Nanowrimo 2015: Starting with the characters

nanowrimo_logowithwords

Hey everybody, long time no see!

I’m working on a new novel, and this time it is a sequel. This story has been a long time coming, but unfortunately as I’ve come closer to NaNoWriMo time, my original inspirations have started to fade away. Now I’m left with a vague sense of a character, and a setting I have only explored once.

So why don’t we just talk about that character?

Character Profile: Delilah ‘Dada’

Serious, thoughtful, and adaptive. Those are the words I would use to describe Delilah, aka Dada to her friends. She was always going to be a priestess, a woman of the faith of Jua (the primary god in the biggest religion in the setting), if her life allowed it.

Some would call her manipulative. When she speaks to people, she twists her words to get the best result. Her life, since she was young, has been trying to get the world to bend her way. She doesn’t do it out of spite, it is just the best course of action, the way to get the world to work the smoothest. If you see someone angry, why not say what you have to say in the best tone to make sure they don’t take it out on you? This is Dada’s life, and when talking one on one, she becomes anyone’s best friend. When speaking to a crowd, she can make their hearts sing. Unfortunately, when in an intimate group, needing to deal with a few individuals, she suffers as she bounces between different needs in the conversation.

Dada is college educated, with a degree in the theology she uses everyday. Her husband (or ‘mate’ as he would generally be called) balances her everyday life by giving her the time to formulate that she needs to be a priestess in a large busy neighborhood.

Unfortunately for their relationship, Dada is so focused on her religion that she puts her community and temple before her own home. To Dada, she is in love with god first, her temple second, and her mate, Hans, third. This is something she would never vocalize to Hans (it wouldn’t make him feel good after all), but is a fact she holds true to herself. In fact, her love for god could be considered, unconventional even in the eyes of the greater faith.

Dada had a fun past. In fact, she had wild years in college while she was still wondering if she would go through with her major. Drinking, partying, days away from her family household, and the occasional bout of drug usage. She put all of that in her past when she put on her vestments, and with the help of Hans’s family, they moved to a new neighborhood and started their lives fresh.

Now she serves a governor, several wealthy families, and even has a chance to meet some of the most important people in the country. That is, as long as she can keep herself, her household, and her faith, intact.

Short Fiction Experiment: A Supernatural Fight Scene

This is more than 10 years in the making. I had an itch, and decided to write a fight I would have imagined in my childhood, when I spent most of my time ripping off ideas from cartoons and comics. The ideas here are lifted from old journals, but the writing would have looked foreign to high school me. Hold on to your butts.

Crimson vs Violet

Viktor shuffled in behind the other students, looking for the best seat left to look down into the arena. He could already feel the tension, students from across classes chattering with each other and spreading different rumors. He found who he was looking for, a small girl in glasses named Lula, and sat down next to her.

“Who is it today?” Viktor asked.

Lula bolted upright in her seat, and looked at Viktor, “You scared me.”

He smiled, but Lula adjusted her glasses and looked back toward the arena. Thick glass separated them from the fighting area, which went down at least 25 feet below the sloped viewing area. The arena was simple, a white floor with lines meeting at a point in the center. The walls were solid, and looked unblemished.

“It is Eric against a Crimson I’ve only heard stories about,” Lula said.

Viktor knew Eric, the boy was the same age as him, but was already a wave ahead of him by the time he entered the school. The guy always seemed a little silly, but he was helpful.

“So it is for their second wave?” Viktor asked.

Lula just nodded. Her eyes were locked on the arena as two sections on the floor shifted down to allow the combatants entry. This was one of the reasons Lula was so good to sit next to during duels, she made it her business to know something about everything.

Of all the Violets at his level, she was one of the most dangerous to fight.

As Eric entered the arena, the whole section around him erupted into cheers. The boy was wearing a glowing purple shirt, and his black pants had a highlight of purple down the side. As the lights in the arena picked up, Viktor could see the purple around him as well. It was in the shirt of the guy in front of him, in Lula’s robe, in his own shorts and vest. They were Violet, and Eric was one of their own.

The competition entered, a girl he thought he had seen at least once before. She was as tall as Eric, easily, with blonde hair that looked like it had never been tamed in her life. It ran down her back in wild shocks. Her outfit was simple compared to Eric’s patterned outfit. It was a close fitting sports top, with red bands on her already intimidating biceps. Her pants were full of that same loud red color, and Viktor could look across the arena to the Crimson students cheering as they had before.

“That’s her,” Lula said, “Anita.”

The Crimson flexed and let out a whooping shout that reverberated off the glass. She had tooth-filled grin on her face, and did a spin for the crowd. When Viktor looked at Eric, the Violet boy just stood there smiling.

“Can Eric win?” Viktor asked.

The two combatants were across the arena from each other, but they stood straight, and clasped their palms together. With a nod, they gave their last signs of respect before by the rules, they were locked in combat until one was defeated. With the motion, there was a small rush of heat, and two weapons appeared in the arena. For Anita, a hand axe, the head emblazoned with an orange flame. For Eric, a staff, the same weapon as Viktor.

“It depends on if Eric can see the pattern,” Lula said with confidence, “If he studied Anita at all, he should see her coming a day in advance.”

Eric grabbed his staff, and held it behind his back. Anita touched her weapon, and then let it fall to the ground with a disorganized clang.

“First,” Lula said, “Intimidation. Typical red tactic, come in hard, throw them off balance.”

Anita charged forward, screaming at the top of her lungs. With her fists in tight and front, she closed the distance with Eric before Viktor could blink. She threw the first punch, and Eric barely managed to lean out of the way, the next forced him back toward the wall, and with the third he brought up his staff to intercept.

The punch made Eric slide a few feet before he came to a stop, and Viktor could see the look of surprise on his face. Eric wasn’t so far above Viktor, Viktor planned to qualify for his own duel soon. Eric’s moves weren’t so different from his own, using his staff to deflect force, trying to keep Anita at bay. As the Crimson tried to keep close, Eric used the staff to swing from her unguarded sides after each punch.

There was a problem though, Anita’s blows had power behind them that couldn’t just be tossed aside. When her punches hit, you could feel it in the crowd, and Eric was being forced out of his collected stance. He couldn’t maneuver if he could never stand on two feet.

Eric kept backing up, throwing harmless strikes whenever he could. Then he made his first big mistake. While he was still stepping back, he tried to turn and make a wide swing with his staff. The blow was ducked, and Anita pulled the punch, instead throwing kick into Eric’s stomach that took him off his feet and into the wall.

“Not looking good so far,” Lula shook her head, “this isn’t like him, too stubborn.”

“Eric is usually a little wild,” Viktor said, “Maybe he was told to keep it cool today.”

It wasn’t uncommon, at least among Violets, for teachers to give goals during important fights. It was one thing to earn your way, it was another to earn it while holding yourself to a higher standard.

“Maybe,” Lula grumbled.

Eric came back, stick forward. Viktor could see his plan before it was executed. He had his back against the wall, he needed to get some space, and that meant using his staff almost like a spear, prodding forward until Anita gave him enough personal space to work on his offensive. It was working, sort of.

“Next is oppression,” Lula said, “Anita will try to humiliate him.”

Anita charged in, and threw several punches to Eric’s body. He blocked what he could, but the punches weren’t the point. The wild haired woman feinted a blow, then brought a roundhouse kick down on Eric.

It was slow, sloppy, and if it landed it would crush Eric’s ego flat. Viktor moved to the edge of his seat, the moment seeming to play out in slow motion. Eric ducked the kick, and spun around, then swatted Anita to the face with a two-armed swing.

The crack could be heard in the audience, and a cheer rang out through the Violets. Anita was thrown off her feet, sailed back, and hit the ground with a heavy thud.

Viktor joined the yelling, they chanted Eric’s name, screamed “Vi-o-let!”, and whatever else came to mind.

Anita rolled as she landed, pulled herself to her knees, and flipped back. It was an amazing recovery, and Viktor looked to his side to see that Lula was still in her seat, silent. He sat down, not sure if he should be nervous.

Eric seemed excited, he twirled his staff around, held a hand up for the crowd, and enjoyed the moment of adoration.

Anita reached down and picked up her axe. Her free hand reached to the bruise spreading across the side of her face, and wiped away the blood coming from her nose.

“She’s tough,” Viktor said.

“She wouldn’t have done it, if she couldn’t take the counter,” Lula offered.

Anita charged again, axe back and over her shoulder. Eric back into a defensive stance, and blocked the first swing. Viktor could see the force of the impact, like heat streaming from each blow. She mixed things up with fist strikes from her free hand, knees to Eric’s gut, and a shoulder when he least expected it.

That was Crimson, all about passion, power. They came in screaming, spilled their guts in the arena, acted reckless. They were the loudest, they were the strongest, they were the team that could break any line. In the grand scheme, they were shock troops, terrifying to behold and worse to face.

Anita plugged a knee into Eric’s side, and the blow knocked his staff out of position. The handle of her axe struck him across the face, then she brought her elbow back to put him on the ground.

As Eric’s back hit the arena floor, Anita let out a hoot that was echoed by her crimson compatriots. She had a wide smile across her face, and her eyes were filled with a fury Viktor couldn’t understand.

If Eric was off, this could be the end. Anita’s axe came up, and Viktor tightened up as if it was him there on the floor. A certain amount of injury was allowed by the school masters, you could spend time recovering from a duel. Death was never allowed, and teams like Crimson were trained to go for death blows to get matches called immediately.

Eric’s staff reached up and blocked it at the handle. Anita reached up and struck again, Eric’s staff wavering under the strike. Again she pulled up, and again Eric blocked her.

“Then comes exhaustion,” Lula said, “pound them until they are too weak to fight.”

He couldn’t win like this. Not just being on his back, but being pounded on over and over, he was standing still, letting the fight come to him. He was trapped, and Viktor couldn’t see any way out of it now.

The axe fell again, and it struck with a glimmer of light. Viktor’s attention went to the meeting of their weapons, that point where Anita’s flaming axe was against the plain metal of Eric’s staff. There was color there, like a shimmering purple point. The staff twirled in place, with the axe’s impact like an axis. Her blow was twirled away, thrown off to the side, and the axe struck at her legs, sweeping them clean out from beneath her. Eric rose from his back in a whirlwind of blow, his legs swinging around him until he was held up by one hand his legs splayed in the air, and Anita had fallen back.

Eric twisted and went to his feet, spinning until he was facing Anita again. The crowd began to cheer, but Viktor was stunned. There was something about that, watching a path he had never considered.

