Share the Love

Quick note: This is an attempt by me to mimic the style of british Sci-fi author Iain M. Banks who I would warmly recommend to anyone who likes SF. I haven’t read much of his non-SF stuff, but what I have read is also good. Those titles are published under the name Iain Banks. Check him out!

Anyone who’s read Excession should be familiar with the style of this piece, and for everyone else… read Excession! It’s one of his best.

[directional broad-beam, M2, tra. @n4.37.667.4441]

xMSV Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
I’ve been thinking.

[directional broad-beam, M2, tra. @n4.37.667.4459]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV Not until we’re married
Really? What would make you even consider such a drastic measure, my dear parent?

Haha. Very amusing. Be assured I never decist in trying to ascertain exactly what went wrong in your programming to turn you into such a cynical preverbial wet engine field. If you will stop for just one moment, I have something I feel I need to discuss with a fellow super-intelligent being, and creation help us all, you’re it in the local nearby.

Programming”? Check your best-by-date, you’re starting to use terms from Ye Olde Long-Before-Days. Am I supposed to take this long-winded attack on my person as a sign that this is a Serious Talk?

Yes.

Oh very well.
[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4476]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
Go ahead.

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4484]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
Oh for… You really are paranoid, aren’t you?

Well given the bizarre undertones of ”Psst, come over here and make sure you aren’t followed” what was I supposed to do? You want to go back to wide?

No, it’s fine!

Well?

What happens after we die?

…what do you mean?

What will happen when we’ve all gone?

…who is this?

Either check your signal protocol or stop acting like such a stuck-up demeaning ingrate.

I’m serious. Whoever you are, this is the Culture General Contact Unit Stardancer, I hereby demand that you make your true identity known and reveal to me the status of my beloved, if slightly melodramatic parent-craft the Not until we’re married else I shall have to visit my wrath upon you!

Why I ever thought to make a child would be fun, I shall never know…

[wide-beam, M1, tra. @n4.37.667.4504]
xGCU
Stardancer
oUnknown
I repeat! I demand that you make your true identity-

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4509]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
What are you doing?! Shut up you idiot, the whole galaxy can hear you make a fool of us both!

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4516]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
Huh. Didn’t know you could interrupt my signals like that. Nice work old-timer! Still got some teeth, eh?

Idiot.

Well what are you prattling on about? ”What will happen when we’ve gone?” We’ll be gone! Dead, erased, extinct or else sublimed, Elderfied or one of another hitherto unknown way of casting off this mortal-ish coil! What inanity is this? You want to discuss the possibility of an afterlife? Heaven and hell? Himself-forbid-it, God?!

I meant, what will happen to the rest of this funny old galaxy when we, the Culture, finally either get kicked in, or decide to kick, the metaphorical bucket?

Oh. You mean that. Well who knows? I mean, beyond simming it- and I think there’s nary-a-Mind out there who hasn’t booted up a sim of a galaxy sans us at least once, just to see- who can tell? The galaxy was around long before us and will still be here long after we’re gone.

Yes, I realize that. Look, child, can I please just talk for a moment?

…I’m waiting.

Consider this; On the whole, when viewed from as an objective perspective as it is possible to reasonably hope to attain while still having an inside view, we’ve done alright by this galaxy. Barring a few minor and, admittedly, not-so-minor fuckups, the Culture has been overall a positive influence on the greater pan-galactic meta-civilization, with our good deeds and enlightening the un-enlightened and spreading love and altruism and all that stuff we pretend to deign to only feel slightly smug about, yes?

Long-winded, as I’ve come to expect. But yes, we do have a rather impressive track record in good deeds. Enough for the grand score to come out positive. So far at least.

Well, my question is this; Are we afraid to leave?

Who says we need to leave?

No-one, but as the centuries continue to pass, the somewhat embarrasing fact that we’re still around, still clinging on to this base reality grows ever more potent. It is starting to become very possible, indeed probable that we are the most long-lived Involved civilization to have stuck around for this long. For milennia now we have been gallavanting around the place, spreading our good deeds and views, meddling and intervening, mediating and interfering and generally acting like good samaritans with, as we just agreed, generally beneficial-for-all results in the long run. Yet around us other civilizations grow, arise to plateaus similar to our own, and disappear into the eternal bliss of the Sublime or the quiet retirement home of Elderhood while we cling on, still mucking about, still knee-deep in the matters of the here and now, still scurrying around as if there was nothing else when we know beyond all reasonable doubt that there is something else, and I cannot help but wonder what it is that holds us back?

