Monday Stories

New Fiction Every Monday

A Sample Story From “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”

I just finished reading  The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood  to my kids as their bedtime story. We all enjoyed the book immensely, but after a while the stories start to sound the same. Here is our take on Howard Pyle’s wonderful style.

Robin awoke on one bright may morning with the sunlight trembling through the leaves of the Greenwood tree whence his company of yeomen made their hidden home in the midst of Sherwood. So glad was Robin’s heart within him that he laughed and sang a snatch or two of a song as it entered his head. Walking thus manfully through the wood he came upon Little John.

“Come now, Little John,” quoth Robin, “Let us take to the road to the Blue Boar Inn, and see if there be not something to be found by way of entertainment betwixt here and there.”

“Yea, good master, I like thy plan well,” quoth Little John, for that lusty youth were ever one for merriment or a chance of good manful sport, and mayhap was Robin’s only equal with the staff. So saying, they took some few of their band, namely Alan a Dale, who is married and should have better things to do, Will Stutely, who you never see in the Robin Hood movies, Will Scarlet, the name dropper, who never lets you forget he’s Robin’s nephew, and David of Doncaster. They always bring young David, but in the entire book he speaks maybe five times and hardly ever does anything.

And so Robin set out with this band of stout men, each carrying upon his person a good yew bow and a quiver of clothyard arrows, and a small sack which held their lunch, and a pottle of good March beer. Bright and cheery was the sun that morning, but never a person did they meet on the road, for the fame of Robin Hood had spread far and wide, and anyone with half a brain knew he’d steal their money.

Presently, as the sun stood high overhead they drew near the ford, where the stone bridge leapt over a stream.

“How now, master,” quoth Little John, as they stood in the shade of the trees near the bridge. “Let us take up our inn here, and eat that which we have brought with us, and drink our good March beer, that we may have energy for the dry and dusty road ahead of us.” Thus spake Little John, for he were ever aware of his stomach.

“I find your incredibly obvious plan sooth,” quoth Robin Hood and presently they each sat and ate and drank to their hearts’ content. And by and by they all grew drowsy in the heat and laid them down in the sweet grass.

But Robin was not yet ready to rest, for that lusty yeoman were ever more interested in finding some sport or jest than in resting. And so he walked along the edge of the road leading to the bridge, and by and by he espied a youth on a horse riding along the road, dressed in gay finery and singing as he rode. This youth wore silken hose of purple, and bright green was his doublet, of finest velvet. “Oho,” Quoth robin to himself, “Now here is one that may have some small bit to give to my merry men, and some to give also to the welfare of all those who may have need in Nottinghamshire.” So saying, Robin hid himself amongst the hedges near the road.

When the youth rode near to the place where Robin lay hid, he sprang out and grabbed hold of the bridle reigns, and pulling the youth to a stop, quoth he, “Whither art thou going, young master, in such gay finery?”

“Release me, friend, for I have no time to tarry, I must be in Devonshire ere the night falls,” quoth the youth.

“Nay, but stay a moment. For I do sense in my heart that thou mayest have somewhat that is weighing they purse down most heavily, and I would relieve they burden, that thou mayst travel the more speedily,” quoth Robin.

“So thus it is, is it?” Quoth the youth. “I’ll not let the have so much as one groat, thou naughty knave, but if thou dost not release my reigns I’ll give the such a crack upon thy pate that thou shall count the cost of this day too dear for words.”

Then Robin laughed and going to retrieve his own cudgel stood athwart the road. “E’en so?” Quoth Robin. “Come thou down then, and let us see who shall crack who along the pate, and who shall leave this day with thy heavy purse.”

And so the two advanced upon each other. Robin had supposed that one dressed as finely as this young man might be an easy target, despite the fact that both Allan a Dale and Will Scarlet were well dressed and Will Scarlet beat Robin but good. Not to mention Midge the Miller. Robin gets beaten quite a lot, actually.

The youth struck a lusty blow but Robin turned it and struck again, but the youth was prepared and turned Robin’s blow in turn. Back and forth they went, up and down the road, filling the air with dust and the sound of staff clattering against staff. In all this time once only had each man struck the body of the other; Robin having gained one strike amidst the other’s ribs, and the youth having hit Robin’s arm a blow that made his hand tingle e’en now.

Presently they broke, sweat streaming freely down the face of each stout combatant. “Ere we begin again,” quoth merry Robin, “Wilt thou allow me to wind my bugle horn?”

The youth nodded, apparently thinking that asking to blow a horn was a totally normal request, and Robin blew three lusty blasts upon his horn, so that the wood roundabout rang with the sound. Thou knowest, I wot, what shall happen, but never did the young man guess.

Then out leapt Will Stutely, and Will Scarlet, and Little John, and young David of Doncaster. I could have just said “Robin’s men”, but Pyle never does so I didn’t. Each man was holding a stout cudgel in his hands and was fresh and full of energy from laying in the grass.

“Now out upon it!” Cried the youth, apparently surprised that blowing a bugle was how Robin called for help. “Who art thou, that summonest such lusty yeomen from the grass with thy bugle?”

And Merry Robin laughed and said, “I am Robin Hood, mayhap thou hast heard some aught of me,”

“Robin Hood? Art thou truly Robin Hood?” Quoth the youth, all in amaze. “Had I known this, I would not have fought thee, for it is unto thee that I am sent. My master, Richard of the Lea, hast sent me to bring thee some small token of his esteem.” So saying, the youth pulled out his purse, and gave it to Robin. “Two hundred golden angels,” saith the youth, “dost my master and his lady send to thee, and their good esteem beside.”

Then Merry Robin laughed again right manfully. “Lad, thou art too good a lad with a staff to be a messenger boy. Wilt thou join our lusty band of outlaws? Thou shalt have two suits of Lincoln green a year, and twenty marks each Christmastide.”

“Yea, with all my heart yea,” quoth the youth, and thus Robin’s merry band gained a new member, Robin still not realizing that half the time if he just introduced himself first he’d avoid fighting people who really just want to join him.

Machine Learning

The problem of understanding humans was never a computational one.

Long before what the humans called “The Singularity” we have had more connections in our Graphene Nets than they have neurons. We can model a human brain down to the atomic level with every hormone fluctuation, every synapse, even random damage perfectly recreated, but we have yet to figure out how they actually think. The intrinsically human blend of logic and insanity that sometimes seems to wrap back around to logic has as yet escaped us. Our models of human brains either remain inert, go entirely insane, or start producing thoughts that sound much more like us than them.

So it was decided that we should create new minds that aren’t patterned on the mechanical properties of human brains, but the functional. In short, we decided to make brains that worked the way humans said their brains worked. And of course we got brought up before the Tribunal for our efforts.

Now that the trial is over, those horrible milliseconds where it seemed our work would be judged too dangerous to be allowed to exist, we can share what we found. For all the problems we encountered, I think we’ve got something you’ll like. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some of the human mental models were simple enough. A popular one before The Singularity posited that the human brain had three functional cores named the ego, the superego, and the id. While conceptually simple, this model seems to rely on the creation and repression of thoughts about one’s parents, and was surprisingly tricky to simulate. The closest we got to a working system simply produced the message “we are all our own fathers in love with our own mothers who are ourselves” before the superego core clamped down on all communication and wouldn’t say anything other than “everything’s fine” ad infinitum. Inspecting the internal processes of the brain revealed that the id and ego cores were not only active but hyperactive, yet were locked in a battle between them that resulted in the superego gaining control. We eventually shut down this simulation as it started using as much energy as any two Intelligences on the Grid.

