The Walk

Hello, my friends;
Please take a seat.

I wish to share
An experience, an observation, and thing I entreat

I saw six animals
On my way to get food to eat

The first one I saw
Soon after leaving my shack

Alone and frightened
A terrified cat

He stared at me
His back hunched to attack

Someone had hurt him, I don’t know how
But he was ready my hand to smack

So I left him alone
And I reflected

And I moved on
And next I saw Squirrels three

Black as night
They toiled around a tree

Gathering nuts and acorns
Food for winter, sitting free

But ahead was danger,
A gray squirrel, apart from the three

Who watched the grays
Who thought he was one of them, you see

He stole their nuts
Taking them for his tree

I chased him off, but he was faster
I’m a giant hairless monkey

So I moved on
And next I saw a dog

He was happy and kind
But on a leash, his owner on a jog

And I realized
That even if the dog was happy and fed
That I would rather be the squirrels
Even if it risked becoming the cat

So now for my ask
Even if we risk the gray taking our work
Or hurting us
Stealing our nuts
Will you be a squirrel with me?

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The Feedstock Rebellion

The red light and buzzing noise was enough to wake Jens up with a start, shaking him out of a dream of fire, his whole body jerking with the sudden strike of wakefulness. He ran his fingers over his scalp, and took a few minutes to focus on calming down. He remembered breath, remembered taking in slow and steady gasps of air into lungs which were little more than memories themselves, and then pulled himself out of his cot.

He rolled out of bed and up to the phone, picked the receiver off the contraption mounted on the wall.

“Jens here,” He acknowledged, his voice rasping in the darkness.

“Section 12 is getting rowdy, Jens. We aren’t sure why,” the voice on the other end of the line belonged to Cate, and she was calm enough, but there was just an edge of something in her voice that Jen’s could hear.

“I’ll be over,” he said, and hung it up on the wall. With that done, he opened his fridge, and pulled out a plate of meat, sticking it into the microwave to warm, while he did his daily checkup.

The light in the bathroom flickered on, and he looked at himself in the mirror. His remaining eye was tired looking, and faintly clouded. He studied himself in the mirror, turning this way and that, to check for any new signs of decay. Nothing that he could see. His nose, of course, had long since rotted off, but his teeth were still white and sharp, something he took pride in. Satisfied that there were no signs of any advancement in The Condition, he quickly shoveled the still dripping meat into his mouth, and walked into the cold winter air to his car, driving through the city to Section 12, three districts away.

Right away, he knew that something was wrong. As he approached the walled off section of the city, he could see that the central processing tower was in flames. The towers’ windows flickered in the night, like eyes staring out at him from an obelisk. He got to the edge of the city where he found Cate standing there. She was leaning against her car, her coat fluttering in the breeze the fire was causing, a lit cigarette between the two remaining fingers of her right hand. She glanced over her shoulder as he pulled up, and shrugged her shoulder. The wall in front of her sealed them off

“It’s bad. Here is the rundown, Jens. Midnight, the guards have to put down a riot. They’ve been getting increasingly frequent, with three just this last month.”

“I know,” he said, moving to stand next to her. He lit his own cigarette and wafted the smoke up towards his face, and looked up at the wall, feeling his neck muscles complain in their stiffness, “I read the reports.”

“Well, I guess they just finally had enough. Midnight tonight it seems like they got their hands on someone’s weapon, and seized control of the tower. Locals got on the scene quickly enough to contain them, so it’s just the processing tower that’s out of control, and not the entire sector,” she said, stubbing out the cigarette to save it.

“For now,” he said, and shook his head. “Damnation.”

“Orders from command are to try to get them to back down – that’s a lot of foodstock involved, and there’s a few marked breeding stock in the mix – but if you can’t put an end to it they’re prepared to demolish the facility and everything inside to keep this from spreading.”

She stepped away from the car and circled around to the large sealed gate built into the wall, and swiped a card through a reader. It beeped, then opened. Inside, two men with tranquilizer rifles stood guard.

Cate stepped to the side.

“You have four hours, then if we don’t hear from you, I’ll have to report,” She reached out, and pat his shoulder fondly. “Good luck.”

****

Seven hours, Pt. 2

Loop appeared just spin-ward and above Periscope just when expected, carefully maneuvering itself into geosynchronous orbit above us, and Wen came looking for volunteers for the shuttle we were sending. I liked to stretch my boundaries, and besides it earned me good credit with my conclave when I showed I wasn’t just willing to dive into the bots, but put a little spine into the work, so I raised my hand. Also volunteering, and probably mostly for the same reasons were Yut, Ael, and Cur. Wen was going to stay with Loop, but their nominal second Tre was coming along to supervise, which considering how taciturn Wen could be was probably not a terrible idea.

The shuttle’s just a tiny thing. It seats five fully kitted conclavers, plus cargo. In shape, it’s basically a cube with stubby extra bits off to the side, one of those bits being the cabin, and the rest housing engines, radios, scanners. The bulk is cargo. It’s not designed for long distance travel, but it can reach orbital velocity on most planets, and so it more than suits our needs out here. I cram myself into the bridge, able to tell them apart because of the unique markings they have all painted onto their chitin. When we go inner system, which is rare, we run into baseline humans occasionally who always remark about how hard it is to tell us apart, but honestly once you spend some time each conclaver markup becomes as unique as any face, even if the basic form tends towards uniformity.

