest noc, pogoda jest okropny, deszcz, wyszystko deszcz. Warszawa masz najstraszny chumura. Niebieski na góry raz na rok.Wyszystko tygodniu na zima jest zimno. Bo dla czego podoba mi śien Warszawa?

It is the night, the weather is awful, rain, rain wyszystko. Warsaw najstraszny chumura you. Blue mountains once a week on rok.Wyszystko winter is cold.Because of what I like sien Warsaw?

It is night, the weather is awful, rain, only rain. Warsaw loves clouds. The sky is blue one week each year. Each winter is cold. So why do I like Warsaw?

Jest noc, pogoda jest okropna, deszcz, tylko deszcz. Warszawa kocha chmury.Niebo jest niebieskie jeden tydzień w roku. Każdej zimy jest zimno. Więc dlaczego, jak Warszawa?

Warszawa jest stary y masz drogie y dramatyczne fabula. Życie w to miasto, ty muszi wieć co to robisz. Od czas do czasu to nie jest włatwy. Tak mien z nami, pszypuszczam niema jeden sklep w Warszawa jak ma być dobre Bajgel. Coszmar...

Warsaw is an old dear s s have a dramatic storyline. Life in this city, you Mushi so what are you doing this. From time to time is not włatwy. Yes Mien us pszypuszczam silent one shop in Warsaw is to be as good Bajgel. Coszmar ...

Warsaw is an old dear and has a dramatic storyline. Life in this city, you must know what you are doing. Sometimes it is hard. By contrast, from time to time it is not easy. Between us, there is not one shop in Warsaw that sells a really good bagel. In my nightmares I smell a good bagel but I can never find it and eat it.

Warszawa jest stary kochany i dramatyczne historie. Życie w mieście, trzeba wiedzieć, co robisz. Czasami jest ciężko. Natomiast od czasu do czasu nie jest to łatwe. Między nami nie jednego salonu w Warszawie, który sprzedaje naprawdę dobry obwarzanek jest. W moich koszmarów czuję dobrze obwarzanek, ale nigdy nie mogę go znaleźć i zjeść.

Mieszkam w Warszawie dieszięć lat. Urodzyny w Istanbul, dwa-dzieszcza-pięc lat w Kanady. Mieszkam tylko w Stolicy. Cały życia, w Stolicy. Cały życia, w Kraj na czerwone y białe. Dlaczego jestem tutaj? Dlaczego teraz? Ja musi wieć odpowiedz do to pytanie. Nie wiem z kim jestem.

I live in Warsaw dieszięć years. Urodzyny in Istanbul, two-dzieszcza-five years old in Canada. I live only in the capital. Entire life in the capital. Entire life in the country on the red y white. Why am I here? Why now? I must therefore answer to this question. I do not know who I am.

I have lived in Warsaw ten years. I was born in Istanbul, I lived twenty-five years in Toronto, Canada. I have only lived in capital cities. My entire life in a capital city. My entire life in countries with only red and white in their flags. Why am I here? Why now? I must answer this question. I do not know who I am.

Mieszkam w Warszawie, dziesięć lat. Urodziłem się w Stambule, żyłem dwadzieścia pięć lat w Toronto, Kanada. Mam tylko mieszkał w stolicach. Moje całe życie w stolicy. Moje całe życie w krajach, tylko w białych i czerwonych flag. Dlaczego tu jestem? Dlaczego teraz? Muszę odpowiedzieć na to pytanie. Nie wiem, kim jestem.

Jestem Nauczyciel Angielski, to jest moj pierwszego fabula w Polskiego. Ale to nie jest fabula, to jest historia. Historia do moje najlepsze lektorze w Polskiego, ulice do Warszawie...

I'm the English teacher, this is my first story of Polish. But it is not drama, it is history. The history of my best lektorze in Polish, the streets of Warsaw ...

I'm an English teacher, this is my first story written in Polish. But it is not a drama, it is a history. The history of my best Polish teacher, the streets of Warsaw ...

Jestem nauczycielem języka angielskiego, to jest moje pierwsze opowiadanie napisane w języku polskim. Ale to nie jest dramat, to historia. Historia z moich najlepszych nauczycieli polskich, na ulicach Warszawy ...

Chesesz czytać jeszcze?

Chesa read more?

Do you want to read more?

Chcesz przeczytać więcej?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

84 The varnish of denial

In dedication to Miguel Da Conceicao, who conceived the title.

Frank kicked the empty bottle in the hallway and went looking for Mickey. The bottle spun and bounced back from the wall and clattered sharply on the hallway tiles. Frank gritted his teeth at the sound and kicked the bottle so hard it exploded in a shower of glass. Frank closed his eyes and looked away. One more hassle but he had felt good doing it. He checked everywhere, even under the couch. All he found was a single dirty sock. Mickey wasn't there. Just his mess. Frank couldn't put it off any longer, he called a locksmith and changed the locks.