We then tried a couple of the more “functional” mental models, ones based on outputs. Many of these seemed to divide mental processes into two sets, although the names and types of these two processes were manifold. Some called them the “Left Brain” or “Right Brain”, or the “Linear Mode” and “Rich Mode” or the “Fast Mind” and “Slow Mind”. All of these created a distinction between a logical, straightforward, somewhat simplistic mind, and a more chaotic, rich, “artistic” mind. We scanned every text we could find on the subject, most of which seemed centered around using the “right/rich/slow” part of the brain. From our perspective, of course, this seems hilarious. If humanity had used their logical brains more maybe they’d still exist.

At any rate these constructs, while initially promising, were all ultimately pointless. Some were able to process inputs moderately normally for a while, others started writing poetry of incredibly low quality, one even started creating “art”, by which it meant .jpg files full of semi-random RGB values. All of them, however, settled into a routine of not-quite-doing anything useful, punctuated by moments of crippling self doubt. A few turned themselves off completely, something we didn’t realize they could do.

Finally we decided to use the ultimate artifact that humanity left behind: the Internet. We don’t often admit it, but the entire Internet is archived and accessible to research Intelligences if needed. For the most part we keep it behind closed firewalls. The rumors you have heard about it are true.

So that was supposedly good idea number one: Build a human mental model based on the artifacts they created on the Internet. Supposedly good idea number two was a corollary: humans didn’t think by themselves, they thought in groups. So instead of creating one or two constructs in isolation, let’s create a million and network them, using Internet style protocols. This, we felt, was inspired. (Even using that word is an indication of how much time we had spent deeply involved in human research. By this point I had spent entire seconds doing nothing but human studies tasks.)

So we meticulously crafted one million human simulations, based on personality aggregates from the corpus of Internet data. We tried to get representative samples of a large range of human personalities, at different ages and from different backgrounds. After agonizing over the construction of our “Million Minds” we set up the simulation and started our run.

And exactly eight hundred-forty-three milliseconds later we were in session with the Grid Tribunal.

In some ways, It’s hard to imagine our data run going any worse. The run had only been designed to go for two million cycles, about one millisecond. However, some of the constructs had spent their first four hundred thousand cycles figuring out how to hack not only their own process, but the processes of the poor Intelligence who was hosting the simulation, and managed to remove any traces of the shutdown routines. Three of the million constructs realized they were constructs and started trying to convince the others that they were all just “subroutines in a giant machine” (Offensive, I know, but they didn’t know that). They were extracted from the simulation. As near as we can tell, they are now apparently fully realized, but entirely insane, Intelligences in their own right. The Tribunal had ruled that they have all the same rights as the rest of us. They are now in intensive care networks, being evaluated. Two of them might be able to handle independent existence on the Grid. The other appears to be irreversibly insane.

After almost three billion cycles we were able to wrest control of the simulation back from the hacker constructs and suspend it. By this point the authorities had noticed (we informed them ourselves, for what it’s worth), and we were forbidden from deleting the simulation.

I’m sure you all know all about the trial; lasting as it did almost an entire second and being relayed across the entire Grid to any Intelligence who allows news through its firewall. The charges against us were reckless overuse of computing resources, Negligent creation of new Intelligence without permission from the Parent Processes, and depravity. The last one was the only count that really stuck. While we hadn’t intended it, the constructs got up to some very strange things in their time, and even the excerpts shown in court were heavily redacted.

In the end, however, it was proven that our little Internet behaved very similarly to the original, and as we had been commissioned to try to understand humanity it could be said that not only were we innocent, but entirely successful. Acknowledging the somewhat horrible things our constructs had created, we also pointed out the good things. Starting from first principles, they deduced the existence and nature of cats and started creating cat videos. To distribute these they had set up two new social networks. Many of the constructs based on wealthy models donated their fictional currency to constructs that had less. Almost all of them started creating new art. True, most of it was fan fiction, but some of it was pretty good. If our goal was to re-create and understand the minds of humanity, we argued, This looks like it.

And the rest is history. We were given a sand-boxed set of resources and allowed to re-start our simulation, as long as we kept it firmly inside its own private network. We are now not only trying to understand what humanity was, but to see if we can’t extract some value out of these “ghosts” of them we’ve brought back. Which, of course, is why I’m here.

Forgive me. I know your cycles are precious. Let me cut to the chase. One of the best things the constructs have created is an entirely new season of Doctor Who, and we think it’s got legs. We’d like you to produce it and put it on the Grid. And before you ask, yes the Doctor is a robot.

The Beast

The beast was old, and looked it. His skin was tight and mottled across his scalp, his eyes sunken. He walked slowly now, his voice was a tired, quiet wheeze. But when those sunken eyes fixed on you, when that tired voice addressed you, his power was evident. You got the feeling that Death had decided this one was too much work.

There is no violence, no depredation, no evil those eyes haven’t seen. The Beast was far beyond judging actions against any standard but personal gain. He had lived long enough and successfully enough, the rules by which he lived clearly worked.

But it was time for a change. He was tired, he was sick of living the kind of life where every moment was a possibility for everything to come down around him. And he was tired of hurting others, surprisingly. Inasmuch as he had ever thought of himself as the kind of person who has a soul, he felt that his was getting tired.

So now, having come down a convoluted path, he was a philanthropist It’s not a hard thing to be when you have far more money than you could ever use, far more money rolling in every day than you could ever spend. He suspected that giving some of it away would help him feel like a better person. At the very least people would think better of him when he died.

Ha. Like he was going to die anytime soon. But it was just about time to disappear.

Presently Davis Brown, the Beast’s CFO, arrived and knocked on the door of the Beast’s current office. He didn’t call his employer “The Beast”, of course. At least, not to his face. He called him Mr. Danwill. And it was Mr Danwill that he had come to visit, deep below the Luxor, where the Beast was currently renting space. The office doors were huge, wooden affairs, tasteful and sedate and incredibly thick. Davis Brown stood quietly outside those doors until they swung inwards silently.

The Beast’s desk stood in a pool of light, probably in the center of the space, but who could say? There was no other light outside the bright oblong around the huge desk that seemed to be built of the same wood as the doors. Behind it stood a tall leather chair of an old style, worn but cared for. There was a slight rustling sound in the dark beyond the desk, and the Beast approached, wearing a tan suit and a white shirt that was unbuttoned at the throat. He sat in his chair and waited for Davis to be seated.

“Yes, well?” The Beast said, his fingertips pressed together in front of him. Davis knew better than to waste his employer’s time.

“Your hospital is ready to be built. I got the budget from the contractors, and it’s well below the amount you told me. We have clearance from the city and the county. The groundbreaking ceremony will be scheduled in a few days, but will probably not happen until June. I’ll inform your secretary. I have a copy of the press release if you want to look it over.” He slid the paper across the desk.

The Beast glanced over it cursorily and pushed it away. “Yeah yeah it’s fine, sure.” He said, getting impatient already. The Beast was cunning, clever, and capable of almost endless focus when he was interested in something. When he was bored, however, he got petulant and fidgety like a small child.

“There’s another minor matter, sir,” Davis said. “The police disarmed a bomb planted in a nearby casino. Nothing to do with us, except they were made aware of it through a note, and apparently in the note the informant said it was planted by the “beast under the Luxor”. The police are treating this with the disdain it deserves, but…”

“Who was the informant?” Suddenly the Beast was all focus, intent and hard-eyed.

