Monthly Archives: September 2013

Debris, Pt. 2

The station kept them on a twenty-four hour cycle to emulate what their lives would have been like on earth. Two hours in the “morning” for eating and personal matters, a twelve hour volunteer shift, another two hours of “night,” and then a mandatory eight hours of sleep. Shutters came down to block the light that streamed in from every viewport and window at every moment. The lights in the station dimmed, and access to the common areas became restricted. There was a balance that had to be struck between maintaining the happy shared fiction that members of the Debris Collection Corps were volunteers and making sure that they were functionally prisoners and not functionally slaves.

“It is now 10 PM, UTC. Quiet hours are in effect. You are strongly encouraged to rest in preparation for the upcoming day. The dining hall, the library, and the lounge are now closed. If you require medical assistance at any point during the night, don’t worry; your vital signs are always being monitored for irregularities and a medical bot will be dispatched to assist you in the event of an emergency. If you are unable to sleep, sedatives are available. We appreciate your contributions to providing a safer, cleaner Earth for us all.”

It was the same every night, and a damn near identical message every morning, save for slightly different language about common areas becoming open and stimulants being available.

The shutters opened. Everyone left their bunks, walked to the dining hall for their breakfast. The initial observations, the old jokes, that they’d gone from Eggs Benedict and mimosas to nutrient paste and more nutrient paste had worn out months ago. The old lines wouldn’t be funny again until the groups changed. The AI that managed all the DCC stations in orbit switched up the personnel assignments every six months, a gesture towards keeping the volunteers on the better side of sanity.

It was embarrassing in its simplicity, but it helped stave off madness more than anyone cared to admit.

By the time Ghenn reached the dining hall, the early risers had already eaten and left, and those who cared enough to try and get to the front of the line were chatting quietly, slurping at their reconstituted gruel. Panna waved Ghenn over, her grin wide, her dark eyes twinkling like stars. “Slop’s good today. It kind of tastes like apple pie, if you don’t quite know what apple pie tastes like. I think Daddy Dearest suffered a glitch and added a cinnamon flavor pack or something by mistake.”

Panna was younger than Ghenn by five years, and younger than most everyone else by at least ten. Young enough that she could serve her six and rebuild when she was free. Young enough that she still had a sense of humor about getting caught and getting convicted, about signing up for indentured servitude in lieu of prison, about the AI that governed their lives that she’d nicknamed Daddy Dearest.

Some of the older volunteers hated her for it. But then some of them, like Robaire, hated everything.

“The problem has been documented and a solution is currently being implemented,” an emotionless, robotic voice droned out. “The error with flavor pack CN-5 will not happen again. Your vigilance is appreciated, Volunteer 0B-47.”

Panna went silent, her shoulders slouching and her vision locked firmly on her gruel. Every eye in the dining hall was locked on her. “Whoops.”

Ghenn sighed. “Oh, it’s cool. Not like apple pie-flavored gruel for breakfast was going to be the highlight of the cycle or anything.” Panna opened her mouth to apologize again, but Ghenn shook her head and forced a smile. “Stop, stop. It’s my own fault for being slow.”

Robaire snickered. Ghenn and Panna both glared at him.

“You know, we’re all stuck with each other for another four months. Do you have to be insufferable?”

Robaire frowned. His double chin wavered with insincere hurt. “I’m just having a little fun. We only get six months together. I thought we were just joking around. Like friends.” He kept the quaver going for another few seconds before letting lose a single, harsh laugh, like the bark of a vicious dog. He pushed his chair back from the dining hall table and left the room.

Ghenn sat down and poked at her bowl of nutrient paste. Except for Panna, the others left one by one. “That guy’s a dick,” Panna announced to no one.

“Yep.”

“And this is your fourth cycle with him?”

“Fifth.”

“He’s been up here for four years?”

“Four and a half, same as me.”

Panna was silent. “How have you not killed him?”