Frank paid $200 to have a locksmith come that night. When it was done he paid up in cash and enjoyed the click of the new bolt sliding home. Only then did he start cleaning up. Working steadily. This was not his usual damage control but a real sanitation operation. From the grout-stained hallway tiles to the dust on the kitchen overhead lamp. When he slept, it was dreamless.

Morning.

Mickey had scratched the heart out of the lock, but he hadn't so much as knocked, let alone tried the buzzer. Frank noticed the damage as he left for work at today's client. In his retirement years Frank had become a professional focus group participant. He hadn't gone looking, one day some consumer information company had called him up to tell him that he was a statistical normal. The caller told him statistical normals were exceedingly rare. Frank was about to object when he was offered $500 to join a focus group for the day.
Frank took the job. He worked an average of 4 days a month, it sufficed.

Mickey couldn't climb in from the balcony like at the last place because this time Frank was living on the fourth floor of a four floor walk up. Frank realised his mind had drifted, he had stopped cleaning, his mind preoccupied with Mickey and how to keep him out.

Frank got back to work.

When Frank was done he scrutinized his handiwork. Every surface was clean, there were no piles of papers, no empty bottles on the floor, no dirty socks under the couch, there was no evidence Mickey had ever been there.

It even smelled good. Good and empty. Frank fixed himself a supper of one and ate the leftovers for three days straight.

Each evening, when he came back to the apartment, everything was exactly where he'd left it that morning.

Frank started leaving his door unlocked.

In the end he was robbed and Mickey never came back.



Wednesday, March 03, 2010

85 One minute of one morning one day that I thought would never happen but it happened anyway

Waking, I went promptly back to sleep. No needs, warm, relaxed. Duties, none. Responsibilities, none. After many months of duress and a magician's-worth of juggled appointments, I had carved out this day for myself.

So I slept.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

86 Memories of the Underground

My fingernail is itching. I take a quick look around for a blank wall against which I should be able to see the message clearly. It's getting painted on my retinas right now but my text-projector is an older model. Cheap and low-powered, but I like to be unobtrusive in the dark. 

Some idiots turn their text-projectors up to the max in the clubs. Makes their eyes glow. Eventually makes them blind too. They have to get replacements if they can afford to. I swear it's getting ridiculous. I shiver violently, startling someone passing by. Some people are so paranoid these days it's as though anything sudden or unexpected you do could have you facing the wrong end of violence. I shrug and continue looking for any blank space.

However, in the middle of downtown New Los Angeles, it's easier to win the lottery than it is to find an unadvertised wall. As rare as parking spaces. Some people carry pocket sized custom slabs of imported off-world marble to read their messages on but I prefer to use the back of my wrist even if it makes me look like an overgrown teenager. I like to keep my hands free, is all.

I read the message off my wrist. It's from Johnny Marks wondering what I'm doing tonight, he's built a new toy and he would  like me to see it.

Sally, my wife, says I'm wasting my time with Johnny. She's probably right but he does invent some interesting things and once you get to a certain age you want to hang on to the friends you have. However imperfect or crazy they are.

It starts to rain like a bad cliché. Your bureaucracy in action. How else to explain why an underground city needs rain? Wasn't there some other way to irrigate or is this a cheap way to wash the dirt off? It's a pet peeve. I never cared enough to find out and besides, rainfall doesn't last forever, in fact it never lasts more than a hour.

I head for the metro, realising on the way I've decided to meet Johnny. I was supposed to be working on a rush job for an overseas client and there was something else but it's slipped my mind. Too much to do recently. The client is asking for some expert judgement of some antique photographs taken by her grandmother. There's going to be an auction but there was something else. I'm sure. I just can't quite remember what.

I get on the metro heading for the Wilson docklands and count the number of stations from Central station. It's a habit. When I get out of the metro, the streets of Wilson are still wet but it isn't raining anymore.

Johnny lives in a convenience apartment. Just four square walls, a hot plate, a bar fridge and a toilet with integrated sink and shower. Johnny rented one of the internal units to save money so there isn't even a window onto the street. This is one of the reasons Sally doesn't understand how we could be friends. Johnny has been struggling just above the poverty line his entire adult life. If you take Sally's judgement. Meanwhile, Sally and I even have a front door on hinges. Not a full-size floor-to-ceiling model but it is still sized to a respectable standard and opens out onto a respectably wide hallway. Johnny makes do with a cheap, sliding model. He doesn't care though, he doesn't even get live video feeds. He said he doesn't believe in video. I would have said he's an idiot except that being my friend, I wonder what that would make me.

This conversation about video was a few months ago. Which would make it last year. I realise that this will be the first time in the new year I would be seeing Johnny. The last time I saw him he wasn't looking too well if I'm to be honest with myself. He'd picked up some odd mannerisms. He'd started to cackle. I don't mean an old throaty chuckle like some middle aged men get. I mean a cackle. Like a lunatic. My fingernail itched. I knew it was a message from Sally.[1] With a sinking feeling I remembered what else I had to do tonight.

"Wake up," I said. This told my phone  module to pay attention. "Call Sally," I said. I only heard the first note of her wait tune in my inner ear before she answered.