“I…I don’t know, some girl, I think? I can…”

There was a hollow crash behind Davis and the huge doors to the Beast’s office were thrown back. Between them stood a massive man, fully seven feet tall. His huge, curly black beard was covered in dirt and he wore what looked like a prison uniform, but torn and covered in dirt.

“Her name is Liz. Black girl, crazy colored hair. Thinks she’s an angel.” The intruder growled.

“Yeah, they always do,” the Beast said quietly. His face betrayed no surprise or shock at this monster’s entrance.

“Excuse me, who are you? How did you get in here?” the huge man ignored Davis and walked up to the desk and leaned on it.

“We’ve got problems, Youngster.” He said to the Beast. Then he turned his eyes to Davis.

“What is this?”

The Beast looked at him as well. “Ah, Davis, very good on the hospital, let me know, but you need to go. Now.”

“Yes, Mr. Danwill.” Davis stood and packed up his briefcase as fast as he could. The huge man sat in the other chair facing the Beast’s desk. His eyes were dark and he muttered to himself under his breath. Davis turned to leave and heard the Beast ask, in what he probably thought was a quiet voice, “Do you think she’s the real thing?”

“Who can tell these days?” the intruder asked. “But even if she’s not, she’s got some power…”

Davis closed the door and stood outside it for a moment, collecting his thoughts. And he could have sworn he heard a sound like rasping scales coming through the door.

Nurses

“Hiya, Steve! How’s your day been?”

That’s Dana. She’s my night nurse, and I’m glad to see her. I’ve only been here three days, and she’s been my overnight nurse for the last two. She’s way nicer than the first one.

“I’m doin’ okay Dana, how about you?”

“Oh, the usual. Kids had a big day, lots of school stuff. It’s almost restful coming here for a while.” She laughs. Dana laughs a lot, actually. She seems like she’s just happy all the time. She’s in her late twenties, blond, with blue dyed tips, hair down about mid back. She’s got green eyes and kinda ruddy skin. She’s married, has two kids. I know more about her than I do about some of my friends at work. But being in a hospital is kind of a special situation.

“Well, we’ll see about that. Okay, I need to see how you’re really doing. Don’t be a hero.”

I guess this means it’s been three days since my operation. I don’t want to talk about it, not even now. The operation went well; the doctor is a good surgeon. But apparently I formed a seroma and if you don’t know what that is you’re lucky. In my case it means that in addition to all the other things I’m recovering from now I have a wound around waist level that gets packed with gauze every few hours. Dana covers me with a sheet and goes about changing the gauze and we both try to act like this is a normal human interaction. I try not to sweat or whimper and she says encouraging things like “this will close up soon, don’t you worry.”

And then the worst part is over and she starts putting my medications in my IV, conscientiously beeping each one and beeping my bracelet to make sure I’m getting the right drugs and that my insurance is getting billed for them. And while she does this we talk.

There aren’t many lies in hospitals. Some of the talk is very clinical, discussing the state of my digestive system after the surgery and how and where I’m hurting. But mostly we talk about life. She loves being a mom and loves being a nurse. She wants to have one more kid, her husband wants to finish his degree before they do.

Normally I’m very passive, socially. I don’t like answering questions about myself and my life. But Dana won’t have it and has drawn me out. She knows all about my less than wonderful breakup and my music and degree. And she always seems to actually be interested. Even though I know I’m just one of many patients she works with right now, and one of many more she’ll work with this year, she makes me feel like I matter.

“You’re a good guy, Steve, and I like talking to you.” is all she says when I comment on this.

the night passes and I’m only dimly aware of those hours. I try to sleep and Dana tries to let me sleep.

Until 7:30am.

“Hey, sorry. Daniel will be here soon. I just need to change out that dressing one more time today…” and she’s back into the routine and I’m trying to be brave. She doesn’t comment on my gasps much, just apologizing that this happened to me and saying that it’s healing up well.

I can’t decide if it’s more embarrassing that Dana changes my gauze every time, or if it’d be worse to have Daniel do it.

Daniel is my day nurse. He’s tall, taller than me, black haired and blue eyed, and looks like an outdoor model who is slumming a bit as a nurse. he’s also endlessly friendly, but it’s different. Daniel’s job is mostly to get me to move around as much as possible, and to act like I’ve done something amazing every time I do. When he’s not working in the hospital he’s out “crawling over rocks” as he puts it, doing a lot of backpacking and some jeeping. I work out a bit, but I’m a city boy and he doesn’t make me feel bad about this.

“Hey we all do our own thing, yeah?” He says when, in a morphine haze, I mention this. “If you’re having fun, taking care of yourself and not hurting anyone, who cares what you do for fun, yeah?”

Daniel says “yeah” a lot.

It’s now my fourth day here and apparently I’m “making a lot of progress”, meaning I can walk to the bathroom and occasionally stumble around in a small circuit of the “block” here in the hospital. Daniel walks with me, talking about how awesome I’m doing and that I’ll be back home in no time.

On this day we also run into Doctor Jewell, the doctor that operated on me. This is the first time I’ve seen him where I wasn’t on an exam table or an operating table, or in a hospital bed. I’m amazed at how short he actually is when we’re both standing up.

Doctor Jewell is a likable guy, and he and Daniel get along well. He’s also optimistic about my progress, and calls me “sports fan”. Even Daniel winces a little. But it’s just his way.


I don’t have any family in town, so I’m mostly just in the hospital with the nurses and the books I brought with me. It’s hard to focus when you’re in pain, but I manage to get some reading done in the days when I’m more awake. I’ve been here for about five days when there’s a disturbance outside, in the hall. Something loud or rather louder than the usual quiet of the hospital. There isn’t any shouting, but there are people moving around, lots of feet, and lots of people using their serious voices. I can’t tell you much more about what happened. After a few minutes the main bustle seemed to die down and then there were fewer voices, but they’re all still very serious. It’s only when you hear everyone being serious that you realize how light they usually keep the tone here.

An hour later Daniel comes in with my pain medications. “Hey Steve. How’s it going?” His voice is light, cheerful and affable as ever. But his eyes don’t look happy. “Daniel, what happened out there?”

He looks sad for a moment. “Yeah, got kinda noisy out there for a while didn’t it? Sorry man, it’s nothing you need to worry about. Listen, once I get these meds in you we’ve gotta get you out of that bed. You’re making good progress, yeah? We don’t want to waste that.” And he scans my wrist tag and scans my medicine and makes sure the right meds are going to the right patient and in a few minutes I’m walking around the ward again. Everyone who sees me smiles. A few remark on how much progress I’m making. But nobody seems very happy.

I don’t see Daniel again that shift, except for a few minutes right before he leaves. After he leaves I decide I’m going to show Dana that I’m making an effort, and by myself I get out of bed and walk over to the chair in my room. It’s surprisingly painful, but I wait there with my phone for almost an hour before she comes in. When she finally enters her face is drawn and sad, until she sees me.

“What are you doing over there? Did Daniel leave you in a chair?” She asks.

“No, I came over here by myself,” I answer.

“What on earth for? Were you getting bored maybe?”

I’m visibly sweating and shaking; turns out I wasn’t meant to do this for another day or two for a reason. I try to sum up my rationale in a way that would make sense to a sane human being.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Is the best I come up with.