“Murdering fellow volunteers is expressly forbidden under the terms of your service contract,” Daddy Dearest intoned. “Murderers will be sentenced to a life in service within the helium mines on Luna Base.”

Ghenn rolled her eyes and pointed at the speaker port on the ceiling. “Don’t want to disappoint Daddy Dearest.”

“You can’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.”

Ghenn’s eyes narrowed to slits. She leaned forward to whisper out of habit, knowing in the back of her mind that it made no real difference. “Look, I know this is your first cycle, and I know you dropped out of advanced education, but you must have picked up something in one of the classes you accidentally went to. You ever study the concept of privacy?”

Panna rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mother.”

“Well, you know how privacy doesn’t matter because no one’s listening but advertisers and they don’t care about anything except for where our money?”

Panna rolled her eyes again and nodded.

“Up here, someone is doing nothing but listening.”

The two women were quiet, expecting Daddy Dearest to chime in. But the machine was silent. Panna shrugged. “Well, still, there must be something to do. A prank.” Panna looked up at the ceiling, addressed the speaker port. “A completely harmless, all-in-good-fun type of prank.”

Ghenn shook her head. “It’d be impossible to get away with. Daddy Dearest doesn’t miss anything. He doesn’t make mistakes.”

Panna stood up to walk away and tapped the side of her empty bowl of gruel with her spoon. The noise rang sharp and clear in the silence of the dining hall. “You sure about that?”

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No Update – 9/25

The Internet swallowed my post for tonight. Damn you, cloud solutions!

Double-length post on Friday!


Debris, Pt. 1

And now for something completely different. Good*, honest** science fiction!

*Science fiction may not be good.

**Might not be honest, either. Consult a doctor immediately if the condition persists for longer than four hours.

The moon rose behind the Earth, and Ghenn watched with a smile on her face as she saw it. Just like the first time. Just like every time.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Who gives a fuck?” Robaire said. “There’s work to be done, and your aesthetic appreciation of the wonders of the universe is holding us up.”

Ghenn frowned and turned her attention towards the monitor that had Robaire’s chubby, unshaven face on it. He wasn’t even frowning at her or glaring at her or anything, the antisocial irritant. He was just staring into the camera mounted on the inside of his MDCU with the same vaguely annoyed, vaguely apathetic look that he always wore. Like the world around him was full of screaming children and he was running a cost-benefit analysis in his head of selling them all into slavery.

“You know, if you were a little bit nicer, maybe your board wouldn’t have turned you over to the ISEC,” Ghenn said.

“That’s funny,” Robaire shot back. “If you were a lot smarter, maybe you wouldn’t have gotten caught by the ISEC.”

Ghenn seethed, but she knew she’d already lost. There was so little that Robaire really cared about, aside from money, and that was all gone. So was hers, so was Theo’s, so was Panna’s, so was everyone’s. But the others still had things they cared about; family. Friends. Revenge. Something to look forward to when they got out. Robaire had had more money than God, and no matter what he did when he got out, he’d never be that rich again. Ghenn would say it had broken something inside the man, but that wasn’t quite right. It was more like it’d turn something off and now he was just a machine idling with all the other useless junk, flaring to life just long enough to spit out the occasional barb and push a few buttons.

They were all criminals. That’s why they’d been shipped off world; the ISEC made examples of white-collar criminals. They couldn’t be sentenced to solitary confinement or execution, but something had to be done, so they’d been offered a choice between life in minimum-security with no parole or six years as a “volunteer” in the Debris Collection Corps. Six months learning how to pilot a Mobile Debris Collection Unit, and five and a half years in low Earth orbit. Six years doing a robot’s work. Six years taking orders from an AI. Six years shoveling a century’s worth of shit leftover from every defunct space program started by long dead nations.

Not everybody made it six years. Some tried to get a few years in and get a more lenient sentence out of it. Some managed to scrape together enough favors and bribes to get a transfer to some other kind of punishment. There was a legend that the CEO of a tech company had assembled a one-man ship from scavenged parts and escaped to a privately owned space-station, but that was probably just a legend.