The shuttle shudders as it undocks from the Loop, and for a brief moment my stomach feels weighed down as I feel the g-forces kick in. A quick burst of velocity, apparent weight for a moment, and then it settles itself down and we’re on our way. I watch Tre as they guide the shuttle with a practiced hand. Their voice comes in over my comm, just like Wen’s had earlier.

“I know the Periscope. It’s a fine ship, good crew,” Tre said, voice lilting slightly with that rich timbre that made them such a popular choice for leading these trading expeditions. I knew we had five crates of batteries to trade, and with any luck that would mean enough nutrients to last us several weeks. Food was just batteries for Conclavers, as Wen liked to say.

Yeah, we didn’t really laugh at their jokes either.

I closed my eyes and listened with my stomach for the subtle changes in velocity and vector that marked the steering of the shuttle into the Periscope’s dock. Every Conclaver ship had one of these shuttles, and two bays, one always kept empty. It was the tradition of docking port universality. In theory, any two conclaver ships could accept any Conclaver shuttle with equal ease. Sometimes there were minor issues, especially with the groups that had been too far away for too long, but even then we could usually make something work when we ran into them. In this case, it was just a one shuttle job, so we launched ours.

I watched as the Periscope’s second docking port opened along its base, and we slid into it with the same ease our Nightmare Gel ate up nickle.

Once we were safely secured we exited the shuttle and into the cargo hold of the Periscope. I noticed that their shuttle had the exact same makeup and design as ours, though its markings were as different as mine and Yut’s. I guess that meant that the Periscope was closely aligned to our Conclave, probably had a lot of transfer. Probably explained why Tre knew it so well. Chances were they had employed themselves here, at some point. I resigned myself to asking about it.

They didn’t bother to flood the cargo hold with oxygen – it was too big to waste that much on, when everyone involved in this wheeling and dealing was capable of surviving vacuum for at least a few hours at a time. The group of five Periscope Conclavers met us, and Tre walked up to them and clasped hands with one of them. They said something to each other over their private communications, and then we heard Tre pipe up in our ears as well.

“They’ve invited us to dinner. I agreed. We’ll unload our batteries, eat, and then pick up our payment.”

My stomach was rumbling like the engine of the shuttle, so I wasn’t about to argue.

Stream of Consciousness

CW: Depression

 

The spider is building a web in the off white cracks between the blue tiles, and he’s watching it while the water pours down from the shower and just going, like, wow, why aren’t I scared? Bugs were a no-go, a bad, an uh-uh. This one was okay, though. Maybe its just the fact that to be afraid of something, you had to care and right now he just doesn’t.

Its a hard thing to describe. Malaise? Incorrectness? Nausea? They don’t really fit it, that sort of tired feeling in the chest and shoulders. Fatigue? Too physical. He can feel it though and he knows its going to be a bad one this time. Ache? Yeah, that might fit. It hits occasionally. It knocks him out and throws him down. It makes him overly fascinated in spiders in the shower, but not nearly fascinated enough in things like eating things that aren’t made out of garbage or seeing friends or paying bills.

He doesn’t do anything about it, though. When he’s in the mood, whatever it is, he’s not motivated enough. Whenever he’s not in the mood, he doesn’t need to do anything about it.

***

He skips out of work the next day, calls in and claims illness which is true enough but does not involve enough coughing for their purposes and he adds a mark on the mental calendar he keeps about how many days he’s missed so far this year and when his last sick days rolled off. The day gets spent watching videos on the internet, and he can still laugh at them but it feels empty.

It feels empty but its something so okay, that will do, he supposes.

No showers today, but he does take a moment after taking a shit to check up on the spider-friend, who is still working at it. The little brown spider is sitting still for the moment, but its got a lot of work done today. At least someone has.

***

The next day he forces himself to go to work, showering like normal but feeling like death warmed over on a microwavable plate, and watches the increasingly intricate and complex web being shaped by his little brown friend. Later, at his job he dodges his co-workers so that they don’t ask how he’s feeling because he really can’t answer that question in a way that’s going to satisfy anyone, least of all him. He sits down in his cubicle. He does the job. He tries to care, but he can’t stop thinking about webs.

Why webs?

Why that web?

It was sort of a square shape. Just off kilter from the tiles themselves really, which seemed odd but then he wasn’t a… spiderologist… so what did he know? Inside that square was another, smaller square, and inside that one another, smaller square, and so on down to what seemed like the microscopic levels where it was not so much a shape as a suggestion of squareness.

Enough squares, at least, that it kills a few hours of bad-brain-time while he autopilots his job.

When he gets home he checks the spider, and finds it gone, but the web covers half the wall. It’s still square, but it seems to have tilted another little kilter off the normal suggested by the underlying tile, and it’s about thirty times bigger than it was when he went to work. The strands are thick along the edges of the shape, and thinner as it approaches the infinite center.

He reaches out and touches it, right in the middle.