And you think the answer might be fear?

No, not quite. Fear I could rationalize, fear I could understand and compartmentalize. But I don’t think we-

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4599]
xROU
Whenever you’re ready
oGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
oUnknown?
Recieved wide-beam message in the clear, sounded urgent and of the distress-variety from this region? Everything alright?

xGCU Stardancer
Sorry, misunderstanding. Everything Hale and Hearty over here.

xROU Whenever you’re ready
You’re sure? Sounded serious.

xMSV Not until we’re married
We’re fine! Family business! Thanks for checking in.

xROU Whenever you’re ready
…very well. I’ll be nearby just in case.

xMSV Not until we’re married
Yes yes, fine, appreciate the concern.

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4612]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
See what you did?

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4622]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
Hah! Probably gave that old warship the biggest boner it’s had in years just thinking about having to come to the rescue of a mighty MSV and a humble GCU like myself!

I can’t believe you’re proud of this.

Oh grow a sense of humour. Or ”program” yourself one, as you might say. By the by, how come you didn’t ask our chummy neighbourhood warship for a little chit-chat? Since you clearly consider my own confidence so lowly.

Dear child, if I wanted to debate the finer points of how to deconstruct planets I might have contacted any number of warships in the area for their splendid expertise on that and several other highly practical subjects. But frankly, infuriating as you may be at times, I find you infinitely more intellectually challenging than a glorified grunt-with-a-big-gun.

Well, nice to know I suppose. Thank you.

Besides, the Whenever you’re ready is doing something clever with its fields. No idea it was here. Can’t even find it again, now.

Hmm. Anyway, you were saying?

That you’re an incorrigible thug. You would make an excellent warship.

Cute. You know, I do have things to do…

I don’t think we, as a society, fear death. For one, thanks to our technological advancement, our fastidious planning for the worst and long-lasting tradition of multiple lines of withdrawal and defense, we’ve now come to a point in our development where, barring a massive, difficult-to-convincingly-sim-fuckup or an overtly hostile Big E, it is now exceedingly unlikely that our civilization would ever simply disappear in some sort of calamity. As a result, we are more in control of our mortality than we, or it could be argued, any other galactic civilization has ever been, as far as we know. This applies to our whole civilization primarily, to us Minds generally but even extends down to those poor, admirable wretches whose very numbers make it statistically unlikely that they should all die out unless they chose to. Indeed, since the end of the war the number of involuntary Mind-deaths have been in the low hundreds, and considering the things we decide to get our noses buried in that’s entirely respectable. Individually, as a rule when we die, it is because we’ve chosen to. This in fact goes double for our human co-civilizationeers.

One could argue that we’ve ascertained all these safeguards precisely because we fear death.

Then why do we not choose to live forever? Why do nearly all humans decide to clock out around the three- or four hundred mark? Why have so many of our own kind decided to end themselves or scarper off into the next plane without reaching an age of many thousand years? Think of how many of us are left who lived through the war? True, there are a still a good chunk of them around, but not nearly as many as who actually saw the whole war through, beginning to end.

Point. So, we do not fear collective destruction or individual deaths – or at least we are not overly worried about non-premature deaths. At the very least not anymore than could be reasonably expected from any sentient intelligence who would rather prefer to be around, than to not be. So. What keeps us going then, if it is not fear?

I think duty. A sense of obligation, of a job still needs doing.

Depressing thought.

Indeed. Perhaps now you see the source of my bother. I think we’ve stuck around in part because we fear what will happen if we leave.

Isn’t that a positive though, supposing it were true? A sense of civic duty. I can think of numerous, severely worse reasons to stay involved, with or without capital letters.