And of course, some people opted to simply make an end of things in whatever manner they could invent. Hacking one of the printers to spit out alcohol and opiates, climbing into an MDCU and letting either the heat or the oxygen run low. At least a few folks had simply blown themselves out the airlock in a moment of desperation and surrender.

That would be the worst, Ghenn thought. So inconsiderate. They wanted the quick way out, and they never stopped to think that they were becoming another object to be tracked and scooped up.

They were grim thoughts, but those were the minority cases. For the rest of them, the survivors, they persisted. Six years was a long time in the void of space with no one to keep you company but a crew of angry, entitled misfits. And even at the end, there’d be a long period of readjustment getting their bodies used to Earth’s gravity and atmosphere once more. And even then, they’d spend the rest of their lives hated by the majority of the planet’s billions of inhabitants.

But sometimes, when the Earth hung in the void like an eerie sapphire, the moon behind it like a pearl, Ghenn could almost forget these harsh truths. People paid good money to see a view like that, and she got to see it every day of her life.

There was a burst of static, and Panna’s screen came into focus. “Hey, Ghenn. Get your head in the game before the ISEC replaces you with a drone.”

“They won’t,” Robaire muttered in his phlegmy voice. “This isn’t about efficiency. If the UEO wanted this done, they could have an army of collector drones feeding all this garbage into reclamation units and be done in a decade. This is about lowering us beyond a stupid, automated drones. This is about insulting us. This is about humilating us.

“It works perfectly, don’t you think?”


A Clown by Moonlight

Nothingness. Nothingness, and then a cool night. Buildings and roads, things of concrete and asphalt, metal and glass. Dry, dead things. Humorless things.

It frowned. These things were worthless to it, empty boxes whose only meaning came from the things they held. And in the night, they held nothing. It raised its nose up and sniffed. The subtle, sweet smell of people hung in the air. They were everywhere. They were nearby. They were sad and lonely.

Words floated through its mind. Laughter. Joy. Entertain. Amuse. The sad and lonely people of the world needed it to make them happy.

It followed the scent that hung heavy in the air, becoming more aware of the world around it with every step. Its shoes squeaked and squealed like dying rats against the pavement of the alley it had been born in. It’s brightly patterned clothes hung loose on its thin frame, whispering with its movements. There were other scents in the night, sour and foul: car exhaust. Trash. Other unidentifiable things.

There were balloons in its hand! Red and yellow and white and blue! How delightful!

It stepped out of the alley and into the street, its nose leading it towards the strongest concentration of people. It passed by a few as it walked along, but it paid them no mind. It couldn’t stop for everyone it saw. It had to bring the most joy to the most people. And besides, the people who saw it didn’t react; they just stared. They didn’t even laugh!

Perhaps they weren’t the ones who were sad and lonely.

It turned and smiled at them. It waved. The people stared back wide-eyed. Ah, good! Surprise and glee! It continued along towards the scent of the sad and lonely. The scent grew stronger. Its tongue darted out from between its lips. It could taste things now, conflict and anger and heartbreak. It knew. A couple breaking up. It didn’t know how it knew, but it knew.

It could hear them now, two shrill voices screaming at each other in the night. “You don’t support me!”

“I support you, I just don’t support the bad decisions you make!”

“You think following my dreams so I can be happy is a bad decision?”

And on and on. So sad. So angry. So desperately in need of joy and laughter. It could smell other scents, but they could wait. All would be made happy in their turn.

At last, it found the couple. Two women sitting at a restaurant patio. They radiated unhappiness and anger, and the people around them oozed discomfort. It was terrible. It couldn’t be allowed. It crossed the street. It stood in front of them, squeaking with every step, balloons drifting along. The noise quieted. The taste of anger slowly faded away, replaced by something it had no name for. The conversations slowly stopped, and eventually even the two women went silent. Every eye was upon it. Good. An audience.