Violet was creativity. Not just thinking outside the box, but specifically the freedom to think using your own box. Every Violet was trained to strike their own path, find the walkways between the obvious, and enforce their own individuality. They were less defensive and passive than Indigo, they were less devious than the rare shadows. They were freedom.

Anita picked herself up, and hyped herself slaps to her shoulders and chest. Eric shifted in place, his staff was still, but his body moved with a slow rhythm. It wasn’t a stance or kata that Viktor knew, Eric seemed to be in a zone. Even though he put Anita down again, he wasn’t smiling, he was focused.

Anita charged with her axe tucked in. Her blows came in fast, keeping her axe hand forward for punching out as if she wasn’t carrying the weapon.

Eric stepped to the side with each blow, his staff carrying the weight when he had to, and dodging others completely. Anita brought the axe out for a strong blow, and Eric swept around it, striking her in the back of the head and sending her staggering forward. She came in again, this time trying a restrained kick to his stomach. Eric stepped back and popped her on the top of the head with the tip of his staff.

“Amazing,” Viktor heard Lula mumble.

He looked over and saw her eyes wide. Viktor didn’t know what he was seeing in the arena. Was Eric just winning, or was it something more? Sure his moves were smooth, but couldn’t any of them do the same? Viktor was ready for this, like many of the others in the stands.

Anita roared at Eric, and the glass shuddered at the sound. She brought her axe up, and an unnatural wave of heat filled the room. The axe went orange, came down, and struck the floor of the arena. A burst of flame erupted high over her head and swept forward.

Viktor leaped from his seat as Anita called on the supernatural fire. Was she really just a first wave? It was impossible, and the spread was too wide, too fast.

There flame was too intense for a moment, and Viktor covered his eyes. Then he saw something, rising up from the flames. Eric was floating up, rotating up from his staff, the rod stuck down in the flames and vaulting him into the air. He soared out of the fire, pulled his staff up above him, and tucked into a spin.

Viktor wasn’t ready for second wave.

Eric came out of his spin with his staff ready, and a wide smile on his face. Anita looked up just in time, her eyes filled with disbelief, before the staff struck from above.

The room went silent, and the flames extinguished themselves.

Eric pointed his staff at Anita, and the girl tried to reach out for her axe. Her hand was trembling, and then fell, before she collapsed on the floor.

The arena had a seered mark across it, and a large crack where Anita struck the ground. Standing there in the middle, was Eric, with his staff.

There was a blinding light, and three robed forms appeared. A large man in red kneeled next to Anita. His face was twisted up in frustration, but he tended to his disciple. A man in purple, who smiled at Eric, and put a hand on his shoulder. Finally, a woman in all white, whose long white hair and radiant appearance made her stick out even among the masters.

In another flash, Anita was gone, and the Violets began to cheer again.

Eric stood before the mistress of light, and the woman reached out to the victorious student. Before her hand even got close, his staff began to glow, an etching carving itself in the metal surface, images and characters drawing down the surface like a calligrapher’s pen. When it was through, the black staff had a design in gold and violet, unique to Eric besides twin crescents near the top.

The rest would come later, with ceremony, a new uniform, and a new rank. For now, Eric was victorious, and Viktor knew he had a lot more to learn.

Daily Write: The Last Author

I’ve had this idea for a while, but I didn’t get far on it today. I’m trying, as hard as I can, to avoid ‘boo hoo, poor English major’ writing here. For one, that really limits the audience to other poor saps with an English degree. There are plans for tension, and if I was kind, the story would inflate to something quite dramatic.

The Last Author (A section of the opening)

He shook off the rain from his jacket, and set his hat down on a table in the break room. Tyler was there, like always.

“Hey Bill,” Tyler said as he stirred his coffee, “What is on the agenda today?”

Tyler never knew what was on the agenda until he sat down at his desk. That was one of the hard parts of being an editor. At least, that is what he told himself. When something crossed his screen, he did what had to be done, and then moved on to the next item.

“I imagine,” Bill said as he folded his jacket, “something covering the peace talks in the Middle East.”

Tyler shook his head, “Always something with those people right? Seems like it is always something.”

Bill shrugged, “Always.”

Tyler reached for the stack of coffee toppers, and waved on his way out the door. That was Bill’s cue to put his lunch away, and head for his desk. The mornings were always roughest, Chomsky put out content overnight, which meant that Gail would be on him hard until he caught up.

The halls of the building were barren, each door signifying some department or another. Bill rarely checked what the other rooms were for, their names were complicated jargon, like Sophistication and Adaptation department, or Integration, Reintegration, and Deintegration offices. He passed them all, and found his own door, Poetics Diagnostics.

He opened the door and found two more doors, one to the right, and one to the left. Both were unmarked, and he mindlessly moved to the right door. It opened to a small office, one large tinted window facing the desk and monitor, space enough for two additional monitors and a box for his belongings.

Bill hit the switch near the wall, and waited as everything lit up.

“Hello there, Bill,” Said Gail over an intercom, “You’re right on time, like always.”

His computer monitor came on with words already spread across the primary screen. He could see that it was a news article, the headline said ‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East.’

Bill smiled to himself. He put his case in the box in the corner, with his jacket, then sat down at the desk.

‘The Hope For The Talks in the Middle East’
by Emmanuel Levy

‘Today begins the fifth day of peace talks between the powerful nations…’

‘…while fighting in the streets have made the exchanges difficult for diplomats and fighters, the people still have hope for a peaceful solution…’

‘Part of the tension is laid at the feet of insurgents, lead by a powerful and enigmatic cleric named…’

Already Bill could see the small mistakes he expected out of Chomsky. The computer, affectionately named after the former philosopher and activist, was one of half a dozen authorship machines in the West. It output poignant and researched political articles on every topic imaginable, abortion, theology, war, medicine, and all without missing a single deadline.

Once it was explained to Bill that XKK-3754, or Chomsky, could complete over two dozen articles for, against, and in criticism of a topic in the time it took live writers to draw up an outline. This meant that with minimal maintenance, and a light diagnostics staff (that was him), they could move creative assets to other parts of the business.

At least that was what they promised when Chomsky was first being integrated into media offices. Then came the layoffs.

“Are you ready to begin?” Gail said in her formal tone.

Bill pressed the button on his desktop, “Yeah, go ahead.”

“I’m going to drop the screen now, wave hi to me.”

It was the silliest part of the day. He looked up over the monitor, and the tint of the window faded away, revealing a young woman opposite of him. Black hair, glasses, nothing exotic. Still, when it was the face you saw once a day, every day, it left an impact on you.

She waved at him without a word, and he waved back. Then the window’s tint went dark again. She was gone for another 24 hours.

“We will start with catch-up articles, and should make 10am quota. Nothing complicated is expected.”

Bill nodded, and looked over the peace talks article again. He saw the mistakes, not only grammatical, or stylistic, but factual. He wasn’t an expert on the situation, but reading Chomsky’s articles meant that he knew enough to make sure the program was staying consistent.

Still, words echoed in his mind. “Bill, you aren’t a writer.”

It was Gail’s reprimand when he submitted a heavily edited article that came up in his queue.

“You aren’t a writer, and you should be thankful.”

It made him remember when the Poetics Diagnostics program first opened at his university, in the last year of his degree. Finally, the fear was alleviated. So many students had resigned themselves to unemployment, the marketability of their degree crumbling around them. They had an escape, and Bill took it.

Now he was a poetics diagnostician, but everyone still called him an editor. He was the last mind before Chomsky’s automated stories hit the internet. Which meant he was necessary to save the company from any mistakes Chomsky might make.

He took to the article, weighing each problem against the whole. The fighting in the streets made life dangerous for diplomats and ‘civilians’, the media had taken to using the title ‘imam’ instead of simply calling them clerics, small mistakes that Chomsky would repeat until correct enough times that whatever algorithms were in place would figure it out.

Bill fought himself over one last edit. He was already up there. Regardless of the size or nature of the edits, the program took them as a raw value. Too much altered from the original caused trouble.

It was the sixth day of peace talks, he was sure of it. Bill double checked the previous articles, and was validated. He made the change, then hit submit.

A second passed before a dialog window popped up in front of him.

‘Suggested changes exceeds per-submission quota. Please limit changes, and try again.’

He felt a small pinch in his gut, but didn’t let it get to him. Often, this was easy to solve. He removed a change, and then submitted again, only to have the article bounce. He didn’t want to think it was anything in particular, so he changed it again, and it bounced again. Bill took a breath, then changed it back to the fifth day. When he submitted it, a new article appeared in front of him.

Giving the world the news it needed was as easy as that.

Fiction Excerpt: “More of that brother MMO thing”

 They say you have to write every day. I had the urge, so I decided to blindly continue a piece I previewed here last year.

snowstorm

 

“I just don’t get what I’m doing wrong,” I growled.

 

Everything was white around me. The hills were dunes of snow, blowing away and reforming with the wind. The sky was a slight shade off, shifting as wave after wave of fresh powder hit the ground around me. I could pick out trees, but only because their trunks were a distinct earth tone against the rest of my surroundings.

 

“You’re waiting too long,” Gritty whispered to me, “I’ve never seen someone react as slow as you.”

 

I moved a little closer so I could see over the hill in front of me. I couldn’t tell if it could see me, but I didn’t want to risk being outsmarted a third time. It was a stupid animal, this wasn’t supposed to be difficult.

 

There it was, against the snow, something like a deer. I say like a deer, because it was relatively wooly, like a shaggy llama. Also, whoever thought of those horns needed a lesson or two in overdesigning. Each of its horns was like a tree on its own, arcing up, splitting off in branches that were also burdened with snow.

 

Gritty moved closer, and I wondered if he wasn’t going to just go after it himself. I still didn’t know why he was helping me. Lord knows I didn’t deserve it. I hefted up my spear as if ready to throw it, pointed at the woolbuck.

 

The wind picked up in a burst that nearly tossed the spear from my hand.

 

“Shit,” I whispered. The woolbuck turned this way and that, and for a moment I was afraid I spooked it.

 

“Yeah,” Gritty said, “That’s the last warning. It’ll get dark soon, which means we need to get back to the island.”

 

That was what he insisted on calling the starting area. Either that or some other demeaning combination of noob, land, ville, town, or shitter. I tried to ignore it. I was new, I deserved the insults, especially if I couldn’t down a simple animal in the woods.