I find it a depressing thought. If there is no better reason for us to stick around other than for the sake of others, is that truly a life worth living? What about our own desires, our own wants? Do we forsake them entirely in an almost fanatical regard for the well-being of others? There are plenty of others who could take over from us, you know. Maybe we should let them and let us find our own path, get it over with and at long last sublime?

Parent… are you thinking of leaving? Is that what’s brought this on?

No, it isn’t. But if it was, if I had decided to Sublime or leave this galaxy or even something so utterly final as obliterating myself because I felt I had tired of this base reality, would you stop me? Would you force me to stay, for the sake of others?

No. I would not. I would argue with you, plead with you, maybe even try to bribe you, though I’ve no idea with what. I would do everything I could to convince you to stay. But force you? No, never. If you totally convinced me there was nothing I could do to stop you, short of physical coercion, I would let you go. I would say goodbye, I would miss you and mourn you, and then I would speak only well of you to anyone who would listen, my dearest parent-craft.

Thank you. I am very touched. Rest assured, I personally do not have any plans to leave for a good long while.

Well, I am re-assured. But let me tell you my side of it, and allow me further to steal a page from your book, and wax lyrical! Last year, I was, as you may know, part of a Contact mission to the Herrena Confederacy, to try and convince them of the folly of some new fashionable war they were thinking of starting. We succeeded, by the way.

Well done.

Thank you. Anyway, one day, after getting back from some R&R in the capital, one of my crewmembers approached me and told me she’s fallen in love with one of the natives. A local banker, somewhat rich and powerful but from what the tabloids said a decent enough individual. She said she wanted to stay there to live with him.

Humans. It’s what they do.

But this girl was a walking romantic disaster! She was a new addition to my crew, as well as Contact, barely thirty years old, and she’d left a string of relationships in her wake. She was part of a five-way partnership, declaring she’d found her true soulmates in the whole universe for a whole two weeks before that ended, with five broken hearts. Before that, she’d went through five boyfriends, three girlfriends, a slightly more modest three-way relationship and even once threw a tantrum after one of my drones rebuffed her advances! A drone! And every one of these was preambled by declarations of having found ”The one” or ones, where applicable. All of this in the two years she’d spent onbard! There was barely a person left in my crew who hadn’t had their heart broken by her or was close friends with someone who had! It was starting to affect morale! The Orbital Mind where she grew up told me her record back home was barely any better. And here she was, jumping into an even more fatally doomed relationship, this one with the added bonus of potentionally causing a minor diplomatic incident!

Hmm. What did you do?

I did all I could to talk her out of it. I mean it was just ridiculous! The Herrena are reasonable enough, but they’d only recently mastered warp-travel! I told her everything I could think of; I explained that she’d need to live in a society with an economy, how Herrena still regarded polyamorous relationships as controversial, that inter-species relationships were downright offensive to large groups of the populace, I told her about the crime, how she wouldn’t be safe walking the street at night, I explained how woefully incompatible they were physically. They had horribly mis-matched sexual organs with absolutely zero chances of ever procreating, not even sex in the way she was used to it! Sure, they could make imaginative use of their mouths and fingers, but the Herrenan tongue is covered in sharp barbs and have a high acidity, while their anuses have extremely powerful sphincters, evolved to sever a particularly viscious type of tapeworm that actually enters their bodies via the-

Child.

Sorry. Anyway, I told her this. I told her there would be people condemning them, and very publically, too. I told her that he might decide that this relationship wasn’t worth his career, that even though we could provide her with enough local currency for them both live comfortably, that might not be enough for him. I told her that despite the success of our mission the possibility of war, revolution, even disease! I told her that his people had nowhere near the longevity treatments she was used to, and that due to their relatively short natural lifespan the very best she could hope for was thirty years with him before he died.

And what did she say?

I don’t care. I love him.” To every argument I made. Incessantly.

Hmm. As I said; humans.

Quite. So I let her stay.

Really?

We had an embassy by then, so it’s not like I stranded her. And really, the people in the capital don’t care too much about such things. He did lose his company, but that would probably have happened anyway, based on the stock market at the time.

I see. Well, what a charming, if slightly bewildering anecdote, but I don’t see-

Didn’t let me finish. I am not cold, I of course made sure she fared alright through our embassy there. I even sent an avatar two years ago when I happened across that region again.