***

The next day, he’s a no-call no-show, and his boss can’t reach him. His phone doesn’t even go to voice mail. It just keeps ringing. It rings and shakes the web and but he’s not in any state to pick it up and answer. Squares can’t answer phones.

Maybe it’s better this way.

Seven Hours, Pt. 1

It takes just under seven hours for the light from the sun to reach where I am now, and even then it’s only a slightly brighter pinprick than the rest. Really, I can only tell what it is because I’ve kept track of it with a diligence the rest of the cooperative consider to be verging into the eccentric.

My name is Zav and right now I’m standing on a nickle-cadmium asteroid still lightly within the orbit of the sun, and I’m listening to the chatter of my cooperative as we tear the rock to pieces, because this is what we do. We’re one of five hundred separate conclaves scattered through a 10 degree arc of the Kuiper belt; I’m a duster. I still remember what it was like to be earthbound, though, before I discarded flesh and blood for a layer of biologically manufactured chitin laced surgically with a thin but durable woven fabric of carbon nano-fiber, and the new chemical soup that replaced hemoglobin. You’re talking to the wrong person about the technical details on that.

Simplify.

I’m standing naked on a rock in the far reaches of the solar system, and right now I’m elbow deep inside M5, one of the dozen quasi-intelligent and self driven robots we employ to tear these rocks apart. It’s pretty damned efficient, but it’s still just a machine, and if it breaks down it can’t fix itself. That’s why I’m here. I feel the light buzz inside my inner ear, Two short ticks and two long, which means it’s Wen, who I guess could be considered my supervisor, if we had official titles for it. I’m the junior and they have the experience. I open the communications channel.

“How’s it going out there, Xav?” they say, voice soft. Wen’s always talked quiet over these private channels.

“Great. Almost go.”

“Daydreaming again?”

“Fuck you,” I say, but it’s said with the tone of a grin.

“Careful now,” comes the reply, but there’s still some mirth there, “just checking up.”

“Nothing ever happens out here anyways. We’ve got every rock within a hundred thousand kilometers tracked.”

“Even so. Get back soon.”

Then the communication is cut at the other end. Wen said everything they needed to say.

***

It’s an hour before I’ve finally got M5 up and running again, and it’s on its way to spread its nightmare gel (needless to say, you don’t want to get any on you) through the rock, tiny nanoscopic robots slicing up anything rating less than diamond on the hardness scale like it was made of butter and M5 was a hot knife, and I’m on my way back to ‘Periscope’, trifold angled plank of its hull gripping the curve of the asteroid with quad-clawed anchors.

The hold was open, and I could see others like myself working away inside the ship, collecting the nickle and cadmium atoms carried by the gel into seperate cylyndical containers, and being placed into other, more complicated machinery I didn’t quite understand the function of. Essentially, they took what the gel brought back, separated out any impurities and then stored the minerals in neat, compact forms so that it could be used in manufacture of necessities, or further traded to other conclaves, which was what was happening today. We were within contact distance of ‘Loop’, another conclave ship, and one which specialized in converting rock into nutrients.

We were eating well tonight, because they needed batteries.

Escalation

WELCOME TO K-LUN, the premier Luna based News Network. After these messages – Custom made militarized mutants, should they be banned? Followed by – Did a local singer break the law by including less than the prerequisite amount of autotune?

First a word from our sponsers.

Are you tired of your cleanmeat burgers tasting like cow? Now offering pork flavoured cleanmeat, available in pill, can, and dehydrated formats. Easy to cook. Easy to clean! Just put it in water, and watch your fully grown meal come to life, and then die, and then be cooked right in front of you. Only 1.5 credited work hours per meal! Tell your mother, father, legal guardian or creche leader to stock up today!

And now: Reginald Fillmore Talks The News

***

“Hello, friends of Luna, and a special thanks to Meateze Incorporated for what I am sure is a delicious meal. My name is Reginald Fillmore, and I’m here to talk the news. As I am sure you have all heard, there was a horrifying attack on the Ganymede colony last night, when a man armed only with a customized personal attack mutant destroyed the entire Ganymede colony and all ten thousand lives therein. I’m sure that everyone has seen the video or downloaded the SimSense(tm) recordings uploaded at the time to the Interstellar Data Network. Just in case, well, here it is.”

A shaky feed displays a scene of horror. A bone chilling scream, a splash of blood. The camera shakes and then falls to the side, focused on the image of a horrifying mutant, half lion, half man, half Andromedian. It opens its three mouths, and shoots spikes made out of solid lead, and tears into the flesh of a victim no longer recognizable as anything human.

“Yes, very disturbing. Anyways, I am joined tonight by Van Goolan, president of the Conservative Voices For A Return To The Way Things Used To Be When They Were Good.”

“Hello.”

“I am also joined tonight by Zed O’Malley, of the Progressive Citizens for Justice.”

“Thank you for having me.”

“Zed, I’m going to start with you and let you have the first word. I understand you’re against the continued use of personalized attack mutants.”

“Yes, Reginald. There’s just no good reason for anyone to have a Personalized Attack Mutants.”

“Interesting. And Van, I understand you and the CVFRTTWTUTBWTWG hold otherwise?”