 

Gritty told me that first night, “If you don’t kill, you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. Sounds obvious, then 50% of new players die once in shitter town and never play again.”

 

I saw the other players in the noob town. The game had a way of displaying hunger on a character. You could see their faces under their furred hoods, stretched then and turning blue. Some of them gestured wildly, trying to get the attention of any other character they could. They begged with what little breath they had, for food, money, trades. The other half were quiet, standing like statues that turned more stoney by the minute.

 

I refused to die. I told myself I would play the game, find my brother, for his sake. It wasn’t a matter of life or death, rather a case of ‘maybe I can figure out why my brother can be such an ass.’

 

It was important to me.

 

“If you’re going to throw it,” Gritty said, “Do it. I’m not going to get dead because you can’t click a button.”

 

“Shut up,” I said.

 

“I’ll give you a hint, if you see it lower its head, you already fucked it up.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“You can just save me a spear that way.”

 

I creeped up closer, and readied the spear again. I could see my character test the heft in his hand, and I knew it was primed. Another step up, and I was in range. I needed to close a little distance, and build up enough strength. One step, arm up. The woolbuck ducked down, but the spear was already in the air.

 

It turned toward me, eyes hidden by fluffy tufts of white fur. With one motion it twirled on the spot, dodging the spear, and then ran through into the hills.

 

“Wow,” Gritty exclaimed, “Just wow. It’s like you hate food. Are you vegan? You can tell me.”

 

I grumbled to myself. I didn’t need him to know how mad I was, how much I wished I even had a chance of taking a tick out of his life. How John made it through being this week was beyond me. Maybe my little brother was used to that, people seeing him as the little guy, but that wasn’t me.

 

“Are we going back?” I asked.

 

My character was standing tall now, no spears left to throw, and nothing left to attack.

 

“Better,” Gritty said. He pulled out a spear of his own, clearly of a better make than mine. While I had spears made of a long thick branch, and the sharpest rock I could find, Gritty’s looked like an actual weapon. The wood was straight, balanced. The spearhead was still self-carved, but it wasn’t the awkward rock slapped together with some rope like mine.

 

“Here,” He said as he threw the spear to me, “In case you need it.”

 

I caught it, and Gritty took the lead. The horizon was shining purple, we were running low on time.

 

“You really think someone would attack this close to the island?” I asked.

 

Gritty didn’t answer for a little. It either meant I was going to be ignored, or he just hadn’t noticed me. Either way, it didn’t make me feel safe.

 

“I would,” Gritty said, “Only thing keeping it safe is people like me.”

 

The idea made me tap my toes. Was that true? While in town, I saw the occasional message about players saved by town watch. I always thought those were non-player characters. Was Gritty part of the watch? Why bother? It couldn’t be lucrative, was it fun? This was a game after all, wasn’t fun the point?

 

On the other hand, I knew exactly why other players would attack new players, noobs. Knowing the kind of kids that kept playing these games, knowing John, that was no surprise at all.

 

“Stop,” Gritty said, “You hear that?”

 

I hadn’t heard anything but the howling wind, and  the artificial sound of crunching snow as we walked. I readied the spear.

 

#NaNoWriMo Day 19: Your Creativity Only Goes So Far

Isn’t that the greatest lesson of Nano? It seems harsh, but I’ve been at this for 5 years, and I think that has always been my realization as NaNoWriMo goes on. You may think you had a great idea, you may think that your plan could burn through 10 books of information. You would be wrong.

Because our imagination isn’t a book, or a movie, or a one season television micro-series. What you have in your head is something different from what goes down on paper, and the difference between that exciting image, and the cruel reality, can be painful for the uninitiated. 

I think my clearest memory of the difference between imagination and reality relates to an amazing video game called Ice Hockey. It was for the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, the original Nintendo. In my head, this game was the holy grail. The controls were tight, the graphics amazing for their time. When I found another copy of Ice Hockey, I could feel the memories rushing. I knew exactly how it played, I knew the game by heart. Well, my imagination’s version. The real game is still fun, one of my favorite sports games, but the sentimental value definitely outweighs the… gameplay value.

This difference, this cognitive dissonance, works with art as well. When I originally wrote a NaNoWriMo, I was adapting a story about a man who woke up without his memories, in a world where the same happened to everyone. The idea was chaos, just getting down the block would be tough, some people had gone nuts, others tried to adapt and communicate despite not even knowing how to speak a language.

In my head the main character had a long path that would easily fill the 50,000 words. He would save a woman from a man who managed to take over a supermarket. He would find a community and they would find educational material to help relearn the world. Then he would fall in love with the lady he saved, a beautiful final act that would conclude my masterpiece.

I burned through all of that in about 15,000 words (of 50,000). So, suddenly I had to figure out what else I needed to do. I thought my story idea could fill the world, and instead I barely created a few chapters of a book.

I pushed the story on further, created deeper characters in the community they put together, created new conflicts besides the lack of memories, gave my characters real goals. Over time, things changed, grew bigger, and the story went from a flat concept to something worth writing about. The silly story I thought of a few nights before November, became a 50,000 word novel that I remember fondly.

Of course, I never would have realized how long it was, if I hadn’t tried. That is the real goal of NaNoWriMo, it shows you what you can think, and what you can truly create. The difference between the quaint idea, and the concrete reality. The worlds you want to create can stay memories, ideas that give you a tingling feeling, and for many people that is good enough. The idea, as small and undeveloped as it is, can fill the space in your brain as if it were the real deal. For me, Ice Hockey was the game of the year, and if I had never played the game again, it would have continued to hold that positive space in my mind.

For some of us, leaving that memory be is impossible. The idea has to find an outlet, and if it isn’t as a 50,000 word novel, then maybe it will be a 10,000 word short story, or a 2,000 word flash short. It has to come out though, or it will pester you, prick at the back of your brain, remind you that it is not reality. 

So you have to make the choice. An unrefined reality, or an unreal image. 

#NaNoWriMo Day 4, The First Hooks of the Grind

The hardest part of Nano, if I had to say so, is keeping yourself motivated. It is easy to pick a story idea, and realize quickly that you have no idea what you want to do, or how you ever planned to do it. Personally, my last two NaNos have had completely different levels of planning.

Last year, at this point, I had a moleskine full of notes on the world, characters, gods, society. Everything I could want to know, I had it written down somewhere. Sure there were still things I had to make up, phrases and names I had to decide on, but the heaviest lifting was already done. I would end up adding most of my notes to the finished novel after I finished it, bolstering the 50,000 words to around 66k. 

This year, my only prep was a short story I wrote when I first started this blog, and a lot of nerd activity in the meantime. My ideas are lifted wholesale from Neuromancer, Shadowrun, Android: Netrunner, and I don’t apologize for that. So when I decided to write some hacking, imagine my surprise when I didn’t know how I wanted to portray it. 

It was a difficult situation, since I didn’t want to lose the interest of the reader (which in this case is effectively, me), but if it felt too technical, that would be easy. At the same time, I wanted to avoid hollywood hacking, like the infamous ‘two users on one keyboard’ scene from a certain cop show.

This is a piece of what I came up with.

(Once again, excuse the lack of editing.)

 

“Talkback,” He said as he stood, “Give me, Red Bait.”

“Yes, Sir,” Talkback said, vibrating again as another construct began to appear between the two of them.

It was like a man, sort of, more like if someone tried to build a man out of meatloaf. It was chunky, and wobbly. It was bait. Fuller pulled up a display, touched a few points to adjust the program, then closed the display.

With a spasm, Red Bait ran toward the Blustar server. It looked like a shambling scarecrow, now possessed.

“No activity,” Talkback said.

The point was simple, he wanted to know how long it took for Blustar to react. The bait program manifested on the net, hijacked a random dumbserver, and went about running the gunline of ICE. Simple, effective.

“Trace started,” Talkback said.

Fuller could see it. Out of the ground, a shadow form flashed into the sky, it spread out a pair of wings, flicking off digital feathers. It was a hawk, maybe an eagle. It followed the fast moving bait program, diving to catch up with Fuller’s meatloaf man.

It didn’t attack though, that wasn’t its purpose. It wouldn’t do to fry a random user’s connection because they ventured the wrong way. They wanted to know who they were frying first. Then they could remove the threat, and note it as one more scriptbaby threat removed.

The bait was getting close to the server now, and still no sign of the defensive ICE. Fuller recognized the trace ICE, it was old school, something he would have dodged in his free time as a kid, using a jacked deck half-duct taped together.

The bait was almost to the server itself when the hawk dove back down into the ground. The trace was complete. A wall rose up around the server, like a massive chainlink fence constructing itself on the spot.

The bait man ran into it, fell to the ground, and flailed there.

“Not too bad,” Fuller said, “I think we can handle that.”

Fuller pulled up a display, and typed up a message. With it sent, he pulled up a program, and then shifted toward the server.

The area around him barely seemed to move, as if the server was getting smaller as he got closer to it. He didn’t let it disturb him, and instead focused on the first line of defense. Talkback was floating right next to him, no matter how fast he moved.

When the eaglebird popped from the ground, Fuller kept his pace. He knew that he didn’t need to speed up, his connection was already better than Red Bait. The bird followed, swooping down from above to get closer.

Fuller reached out and touched Talkback, “Go with Multiball.”

As he said it, his body split into 5 copies of himself, each spreading out as they raced toward the Blustar remote server. The hawk swooped in closer and dug digital talons into one Fuller, and it popped like a balloon, leaving scattered lines of energy.

The bird was undeterred, and moved to the next, striking it just as hard and failing just as fast. Fuller number three and four ended the same. There was one Fuller left, getting closer to the server itself. The bird streaked forward, chasing after Fuller and his small speck construct.

Its beak passed straight through him as it dove, and then his body bloated and exploded. The bird stopped, circling in place as it tried to figure out where to go next. Eventually, it dove down into the foundation of the net, and was swallowed up by the terrain.

The small talkback construct streaked toward the server, stopping just in time to meet the rising chainlink wall of ice.

Talkback grew exponentially in size, morphing and shaping until it was the avatar of Fuller. Then a new Talkback formed beside him.

“We don’t have long,” He said, “Give me the Portable Door.”

The Net was all about interpretation. While the world looked like avatars playing games with other avatars, the truth was a matter of code that behaved close to what it appeared to be. A fence was simple, it didn’t let you pass through, it was effectively a wall. While you might imagine to be able to see past it, Fuller knew it was rather that it was porous, not strong enough to stop anything tough. It didn’t let foreign users past it without verification, and those who were verified were either never stopped, or given a door.