It stood up as straight as it could. The balloons swung in the air. It raised its free hand and pointed at the couple. It grinned as wide as it could, its white teeth shining in the light. “Laugh.”

The people screamed. They leaped out of their seats and ran, screaming as they scattered, some fleeing into the restaurant, some heading down the street.

It watched the people go, and for a single moment another word cut through the ever-repeating mantra in its head: fear. The people were afraid. Afraid of it? But why? All it wanted was to entertain, to amuse. All it wanted was to bring laughter and joy.

It shook the thought from its head. They couldn’t be scared. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t right.

It raised its nose and sniffed the air again, the scent of the people sticky and sweet as cotton candy. “Laugh,” it whispered as it began walking towards the sights, the sounds, the smells. “Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.”


Welcome to DisruptiCon

I’d like to begin by thanking you all for taking the time out of your busy lives changing the future to be here. This is, of course, one of the most important annual events in our field. And really, one of the most important events of the year, period. The world’s best minds are here, collaborating, communicating, dreaming, imagineering, and it’s my sincere pleasure to be the first presenter today.

Speaking of dreaming and imagineering, let me tell you about a vision I had. A vision of a better world for everyone. A world of unlimited freedom of information. A world of open access. Like many of you, I was at SouthwestExpo last year. When I was there, I saw something amazing.

A homeless woman pushing a cart and wearing a backpack.

Big deal, right? Who cares? A homeless person just like all the others, am I right? There are homeless people everywhere, contributing nothing, innovating nothing. But that’s not true. Your average indigent is innovating every day of their life. They have to to survive. A homeless person exists in a state of nature. It’s the perfect intersection of social Darwinism and plain old Darwinism. It’s a perfect metaphor for DisruptiCon: the strong survive. The strongest thrive. The weak, well, who cares what happens to them?

So I’m sitting at patio at a bar, enjoying the misters and the ice cold beer in my hand, and I see this lady pass by. I observe her. I interpret what I’m seeing. And then I get up and I go talk to her. I say, “Excuse me, Miss. May I have a moment of your time?” She doesn’t say anything, just looks me up and down for a moment in silence. I’m annoyed for a second. For a second, I think, “Oh, great. She doesn’t even speak English.” But just for a second. And then I realize what she’s doing. She’s observing. She’s interpreting.

Amazing, right? This smelly, dirty person has the hacker’s eye. She’s got that post-left technoanarchist spirit, and she doesn’t even realize it. Amazing.

And then out of nowhere she says to me, “Do you need internet access, Sir?”

My mind stops so hard, you can hear the brakes squealing. “Wait, what?”

She looked up and away like she was reciting from memory. “MobiMediaTech has authorized me to serve as a mobile wi-fi hotspot for them. The service is free in celebration of SouthwestExpo , although donations to our carriers are appreciated and strongly suggested.”

That’s when I realized that the cart was all her stuff, but the backpack was full of MobiMediaTech’s gear. It was absolutely brilliant, and I don’t mind saying that. The city’s full of homeless going about their business, anyway; why not slap a hotspot on their back and let them help make the world a better place?

But why stop there? That’s not the American way. Hell, that’s not the DisruptiCon way. Observe. Interpret. Iterate. Innovate. I want you all to put yourselves in my shoes at that moment, to experience what was going through my head. Ask yourself, as I did, is your average homeless person really fit for this job? Are they in shape? Are they healthy enough? Have they got the dedication to see the job through day after day?

No. Of course not. If you wanted dedication and capability, you’d get a robot. Aerial drones, say/ But that means an even bigger investment into infrastructure. And that’s not even considering the cost of repairing and replacing the drones, of keeping them fueled up. Not very green, is it? Not very sustainable. If only the human body was as resilient as a robot’s. If only you could get absolute obedience and reliability from a human mind. If only a human’s bones could transmit and receive wireless signals like a drone’s chassis.

If only.