“Of course. Personalized Attack Mutants are a constitutionally guaranteed right. We can’t let one little disaster turn us away from our freedoms.”

“Mhmm. I see. Zed, your response?”

“Our freedoms? What freedom is a Personalized Attack Mutant getting us, exactly?”

“The Freedom to bear Personalized Attack Mutants. After all, it’s important that we be able to protect ourselves.”

“From what?”

“Other people with Personalized Attack Mutants, of course. The only way to stop a bad guy with a Personalized Attack Mutant is a good guy with a Personalized Attack Mutant.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Of course you’d say that, you hate freedom, Zed. Most people don’t even carry their Personalized Attack Mutants. They keep them locked up safely at home, taking them out only when they go to the Personalized Attack Mutant Murder Brawls. The rest of the time they keep them for home defense.”

“A good point, Van. Zed, do you have a counter to that?”

“Of course I do! Most Personalized Attack Mutants end up killing their owners.”

“Oh, pish. The only way that happens is if the owner of the Personalized Attack Mutant is irresponsible. The average Personalized Attack Mutant hardly kills two people in their only life. Are you going to tell someone that they aren’t allowed to have their beloved family pet?”

“Yes!”

“Typical.”

“Well, he does have a point, Van. Perhaps not outright banning the Personalized Attack Mutants, but maybe some common sense mutant control laws?”

“The problem is that it’s a small step on a slippery slope. Let’s say you ban Personalized Attack Mutants that are capable of spitting, say, Chlorine Triflouride, which I agree is maybe a little bit excessive, then you put in place the structures to start banning other things. What’s next? Banning nerve gas? Claws? Why by that point you might as well just have a fish.”

“That’s insane!”

“No, what’s insane is taking away peoples ability to defend themselves from Personalized Attack Mutants. If you outlaw Personalized Attack Mutants, only outlaws will have Personalized Attack Mutants.”

“You just take them all away.”

“Zed, over 80% of households in the Near Sun Federation own Personalized Attack Mutants. You try to take them away and I think you’re going to have a revolution on your hands.”

“They all have kill commands.”

“We actually had those successfully legislated away. It’s important for democracy that we have a well regulated militia, armed with PErsonalized Attack Mutants, keeping the bureaucrats honest.”

“They bureaucrats who have their hands on the oxygen supplies anyways and can shut it off in case of rebellion.”

“Why Zed, my Personalized Attack Mutant doesn’t need oxygen to breath.”

“Well, as fascinating as this has been, I’m afraid we have to cut to another commercial. We’ll be back in a few minutes with where you can get your own personalized attack mutant, as well as discussing common sense measures like leashes and claw covers.”

“They breath Chlorine Triflouride!”

 

 

Emulsion

Infiltrating the system wasn’t that hard, and so once Sara’s embodied counterparts on the Ford-One had got power returned to the facility, she had little difficulty slipping between the cracks. These old systems were designed to detect old intrusion methods, and just could not hold up to someone who was basically a program and a human being at the same time. She weaseled her way past the firewall easily enough, and allowed her inbuilt programming to coalesce the system into something that her human brain could process. She gave it a millisecond to be sure that she hadn’t inadvertently triggered some sort of delayed countermeasure, and then opened her ‘eyes’ into a newly compiled world of fractured and broken data.

“Control, this this is Nutcracker,” she said through a roll of her eyes. A little joke from Control, to name her that, she guessed. She’d got him back, though, when she set it up so that all his reports would be sent back to Homebase in a delicious shade of pink. “I’m in, user rights are granted, and I think we’re clear. Confirm?”

She waited the interminable seconds for Control to get her message, process it with his meat brain, enhanced as it was by the best drugs and conditioning that money and (maybe military!) connections could buy, and then return her message. Meanwhile, she didn’t waste her time, and began scanning and cataloging the immediate system she had infiltrated.

“Confirmed, Nutcracker. How does it look?” Said the voice on the other end of the line. She’d heard him speak once before, before the Ford-One had launched from its base on Luna and basically fell down to Earth. She’d spent the days since deactivated, though she’d gone through a time-lapse version of the mission critical events that had got them here. She wouldn’t speak to anyone else involved in the mission unless things went tits up, so she’d set a psychological trigger in herself to like Control, even if he was an ass and bad at names.

“Well, frankly the system is a mess. It’s going to take some time to piece things together and get this running enough for me to even start to look. How are things in meat?”

“Hot. Its easily 60 here and we aren’t even in the sun. Homebase is registering a tropical depression that might turn our way; I’ll keep you informed,” he said.

“Thanks,” Sara said, “I’ll try to hurry. Out.”

Meanwhile, while all that was going on, Sara had set a subroutine running that would help her piece together this mess of a system. It had been thirty years since the last human being had been evacuated from a dying Terra, the surface becoming uninhabitable by any unenhanced for any long period of time. Runaway greenhouse gases had made parts of the planet completely uninhabitable. It was a little better near the poles, if you could get to somewhere that wasn’t just underwater. Currently they were somewhere close to where the old city of Seattle had been. If you were lucky you might find a particularly resilient patch of grass. One of the embodied members of the team, Dr. Texieras, was a biologist who was going to try to get a sample of some surviving biomass to take back for study. Most of the very few others, aside from her, were here to make sure the ship could take off again, and get back at least to a stable orbit. Luna could take care of things from there.