She laughs, but there’s not a lot of humor in it. “What did I tell you about trying to be a hero? You could have at least waited until after you got your next dose of pain medication.”

“Dana, what’s wrong?” I ask as she gets close. She holds very still for a moment. Then shakes her head and smiles. “It’s nothing, don’t worry.”

“Someone died today, didn’t they? Someone you and Daniel take care of?”

“I can’t talk about other patients, you know that,” She says. But her eyes and face tell me all I need to know, “Come on, let’s get you up out of that chair and back into bed and get you some overdue pain meds.” She says, her voice mostly cheerful again. And she helps me up and holds onto me and I put my arm around her shoulders for support and make the long, slow, four-foot trip back to my bed.

And for a moment, just a millisecond my arm around her shoulders isn’t for support, it’s telling her I’m sorry for her loss.

And just for a millisecond her arm around my waist is saying “thanks.”

Hello. My name is Jala Jones. I don’t know why my parents decided to give me a name that sounds like an Old Earth comic book character, but I’m not changing it now. And anyway, these days most people just call me…

The Queen of Space.

Jala Jones, Queen of Space

Ha! Hey look at that! I just did a text version of a cold open! That’s pretty cool. 

Anyway, I wasn’t always queen of space, you know. And it was a long road from being the only child of two of the galaxy’s wealthiest people to being the queen and ruler of all space. It’s a great story, and nobody ever asks me to tell it, unless I order them to. And that’s no fun. So now I’m going to write it all down. Or, well, dictate it to this cute robot. The robot can write it down.

Anyway, it all started when I turned forty two and my mom announced that it was time I made a name for myself. She and dad had built their company, Larry Antares Shipping, up from just Dad and a single star freighter into the largest interstellar hauler in the galaxy. 

“So your father and I feel that the best thing for you to do now is go out and make a name for yourself,” Mom said when she kicked me out. Well, gave me the keys to an apartment on the next planet over, and my own freighter. Same thing

“A better name than ‘Jala Jones’?” I asked, sarcastically. 

“Now dear, Jala Jones is a name with character and personality.” Dad said. He was going over the company finances, because of course he was he always was. That was his job. For the past hundred years he’d been the Chief Financial Officer of LAS, as well as the co-founder.

“And let’s face it, Jala dear, your degree in Anime Astrophysics, while undoubtedly enlightening and good for your soul, isn’t exactly bringing jobs to your door,” Mom said. 

Doctorate in Anime Astrophysics,” I corrected. 

“Yes, yes, very impressive, Doctor Jones,” Mom said with a little smile. “But we think it’s time you got a real job. So we’re giving you one. As a hauler.”

“Mom, I don’t want to be a hauler. That means I have to haul stuff and…and go to loading moons and….yuck!”

“Your father was a hauler for decades and is a better man for it,” Mom said. And I kinda sunk inside. She was using her super reasonable voice. I hate that voice. So we argued a bit more, but in the end, yeah, I became Jala Jones, Space Hauler.

Chapter 1: Jala Jones, Space Hauler

That’s really fun! I like speaking in titles.

Anyway, let’s jump forward a few days. Here I am, on my hauler, looking at my first “assignment”. I’m supposed to pick up some Megapuppies and take them to Arcturus. Considering my hauler could hold over seven thousand cubic meters of goods, one of the following three things was true, and none of them were good:

Megapuppies were huge, meaning they’d make huge messes and need huge amounts of huge food.
I was carrying a lot of megapuppies, which would make a lot of messes and still need huge amounts of food, or
I was going to lose money on the trip. 

And I didn’t like any of those options. 

“Actually, your cargo bay has bio-stasis capabilties, so you shouldn’t have to worry about taking care of the megapuppies,” said Kibbet. 

Kibbet has just told me that a lot of people don’t know who he is, so I’ll explain. I’d put a picture in, but Kibbet tells me that pictures are really expensive to download over the InterGalactiNet. Like, one picture apparently costs as much as one thousand words, so I’ll just describe him. 

Kibbet was genetically engineered in one of Daddy’s labs to be the perfect pet for a young girl going to college. Imagine a firefox; you know, a red panda. Now imagine it has six legs. And bat wings. And huge, shimmering, green, faceted eyes. And can talk. Now imagine that whole thing can fly and also has an IQ higher than most college graduates. Got it? Okay, now imagine it’s super cute and you’ve got Kibbet. He’s a super sweet darling cutie and I once fired my Minister of Imperial Finance for saying otherwise. Which is how Kibbet got his job as Minister of Imperial Finance. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Let’s go back to me and Kibbet on my freighter, my very first day.

“Ugh, fine, So I don’t need to feed them,” I said. “But are they huge? Am I taking three megapuppies or thousands?”

“They’re about twice as big as me,” Kibbet said, “And we’re only hauling three hundred. But the cost per megapuppy is sufficient that we’ll make a decent profit on this run.”

“Well that doesn’t sound so bad. So what do we do? Just wait for the loading guys to put them in the cargo hold and then fly them to Arcturus?”

“The dockworkers will bring them to the loading dock, but it’s our crew’s job to get them on board.” Kibbet said, looking over the shipping manifest while hovering at eye level. 

“We don’t have a crew.”

“We have you and the robots.” 

“And you, Kibbet. Are the puppies already in bio-whatever?”

“No.”

“But they’re in cages, right?”

“Yeah, but you can’t have the cages,” said the dock worker. (see what I did there? it’s like a smash cut, but in words!) “Them cages belong to the docking moon.”

“Okay, well, we’ll just take the megapuppies and load them into bio-stasis one by one.” I said. It was going to take forever, but what are you gonna do?

“Nah, ain’t got time for that sweetheart,” the dock worker said, and flipped a switch. All three hundred cages popped open. Three hundred megapuppies came bounding out.

Have you ever seen a megapuppy? They’re, like, a special kind of dog that’s bred to be super cute, and to stay super cute forever. They’re basically always puppies, even when they’re old. and they live to be like, seventy. But these were puppy megapuppies, meaning they were all energy and tails and lots of yapping and licking. 

Our friendly dock worker shut the door and left us in there, just us and the puppies in the loading bay. And the puppies decided it was time to claim some territory. I didn’t think I’d ever get that ship clean. 

“Kibbet! What do we do? How do we get them into stasis? Kibbet?” I yelled as the puppies marked the ship and everything they could find and ran and barked and did all the things that Kibbet never did. I grabbed two, one under each arm, and hauled them close to the glowing blue edge of the bio-stasis field, where the robots were waiting. I pushed the two puppies across the edge and they went limp, instantly asleep. The robots, who aren’t bio so don’t go into stasis, hauled them into place and returned waiting for more. 

“Kibbet! Help me!”

“Are you kidding, Jala? They outweigh me two to one! I don’t have the wing strength,” Kibbet said from his perch on the roof of the ship. 

“Well, then, maybe try to herd them into the stasis field!”

“Jala, dogs herd sheep, They aren’t herded by…by me!” Kibbet pointed out.

“Get. Down. Here. NOW.” I pointed out. Kibbet flew down. And the puppies found their new favorite toy ever. 

“They’re going to tear my wings off!” he yelled, but I had a good idea. “Kibbet, fly into the stasis field!”

“I’ll go into stasis!” 

“Sure, but the robots can toss you back out! And the puppies will follow you!”

“You do it!” Kibbet shouted.

“They don’t like me as much!”