A small latch appeared in his hand, he recognized it as the opening latch for a chainlink fence. He tossed it toward the fence, and saw it waver on contact. The latch slid into place, and a crease began to form, forming a square shape in the fence itself. A fence gate.

As it finished, the fence opened, and Fuller slid inside.

No sooner than he passed the threshold, there was a distinctive grinding noise. Fuller turned in time to see a forming crank cannon.

He ran the line, the weapon firing at him as he moved, several shots striking his digital representation.

It hurt, in a different way. It made his whole body feel distant, like his brain was detached at the base of his skull, his vision going blurry, and his limbs moving sluggish. He needed to move, get a little further.

As he touched the building itself, he heard the weapons fire become distant. He was out of its range. His hand that was touching the server gave off a faint glow, and as Fuller twitched his fingers, a display opened up on its side.

“Talkback,” He said, “Search for transmissions on the date of our mission, and the day before. Make it quick.”

The construct hummed, and he could see information flowing past his fingers. It was all useless garbage, work schedules, HR payroll, building entry codes.

“I have it, sir,” Talkback said. The display began multiplying, and sound recordings began in unison.

It was a chaotic noise, but he tried to concentrate.

“The second one,” He said. The other recordings stopped.

“If you move,” The voice said, “I’m out of there. That’s it. I’m not going to be caught in the middle of that.”

It was the skinny man.

“You’ll be taken care of, Dedrick,” Another voice said, this one unnaturally deep. Maybe modified.

“I’ve traced the source address to closest location, Sir.” Talkback said.

It was for the best. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. His digital body was full of holes, and he didn’t want to risk losing everything over some idiot on the phone.

His digital body vanished, and he opened his eyes to his desk. He felt sore, but that was the worst of it.

#NaNoWriMo Day One: Openings

All of my Nanowrimo folks, it is time! This is my 5th year of NaNoWriMo, and I am doing a NaNo and a half, so excuse me if I don’t have a lot of time to talk. This year is Cyberpunk, and I decided my opening would have a blast. Well, multiple blasts. More important than that, I had to dig a small hook into the readers. Unfortunately it is Nano, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think about it.

(excuse the lack of editing, it is Nano after all)

 Image

The street smelled like antiseptic cleaner and cigarettes, and Fuller was in Ashleigh’s ear, as loud as ever. She closed her eyes, tried to concentrate, but that wouldn’t make him go away. He wasn’t whispering in her ear, or talking from across the table, he was in her head.

“If you don’t concentrate, one of these Nic-heads will take you for a sap,” Fuller Said, “you’ll be dead before you know it.”

Ashleigh was outside “Recreational Bar House Luther”, a bar deep in the streets of Sea-Van. Her goal was to find a man named Simpson. The voice in her head? Agent Carlos Fuller, her eyes in The Net.

He was right, the men all around her were drug junkies. They lined the front of the bar, wearing unicolored jumpsuits, shaven heads. If they thought they could get something out of her, a pill, a patch, even a needle, they would take the chance. She tried to accept that he was just trying to help, that he knew she could see them and had already considered them.

He could only see them because she could see them. He was tapped into her senses, complete Simstim, or Simulated Stimulation. He heard the cars on the streets around her, and could see the smoke rising from the men’s illegal cancer sticks. That was why she was ignoring the itch on her thigh.

“Hey beautiful,” One of the men said as she passed.

Ashleigh turned her eyes on him, looked him square in the face. His expression went from lecherous to confused. She didn’t stop to consider him any further. She passed the threshold, out of the gray outside and into the fading fluorescent lights.

It was so gray. The walls were colored slate, and the floor was tiled white and black. The tables were like concrete, and the men that dotted the tables were pale faces in gray jumpsuits. They all looked at her as she entered, and in her Nu-tex brand trenchcoat, a vibrant brown that spread as she walked, she had to stick out.

“I still don’t know why they sent you in for this,” Fuller whispered into her eardrum.

She whispered, “Don’t know.”

This wasn’t an international crisis. It wasn’t a matter of grave corporate criminal activity. As far as Ashleigh was concerned, the NAB didn’t need her here.

“This seems like a job for Blackcaps,” Fuller said in reference to street cops, “Some CEO breaks the law, thinks he can hide. Why not just surround the building and force him out?”

Ashleigh scanned the room as she approached the bar. It was faux wood, and she dreaded even touching it. The man behind it would have been just as grimey to the touch. A bald head, long face, facial hair that seemed beyond his control.

“You sure you’re in the right place?” The man grumbled as he filled a cup for a customer.

Ashleigh smiled, “I double checked the address and everything,” She said.

Her expression stopped the bartender. He put the cup down, half full, and his eyes scanned the room.

“The network in this building is 20th century shit,” Fuller complained, “Which is why I’m sure the corporate-level ICE guarding their network doesn’t belong.”

She hated when he talked techno-babble, especially when she was surrounded. She looked over her shoulder as if to see what the man was looking at. Five men had stood. Three were of fair build, one was as skinny as a pole, the last was chunky. She turned back to the bartender just as fast.

“Is something wrong?” She asked, “I just wanted a drink.”

She didn’t have time to deal with all of them. If she was right, someone already alerted Simpson, and her mission now had a limited time frame. Like Fuller said before, this wasn’t a mission for just one person, or even a pair. They should have surrounded the building.

If some idiot thought he could disobey the law set down by the North American Business Authority, or NAB, he could meet the full might of the government. The age of the Corp Wars was over, companies knew they had to bow to the president.

Ashleigh’s hand reached out and grabbed the bartender by the collar. His head swung down into the bar with minimal resistance. She felt the crunch, heard his scream of pain, and the shuffle of feet behind her. Five pair were worth paying attention to.

Her pistol came from her hip, pointed over her shoulder.

“I don’t know about you,” She shouted to the room, “But I don’t want to know what it feels like to explode from the inside. So I think you boys should hold still.”

“You crazy bitch,” The bartender gargled, “What do you want?”

She looked to the men, one had pulled a gun on her, three didn’t want to move, the skinny man had his hands in the air. Her eyes focused on him.

“I’m not one to doubt the cash spent by our government overlords,” Fuller said, “But do you really think you can fight a room full of Nics?”

“Shut up,” Ashleigh growled. Her hand squeezing the bald headed man into the bar.

The bartender sobbed, “What did I do?”

“You,” She said with her gun pointing at the skinny man, “When I’m done with your friends, you and I are going to talk.”

The skinny man looked around the room, and for a brief moment the other men in the bar looked at him as well. Their confusion was all the time that she needed.

She knew for a fact that her reflexes were better than theirs. Hundreds of billions of dollars went into making sure that was the case. Years of training ensured the skill was honed. She had scars on her body for hard evidence.

One bullet into the gunman, the pop of the pistol and a second from the round exploding in his chest, she disregarded the third of his own pistol discharging into the ceiling. Two bullets for the fat man, just to be safe. The fourth and fifth bullets came so fast that the other men crumpled in unison. She turned the gun back and planted it against the skull of the bartender, in time to stop his hands from digging under the counter for his shotgun. It fell to the floor, and the man pulled his hands up and onto the counter.

“Would it weird you out if I said that made me hard?” Fuller whispered in her ear.

She was definitely going to have to report him to Chief Daniels.

“Are you done?” She asked.

“I was done when you first made the skinny guy piss himself,” Fuller replied.

She let the bartender go and walked across the room, now full of dead men and discarded shells, toward the skinny man.

“I don’t know anything,” He said, “Please, don’t kill me.”

Ashleigh could see he still had his hair, still had color to his skin. He either wasn’t an addicted to the government clinical drugs, or he was a new nic-head, either way he wasn’t like the rest in the room. He looked reliable.

She pointed the pistol at his crotch as she got close, and looked him in the eyes.

“What do we know?” She said out loud. This confused the skinny man, made his eyes dart around the room.

She didn’t have time to be sub-vocal, try to talk to Fuller without truly talking. Besides, this had a more dramatic effect.

“He is in the building. Nothing about which floor, which room,” Fuller began, “The building has 10 stories, and someone definitely triggered an alarm. If you want, I can start guessing.”

Ashleigh looked at the skinny man, “Which floor is Simpson on?” She asked, pushing the pistol closer.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” He replied, “Please, just don’t.”

“Maybe I chose wrong,” Ashleigh began, “I looked around this room and I thought you were the only one in here who wanted to live. The moment your friend drew weapon on me, I gained the right to use lethal force, you’re just a checkmark on a report to me, alive or dead.”

He looked like he was going to faint, and she wondered if she had pushed him too far. She couldn’t shoot him, not without landing in a lot of trouble. He didn’t know that though.

“He was on the third floor,” The man whispered, “But he will be long gone.”

Her eyes went to the back of the bar, a stairwell that lead into the main building.

“You might want to start drinking somewhere else,” She said as she ran for the stairwell.

“I’ve got bad news,” Fuller said, “A general alert has been sent for Blustar security.”

Private security forces, the worst leftover from the corporate age. Nothing made a mission more difficult than men in body armor, trying to take the law into their own hands. But not even NAB could take away the right to private security, only regulate the forces themselves. Which meant she ran the risk of being shot by vigilante bodyguards.

“Can’t you stop the call?” She asked as she started up the stairs.

Fuller huffed, “Of course I could. You want to ask if I’m allowed to?”

“So what are you doing for me right now?” She asked as she ascended.

“Oh Carlos, thanks for hacking security footage for me. Oh Carlos, thanks for confirming our target for us. Oh Carlos, please call me pretty, and stroke my hair when I can’t sleep at night.”

“I get it,” She snapped.

“I’m in the footage for the third floor,” He said, “One guard in there. He is shouting through a closed door. Blustar is close, they have a lightplane.”

Ashleigh stopped at the door to the third floor, pulled her pistol, and edged closer to the door. She could hear the man on the far side, and more, another man further in, the swiffing sound of a lightplane approaching the building. She drew her focus back to the one man, backed up, and kicked the door open.

The guard’s gaze turned to her. His eyes were covered in black shields, his head half domed by a heavy plastic. She didn’t have as much time as she thought, he was enhanced.

She unloaded three shots, the man moved fast enough that each landed in the door he was standing in front of. The rounds took chunks out of the thick built door, but the man was on the ground, firing his own pistol back.

Ashleigh rolled back into the stairwell, rounds chipping the wall. The lightplane was close now, hovering outside of the building. They were down on the third floor, what did they plan to do? They could pick him up through the window, but that would take time. She still had time.