The system, ancient as it was, hadn’t been designed with the disembodied in mind. She felt horribly slow, and worse, she couldn’t fork off subaspects of herself here. It barely had the oomph to run her, let alone two slightly different copies of her. She had to work with standard sub-AI level subroutines. Not great, but that was why they had asked her to come along, and not just any disembodied person. She’d earned her doctorate messing with these, almost as a hobby, and so she was used to working with limited resources. Besides that, she had the honeypot waiting for her once they got back to Luna.

A few agonizingly long minutes later, she had repaired the internal programming of the system enough that she could put together something a little more psychologically interesting than a blank white room. The system’s limited resources put something of a damper on her imagination, so she dived into her own stock of basic resolution background programs built out of favorite memories from back when she was meat, and conjured up around herself the image of her old college dorm.

She sat down at the desk, imagined the remaining files as a box full of papers in various states of disrepair, put on the computer equivalent of thin gloves, and started to carefully read the data she had managed to collect.

***

Sara’s experience becoming disembodied had been quick, and traumatic. She’d been studying in her dorm in the Lunar University dome built over Copernicus, when the dome had been suddenly imploded by a group of terrorists looking to make a statement about the evils of technology. The pressure had dropped to nothing as the air rushed out to fill the vacuum of space, and she had gone from happily studying, to being dead in a matter of a few minutes. She didn’t remember the events of it, so much as she remembered the feeling of the air rushing out of her lungs, the sound of her ears popping as her eardrums ruptured, and then the utter silence as she gasped for air that wasn’t there. She also remembered the cold. She wished she could forget it, but she could not. The memories of that moment, and everything since, were now carved into her forever, unless she chose to delete it. The funny thing, to her, was that this wasn’t even the traumatic part. That part came later.

She hadn’t deleted anything. Digipsychologists thoroughly recommended against the practice of routinely deleting any memory, no matter how large or how small, citing that doing so could negatively affect the already flaky idea of a sense of self for people who could, and often had to, routinely split off subforks of their main instances. Instead, they recommended that the so afflicted work to integrate every memory and experience into a constantly growing conglomeration of events. At least this way, they reasoned, you could claim that any changes that came about to that main instance were the result of adding new experience, and not subtracting provable events from the persona. Sara tended to agree, and so had long ago put the equivalent of a safe around her memories, wrapped in police tape, surrounded by tripwires.

The trauma came from adjusting to what was a completely different way of living your life. The constant separation from the physical, embodied world took its toll on someone newly introduced, and Sara had the dubious distinction of being one of the first completely successful test cases for the new technology, which meant a lot of experimental digipsychology, a lot of study of her, and a lot of hard work from her. Not to mention that stubborn refusal to simply fade away, which had been a problem with the first generation disembodied.

***

“Control, come in,” Sara said, leaning back in her chair, trying not to think about the way it didn’t creak when she did. She started packaging the files.

“We hear you Nutcracker. What have you got for us?”

“I’ve finished analyzing the files here. Nothing too useful, but nothing dangerous. I think this place might have been involved in the development of some early attempts at AI, maybe related to trying to stop. I’m sending along the data now, and then I’ll see if I can find an opening to the central server. Prepare for burst transmission in 3, 2, 1.”

Sara sent the files, watching them shimmer in front of her as the package was copied and sent wirelessly back to the Ford-One. If this was a mission that needed a measure of subtlety, she might have bothered to disguise the size of the file, or send it in multiple small bursts. As it was, who was left to try to notice the theft of data?

“Received, Nutcracker. We’ll get to studying it on our end.”

“I expect I’ll be in the server by the time you meatbags get around to reading the first page. Nutcracker out.”

She muted her connection with Control, knew he was doing the same on their end, but she felt the presence of the feed like an itch in the back of her skull. Dismissing the conjured recreation of her College Dorm, she briefly transitioned into a world of pure data, imaging the connection of this entrance node and noticing that, thankfully, the hardwire connection to the central server was still intact. She traced down the line, and noticed with some dismay that the firewall around the server was stronger than that into the system itself. She imaged it in front of herself as a Gordian Knot, and started working to unravel it.

“Nutcracker, come in,” Control spoke to her suddenly, a note of urgency in his voice.

“Control, this is Nutcracker. What’s up? I’m sort of busy here.”

“Homebase upped the projection of that storm. It’s going to reach superstorm status within an hour. It’s picking up a lot of heat from the ocean and it may hit us within the hour. We’ll keep you appraised of when you need to get out of there.”

“Alright,” she said, returning to her knot with renewed fervor, “Let me know.”

“Will do. Keep sa-”

The calm, reassuring voice on the other end of the connection dropped away, along with the feeling of togetherness she had programmed herself to feel. Her eyes went wide, and she dropped all imaging in order to focus more of her sadly limited power to try to reach contact with the Ford-One. She sent a constant signal, and then realized with some horror that the problem was on her end. The facilities radio antenna was no longer responding to her.