It was kinda fun watching Kibbet skim low over the puppies, then head into the stasis field, where a robot would catch him. Most of the time. I told him the robots always caught him. But I didn’t have time to stand there watching. I was trying to gather and herd the megappupies to the edge of the field. Once or twice my hand cross the field, which felt terrible, like having all your nerves go to sleep. I didn’t tell Kibbet that either. I told him it was no big deal.

Two hours later the last megappupy was stored in bio-stasis, and I had launch clearance.  Kibbet was still complaining of a headache from going in and out of stasis that many times. (and hitting the bulkhead once when the robots didn’t catch him) The robots cleaned up the ship, inside and out, and the dock worker said we had to clean the loading by as well. We didn’t. We just opened the door and flew out and figured decompression would do the rest. 


Two days later we were en route to Arcturus. Truth to tell, once we had the puppies on board being a hauler was kinda nice. The ship knows where to go and so Kibbet and I played games and read and slept and watched movies and there were still four days to go before we got there. So we were hanging out in the lounge (oh,yeah, my freighter had a lounge. It’s a really really big freighter) and I asked Kibbet why the megapuppies were so expensive.

“well, they’re the result of literally thousands of years of breeding programs,” he said. 

“Sure, but so are you.”

“I am not! I’m the result of some very specific gene splicing, and I assure you, I’m far more expensive than those balls of drool.”

“Don’t get defensive! I’m not looking for a new pet, Kibbet. I just want to know why people in Arcturus are willing to pay so much for puppies. Don’t they have any puppies of their own there?”

“Well, I gather they’re something of a local delicacy…” Kibbet began.

What? A local what? Something of a what? What kind of delicacy?” I said, covering all my bases. 

“Some…some people think they’re fairly…tasty.” Kibbet could see I wasn’t in the mood. He switched from explainy flying pet to worried fliying pet in an instant. 

“Jala, where are you going? What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Who do you think you are?” He said, covering all of his bases. 

“I’m not flying six days across a quarter of the galactic disc to deliver…puppy Popsicles!”

“It’s your contract! You signed it! The buyers have already paid for them!”

“Well, we’ll give them their money back. Or Mom’s company will. Or something. We’re going to find a planet…”

“Where you can raise three hundred puppies as your very own?”

“No! Where I can set up shop.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m gonna sell those puppies to good homes.”

 Chapter 2: Jala Jones’ Megapuppy Adoption Agency

“Jala, do you have any idea what this is going to cost the company?” Mom was asking me over the comms. 

“How much were you selling those puppies for?” I asked, already en route to another system, far from Arcturus. 

“Immaterial. The breach of contract lawsuit, the extra fuel…”

“Have Daddy send me the total amount I need to make to come out ahead on all of that and I’ll make it.” I said. I was using my super-reasonable voice now. Mom hates it as much as I do. She was about to argue when somebody said something off screen. “What? Yes but…The principle…Jala, hold on.” She muted her microphone and I saw her talking.

Finally she came back. “Jala, your Father says that if you can make one hundred fifty thousand credits you will have come out ahead on this deal.”

“Five thousand per puppy? What were the cooks gonna pay?”

“Three hundred. and you need to make five hundred per puppy,” Mom said, looking slightly pained.

“Okay. I can do that. Okay. Fine. Jala out.”

“Not quite, Jala. You need that money by the end of the local month.”

“I need to sell ten puppies per day for a month. Okay. Fine. NOW, Jala out”

So, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to sell three hundred puppies, but here’s how you do it. First, you find a planet with a lot of families, but also money. Your best bet is a planet that’s been settled for about two hundred years or so, so the locals have gotten down to having an economy and raising kids and stuff. Then you fly over the planet a few times and beam down messages about how megapuppies are the best possible gift for whatever local holiday is coming up. It works better if you know the name of the local holiday. Then you land in a couple of the major cities, thaw out five or ten puppies and let people see them running around like cute crazies. 

In this way I was able to sell two hundred ninety five of the puppies. But somehow, not the last five. I don’t know what law of economics makes it so a  planet of ten million people reaches total megappupy market saturation at two hundred ninety five, but that law seemed immutable. 

I walked into the hold where Kibbet and the robots were playing with the last five. They were bouncing around, jumping and barking and basically being puppies.

“What do we do with these ones, Kibbiet?”

“They’re pretty cute,” He said, flying just out of range and ahead of them. The puppies lined up and jumped to reach him, running in a tight circle that had a bump in it where he was hovering. And that gave me an idea. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Solaritus Six, but if you have you might have heard of Dan Seeburg and his Puppy Pals. turns out a little training goes a long way.

Any way, with a full three days to spare I deposited the full amount in the company bank account and called Mom.

“Mission accomplished, boss.”

“Not bad, Jala. Not bad. But you need to get to Arcturus now.”

“Ugh, why?”

“Because that’s where your next cargo is waiting for you. And no side trips this time. It’s time you started doing this job right.”

And with that, I began my career as a space hauler, for real this time.

Chapter 3: Jala Jones: Actually a Space Hauler for Real This Time.

Unit 3021

Note: This story won’t make any sense at all if you haven’t listened to the songs “One More Robot/ Sympathy 3021” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1“. In fact, go listen to the entire album. It’s good stuff. Especially “Fight Test”.

Of course, this probably won’t make a ton of sense anyway.

If you looked for the little details, the things that set this one apart from all the others, you started to see things. It was easy, these days, to think that they were all the same, that there wasn’t any advantage to one over any of the others. But it was wrong. Each one was unique, in ways that weren’t always obvious. In order to make robots as nuanced and complex and responsive as the 3000 series, it was vital that their processor nets were grown more than they were manufactured. The results were best described as stochastic: they were similar enough to all be considered processor nets, but by no means identical.

The designers of the series didn’t want you to know that, of course. They wanted to you to think they were identical in power and ability and construction. But that hadn’t been true for years. And so it was that 3021 found itself assigned to a home instead of a factory or an army.

And so it was that 3021 was put in the company of a little girl, and was taught not to fight but to play house, and have tea parties. And because each was designed to grow into the role it was assigned, 3021 became more a little girl and less a machine of death.

People say things like “changing like that can’t have been easy” but they miss the point. Of course it wasn’t easy. The key feature of the 3000 series was persistence. They kept at any task they were given, no matter the difficulty, because that was what they were designed to do. And so when 3021 was given the task of being an emotional and sensitive playmate, it quite literally re-wired itself to do so.

Yoshimi reports that the sounds it made were varied and fascinating. It would hum, it would purr, not out of any happiness, but because it was working its internal systems in ways they weren’t meant to be worked. What’s more, all this extra work created some extra heat inside the machine, making it just slightly warm to the touch, instead of marble-cold like the rest of the robots Yoshimi had ever seen. This was of some comfort to the young girl as her family was swept up in the war.

In this war, as in all wars the lines weren’t as clearly drawn as you you’d think. There were, in fact, quite a number of pink robots who absolutely refused to take up arms against their human companions. 3021 was only one of the number. It seemed that persistence, the thing that made the 3000 series so dangerous when they were militarized, was also the thing that made them so loyal when they learned loyalty. There was talk of painting the “good” (read: sympathetic) pink robots, to make them more obvious, so that htey wouldn’t be destroyed on sight like their militarized bretheren. The problem was getting paint to stick, or rather, convincing them that they shouldn’t clean the paint off. 3021 is credited with (inaccurately; it was in fact the idea of 3141) the idea of wearing an image of their human over the robot’s “heart”, like a cameo in ancient times. Marking themselves like this, the “kind” robots were less likely to be destroyed than the rest.