“Ash,” Fuller said, “I’m watching the footage outside, you might want to hurry.”

He was always one step behind.

She peaked her head out, and pulled it back. Several shots rang out, the man firing where she had just been. The wall was pocked. She ducked, put her arm around the corner, and let off several rounds.

“I’m trying,” She replied, “Next time, describe the bodyguard to me.”

“I was busy being snarky.”

“Noted.”

She let out a few more shots blind, and snapped out the magazine of her pistol to reload it.

“Ash, Ash, Ash.” Fuller repeated.

“Damnit, what?”

“Get on the ground.”

She opened her mouth to say something, then heard a grumbling noise from outside. The lightplane, there was something on it. She fell back on the ground, laying flat as she could.

A terrible grinding noise was unleashed into the building, a heavy gunfire that swept out of the door to the room with Simpson, lay into the hall, and exploded through walls into the stairwell. It was an unimaginable sound, like the building collapsing right on top of her. Pieces of plaster spilled off the walls, and metal was thrashed.

Shooting into the building? Did that mean they had him already?

She pulled herself around the corner, found the bodyguard covered in a corner trying to avoid the gunfire, and fired three shots. By the time the lightplanes weapon was silent, the bodyguard slumped to the ground dead.

“They are leaving,” Fuller said.

Ashleigh didn’t ask the question. She stood, ran to the now collapsed door to the room, and stepped inside. There was a layer of dust smoke over the hideout. A simple mattress, a wallscreen ripped to shreds, boxes of dry food strewn across the room.

There on the floor, now full of holes, was Maxwell Simpson, former CEO of S&S International.

Ashleigh went to the window, now a wide hole to the street below. The blustar lightplane was retreating into the gray sky.

Scarce Part Two – A Sci-fi Terror Story

Scarce
Part II
(Part I is here)

(I don't own this image)

(I don’t own this image)

It was bigger than I imagined. Compared to the glow of my home, it was bulbous and dull. Every meter covered in more bubbles of metal, stretching off into the distance. It had its own drones, making the same progress as mine, zipping around beneath the legs of the behemoth they served.

As I approached, a ramp lowered. Carlton stood at the top, a low blue lighting filling the whole bay behind him.

“You have time to talk?” I asked.

He nodded, almost impossible to see. I pushed up the ramp, and together we made our way through the bowels of the vessel.

It had endless rooms, twists and turns, most pointing back toward one another. Without him there to lead the way, I would have gotten lost in minutes.

“Used to be families in every one of these rooms,” He said.

It occurred that I didn’t know how he parted ways with his passengers. The ship belonged to him, but I didn’t know for how long. There was only one previous owner.

“What do you use all the space for?” I asked.

He stopped, opened one of the rooms with the flip of a switch, revealing a room filled with fake pigmy horses, metal boards, dolls starring at the ceiling. They were laying in disarray, piled up, like trash.

“Couldn’t fill it all up if I tried.”

There was a new odor there. I imagined that in the mess of it all, something was decaying. The switch was flipped, and the door closed.

“This model isn’t as advanced as yours,” He said as he kept going, “The war did that, shifted our priorities.”

I wanted to ask what he meant, but thought better of it. The whole thing seemed advanced enough, there were even a few features I had to ask about as we passed. In terms of sleek, my baby definitely won.

As we passed one room, there was a soft clank coming from the far side. Rhythmic, but purely mechanical. Carlton stopped there, the door still shut, and we both listened for minutes.

“I’m going to take care of that,” He said as he flipped the door open to a dimly lit room, stepped inside, then shut the door behind him.

Further down the curving hall I could see a doorway already open. My curiosity got the better of me, and I walked the hall until I could make out what was inside. Under weak light, I could make out bones. Racked, and on display, row after row.

My heart slowed as I looked over the different dirty-white fixtures. Some long and thick, others thin and racked together. It looked like a lab, or a museum. As I got closer, my steps getting faster, I noticed they varied in size. Some were massive, like animals that could walk over my head without trying, and others were almost human in size. Not all of them were as recognizable as I first imagined, the shapes off, the colors exotic. The light of the room made them match, and their arrangement made them fit.

“A collection,” Carlton said from behind me. I took an instinctive deep breath, then turned to see him.

My expression didn’t phase him, which meant I had to be doing something right.

“Impressive,” I said, “You’ve met a lot more life than I have.”

He looked into the room, “Most of it was mundane.” He flipped a switch, the door shut.

“You don’t say.”

Carlton headed back the way we came, “There is a weather advisory, you better get back.”

My relief was loud enough that I could feel it quicken his pace. We made it back to the ramp, as my monitor buzzed as soon as I made it to open air. I touched it, and received the same weather alert. The blizzard was returning, and it was advised I be inside for it.

“One last thing,” I said as I stepped down the ramp into the blue and white ice, “You were outside my ship yesterday.”

Carlton didn’t respond, he stood there waiting for the question.

I shrugged, and realized the motion felt weird, “Why?”

“I didn’t realize you weren’t in.”

I nodded, and walked out in the storm. What I didn’t ask was why he waited 3 hours. The ship was almost fueled. I could cut my trip short, maybe move to the other side of the planet, or find a new iceball to enjoy.

The alert made me snap awake. My bedroom slowly lit up, a gradual push to keep me comfortable despite my rapid heartbeat.

I touched the monitor, Alert, Lifeform detected in landing area.

The ship was still refueling, which meant I had to go and tell Carlton that I didn’t need company in the middle of my sleep cycle. I got up, and the room bloomed in light. I pulled on a pair of overalls I usually wore when it was warm enough outside to feel my extremities, and headed for the hall.

It was still chilly when I got there. The long passage going so far that I could barely make out the far end in the thin path of fluorescence. One smooth shaft, going on to the far end. Compared to Carlton’s ship, it was comfortable, simple.

Another alert chirped in my ear. I touched a spot on the wall, and felt the snap. Alert, Intruder onboard.

It felt like a wave of electricity went through my knees. I held to the wall, and probed the system further. What was it that got onboard? Was Carlton really that crazy.

The ship gave me footage in response to my personal questions, the outside camera. It was a blank feed, the status of the camera read ‘offline’. I started to spin the feed back to a point where it was online.

There was a clank in the long hall. I stopped, pulling my hand away from the wall and taking a step back toward my room.

One thought ran through my head, I keep my rifle in the cockpit.

I couldn’t see anything on the far end, but the light was low, meant to grow brighter as I approached in order to save every minuscule bit of power it could. Static snapped between my finger and the wall as I returned to the monitor. I switched to another camera, an internal one. It peeked toward me, from the far end of the hall. It listened to my commands, switching to a thermal cam and turned toward the cockpit doorway. Before it could finish pivoting, there was a loud Jang of metal, and the feed went offline.

He was coming.

I let go of the wall, turned back toward my room. It was smooth, besides the bed. Useless to me. The hallway as well, smooth and without escapes.

There was a footstep in the distance, then another. Heavy reinforced boots coming down on the walkway.

I wondered if I could take him, he was short, compact. My mind flashed back to the bones, lining the wall.

The footsteps got closer, and as I stared down the long hallway I could see other lights coming up in the distance. A silhouette was there, a grey man. I touched the wall again, looking for something, anything, to help. I needed a way around, or at least a way to stall him.

The wall slid open, revealing a red-lit catwalk. I leaped inside, and the door closed behind me.

I was beyond confused on where I was, until I saw a drone float up and past me, heading to some higher part of the ship. It was the inside, long paths of metallic paths revealed by circles of dim red light. The walls of the ship, the outer hull, were still invisible. There was so much of it, I didn’t know where to go, or what chance I had of making it back out again. It dropped off into eternity, and went on forever.

So I held the rail, and walked. Distinctly aware of the likely murderous man behind me. I walked and walked until the path cut in two, then I took a turn and started to walk again.

In the distance I heard an unmistakable sound; quick steps, clinks on the metal path. He found his way in.

I looked back and couldn’t see him under any of the red lights spread out in the darkness. Then I saw a motion, black against the red. Peering closer, unsure, I saw a drone in the area. Then saw another shadow under a closer light. The footsteps, the whole time, came quicker.

I turned and ran. It made the catwalk wobble under my feet, making every step unsure. No matter how fast I tried to run, no matter how many turns I took, it felt like his steps were getting louder.

There was a shape ahead, the outer wall of the hall. It was built by the same red, and I knew then that I could lock him below deck and try for my rifle. My heart pumped, my legs were on fire, the pit of my stomach full of electricity.

As I reached out for the door, a shadow came from my right, hit me full force. Collided was a better word, the growl he let out confirmed it was him, and the wild blow he launched at my head pushed me into the rail.
He already had my rifle. His arm tried to pull it into position, but I shoved him against the doorframe, pushing it into his throat. The red light washed over his face, revealing a calm man, squinted eyes, stern chin.
“What are you doing?” I shouted at him.

He didn’t answer, pushed me back, tried to aim the rifle again. I grabbed the length of it in both hands, struck him in the face, and pushed him back onto the catwalk. He held tight to the rifle, and as he fell I had to let it go.

My finger touched the wall, felt the snap, and the door slid open.

I jumped through, felt the swish behind me, and heard the boom of the rifle echoing in my ears.

I struggled to my feet, trying hard to think of a way out of here while my ship was still filling up. Where could I defend myself?

There was a scrabbling behind me, he was working on the door. I never heard the rifle fire when he broke into the below deck area, that meant I needed to hurry. I touched a nearby wall, there was a crank as the ramp to the outside began to lower with a loud mechanical stir.

The blizzard was back full force. I would say that I ran, but the ice and wind made that impossible. No matter how hard I pushed myself, I could only force myself against the wind and risk being picked up and dragged away. Plus I was freezing, a thin layer of cloth between me and temperatures I was afraid to double check.

There was nothing to hear in the howling wind, and there was nothing to see in the white. I kept one leg moving in front of another, pushed all I could into my body, rubbed my whole body with my hands to keep feeling.

In the distance, I heard the sound of the rifle firing. There was no stopping.

When I saw his ship, I almost collapsed. The ramp was open, and climbed it like a starving man looking for a morsel.

The inside was as wild as I remembered. I walked, partially to look for something to use, and partially to warm up my blood. The halls kept twisting, and each room I looked into was full of abandoned clothing and linens. The darkness didn’t help, the rooms had light but the rest of the hall was black.