All of this is going through my head as I’m standing in front of this woman, and I smile. I look down at her and I say, “Miss, thank you. You’ve just changed my life, and in exchange, I’d like to change yours. I’m the CEO of X Multiplier. I fund forward thinkers. I invest in imagination. I make dreams come true. And I want you to work for me.” She said yes, of course.

So that’s my story. My idea. An army of cyborgs consisting of homeless volunteers traveling throughout their native cities, spreading high speed internet access just with their presence. Sounds like a good idea, right? And it is. It’s a fantastic idea. A forward-thinking, disruptive idea. But there’s one more thing.

Come on out here, Marigold. Everybody I want you to meet Marigold, the woman who started it all and our first prototype. I call the business “mobiweb.ly,” and we’ll have service on the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, New York, and Austin before the year’s out. Thank you!


Notes on H-374

Subject Delta was first exposed to H-374 on [REDACTED]. Subjects Beta and Gamma suffered cardiac arrest following exposure to G-374, but Dr. [REDACTED] was confident that the latest alterations made to formula 374 would prevent a repeat of the issue. Dr. [REDACTED] also stressed that Subjects Beta and Gamma remained alive for 22 and 19 days, respectively, following exposure to G-374, and the formulation of H-374 was almost certain not to be more lethal than previous iterations. This claim was met with skepticism by all concerned parties, but Dr. [REDACTED] was quick to point out that the newest round of test subjects were only on the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, whereas the previous project manager’s efforts had led to deaths of Subjects Aleph through Taw in less than a year.

CSO [REDACTED] pointed out that the results were what mattered and not the methods used to achieve them, but also acknowledged Dr. [REDACTED]’s greater efficiency with expendable resources than previous researchers’ efforts.

When Subject Delta was examined on the twenty-third day after administration of H-374, the experiment began in earnest. A caretaker was assigned to the subject to be on call twenty-four hours a day so as to create as natural an atmosphere as possible. Various modifications of Dr. [REDACTED]’s outlined schedule were suggested by other researchers, including automating the subject’s care, rotating caretakers so as to keep any from forming an emotional attachment to the subject, and simply keeping the subject in stasis for [REDACTED] years until such a time as the effects of H-374 could be directly observed.

All of these suggestions were vetoed by Dr. [REDACTED] and the CSO. It was determined that the experiment was, at its core, a medical one and not a psychological one; such measures were deemed outside the scope of Dr. [REDACTED]’s original plan, adding unnecessary complications, and, most importantly, irrelevant to testing the effects of H-374 on a human subject.

The experiment proceeded as originally intended until such a time as Subject Delta could be trusted to reliably self-report on the effects of H-374. During this time, the initial effects of saccadic masking suppression were observed in the subject: nausea, disorientation, and delayed development of motor skills. Dr. [REDACTED] considered all of these factors promising with regards to H-374’s efficacy, but was reminded of the unpredictable nature of development in subjects below the age of [REDACTED]. Still, the issues lessened with time, as Dr. [REDACTED] predicted, and special care was given to ensure that the Delta’s emotional development was negatively impacted as little as possible.

Following Subject Delta’s [REDACTED] birthday, Dr. [REDACTED] began conducting interviews on Delta. (Excerpts from these interviews may be found in the appendices.) Shortly, after the fourteenth interview, Dr. [REDACTED] terminated the experiment and began formulation of I-374. A message was circulated amongst the staff notifying them of the changes. (Available in the appendices.)

Dr. [REDACTED] has not reported for work since. Attempts to reach [REDACTED] at home have gone unanswered.

Appendix H-374-4-4 Excerpt

Dr. [REDACTED:] Good morning, Subject Delta.

Subject Delta: Good morning, Doctor!

Dr.: How are your headaches today?

Subject: They’re okay, I guess.

Dr.: I’m glad to hear that. We’re going to be conducting more examinations today.

(silence)

Dr.: Is something the matter?

Subject: I don’t like examinations. They hurt.