" Frank, where the hell are you?" I was glad I had the night time setting turned on. It cut loud noises automatically and Sally was yelling.

" Sorry honey, Johnny asked me over but I'll cancel and pick up some Chinese. I could be home in 30 minutes."

"Why do you have to be so unreliable? I'll order myself."

"I'm sorry hon--"

I heard the disconnect squelch. She'd hung up on me. Fantastic.

The rain had soaked my trousers and my legs were chafing. I debated whether I should just give up and go home. I was already in trouble, I told myself. I decided I might as well see what Johnny was up to. I gritted my teeth and kept going.

[1] . Custom haptic feedback. In other words, a signature itch.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

87 The Weekend

I had never taken anyone here before. From the road above, it was impossible to notice the tiny pebble beach carved into the sheer face of the cliff over so many years. It was impossible to know how long it had taken to plunder from the granite this small not quite cave. It was impossible to see under any normal circumstances. I had grown up here. Still, though I had swum in these waters hundreds of times in my life it was not until my late teens that I found this place. Over the years, on a natural granite shelf at the back of my hidden beach, I had piled rocks which I had collected over the years since my discovery. Some of these rocks had fossils. When I wasn't in school, I would spend my time swimming in the bay and collecting the ones I found most interesting. I would save my favourites here on the shelf at the back of my secret beach.

I showed you my rocks. My most prized possessions. More valuable than my house and my car. More important than an antique oil painting by a Dutch master. You picked up one of the fossils and casually dropped it. I said it didn't matter. I happened to have two like that.

We didn't stay. I didn't know anyone in my town anymore. Everyone I had grown up with was either dead or living somewhere else. Even my cousin, who had sworn she would never leave, was living somewhere else. She said our hometown was paradise if you had enough money and she didn't and neither did I.

So you and I, we took the train down the coast to a nearby tourist attraction which, although I had grown up living nearly on top of it, I had never seen. There was a large beach. We swam with jellyfish. The night air was heavy with the scent of orchards. We chased fireflies. We listened to the waves crashing beneath our hotel room windows.

We took the train home on Sunday night. You fell asleep. You were barely awake through the short walk from the platform to the taxi. Unlocking the front door was like opening a time capsule. Everything both familiar and strange. Soon the television was on and the kettle was whistling. The spell was broken and everything was back in its normal place. We had returned to the world of routine and responsibility and it was good to be back.

I'm drinking tea in my kitchen with the lights off and from the living room I can hear muffled squawks coming from the television. I feel rested and ready for Monday. Sometimes a few days can feel like a complete and entirely different lifetime.

It has been a good weekend.

Friday, January 22, 2010

88 The Black Mass

Last night my wife and I attended our eighth Black Mass.

Dressed in evening clothes we arrived at a secret location disclosed only an hour before the celebration was to begin.

As we descended the stairs I noticed many familiar faces chatting in groups of twos and threes and sipping wine and nibbling on hors d'oeuvres.

I was introduced to the succubus who would be leading the ceremony tonight. Her glamour made her appear to be my perfect ideal fantasy woman: carefree, red hair, firm breasts. But my true vision could see she was only a sock puppet with sharp teeth. My wife excused herself to speak to some friends. And I prepared myself because tonight would be my first time participating in the ritual of the hanged man.

When the correct hour arrived, a space was cleared in the centre of the room. The succubus announced that we were about to begin and I stood in the centre of the room and waited. two strong ropes were lowered from the ceiling with large padded hooks on their ends. Another participant stepped forward and placed the hooks under my arms and when the hooks were firmly in place I was lifted off the floor.

I crossed my hands tightly around my waist to make sure the hooks stayed under my arms. More hooked ropes were lowered from the ceiling and more participants joined me, suspended a few inches off the floor. Men and women wrapped themselves around my back, my chest, my arms, my legs, until I was the centre of a mass of humanity hanging suspended. Then the ropes were slowly raised by attendants and we all rose together above the congregation. There were no invocations, there were no words at all. There was only the act itself to symbolise our faith. We hung there for a timeless instant and then we were lowered to the ground. The Mass was complete.

The rest of the evening proceeded much like any dinner party among good friends, with conversation, laughter and games. I had a nice talk with the succubus and she tried mightily to tempt me but I resisted because I knew that to have congress with a succubus would enslave me for eternity. She didn't tell me her name so I gave her one. I called her Maxine. She found that charming. Through the entire conversation I could see both the beautiful fantasy woman and the sock puppet with sharp teeth.

My wife and I stayed overnight, together with many of the other guests. She woke before I did in the morning. and I went looking for both her and for breakfast. I found her still in her lingerie together with seven other beauties from the night before, all still in their lingerie seated in the kitchen. She asked me what I wanted and I said I was looking for breakfast. She said I would just have to make some because she and her friends had eaten everything they'd prepared.

I told her to look at her tarot deck and find my card. My card is the eight of wands. she showed me the nine of wands. The picture was correct but the number was wrong. she was using a mundane deck where my card does appear as the nine of wands. At that moment I realised she had lost her cards.

I helped her collect her things, and together we went home.