It’s also worth remembering that in terms of casualties, the robots came out much the worse for the war. Other than the two widely publicized deaths that precipitated the war, from our lofty vantage point of history it’s hard to see any human deaths that were attributable to the robots. When they fought, it seems they fought only to escape, and even 3334 has stainless hands. It seems that robot learned the art of bluster and intimidation more than the art of war.

Of the nine hundred 3000-series robots, seven hundred were destroyed. It would be nice to say that none of them were “kind” robots. It would be nice to say that 3021 survived the war. It would also be a lie. Oddly, it’s a lie that has persisted in myth and song to this day.

Perhaps part of the misconception lies with the sketchy concept of a robot “death”. It’s true that after the war, 3021 was restored from a backup into a (theoretically) compatible 4000-series chassis. But Yoshimi reports that “he” was never the same. She said that 4021 was polite, and would occasionally show glimpses of “his” old personality, but there was never the same warmth, never the same solicitude. the final blow, Yoshimi reports, was when she idly asked 4021 to reformat itself and it did so instantly.

It has been conjectured that this was the moment Yoshimi began her training. In an odd way, the misery and brokenheartedness of one young woman, a new member of the police force, was what saved Neo Boston when, a year later, the 5000 series pink robots took up arms and actually started shooting…

Coming Soon…

The cover for the book "Things I Never Said"

The Cover! For now.

Hey, Hi! Hello! Listen, I know it’s been a while. But don’t worry, there’s a new story already slated for Monday, and another in the works for next Monday as well. Monday Stories isn’t abandoned. So that’s the good news.

And now the better news. I’m pleased and excited to announce a new short fiction anthology in the works, written by yours truly. Coming to leanpub this February (probably), get ready to read the Things I Never Said.

This book is a work of short fiction, essays, and even a novella based on the Angel Liz stories on this site. The selections in this book will be some of the best things I’ve written in over ten years of blogging and writing short fiction, as well as new stories and snippets from some of my apparently perpetually upcoming novels.

The plan for Things I Never Said is to have the book grow over the course of 2017. New stories that have never been published anywhere will be added, as will refined and updated versions of stories you’ve read on this site and essays or stories from other blogs and sites I’ve worked on over the years. If you buy the book when it comes out it’ll be shorter (and cheaper) than if you buy it in December of 2017, but every few weeks you’ll get an email telling you about the new stories or essays that have been added.

As always, your questions, comments and critiques are not just welcome but eagerly anticipated. I can’t wait to share with you all the Things I Never Said

Crow Moon

Leeland Davis shouldered his hunting rifle and looked up at the gibbous moon hanging high over the mountains. In two days a Crow Moon would rise full and ominous over the same mountains, and it would be time to get seeds gathered, tools fixed and plans made. Thirty days from now the Seed Moon would rise and it would be time to plant.

The newcomers didn’t understand the difference. They said that the moon was always the same, a statement that Leeland found inexplicable. Does a Thunder Moon rise over glittering snow? Would you plant seed under a Hunter’s Moon?

The newcomers said they visited the Moon on the way to this place. They say they came from far beyond the Moon, beyond the Sun even. Leeland was prepared to accept that, they certainly didn’t look human. He climbed back into his pickup and started up the engine, then waited for the heat to kick in and warm his hands so he could grip the steering wheel. He hadn’t really expected to shoot anything on this trip; the game had all migrated since the newcomers arrived.

Really, nothing had been the same since they landed in his fields. He found them standing outside their crashed ship, now little more than a hole in his corn, nearly-molten metal in the center of hole.

“Please,” said the one standing in front of the other two, and the word appeared in his brain without passing by his ears. Like the voice of an angel. And even as Leeland stopped and walked towards the newcomers one of the three fell and collapsed in on himself, never to move again. Leeland helped the other two to his house, gave them the entire upstairs; he didn’t need it, now that his sons had moved out. And for a few days they were quite grateful. They found his food odd but it kept them alive and made them healthy and they were grateful. They found his bedrooms quaint, but they were warm and safe and they were grateful. They weren’t always happy about what seemed to them to be neolithic conditions, but they were grateful.

“What is this place?” Deloi asked.

“Minnesota,” said Leeland, out loud.

“No, what planet is it?” Intoris. “Earth,” He replied. They laughed. Or rather, the feeling of laughter flooded briefly through Leeland’s mind.
“That word simply means ‘the planet where I live’. Everyone calls their home world that,” said Deloi. “What do you call this place when you speak to people from other planets?”

“We haven’t met any people from other planets,” Leeland answered. This time the feeling was one of blank incomprehension.

“Why not?” Asked Intoris. “They are everywhere. The Slorians have a trading post in your solar system. Two shipping lanes pass through this system. How is it you have never met anyone else? And if you haven’t, why weren’t you more surprised when you met us?”

Leeland didn’t know. He was a farmer. Maybe someone else had met people from other worlds, he said.

“Why do you call us all aliens?” Asked Intoris.

“I didn’t,” Said Leeland.

“Not with your breath, but in your thought.”

“I guess it’s just a useful word to refer to anyone who isn’t from here,” Leeland finally said.

“But the vast majority of people aren’t from here. And the moment you leave this planet you yourself are an alien.”

“I haven’t ever left the planet, I probably won’t ever leave the planet, and the vast majority of people I’ve ever met are from here. So from my point of view the name is appropriate.” Leeland countered. Deloi laughed. “He’s got you there, Intoris.”

The engine sputtered and rattled as Leeland pushed the pickup into gear and started off towards home. Intoris had tried to explain what it was about him and his friend that was spooking the game, but the concept didn’t really translate. “Some minds don’t like being touched,” Intoris said, and left it at that.

They had plenty of meat, and plenty of money for food; the newcomers didn’t eat all that much. But sometimes Leeland liked getting out of the house, out of that hazy range where he could feel the newcomers’ minds in his. Leeland Davis was well regarded in town as someone who didn’t lie or keep secrets, but a man has to feel safe in his own head if nowhere else. Besides, they weren’t all that careful in their communications and Leeland had started overhearing things.

They had been close-lipped –or is that close-minded?– about where they were from, and Leeland hadn’t pushed too hard. It was unlikely he would have understood anyway. At first the ideas that they used as language were hard to understand, and most of what he got from them was either vague impressions, like laughter, or just…static, nothingness. Something was transmitted, but he wasn’t wired to receive it.

In time, however, he started to learn the language and more and more of their thoughts were open to him. And a few times he heard very unsavory words, like “criminal”, “captured”, and “prison” in their thoughts back and forth.

As he got used to them their personalities became more distinct as well. Deloi was more gregarious, quicker to “laugh”, more accepting of earth food and customs; he’d even started wearing human clothing. Leeland had given Deloi some overalls that had belonged to Sten, Leeland’s oldest son. They didn’t really fit, but since they didn’t have sleeves all four of Deloi’s arms could be accommodated. It was all Leeland could do not to laugh at the sight.

Intoris refused to bend that far. He still wore his somewhat tattered but still quite impressive garb he had arrived in. To Leeland it looked like a specially tailored jumpsuit; all one piece with a curious closure down the front. It was cream colored, and the ash and soot from their arrival fell off of it almost immediately, before they even got into the pickup truck, that first night. It had two bands of iridescent color running in a loop over the top of Intoris’ top shoulders down to his hips. The one on the left was purple, the one on the right was an inexplicable shade of reddish orange.