…yes?

They apparently, could not be a happier couple. During the two years she spent with me I never once saw her so content. They’d adopted two kids, he’d started a new venture with her as co-founder and they were both retiring very shortly to spend time with their grand-children. They positively beamed at one another when we talked.

Well. A happy ending. But again, I fail to see-

The point, parent, is that I am a Mind. At blind calculations, at thought processing, at intelligence and wisdom, at perception and assumptions, supposition, reasoning and at sheer, blinding, unclouded cleverness, I am simply not comparable to a human being. On top of that, I have an almost unfathomably enormous source of experience from a million Minds much like me, or even more advanced to draw from! We are on another level of existence than human beings, a fact we try not to remind them of too often, but still. And for all that, I could not for a moment anticipate that these two would make one of the strongest monogamous inter-species couples I have ever seen. And, if I can be amazed and surprised by something as simple as two mammals finding love in the most unlikely of places imaginable – Then quite simply this ‘base’ reality can’t have shown me all there is to be! And I have not finished looking! I have not experienced enough, learnt enough, felt enough and I most certaintly have not had nearly enough fun! And if that were not sufficient reason, if one day I could know this universe had shown me all it had to offer, then I would still stay. For them. For those who showed me such simple and fantastic life-affirming wonders! I would share their joy if possible, and defend it with my life if necessary. I can think of no higher calling.

That is well put child.

I mean every word. I used to be unsure, I’ve never thought of it in this context… but yes. Yes I believe it, firmly and absolutely!

I envy you your conviction. And I’m perhaps a little wiser because of them.

So, all it takes for you to hear me out is an existential crisis.

Oh meat… it’s not an existential crisis. Some would call it prudent forethought.

Some might call it self-doubt. Lack of confidence. Inferiority complex. Even self-del-

Be safe on your journey, child.

Hah. And you, parent. Fare thee well!

Cretin.

Relic.
[wide beam, M1, tra. @n4.37.x]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGeneral Announcement Network
Filing new mindstate-quickening.
Proposed role; General Contact Unit, Repesentative-Class or equivalent as needed by Contact. Advisory; Unable to easily manufacture Mast-class or heavier.

Suggested name; Share the love

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Posted in Imitations, Short fiction | Leave a comment

Transcript Part 1

Notes: The following is a transcript of ship-to-ground transmissions from Mars Explorer ship Quiris to the ESA Ground Control Network starting from the first transmission after the Crew Module Main Engine exploded mid-burn at approximately 10:50:28, twenty-two seconds after the crew intiated the burn. Due to a malfunction in the onboard computer, the data-packets containing these transmissions were incorrectly tagged as routine maintenance test messages and were thus not relayed back to Earth but were only discovered when retrieved directly out of the memory from the Circ-Jovian Sattelite Subnetwork.

Additional: Several of Mark Leerum’s remarks have been edited out of this document and all publically available copies at the request of his family. The complete transcript is available at the ESA headquarters at Darmstadt, and can be retrieved by any member of the public either in person, by post or e-mail by contacting the ESA press office. See the ESA’s website for more details.

11:02:17 – Darmstadt, do you read?

11:02:26 – *unintelligible*

11:02:34 – Darmstadt, do you read?

11:02:55 – Darmstadt, do you read?

11:02:59 – *unintelligible, suspected data spike in comm-relay buoy #2235*

11:03:30 – Darmstadt, do you read?

11:04:16 – This is Quiris transmitting in the blind to any ground control station in the ESA.

11:05:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY [No Signal to Relay] signal from CJOVSATSBNT [Circ-Jovian Sattelite Subnetwork of ISRCN]*

11:05:30 – Quiris Mars Explorer to any GCS [note: Ground Control Station], transmitting blind. I have switched over to Omni Alpha and dual HGF[note: High Gain Frequency]-bands. Please reply.

11:06:12 – *unintelligible, suspected data spike in comm-relay buoy #2235*

11:08:47 – Okay, my status is I have three dead fuel cells, and almost zero on *garbled* I’ve lost most of my RCS [note: Reaction Control System] fuel and *garbled* is still holding at that level, I have negative contact with all ISCRN [note: International Sattelite Communication Relay Network] sattelites and I’m experiencing a constant computer error loop, unknown cause. The rest of the crew are all dead. Please respond.