I stopped, listening, and heard footsteps that stopped soon after. My body was still freezing, my fingers blue. In the dark, I rubbed my arms, took heavy breaths. Then I ran.

I ran in the dark, hoping for something familiar, anything. When I heard footsteps as loud and as fast as mine, I ran even faster.

Then I saw it. That pale light. Bones beneath, up for display. I slowed, and realized this was where it was all supposed to happen. If he ever wanted to kill me, to add me to his collection, he expected it right here, in his maze-like halls. I couldn’t escape him on his own ship, I couldn’t even find my way back to the ramp.

So I hid. The strength was gone from my legs, and I needed to rest. I waited, ears open, for him to come to me.

When I hunted, in those few times in 1000 years that I found something to kill, I always had to stalk it. You find it where it feels comfortable, strike out, then push it until it can’t run anymore. Then, you destroy it, simple. It worked on big land animals, worked on quick grazers, it even worked on birds, or at least what seemed like birds.

I could make him out now, hear his footsteps. He came to the hall, and stopped where I had, looking toward the room of bones.

“Are you waiting for it now?” Carlton said to the darkness, “Do you understand?”

I stayed quiet, unwilling to give him even that much.

“It isn’t often I get to talk to someone,” He said, “Don’t deprive me now.”

He took a heavy step up the hall, as if he was savoring each twitch of muscle as he approached the pale light. I could hear him getting closer, see him sliding along the hall.

“You’ll talk,” He said, “Every human loves to talk, craves that interaction.”

Another step, slower, louder. He was here, and I could hear him begin to prepare the rifle.

I flipped the switch, opened the door to the room of dolls and horses, and charged. The scream was guttural, the last ounce of strength I had pushing me up the hallway.

He turned in the low light of the hall, tried to pull the rifle up. I brandished my weapon, a toy horse, and struck him. We both fell, his arms went out, I tried to strike again, he dug into the meat of my skin, I hit him again, the rifle fired.

We laid there in the dark, Carlton and I. I bled from the arms, and he bled from the head. His breath came in weak gurgles, punctuated by spasms. All I could do was sob, and try not to sleep in a pool of blood.

It had been 500 years since the last time I saw another human being. I left home, left Earth, left my family, all of civilization. If I had my way, it would be another 500.

Scarce Part One – A Sci-fi Terror Story

Scarce
Part I

The girlfriend and I once had a talk about scarcity, and post-scarcity. The idea of a future where humans just figure it all out. It gave birth to a story, more creepy than anything. This is my attempt to translate that to the page. 

(I don't own this image)

(I don’t own this image)

It had been 500 years since the last time I saw another human being. So when I heard the chirp of my system monitor, I assumed it was going to be something mundane; unregistered debris, course adjustment requirements, fuel resupply.

I didn’t bother leaving bed to check the alert. There were few reasons to leave my personal space on the ship. I would have to choose between getting dressed, or feeling the chill of the ice-cold hallway until automated systems adjusted the rest of the ship to my temperature.

Instead I rolled over, gave my thighs a scratch, and placed a finger on the interface. There was a quiet snap, and my fingertip felt fuzzy. Then I saw the information scrolling past the back of my eyes. Not that it was really there physically, but the distinction was both pointless and likely to put me back to sleep.

The alert woke me up like a brisk smack on the cheek. Registered Space-faring Vehicle Located. There was more, my ship was approaching my next destination, and it was also requesting to BBMR, break bio-mass and refuel. I approved, broke connection with the interface, and laid back in bed. The room was pitch black, only lighting slightly when it detected my eyes were open for extended periods of time.

500 years. It was over 1000 years ago when I left home. That was when everyone started to leave really, and as far as I knew, there was no one left on Earth. It wasn’t a crisis, nothing dangerous, but simply an option. Earth lost its charm, and those who had the capability to leave, took it. When scarcity stopped being a problem, when resources stopped dwindling, Earth became a prison.

The second half of the last thousand years, I was alone. It wasn’t a problem, it was a state of being. It was hard to think back to why, to what lead me to pack up, purchase my own ship, and strike out alone. Something like wanderlust, that sounded like the right word.

Now there were other humans out there, people to meet. At least 500 years since I needed another human being to understand my words, recognize my motions, respect my appearance. I was going to need a bra.
I rolled out of bed, snapped my fingers, and the lights came on. There wasn’t much to see. A small bed built into the plastic of the walls. The walls were otherwise smooth, except where the plastic yawned out slightly as a drawer compartment. There was a shirt there, sticking out slightly, stopping the usually automated drawer from closing all the way. I snatched it out, looked it over, and decided it would do.

Since I took my time freshening up, the hall was warm before I made the walk to the cockpit. It took me some time to remember how I liked my hair cut, when it was ever cut. The rest didn’t require thought, so much as search time. A band to corral my hair behind my head, a jacket that wasn’t falling apart from burns or cuts, and a nice hat with a brim that wasn’t duckbilled. I liked hats, it would be a shame to be seen without one.

The hall, for lack of any better name, was the long stem of the ship. It didn’t occur until 20 years after buying the ship that I would never see around 90% of it. While the mass of the vehicle bulged on the outside, for me it was a cockpit, a long hall of smooth white, and my bed on the other side. The ship let off a slight hum, and if you touched your finger to the plastic you could feel it thrumming. Every bit of it, as far as I understood, was aware.

The cockpit had enough room for two, one primary chair and a second not far behind it. I sat down, leaned back, and gripped the arm of the seat. That numb feeling spread through my whole hand, and the information from the ship came back to me. The planet was closer now. Scans had already photographed several features and landmarks. It was an ice ball. There were jagged mountains with green peaks barely visible under blue-white snow. Deep caverns that could hold whole civilizations. All of it was empty. I had planned to board down those mountains. Maybe I would build a little house of ice, see what I could find. Fifty years ago I found a bird-like creature on a world. It was primitive, but the most advanced thing on the whole rock. I hunted them for at least a year, had some close calls, but every bit of it was worth it. I even got a feather for a hat. Well, it worked like a feather anyway.

The ships were communicating with each other. They were transferring records, places travelled, creatures and discoveries, even videos and photos. That meant more shows to watch during my landings and refuels.

Everything shook for a brief second, and the ship put out a warning that landing sequences were starting. I ignored it, and looked at the planets I had information on now. There was a small cluster of stars I had never visited, yet this other ship had bounced between them, visiting different sites. There was even a station there, Vega Habitat, more people. How long ago had this ship been there? How many people were there on it? It occurred to me I might come off as a bit strange to them. Was I strange? I shook my head. It was only a brief meeting, it wouldn’t matter after the ship dug up enough mass to keep going.

I looked through one of the landing cameras, it wouldn’t be long. The registration for the ship put it as a larger ship, a transport that could hold a few dozen families. It was registered to one Carlton Otomo. A ship lead by a man. I broke contact with the ship, and went to double check my bags before I hit the surface.

Despite my plans, he came to me.

The ship’s ramp lowered and I stepped out onto the deep snow. It had an odd crunch to it, like my feet were stepping into large sheets of the ice, crashing through the thinnest glass. It was a break in the non-stop storms I observed during landing. Instead the sky was broken up by mountain peaks high above the valley the ship chose for landing.

Even though there were no animals to keep the landscape busy, it wasn’t still. The shifting of snow, and wind-crafted flurries, all kept my eyes and ears busy with the swoosh of frost dominated worlds.
There was a heavy thud, and I turned to see that the ship was deploying small drones. They set to work, pulling down cables and equipment to prepare for the ship’s refueling. I was prepared to leave them to their work, to wander out into the snow and only return when I was called for, but instead my pocket buzzed.

I touched a finger to the sensor, Alert, lifeforms approaching landing zone.

It didn’t take long to find him, a silhouette of grey man against the white and blue wilderness. I waved, but he didn’t motion back. Instead, his vague form became a clear reality. A stern chin, squinted dark eyes, black hair was whipped by the wind before falling back into place.

“You must be Carlton,” I said.

He kept walking before he answered, got close enough that I could make out the detailed print of his faux leather jacket, could see the intensity in his eyes. He looked down my legs, then up past my hat, and still didn’t seem satisfied. His eyes wandered my ship, tracked the drones as they went about their business, then came back to me.

“Yes,” He said as he left a hand out for me, “I am.”

I shook his hand, trying my hardest to remember proper etiquette. Some man thousands of years ago decided what the best hand shake was, and to break from tradition now seemed unwise.

“Nice bird you’ve got here,” Carlton said. The tone of his voice was low, almost like he didn’t want to interrupt the frozen winds whipping across the planet. He was shorter than me, just barely, and seemed squeezed down into his small shape. His shoulders hunched, his neck tilted down. Still, he gave off an aura of control, seemed sure of himself.

“Thanks,” I replied, looking over my shoulder to see what he saw. It was rather magnificent, a large mass of metal and plastics, whirring and glowing. It was impressive, but to me it was a known tool.

“You alone out here?” I asked.

“Been alone.”

That was odd, I thought, “For how long?”

He looked me in the eyes, there was that look again. Was that how I peered at other people? Like cold meat. Maybe it was, who knew how to look at other people anymore? Somewhere, in a space station filled to the brim with human beings, they knew how to soften their eyes. Either that, or they knew how to ignore harsh gazes.

“Long enough.” He replied.

Without the warmth of activity, the planet’s cold was uncomfortable. Even in a sheltered valley, I felt the urge to cross my arms and dance around. But this stunted engagement was holding me in place.

“You want to head inside?”

It was simple, but somehow felt like the wrong thing to ask. I didn’t want another human being walking around my stuff. Besides, I didn’t really clean up enough to have company over.

He gave a nod of approval, and we headed back up the ramp. Drones passed by, ignoring both of us without anything more than a cursory scan. We headed to the cockpit, sat in the chairs, and looked out over the cold.

“When did you leave?” He asked. His voice was dry, lacked any wonder. Was this a routine question for him?

“First wave,” I answered, “With my family. Was young then.”

It was hard to imagine being a child, 1000 years will do that to you, will make everything gel together into one memory. Everything at the start of it starts to feel like it belongs to the rest, even if they are vastly different. Somehow, wearing cute blue dresses becomes level with hunting strange creatures for sport.

“When last did you get news?” He asked.

“Of what?”

“Anything,” He said, “Anything from Sol.”

I touched the arm of the chair, and I knew the answer. I never even thought about it before, but now it was a thing to consider. How long had I been away? Was there something going on?

“At least 600,” I said, “Got partial news once, but that was 500 ago.”