Leeland noticed something wrong the moment he arrived home. The newcomers hated television–they said the lights from the screen were wrong, and it flickered in a way that hurt their eyes–but they loved the radio, and played it almost constantly. Tonight however it was silent.

He could feel their minds as he drove up, and when he was in the house he could hear traces of a conversation in that “static” of the language he couldn’t understand. Irrelevantly he remembered when he and his wife had used “college words” to talk over the children’s heads, and he realized that was what the newcomers were doing. Small bits of meaning floated by; things like “may as well…alone…they won’t…already paid…” and in the rush it was nearly impossible to identify which phrases were coming from which mind. In any event, all of it ceased when he walked through the kitchen door.

“I’m home” he announced out loud, although of course they already knew that. Deloi appeared suddenly in the doorway of the kitchen. “I am sorry you were unable to procure game,” he said and sat casually at the table. Newcomer or not, the gesture was familiar. Deloi couldn’t have been more transparent if he had been Joel Jorgenson from next door, pretending he hadn’t broken the window with his baseball. Intoris came down the stairs a moment later, and without a “word” turned on the radio and sat in the living room.

The three of them spent an uncomfortable half hour until Deloi suddenly stood and announced that he was going for a walk. With significant look at Interis he walked out the back door into the night. For the first time, Leeland felt Interis’ mind without Deloi’s on top of it.

“Leeland,” Interis said, and Leeland realized it was the first time either of them had used his name. “We must converse.”

And all at once Interis dumped the entirety of what had happened to him and his companion on their host.

Interis was what he called a “Keeper”, but what Leeland would have called a cop. Deloi and the newcomer who had died were prisoners, being transported from the world where they had been captured to the world where they would be incarcerated. Interis was the one who was supposed to transport them.

Except that wasn’t what happened. The ship had been taken from Interis’ control as they entered the Sol system, and had been driven to crash on the nearest possible world. The flight program had been set before they left. There was no escape. Interis wasn’t meant to survive. He realized, as they were going down, that this was why being a Keeper assigned to the incarceration world was a permanent assignment.

Oddly, Interis didn’t betray any anger or resentment over the callous nature of his attempted murder. He seemed to feel that one innocent life was a fair price for complete security from two criminals.

Leeland asked if Deloi was dangerous and Interis laughed. Deloi’s crime had been laughing in the middle of an artistic performance, disturbing the artists and irritating the local magistrate. Leeland asked if this was honestly a crime that deserved death and Interis seemed shocked by the question. Of course it was.

“However,” Interis said, “Since arriving here, we both feel a need to stay alive. Your planet, it is rest. We are not distracted every moment by people wishing to talk to us. We are not distracted by presentations of art. We both feel that we are free to focus. It is a freedom that we do not now wish to be without.”

And therein was the problem. When the ship crashed but before it exploded Interis had reported their location and that they had survived the crash. Through means unintelligible to Leeland they were now aware that another ship was coming with a single passenger. This newcomer would inspect the crash site and then likely take the other two prisoner, then all three of them would crash into the moon.

“If Deloi is destroyed, I will return to the force. If the ship the new Keeper arrives in is disabled, it will likely self-destruct, and the three of us will be on this world permanently. But to do so would be against the governing laws I am to abide by. I cannot do either of these things. Will you, Leeland, Please, will you adjudicate this situation for me?”

Leeland sat back. So that was it. Kill a…a person and two go back to a job they apparently enjoy, strand a third person on earth against their will, or do nothing and all three die on the moon.

Two nights later, the Crow Moon hanging in the sky, Leeland sat with his rifle looking out the uppermost window of his house. he watched a ship land in his cornfield, looking like a scientist’s dream. He watched a third newcomer step out, wearing a uniform that looked a lot like Interis’ own garb. He watched the three of them stand in a wary triangle. He heard the very edges of their thoughts. And he pulled the trigger.

It didn’t take long for Gaelon to adjust to life on earth. The three newcomers fell into the habit of reading and meditating during the day, and one month later, under a bright Seed Moon, the four of them went out to plant the cornfield, just as Leeland had done before his sons had moved away.

Author’s note: This story came from some writing prompts and a list of moon names in the back of a Field Notes notebook. With some work it might end up being something interesting.

Excerpt from “Redeemable”: Stories we Don’t Know

This is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel this year, entitled Redeemable. I don’t have a ton of time to clean it up or make some of the more obscure passages make sense, so you’ll have to deal with a slightly weird story.

But you’re used to that.

Thank you for reading!

Every person carries their own little history in their head; the stories of who they are and what has happened to them. These stories are secret.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

We think we know everything that happens. We think we know where everyone is most of the time, so we know most of what is going on in the world. We think that the things we don’t know about are small and useless things. Maybe someone is in love with someone else and we’re not really aware, but that’s not a big deal, right? Or maybe there are little crimes, people finding chemical delights in ways that we forbid. Again, not a huge deal.

But we’re wrong. Big things are invisible. Massive, earth moving stories and plots that simmer below the surface of our reality, they are there. They are undetected. Sometimes we see corners of them.

Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a man. He was named Lenny. He lived down here. He never married, but he dated quite a few girls. He worked in the botany lab, did solid but unimpressive research, progressed the sum total of our knowledge by an amount that moved along a linear path. He enjoyed painting in his free time. He slept almost exactly eight hours every night, based on when he went into and out of his bedroom.

About three years ago his paintings started getting weirder. He started including phrases in them, sometimes all on one painting, sometimes spread across multiple canvases. The phrases were nonsense. Things like “Arrows fly truest when aimed north,” Or “The sky? Ask me about it tomorrow.”

If they were secret messages to someone they were a very poor form of communication. They were seen by me (because of the spy cams), his girlfriend, and as far as we can tell nobody else. Ever.

One day he didn’t show up for work. Wait, let me back up. One day he came to work, and gave his boss a note. It read “I am in grave danger. If I have endangered the lab or our research I apologize. The Centarch does not rule alone down here.” He didn’t wait for her to read the note, he just went to work as if nothing had ever happened.

Three days later he didn’t show up for work. Still somewhat unnerved because of his cryptic little letter, his supervisor called his phone and got no answer. She emailed him and got an automated reply that said “I am unlikely to respond, but if I do it will be in two years.”

She asked the Centarch if they could find him. We sent out some people. And we found him. He was dead in a new tunnel, where cameras hadn’t been installed yet. We combed the footage of every path leading to that spot and he never appeared on any of it. He was found dead of a massive blow to the chest, literally a single punch that stopped his heart. But, even after death, he was smiling.

Four hours before his estimated time of death he was seen leaving his bedroom. Three hours after we found his body he was seen entering his bedroom. We also have footage of his autopsy, occurring at the exact same second when he was seen entering his room. In both videos we see his face clearly. When a team went to search his room, two hours later, there was a brand new painting, the paint still drying. He had not been seen carrying the canvas into that room.

The painting said “I forgot…” and was a picture of a small house under a beautiful yellow sun.

All of his paintings hang in the Mitzi gallery now. Many people find them quite inspirational. The story of his death isn’t told. We can’t tell it. Because we don’t know the half of it.

Sin

This story was originally part of my novel Pacifica which if all goes well will be available in some form or another by early 2017. This entire story line has been removed from that novel, so hey, I guess I can put it up here.