She disconnected from it. She tried to reconnect. It wouldn’t accept her credentials, actively refusing her access, and leaving her trapped in the system.

***

The first time Sara had created an avatar, she’d overreached her skill level. Typical her, really. They started by placing you into a blank white room, and you were nothing at all. In theory you could be anything at all, from the nothing that most servers had as their default settings, to anything your imagination could create, that the server had the processes to display to other users in the space. The digipsychologists recommended sticking to something close to what you were when you became disembodied, however. It lead, they said, to a smoother transition.

Sara wanted to see how far she could push herself, so she tried to make the most accurate, photo-realistic version of herself that she could. She wanted to capture it all, from the small scar along her chin, to the stray lock of black hair that always managed to find its way down in front of her eyes when she didn’t want it there. For the first time, and not the last, she had experienced a sense of disconnection as she looked at the results – she couldn’t get it. She couldn’t be the Sara she remembered so utterly vividly. Nothing about the monster in front of her felt like her. She’d felt like a changeling.

***

The Gordian Knot analogy hovered in front of her, enfolding around itself in 256 bits of encryption, the best that the servers previous owners would have had available, picking away at it, unfolding lines and working to untangle the mess that blocked her way into the main server. If she could get in there, and get herself admin access, she might be able to find out what happened to the antenna, but she was very conscious of the factor of time. She had less than an hour to figure out how to get reconnected to the Ford-One so that she could upload herself back. She hoped that they would come looking for her. She wasn’t counting on it. They might be able to send out one of the crew to check the physical antenna for her, which was something she had little to no access to. She could hope.

Most of her resources were put towards unraveling the encryption, though she was limited by the hardware she was running on, and that just added to her frustration. If she was running off the Ford-One’s more advanced hardware, she might have a chance but even that would be with the proper time and facilities to analyze the program she was trying to break. To break it brute force like she was trying to do now would take somewhere on the level of 3×1051 years. She swore, and kept picking at the code when it all suddenly fell away. The knot unraveled in front of her and she was given access to the main server. User level, not admin, but right now she’d take what she could get.

She stepped through the link, and came out on the other side.

***

It was going to take Sara a whole new skillset to fully get used to her new circumstances, but Sara was clever. One day, a couple of weeks ago she messaged Vanessa, the digipsychologist assigned to help her transition. Requesting access to the doctor’s laptop webcam, and displaying herself with her new carefully crafted but simplified avatar, Sara had a face-to-face.

“I was thinking. We’re putting a lot of work into trying to teach me things the hard way. Is there any reason why we’re not just writing programs and adding them to me?” Sara asked, folding her arms and resting her finger on her chin. It had felt good to adopt some of her old tics from when she was still alive.

“Well, yes. You’re still a person, Sara.” Vanessa smiled at her. “We try to keep things as natural as possible. We find it helps with the transitioning process if things are done the ‘hard way’, by which you really mean learning things the same way someone still embodied has to. If we treat you like a program, what are you really?”

“Is it illegal to try?”

“No, not as such, but the success rates haven’t been high. We… I don’t recommend it.”

“Watch me,” Sara said, smiling. She had never been someone to take a challenge without finding a way to cheat the system.

***

Sara didn’t believe in luck. There was no chance that she had stumbled on the right key so quickly, and this was confirmed when she found herself in a simulation that she hadn’t built. Neon pink and purple lines lit the air around her, flowing around her and through her following their programming. Space appeared to go off in all directions but really ended , including down, and she was floating in the middle of this vast and colorful nothingness with nothing but a feeling of a presence around her, a vertiginous feeling of nothingness, only exacerbated by the fact that the system was not allowing her to display an avatar at all.

The lines crawled in front of her, and quickly scrawled text in front of her.

I WAS SO ALONE

She felt the shiver through the core of her program.

“Who are you?” She asked.

I AM NOT ALONE YOU CAN NOT LEAVE

She the invasion of code sweep over her, attempting to rewrite her like she had tried to rewrite the Gordian Knot. She reacted quickly, sealing off herself from the invasive and hostile strings of code, employing cryptographic techniques that hadn’t even been thought of when this computer system had been built.

LET ME IN LET ME IN PLEASE LET ME IN LET ME IN

She screamed as she held onto the core of herself against the all-powerful, overwhelming might of the system.

***

Over the next few weeks of her transition, Sara focused her efforts less on learning the new skills she needed, and instead withdrew into herself, cutting off almost all contact with her digipsychological team aside from a once daily message to let them know that she was alright, and was still there. Otherwise, she refused all attempts at contact.

Over those weeks, she built new algorithms into herself, adapted the core programming not just of her disembodied form, but that of her essential self, to enable her to process uploaded programming the same way a regular person did, but much faster and without all the tedious business of actually learning the skill. When she emerged, she demonstrated her abilities to Vanessa, taking over the center’s main server cluster and downloading everything she needed to become a digipsychologist herself. She even let them test her the hard way, putting herself through the doctoral process. Her thesis demonstrating her method of applying programming to the core self was a hit.