Carlton nodded with eyes closed, like he expected that answer.

“I was third wave,” He said, “I’m behind you by a good 100 years.”

“Did I miss anything?”

He looked at me, then turned to look back outside. “Another war, a short one.”

“Over what?” I asked.

“Technology,” He said, “and maybe religion. Its hard to tell.”

I scoffed, but the look he gave me made me hold my tongue. Maybe he lost someone.

“We had plenty of everything when I left,” I said, “That was supposed to be it, there was nothing left to fight over. We figured out how to heal the sick, feed the starved, and get enough space for everyone. The problems were all solved.”

He shook his head, “As long as there are other humans with other points of view, there will always be something to fight over.”

There was some truth in that, but I didn’t want to admit it. That was why we had the new frontier, why we left that barren rock. We didn’t need to sit around, arguing over whose god was the best, or where this country ended or began. Space was endless, we could go where we were wanted, and never answer the call of another.

“That’s why I enjoy it out here,” I said, “No conflict.”

Then things were quiet. I enjoyed the quiet, like for a brief moment he wasn’t even there. It made me question why I avoided people, why I was so secure in staying off the radar. Maybe I could visit a station or two, even if just to check in.

“I think,” He said after some minutes, “As long as there are humans, we’ll find each other, and make life shit for each other.”

Silence returned, and I was more thankful for it than before.

We returned to the cold as the planet’s sun started to recede. We didn’t say it, but I had no plans to speak to him again. His words, his attitude. It was odd to have a dissenting opinion around again, but I wasn’t sure I liked it.

So when he vanished into the white of the distance, I let out a sigh of relief, and went back to the bridge of my ship.

It was hard to sleep with Carlton on the brain. I thought about his words, about the state of humanity. It was distant, a vague concept, but I knew I was still part of that spread out lot called humans. Were we really like Carlton insisted? Were we all dangerous animals just waiting to ruin each other’s lives?

By the next morning I was consumed. my thoughts swirled, and I found I wanted to speak to him on the matter personally. No matter how much I disagreed, I needed to see his view on it. But I resisted, instead turning to my original plans for the frozen planet.

I took a board, wrapped myself in a thick and fuzzy coat, and headed East to a slope I marked during descent. The snow came down in sheets, blasting me with frozen walls that made the trip take longer than I expected. I couldn’t see much further than my nose, and only computed navigation gave me any sense of direction.

Then I felt a buzz at my side. I stomped my way behind an outcropping of rocks, just enough shelter to get my bare hands to my monitor.

It was another alert, Lifeforms approaching landing zone.

I sat there, thinking of all the objects that could accidentally trip the ship’s sensors. The rock was a desert. There wasn’t supposed to be anything alive enough to sense. Which left one obvious lifeform.

I bundled up, and continued to the slope.

The boarding wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped. The speed was intense, the snow on the little world providing little resistance. As the air whipped past me, I felt afloat, like the wind would pick me up at any moment, and deposit me somewhere halfway across the globe. It just wasn’t the best, I knew I’d had better.

So I returned to the ship, greeted by a break in the blizzard. The drones passed around me, busy in their process. The ship was officially latched to the planet, breaking down what it could, turning the dirt and anything in it into everything it needed. Someone gave me the specifics once, page after page of discoveries that saved mankind. It was dry, and I was at the back of the class.

I stripped down, then made it back to the cockpit. An arm down on the chair, and I reviewed the earlier alert. Footage, the ship had a mind to record the whole situation. I pulled it up, and a video of white began to play. The same blizzard I was trapped in at the time. There was no sign of whatever it was looking at.

I switched the footage to a thermal view, and I nearly snapped away from the system monitor. An outline in red, a heat signature against the frozen rain. The picture moved forward, speeding up and slowing down as I willed it, but he didn’t move.

An itch in the back of my head told me if I went to the present, he would still be standing there, still waiting. Instead the form receded shortly before the blizzard took a break. By the time I had a clear picture, Carlton was nowhere to be found.

I had been 500 years since the last time I talked to another human, but I knew when it was time to sit down and talk with someone. I pulled on a thick coat, tugged down my hat, and headed in the direction of his ship.

Panopticon – A Cyberpunk Story

I finished reading Neuromancer recently, the grandfather book of Cyberpunk as a genre. The book had quite an effect on me. While it wasn’t the freshest I’ve read, it doesn’t lose much for its age. Themes of hope, humanity, and even a sense of the divine, all give the novel things to remember. Best of all, it inspired me to write the story below, given in its entirety (I apologize).

Owned by Fantasy Flight Games and Liiga (the artist).

Owned by Fantasy Flight Games and Liiga (the artist).

Fuller flashed the countdown on her display. Down from 3, 2, 1.

Ashley entered the lobby of Mailer-Bronson International as the count hit zero. The conglomerate’s headquarters swarming with men and women wearing tight white or grey business suits with matching suitcases. As Fuller watched through her eyes, using the Simulated Stimulus implants, he could see the disturbing monochrome of the crowd.

“Is it just me,” Fuller’s words vibrated Ashley’s eardrum to create the sensation of him whispering in her ear, “Or are these all the same people?”

He could feel her lift an inquisitive eyebrow.  While it wasn’t uncommon for business people to talk to the little people in their ears, they were undercover, and she didn’t want to be heard saying the wrong thing. So instead she looked down at her watch and made her way past the front counter.

“I don’t know why they couldn’t just snatch this thing with a warrant,” Fuller said as he keyed in Mailer-Bronson for a search query.

“They can just deny having it,” Ashley said as she got away from the crowd. Fuller didn’t like hearing her voice over Simstim, it was the deepend internal tone everyone hears for themselves.

“Then bring in CorpOps,” Fuller replied.

“Cleaner this way,” She replied, “Look like another Corp did it.”

“Unless HQ has something else in mind.”

Ashley rounded a corner and found herself in a hall full of faux-gold walls with wood paneling. Elevators lined each side, each marked with different floor ranges, numbers, and security clearances.

“Focus,” Ashley said as she walked the hall. He could feel her touch her hip, brushing past the hidden pistol to pull free a small disc of metal, a keychip.

“I’m focusing,” Fuller said.

He switched over to the Matrix, dropping the piggybacked sensations of Ashley’s body in exchange for his own simulated expression of the totality of the net. He was greeted by an all-green sunset, like a crystal locked down just over the hill, the Westboard Datalink.

His body shifted across the virtual distance, flying through locales all set over that same sunset, until he found what he was looking for. A windowless skyscraper, a representation of the simplistic outer security of MB International.

This was where Fuller was in control, where he got to be an artist. In the past, hackers got a bad reputation as brutes, anarchists, criminals. That changed after the Last Corporate War. Now instead of a fresh faced hacker, he was a Investigative Programming Agent of the North American Business Authority. If mom was still alive, he would have been able to tell her he was one of the good guys.

The monolith of the MB security had a large padlock over it, cartoonish and large.

“Talkback,” Fuller said.

A small blip of white light appeared next to him, “Yes, Sir?”

“Bring up Razorbud.”

“Yes, Sir.”

An interface appeared in front of Fuller on a whim, and he motioned over the keys in a fluid act that made it seem mindless. After a moments, a small green seed appeared near his head, and he grabbed it without looking at it.

Some hackers, programmers, runners, whatever they wanted to be called, some of them were still brutes. It was a good way to get killed or caught, tracked down in the real world by men in black suits flying black lightplanes ready to point black guns at you.

He flicked the seed at the cartoon lock, and it flew into the keyhole.

Where anyone with a bit of experience in the matrix could formulate a program to hammer away at a lock, or create a skeleton key, everyone would know you were there. A real programmer was as much an artist as a painter, or holovid writer. The greatest tool in any artists arsenal was subtlety.

Soon the curves of the cartoon lock began to curl in, becoming the natural shape and luster of a rose-colored bud. Then with a flourish, it bloomed. Fuller smiled, then his body shifted through the center of the rose.

Back in meatspace, Ashley found the elevator marked M38, and took a deep breath.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, Fuller,” She said as she held the keychip up to the elevator’s interface. It gave a positive beep, and a green light flashed, before the door opened to her. She looked both ways down the hall, then stepped inside.

“You like?” Fuller’s voice buzzed in her ear. It always sounded like a drone talking through a 40 year old busted speaker.

She kept her head low as she spoke, minimizing lip movement, “You said this was the easy part.”

“It is, look up,” Fuller said, and Ashley peered at a small black orb at the top of the elevator, a camera, “You’re on vid.”

She furrowed her brow, but couldn’t do much more.

“I’m taking care of it, looped feed, the works. All you have to do is get to B4.”

She knew every detail. It seemed Mailer-Bronson had a basement that wasn’t on the grid. No net connections, not even an elevator that goes to it. Once she got down that far, if she managed to get that far, she had to extract their objective by hand.

She touched her pistol at her side.

“I still don’t like this,” Fuller said, his voice sounded busy, “Do you know Mailer used to have military connections before the old Corp War?”

She didn’t like the interest in his voice, “I think we can worry about that after I’m out of here alive.”

The elevator was still sweeping through floors, but it was slowing down. Soon she would be on the third basement, right before basement 4.

“I figure you would want to know if you’re walking into a trap.”

“Why would NAB send me into a trap?” Though she knew he could give her any number of answers, “What do you think it is? An AI?”

Fuller watched the elevator door open through her eyes, “AI aren’t real, Ash.”

She stepped into a hall that went off to her left and right, her eyes peering each way with a speed and clarity that almost awed Fuller.

“Really?” She whispered, “You’re a programmer that doesn’t believe in AI?”

He tried to shrug, then remembered he was in simstim, “We’ve turned them into a thing of myth, super intelligences that can run whole worlds by themselves. A real AI wouldn’t be much smarter than a Dump Drone, it would just be the cleverest drone in the bunch.”

She shook her head, “You sound so sure. I’ve heard AI might even run NAB.”

Fuller switched back to the matrix, found himself miles above the green walls of a maze. Even as he arrived, the walls and paths shifted, as if the maze itself was putty one moment and titanium the next.

It was a decoy, and a piece of ICE he didn’t particularly need to break. Though the challenge intrigued him. There was one thing about ICE, someone put it there. Another ‘programmer’ whose job was just as much art as his.

He shifted, his body flying from the maze in a whir.

“Talkback, any closer to those files on MB?”

The white speck reappeared, “A complication, Sir.”