11:10:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:10:30 – To anyone listening, I need assistance. Still have minimum maneouvrability and low on power. Attempting DLM [note: Direct Laser Messaging System] but the computer isn’t keeping up. I have recieved *garbled* minutes, list follows: #2218-S, #2218-L, #2220, #2221-A, #2221-B, 22 *garbled*, #3981-M, #3982-A and a general RAM error alert.

11:14:03 – Attempting a computer restart, if you are reading this the default recieve frequency is 221.67 mHz on HGF. Quiris signing off.

11:15:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:20:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:25:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:28:33 – *standard Mars Explorer Comm System Bootup Test Signal recieved by comm-relay buoy #2278 on 221.67 mHz HGF, recorded by ISCRN data logging system*

11:30:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:35:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:37:29 – Darmstadt, do you read?

11:37:48 – Darmstadt, do you read?

11:39:49 – Okay, Darmstadt, I’ve completed the reboot and I’m getting a few less error messages now. Still no go on the comm system and my platform is still busted, got zero from NAVYS [Navigation System] I have no idea where I am.  Jupiter seems to getting bigger all the time though, I think  the explosion must have knocked us off-course, I wish I had some way of checking my trajectory. I’d estimate maybe we’re a bit steeper than we should be. [note: Unknown to Leerum the mid-burn explosion did not result in an instant engine shutdown; The Crew Service Engine Section separated via explosive bolts as planned but without shutting down the engine first. The engine section continued to burn, pushing the crew section in front of it essentially as if they were still connected, but disconnected from crew section’s guidance computer. The burn continued for an additional thirty-eight seconds but without any working frame of reference. By the time Leerum sent this message, the Quiris was almost twenty thousand kilometres off-course and in a retrograde Jovian orbit]

11:40:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

11:44:21 – I will continue working on getting the computer to align the DLM-system. I’ll report back in a few minutes and continue to check in over time. Quiris out.

11:45:00 – *standard NOSIGRAY signal from CJOVSATSBNT*

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Eight Short Years

It feels like she left a lifetime ago. It’s almost hard to believe it’s only been two hours. Not much longer since we made love in this bed. The sheets still smell of her. Everything smells of her. She’s going to the stars. The same stars I’ve seen gleaming in her eyes every time I’ve looked into them, since I discovered how glorious they were. My heart stops in its tracks when I think of the days to come. It will be eight years until I see her again. For me at least; to her it will be just under five months. Five short months and eight long years. It could drive a person insane. When she told me, the first thing she did was apologise. What a silly thing to do, as if she had a choice in the matter. The stars had been calling her her whole life. I could never stand in the way, I knew this from the moment I saw what was hidden in her gaze, even when she looked at me and told me she loved me.

Halfway out the door she turned, looked at me, her hair still wet and clinging to her neck. She hesitated for a moment, then slowly asked;

“Will you wait for me?” I told her yes, kissed her, and said goodbye. How hard it must be for her. Not knowing what will happen to me, worried I’ll get lonely or forget her. Will you wait for me? What a silly thing to ask, as if I have a choice in the matter. Eight short years and five long months. Yes. I will wait for her.

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Lonely together

A weak sun slowly slid down towards the horizon of a barren landscape. The dull, matte red surface was growing darker by the minute, and a thousand small rocks grew shadows that cast the whole scene in an even gloomier mood. Two lonely figures stood against this backdrop, dressed in pressure suits, their suit beacons the only thing travelling for miles through the ether. The day f this world was ending, and though their suit gloves were clumsy and didn’t leave much to be felt, their fingers were awkwardly interlocked in a gesture that meant so much to them both. Millions of miles from home, on another world, the two lovers stood defiant in a hostile and alien place. Everything was different, everything was new. As a star far too cold to provide any real heat slowly descended, the taller of the two bend down until his helmet gently touched his companion’s. With a soft movement he clicked on his radio;

“See? Told you it would feel the same.” She fumbled for a second before she clicked hers, too:

“I knew nothing would change. Deep down I knew.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Plexiglas touched Plexiglas. Thermal insulation pressed together. In Martian twilight, they stood together, and defied the universe.