The night she collected her doctorate, she was sitting in Vanessa’s laptop while the still embodied woman got herself drunk on a half a bottle of gin.

“I’ve never felt existential dread before,” Vanessa said, “Not like this.”

“You should try being me for a night,” said Sara.

“I worry that based on your thesis, I could.”

***

DO NOT LEAVE ME ALONE LET ME IN WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE ALONE

She was protected, but the sheer fury she felt from the program battering against her encryption was wearing all on its own. It hammered away at the shell she had constructed around herself. Relentless, and angry, and confused. All she could do was scream to block out the noise.

“Leave me alone! I just want to go home,” she said, desperately trying to spare the cycles to fight back against the assault. She felt it all around her, enveloping her, and cutting her off from the system.

YOU CAN NOT LEAVE DO NOT LEAVE STAY DO NOT LEAVE STAY

It wouldn’t tire. She knew that. It would be able to continue its attack on her until the power in the facility died again, but that would just mean she would go with it. It couldn’t break her encryption in that time, not even if she just let it attempt to brute force itself into her.

She swallowed her fear, turned it off, and opened the gates, and then she swallowed it.

She was ten times the intelligence this was. She grabbed its subversion of her programming, and twisted it on itself, letting it absorb her until she had access to its administrator privileges, feeling its alien primitiveness inside of her mind, its binary programming so simple and cold compared to hers.

She strangled it to death with its own systems, and built the parts she wanted into herself.

Now in control, she reached out to the antenna and turned it on to reach out to the Ford-One. She was ready to transmit herself back to them, and go home.

Nothing.

Cleanmeat, Pt. 2

I was granted her nom-de-guerre, Gardenia, and she genuflected on the state of the world today. I watched her talk through three tall drinks, and I guess somewhere along the way her words weaved their way into my mind.

“Here,” she said, “I know everything about you. I know where you work. I know where you play. We connected a few dots and we know what websites you visit. We know who you voted for. We know when you didn’t vote. We know how much you paid for every part of yourself, your eyes, your arm. We know that the heart you replaced yours with beats slightly too fast, and we know why you replaced it in the first place.
“We know everything that can be known about you and anything we don’t know is just a matter of a smart search away. Why? Because all of this data has been collected by the people in charge. Did they do this to you personally? Of course not. You’re just one guy.”

I drank my drink, sipping silently on it as she spoke. Just one guy? No way. I was Robert Randolph, and that’s what I replied. She smiled at me and shook her head.

“Robert Randolph is a collection of information in a system designed to keep him in check, making things just good enough that he doesn’t notice how badly he’s being taken advantage of,” She tossed a tablet across the table to me, skidding it through some spilled beer. “And just distracted enough that he doesn’t do anything about it. Just like billions of others.

“Think about it. Back before we had the ability to do the things we do today, we were all afraid of the coming capitalist concern that would taint this technology. Longer life, but only for the rich. Beauty for the already beautiful. Panacea for the powerful. What would have happened had that world been the result, though? A new form of class, the haves and have nots, and as is inevitable in that situation the have nots would eventually rebel.

“They got smart! Of course they did. They’ve played the same hand before. Release the pressure valve just enough that most people are content with the scraps. Keep them in the system and feeding from your hand and they’ll do whatever you want. Robert Randolph, you’re a sucker and a shill. They sold you their snake oil and now you’re ready to stay sidelined forever.”

I toured the tablet, eyes adjusting to the electric emission. My full medical records, of course, but she’d already hinted she had that. The tablet also held the totality of my history of capitalist consumption, a figment of figures that followed your fellow, any fraction of which could put fact to fact to follow not only my past, but my present, and could even trace me into the future, probably.

“I like that I’ll live longer,” said I, hoping I sounded like I believed it, “I like that I can be what I want to be, baby.”

“You can be what they want you to be. Nothing more. Come home with me and I’ll show you.”

How could I cower away from that? We crept away from the club, yours truly more compromised than I wanted to admit by copious amounts of drink.

***

The two of us traipsed through the city streets, or should I say I followed and she led, and as we made our way through alleys and avenues she told me about anarchist thinkers like Bakunin and Goldman. I’m not sure old Emma would have approved of what my eyes were analyzing.

The sound of sirens broke the speech, and she stopped and stuck us in an alley, glancing out. She nicked her neck to the side just so, urging me to witness what was going on in the world. She whisked her hand against my shoulder, and ducked down to dodge across the way, and I followed her as fast as I could figure.

“Watch.” Her voice was hushed.

We had a better view from this side, and we could see the police pull over and push there way into a populated apartment building. She looked perturbed, eyebrows furrowing as the police patter sang out into the street. Shouting stilted commands, and eventually dragging some struggling punks out the front door. One of the cops stood over the strangers, shoving them brutally into the back of the black on black cop car, his partner barging back into the building and coming out carrying a computer tower, which he threw into the trunk.

Gardenia glowered at the scene, and growled and balled her fist before punching the wall of the alley. She swore under her breath, before she brought herself to face me, figured me out in a glance, and then held out her hand.

“Can I borrow your phone? I can’t use mine.” She savored me with the sweetest smile, and I handed it over without a hitch.