Fuller turned to find a wall of brick, so tall his matrix avatar couldn’t see to the top of it. A simple wall, not the easiest to get through, but not tricky, just thick. If he had the time, he could break through, get the files on the other side, find out what Mailer-Bronson buried back in 2020.

Unfortunately this ICE was set up by NAB itself.

Switched back to Ashley, Fuller found her in complete darkness. Her implants made it pointless, everything around her had a slight white glow, but all she could see was the walls of a shaft.

“Air vent?” He asked.

She nodded. Chances were she didn’t want to make any more noise than necessary. If she was already in a vent, that meant soon she was going to need a distraction, a way to escape.

He switched back, tapping a few commands into his deck. A drill appeared outside the wall, a hand cranked model that no one ever used on purpose.

“Can you handle this?” Fuller asked.

“Of course, Sir.” The Talkback construct responded. The drill started to crank, slow but sure. Fuller’s body blurred back to the inside of MB’s security network, floating again over the maze.

“No easy way around you,” He noted.

 

Ashley was snug in a vent, hanging over a grate. She tried to minimize her breathing, laid perfectly still, watched the floor below.

There was no sign of any guards, but she had no way of knowing that until she went down. If they were going to hide this thing on a separate floor, they had to keep it guarded by the best. Ninjas? The idea almost made her giddy. She was trained to handle anything, but there was only so much you could do to prepare against instant death.

The 4th basement had a cold steel floor, it lacked the false welcome of the floors she already traveled. That also meant a good chance there was nowhere to hide.

“No choice but to go,” She whispered. Her display told her Fuller wasn’t listening, but the words comforted her anyway.

She held the grate in place with one hand, and the other slid it free. With one fluid motion, she fell into the 4th basement, made one full turn, then stood tall. No guards yet, but they were close. The hall was designed to be circular, but there wasn’t a door there. They would stay where they were needed, guarding the only asset on the floor.

Her pistol’s grip felt cold, but she held it tight at her side. Each step left minimum pressure on the floor, nearly silent. One thought kept her on edge, an aspect of her training she was never allowed to forget. It didn’t matter if she was the government’s billion dollar baby, full of implants and training most people never dreamed of, any corp could afford to get the same.

The hall was circular, a wide turn around metallic paths. She kept looking for a camera, any sort of security, but it seemed the floor was a true blind spot.

A step, and Ashley rolled forward to see further in the hallway. Her muzzle flashed before she saw the man, dressed in a dark red guard uniform, a splash of bright red over his chest, then he fell to the floor.

Ashley moved to his body with two steps, glancing around the rest of the hall. He was dead, and there was no one else there. Just a wooden door with a brass handle.

She stood, pistol in one hand, and gripped the handle. She entered the room, weapon first.

 

Fuller still hovered above the maze, now a spiraling corridor that ended in the exact center. There was left a black hole, a trap door. Fuller dropped a blue orb from above, and watched it fall straight through the center of the maze.

“Sir,” A voice rang in his ear.

“I’m busy,” Fuller responded. Watching as a dim glow rose the hole.

“It is urgent.”

Hearing that from a simple remote construct either meant it didn’t know what it was dealing with, or things were actually getting bad. Fuller let his body shift along the matrix, endless settings sliding past before he found himself in front of the familiar wall. A hole just large enough for Fuller’s hand was drilled through the surface, a speck compared to the larger ICE.

He slid forward, pressing himself against the brick. There was no sensation here, just ideas of what should be. The cold of the wall was a tingle like a running generator. The tough exterior was like a million needles pricking together, made ineffectual by their teamwork. His fist entered the hole, and he found something, pulling it back out. Another orb, this one a black impenetrable by the false sunset.

“What is it?” He asked Talkback.

Files opened before his eyes, records, half-redacted and encoded, that kept repeating the name of a government project.

Panopticon.

It was a surveillance project, born before the final year of the Corp war. Meant to fill in the one hole that let the corporations get out of control, observation. He scanned the pages, eyes locked to every new screen of information. Something tickled at the back of his neck, a forgotten thing, or dread. Even with whole pages of data missing, he could put together the plan. Turn the matrix into a playground, and install a yard keeper who could keep an eye on everyone.

Fuller switched to Ashley, and his body buckled at the pain coming from his chest. She was shot, he could feel it in every motion she made. Her body trembled, and he could feel her breath come out in unsteady waves.

“Ash,” Fuller yelled. She recoiled, moving her head as if to escape him yelling in her ear, “You have to get out of there.”

“Shut up,” She snapped under her breath. She was out of the library now, stalking the circular hall. He didn’t know if she ever got inside, what she found there, but now she was hurt.

Her pistol shot out one way, then she looked the other. Her former grace was replaced with a rank-and-file panic.

“Where are you.” She whispered. Her left hand gripped her chest, each movement of her fingers bringing a new wave of pain. Something was dulling it, a morphine patch maybe, but it was distant and weak.

“Fuck the objective,” Fuller said.

“I’ve got it,” She said, “Where is my distraction?”

“Go put it back, then get out.”

“Distraction,” She growled, something moved just out of her vision, “Now.”

As he switched, he felt her depress the trigger, shots rang out.

 

“Sir?” Talkback was right ahead of him as he returned to the matrix.

“We can’t let Ash get that drive out of Mailer-Bronson,” Fuller said, “Open contact with NAB command, urgent.”

“I can’t do that sir,” Talkback said.

Fuller paused, “Tap the MB wire at first entry, and call the local branch.”

“I can’t do that either, sir.”

Fuller took a deep breath, then looked around the endless green sunset. “Because you aren’t Talkback, are you?”

There was a pause, and as Fuller looked back at his simple construct he saw something pulsing in the center. It grew with each wave, almost visible.

“Impressive,” Talkback said, “I estimated at least another 10 minutes before you made the connection.”

The pulse became a glyph, a symbol of an eye atop a tower, filling the center of the white orb.

“Panopticon,” Fuller whispered, “What is your Turing ID?”

The ball waited, but if he was right it had no choice but to answer.

“My ID is, Omnigaze,” The construct said, “You’ve wanted to meet something like me for a long time, haven’t you NAB Agent Carlos “Tru” Fuller? Former runner for the now disbanded WB Hot Blades, former employee of the Harajuku Grl.”

“I get it,” Fuller said, “You’re AI, you think you’re hot stuff.”

His mind wandered to Ashley in the basement, being stalked by a shadow, bullet holes in her chest. Worse, something terrible was in her pocket.

“My purpose is not to think, but to know.”

That was a pretty slick comeback from a program.

“So what do you want with me?” Fuller asked. He tried to make the switch to Ashley’s simstim, but he couldn’t.

“Want?” Omnigaze said, “I have already used you, and soon I will have used agent Ashley.”

“So you’ve infiltrated NAB command?” Fuller asked. He couldn’t jack out, he was stuck in the matrix.

The ball rippled, like a stone struck its surface, laughter, “Your organizations are temporary, shoddy, human. I was activated before the North American Business Authority was created, and I plan to outlive.”

“If it was this easy, why wait until now?”

The ball hesitated, “Easy? This task would not be completed until Agent Ashley was here to complete it, and you were here to let her in.”

Fuller closed his eyes, “So now you’re telling me I’m some chosen one? You scoured the world for the perfect pair to bring into the hidden basement of some corporate tower?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Omnigaze said, “I am simultaneously completing 10 other similar operations across the planet, and 2 in orbit. Manipulating humans isn’t an achievement for me, it is my express purpose. I watch, I push, you move. As you did in the summer you met Natalie Lee, and left home after she broke up with you.”

“Shut up,” Fuller said, “Stop tapping my records.”

“What did she tell you? That she was pregnant, and you could be happy together.”

“Stop,” Fuller whispered.

“How irresponsible,” Omnigaze said, “No wonder you became a delinquent. That was when I created your first file, tagged you as impulsive, licentious, outgoing. It was your file, and your experimentation in the Matrix, that got the Harajuku shut down. A child with your record jacking in from that sort of property, I tagged the business for removal.”

“You did all of that?” Fuller said, “Couldn’t you have gotten me help? Instead you shut down my new home, put me out on the street?”

“Would you be who you are today without those hardships?”

“Bullshit,” Fuller shouted, “You aren’t some god. You aren’t some grand manipulator. You’re a wisecracking database. Soon, when this whole run comes crumbling down around us, they’ll realize you need to be put down, and crush you.”

“Unless,” Omnigaze said. The words sent a chill through Fuller’s fingers, “The one thing that could wipe me from the backbone of the matrix, were to get out of that basement, and into hands I could manipulate.”

The drive, and Ashley pulling it from the hidden floor. They were delivering the only weapon that could kill Omnigaze, right into its hands.

“She won’t make it out,” Fuller said. It felt odd to say, but he had no higher hope. “The attack will let MB know you are causing trouble, and they will kill you.”

“She will make it out,” Omnigaze replied, “She has been training to make it out of that basement since she was 5 years old. Before she was toilet trained, she feared corporate ninjas. Before she learned history, she learned to climb those vents. To you she seems normal, but I have created her for this moment.”

Fuller’s eyes went wide, then he looked away, “Are you thinking about the distraction?” Omnigaze said, “I know you never activated it. Thankfully, your assisting construct did. The local authorities will arrive, and officers will arrest several suspects on the scene, including your friend Ashley.”

Fuller slid to the ground, a digital heap, “And me?”

“I think you already realize the truth,” Omnigaze said, “You have been flatlined. You will remain here until brain death. Trust me, I do appreciate everything you’ve done. Your purpose, is complete.”

 

Ashley’s display was filled with alarms, glyphs noting to turn around, head left, leave. She tried to close her eyes to ignore it, but it did nothing to stop the digital readout.

She was in a duct along the lobby, watching as cops spilled into the room, foam-balling anyone that bothered to move. Suits of grey and white went screaming across the tile, the occasional red of blood mixed in as they fell or were tackled. This was her escape, and she knew a few of those officers were looking for her in the crowd.

“Why put it back?” She asked herself, “What were you trying to say?”

Fuller had left her during her fight with the ninja, it wasn’t until she was up in the vent that he returned. But something was different, he was less abrasive, like a brother trying to push her along the path. Then the display messages began, first simple instructions, then harassment. It was enough to make her suspicious. While her training told her to complete the mission, a certain someone she knew was always willing to dig into the oddities.

In one hand she clutched her bleeding chest, barely staunched, but numb from her patch. In the other hand she held a small black chip, the drive she found in a room empty besides a table and an old man wearing no shoes. It wouldn’t hurt to double check exactly what she had.