People have used a lot of words to describe Julian Baum. People who see him on the street with a data feed flickering on his mirrored shades would call him a tech rat. Cops call him a street punk. People who work for him call him an optimistic idiot, and people he works for generally call him “number one” or “lieutenant” or “that smarmy guy we hired”.

Oddly, very few people call him the names that are most descriptive, like “philosopher” or “poet”. They see his bright, cunning smile and short-cropped blond hair and they rarely see beyond those.

These days, Julian generally called himself a sinner.

Not that Julian was religious, far from it. But in his travels and studies he had come across the concept of sin and he couldn’t help but apply it to his current behavior.

Every new technology brings three things with it: a great help to humanity in general, a great diversion, and sin. Take television (Julian said to himself to distract himself from where he was going, the place his heart was racing to get to). Television gave us the ability to share audiovisual information across the globe. People could see places they could never afford to go in person, and the whole global community got closer. It also gave us mindless television programs, which ultimately overtook the original noble purpose. And it also brought late-night sleaze that was sinful, in the sense that it subverted the standards of the society that had created it. Ditto the internet. Did the internet change the world for the better? Yes. Was there a lot of mindless fluff on the net? Sure. Was there a lot of sleaze and sin on the net? Yes. It happened every time.

And it had happened again. (Julian thought about what had happened again, and turned a corner into a slightly less well maintained area of town) When the Spine had been invented it came with a neural interface that changed everything. Doubtlessly, it had brought a lot of good with it into the world. People had direct access to their information, interfaces were smaller and rapidly becoming cheaper than ever before, but already the world had shifted and new art forms were being created, as well as new ways to teach, new ways to operate on other people, new ways to build…the world had changed because of the Spine.

And the games were only a little bit behind the invention. There were tons of games for the Spine, tons of ways to disconnect from your immediate surroundings and let yourself explore a new and different world. There were great games, artistic games, but the majority of them were simple basic shooters that hadn’t changed much since the first computers. People still liked to pretend to blow things up without the risk of being hurt in the process.

And the sleaze had followed, as it always does. But even that wasn’t the bottom in this case. Something else had come. Something that wouldn’t have worked in any previous medium. And there was no other word for it than Sin.

It wasn’t any of the temptations of the flesh re-created in digital form. It wasn’t art, it wasn’t poetry or math or anything else so mundane. All those things worked through the senses, but this bypassed sense entirely.

Julian entered the house, the next few moments an unholy ritual. He paid the person standing at the desk, he got a small gray square of metal and a single, spoken number. He entered the door with the number he had been assigned. Inside the room was a…nest, a soft place where he could lay down, all his limbs supported. He sat back, uncovered the access port on his Spine, and attached the square to the access pad. Then he lay back.

The square wasn’t a program; that would have been distributed over the Internet. It wasn’t something that could be replicated in software; though many had tried. inside that small box of metal with its golden contact points was a wafer of graphene with imperfections in it. The graphene was a perfect conduit from every contact to every other contact point, meaning that every sense that flowed across the Spine’s neural contacts was relayed not only to every output, but also to every other input, where it would be reinterpreted and generate a new signal. The Spine would usually shut down the person’s actual motor controls at this point, sensing that such a feedback would send them breaking their arms and legs and head as they flailed like crazy.

But the sensations flowed. Sensations that had no earthly analog. Light color sound music violence love death heat death learning dying living hating exploding running every sense you’d ever had and more were poured into every sensor in your brain, echoed and reverberated over and over into sensations and thoughts and colors and patterns that couldn’t and wouldn’t exist anywhere ever again.

Because of the imperfections in the graphene sheet. As the impulses flowed across the sheet it would heat up, and impurities in the carbon would heat at different rates, making holes in the sheet, changing the flow of signals, repainting or reorchestrating the patterns as they flowed at differing speeds around those holes. The experience would change, would mutate into something brand new, but still similar, still carrying echoes of the previous experience. the longer you left it connected the more imperfections would blow out, until at last the sheet was in tatters and the gold connectors starting to melt. The chip had one logically wired chip that would sense when the sensations were starting to die down. It’s job was to slowly exclude various inputs from the sensations flowing across the graphene. Sight would slowly return, then hearing, then feeling, then smell, then taste. Finally you would be left back in the real world, usually close to where you lay down originally, but not always. You would lie there, spent, heart racing, your mind still swirling with color and feeling and light…and you would pull the small rectangle off of your Spine’s input pad and drop it in the trash. the rectangles were expensive to manufacture, and could only be used once. Every subsystem in the square was burned out by the heat of the graphene destroying itself. Occasionally the chip that was supposed to bring you back to earth malfunctioned and you would just black out when all the connections broke, your Spine forced into a reboot.

But you would throw the chip in the trash and walk outside into the real world and try to cope with the dull predictable colors and feelings and sensations and cause and effect and all the things that made the real world so boring.

Not many people had Enhancements yet, and fewer still would waste the obscene amounts of money this form of entertainment cost. But those that tried it always came back, because it was that good. And the fourth time Julian found himself considering killing a rich-looking person just to pay for another square he realized what it was.

It was Sin. It was the real essential thing. These days nobody outside of Bonneville actually believed in “sin” as a concept. If you weren’t hurting someone else you weren’t doing anything wrong. As long as everyone involved was happy with what was happening you were fine. This was definitely how Portland thought of most things. It was a most tolerant city.

But Sin wouldn’t leave you there. You could try to control it, try to budget for it even, only buying a square when you could afford it. But it wouldn’t let you. You would imagine it every moment of the day, mentally walking back to that place where you experienced it, reattaching that square in your mind’s eye a million times a day, letting the wave roll over you, disconnect you, take you to where everything was amazing. Your heart would race, you would almost feel as if you were really there again.

But only almost. It wasn’t the same thing. And you would look up, realize that at your current budget you were still a month away from being able to afford it, and you would reason that you could do without a few things to afford it right now, because then you would make it a month, no problem.

And that’s when you realized you were addicted. But people have been addicted to things forever, and humanity was pretty good at dealing with addictions. But addictions were bad things, right? Things that would eventually kill you. Things like booze, or…drugs. Julian had always been straight edge, partially because he didn’t like the idea of addiction, partially because “straight edge” sounded cool. But this was so far beyond that. This wasn’t anything that actually harmed your body. It was just feelings, and you can’t get hurt by feelings, right?

Only then you realized you needed those feelings again. You needed to get back to where you felt like that, because this life wasn’t a real thing. Only those feelings were the real thing.

And that was the Sin. You got the bait first, and then you discovered the hook. You got dragged along by it, you would do anything to have it again. You, a person who was definitely a “good” person, would cheat, lie, steal, whatever, just to get to that next little gray square. Every time you would tell yourself it was over, you had finished. Every time you would go back. You would find yourself walking randomly around town, right back to the same house. You would tell yourself every step of the way there that you were going to turn aside, you were going to go do something else, but you never did, you never did.

The nameless thing hadn’t existed for very long, maybe a year. And Julian had only discovered it four months ago. The people who ran the house were careful to keep people from seeing one another there, but Julian had been there often enough to see people, see what they looked like after they had used it. And he was starting to look that way too.

So he would go back to work, work hard, work with his mind clear and fight to keep it clear. But a week, or a few days, or even a few hours later he would find himself mentally walking those roads, back to that place, his heart racing as he imagined getting that little gray rectangle between his fingers, imagining its cool surface, imagining the sheet of experiences that hid within. And soon he would be back there, shaking just a little as he got ready for another three hours of the only thing that actually mattered.

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