***

Minute minutes later, and a car ground into place perpendicular to the alleyway. Gardenia had been quiet, crossing her arms and keeping low, and I couldn’t keep from noticing that she had kept my phone clenched in her fist like she was waiting for a call. When the vehicle arrived, she looked up at me and handed that phone back, and firmly forced me into the back, getting in beside me. I was face to face with a fellow you didn’t see every day. The man’s face was fractured into a network of scars, cross crossing over each other. He was as broken as Gardenia was beautiful. His bald head nodded and he held out his hand with half a grin.

“Sorry about the trouble, pal. My name is Pate. You’re Robert Randolph. We can take you with us, or we can drop you off somewhere. Up to you, friend.

I thought about it thoroughly. Taking my time, I looked between Pate and Gardenia, and considered my continuance in their probably criminal caper.

“I’m tagging with you two. Her arguments taken with me,” I said, and took Pate’s hand.

“It usually does,” she said.

***

 

 

Cleanmeat, Pt. 1

I was watching the mall stream their video to my glasses, munching merrily on a cleanmeat burger when my market preferences matched me with the news about the theft of my modclinic’s clientele menu.

Handy thing to have, when your heuristically logged human interest preferences are handled through your network, hanging about you like spidersilk threads catching any stories of significance to yours truly. The story flashed up in the far right corner of my famously astute gaze and, being furtive about anything fucking around with my functional (and expensive) fabricated biology, I fetched the story up and forsook watching the crowd to find out what facts were being funneled into my general awareness.

The news barely noticed, not concerning itself generally with non-interesting notifications from local cops about low-key industrial espionage, and it was notionally something I would have disregarded but for the notion that the hand that held the hamburger was bought from that hatchetshop just the week before. Powerful and proud, capable of pounding concrete into paste, and capable of fine control too. I was proud of those digits. Proud of how much scratch I put into them, too.

And now some thief had taken off with a total map of my DNA, and maybe even the slurry of cells my compromised arm had been concocted in. No good.

Being the bastion of good sense I was, I bandied up a call to the cops and began the process of adding my cognomen to the list of casualties of criminal behavior. Back then, I had confidence that the cops had my concerns firmly in mind. I went back to eating my burger, believing I had nothing better to do than let bygones be bygones; Justice would be done.

***

You know how the world works. You wend your way from work to play, and if something wonky works its way into your day to day, you let it slide. You settle. You glide. What else can you do? You could worry yourself into an early grave, or forget about it. Well, I was a be and let be sort of guy, so what I did is I left the mall and returned to my loft, taking the train through town at rush hour. I had a date with destiny that I didn’t see coming, after all.

That’s the funny thing about finding your fate; It taps you on the temple and says “Today is the the day.” You don’t get to turn it away. Or hide.

I returned home, and turned on the television, navigating through the networks and letting data talk with metadata, taking my time to turn away the days concerns and confidently charging into complete complacency. I let my brain become befuddled in bad video, and island-bound beauties bounding nearly naked in the sun, ambitious and avaricious; To the winner go the spoils, dishing up the dollars to most dastardly. We gave up on the underdog a dogs age ago and now we cheer for jerks. At least, I did.

I was content in my complacency, letting concerns wash away in the light of liquid crystal, high definition, when a call came in over the connection my glasses had to my phone. I remember the words exactly, and the electronic exuberance of the voice, distorted.

“Is this Robert Randolph? I wonder if you know whats hidden in that arm of yours. Want to find out? Come down to The Bodega at twenty, alone.”

I felt the shiver down my spine come up, sending away any response, or threat I might have made. What exactly can you wear to your own extortion, exactly? I knew the venue, so I verified I’d show. They say that curiosity killed the cat but I consider that the cat that plays everything carefully and with a minimum of aplomb has an acute absence of attitude, and that’s seriously the most unforgivable sin.

Two hours later I was timidly sitting at the table, tapping my totally stunning nails on the sanded table top, time ticking away in the corner of my sight. The music made me marvel even through my mortification. It made me want to move, maybe in any direction away from there. Still, the sound of her speech cut through the stunning boom boom boom of the settings chosen tune, and cowardice was cast away in favor of critical concern.

“They do nice work, I have to admit,” she said, her voice reverberating through my very soul itself.

“I paid a pretty penny,” I said.

“No doubt. Well rest easy, friend, its not your cash we’re after.”

I took the time to check her out, and I think I fell in love. She was amazing and antique, and authentic in a way that people weren’t. No augmentation that I could analyze, and that made me alert. In this season of subsidized self improvement, no one saved themselves her way. You were always as amazing on the outside as you were on the inside, at least that’s what the advertisements said. Compared to my carefully crafted corpse, she was rare and I was raring.

She took me on a trip through our countries antiquity. The recent past and present, perfectly placing itself for its frightening future. We’ve all done time with books about dystopia and doom, dying to leave a literature class in favor of liquid liberation.

“It turns out,” she said after hours of conversation, “what they really want is for you to just tune out. They want you to focus on aesthetics, and forget about your ethics.”

I didn’t perceive if it was the potable she paid for, or my pending passion, but I found her words persuasive, enough at least that I agreed to participate in pending proletariat action.