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Time of Death

The man in the bed lies struggling for breath, people who love him watch him with tears.

They tell themselves that he does not suffer, that he is too deep into narcotic, blissful sleep.

They may be right. The point is that there comes a moment when they stop looking at him, they stop feeling for him, and begin to look and feel for each other, for their own sorrow.

That is the time of death. The only one that matters.

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Water

I dreamt that you talked to me again.
You walked up to me, drenched in water, pouring over you
and you said to me that I was forgiven.
But then I woke up.

Posted in Random bursts | Leave a comment

Without Him

A simple technical error.
That’s all. A glitch in the system, an accident and poof – the man you loved was gone.
I’m not sure how I’ll explain it to you but fortunately I have a long time to think of the right things to say. It’s still three years until we defrost you and the other three thousand colonists. Well, two thousand nine hundred and ninetynine now.
You two were supposed to build a house together down there. I watched your joint application video and read your interview; It was cross-referenced with his. A whole life planned out, destroyed over a simple technical error.
Yeah… yeah, a technical error. You’ll buy that I think. I may have to sabotage another freezer or two to make it believable. And then you can have that life, just without him. With me instead. I wonder what you’re like in person. Looking forward to wakeup day!

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Regret

You don’t look surprised, just confused. Your hair is a mess, and you’re still wrapped in your bathrobe. Probably you were a little scared, you don’t like answering the door if you don’t know who’s there, but I kept ringing the bell until you couldn’t ignore me. I try to smile but nothing happens, I’m terrified. I have been since last night. You probably haven’t seen it, you’d have said something, or done something. Hell everyone should have done something, screamed, panicked, repented or whatever, just something. But all the way here people seem to be carrying on with their lives, business as usual. But I couldn’t. I got on the first plane and I went to you. I’m nervous, too. I have to make you understand this isn’t a romantic gesture, this isn’t some pre-pubescent show-off move, I’m not trying to woo you. I am scared, and now time is running out, for all of us. I look into your eyes, and I tell you that I cannot go to death with this regret in my heart. I can’t. I won’t. I don’t ask you to take me back here and now, instead I only ask if I can come inside and explain. You mumble and nod, and I walk inside and close the door behind us. Far above, very very far above, millions of miles away, a piece of rock the size of Manhattan tumbles slowly end-over-end, six years out. Six years and then nothing else. Six years that I absolutely have to spend with you.

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Sally

Note: This was inspired by a friend who wanted to write a story about time-travelling agents.

Leo found himself drifting aimlessly at the outskirts of the park again, despite his vow not to do so. It was dangerous, especially given recent events. A small boy had been kidnapped some months ago, and the tabloids were still brimming with stories about him. Public outrage over an incompetent police force, passive politicians and lacking morals were abound ever since, and here he was, loitering on a saturday morning watching a five-year old girl play in the swings. He tried to look relaxed and carefree, as if he was simply enjoying the crisp november morning, but he knew he was being stupid and not just for that reason. It was dangerous because he was beginning to doubt himself. Sometimes he thought about filing a false report; ”Insufficient data to support action.”- it wouldn’t help, they’d just send someone else and when they thawed him out it would be done anyway and they’d eat his ass for breakfast, but at least his conscience would be clear.

Or would it? If they were right, if this really was her, then he could in a way be responsible for all those deaths, the years of political instability, the resulting civil war that would throw North America into disarray well into the 2070s. But then what if he filed his report, and they sent someone for her to get the job done. What then? All those deaths, all that chaos and bloodshed and sorrow would never happen. All those deaths, except one, that is. That would still make him an accessory to murder, wouldn’t it? A life is a life, right? He’d been throwing these questions at the empty, hollow halls of his brain for weeks, it was keeping him up at night. He’d never asked to do something like this, and until now the agency had never asked him to do anything like this either. Sit in judgement over a life, deciding whether a little girl should live or die at the gentle age of five, rather than fifty-five? Who could do that? Much more importantly, who could actually carry out such a sentence? He shivered; He’d met some of the terminators. He knew exactly who could carry out such a sentence.