Dr.: I’m sorry you feel that way. You should be proud of your contributions. Each examination teaches us much about the way the human mind and the human body function.

(silence)

(end of recording)

Appendix H-374-4-6 Excerpt

Dr. [REDACTED:] How are your eyes today, Subject Delta?

Subject Delta: They hurt. My stomach hurts when I move my head.

Dr.: Hm. That’s odd. Note: Subject is complaining of nausea. Blood work is necessary to analyze the levels of H-374 in Subject’s body and determine if an excess build-up is the cause.

Subject: No! Don’t take my blood! It hurts!

Dr.: Subject is agitated. Beginning administering a mild sedative prior to interviews.

(recording continues for another thirty-seven seconds as Dr. [REDACTED] outlines new procedures to be undertaken before the next interview)

Appendix H-374-4-7 Excerpt

Subject Delta: They’re like shadows. You don’t see them?

Dr. [REDACTED:] I don’t. When did you first notice them?

Subject: They’ve always been around. But they didn’t talk to me or play with me until yesterday.

Dr.: You’ve seen these figures all your life? Why didn’t you say anything?

Subject: I didn’t know you couldn’t see them.

Dr.: How are we supposed to get meaningful data if you’re not telling us the things you see and hear?

Subject: I didn’t know!

(silence)

(Dr. [REDACTED] sighs)

Dr.: Note: Remove Subject Delta’s stuffed animal for one week’s–

Subject: No! Don’t take Teddy!

Dr.: –time as punishment for withholding information. I’m sorry, Subject Delta, but your cooperation is of the utmost importance. Ensuring your compliance is for the good of the project.

Subject: Please, don’t take Teddy!

(Subject Delta’s cries can be heard for ten seconds before the recording ends)

Appendix H-374-4-8 Excerpt

Dr. [REDACTED]: How are you feeling today, Subject Delta?

(silence)

Dr.: Are you feeling more cooperative today?

(silence)

Dr.: Your childishness is only going make us keep Teddy away for longer.

(silence)

Dr.: Note: Keep the stuffed animal for another week.

Subject Delta: They say that you have Teddy on the fifth floor, in the the room that says, “Private” on the door.

(silence)

Dr.: Who told you that?

Subject: The shadow people. They said they followed you, Doctor. They said you couldn’t see them, and they followed you, and that’s where you had the men with guns put Teddy.

(silence)

Subject: I want Teddy back. They said to ask you nicely, and if you didn’t give Teddy back, they’d get him back for me.

(silence)

Subject: They said you’re not my friend, Doctor. They said you’re mean,and the things you did to me hurt me, and the only good thing about the things you did is that I can see them and you can’t.

(silence)

Subject: I want Teddy back. I don’t want you to get hurt, even though you hurt me, but I want Teddy.

(a chair can be heard scraping against the floor and then the sound of footsteps. Dr. [REDACTED]’s voice can be heard faintly)

Dr.: The experiment is terminated. Get a purging squad in here immediately.

Appendix H-374-Omega

From: Dr. [REDACTED]

To: All Security Personnel

Subject: Idiots

I don’t know which one of you IMBECILES told Subject Delta where the storage room is, but the subject concocted some fairy tale about shadow people in an attempt to get it back. The little brat actually had the gall to threaten me, which also suggests to me that one of you walking abortions was lax in sedating the subject before our interviews.

I don’t need to remind you (or perhaps I do) that we’re doing sensitive work here, and a cooperative subject is essential to our research. I’ve ordered the experiment terminated, and I expect to find a Subject Epsilon waiting for me when I come in tomorrow. One of you has set our research back by months, if not years, and if I ever find out who, I guarantee that you’ll be doing your part to advance the sum total of human knowledge as an adult subject.


No Update – 9/14

Sorry folks, no update tonight. Brain no worky. Or to put it in a more mature manner, cerebellum incapable of function-y.

New stuff on Monday! Scout’s honor!


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