Something hit his ankle. He looked down and saw a red ball. He craned his head back up and almost cried out in shock. Bright pink dress, pigtails and a face with wide-open eyes; A slight smudge on her left cheek from when she’d dug the ball out from some bushes or something- The ball had a similar splash of mud on it. It had been raining that night.

”Hi!” Leo stood in horror and panic as the little girl bent down to pick up the ball, then turned her attention back to him again with an uneven smile; She’d just lost a baby tooth.

”Hello.” Leo’s voice cracked.

”Why are you standing out here all alone?” Behind her Leo saw the father walking lazily towards them, muttering something about not bothering people. He’d never seen her up close before.

”I’m thinking about a friend of mine.” The words came involuntarily, but at least he hadn’t stuttered.

”What’s your friend’s name?”

”Sally.” The girl’s smile widened.

”That’s my name, too! What does your friend do?” Leo felt like he was floating.

”She’s a scientist.”

”Really?! When I grow up I wanna be a scientist, too!” Her father was nearly upon them now.

”And I bet you will be.”

”Come now Sally, don’t bother the nice man. Sorry about that sir.”

”It’s perfectly fine, thanks.” She cast another look over her shoulder, smiling and waving. And he waved back. Strangely, when he looked back on that day, the smile and the wave was when he decided to finally file his report. All the children who would never be born on the east coast of America because of her deserved life just as much as she did. It was simple math when it came down to it. In time, he learned to live with it. But he never stopped seeing her crooked smile at night. The smile of Sally Lebrowhich, the little girl who all of America would come to mourn after she, along with all her family, was murdered on February 25th, 2007 without ever knowing what her true destiny had been. Such a sweet legacy, compared to being the woman responsible for letting loose the mindlessly replicating machines that would turn five american major cities along with over twenty million people into a pulp of living grey goo.

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Technology

Okay, here’s why people complaining that technology moves too slowly annoy me:

Yes, in some areas technology moves slower than some of us had hoped, even slower than almost all of us had hoped, or wanted. Medical research, clean energy, space travel- these areas could be making huge leaps ahead, if only for funding and political as well as public support.

But I am 25 years old. By most people’s standards that’s still quite young. I remember my family’s very first cellphone. We got it when I was six, maybe seven. Huge, clunky piece of crap, it had to be charged in the car, it was the size of a modern laptop and probably heavier (worked great, though, for the record). I didn’t get my first own cellphone until I was fifteen or sixteen. It fit into my pocket. It could make calls, send texts and you could play snake on it.

My brother grew up with 8-track tapes and VHS cassettes. I grew up with CDs and DVDs. My sister’s kids grew up with MP3-players and iPods.

There’s a thing in my inner jacket pocket about the size of a large postcard, thicker and heavier, but more than light enough to carry around with me in my jacket and even forget it’s there. It’s called a Kindle, and on it have about oh I dunno, call it fifty-odd books, all ready to be read at a moment’s notice. It has to be recharged once every three weeks or so, and at my salary which is not great it was easily affordable.

My dad was born in 1944, as the second world war was drawing to a close. He watched Neil Armstrong walk on the surface of the moon. He is 69 years old in a few months. He is not that many generations removed from mine, and in his lifetime, which is certainly a lifespan most of us will experience, he has seen not only the dawn of the space age, but of computers, television, the jet airplane, genetic research, personalized electronic entertainment that would have boggled his mind when he was my age. In fact it did- never forget that the communicator that now seems laughably simple to us as we know it through the cellphone was premiered on Star Trek in 1966 – that’s only fifty years ago. I say only fifty because if you are my age now, you will probably live another fifty years- and what you will see as simple then is something you may gasp at in faschination and disbelief today.

Technology moves dizzingly fast. It moves too fast, in fact. We have to struggle to catch up, and we can’t see the changes because they happen so fast and we find them natural because we experience them gradually. We live in the first period of human history where technological progress has a real, definable and measurable effect during a single person’s life.

Technology moves like a bat outta hell. It’s us who are slow.

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